Change one thing

Changing to a new approach to leadership is not like changing into a different set of clothes. It's really more of a process of changing the daily habits that drive our work in our organizations.

Anthony Trollope, British author and civil servant in the Post Office, had this memorable quote about daily habits:

A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.

I think we can all reasonably aspire to avoid the curse of being a "spasmodic Hercules."

What one regular habit should you adopt? One thing you can do with no preparation whatsoever is to change the way you approach your one-on-one discussions with people on your team. This change is simple, but it isn't easy.

Many managers use the one-on-one time to do a "check-in" to see how projects are progressing. Sometimes they have an agenda of topics to discuss – things like "advice" and "help." Maybe they heard a random comment or something from another manager about the person's work, and they wanted to make sure that it isn't a problem, or that some "issue" gets fixed right away.

Instead of these command-and-control approaches, instead try a question recommended by Michael Bungay-Stanier in his book, The Coaching Habit. He recommends a much more open-ended question to start off the conversation: "What's on your mind?"

Notice the immediate shift in attention: from your agenda to the other person's agenda. The conversation could go anywhere. It could address any topic, and likely not a topic that you had prepared for in advance. You may run out of time before you get to anything that you had thought was a topic for today. And that is a good thing.

Instead, you are now addressing the real issues that are impeding work or getting in the way of progress. This question helps you learn something new about what is really going on in the work, on the team, or otherwise.

By turning the tables on the conversation and letting the other person talk first, you are making an incremental change that, repeated regularly over time, will positively affect engagement, morale, and results.

Try it in your next conversation – with a person on your team, a colleague, or even a family member. I will bet that you will be surprised by the results.

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn is a teacher and student of leadership.
Madison, Wisconsin, USA