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The coaches corner - April 2021

Mar 26, 2021
Julia Rowan answers your management, leadership, and team development questions.

Q. I did really well at the beginning of the lockdown, but it’s beginning to feel like a struggle. We worked hard before, but COVID-19 has added at least 15% to our workload. I’m trying to remain positive and upbeat with my team, but I feel I’m running on empty.

There is so much in this short question – the pressure to be positive, the desire to mind your team. And I appreciate how important it is to be positive, but what kind of positive? Leaders often want, with great intention, to protect their teams – from negativity, from too much work, from politics. The problem is that the leader then takes on the dual burden of protecting and being positive. That’s exhausting.

You manage a team of adults. Trust yourself to be real with them. You don’t want to be relentlessly negative (‘everything is awful’), but unrealistic positivity (‘everything is awesome’) is not doing anyone any favours. You can be positively realistic (‘it’s harder with COVID-19, let’s talk about how we cope with that’). Not having to pretend will allow you to show up more authentically, and that gives permission to others to be authentic.
I generally find that when teams are allowed the space to express how difficult things are, they find solutions and ways forward. Not having to pretend releases creativity. By being realistic, you have not stopped supporting the team – you are supporting them in a more useful way.

I’m a huge fan of journalling to become aware of our drivers and then put them to good use. Positivity, perfectionism, and people-pleasing are drivers I come across all the time. Becoming more conscious of them helps us to channel them more usefully.

Q. An experienced member of my team continually asks for direction. The quality of their work is good, but I have to spend a lot of time briefing them, checking, and so on. I’m not sure how to address this or whether I should just let sleeping dogs lie.

My first response to this question is to ask whether your team member’s need stems from their ‘will’ (confidence, motivation) or their ‘skill’ (ability). You tell me that the quality of their work is good, so my guess is that their skill is okay, and the issue is confidence. There is also the possibility that they are simply in the habit of asking you.

The next time this person asks you for input about a task, engage in a different kind of conversation and provide a different kind of support. Ask questions that allow them to access their knowledge and experience and build on their strengths and achievements. If there is a genuine lack of confidence, be sure to reassure and give positive feedback.
You need to prepare for this because on a busy day, it’s very easy to get bounced back into the usual way of doing things. Write out some good questions in advance.

I often advise leaders to respond carefully when asked a ‘How do I…?’ question and reflect on what the person asking the question truly needs: is it advice, confidence, or permission?

Julia Rowan is Principal Consultant at Performance Matters, a leadership and team development consultancy. To send a question to Julia, email julia@performancematters.ie