Delivering results through others means getting the balance right between challenge and support.  My time this month has been focused on how to practically get this right – which is hard enough to do anyway, without the sixteen months and counting of a global health crisis which has challenged us all as never before.  As leaders who drive results through others:

  • How do we conduct those more difficult discussions about below par performance?
  • How do we constructively challenge those who’ve had a lot on their plate and where we’ve been both supportive and sympathetic, but now they really need to step it up?
  • How do we encourage, enthuse and engage our teams to lean in, dig deep and deliver more when we fear that they are a flight risk and ready to leave our business?
  • How do we help our team see the value of returning to the office environment positively, rather than as a veiled threat to future career prospects if they insist on staying at home?

The list of scenarios is endless, and the challenge around getting it right is great, so where precisely we start?  Endless behavioural science research confirms that distance builds distrust, and that the remote environment can have a damaging impact on the quality of our professional relationships across teams and time zones.  These conversations would be hard enough if we were face to face, but now we need to do this remotely.  How on earth do we get this right?

I have found myself returning to the power of Kim Scott’s work, who wrote a superb book called ‘Radical Candour: How To Be A Kick Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity’.  If you’ve not read it; then buy a copy and do so now.  It’s on audio, so grab it that way if this is your preference.  It is simply exquisite.  Scott talks about a simple concept with profound impact: how to care personally whilst challenging directly.  As leaders she is straightforward and practical in how to get started and offers a simple and effective framework to critique where we might tend to operate at the moment.  The area within the four box quadrant that has taken my time and attention this month is the spectacularly labelled ‘ruinous empathy’.  This month, I have been working with sales leaders at a global brand who need to challenge their teams to change their behaviour, learn more quickly and adapt faster to deliver better performance.  Tenure, expertise, skill set is no protection against this requirement and whilst caring personally is in abundance; challenging directly is not.  This is ‘ruinous empathy’ because we don’t want to damage the relationship or cause offence and yet leaders everywhere must fight against it.  Why?  Because ultimately, it’s not fair or helpful to the other person to fail to tell them things which they would be better off knowing.

Are you guilty of ‘ruinous empathy’?  Who in your professional world is overdue ‘radical candour’ for which they, the team, their customers and the business would all benefit if you took your communication skills up to the next level?  If our relationships are as strong with our team as we like to think they are then now is the time to step up.  Care personally, and challenge directly.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt FFIPI AICI CIP