My conversations this month have – as always – focused on communication in leadership; and specifically, the challenge of getting the balance right between challenge and support when it comes to driving performance from our team.   We live in a world where talent is hard to find, harder to recruit and even harder still to retain.  This commercial reality in a world trying to live with Covid-19 adds an additional layer of complexity to engaging our team to deliver, and my time this past month has been spent with a fashion brand that is a global powerhouse in the industry, who is wrestling with such a challenge.

Specifically, the focus of my discussions with senior leaders who need to take the performance of their team to the next level has been consistent: how to ensure that we empower our teams to deliver, rather than enable bad behaviour?  What’s the bad behaviour specifically I hear you wonder? ‘I don’t know’, ‘I haven’t got time’, ‘I don’t know where to get that’, ‘I tried that and it didn’t work’ type responses to dealing with issues, requests, challenges.  Have you come across it at all, I wonder?

The difficulty for leaders everywhere is that in the race to be supportive, empathic, helpful and motivating, we can fall prey to the sin of allowing our team to ‘do a YP’.  My first ever boss described a ‘YP’ as ‘your problem’.  So, when our teams do have an issue, challenge or difficulty, they want to share it with you in order for you to ‘fix’ it.  That’s ‘doing a YP’.  Now their problem is your problem.  And they look forward to hearing from you when you’ve resolved it.

But, isn’t that our job?  Aren’t we there to do precisely that?  Make their lives easier?  Sort problems, resolve issues, galvanize and motivate our team to step up, rather than have them wasting time on issues which you can easily sort?

Beware.  Yes, we need to be flexible, dependent on the ability and willingness of our teams to complete the task (we’ve all come across situational leadership), however, engaging our teams is all about enabling them to become more confident and confident to resolve such issues themselves.

Our communication – if it is to be effective – means getting the balance right between ‘tell’ and ‘ask’.  Being able to ask brilliant, crisp questions that explore what they’ve learned, scrutinize what they’ve done, explore their ideas are to address the challenge, identify who can help them, brainstorm options, ground them in metrics of success and agree a date by which we’ll catch up on what they’ve done to gauge progress.

Whoever is asking the questions is controlling the conversation.  Pure coaching is the secret sauce of leadership communication…woven into the discussion seamlessly, effortlessly.  All of us are much more invested in making our ideas work, rather than trying someone else’s, and that’s how we ensure that we empower our teams, rather than enable bad behaviour.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt FFIPI AICI CIP