Leading TeamsToday managers are required to spend less time controlling and more time coaxing staff in what they need to do. As empowerment pushes decisions and responsibilities further down the line, the skills required of managers are changing from ‘how to tell and motivate’ to ‘how to persuade and influence’.

“If your actions inspire, empower, and serve others to produce an improved state over an extended period of time, you are a leader.” —John Eades, Author, podcaster

Some basic principles:

Focus on the person

  • seek to understand first, then to be understood: do your homework – to uncover their pressures, deadlines, constraints and concerns; e.g. ‘how are you finding …?’
  • ‘hook’ their interest (ANABC – for those in the know!) by relating the situation to them and by helping them visualise the options available; ‘sell’ to them by solving their problems; e.g. ‘from your perspective, this will mean a 30% reduction in set-up time’
  • at their pace: encourage them to question, to ‘re-think’ their position from another perspective, and to offer suggestions; e.g. ‘how does that sound to you?’
  • chunk information: i.e. present it in the way they assimilate it; e.g. if they are a ‘big picture’ person, then give them an overview, if a ‘stickler for detail’, give them to the last decimal point
  • pitch to the emotions: all the above are process and content; presenting logical, rational arguments is only half the battle; the other half is to address the emotions; how entrenched is their position? Where’s the common ground?

Mind your language

even your choice and use of language can help persuade or put them off; some techniques:

  • playback: to establish rapport, use their terms, language, and their name
  • open questions: to draw them out, and uncover their opinions and objections, use questions which do not set them up for a ‘yes/no’ answer; e.g. ‘how would you feel about …?’ rather than ‘do you like the idea of …?’
  • suggestions: i.e. not orders to encourage them to think they had a part in coming up with the idea; e.g. instead of ‘what you ought to do is …’, try’ what would be the effect if you did?’ try to sound neutral, and look for the positive

Learn the art of ‘appreciation’

Use Appreciative Inquiry, a technique to help people ‘think positively’. This uses affirmative questioning techniques (hence ‘inquiry’) and language to stimulate positive (‘hence ‘appreciative’) thinking. It aims to break people out of their typically negative thought patterns and habits

Traditional problem-solving           Vs.                Appreciative inquiry

“what went wrong?”                      >>               “what went well?”

“it wasn’t what I expected”          >>               “what could it be?”

“what a waste of time”                 >>               “what did we learn?”

“is there a problem?”                     >>           “is there an opportunity?”

Can be used to help:

  • motivate – “when you were feeling best at your work, what were you doing?”
  • improve employee performance – “describe a time when you went that extra mile for a customer, what made that possible?”
  • build teamwork – “why were you proud to be part of that team?”

It works as follows:

  1. identify: the issue to be discussed, e.g. how to be a more effective team
  2. ‘appreciate’: i.e… find examples of ‘best’, e.g. ‘describe a time when the group performed well; what were the circumstances?”
  3. ‘inquire’: analyse examples and stories of what went well to pinpoint common characteristics of what made them the best times; e.g. ‘when you led that project, what made it a success?’
  4. envision: brainstorm what might be, e.g. ‘what if…?’
  5. focus: home in on what should be, e.g. ‘what ought we/you now be doing in the future…?’
  6. affirm: state your new objective positively, and work out how to make it happen

Spot the signs to tell when you have won their interest, watch out for:

  • questions which come with no prompting from you
  • ‘self-referencing’ – when they start to relate what you’re saying to their situation with no leading by you
  • relaxed body language, e.g. unfolded arms, eyes which no longer avert yours, leaning forward in their chair (= interest), leaning back (= absorbing what you have said) (with no pushing by you)

Tread carefully or how to avoid raising their hackles:

  • manipulation: g. asking them for their view within earshot of a boss they be afraid of contradicting
  • imposition: i.e. presenting ‘choices’ as a fait accompli
  • closed/leading questions: which lead to answer you desire, e.g. ‘you couldn’t possibly have a problem with that, could you?’
  • personalities: making it personal, e.g. ‘that’s just typical of you’
  • defensiveness: your case should stand of fall on the merit of what you say, not how loudly or rudely you say it

Give people a true choice:

  1. is not a choice
  2. is a dilemma
  3. is the minimum from which to make choices

The ‘do nothing option’: i.e. doing nothing is always an option, but should be evaluated on the same terms as the rest; don’t give them an option to do nothing, for they’ll surely take it; instead you must present alternatives, e.g. which option, which to buy, rather than whether to buy’

Oh, for the good old days of giving orders …