Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Don’t solve problems if you want to be a great manager by Claire Lew

What makes a great manager isn’t the problems they solve, but the questions they ask. Start with these 16 questions here.




An employee comes to you and says, “I have a problem.” If you’re trying to be a great manager, what do you do?
Your initial instinct might be to roll up your sleeves. “Time to be the boss,” you think to yourself. You’re ready to step in, solve the problem and save the day.
Or something like that. You just want to be helpful.
In reality, your instinct is the opposite of helpful. Startlingly, when you jump in to solve a problem as a manager, it’s one of the biggest leadership mistakes you can make.
I was reminded of this counterintuitive concept when chatting with Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier, on our Heartbeat podcast. Though his company today is thriving with over 200 employees and over 2 million users, Wade admitted how he struggled in the early days as a CEO when an employee would come to him with a problem:
“When you [jump in and try to solve the problem yourself] you’re actually mistaking your roles. You’ve hired this person to solve problems. And if they’re unable to solve the problem, you’ve probably hired the wrong person.”
In other words, your role as a manager is not to solve problems. It’s to help others solve problems, themselves. Leadership is stewardship. It’s navigating your team through treacherous waters, around jagged rocks, to the desired destination,
and making sure folks feel nourished and rested along the way. But you can’t be a good steward if you’re scampering around trying to paddle all the oars faster, yourself. To take the boat analogy one step further, a great manager is a coxswain, not a rower.

This confusion of roles leads to a highly undesired outcome: You prevent your team from learning how to solve the problem. A dangerous reliance develops that hinges on your expertise, your “final word.” Your team never gets to fuss, flail, and figure out how to crack a nut with their own hands. When you’re the one thinking through all the problems, you’re teaching your team members to not think for themselves.
You also inadvertently slow your team down. Every problem – especially the “hard ones” – are re-routed to you. So what happens if you’re out of the office that week? Or, what if your plate is full? Well, that problem will just have to wait. And wait it does. You become a bottleneck, the inhibitor of your team. You funnel your team into single mode of dependency that’s difficult to undo.
The best leaders know this, and are keen to avoid this pitfall – so they do something else. They become the team’s accelerator. They help team members think for themselves.
How? By asking questions. Wade of Zapier adopted this practice as a CEO, describing it as a “more Socratic way” to helping his team solve problems. Ultimately, it leads to better results.
Ask questions and a team member can come to the answer themselves. Ask questions and the problem they’re facing becomes more lucid, less daunting. Ask questions and your team member might even come up with a better answer than you would have.
To be a great manager, here are 16 questions you can start with instead of jumping in to solve the problem yourself:
  • What do you see as the underlying root cause of the problem?
  • What are the options, potential solutions, and courses of action you’re considering?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages to each course of action?
  • How would you define success in this scenario?
  • How do you know you will have been successful?
  • What would the worst possible case outcome be?
  • What’s the most likely outcome?
  • Which part of the issue or scenario seems most uncertain, befuddling, and difficult to predict?
  • What have you already tried?
  • What is your initial inclination for the path you should take?
  • Is there another solution that isn’t immediately apparent?
  • What’s at stake here, in this decision?
  • Is there an easier way to do what you suggested?
  • What would happen if you didn’t do anything at all?
  • Is this an either/or choice, or is there something you’re missing?
  • Is there anything you might be explaining away too quickly?
What you’ll notice when you ask these questions is that most employees already have an answer (or several answers!) to a given problem. But they were uncomfortable with it, or they were worried about getting it “wrong.”
Part of asking the questions isn’t just to help them think through the problem more clearly, but also to help them realize they know more than they think, they’re more capable than they think, and that they’ve mitigated the risks better than anticipated.
Your job as a leader isn’t to just help clarify thought process – but to give confidence in their thinking.
As Wade says, “You’re trying to just help them get to that realization that, ‘You know what to do.'”
After all, a great manager is centered on building the capabilities of their team, not their own capabilities
Don’t solve the problem, yourself.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Lessons in Leadership From The London Bridge Attack by Alex Afriyie


It was a tragic situation yesterday as we saw another attack in London that ended with the death and injury of innocent people as well as the apprehension and death of the assailant. However, incredible bravery and courage was displayed by members of the public, as well as the security forces.

There are at least three lessons in leadership that we can learn from this incident:

1) People Acted Quickly To Stop The Attack - When dealing with any negative as leaders we need to take swift action to change things. Gruenter and Whitaker said,

The Culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate

2) People Acted With Courage - It takes courage to act when something needs to be confronted as a leader. These guys acted swiftly yesterday and stopped the attack being any worse than it was. Imagine how many more people could have died without their speedy intervention.

Courage doesn't mean you don't get afraid. Courage means you don't let fear stop you

3) People Acted Together - Teamwork and collaboration are the way that high performing teams work. Three men chased down the assailant who had two knives, while they were armed only with a fire extinguisher and whale tusk. By working together they were able to stop the attack. It was a great risk to their lives, but I'm sure the fact that they were working together gave them courage to continue.

As leaders or people that want to be successful in life and stop attacks or negatives of any kind, I believe we can learn from the behaviour of the public and police on London Bridge yesterday. 
Act quickly
Act with courage and 
Act together.

Alex Afriyie


Monday, 2 September 2019

4 questions to ask an underperforming employee during a one-on-one meeting by Claire Lew

When an employee is struggling, here’s what the best managers do.

Claire Lew

Someone’s slipping. You see it. You feel it. You’re not on the same page. You desperately want to pull the person up, but you’re not sure exactly how. Do you encourage them? Switch them off the project? Change how you’re leading them?
You’re now facing one of the toughest tasks as a leader: How do you manage underperformance at work? And more specifically, how do you sit down and talk about their underperformance with them, during a one-on-one meeting with her or him?
It’s tempting to look outward first. To blame the person herself or extenuating circumstances. “They don’t pay attention to detail.” Or, “The client is being unreasonable with them.”
While those may very well be the case, you should also turn inward. As leaders, when an employee is underperforming, we must self-reflect. What are you doing that is stopping this person from doing their best work?
The hard part about managing an underperforming employee is choosing to look both inward and outward for the sources of underperformance at work: What are you doing to hold an underperforming employee back? And what is the underperforming employee doing to hold herself back?
Oftentimes, we think we know the answer to those questions. We have hunches about what’s causing the underperformance: “It’s their perfectionist tendency getting in the way, obviously…” or “It’s my lack of context I shared about the project, clearly…”
So, we just create a performance improvement plan based on those hunches, and move forward.
That path is instinctual — but that path is flawed. Assuming what’s wrong doesn’t help you get any closer to finding out what actually is wrong. While your hunches may end up being spot-on, in my experience, I discover the truth of what’s really holding an employee back when I ask, not when I assume. Coaching a struggling employee to success begins with asking the right questions, not simply arriving with the supposed answers.
Given this, when you sit down in a one-on-one with an underperforming employee, what should you ask? What questions will help you look both inward and outward to get to the underlying source of underperformance?
Here are 14 questions to try. They are by no means the only questions you ask during a one-on-one (here are other ones to consider). But, they provide a good starting place to delve into how to better manage an underperforming employee.

Ask these questions to look inward.

You’re trying to figure out: “How have I been letting this person down? How have I been getting in the way?”
  • Is it clear what needs to get done? How can I make the goals or expectations clearer?
  • Is the level of quality that’s required for this work clear? What examples or details can I provide to clarify the level of quality that’s needed?
  • Am I being respectful of the amount of time you have to accomplish something? Can I be doing a better job of protecting your time?
  • Do you feel you’re being set up to fail in any way? Are my expectations realistic? What am I asking that we should adjust so it’s more reasonable?
  • Do you have the tools and resources to do your job well?
  • Have I given you enough context about why this work is important, who the work is for, or any other information that is crucial to do your job well?
  • What’s irked you or rubbed you the wrong way about my management style? Does my tone come off the wrong way? Do I follow-up too frequently with you, not giving you space to breathe?

Ask these questions to look outward.

You’re trying to figure out: “What on the employee’s end is limiting them? What choices or capabilities of their own are keeping them from the results you want to see?”
  • How have you been feeling about your own performance lately? Where do you see opportunities to improve, if any?
  • What are you most enjoying about the work you’re doing? What part of the work is inspiring, motivating, and energizing, if any?
  • What part of the work do you feel stuck? What have you been trying the “crack the nut” on, but it feels like you’re banging your head?
  • What part of the work is “meh”? What tasks have you feeling bored or ambivalent about?
  • When’s the last time you got to talk to or connect with a customer who benefited from the work you did? Would you like more opportunities to do that, and should make that happen?
  • Do you feel you’re playing to your strengths in your role? Where do you feel like there is a steep learning curve for you?
  • Would you say you’re feeling optimistic, pessimistic or somewhere in the middle about the company’s future?
You’ll notice that none of these questions ask, “What do you think you’re doing wrong?” or “What do you think I’m doing wrong?” The point of these questions is not to end up in an accusatory place, either way. Your goal is to reach a place of better understanding.
By approaching the conversation with an underperforming employee with questions to ask, rather than answers or directives to insert, you create space for that employee to want to do something different. To actually change and improve.
That change, that improvement, is the goal, after all.