Don’t Forget Your People

16 May

A few weeks ago I attended one of the most inspiring talks I’ve been at for a while.

David Pendleton and Jon Cowell from Said Business School in Oxford were talking about the need for shifting how we think about leadership development and practice, especially when times are tough. They touched  on many other aspects of leadership and provided plenty of advice based mainly on meta studies. Most of the issues they raised are covered in Pendleton’s book (co-authored with Adrian Furnham) which I haven’t read yet,  but if it’s anything as inspiring, solid and useful as their talk, I highly recommend it.

There is one thing I particularly remember about the talk, which is an important aspect of self-awareness.

In times of crisis, in times of urgency, in times when we need to change, we’re more likely to switch to our preferred way of working. If we are not aware of this, then we can’t judge how we are affecting our work, our team and our organisation.

If you consider that many managers have been promoted to their role because they excelled at doing, at planning and executing (plans, not people!), then it follows that in times of crisis, these will become their focus. In times of crisis, managers with these preferred modes of working will busy themselves with paper and numbers.

The danger is then that all the “people skills” are left to one side and we stop asking ourselves questions such as:

Is everyone aligned?
Do they all understand the WHY behind the changes?
Is there an atmosphere of support , especially if everyone is just “getting on with it”?
Can everyone  see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel? (For no-one wants to be running towards a brick wall!)

All these things don’t magically happen, they have to be worked at. They take time and they take energy. They also involve thinking long-term instead of short-term, which is really difficult when everything seems urgent.

If you are someone who will instinctively communicate, who will draw people in when the pressure is on, great, just make sure that you are also working to some sort of plan and not getting so involved in making sure that everyone is ok, that planning and strategy are forgotten.

If, on the other hand, the thought of having to spend so much time talking to the rest of your team and enabling collaboration between them doesn’t energise you, don’t worry. There is another way.  If that is not your strength, you have two options.

1) Learn how to change your behaviour, plan moments in your day to interact with your team and ask for feedback and advice from those people you know are great enablers of collaboration.


2) Find someone who will take over that particular role for a limited period of time, to ensure it doesn’t get neglected. This could be official or unofficial; for a short or long time. Can someone be your eyes and ears while you are on numerous strategic meetings or trying to find your way through numerous spreadsheets, to make sure you are aware of where your team are at and they know where you are?

I don’t mean a “spy”. I mean someone who knows where to reach you; who can say “Diane’s not around this week but she’s very aware of that issue and wants to address it next week”. Someone who will say to you, “Shane did a brilliant job the other day, did you remember to thank him? He’s saved us loads of time and money.”

I understand that this might not be easy, as it could be seen as admitting a weakness. Well, it probably is, but it is also a way of showing that you know yourself, that you are aware that this can become a problem during a period of time when you can’t afford for it to get in the way of your team and organisation’s survival. Defining clearly how you will address this in times of crisis should help everyone around you perform at their best.

We can’t all excel at everything, but if you are in charge of people, it is extremely important to make sure that you stay in touch with how they are doing and that you can support their work as much as possible, through feedback, guidance and of course, communication.


Posted by on May 16, 2012 in change, leadership


Tags: , , ,

2 responses to “Don’t Forget Your People

  1. Stephanie Bennis

    May 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    This is really good advice. People-skills and self-awareness are by far some of the most important skill sets we can develop.

  2. Pilar Orti

    June 12, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Very true: you can’t have one without the other.


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