All right, so welcome to another one of my Todd Talks, which always exists to help you improve your leadership, make a greater difference in the world, and help other people do the same. And today I want to share with you one of the biggest traps people managers make all over the world when they’re attempting to develop and bring the best performance out of their teams. And that trap is called jumping to action. And that’s when people managers start to suggest actions and solutions for their people to take before their people even agree that they have some gap or opportunity that requires action. And it’s a big trap because people don’t take action on problems unless they first and foremost agree that those problems exist and that they’re motivated to do something about them. So let me share with you a story from Leonard, a people manager, that I think will illustrate this trap nicely and what he did to overcome it, and here’s what he said in his own words.
All right, let’s have a look. I had a direct report, Ben, in quotes, who was shy around engaging senior stakeholders and didn’t get his point across in an assertive enough manner. Okay, quite a typical thing, particularly when you’re leading up people are more senior than you. This meant he wasn’t effective on assurance reviews, it sounds like somebody in compliance for a bank, which are the bread and butter of his role. Risks he was raising with stakeholders weren’t being resolved, which could ultimately lead to penalties for the bank, ranging from a reprimand to tens of millions of dollars in fines. Okay. A lot at stake here. And nothing has led to any fines yet, but I think we just got lucky. What I had done in the past was to give him exercises such as attending Toastmasters, but it didn’t lead to any change. But after I attended the Unlocking the Power of Candor workshop, it’s one of our workshops, I was able to say more directly what the real problem was.
Okay, awesome. I named the big ticket item, i.e. the biggest opportunity for performance improvement. And Ben understood and agreed that he needed to change. And the plan that we agreed upon was exposure therapy. Okay, this is going to be good. First, he would practice with me as the senior stakeholder. Then I would sit in on meetings with his stakeholders and correct him if necessary, and offer him coaching afterwards. And now he’s making progress. I see him stopping himself mid-sentence when he is starting to agree, but realize it’s the wrong approach. He then changes his direction and carries on as he should. In the last review, he got concurrence with the senior stakeholder on the issues, and now I don’t need to micromanage him anymore, that’s great, which is freeing up my time. But I also have a happier employee who’s less likely to leave, and most importantly, risk for the bank is being reduced.
All right. Another great story. And I have to say, this one’s a bit humorous for me because there’s an irony embedded in it. Notice that Leonard’s complaint about Ben was the same thing that Leonard realized he was doing himself. Leonard wasn’t being direct enough about Ben not being direct enough with his stakeholders. And I think this brings out a few lessons. Number one, we can’t expect our people to do things that we’re not doing ourselves. I’m not saying that Leonard was any kind of hypocrite here. He wasn’t. He simply didn’t realize that he wasn’t being direct with Ben, but once he realized it, he changed his behavior. So role-modeling critical behaviors is key. That’s number one.
Number two, don’t expect that your people will take action unless they first and foremost, they agree they have a problem, a gap, or an opportunity that requires them to do so.
And number three, that’s awfully hard to create that agreement when we jump to action because the precursor to creating agreement that there’s a problem, a gap or opportunity, is having a direct conversation about that problem gap or opportunity. We can’t create agreements around problems that we’re not openly and honestly discussing with each other.
And when you do all of these things as a people manager, you role-model the right behaviors, you create agreement before offering suggestions, and you have direct conversations with your folks about their big ticket items, their real gaps in opportunities, you’ll be pleasantly surprised what they’re capable of. And because you’ve made them partners in the problem, your people just may come up with the solutions without you.
Okay. That’s it for me today. I hope you found this valuable, and I look forward to talking to you next time. But in the meantime, be curious, be compassionate, be collaborative, but most of all, be candid.