Choosing between opposites


man on beam finalIn many diagnostic tools for leaders and teams there is a scale which indicates how far the leader or the team is on a ladder between two opposite behaviors or style preferences. This could be for example critical evaluation on the one end of the scale and compassionate encouragement on the other side of the scale. (see example below).

These kinds of results are often used to coach and develop leaders and teams towards a desired behavior or culture.  In many cases the distinction between the “right” behavior and the “wrong” behavior is more linked to the situation at hand, associated risks and/or the person you have in front of you than a simplistic view of correct behavior. For example it may be less desirable behavior to be overly critical in an evaluation of someone who is new to the role and the company or team.  In another instance where the risks are high and the people on the team very experienced it may be more appropriate to perform a critical evaluation in the event of a major failure to achieve desired outcomes than to offer compassionate encouragement.

blog scale graphic

This leads to the concept of managing or working with both of the ends of a scale – choosing both sides in terms of developing leaders and teams and helping them to have a bigger capacity to choose the right response for the right situation.  The key to helping leaders and teams to embrace more than one behavior or style in selecting the best response to a situation or a task is to create more awareness.

If you are coaching someone or guiding a class of developing leaders through an exercise you may want to use this approach:

blog polarity awareness

Ask the leader you are coaching or the class of leaders to consider any two concepts which are mostly considered as opposites of each other and to then complete the exercise – coming up with possible positive outcomes and negative outcomes from using that particular approach or behavior. In a class situation you can also assign it as an exercise between two or more people to brainstorm together.

Once the exercise is complete you can lead a discussion with examples from the class or the leader you are coaching for when it may be appropriate to use one or the other behavior more effectively.  You can also choose to ask groups that had completed the exercise to prepare a demonstration (role-playing) to show the appropriate way to respond to a situation based on an example they discussed in the group. Or you may choose to provide some case-studies where the leader or class have to identify which may be the best approaches. These practical exercises will further help your participants understand the choices that they have as leaders when facing different situations and how to at least evaluate the best path forward before they go into action.

As a followup action you can ask participants or your coachee to capture examples they come across in the next few weeks/months where they had to make a choice between two opposite approaches and used the exercise above to identify the potential positive and negative outcomes. Using this approach will not necessarily avoid making mistakes and using a less effective approach, but the ability to stop, reflect and choose will make the leader or team more effective more of the time.

Some examples you could consider for the exercise above:

  • Working independently vs working in groups/teams
  • People focused vs Task focused
  • Having a structured (fixed) approach vs a creative/open approach
  • Formal vs Informal approach to others
  • Monitoring others closely vs holding them accountable for outcomes created

This approach does not invalidate the tests which offer leaders and teams valuable insights into their own typical approaches and style preferences. This is merely another way to approach the outcomes from those tests to help develop more adaptable leaders and teams, which is highly needed in the current environment where change has become a constant and successfully working across borders, cultures and generations have become essential.

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