Know Thyself: Why Leadership Training Should Start With Yourself

The collected wisdom of the ages tells us that to accomplish anything of worth, one must first “Know Thyself.” It was a guiding principle for Socrates. Shakespeare said, “To thine own-self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day. Thou can’st be then be false to any man.” Even Dr. Seuss has told us, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Sound advice!

Yet some leadership training workshops persist in advising participants to analyze their team members, colleagues, and managers. The assumption implicit in the diagnostic model is that the leader should assume responsibility for producing changes in group members. Therefore, it becomes a sort of test of the leader’s cleverness. The leader must come up with creative solutions for the team member he is trying to influence.

management team member solution effectivenessWe know, both from experience and from reading the management books that team members are more likely to be enthusiastic about solutions that they create themselves. When the team member or the team invents, plans, and executes his or her own solution, the effectiveness is almost always greater than when solutions are imposed from others, especially from the “boss.” They take the task more seriously, put more energy into it, and are much more likely to follow up and make sure that there is a good result. Despite the evidence, many companies continue to encourage leaders to be the problem solvers, enforcers, and judges. The leaders are expected to control their team members.

This is often a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) form of manipulation. Perhaps you’ve heard such statements as

  • “What’s the best approach to use with a person like Maggie?”
  • “I don’t know enough about what makes Erin tick to know what buttons to press.”
  • “The way to get Victor to accept new procedures is to make him think they’re his own ideas.”
  • “You’ve got to treat women differently.”
  • “I just can’t figure out yet what Lisa’s problem is. She lacks motivation.”

Ask yourself how you would respond to these approaches. It takes little imagination to understand the resentment sometimes encountered in a workplace where this approach is the norm. Effective leadership training will help participants learn how to give team members ample opportunity to come up with solutions on their own – whether it is initially their problem or yours.

Effective Leadership Defines the Problem

All problem solving begins with understanding the facts of the situation. We must define the problem. When the leader has a problem he or she has an obligation to “put the facts on the table.” But, what often happens is that the leader begins with the solution rather than a clear definition of the problem. In the beginning, only the leader has access to all the facts. There may be some obstacle to achieving one of the team’s objectives.

Some team member’s actions may be interfering with that goal. The leader may be frustrated by the lack of progress. The most powerful leadership training will encourage participants to begin such a problem solving conversation by clearly stating those facts: What is this about? (Describe what you see and hear the team member doing). Why is this my business? (The concrete effects on the leader’s or the team’s needs). And how important is this? (The emotional content – feelings).

What the leader does not need to know is the other person’s reasons, motives, or intentions for the behavior, certainly not at the outset. Step one should be to give the other person a chance to respond to the leaders needs by offering their own possible solution.

The advantages are many. The leader does not need to have a different formula for each team member. The leader can work “with” rather than “on” the team member. The team member is more likely to learn and grow. The leader will need less vigilance and enforcement to see that the solution is implemented properly. The relationship will improve. Fear will be reduced. The leader may even learn a thing or two about her/himself. The list goes on and on.

The disadvantages are few. It takes some skill and practice to learn how to do this. (That is where the leadership training comes in). It makes the leader somewhat vulnerable emotionally. While this concern is real, I have found that it is typically overcome fairly quickly because of the increased respect that is built through clearer, more honest communication.

According to Thomas Gordon, in the confrontive model (rather than the diagnostic model), “…what’s behind people’s feelings and behaviors is their business, not the leader’s. The leader’s business is to understand her/his own feelings and to communicate those feelings openly and honestly to others.” An example of this is Dr. Gordon’s Leader Effectiveness Training which teaches “I-Messages,” a three-part message that includes a non-blameful description of the behavior, the concrete and tangible effects, and the associated feelings or emotions.

Leadership training that stresses the importance of truly fact-based problem solving, confrontation, and feedback will have far more positive impact on long term performance than those leadership training approaches that encourage participants to put their people into yet another box.

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