20 April 2006

Leadership and “Yes, however ...”

One of the most frustrating answers to a vision presented by a leader must be the "Yes, I see your point, however ...". This kind of leader probably is one who likes to tell others what, when and how it should be done. The leader who gets frustrated by the "Yes, however .." answer could try to find a seminar like the one organized by Intermediair and Denk Producties. A seminar that states that the person who answers with "Yes, however ..." thinks that problems are caused by others.
By the way a leader who thinks that the "Yes, but ..." answer should never reach his table, also thinks that the cause of his problems are others.
However if the leader sees the "Yes, that maybe so, but ..." as a starting point to discover each others ideas about the situation, has found an opening. You might use this answer to start a mutual conversation.
So the "Yes, if ..." reaction could be the start of a talk about both visions of the situation.

There is of course a simple reason why people answer with "Yes, however ...". Sometimes it is because they see that what is presented is old whine in new bags. Especially experienced employees will have this reaction to change and ask themselves of what use it is to change the looks, if the content stays the same. ("We're not selling cars here, is it?") And most of the time the new leaders are the ones who present old ideas as new. At those moments, experienced employees react with their "Yes, however ..." it is highly important for the new leader to listen instead of identifing himself with the presented ideas. So to speak: "You are not your vision."
This attitude however is rather difficult to achieve, if one has put a lot of effort in creating a balanced vision statement. The vision has become part of ones personal view of the world, and has incorporated itself into our personality. Disapproval of the vision with "Yes, however ..." first creates the feeling of an attack on ones personality. At such a moment one could forget that:
  1. The receiver needs to explore the vision to understand it and make it his own. As you have done yourself.
  2. You are not your vision.
  3. It is highly unprofessional to let ones emotions answer the emotions of others.
So what could be the best solution for a leader to answer the "Yes, but what if ...?" reaction? Start talking to people in the organization, that will directly be influenced by the new vision. That way they will get the chance to understand the ideas behind the vision. And they can start thinking of solutions to work with the new vision, once it needs to be implemented.

A lesser solution is to bring your vision, listen to the reactions of the others at the different levels people can react. Those reactions can be substantive, procedural, relational of emotional. We would most of all like substantive reactions, but every kind of reaction is justified. One can not assume to have the right, to decide for others how they should feel.

The worst solution is to present the vision and answer every "Yes, however ..." with "When are you going to act as a professional?" Because you not only say: "I think you and your emotions are unimportant." But you also say that the other is only a means to an end, which lowers yourself to the same level. In which you have created a precedent to be treated as a means to an end. Something a leader should not want.

03 April 2006

Leadership and thinking in solutions

I read about ‘solutions focus’ for the first time about a year ago. It was presented to me at the Dutch site managementsite.nl.
The idea behind ‘solutions focus’ is, that a problem does not exist all the time. During a period in which we perceive having a problem, there will be moments that the problem does not exist. If we examin these problem free moments we might be able to find a solution for our problem, by applying the behaviour we show at the moments the problem does not exist to the moments that we seem to have a problem.
This method of ‘solutions focus’ does not work for the moments, that we encounter a problem for the first time. Although it can support us in solving the problem, because it reminds us of the fact that most problems have a solution.
Also ‘solution focus’ does not see running away from the problem as a solution. Most of the time we find, that the problem occurs in a different disguises and setting, just as soon as we have settled there. So ‘solutions focus' sees addressing your problem or problem situation with action directed at the problem as the solution. Besides the danger of fleeing is that those around you will see you as the source of the problem. Because the moment you leave the problem probably disappears. And for managers this image is even more dangerous, as they are seen, most of the time, as the ones who should have solved the problem.

To help someone with a problem find a solution according to ‘solutions focus’ you could ask him or her to describe a situation in which the problem did not occur. If this is a problem you could explore the situation, by asking: “what happened?”, “who was present?”, “what was the goal of the situation?”, “who had which tasks?”, “which actions were taken?”, “what results were achieved?”, “how much time was necessary?”, “what was said?”, “what was different from the situation in which you had no problem?” The goal of these questions is to make people let go of their need to protect their world view. As putting their world view on the line, is asking them to put themselves on the line and admit that they are flawed as are we all.
If that does not work, you might try to ask: “What would the situation look like, if there was no problem?” The goal of this question is to get visualization going, as this helps people to see what can be done to solve their problem. To support this visualization process one could ask questions like: “What would be different from the current situation?”, “How would you behave in that new situation?”, “How would you relate to the other in the future situation?” “What could you do to create the new situation?”

The advantage of ‘solutions focus’ is that you are helped to start thinking positively about your problem. You stop thinking of yourself as victim of your situation and take initiative to solve the problem. One stops complaining and becomes a solver. And if there is something people like, it is having influence on their situation.

But why should it be important to a leader to focus on solutions? First of the block is the idea, that leaders should have answers to questions and problems followers have. However by using ‘solutions focus’ a leader puts the follower in to the driving seat of his own position. The leader does not lead by presenting a solution, but by helping finding the solution. This not only creates a follower who can lead himself, but the follower will see the leader as a person who is sincere and willing to listen to the questions he or she has. A second idea that comes to mind is the fact that two know more than one. A leader can not know all answers to all questions, he needs his followers to be able to answer some of their questions on their own. Thirdly using this approach creates trust and openes within the relationship the leader has with his followers. So when problems might become really serious they will not wait till the end to talk with the leader, they will keep him informed.
So in a sense using this approach means that life will be easier, the leader will be seen as a leader, followers will be happier and probably work harder and be less ill.