Seven Questions You Can Use to Move from Manager to a Leader

This week’s article is provided by Jonathan Reitz as part of the World Business and Executive Coach Summit (WBECS) interview series.  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Management Vs Leadership: How Coaching Skills Make a Difference that aired on Tuesday, May 25th.

 

Many careers get built around the mysterious difference between a manager and a leader. Don’t believe me? Google how to become a leader some time. But what IS that difference?

Both get things done. Each produces on strategic initiatives and business outcomes. Execution is a priority no matter what your career trajectory, especially coming out of COVID-19. The entrepreneurial view requires the action-reflection cycle to move an organization forward. It’s not accidental that action leads to that combination.

Leaders follow a vision that they see and communicate to their followers. Understanding where you and the organization are going is the first step to having others follow. How a leader develops that vision and owns it is another article.

But mixing in another slight mindset shift sets leaders apart: Leaders intentionally look for opportunities to unlock/develop the people around them. When you follow or work for a true leader, full potential is within reach for both the individual and the organization.

Bringing that future to life challenges even an excellent leader. And taking people with you as you move toward a vision requires handling changing conditions and expectations.

How can an effective leader release the people around them to reach their potential? Here are seven structured, systematic questions that you can use to challenge the people around you in developmental conversations:

  1. What progress have you made?

Right out of the gate, a leader has to decide: will it be more helpful to track progress by measuring back from the starting point? Or is the distance to the goal more compelling? Looking back to where you started roots the progress conversation in tangible outcomes. Keeping your eyes on what’s in front builds ownership of the vision. Both have solid reasoning behind them.

  1. How on track are you?

This second question invites an assessment of the progress from the perspective of the client/team member. Leaders who develop people gain insight into how well their team evaluates their progress, a key growth area. You’ll not only measure progress but also understand and improve strategic skills. Sharpening this area equips individual contributors to level up to leadership.

  1. What’s working?

Now we move from the strategic to the tactical. This question focuses on the practical actions that have produced beneficial results in the recent past. For example, the conversation might focus on the results produced since the last you spoke. You can target these areas later in the conversation.

  1. What’s not working?

This practical corollary to the last question explores actions that produced unhelpful or useless results. These items can be shut down or cut back.

  1. What are you learning?

The client describes their discoveries out loud. The process of forming their learning into clear thoughts and then pushing the words out of their mouth reinforces the insight. The client hears their words and gauges their reaction to them, which further confirms the moment. This question drives discoveries more often than any of the others, so don’t miss the opportunity to ask it!

  1. What needs to change?

Adapting or developing a client’s thinking becomes the goal here. Learning that gets named but not acted on slows development. Be sure to connect the change with the realizations identified previously. Even a few moments of reflection may inspire new connections and actions.

  1. What now/next?

Splitting the last step into two questions helps team members focus and order their commitments.

– “What now?” points to the first thing the client will do after the conversation ends. This action grows out of the last two questions and should move the client toward the critical outcome.

– “What next?” carries a less clear priority. As long as what the client names in response to this question moves them toward their vision/goal, the timeline can be more open-ended. A good rule of thumb expects completion of this action before the following conversation or next team meeting.

These seven questions shift a manager from directing the actions and priorities toward being a leader that invites team members to make meaningful contributions daily. The mindset shift requires the leader to depend on team members and work to bring out the team’s abilities. Team member growth AND bottom-line outcomes indicate how well this is working.

Important note: This seven-question framework only works if there is an existing goal, vision, or destination. The leader and the team member focus together toward specific outcomes. Clarity wins. Ideally, the client names the target as the conversation begins. If that target isn’t clear in the client’s mind, the leader/coach becomes most effective by asking open-ended questions that become specific about what they want to accomplish.

Whether you or the team member identified the future target isn’t the point. Clarity about what you want is the multiplier. It’s potent if you can specify how you’ll know you’re getting what you want in the moment.

One unintended side effect is that this approach can make your team more prone to turnover. BUT it’s the kind of turnover that comes from team members being promoted or taking on more responsibility. The converse of this side effect is that you will become the leader in your organization that helps people advance their careers, and that is a decisive recruiting advantage!

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author:

Jonathan Reitz, MCC is CoachNet FLUXIFY’s Director for Training/CEO. Jonathan holds the Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential in the International Coaching Federation.   He’s also the co-founder of the Team Coaching Global Alliance, and has been featured multiple times on the World Business and Executive Coaches Summit (WBECS).

He wrote Coaching Hacks:  Simple Strategies to Make Every Conversation More Effective.  Jonathan is a member of the faculty in the Weatherhead School of Management Coaching Program at Case Western Reserve University.  Jonathan Reitz lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife Joy and daughter Julia.   Find him online at www.jonathanreitz.com

How to Improve Your Digital Body Language

This week’s article is provided by Erica Dhawan as part of the World Business and Executive Coach Summit (WBECS) interview series.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection that aired on Tuesday, May 18th.

 

No traditional expert in body language could have predicted that today our communication would be nearly entirely digital. Modern communication relies more than ever on how we say something rather than on what we say. That is our digital body language. When the internet came along, everyone was given a dais and a microphone, but no one was told how to use them. We all just picked things up as we went along. And the mistakes we’ve made along the way have had real consequences in business.

Misunderstandings are rampant in today’s workplaces. And while poor communication habits may feel inevitable with colleagues, it can often come at the cost of a team’s potential to succeed. Each of us has different expectations and instincts about whether we should send a text versus an email, when to call someone, how long to wait before we write someone back, and how to write a digital thank you or apology without seeming insincere. These seemingly small choices create impressions that can either enhance or wreck our closest relationships in the workplace (not to mention in our personal lives). Most of today’s boardrooms, workplaces, and classrooms minimize the conditions necessary to foster and augment clear communication, leading to widespread distrust, resentment, and frustration. There are more far-flung teams. There are fewer face-to-face interactions. There is virtually no body language to read (even today’s video meetings are scarce of eye contact or hand gestures).

But how can we stay connected when a screen divides us?

The answer lies in understanding the cues and signals that we are sending with our digital body language, and learning to tailor them to create clear, precise messages. Everything from our punctuation to our response times to our video backgrounds in a video call make up signals of trust, respect, and even confidence in our modern world.

By embedding a real understanding of digital body language into your workplace, communication processes can provide both the structure and the tools that support a silo-breaking, trust-filled environment. Here are some strategies from my new book Digital Body Language:

The Medium is the Message

All communication channels are not created equal. Knowing how and when to use each one depends on the context. Every channel brings with it a set of underlying meanings and subtexts, and knowing how to navigate this array of hidden meanings is a telltale mark of digital savviness and––ultimately––professionalism.  If you’re stuck, ask yourself: how important or urgent is your message? And to whom are you communicating? If so, what’s better––email, Slack, the phone, or a text?

Punctuation is the New Measure of Emotion

In our digital world, our screens filter out the non-verbal signals and cues that makeup 60 to 80 percent of face-to-face communication, forcing us to adapt the emotional logic of computers. We’re rendered cue-less.

By way of compensation, our communication style relies on punctuation for impact. In an effort to infuse our texts with tone and to clarify our feelings, we might use exclamation marks, capital letters, or ellipses, or else hit the “Like” or “Love” button on messages we receive. But instead of clarity, sometimes our reliance on punctuation and symbols can generate more confusion.

My advice when it comes to punctuation and symbols: use them judiciously.

Timing is the New Measure of Respect

Face-to-face interactions require that both parties be available at the same time. This is less possible today, with most of us scrambling to keep up with our various inboxes.

This often means that communication happens at a slower pace. And in a digitally-reliant world, the slightest pause between messages takes on an almost operatic meaning.

The thing is, most of the time a non-answer means nothing at all; the other person is simply tied up, doing something else, didn’t notice she’d gotten a text, had her volume turned off, or forgot where she put her phone.

If you’re worried about your digital tone, one way to clarify your feelings digitally is through the direct, easy-to-understand language of emojis. While emojis may be a learning curve for some, they can be critical to enhancing workplace efficiency and cultivating a corporate culture of optimal clarity.

A phone call is worth a thousand emails

With so many written platforms at our disposal, we can also get caught up in asking too many questions in email or group chat. Phone, video, or live meetings safeguard us from asking one tiny question after the next, instead requiring us to formulate the right questions. If you just received a vague or confusing text or email, don’t be afraid to ask to request a phone conversation or, if possible, a video or in-person meeting.

If it’s a sensitive dialogue, requesting a quick call shows you’re being thoughtful. Instead of making you look indecisive, waiting for a few beats before responding to questions shows the other person that you are listening and taking your work seriously.

With hardly any face-to-face interactions with colleagues or classmates these days, there is virtually no body language to read. Understanding digital body language is essential for those of us who are committed to making strong relationships and making a mark, even in the swell of conference calls, emails, texts, and Zoom engagements. Not only can it enhance your interpersonal interactions and liberate you from the fear and worry that digital communication inspires but it can give you a competitive advantage on your team grounded in transparency and empathy.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Erica Dhawan is a leading expert on 21st-century teamwork and communication. She is an award-winning keynote speaker and the author of the new book Digital Body Language. Download her free guide to End Digital Burnout. Follow her on Linkedin.

Photo by Gabriel Benois on Unsplash

Conflict Strategies for Nice People

This week’s article is provided by Liane Davey as part of the World Business and Executive Coach Summit (WBECS) interview series.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled The Good Fight: Using Productive Conflict that aired on Tuesday, May 11th.

 

We’re not having enough conflict. When we avoid issues that we need to address, we get into what I call “conflict debt.” What is conflict debt? Essentially, each time you avoid a discussion, debate, or disagreement that you should be having, you add that issue to the list of unresolved issues. If you should be introducing novel ideas to get your organization out of a rut but you think, “that’s gonna’ ruffle some feathers,” so you stay quiet, you’re incurring debt. If you should be telling a coworker that he’s not pulling his weight, but you just can’t be bothered starting a fight, that’s conflict debt.

Like with any debt, conflict debt accrues interest that costs us dearly. As organizations, we fail to prioritize, dilute resources, and accomplish little. As teams, we work around problem people and overwhelm the capable ones. As individuals, we stifle our concerns and become increasingly disgruntled, stressed, and disengaged.

Conflict debt is too costly. We need to surface and work through conflict, but the voices inside our heads give us so many reasons why we should avoid it. Perhaps the loudest voice is the one that tells us conflict isn’t nice. But is that true?

You might think conflict has to be loud, or aggressive, or rigid. It doesn’t. You can have conflict nicely by choosing words skillfully and keeping your tone level and your body language open. There are a few techniques you can use to have conflict nicely.

Validating versus invalidating

For the most part, grown adults in the workplace understand that they can’t always get what they want. What really frustrates people is when they don’t feel that they’ve been heard. Unfortunately, the moment you get into a conflict, your attention gets laser focused on pleading your case, rather than hearing theirs. When they say, “We need to drive more traffic into the stores, I’m dropping prices,” you immediately go to, “We need to protect our margins!”

The most powerful thing you can do to have conflict nicely is to leave your colleague with the impression that you understand their point. That means you need to start by really listening to and carefully reflecting their concerns before even mentioning your own. “You’re focused on driving traffic into the stores. Tell me what our numbers look like this week.” If the first thing out of your mouth is their perspective rather than your own, you’ve set a positive tone for the whole discussion.

Ally versus adversary

Conflict is particularly unpleasant when you make the other person feel like you are working in opposite directions. Antagonistic conflict pits the two of you against each other and leaves the other person feeling isolated. Imagine standing facing one another pulling in a tug-of-war. “We NEED to drop our prices, we’re not going to get anyone in our store at these prices!” “Yeah, well we NEED to make a profit and we’re going to lose our shirts at that discount!”

Having conflict nicely requires that you pivot so that you are facing the same direction and looking at the problem together, as allies. The secret is to appeal to a higher purpose that you have in common. For example, “Look, I know you think we need to drop our prices and I’m pushing hard to keep them level. We both want to make it through the holiday season profitably. How can we think about this differently?” As soon as you can start saying “we” and stop saying “you,” the conflict will feel much nicer.

Productive versus unproductive

A sure way to be the bad guy in a conflict is to back someone into a corner. Making assertive statements, pointing a finger, and shutting the conversation down with closed questions will leave your colleague with no way out. You know exactly how people behave when they are trapped, they either fight more aggressively or they back down. Neither is going to leave them with the impression that you’re a nice person. “Do you want to be the person who destroyed our Q4 margin?”

The alternative is to create a path forward with everything you say. Rather than trapping the person so that their only option is to contradict you or disagree with you, ask open-ended questions that allow them to explain their position. “How are you thinking about the impact on our margin if we discount prices that far?” Even when you’re proposing a solution to the problem, pose it as a question to test whether it works, “Ok, what if we were to take the sale to 30% and sweeten it with a free gift with $50 or more?”

If someone raised you to believe, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” you might be avoiding conflict altogether. That’s not good for anybody. Instead, focus your efforts on having conflict nicely. Make your colleague feel heard and understood, make them feel like an ally, rather than an adversary, and constantly leave room for both of you to work together toward a solution. From now on, “if you can’t say anything nice, make sure you say it nicely.”

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Liane Davey is a New York Times Bestselling author of three books, including The Good Fight: Use Productive Conflict to Get Your Team and Your Organization Back on Track. Known as the Water Cooler Psychologist, she is a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review and frequently called on by media outlets for her experience on leadership, team effectiveness, and productivity. As the co-founder of 3COze Inc., she advises on strategy and executive team effectiveness at companies such as Amazon, Walmart, TD Bank, Google, 3M, and SONY. Liane has a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology.

Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash