At different times throughout our career, we can find ourselves in situations we could not have foreseen. Perhaps a colleague leaves unexpectedly and we’re thrust into a more senior role, or a mentor or friend pinpoints potential we hadn’t recognised within ourselves.
Whatever the reason, we strongly support seeking out training designed to help acquire the skills to meet such challenges while simultaneously boosting confidence. At Esteem Training, we have never subscribed to the view that cobblers’ children must be the ones to end up minus footwear. Quite the opposite, since each member of our team has a funded personal career development plan which we wholeheartedly support as an employee-owned company committed to diversity and inclusion, and lifelong learning.
One recent example of our team actively expanding their career horizons involves Karen MacArthur, Esteem Training’s popular Candidate Support Coordinator who successfully completed the ‘Managing People for Growth’ online course run by Connect Three in partnership with Scottish Enterprise. A core ‘Steemie’ for more than four years, Karen heads our Candidate Support team.
Karen begins: “I hadn’t immediately thought of myself as a natural leader since my role, and default style, is to provide active support and encouragement for our supervisory and management candidates, and for my colleagues. I’m always keen to learn new tools and techniques, but we can all feel somewhat apprehensive signing up for advanced level courses that involve extensive background reading without knowing much about the other attendees or the companies represented.
“As it turned out, my fellow ‘students’ came from SMEs based all across Scotland. Over the six-month course, we covered modules ranging from ‘The Role of the Manager’ to ‘Communications, Interviewing and Assertiveness’, ‘Coaching and Delegation’ and ‘Creating a Culture of Innovation’. I found it interesting how our tutor, Fiona McMahon regularly reinforced the critical importance of active listening to give your team time and space to come up with their own solutions. I suspect that my natural empathy, enthusiasm and desire to be supportive may have resulted in me jumping in a little early during past conversations”.
Active listening and generating new ideas
In the spirit of applying active listening, and generating new ideas and innovative techniques, Karen recommends Edward de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats®’ where each coloured ‘hat’ represents a different perspective and potential approach.
It might be interesting to try this out individually, or as part of a team or new product development group – intentionally ‘pulling on’ these different hats to come up with well-rounded, inclusive solutions and services.
The ‘Six Thinking Hats’ approach includes:
- The Yellow Hat offers optimism to explore potential benefits and values
- The Black Hat focuses on risk management, including why something might not work and any potential remedial actions required
- The Blue Hat acts as a kind of referee, overseeing the process to ensure that each viewpoint is respected, and guidelines followed
- The Green Hat adds creativity, new ideas, alternatives and possibilities
- The Red Hat contributes feelings, hunches and intuition
- The White Hat viewpoint – ‘I just want the facts – not much else’
Managing Individual Performance
It’s generally accepted that we need different types of characters and personalities within teams to avoid ending up with ‘a bunch of clones’ as this can potentially limit our problem-solving capabilities and capacity for innovation.
But have you ever stopped to identify your own management style or consider your role as a manager? Karen recommends motivational speaker Nigel Risner’s work entitled ‘ It’s a Zoo round here’, including completing his online questionnaire: What animal are you? He suggests our natural communication styles render us either a lion, elephant, monkey or dolphin.
It could be enlightening, even fun, to take the quiz to find out how you communicate with others in your team and in the workplace generally, then share your result with your team before asking them to identify their animal’s instinctive or preferred communication style, including how they each communicate with you and one another.
Communication remains key
Karen elaborates: “Each of the six course modules featured recurring threads about communication styles, and how important it is for managers to think differently about how people need to receive information and how they best respond to our communication.
“We also looked at the adverse impact of less-than-effective communication. How emotion can often play a part, including how choice of words, tone of voice and body language can create still more profound impacts.
“Taking stock of all these pointers, I now use more open-ended questions, such as:
“What resources do you use, and what support do you feel you need to best achieve your goals?”
“What obstacles do you feel stand in your way of achieving success at work?”
“What’s on your mind right now that you would like to share with me?”
Coaching and Delegation
Steven R Covey – The Five Levels of Listening
Since active listening and appropriate task delegation are such crucial skills for managers, the course also covered Steven R Covey’s ‘The Five Levels of Listening’ – a key chapter from his book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.
Those five levels of listening include:
Level 1 – Interrupting (Ignoring)
You’re listening, but not allowing the other person to finish – eg ‘Yes, I agree but I think we should …’
Level 2 – Hijacking (Pretend or Fake Listening)
Literally hijacking the conversation and agenda – eg ‘Absolutely agree and that also happened to me when …’
Level 3 – Advising (Selective Listening)
Although good advice can be helpful, even invaluable at times, you’re not allowing the other person to come up with their own solutions – eg ‘I hear you, and what I think you should do is…’
Level 4 – Attentive Listening
You’re listening to the other person, inviting them to continue speaking and allowing them time to think, all the while looking at them to show you’re actively listening – eg ‘Would you like to tell me a little more about that …..
Level 5 – Active listening (Empathically Listening)
You’re listening, including paying attention to what lies behind the words and inside the silences, drawing on your intuition to prompt the other person to explore solutions and make suggestions for themselves. In other words, you’re providing active coaching.
To rate yourself on these listening skills, try taking five full minutes to listen to a colleague speaking without interrupting or contributing in any way. It’s often more difficult than it sounds, including the often-overlooked benefit of exploring silence which several of Karen’s group were very honest in admitting they can find uncomfortable.
Other models of effective coaching can prove beneficial, and Karen highlights the OSCAR Coaching Model developed in the UK by coaches and trainers Andrew Gilbert and Karen Whittleworth.
Their approach aims to develop self-insight and awareness for those being coached, with five activity levels identified for use by mentor manager/coaches:
Outcome – Being clear about what you want to achieve from the coaching session – what success will look like
Situation – Determining the current situation – what’s actually happening?
Choices and consequences – Helping your team member to generate a series of possible alternative choices, including making them aware of the consequences of each potential choice
Actions – Helping them to clarify next steps and take responsibility for their actions
Review – Create an ongoing process or review and evaluation, helping them to remain on course
The OSCAR approach offers a framework to provide support and review; establish deadlines and timescales; building confidence and competencies, and avoid inappropriate ‘dumping’ of tasks or critiques.
Throughout the full six-month period, active peer exchange sessions allowed the sharing of experiences and real-life lessons within the group – something we actively include in all Esteem Training workshops and modules.
We hope that this blog post provides a useful refresher, possibly even some new tools and techniques for you to consider implementing with your own teams.
And, since Karen has yet more pearls of wisdom to share from her course, we’ll follow up with a further blog post – ‘Managing People for Growth’ (Part 2) – Spreading the wisdom / More practical tools and techniques – in a week or so. Watch this space!