In the business world, is our obsession with ‘personal development’ and ‘strengthening our weaknesses’ actually achieving the opposite of its intention? Is it perhaps leading to a torrent of under-performance and stress-related illness? As well as negatively impacting the company’s bottom line?
Should we re-think – or ‘re-feel’ – how we’re approaching developing our teams – and ourselves – to create a happier, more productive, more passionate workforce? Here’s an idea for a simple midset shift that could transform your team in a heart beat.
It starts back in our school days, where we get ‘reports’ from a scarily young age, with (in mainstream) SATS exams from the age of 7 and public performance reviews, in subtle ways, on a daily basis. It is the nature of human beings to compare and contrast – it’s how the brain draws conclusions and makes gigantic leaps in understanding. But when that habit is applied to ourselves, it leads to pain, jealousy, suffering, self-doubt, lack of confidence, self-criticism, through-the-floor self esteem and even stress and depression.
Then we move into our careers – whether it’s being employed or running a solopreneur business or being a full-time mum. We continue to judge and criticise and to evaluate how we are performing. And it’s a rare super-woman who comes out of that particular mangle unscathed.
It’s why such a high number of the senior women I have mentored came to me with symptoms of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – scared, day-to-day, that someone will ‘catch them out’ or ‘see through them’ and spot that they’re not really up to the job (I know – I’ve been there!). It’s immensely stressful.
And when we’re feeling stressed, the inspirational problem-solving and near-genius part of your brain shuts down in favour of the primal survival-based short-term decision-making area. So stress makes it nearly impossible to perform to the best of your abilities – and fear of Imposter Syndrome becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In business, it’s really important to understand where people’s strengths and weaknesses lie. And it’s really important to give people the chance to grow and develop, not just because that grows your business, but also because growing and learning is highly motivating for most people.
So what’s the problem? How do we end up with appraisal systems that terrify, rather than motivating staff and creating performance shifts? And with a training industry that feeds management’s obsession with ‘fixing’ what is ‘wrong’ with their staff?
Because we’re starting in the wrong place.
We begin our ‘team development’ journey by looking at people’s strengths and weaknesses, relative to their job’s needs. We might use other terms, but that’s just a coat of prettying-up paint – it doesn’t change the energy of the situation or the attitude of the manager.
We train our managers to spot what is ‘wrong’ with their team. And it’s much easier to see what is not working than to focus on what is. So we learn to criticise – perhaps in our heads, perhaps in meetings with bosses and HR, but we’re creating a culture where talking about and focussing on what is ‘broken’ is the expectation.
We might feel that we are on our way to being enlightened by couching these thoughts with positives, creating supposedly-motivating ‘feedback sandwiches’ where you say 3 (or I’ve even heard the figure of 20!) ‘good things’ and then one that needs to be improved and then one more good thing – and that’s supposed to leave the person feeling inspired and positive. But it doesn’t really work. Anyone with less-than-perfect self confidence will remember the ‘to be improved’ bit much more clearly than the ‘happy waffle’. If we look at the amount of time and effort we invest in spotting what’s wrong, it’s not a surprise.
And people sense that we’re running these internal conversations, even if we’re not saying it out loud.
Fear of being criticised is a major cause of under-performance and stress.
After all, who on earth is going to willingly leap out of their comfort zone if they believe the likely outcome will be a cr*ppy appraisal if it goes wrong?
Too often our praise comes with a ‘but’. And the ‘but’ is what most people will remember.
We’re starting from the belief that our team members have fundamental flaws that need correcting. We’re running the assumptions that it’s ‘good’ to have strengths and ‘bad’ to have weaknesses.
So what can we do instead?
How on earth do you develop your team members without falling into the ‘fundamentally flawed’ trap?
I’d like to suggest that we start by getting clear about a vitally important distinction.
Who a person is is separate and distinct from their skills and behaviours.
As managers (or friends or parents or loved-ones), we have no right to change a person’s core values and identity. Yet we try to do it – unconsciously – with the language we use.
Instead of talking about how Fred would benefit from being able to better manage his time, we indelibly glue the behaviour to his identity by saying:
“Fred is bad at time management.”
The phrase “I am” instantly takes a behaviour and pins it to the essence of who you really are.
This pinning-to-who-you-are mechanism makes it feel so much harder to create change. And it causes us to identify, at the deepest levels, with that behaviour as part of our DNA. Ironically, it actually makes us more attached to the ‘weakness’ that someone wants us to get rid of. So we judge ourselves and criticise ourselves and blame ourselves – and our performance gets worse. And making that change becomes a fight – a battle in which we are trying to reject part of our being, rather than merely change a non-useful habit.
“I am…” is hard to change. But “I do… such-and-such a behaviour” is vastly easier to shift.
So how would this be for the first stage of a mindset-shift – I’m going to apply it to you, and not Fred, so you can feel the difference it makes:
I have these strengths and these weaknesses and I am bad at XYZ, so they’re going to send you on a training course to get rid of my weaknesses….
How would it feel if you believed:
I am basically great. I have some behaviours and skills I am choosing to develop – and I love that I find it so easy to XYZ.
How quickly would the performance of your team (and yourself) improve, if you were to adopt this mindset-shift?
And how about we take a moment to apply it to Imposter Syndrome? How might the mindset-shift help you (or someone you know) with that?
Can you imagine how it could increase their confidence, helping them to see all of the many ways that they actually can do the job well – regaining their perspective and relcaiming their personal power to choose which aspects of their skills and behaviours to improve?
By separating out the behaviours / skills from the identity / personality of the person concerned, and by consciously choosing to see them as ‘whole’ and ‘great’, rather than ‘flawed’ and ‘broken’, they will feel this, reflected in your eyes, your words and your behaviours towards them. It will encourage and empower them to perform to the best of their ability, whilst giving them the confidence to address the skill areas that need attention.
By seeing your team members as fundamentally GREAT, you are shifting everyone’s attitude from ‘having to fix‘ themselves through training and development to ‘choosing to grow‘ themselves. This is a tiny shift, but with potentially radically different outcomes.
Any decision made through choice creates more freedom.
And freedom to choose alternative behaviours is the absolute key to improving your performance.
Just imagine how much this could add to your company’s bottom line – and how much it could save you from your training and mentoring budget! (Doing myself out of a job here! 😉 ). Not to mention how it’ll cut stress levels, absenteeism and staff turnover – and foster a team that is empowered, motivated and performing at the top of their game.
And you have done nothing to change them. All it takes is a shift in your way of thinking.
So there you have it. A simple mindset-shift that could transform your team in a heartbeat.
The question is: are you ready yet?
I’d love to hear your views on the ideas in this article, via the comments, below.
Which elements resonate for you – as a manager? As a business professional? In your home relationships?
How might this mindset-shift help your team today? And do you have any suggestions you’d like to share? Or rotten tomatoes to throw? 😉
Next time I’ll be spilling the beans on how “flipping and balancing” could be the key to inspiring your teams to dive in and to LOVE developing the behaviours they have been avoiding handling.
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With love, Namaste,