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?

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.

Finding time for the important but non-urgent stuff

One of the useful tools that Steven Covey gave us was his concept of Four Quadrants in relation to time management.

Covey suggested that too many of us spend too much time in quadrant 1 (urgent and important stuff) and quadrant 3 (urgent but not important).

Activity in these 2 quadrants comes to dominate working life, with the important but non-urgent stuff of quadrant 2 being relegated to off-sites and other special occasions.  And while activity in quadrants 1 and 3 keep us busy they do little to make things better.  They just help us to cope with the status quo.

One of the benefits of 121s is the opportunity that they build in to focus on a regular basis on quadrant 2 type work.  And as Covey pointed out, this is the key to excellence.

By building time for Quadrant 2 work into a regular schedule we can start to change the culture of the organisation.

Urgent - Important Matrix

Urgent – Important Matrix

Why your strengths are your biggest barrier to becoming a better manager

If you want to Be A Better Manager then please sign up using the box on the right.  

I have been helping develop better managers for more than 20 years now.  And experience has led me to the firm belief that eventually our strengths become our greatest weaknesses.

I am a very occasional and very poor golfer.  My golf bag has 12 clubs in it.

Of those 12 clubs I can hit about 6 with any degree of control.  The others are a complete lottery.  I should really take them out of the bag to avoid temptation.

So, almost whatever the situation I find myself in, I will choose a 5 or 3 wood, or an iron between 6 and 9 (inclusive).

Often I find myself in situations where these clubs won’t work.  In a bunker for example I will reach for one of the clubs that I really don’t know how to hit – my sand wedge – and hack away.  On a good day I will eventually make it to the green, where custom and practice suggest that I should reach for the putter.  Another club I have never been taught to use.

Why is it like this?

Because 15 years ago someone gave me a series of 6 golf lessons as a present.  For an hour a week for 6 weeks I stood on a plastic tee on the driving range with someone showing me how to hit an iron and eventually a wood.  An hour a week spent smacking buckets of balls into the shrubbery until a semblance of control was achieved.

Then the lesson stopped and I was invited to play a round on a course.  I stepped out onto the first tee and watched my partner hit a driver more or less down the middle.  Now I had never hit my driver in my life – but how hard could it be?  Its not that different from a 3 wood.

I actually hit the ball OK.  True it did ricochet off the roof of the clubhouse before finally ending up in the light rough 100 yards short of my partners ball. But at least I was on my way.  I vowed at that point to leave the driver in the bag until I knew how to hit it.

I scrabbled around in a hundred and a bit shots with about 6 lost balls.  But I completed a round.  The first of about 12 that I have completed over the last 15 years.

Because I can manage to scrabble around with the few clubs that I know how to hit – I have NEVER bothered to go back and learn how to hit a driver, a sand wedge or a putter.  I have also never learned what to so when the ball is lower, or higher than my feet.  I have never learned how to keep a ball low into the wind or throw it up and let the wind carry it.  I have never learned how to shape the ball right or left.  And that is what I have become a ‘better golfer’.  Because the few strengths I have got somehow get me by.

And I think many managers are the same.  If you are lucky you get a short introduction to management course when you start out.  And then you are left on your own.  Using whatever strengths you have to get by.  And when you find yourself in a context where you don’t know what you should be doing – well you just do your best and hope that before long your strengths will come back into play.

Our strengths stop us from having to learn new techniques and skills.

And if we are not careful, they trap us into mediocrity.

They can certainly stop us from getting better.

And, unless we are especially careful, we convince ourselves that this is OK.

So, we need to be honest in our self assessments, work out what it is that we need to learn to do better, and then give ourselves permission to once again do those things badly, in order that we might eventually learn to do them well.

We need to find ourselves a good teacher.  We need to find somewhere we can practice safely. And then we need to put what we learn into practice.

If you want to Be A Better Manager then please sign up using the box on the right.  

It might even help you with your golf!

 

 

Update on the Be A Better Manager Book

You may already know that for some time I have been threatening to write the book on ‘How to Be A Better Manager‘.

And I still am.

But I have been thinking a bit about what I am actually trying to achieve with writing the book, and how best to achieve that purpose.

I want to help as many people as possible to become the best managers that they can be.  To become outstanding managers in fact.

And of course I hope to make some money along the way!

Is writing a book the best way to do this?  I am not so sure.

I have also been doing a lot of research on web based learning and training delivery – and it certainly now seems affordable and practical. The last time I looked about a decade back it was still really expensive, and few people could stream high quality video.

So instead I am considering a series of videos that will build into a 6 month course designed to really accelerate your journey towards becoming an outstanding manager.  I may supplement the videos with transcripts and perhaps the occasional teleconference, webinar or good old face to face training session!

My plan is not to make the videos available all at once, but instead to release them at carefully planned intervals that will give you the chance to absorb the material from one video, try it out at work, refine it and develop your practice before the next video is released.  This way you won’t get overwhelmed with information and will be able to make a series of manageable changes to your practice over time.

Alongside the videos will be a range of supporting materials including templates, aide memoirs and links to other materials to supplement your learning.

How does that sound?  Interesting?

If so then please sign up using the form on the right hand side.  I promise not to bombard you with lots of emails!

9 Ways to Be A Better Manager

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1  Value Your Role as a Manager

I meet so many apologetic managers.  Managers who really wish they weren’t. Managers who see entering management as a step towards the dark side.  The truth is that as a manager you can have a profound effect on how your staff experience their work, and how your clients experience your staff and your organisation.  Embrace this responsibility with creativity, imagination, courage and a systematic approach and you can deliver positive results all around.  See management as a necessary evil, and that is just what it will become….

2  Communicate clear performance expectations

Get REALLY clear about what you expect from the people you manage and then find ways to communicate those expectations clearly and consistently.  This is likely to include the results that you expect them to achieve in their work, but it is also likely to include some criteria for HOW the work is to be done.  For most of us it is not JUST about results, but also how those results are achieved.  I might argue that most managers spend too much time obsessing about results and not enough time creating the process, systems and cultures that allow the results to be produced.

3  Provide regular performance feedback

By ‘regular performance feedback’ I don’t mean an annual appraisal.  I mean daily, preferably more than daily, feedback that is based on what people are actually doing at work.  Appraising performance in real time, all the time. You see someone modelling values and behaviours that matter to your organisation, and you give them performance feedback.  You see someone modelling values and behaviours that undermine what your organisation is trying to achieve, and you give them good performance feedback.  Giving good performance feedback need not be a big exercise involving lots of emotion.  It should take just a few seconds of your time, and is perhaps the most powerful thing that great managers can do to improve performance.

4  Consider all relevant information when appraising performance

Annual appraisals are great.  Annual appraisals supported by quarterly mini-appraisals are even better.  Quarterly mini-appraisals supported by documented, weekly 121s better yet!  But how can you get the voice of the customer to inform the appraisal process?  What about the voices of other colleagues?  Develop a culture and systems that ensure that you have considered all the relevant information when you are appraising performance.

5  Observe staff at work

You can’t just manage people by monitoring performance data. At least, you can’t manage them well.  You might be able to prevent them slipping beneath minimum acceptable standards, but you certainly won’t be able to help them do their best work. Take the time to watch staff at work. Especially watch their interactions with colleagues and customers.  Observe the details, the mannerisms, the language patterns.  Understand how they do what they do, and help them to reflect and improve – mostly by giving them timely feedback on performance, but also by coaching them where appropriate.

6  Help staff develop self-improvement plans

You should not only expect people to ‘do their job‘ but to get better at doing their job too.  Self development is primarily their job, not yours.  Of course you stand by ready roll up your sleeves and help – but primarily the expectation is that they will be the architects of their own success.

7  Recognise and reward high performance

More often than not when I see where managers spend their time, effort and attention, it on the underwhelmers.  The staff that come in late, leave early and do as little as they can get away with while they are at work.  Now, of course underperformance has to be managed.  And managed effectively, robustly and quickly.  However you should be rewarding and attending to those that performing well.  Thanking them praising them, developing and encouraging them in whatever way you can.  Time spend recognising and rewarding high performance is likely to reward you with more high performance.  Leave it unrecognised and it is likely to whither over time….

8  Provide help, training, and guidance

This isn’t about the annual performance development plan.  This about building a culture of ‘just in time’ help, training and guidance. It is about providing role models and ensuring that everyone is looking to learn from their experience. It is about giving people the skill of self managed learning and an expectation they use them to improve performance

9  Build a working relationship

This should really be number 1 on the list, because without a working relationship you can’t manage people.  Take time to understand people and their motivations and aspirations.  Be curious about them. Don’t judge them too quickly and work out your role in helping them to do the very best work that they are capable of.  Build a 2 way relationship; where they respond to your management and leadership and you respond to their wants and needs too.  Recognise where relationships aren’t working and commit to either making them work or ending them.  Don’t let non working relationships drag on.

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Can we learn to be more fully ourselves? The search for authentic…

Much of my work is about helping people to become better managers and leaders.

Sometimes this is about teaching new models, theories and skills.  This can help develop better managers and leaders.

But most of the time the real work of developing managers and leaders takes place at a different, higher level.

It is about helping people to be more, or even better versions, of who they really are.  To be more vulnerable and authentic in their work.  It is about the ‘emergence of identity’.  Helping people to be themselves with more skill, power and honesty.  This means working with managers and leaders on their:

  • sense of purpose,
  • sense of self, and
  • the values attitudes and beliefs that they hold that help or hinder their practice.

This can be especially hard for those in management and leadership positions who mistakenly believe that their job is to be the protector. The one who carries all the baggage on their backs so that others can get on with their work.

At the heart of authenticity is the courage to be judged for who we are, and what we think, rather than our willingness to conform to the pressures and norms of our peers.  To hold an opinion lightly but with confidence.  Holding the right balance between advocating a belief while holding it open to inquiry and development.  Once we can learn to find and hold a leadership position that encourages curiosity, inquiry and challenge, the we have taken a major step to improving the culture of our workplace.

If this sounds like the kind of development that you would like to experience then please do get in touch.

And in the meantime, if you are worried that you may be experiencing just a little too much conformity in your workplace take 10 minutes to watch this video.