Creating conditions for success

It’s a pity that most times we are trying to adopt new leadership approaches in work settings, we fail to explain what’s going on to all the parties, says Douglas Lang.

How often have you been in the situation where you’ve been on a training course, got fired up about the new skills and knowledge you’ve acquired, and looked to put these in place with members of your team, only to find you get push-back when you try?

Putting yourself in the shoes of one of your team members (or should that be ‘victims’?) can be very enlightening in understanding why you may get the resistance. 

For example – “My boss has just come back from a three-day training offsite and has started acting very differently from how he was before. All of a sudden he is asking if he can ‘give me some feedback’ or if he ‘can give me some coaching’, and has started asking me lots of questions where before he rarely asked questions and more often than not told me what to do. It’s all very confusing. The game seems to have changed and I don’t understand what the game is or what the rules are. I’m not sure what’s going on and certainly not sure I want to play.”

One of the key things we have learned over the years of running our development programmes is the need to educate both the leader and their team members about what’s going on so both sides of the relationship know the game and are able to play. 

Doing this allows the leader to feel more comfortable in the early stages of using their newly found skills. They are less concerned about being perfect as they know that their team member understands what they are doing and therefore is more likely to make allowances for any ‘clunkiness’ in the process.

If we were introducing someone to a game of tennis or rugby we’d begin by explaining a bit about the game and the rules – so they could start to understand what’s going on and play their role. That way we are allowing them to get comfortable with the game and as a result we are more likely to get them interested in coming back for more.

It’s a pity that most times we are trying to adopt new leadership approaches in work settings, we fail to explain what’s going on to all the parties. Many will play the game once but, as a result of not being sure what’s going on, may be less inclined to give it a second go – especially if the first experience is not perfect (which is very likely when someone is trying out new skills).

We recommend a few simple steps that can be used to increase the likelihood of success by creating the conditions that allow you, and your team members, to win.

  • Take time to explain to your team or an individual that you are looking to use some new skill or approach with them, and explain the benefit you see in operating in this way. Encourage them to think about what benefits they may obtain.
  • Give them some insight into the process so they understand why for example you are suddenly asking lots of questions rather than telling them what to do.
  • Talk about how they can get the most from you and the process. Explain their role.
  • Acknowledge that you will not be perfect the first few times but that you want to give this a go and are looking for their support in doing so.
  • Ask for their feedback on how you’re doing along the way.

Taking this approach requires a bit of time, humility and honesty. However, if you can make the time and take off your Superman/Superwoman cape for a minute or two, our experience is that you are much more likely to achieve a successful outcome than hoping they will just ‘get it’ without any explanation.

Douglas Lang is the director of Altris Ltd ( specialising in leadership development and coaching.  

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