People don’t leave companies – people leave their boss. That’s forever true, and anyone who has consulted in multiple organizations sees that borne out every day. One of the most fascinating things about doing organization engagement surveys is seeing tiny “pockets of engagement” – and loyalty – in an overall toxic culture. People leaders matter.
We were consulting in large organizations when the first waves of downsizing occurred in the 1990s. There had been a somewhat unspoken contract between employer and employee – “if I’m loyal to you, you will be loyal to me” – and suddenly that was broken. Richard McKnight, writing in “Training and Development” in 1991, introduced a way of thinking about ourselves that can help us build resilience. He said that we can see ourselves in one of three ways, and the mindset we create makes all the difference.
Coaching works because it works differently. Here are just three important ways:
- The major difference is that it is over time, and that fact in itself makes any learning much more likely to stick. There is time to learn a concept, figure out with a coach exactly how it applies to you, experiment with new behavior, and discuss results and next steps with the coach.
- Coaching builds self-awareness. Most of us think we are more effective at any behavior than we are – social scientists have known for a long time that we overestimate our skill. Leaders who begin coaching often think they are great listeners, good at recognition, and clear, direct communicators. The assessment that is a part of coaching – particularly 360 degree feedback and personality assessment – can illuminate blind spots.
- Executive coaching with a highly experienced coach can often impact more than behavior- it can impact our perspective on our experience and our way of being. It can be truly transformative. We know that adults continue to grow and change in the right environment. Assumptions can keep us stuck, though, and good coaches can help us surface assumptions and take an “outside perspective” on ourselves. Coaching can help break through our Immunity to Change.
Examples of Engaging Leadership
Two people have taught me things this week that seem super relevant here.
One is Taylor Swift. I saw an article about her marketing savvy and her incredible emotional intelligence – something essential for leaders who want to engage with their employees. She not only had a hugely successful tour, she now has a film with concert highlights. The article was about the seven words she used to introduce the film – “You are the main characters in this film.” Only leaders who can make others feel that they are the main characters – that the business is successful because of them – can truly engage the workforce. More importantly, it’s true. People leaders get things done ONLY through others. Believe that, and let it show.
My second teacher is someone I’ve admired for a long time – David Brooks. He has a new book, How to Know a Person: the Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen. I haven’t read the book yet (I plan to), but I read a summary in last week’s NY Times, and there’s a lot just in the summary that helped me. I am pretty sure it can help leaders engage. Here are just a few tips for better listening.
- Be a loud listener. When someone is talking,” listen so actively that you feel like you are burning calories.”
- “Storify” when possible. Brooks means by this getting people to talk more deeply about how they came to their opinion, not just “what do you think?” but “How did you come to believe that?”
- Do “looping,” or what we used to call paraphrasing. Repeat back what you heard and ask if you are right. It’s an old technique but still works well.
- Don’t be a topper. This one is incredibly important. When someone tells us a problem they’re having, our first instinct is often to come up with a similar experience we’ve had. The problem, of course, is that “topping” turns the attention back to you, and you are no longer listening and connecting.