About Paul Slater

Paul Slater is a leadership coach and consultant.

What Style Of Leadership Do You Provide?

Lighthouse B&WLeaders come in all shapes and sizes and are more or less effective in particular situations. Some realize early on in their careers that having the same approach, whatever the circumstances, won’t always deliver the outcomes they desire. Others never quite get it and continue with their tried and tested approaches regardless of what’s going on around them. Whether you accept that Situational Leadership exists as a style in its own right or not, leaders have to recognize what’s happening in their businesses and their environments in order to make decisions and deployments that best meet the needs of their business.

Academics and authors can get caught up with labels when it comes to describing how leaders operate which can put people off, scare them even, from taking up positions where they think they’ll be seen as a leader. The reality is that most people have been in such positions in their working and home lives at some points in their lives and have valuable experiences to draw upon. Putting aside the labels and concentrating on what needs to be done seems far more straightforward.

What can be useful for existing and potential leaders to do is to consider their answers to a number of questions. There are no right or wrong answers to these but when looked at as a whole they start to describe our own style of leadership, something that is particular to us. It’s not a label or a theory, it’s how we come across as a leader or maybe how we would want to come across. What we do to make it real is down to each of us to work out for ourselves and to start putting into practice.

By answering the following seven questions we start to build a description of our own style of leadership:

  1. What do you do to explain to others what your business needs to achieve in order for it to be considered a success?
  2. Who do you turn to when things become difficult or uncomfortable and what do you talk to them about?
  3. How do you know that your business is on the right track to achieving what it wants to achieve?
  4. How do those working in your business (and think about suppliers and partners here) get to know about the direction of travel for the business – and how do they get involved in discussions around this?
  5. What do you do when you recognize that individuals and/or teams in your business have made an outstanding contribution or gone out of their way to make a difference?
  6. How do you know what your customers and potential customers think about you and what your business has to offer? When was the last time you spoke to them directly?
  7. When do you take time to reflect on what’s happening within your business and come up with solutions to make changes or fix problems?

Each of these questions is deliberately designed to make people think, to consider their impact, their role and what they do. They could be business owners or team leaders – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they take the time to answer the questions and consider what they come up with. It could be that they are perfectly happy with what they come up with. That’s absolutely fine, it’s their own style.

It may be that when they think about their answers a little they decide they want to make some changes, do some things differently. That’s fine too, they want to modify their style to become something that, in their opinion, is more effective and they are more comfortable with.

So, what’s your style of leadership?



Leading Projects and Businesses

Pen and DiaryProjects and Small Businesses have a great deal in common yet the skills required to successfully run both are very rarely considered. Any small business will have a business plan, some more detailed than others but each including objectives that are time-bound and resources, including people, that have to be considered for the life of the business. It’s no different for a project.

Just like businesses, projects can see changes in their objectives as their environment evolves and they endeavour to modify what they are doing to better fit in with it. Just like businesses, projects may come to a grinding halt if what they are doing is no longer needed – the costs involved and the time and effort in closing down a project must never be underestimated, they can form a project in their own right.

So if the mechanics and fundamentals of running a small business and a project are similar are the leadership issues similar too? I would argue that they are. Leading a small business involves recruiting, developing, maintaining and retaining suitably talented individuals and refreshing that talent pool as and when required. Project Leadership is exactly the same with the same challenges and issues as are encountered by business leaders.

In fact, I’ve seen many project teams that are far bigger than many small businesses and it’s dealing with those challenges around project leadership (not project management) that take up so much time and energy for those in the leadership positions. They may have the title Project Manager, Project Director or something similar but the reality is that if they don’t recognize that their leadership of their projects is what matters then they will continue to experience significant issues of delay, cost over-runs and under-performing teams.

So could a successful small business leader transition into leading a project of similar scale? I would say so.



Leading In The Situation

DirectionWhen we think about leaders whether they are people we know personally or famous people from history what we tend to think about are how they dealt with particular situations. Or perhaps it’s the differences they made and the particular taglines that have become attached to them. Just search for leadership quotes on the internet and you will be inundated with them.

Each effective leader is effective in a given situation. Whether individuals consciously modify what they do and how they behave to accommodate the situation is a moot point. To my mind these people are effective because they consciously focus on three aspects at any one time and at the same time consider how they personally interact with those around them.

What are the required outcomes?

Just where does the business need to get to for it to be considered a success? The outcomes that determine success are key and the leader needs to ensure those around them, including suppliers, are fully bought into this. The vision, mission, strategy and plans need to be understood and the best leaders ensure these are kept as simple as possible (the worst let committees and consultancies produce huge tomes that no-one understands but at the same time aren’t honest enough to admit that).

Recognizing the environment

Unless the leader can gain a thorough understanding of the environment in which they are required to operate then it doesn’t matter what they believe the outcomes need to be, there will be a miss-match between their intentions and the reality in which the business sits. The environment will include internals within the business, the way it operates and the culture that permeates everything. Taking that 100 days to watch and see what happens after a new leader takes over makes absolute sense even if the gut feeling is to make a difference from day one.

Understanding your resources

Resources of course include people, the talent at the leaders disposal. Getting an understanding of which direction each of the top team think they are headed is essential early on. In any given situation different people will have different views on the right direction and approach to be taken and it’s the leaders responsibility to find that out and deal with it. Others around the table will have their own personal power and influences that must be anticipated by the leader. If this sounds far too political then maybe it is, but that’s what a leader must be comfortable with even if their own style is to be more open and transparent than those around them.

So whatever the situation is, good or not so good, the leader must determine where they need to get to and recognize the resources they have to play with while keeping an eye on a complex environment and figuring out what outcomes will get them to their destination. This is a great deal to keep track of for anyone and requires the leader to consciously watch and see what’s happening around them as much as getting involved as making a difference. 



Quiet Stakeholders Aren’t Always Happy Stakeholders

For some people the idea of stakeholders staying quiet for the duration of their project might sound like paradise, something to strive for even. Being left to just get on a deliver what was asked for in the first place without any interruption surely must be bliss for anyone working in a project team. Well, maybe it is and once we wake up from this wonderfully contented dream and return to reality we realize that trying to make it happen by closing down communications with people outside the immediate project team doesn’t make much sense (although I’ve seen it tried lots of times).

Unfortunately what happens is that, perhaps after a difference of opinion or a change in requirement, the project team decides to go all incommunicado with their stakeholders and metaphorically puts up the “We’re busy – do not disturb!” sign. This can work for the stakeholders of course as they too don’t want to get into another difficult situation or conflict – after all, they want the project delivered. 

Such naivety can appear to be working until there has to be some form of communication between the project and the outside world. Starting that conversation again from scratch is never easy and the relationship needs to be re-established at the same time as an important piece of project communication. What happens next is the relationship re-establishment gets forgotten and the cycle of differing opinions and conflict starts up again. Hardly helpful for anyone.

So if deliberately not communicating with stakeholders in the miss-judged belief that they only get in the way and all the talking and reporting just takes you away from working on the project what should you do when some of your stakeholders are quiet and don’t initiate much communication with you? Should you take it as a blessing in disguise and get on with the project or should you be the proactive ones and make ‘first contact’?

There are a number of reasons why stakeholders might not be as communicative as perhaps a project might expect them to be:

Content with project progress – they may hear from other avenues how the project is progressing against the plan and are happy with it. Entirely possible, but wouldn’t it be worth just making a call to clarify this?

Other priorities – or even other projects that they find more interesting. It’s a project’s responsibility to appreciate where it sits in its organisation’s priorities. The only way to really find this out is my maintaining a regular dialogue with those stakeholders who are ‘in the know’.

Don’t know – sometimes stakeholders, especially in large organizations, don’t understand the way projects work and might assume that once something has been set in motion they can simply get on with their other work and wait until successful delivery. If your stakeholders don’t have an appreciation of what projects are about isn’t it your responsibility to keep them apprised of what’s going on? After all, there may be a time when you need their assistance.

Lost interest – you might be working on your project all the hours you can but none of your stakeholders will be, they have other jobs to be getting on with. This is why you need to be careful and considerate when you do engage them because you are doing so for two reasons. Firstly, to let them know how things are progressing and any issues that are arising and secondly, to ensure you have their support for the project in the future. If some stakeholders have gone all quiet on you and you don’t know why it’s imperative that you engage them to ensure that they haven’t lost interest in the project as this could be symptomatic of wider issues in your organisation.

A set of quiet stakeholders isn’t something that a project should be aspiring to cultivate. If some stakeholders are quieter than others or become less communicative than they have in the past then that’s a signal that something needs checking out.

Some Do’s and Don’ts for dealing with quiet stakeholders:

Do:

  • Make contact with them or their representatives to understand their level of continuing interest in the project.
  • Look at how you are already communicating with them, if at all, and consider any changes that might suit them better.

Don’t:

  • Ignore the silence and focus on those stakeholders who shout loudest.
  • Assume that a quiet stakeholder is a happy stakeholder – they just done’ know until you ask them.

Remember that a project’s stakeholders are its allies and advocates and it’s down to those working in the project to stay engaged with them. This does take time away from what some might say is direct project work but ensuring you have a well engaged and supportive set of stakeholders will pay off in the end.



How Do You Know How Others Perceive You?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerception is a strange thing. Whatever we see in front of us we automatically take to be the truth. Of course, it’s the truth according to our own model of the world around us and is heavily influenced by our own experiences. It’s how we perceive those around us as well as the situations we find ourselves in. So it stands to reason that people around us have the same limitations in what they see, they can’t perceive things in the same way we do.

If different people can have different, but similar, perceptions on the same situation difficulties can arise on ‘what needs to be done’ or ‘whether that situation is something to worry about or not’. Have ever been in a situation where you thought that something needed to be done but someone else argued against it because it wasn’t necessary? “It’ll be alright on the night” springs to mind. What is happening here is a conflict of perceptions. What you see as something that needs to be attended to according to your experiences is something that is of little or no consequence based on that other person’s experiences.

Open and honest dialogue between the two of you ought to be able to overcome this and a common understanding of what you are both viewing is the obvious way forward. But this doesn’t always happen because those life experiences that influence us can be extremely powerful and it takes quite some argument for us to go against what we perceive to be the truth.

In workplace situations this can exhibit itself when senior managers and leaders make decisions that they believe to be true in the face of what appears to be considerable differences of opinion. That leader or senior manager may well have more appropriate life experiences that enable them to make the right call but this can never be assumed. A leader who assumes they can always make the right call just because they are at the ‘top-of-the-shop’ is one who has become blinded by the power of the position they hold.

So what should leaders and managers do if they start to consider that their perceptions may be getting in the way of or hindering performance? Recognizing this is a step in the right direction to becoming a more self-aware leader and this in itself is a step not everyone makes. A leader who acknowledges that different perceptions are at play and wants to do something about it needs to pay particular attention to three activities:

Observation

In any interactions with others or when observing situations from afar you need to see how people react to you and to others around them. Immediate reactions in terms of facial expressions, answers to questions, body language will all tell you something. Reactions coming later such as e-mails, phone calls, other meetings all tell you something about the impact you had.

Communication

As well as observing the impact you are having on those around you why not simply ask people? This is the principle of 360° feedback but you need a more fluid response and not something that happens only occasionally and has a built in formality to it that often puts people off.

It is possible to ask outright and this certainly works with those who know you well. For others asking questions such as “How did you see that situation?” or “With your experience, what would you suggest?” allow you to uncover the different perceptions at play in your business or team.

Remember that if you are in a position of authority people who work for you may feel uneasy (to start with at least) saying exactly what they think and may tell you what they think you want to hear.

Reflection

Your own self-awareness will only develop if you take time to reflect on what you are observing and what people are telling you. Are the reactions to what you do and what you say what you expect? Is what you are seeing when watching others respond to things you have said or done in line with your expectations? When you are talking with people and uncovering their perceptions on shared situations or incidents is there that much of a difference or are there very different views. It’s not possible to treat each of the situations you’ve experienced one at a time. You need to consider them as a whole – what is a week’s worth or a month’s worth of interactions telling you?

Over time you will build an ever-improving picture of how others perceive you and in doing so you will be better placed to appreciate how others will respond to you. This may not change the decisions you ultimately make but your confidence in having made the best decision will increase. And if there are difficulties arising you will be better placed to recognize them.



Are You The Role Model You Think You Are?

Chefs In Kitcehn“Don’t do as I do, do as I say”

We’ve all heard about leaders and managers being the role models for those around them. The same is written about celebrities and sports stars having such an influence on their fans, particularly their younger fans. Modelling the behaviour we expect from those around us is both obvious and difficult at the same time. So why is this and what can those in senior positions in businesses do about it?

Being A Role Model Is Difficult

Well, it isn’t if you take the approach that you are who you are and others have to accept that, including the good and the not so good that goes with it. Of course some senior managers and leaders do take this approach and would say that this individualistic style is what makes them unique. That’s true but it doesn’t acknowledge any appreciation of how others are impacted by their behaviours and actions. My experience is that most senior manager and leaders, while not consciously thinking about how they are coming across to others, do appreciate that “how they are” does have an impact. 

Difficulties can come about when employees, taking the lead from their bosses, start behaving in a manner that is deemed inappropriate in some way. It’s not easy for senior managers to deal with this when they know in their heart of hearts that this is what is known as the norm in the business. It can be a wakeup call for senior manager and leaders too if they are open to recognizing that what they are seeing in others as undesirable, is in fact a mirror image of themselves.

When changes have to happen is another instance when being that role model is difficult. It could be for any reason, to improve the culture and performance of the business or possibly as a result of an acquisition when a “new way of working” has to be adopted. Breaking old habits and learning new ones is never easy and when the added pressures of significant change are added to the mix it can become almost impossible for some people to keep up the façade all the time.

Why façade you might ask? Well, I see it as a façade or an act when people are doing their best to appear to be doing things differently and doing their utmost to re-wire years of learnt behaviour, learnt behaviour that has worked for them. At times of great pressure or even stress, that façade can break and the real inner-self comes out, and not always in a positive or professional way. Hardly the role model they are striving to be.

How To Be A Role Model

You might want to keep up the appearance of the ideal manager or leader that you want others in the business to recognize and adopt as “the way things are done round here”.  Equally, you could be deliberately modifying how you operate and want others to identify with that. Either way there are a number of actions that can help you in staying true to your ideal “model” self:

  1. Consider what three attributes or characteristics you want people to recognize you for and how you will live them on a daily basis in ALL your interactions.
  2. Work out what the opposites of each of those three characteristics are and make a conscious effort to cut them out of your behaviour and actions.
  3. Reflect at the end of each week on how you have performed in terms of the three characteristics you want the model in your business. Was it easy? Do you think others noticed? Did you notice any changes in other people’s behaviour and did you spot others adopting similar behaviours?

The thing about role modeling is that it’s something we all do all the time. Others are influenced by how we act and what we do; it’s only human nature. When we are making a conscious effort to promote particular behaviours and ways of working it’s incumbent on those in positions of authority to take the lead. Over time, others will follow.