How do You Rate Against the 9 Characteristics of Secure Base Leadership?

The concept of ‘secure base leadership’ is taken from Bowlby’s work on attachment theory, which describes the dynamics of long term interpersonal relationships.

I first came across it in the context of leadership when I was reading George Kohlreiser’s Care to Dare.   Kohlreiser talks about how important it is for the leader to offer a secure base to those he/she would lead and to have secure bases for themselves.  A secure base is a long term personal relationship that provides us with enough ‘care’ that we can choose to ‘dare’.  The strength of the relationship allows us to take risks, knowing that whatever happens we will not be judged badly.  Cultivating secure bases then becomes a critical feature of leadership.

Secure base leaders display 9 key attributes:

1. Stay Calm

Especially under pressure—when other leaders may respond impulsively and unreasonably.

2. Accept the Individual

Acceptance and acknowledgment of the basic worth of others as a human beings—beyond being employees or embodiments of job descriptions.  Secure Base Leaders show caring for the human being before focusing on an issue or problem. They separate the person from the problem. As far as possible, they avoid  criticising people.

3. See the Potential

Secure Base Leaders see potential talent rather than current functioning or “state.” This goes beyond acceptance of the person’s inherent value and may go beyond what the person expects from him/herself. This is not about short-term potential. Instead, it is about a deeper vision for the person’s deepest potential—not in one year, but in 10 or 20 years.

4. Use Listening and Inquiry

Secure Base Leaders listen and inquire rather than “telling” and advocating. They ask open-ended questions and engage in a dialogue to seek a greater truth.

5. Tell a Powerful Story

They affect people deeply with single sentences or gestures that carry tremendous power and often are remembered for many years. Short, inspirational stories give people direction at times when fear, uncertainty, and doubt permeate the environment.

6. Focus on the Positive

Secure Base Leaders are good at helping people to focus on the positive rather than the negative. They focus on benefits, create images of hope and possibility, and help people visualise goals. They set positive expectations that contribute to improved performance. They help others to see their potential and inspire learning, even in a crisis or time of difficulty. They can give critical feedback while retaining a positive perspective.

7. Encourage Risk Taking

Secure Base Leaders give people opportunities to reach their potential, often with some personal risk attached.  Secure Base Leaders dare people to explore their potential by providing opportunities for risk taking. They support autonomy and provide a minimum of control.

8. Inspire Through Intrinsic Motivation

Understand the importance of “intrinsic motivation” to get the best out of people rather than relying on extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting, enjoyable, or fulfilling. Extrinsic motivation gets something done because it leads to an outcome that are not inherent in the task. When intrinsically motivated, a person acts for the learning, enjoyment, or challenge involved rather than because of external pressures or rewards.

9. Signals Accessibility

They remain available and accessible, not appearing ‘too busy for a conversation’.  They recognise that supporting others is both urgent and important.

So how do you measure up against these 9 characteristics?

What do you say to a team member who is late?

Imagine the scene.  A busy shift started at 08.30am.

Most of the team were there ready to start on time.

But one team member doesn’t make it to their work station until 08.40.  Previously they have usually been on time

What would you say? (You can choose up to 3)

View Results

If you would ‘say something else’ then please put your preferred choice of words – or any other thoughts in the comments box below.

You can find what I would recommend you to say here.

 

The Challenge of Becoming an Outstanding Manager

I work with managers who are trying to get better at their craft.  Much better.  They want to be the kind of manager who supports a team to do amazing work.
To help others to really deliver to the best of their potential, both individually and as a team.
There are several reasons why making a transition to being a significantly better manager can be difficult.
  • Firstly you have to be prepared to be obsessed by high performance, improvement and making the most of potential. Organisational rhetoric will always advocate this. However, in practice the rhetoric of excellence is often dropped in favour of more pragmatic and easily achieved compromises.
  • Secondly, people centred management practices can feel very uncomfortable, especially to begin with. They are usually not our default management style. Our default management style is an expression of our deeply held, often subconscious, values and beliefs. And sometimes these are driven by more traditional management concepts of power, control and task focus than on developing the potential of the team to deliver excellence. So there is always a little voice saying ‘Just give a few orders, crack a few heads and get things done’. Only if we persist with person centred management will we recognise that relationships are improving, more initiative is being shown, teams are performing better and genuine progress is being made. Only then will the nagging voice encouraging us to revert to more directive ways start to fade away. And this is a process of substantial personal development. It is the process of becoming a different person with different attitudes and beliefs about what ‘excellence in management’ is all about. Now the tools and techniques of ‘person centred management’ feel much more congruous with who you are as a person.
  • The third difficulty is the response of your team and the wider organisation to your changing management style. You start to use regular 121s; you give and seek feedback – frequently. Furthermore you expect it to be acted upon. You start coaching – everyone in your team – and expecting things to get better on a weekly basis. And you delegate consistently and well – not from a place that says ‘I can get some of my work done by others’ – but from a place that says ‘giving people the opportunity to take on these challenges will help them to develop and keep them interested and fulfilled in their work’. And what response do you get? Often it is a combination of surprise, discomfort, antagonism and disbelief. Usually there is a hope that if we can just keep things quiet for a while you will get over whatever training programme you have been on and things will get back to the mediocrity that passes for normal.
So the challenge of becoming a better manager is not an easy one. However it is not about mastering tools and techniques or acquiring new skillsets (although there maybe a little of this stuff). It is actually about recognising that there is a better way to manage and having the commitment and the discipline to pass through the discomfort of putting it into practice.

Why is Giving Feedback so Hard?

I recently had a meeting with a manager that I had worked with and he asked me about a challenge he was facing in putting feedback into practice.

We had worked on helping him to use both affirming and adjusting feedback.

  • Affirming feedback is given when an employee exhibits a good behaviour at work and the manager wants to show that it has been noticed, recognised and appreciated in order to increase the likelihood that the behaviour will be used again.
  • Adjusting feedback is used when the work behaviour or product is not up to organisational standards and the manager wants the employee to consider ‘what they could differently next time’.  They are looking to reduce the likelihood of the behaviour re-occurring.

Providing more affirming feedback than adjusting feedback will build a culture that is open to feedback and builds relationships that means adjusting feedback, when given, is more likely to be accepted constructively and acted upon.

This manager was fine on spotting opportunities to give adjusting feedback but was finding it much harder to find opportunities to give affirming feedback.  He was rightly worried that if he did not keep a healthy balance then his feedback would become ineffective, and he would be seen to be seen as overly critical and negative, driving the organisational culture and the moral of staff in the wrong direction

There are several reasons why some managers struggle with affirming feedback:

Many, perhaps most, managers are ‘tuned’ to look for, and sort out, problems. Good performance is taken for granted (indeed barely noticed) while any performance issues are recognised and corrected. This ‘management by exception‘ can be effective and efficient in the short term. However in the long term it leads to an unhealthy focus on performance problems and a culture where employees feel under-valued and taken for granted.  Discipline yourself to recognise, value and feedback on good work – reject the philosophy of management by exception.

Managers who are very task oriented and dominant tend to undervalue the power of affirming feedback in building relationships.  Discipline yourself to recognise and celebrate employee success with affirming feedback. You may not feel that this is helping with the task at hand – but it will help, if done well, to build a better relationship.  And this will have a direct impact on achievement in the longer term.

Some managers find it hard to recognise the kind of behaviours that should trigger affirming feedback because they have lost touch with the values, vision and mission of the organisation and their role in supporting them in practice.   If the organisation ‘values’ innovation and risk taking then it is vital that managers give affirming feedback when employee behaviours support these values.   Using affirming feedback to recognise employees who are supporting mission, vision and values and letting them know that their work is recognised and valued is important in building a performance culture and ensuring that those desired behaviours are repeated and spread.  This style of ‘appreciative management’  is incredibly effective in engendering a positive culture of performance and ensuring that organisational mission, vision and values are brought to live in day to day work. Look out for behaviours that bring mission, vision or values to life and provide affirming feedback. 

Some managers have become detached from the people management aspects of their role.  They manage task lists and performance metrics – but they don’t invest the time in seeing what their employees and team members actually do.   Tom Peters popularised the term ‘Managing by Wandering About’ – or MBWA.  If you are struggling to find examples of employee behaviour to provide the foundation for affirming feedback perhaps a little more time out of the office and working with the team might help.

There are no rigid rules on this – but most managers give way too little feedback.  Many give none at all outside of the formal performance review process.   For each report that you have you should be aiming to give on average at least 4 pieces of feedback each and every day.  Affirming feedback should outnumber adjusting feedback  in a ratio of 3 or 4:1.  If you can develop the volume of feedback that you give to this sort of level I guarantee that team performance will develop rapidly.

If you would like to use feedback to improve morale, culture and performance in your workplace then please do get in touch.

Building Relationships That Work at Work…

Lets face it. Not all of your relationships at work are working. At least, not as well as they should be.

Working relationships are essential to manage effectively.  Without them we can neither listen nor be heard.  Our influence is minimal.  Without a working relationship management becomes almost impossible.  We resort quickly to the capability and discipline procedures and watch our working relationships go from bad to worse.

But what do we mean by a working relationship?

Even great working relationships sometimes come under strain, and I am not talking about the occasional rough patch.  I am talking about the consistent failure to really connect, to bring out the best in each other.  Those relationships at work that feel difficult and are characterised by mediocrity, poor communication and personal antipathy.  It is important to recognise that these types of relationships are common, and they cost us a lot psychologically and in productivity!  We have a choice about we handle these non-working relationships.  We can put up with them and do our best in the circumstance to get the best outcomes that we can.  Or we can acknowledge that the relationship isn’t right and do what we can to change it.  To improve it.  To make it a working relationship.  One where both parties are open to feedback and willing to act on it to improve things.

What you choose to do about non-working relationships will depend on who they are with.  Non-working relationship with bosses, peers and reports all have different implications and challenges and need to be thought about carefully.  But there are some common characteristics to be considered.

It’s a personality thing…

This is perhaps the commonest reason I am offered for why relationships aren’t working, and it is rarely helpful.  It provides a usually superficial, meaningless, pseudo explanation for why we are not able to work effectively.  It does little to help the situation unless we understand the personalities involved a little and change the interactions between them to reach a more productive state.  Labelling the problem as a ‘personality clash’ usually just resigns us to acceptance.  Understanding personality is no trivial task, but I believe that there are some simple tools that can help us to diagnose the origins of a personality clash and offer us some possibilities to improve things.  Many of us have heard of, if not been profiled with,  the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI.  4 dimensions, 16 types, dominant and auxiliary functions, MBTI is a very useful tool – but can get a tad complicated for use in every day management practice.  So I prefer a simpler model based on similar Jungian psychology called DISC. 2 dimensions, 4 types and that’s pretty much it. It has worked well for me over the years, and is relatively easy to teach, learn and apply in real life situations – without having to call an occupational psychologist!  But there are lots of personality models out there and most offer useful frameworks for thinking about how we can work better together.  Choose one (or more), learn it, and use it to think about what might actually behind that personality clash that you use to explain non-working relationships.  I will be teaching and using the DISC model in the forthcoming workshops on How To Be A Better Manager.

It’s a behaviour thing…

Usually behind non-working relationships are a set of behaviours that are just not hitting the mark. It is the things people say and do that make it hard, or easy, for us to work well with them and vice versa.  These behaviours hold a real clue to turning non-working into working relationships.  If we can just get adjust our behaviours to get them working for each other.  But many managers don’t deal in behaviours, preferring instead the currency of labels, such as ‘unprofessional’, ‘hard working’ or ‘poor attitude’ for example.  Once these labels have been applied, and become the way we see our colleagues, they almost pre-ordain the nature of our working relationships.  It is hard to have a good working relationship with someone who we have already labeled as ‘unprofessional’.

So where do these labels come from?  What evidence are they based on?  Often managers struggle to answer these questions with any specifics and have to learn how to track back from a label to the specific behaviours that have ‘created’ it.  Let’s take for example the label ‘bad attitude’.  What kind of behaviours might lead that label to be created? Well, here are some common ones: arriving late for work, leaving early, missing meetings, keeping quiet in meetings, being over bearing in meetings,  responding with negative comments about ideas and proposals, checking mobiles during meetings, not making eye contact, talking loudly on the phone, tapping, clicking, sneering, shrugging, frowning…and the list goes on…

These behaviours that drive the labels are managerial gold dust.  If we can observe them, describe them and their impacts, and feed them back in a way that is fast, safe and actionable then we can start to encourage more of the behaviours that create value and less of the behaviours that destroy it.

It’s a time thing…

Building good working relationships takes time courage.  Time for high quality communication.  Talking and listening about goals, hopes, frustrations and fears.  Time to build trust and respect.  Time to explore what’s working and what’s not and to demonstrate a real commitment to building a relationship that works.  I am a big advocate of regular 121s.  Up to half an hour every week just to talk, listen, plan, provide feedback and support.  As long as you have a sensible span of control, say up to 15 direct reports, these 121s if managed well will save you a lot of time.  I will be teaching The Basics of Effective 121s in a workshop later in the year.

It’s a courage thing…

Above all to building working relationships takes courage. You have to be prepared to face up to the issue and be prepared to both work on your own behaviour and exert your influence over the behaviour of others.

Working on Relationships Top Tips

  1. Get to grips with at least one model of personality that you can use to think about the relationship dynamics that might be at play
  2. Choose to work on the non-working relationships – give them time and look for positives (be careful though, don’t let the squeaky wheels get all the grease)
  3. Focus on behaviours – what are you doing and what are they doing that leads to the problem? Use feedback – both giving and getting it – to influence behaviours.
  4. Give yourself time to build the relationship – it might not happen overnight

 

 

 

On Becoming an Outstanding Manager

To become an outstanding manager is not as hard as you might expect because, to be frank, the competition is not up to much!

Many people are given managerial roles because of their technical competence in the role they will be managing.  So excellent nurses become managers of nurses.  High performing sales people become sales managers.  Good bar staff become bar managers.  Sometimes such a strategy works, but more often it does not, because managing people doing a job is a very different proposition from doing the job.

So, if it is not very hard to be an outstanding manager, what does it take?

Courage

Managers have to have the courage to say things that they might find difficult or unfamiliar.  To praise when it is deserved and to challenge when it is required.  Managers have to say and do things that can feel awkward. They need to be brave enough to start some difficult conversations and skilful enough to end them well too!

Confidence

Managers need to have the confidence to get the job done. They have to believe that they are equipped to deal with the situations that they face, both psychologically and technically.  They have to believe in themselves as a manager, and be confident in their position.

Competence

Although managers have to deal effectively with a bewildering range of situations, I believe that there is a relatively small set of core skills or tools that need to be learned to deal with most of them.  These include:

  1. Building working relationships
  2. Giving and getting feedback that works
  3. Coaching and developing people
  4. Delegating, and
  5. Managing priorities

These are the managerial ‘Big 5′.  If you can learn to do these 5 things well, and use them frequently and consistently with everyone that you manage, then you will be an outstanding manager.  Many books have been written on each of these ‘Big 5′ and you can spend a lifetime learning about each of them. However for each of them competence can be acquired quite quickly by learning a few basics and then practicing them consistently.  Once managers have acquired a basic proficiency in the ‘Big 5′ then in my experience they soon acquire the confidence and courage that they need.

Get Better

Outstanding managers have a way of ensuring that they get better at their job.  They manage their own learning and are continually developing their management practice.  While it may take just a few months to become an outstanding manager it can take a professional life time to become the best manager that you can be!

Managing in The Matrix

There was perhaps a time when the vast majority of managers would just have to worry about managing their team, their ‘direct reports’.  For most of us this is no longer true with lots of time being spent managing:

  • horizontally with peers inside and outside the organisation
  • managing up, frequently in matrix organisations, to more than one boss on more than one project
  • customers, suppliers, regulators/inspectors and others touched by our work

Once again in such complex organisational settings the ‘Big 5′ are our friends and using them consistently and systematically will ensure that we are seen to be an outstanding manager.