What messages are you sending when you refuse to delegate?

Recently I met up with a senior colleague who is a truly exceptional manager: great at leading, great at delegating and outstanding at bringing out the best in their staff.

Speaking with someone with such highly developed skills reminded me of the importance of delegating well. You can see that this is an issue we have written about frequently before, including in our series on effective delegation.

Executive Coach Exchange delegate
Are you prepared to take the time to delegate effectively?

Our discussion came around to the messages you are sending when you don’t delegate. The first is that you simply don’t trust your staff to do their jobs.

My colleague gave the interesting example of a second level manager intervening unnecessarily between their direct report – the first level manager – and the first level manager’s own team. When senior managers do this, they tell both the first level manager and the team that they don’t trust the first level manager to do the job well. What a terrible message to send!

The second message you send by not delegating, is that you don’t think your staff are worth the investment of your time. To delegate effectively means supporting people as they learn to do their jobs, helping them grow as technical staff, managers and leaders. This takes time – delegating isn’t only about lightening your own workload. You need to dedicate the time, and be prepared for the fact that, in the early stages, delegating will actually slow down workflow and increase your workload. The payoff comes later in the form of a skilled, motivated team.

As well as sending messages about your staff, you also send messages about yourself. When you do the work of the people who report to you, you are saying that you can’t manage them and their performance effectively. If you are in a management role, you need to be a manager.

The fourth message you send about yourself is potentially the most destructive to your career. You are saying that you are not comfortable working at your own level but only at the level of your reports.

If you send this message, your own manager has every right to wonder why you have been promoted to management when you are not working at that level.

An executive coach can help you work on strategies for good delegation. In the meantime, you will find some suggestions to explore in our posts on scaffolding and helping your team rise to the challenge.

Controlling your emotions during difficult conversations

Imagine that you are about to have a difficult conversation in the workplace. For the sake of this discussion, let’s imagine it’s someone who reports to you and who has annoyed you by their behaviour or actions. The specifics don’t matter.

Marg Lennon, Executive Coach
Marg Lennon, Executive Coach

Something to guard against is this. When you talk to them about what they have done you may find your emotions get the better of you. You will want to avoid this and focus on achieving the outcome you desire. How can you achieve this?

The first and most obvious point is to apply the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. Certainly you will want to be clear about what has occurred to upset you and why. But beyond that you can try to anticipate the responses that you may receive from the other person.

Secondly, think about the sorts of reactions that you may have unconsciously inside yourself. You may find yourself getting defensive and fearful. This is natural. However, the better you have prepared, the less likely it is that these emotions will overwhelm you.

Now let’s remedy this situation with a good dose of curiosity. Think about what caused their behaviour or action, because you can be sure that they feel self-justified. In fact, you can be confident that they see their own actions and behaviour as proper and correct.

Don’t judge too quickly, don’t blame, rather listen to them.

Of course, this is not in any sense to diminish the need to achieve the outcome you want. After all, this person reports to you and you are supposed to be in charge.

However, this approach should allow you a stronger sense of control so that your emotions don’t impede your ability to achieve your objective.

This way, both parties can walk away feeling OK about the outcome.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Marg Lennon, is an executive coach who provides coaching, mentoring and leadership development consultancy services to clients across a variety of industries, including Health, Financial Services, Insurance, Pharmaceutical, Mining, Telecommunications, Education, Architecture, Medical Devices and Public Relations. Marg’s measured approach and insight coupled with her innate ability to build rapport readily enable her to help others minimise risks, operate more strategically and gain critical perspectives to make significant positive changes.

What to do when you don’t get along with your boss or a team member

Marg Lennon, Executive Coach
Marg Lennon, Executive Coach

Often, although we judge ourselves by our intentions, we judge others by their actions. How can we slow down enough to try and understand the intention behind other people’s actions, particularly when they upset or annoy us?

Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnson, in their book “Simple Habits for Complex Times”, encourage us to take multiple perspectives and to remember that, whatever others do, they tend to do it because they think it’s the right thing to do. They ask us to remember that, in real life, each of us is the hero in our own story. No matter how challenging or difficult someone else’s behaviour may seem to us, the odds are quite good that they might see their behaviour as perfectly reasonable, even heroic.

If we can accept this view, then it might cause us to ask ourselves about their motivations and the rationale for their behaviour. We might ask, “What might be going on for them that I didn’t know about?” or “How am I making sense of this?” and even, “Could I possibly be wrong?” By constructing a number of potential stories to help widen our perspective, we may find we improve our problem-solving ability and our relationships.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Marg Lennon, is an executive coach who provides coaching, mentoring and leadership development consultancy services to clients across a variety of industries, including Health, Financial Services, Insurance, Pharmaceutical, Mining, Telecommunications, Education, Architecture, Medical Devices and Public Relations. Marg’s measured approach and insight coupled with her innate ability to build rapport readily enable her to help others minimise risks, operate more strategically and gain critical perspectives to make significant positive changes.

Uluru statement from the heart

This week we are stepping aside from our usual themes to ask you to read, and support, the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Executive Coach Exchange Uluru Statement from the HeartThe Statement asks us to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples “in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

We support the Statement wholeheartedly and consider that its importance for leadership and transformation, in the broader sense, cannot be overstated. You can support the Statement here, and here, by sharing it from here, and by contacting your Member of Parliament.

Catherine Burrows & Elizabeth Burrows
Founding Partners
Executive Coach Exchange

Workplace bullying – interview with Philip Carroll – part 2

Last week we interviewed Philip Carroll about workplace bullying. He talked about what it is – and isn’t

This week, Philip shares his insights on preventing workplace bullying.

Executive Coach Exchange bullying
St George & the Dragon, Bernt Notke, Storkyrkan, Stockholm. Photo: C Burrows

To begin, Philip said, the leader needs to model the behaviour he or she wants to see and then require every single person in the workplace – not just the managers – to model the same behaviour. Fundamentally, he told us, it’s an issue of respect.

A leader must create a good culture within their organisation and follow through on that culture, irrespective of the size of the organisation. Philip says that you can’t assume workplace bullying won’t happen, even in small organisations, because it happens in real life.

Philip believes that organisations of every size can and should address the issue of bullying, though this would be done in different ways. The essence is for the leader to create, model and promote good cultural values.

The next thing to do is to recruit to that culture. Philip noted in last week’s interview how much bullying can cost an organisation. It has also been found that, “A mistake in the recruitment process that leads to an early employee resignation or dismissal can cost an employer between half and two-thirds of the employee’s annual salary.” This means that an organisation needs to set their culture and ensure their recruitment process is robust enough to allow them to appoint people who will support and promote that culture.

Once you have done this, he says, you need to manage to the culture. A leader can do this by:

  • Developing a behavioural standards framework;
  • Communicating that framework to all the employees;
  • Demonstrating that the leader knows the framework applies equally to them;
  • Ensuring new staff are made aware of the organisation’s behavioural standards framework;
  • Making the behavioural standards framework part of the contract of employment; and
  • Embedding the behavioural standards framework as part of every employee’s day-to-day workplace experience.

Philip says the next step is early intervention. Leaders and their managers should watch out for warning signs, such as general behaviours which are not aligned to the cultural values of the organisation; or poor behaviour in stressful situations. Philip says you should act early without over-reacting. “I’m a big believer in early, appropriate and proportionate intervention.” He notes that this doesn’t have to be a manager; a peer who sees things starting to go wrong can simply ask, “Are you OK?”

However, despite everyone’s best efforts, workplace bullying may still occur. We asked Philip what people should do.

He told us it’s essential for every workplace to have a procedure for managing workplace bullying. For a small organisation, it might be a very simple document while for a large corporation, it could be a set of workplace policies and procedures. The important thing here is that it is fit for purpose. If someone is subject to or aware of bullying, these procedures should be the first things they refer to, in order to find out what to do and who to go to. They should form part of the behavioural standards framework.

The next step, he believes, is to seek advice from an appropriate source and this kind of information should be in the procedure. Philip says places people can look to for advice might include:

  • A designated complaints handler within the organisation;
  • A respected, experienced colleague;
  • A union representative;
  • A member of the organisation’s human resources staff; or
  • An external expert.

People then need to make a careful and informed decision about what to do based on that advice, because the next step is often a formal investigation.

Philip believes workplace bullying is a high enough order issue to form an integral part of an employment relationship, so that a breach of the relationship may lead to dismissal.

He believes that, fundamentally, the key to addressing workplace bullying is to prevent it in the first place and the link here is to leadership. A leader who sets the right cultural values and follows through with these is far more likely to act swiftly and appropriately when bullying does happen and to lead a harmonious workplace where bullying scarcely, if ever, occurs.

Philip spoke to Catherine Burrows, a Sydney-based executive coach and our current featured member.

Workplace bullying – interview with Philip Carroll – part 1

Philip Carroll is the Founder and Principal of Philip Carroll and Associates. He has over 19 years’ senior executive experience in large and complex government businesses. He is also an experienced Non-Executive Director and Chair within international, commercial and not for profit organisations. Philip has extensive experience in People and Culture, Workplace Reform and Industrial Relations. We asked him to talk to us about an important current issue – workplace bullying.

Philip Carroll
Philip Carroll

To begin, we asked Philip to talk to us about what workplace bullying is. He told us that it is repeated, unreasonable and unwanted behaviour and that the concepts of its being both repeated and unreasonable are particularly important to the definition. Philip referred us to Safe Work Australia, which defines bullying in the following way:

“Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety…because it may affect the mental and physical health of workers. … Bullying can take different forms including psychological, physical or even indirect — for example deliberately excluding someone from work-related activities.”

Philip said that while workplace bullying most commonly occurs when a more senior person bullies a less senior one, this is not always the case. Bullying can also occur between peers or when a less senior person bullies a more senior one, although he said the latter is much less common on account of the power imbalance which generally exists in this relationship. In Philip’s experience, freezing people out most commonly occurs between peers, while bullying by subordinates may take the form of vexatious complaints or aggressive attention-seeking behaviours. It’s important to remember these behaviours must be repeated and unreasonable to be bullying.

Philip does not believe that intention is critical to a definition of bullying, because the impact of abusive behaviour is the same, whether it is purposeful or not: “In my opinion, intent is a distraction,” he said.

We then asked him what bullying is not. He gave several examples of interactions between managers and their staff which may involve difficult conversations but which are not bullying. These include:

  • Setting someone’s KPIs and planning their work with them;
  • Discussing someone’s performance based on their established KPIs;
  • Discussing someone’s failure to meet their agreed KPIs or other targets; and
  • Raising an issue with someone.

Philip told us that all these activities are appropriate management activities, as long as they are undertaken in accordance with proper procedures.

He also said that while sexual harassment and discrimination may accompany or form part of bullying behaviours, they are not necessarily bullying. Rather, they are serious issues in their own right and are so serious that, unlike bullying, they do not need to be repeated behaviours. (We have added some links to sites where you can find out more about these important topics.)

We asked Philip to talk about the cost of bullying, from an organisational perspective. He mentioned:

  • Loss of productivity;
  • Loss of workers and the resulting cost of recruitment;
  • Legal costs;
  • Fines and other legal penalties; and
  • Payments to staff whose claims are accepted.

For example, Safe Work Australia reports a “…$22,600 median cost for accepted bullying and/or harassment claims in 2013-14”; while the Australian Human Rights Commission states, “A recent impact and cost assessment calculated that workplace bullying costs Australian employers between $6–$36 billion dollars every year when hidden and lost opportunity costs are considered.”

He then spoke about the impact on individuals, linking it back to Safe Work Australia, which says:

“Workplace bullying can seriously harm worker mental health with depression, psychological distress and emotional exhaustion common outcomes for bullied workers.”

Philip believes that workplace bullying can have a significant negative impact on an individual, the people around them and the whole organisation. He has himself been asked to investigate allegations of bullying and has noted the cost on everyone involved. He said, “If you get to the point of a formal investigation, everybody loses. That’s why I believe that prevention really is the key to addressing bullying.”

Philip spoke to Catherine Burrows. Next week, Philip talks to us about preventing bullying and what to do if occurs.

Leadership series – Catherine Burrows

In our last post for the time being in our series about leadership, Catherine Burrows looks at what we have learned from the leaders she interviewed, as well as adding some thoughts of her own.

Catherine is a founding partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum – independent consulting. Prior to this, she was a senior leader in the NSW Government, responsible for a $1.8b budget and strategy and policy, planning and reporting state-wide.

What did we learn from our leaders?

We learned that different kinds of people can be leaders. Each of the leaders we spoke to had a different way of talking about leadership and an individual approach to leading others. However, they agreed that good leaders must have a strong and engaging vision.

We learned that leaders need followers, so leaders need the ability to engage people with their vision. They all stressed the importance of effective communication, to help people understand and accept their leader’s vision and then work towards achieving that vision.

We also learnt that effective communication is more than speaking. We heard about the importance of listening, discussion and sincere consultation, particularly in organisations which are built from the grassroots up.

All the leaders told us about the importance of being courageous. They mentioned strong values and making decisions based on good evidence. They talked about recognising when you need to step up; and not taking a backward step when you know what needs to be done.

Our leaders also talked about the necessity of looking over the horizon, being aware of what was coming and alert to ‘rumblings’. This skill meant that leaders were able to plan further in advance and help their staff and their organisations prepare for the future.

Who inspired our leaders?

Different leaders were inspired in different ways. They mentioned the importance of being open to new ideas and recognising that you don’t know everything.

We also learned about the impact different kinds of people had on our leaders at different points in their lives.

Several people mentioned being inspired by someone who had led them and who had said something which had changed their mindset or who had behaved in a way that led our (then future) leaders to behave in the same way. I wonder if those people realised how long-lasting and significant their impact would be.

Where to from here?

Big Wave Surfing Fall GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Recently I was in a situation which made me think about good leaders and bad bosses. I was surfing in a very big sea and the waves were crashing into the sand. Most of these waves, the ‘dumpers’, were impossible to catch, so we were all avoiding them by diving under them, stepping backwards or pushing through if they weren’t too big.

Once the dumpers had crashed onto the sand, most of them had little power left. They had built up and then expended all their energy in a single violent movement.

There were a few excellent waves though. They broke beautifully and everyone tried to catch them. When we succeeded, we found these waves had the power to carry us right through to the shore.

The good waves were like good leaders. They built up momentum and energy and carried people with them. People wanted to get on board and be part of the experience.

The dumpers reminded me of bad bosses. There was a lot of noise and energy but comparatively little forward motion. They were violent, so most people used strategies to avoid them. Those who tried to get on board were thumped into the sand. They were unpleasant and some were even frightening.

Leadership is a privilege. To be given the task of leading others means you must earn their trust and remain worthy of that trust. You need to lead in the right direction, communicate effectively to carry your followers with you, and be courageous in standing up for your values and taking your people where you need them to go.

Leadership series – Kate Baxter AM

Kate is the Regional General Manager, TAFE NSW West region. She is responsible for a region which is larger than France, stretching from Broken Hill to Lithgow and up to Queensland. Her region has 40,000 students, many in small, remote communities. In 2018, she was awarded the AM for significant service to education administration in rural New South Wales, to training programs for Indigenous students, and to the community.

Kate Baxter AM: A leader must be prepared to do the difficult things that no-one else wants to do

Executive Coach Exchange Kate Baxter AM
Kate Baxter AM

When asked about leadership, Kate begins by dispelling a myth. “There are lots of stereotypes about what a good leader has to be like but different kinds of people can make good leaders.” For example, “Many people think only extroverts can be good leaders. I have an introverted personality but this doesn’t impede my ability to lead.”

She lists four aspects of good leadership. The first is relationships. “To lead, you must have someone following you.” Not everyone has to be a leader. Leaders and followers need each other, so you must be able to form and maintain relationships. Trust must exist for productive leadership.

The second is vision combined with the ability to communicate that vision. Kate feels strongly that having a vision without being able to communicate it is not leadership, so communication skills are crucial. Good leadership also includes the ability to communicate a consistent message about the vision in different ways, so you engage people’s passion in what they are doing.

The third is courage. A leader must be prepared to do the difficult things that no-one else wants to do. She gives two examples. The first is having the difficult conversations with the people who work for you. The second is keeping your own integrity intact, doing what you know needs to be done.

The fourth is looking over the horizon. A leader must be able to see further than the people who are following her. The leader must be alert to what’s coming and communicate that back to people.

When we asked Kate about a leader who inspired her, she gave an example from very early in her career. Kate was given a leadership role only 18 months after completing university. She was asked to lead service development and delivery for survivors of sexual assault, both women and children. She was given responsibility for designing and implementing a whole new area of service across Central Western NSW.

Kate was responsible for a small team and was asked to lead policy, delivery and accountability across the region. This forced her to think about leadership for the first time.

The leader Kate spoke about was responsible for the program state-wide. The first characteristic Kate admired was her ability to remain calm under pressure, no matter what was going on. Kate said she has always tried to do this herself, ever since. The second was that the leader was very strategic, which meant she was not overwhelmed by opportunities or challenges. Kate said this led her to try to always think more strategically.

The third thing Kate learned was when the leader conducted training for the regional managers. The leader drew a picture of a tree, with roots, the trunk and leaves. The leader said that far too often we go straight to the leaves but we must start with the roots and the trunk. If the strategy is planted firmly, the leaves will follow. But if we start from the leaves, the strategy won’t last.

For Kate, this meant she went back to her line manager and gained approval to build the strategy for six months before implementing any service provision. She took the time to visit all the towns in the area to get people on board so she could build the strategy into the communities. The result was that the strategy Kate developed is in still in place today – and, she told us, she still has her copy of the tree drawing – 32 years later.

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.

Leadership series – Cindy Berwick

Cindy Berwick is the President of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultation Group Inc. For 40 years, the NSW AECG has been the peak advisory body for all levels of education for the Aboriginal Peoples of New South Wales. It has local members spread out across 127 communities and its grassroots structure is key to its success. Cindy is a Ngunnawal woman descending from the Bell family in Yass.

Executive Coach Exchange Cindy Berwick
Cindy Berwick

Cindy Berwick: Listening, consulting and being open to new ideas are at the heart of leadership

Cindy believes that what makes a true leader stand out is their ability to bring people along on the journey. She says a leader needs to be able to create a vision which is forward-looking and focussed on the greater good and not on the self. Cindy added that a leader must also have integrity, strong principles and value humanity.

Creating the vision is only the beginning, however. Cindy says the critical role for the leader is make sure that everybody can see the vision the leader has created and accept it. Only then can each person involved work towards the vision.

The primary role of the NSW AECG Inc. is to promote active participation by Aboriginal people in the consultative and decision-making process of education and training related matters. For this vision to be effective, there needs to be clear messages that people can understand. These messages allow people to accept the vision as their own and then work towards achieving it.

Consultation is at the heart of the NSW AECG. The NSW AECG Inc. has local, regional and state networks that enable effective communication. This allows an Aboriginal community viewpoint to be echoed throughout the organisation.

Working with a grassroots organisation requires significant effort and time being invested in consultation and discussion. For Cindy, this means having open channels of communication, where listening is just as important as talking – perhaps even more so.

When asked to talk about a leader who had influenced her, Cindy had a different approach from some of the other leaders we spoke to. Cindy said there were many people who inspired her, rather than influencing her leadership.

One person she mentioned was William Ferguson, a trade unionist who launched the Aborigines Progressive Association in 1937. He demanded justice, decency and fair play and he is sometimes called the Martin Luther King of Australia.

Mr Ferguson was one of the leaders who planned the 1938 Day of Mourning, to draw attention to the damage done to Aboriginal Australians by colonisation. Cindy spoke about the recognition of his work through a Day of Hope. She believes everyone needs a ‘day of hope’, not just Aboriginal people.

Cindy said, “I don’t know everything. That’s why it’s important to read and listen widely, be open to ideas and be inspired to keep going and achieve better.”

In conclusion, Cindy told us that a leader needs to get everyone on the same bus. Some people are waiting for the bus. Some are late for the bus. Others miss the bus. The leader needs to make sure, eventually, that everyone she leads ends up on that bus.

Leadership series – Jai Waters

Jai Waters is Principal Consultant and Executive Coach for the Chandler Macleod Group. She has extensive senior executive experience working in the NSW Public Sector where she was responsible for state-wide end-to-end customer services, including student and business systems. In her current role Jai focuses on leadership development and career transition coaching.

Jai Waters: Good leadership is founded on a vision for the future

Executive Coach Exchange Jai Waters
Jai Waters

When talking about leadership, Jai was quick to clarify that her focus is on good leadership.

For Jai, good leadership has its foundation in a vision for the future. The leader’s role is to engage and enlist people in defining and delivering that vision. For her, this is how a leader achieves success.

Next, a good leader needs to recognise that everyone is different. For this reason, a leader must demonstrate respect and inclusion. By acknowledging and using everyone’s skills and capabilities, a good leader ensures people are the best they can be. The leader does this by providing opportunities, support and feedback to different people at different times, according to what each person needs at that time. Successful leaders recognise that people are equal but different.

Jai feels that good leaders are responsive to ‘rumbles’, monitoring the dynamics within and beyond their team. The leader should be sensitive and alert to people’s differing needs, so everyone is working and contributing in a way that provides alignment to their work goals and leads to strong synergies.

Jai believes that celebrating wins is very important, whether they be individual, team or collective wins. She says this helps people understand the importance of what they are doing. She combines this with feedback to enhance learning, so everyone understands what went well, what didn’t and how things could be done better the next time.

Jai notes that each job is a stage in someone’s career. The leader’s role is to recognise the stage each person is at and this includes when they are ready to move on to their next position. The leaders’ role is to support people, not only in their current position but in the transition to a new role, whether that is within the current work environment or a different one.

When asked about a leader she admired, she spoke about the head of a large government agency. Jai attended a talk that he gave a short while after he was appointed to the position. She was a senior executive at that time and, and had 300 different tasks and projects she was trying to juggle. The leader said he had only three post-it notes on his desk which were the key priorities he intended to achieve while he was head of the agency.

Jai said that what she most admired about this was the clarity and simplicity of his intent; and his laser focus on what he was going to achieve – all while dealing with the noise and multiplicity of the demands of his role.

This made her aspire to having that clarity, brevity and focus herself, so that three essential goals would be enough.  As a result, she said she learned to identify and focus on what her key contribution would be, whilst also dealing with the everyday demands of her own role.

Finally, she says, to achieve the agreed leadership vision, “Everyone should be ‘in the boat’. It’s the leader’s role to get them in the boat and help everyone to reach that destination.”

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.