Okay, I admit it, it’s a little tongue in cheek but hopefully it got your attention!
It actually came from a recent chat with someone who was feeling the pressure to be all things to all people and to get everything right: foster a sense of belonging in their team, pay attention to everyone’s different needs and requirements, support individuals’ personal wellbeing and make sure the team had opportunities for productive discussions about diversity and inclusion. Does that sound exhausting? It did to me too, it’s quite a list. Added to which, they were struggling with a slew of emails and Teams messages from people who seemed to always to want more of them – more advice, more attention, more information… you get the picture.
Actually just writing it down is making me feel anxious and it wasn’t even about my team (truly!). But it did get me thinking about the expectations we put on ourselves as leaders and the challenge of making sure we pay full attention to all voices, especially when we’re having a bad day. And particularly on the days when, for whatever reason, we’re finding some people annoying.
Before we realise it, we start reverting to unhelpful stereotypes and unsubstantiated assumptions. We can get stuck inside negative thinking patterns: “They’re always complaining about something, I wish they would give it a rest for a day!”; “They have such a fixed view, there’s no point trying to have a proper conversation with them”; “I’m sure they are silently judging me, why don’t they just speak up and say what they really think?”
What’s your red flag? How do you spot when you’ve strayed into unhelpful generalisations or have allowed biases or even prejudices to creep in?
Start with being honest about the strengths and development needs of each member of your team. What do you value about them? What sometimes exasperates you about them and why? Try to work out why your annoyance flag suddenly shoots up. Sometimes it’s because we feel we should know the answer and don’t. Or we’re realising we’ve fallen short in some way, so annoyance with ourselves gets projected onto others. Or it’s because we’re working flat out and are worried about fitting in everything. We blame others for adding to our burden yet we haven’t attempted to manage their expectations, or kept them in the loop of what’s happening.
Be kind to yourself.
This is an opportunity to learn, not to unleash your inner critic. You have two great tools in your toolkit to help you.
The first is Positive Performance Conversations which will help you clarify with each team member what’s important for their role and why, and together to think through a sensible course of action. Instead of assumptions you can focus on the facts. Instead of stereotyping you have the chance to truly listen and keep an open mind. Having structured 1:1 time with each of your team will help you to work out how to make sure they have equality of opportunity so they can perform at their best.
The second tool is a coaching approach. Rather than come up with all the answers and risk generating a dependency culture where your team continually beat a path to your door, flex your coaching muscles. You can become their thinking partner and help them find their inner resourcefulness, building their confidence to generate ideas and develop practical solutions.
And if you need help with sharpening your tools, there is a new e-learning module available for Positive Performance Conversations (which also includes coaching questions to help you get started). We are planning an Everyday Coaching Skills for Managers skills workshop in the Spring – sign on to the waiting list so you get further details. And if you want to take your learning even further, we may be able to develop you to become a professional coach through our apprenticeship programme – contact us directly for more information.
Take 5 minutes to remind yourself how to foster psychological safety in your team, or you may want to refresh your learning by completing our 3-part eLearning module on Inclusive Leadership (each module takes around 20 mins).
This will help you stay alert to unhelpful thinking patterns and spot when biases are creeping in.
And if you’re feeling the pressure to be all things to all people, take a breath:
It’s okay to be annoyed. Recognise what’s happening, let go of wanting to be perfect and press the restart button. Inclusion is a journey, not a destination.
If you want to continue this conversation with us, why not join our Leadership Circle on Thursday 27th January 2022 at 9am?
Amanda Maclean, Head of People, Culture and Inclusion