The Calm After the Storm, or is Listening the New Leading?

Updated: Mar 2

Peer-to-peer coaching

Typhoon Hagibis has claimed 66 lives so far in Japan. In releasing pent-up negative energy in a team or organization there will be no body count, thank goodness, but the damage can manifest itself in drops in productivity or losing good people in whom you have invested.

I grew up on a farm in East Galway. I remember my father often remarking on how light and clear the air was after a violent thunderstorm.

We talk about the calm before the storm, which is really the air feeling heavy and dense.  I suppose my father was noticing that it took the lightning storm to clear this build-up of negative energy.

I’ll tell you why his words came back to me. I was doing an in-house peer-to-peer leadership forum with the management team of an Irish division of a multinational.

This Irish division was very successful at implementing culture change programs instigated by head office. One initiative in particular to promote a positive culture was enthusiastically welcomed by the team.

However, as time went on, the managers noticed that the majority of employees only paid lip service to the approach. When the management team reflected more deeply on this, they concluded that in pushing the positive culture, they may have suppressed negative comments or feedback.

Peer-to-peer coaching

Author and businessman Stephen R. Covey challenges us to seek first to understand the other person before we decide to put forward our ideas on what might benefit them. Benjamin Franklin was on the same trail when he said ‘A pair of good ears will drain dry a hundred tongues’.

The storm energy has to come out somehow.

In the course of our discussions at the peer-to-peer forum, the management team decided to engage with the employees in small groups to discover what frustrated them and to understand their views on the kind of organization they would like to work for.

Knowing they were more than likely going to hear a lot of criticism, much of which would press their hot buttons, they decided on the following strategies to prepare themselves as best they could for meeting the employees. 

  1. To review all the progress they had made over the past few years. What surprised them was how little time they gave to acknowledging their own success and that of the employees.

  2. To listen to the feedback from the employees without defending but to acknowledge that what others said was right for them, even though it appeared to not be a true reflection of the great work that was being done.

  3. To put their views of the progress that had been made only after the employees had their say and their views and concerns had been acknowledged.

This last strategy was particularly useful to the managers; they found it easier to listen and ask questions for clarity where previously they would have disputed or negated employees’ views, because they knew they would get the opportunity to give their side of the story after all the feedback was acknowledged.

Funnily enough, the managers got greater acknowledgement for the positive things that had been achieved than at any of their previous positive thinking sessions.

Furthermore, they noticed that the mood improved in the meetings the more they tried to understand where the employees were coming from and why they felt the way they did.

Peer-to-peer coaching

We are our own worst critics

I can totally empathize with the management team. I have always found it very difficult to accept criticism both in my past life as a manager and also now as a facilitator, even though I encourage the forum members to give me feedback on our sessions. It is tough being in the firing line.

It is also why many political debates become shouting matches with no one listening.

I now believe the reason for this difficulty with feedback is two-fold. Because I am my own worst critic, I find it hard to also hear it from others. The second reason is because I am so committed to doing the best possible job within my time and capability constraints, it is very difficult to accept that others do not appear to appreciate my efforts.

This may stem from the fact we do not give ourselves enough credit for the progress we have made. The belief that self-praise is no praise still persists.

Avoiding storm damage

The key learning the managers took from this exercise was that the genuine culture change they eventually experienced came from both listening to and accepting feedback as a valid and true reflection of how the various employees felt. Going further they concluded that you cannot impose a culture even if you believe it is right for everybody.

All views go to make up the culture, even if management do not agree with some of them. The only way to change a view is through listening, understanding and dialogue.

I am always amazed at how the natural world is manifested in our own interactions. The lesson, I believe, is to avoid the fallout from the build-up of negative energy by putting in a release valve as early as possible. But in opening yourself up to criticism, support yourself with the 3-steps above while accepting there is some grain of truth in the message.

Thank you for reading this blog. Let me know if this case resonates with you. How do you deal with employees who give a verbal yes and a mental no to the changes you are trying to implement?.

The basis for these blogs are the Peer to Peer Leadership Coaching public and In-house full day or half day sessions.

Peer-to-peer coaching

The feedback from the participants on this approach to leadership and business improvement is that they now have much more motivated and effective team meetings and their team members can handle a greater volume of work with less stress and pressure. It also enhances the participants ability to effect continues change, so their companies can better respond to increased competition and market opportunities.

Please see contact details below if you would like more information on the Forums.

Kind Regards,

Kevin Fahey

Essence of Leadership

Peer to Peer Leadership Coaching for Public & In-house sessions,

Tel 01-9020867 Or  090-6474298.  Mob 087-2610038.

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