All entries for Monday 21 February 2011

February 21, 2011

I'd make a terrible dictator, and other revelations.

Wow! Good first day of the module week. I thought it had been quite a short day, but upon reflection of each of the sessions now, I'm almost shocked at how many things I learned. I'm enjoying this module a lot so far, I hope it continues in the same vein...

One of the first lessons was a private one. It transpires that I can't be an autocratic type leader! This wasn't much use to the rest of the class (I'm sorry everybody), but no matter how I tried to make myself take complete control and stamp my authority on all the situations I was meant to, in many cases, something internal overrode this requirement, and I went back to the way I naturally am: participative and democratic. I couldn't change, even if it was just a temporary act. I have a theory about this further down. I later asked the question "what if someone finds is hard to use their positional power?" (assuming all other engagement tactics have failed, and in which case it's not positional power really, but just authority). The question was passed around a bit, which annoyed me because I was really hoping someone would come up with something, as the problem had plagued me when I failed as an autocrat. Eventually, James stepped forward, and stunned me with the thought that if someone couldn't use that power, it was probably due to weak strength of character! I really appreciated this insight (so thanks James!), because I've always considered myself to have a strong character, but this made me realise that in this department, I need to find it in myself to be tougher when the situation requires. I know I'm on the right track here, because earlier, the group had given me assertiveness as an area for improvement. Very revealing...

The seminar followed, and it came out that really, whether it comes to managing strong types, or your leader, it's all about engagement. Sure, in the latter case, there may be some risk attached, and you have to weigh potential consequences, and make a difficult and painful decision sometimes, but I suppose if being a leader was easy, everybody would be able to do it. If you can't engage, after many repeated attempts, eventually there may have to be a confrontation, and as a strong person and leader yourself, you need to be ready to stand your ground, own the situation, and be ready for what may happen. What you can't expect to do, is change someone's personality! I think THIS had been my problem earlier in the day: being an autocrat was just too at odds with who I am. And I was always a rubbish actor ;-)

The afternoon gave me first real experience of followership, in a while. Too often in this course (and in my wider life of the last few years), I feel I become a leader by default. People will look to me to take charge sometimes, and won't step forward themselves. Of course, I like being a leader, and none of this is a bad thing (or an indictment of any of my colleagues). I guess it means I must be at least decent at it, but it does also mean that I rarely sit back and experience someone else leading me, which is also nice sometimes :-) Anyway, to be honest, we gave Fani hell! She didn't make it easy for herself to begin with, but with time, she was able to take a step back and achieve a compromise with us all. She did well, and I know she was able to take a lot away from it (particularly when it comes to managing what information everyone has and actively listening to her followers), which is great!

What techniques are there for managing cultural and organizational diversity?

As the world becomes a smaller place, and we find ourselves working with different people from all walks of life, this becomes an increasingly important topic. I couldn't find any techniques as such, but the most important underlying theme was to do with effective communication. People from different cultural/organisational backgrounds will obviously have different ways of doing things, due to varying standards, expectations or norms.

The best way to combat any difficulties that might arise from this is to make sure that people understand each other. Effective communication crosses the boundaries, and help people to empathise with the position of others, and why certain things are important to certain people.

An inclusive environment also helps. People who feel welcome to be themselves are likely to be happier than those forced to live a lie. This may require an open mind on the part of a manager, along with a readiness to compromise and be adaptable to the needs of different types of people.

Brownell (2003) felt that self-monitoring, empathy, and strategic-decision making are important. The first is the awareness one has of how their behaviour affects others, and their willingness to change this based on the impact. The second is the ability of those on the end of communication to go beyond the spoken words to understand what is really meant, based on the communicator's background (feelings, values, assumptions and needs). The last relates to which channels of communication are used, and why. Certain ones will work better on/for certain people. 

Mor Barak (2010) agrees with many of these themes. She also adds that managers should use their knowledge of cultural differences to aid their understanding of what helps facilitate effective communication, and what can create barriers to it.

Brownell, Judi (2003). Developing Receiver-Centered Communication in Diverse Organizations. Listening Professional, 2(1), 5-25

Mor Barak, Michalle E. (2010). Managing Diversity:Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace. Sage

How do you manage people with strong personalities?

Well, the first thing that strikes me about this topic, is that working with people who have strong personalities is not necessarily a bad thing. From the context of leadership, it can actually be a very good thing, particularly if they share your vision and ideals.

From my own experience, and some quick research, I think there are some do's and don'ts regarding managing or leading a strong personality types. These are in no way exhaustive, or necessarily applicable to all situations:

Don't - 

  • Expect them to change, or think you can change them. Their personality is who they are, and any attempts you make will probably cause resentment on their part. 
  • Try to take the moral highground on an issue - it often leads to the other person getting defensive, making them unlikely or unwilling to cooperate with you later.
  • Make assumptions about why they act a certain way.
  • Try to control them, or show who's boss with displays of power, whether aggressively, or passively by making demeaning remarks to them or others about them. That shows weakness and insecurity.

Do - 

  • Manage your own emotions first of all. Understanding why you feel a certain way is important. Also, taking the time to make sure you are calm means you will act in a rational way. Instant, emotional responses are often destructive and uncontrolled.
  • Target the specific behaviours that you have a problem with. This is not the same as trying to redefine their personality. Addressing things like this in an open, honest, direct, but non-confrontational or blaming way (with reasons for why they are detrimental if possible) leads to positive results.
  • Get them focused on the goals that matter to you, by showing especially how they themselves might benefit. Strong personality types are often strongly goal-oriented, and so really motivated by new ideas and challenges.
  • Show strength and confidence, through assertiveness, body language, speech and tone of voice. People respond instinctively to these alpha characteristics, providing they appear natural rather than forced or over-the-top.
  • Stand your ground when you have made up your mind and don't back down easily.
  • But, always be open to suggestions, and ready to act on them. It conveys respect for their opinion, and by extension, them.
  • Praise them publicly, but only when they have done something that warrants this and they know it's not false.
  • Avoid or downplay conflict.

February 2011

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