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Leaders – where ‘why’ meets understanding

April 9, 2013

Sharpen the saw

A couple of unrelated (in space and time) but interesting things happened last week, firstly my daughter took a feng-shui approach to one of the rooms in her flat – to be honest, I’m sure this was more accurately described as picking things off the floor: however let’s not be unkind. For the purposes of this blog the relevance lies in her discovery.  Covey2As she tidied her academic books and related resources she came across a manual she had been given and used on a course she attended – Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

The opportunity to ‘sharpen the saw’ had presented itself to me and I wasn’t about to pass on it.  Over the next two days I read the handbook, alongside my own copy of Covey’s book, which provided a more in depth explanation.

There was an unmistakable relevance and challenge for me in Covey’s work as I reflected on my impact and influence as a leader :

  • was I always ‘proactive? (habit 1),
  • did I always ‘start with the end in mind’? (habit 2),
  • did I ‘always put first things first’? (habit 3).

After some self review I think I’m pretty good with habit 2, I use this as a guide in my day to day work, it has a synergy with my belief in having a vision and working diligently and enthusiastically towards it.  As a leader having a vision is critical, without it how can you expect anyone to follow you?  Perhaps more accurately how can you truly expect high calibre followers to follow you – people who will challenge you, who will rise to your challenges, who have as their driving principle ‘excellence’?  A leader without followers …..?

Quadrants of activity

Covey quadrants2On the whiteboard in my office I have Covey’s four quadrants of activity as a frequent and ongoing reminder to engage with habits 3 – put first things first.  The diagram has been there for some time, and, rather like the habit itself it would benefit from being rewritten and refreshed – an early task I set myself for Monday (yesterday) morning.

When considering my activities I aim to keep them above the line, when I don’t manage to achieve that I know I’m not always putting first things first and that pro-activity is perhaps slipping a little.

Post Interview feedback

However this blog isn’t simply about a refreshed encounter with Covey, it’s also about the second ‘event’ I referred to in the opening paragraph.  It’s relates to a meeting with a new and emerging leader and one specific aspect of the conversation.  The meeting was focused on post interview feedback – an activity I highly commend to everyone, whether successful or unsuccessful in a job interview.  Indeed those that are successful at job interview quite possibly have as much to gain from this feedback as those that were not, it’s an area we would do well to consider in terms of staff development and supporting people into new posts.  However, I digress.

During the conversation I was asked about one of the questions that I had posed at interview “what would you do on day one, if you were successful today?”.  What was I looking for with that question, what answer was I expecting?

Seek first to understand

The simple answer is I wasn’t looking for a specific answer, it was a people question, I was trying to understand if the candidates had considered a future where they would be in that position, did they have a vision to share.  If a candidate hasn’t consider what success might look and feel like, are they really in a strong position to influence an interview panel that they are right for the job?  I know people will grow into a job, that people take time to develop and mature, but day one is also an important day, it can set your path for the future.

The second thing I was perhaps expecting (but also hoping to avoid) from that question was the rather clichéd ‘I’ll listen to people, hear what they have to say etc etc’. Of course listening is extremely important, we all need to practice it more, however I expect successful candidates to have an understanding of the role they are about to take on, as well as an understanding of what they are going to contribute to the role and, importantly, to be able to share that with their new team.  This brings me to the dichotomy inherent in Covey’s fifth habit ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood”

Golden Circle

Golden Circle

As a new leader people will be looking for an indication of what impact the change is going to have on them, what will this mean for the services they provide.  A new leader simply saying ‘Im going to listen’ is a disappointment for teams.

Day one is an opportunity to share the vision, Sinek in his Tedtalk (and his book) talks about the Golden Circle – Why, How, What – day one is a day to involve teams in the ‘why’, it’s an opportunity for the new leader to share their ‘why’, it’s an opportunity to inspire.

The ‘how’ is where listening comes in, we all need to listen to team members, we all need to feel we’ve been listened to.

As a new leader, or a leader of a new team, Covey isn’t encouraging us to inaction, he’s encouraging us to recognise the value in understanding your team, to get underneath their ‘why’, only then can the team move forward together with ‘how’ to address the ‘what’ that is needing done: remember however they also need to understand your ‘why’.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2013 2:05 pm

    Interesting stuff, it’s amazing how much of this chimes with the Results Based Accountability model that’s in vogue in evaluating services in Wales, especially beginning with the end in mind. Might have to grab a copy of the book!


  1. Leaders – where ‘why’ meets understanding | weeklyblogclub
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  3. Becoming part of the landscape | scothealthmonthly

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