Becoming a dependable boss

I recently read an excellent post by Daniel Goleman on LinkedIn titled “Teams need a dependable boss“.  This paragraph jumped out at me:

People who feel that their boss provides a secure base, Kohlrieser finds, are more free to explore, be playful, take risks, innovate, and take on new challenges. Another business benefit: if leaders establish such trust and safety, then when they give tough feedback, the person receiving it not only stays more open but sees benefit in getting even hard-to-take information.

I agree wholeheartedly with what Goleman has to say about the impact of a manager who supports her/his team to grow and develop.  Allowing people to be playful might be the best thing that a boss can do to foster an environment of innovation, team work and discovery.

In my coaching work with professionals I often say that the most difficult role in the workplace, the most challenging work, is managing people.  Too often managers relate to people as though we could leave our emotional responses to each other outside of the office.  The most talented managers embrace the totality of the people on their team – they don’t shy away from intimacy and the caring it takes to have hard conversations.  Some managers can make strong demands because they have created an environment in which they are trusted.

This performance is not one that comes easy to people.  It demands a constant focus on the totality (the environment), the work and on “the other” (the team), even when the manager is feeling her/his own limitations.  It is not a knowing performance, it is a discovery.

Being playful is a wonderful tool for creating an environment of risk-taking.  The ability to make mistakes, fail and try again is essential to innovation and growth for individuals, teams and companies.  A dependable boss is the manager is constantly keeping an eye to the environment in which her/his people are working. The dependable boss fosters an environment of play.

Improvisation is a wonderful training ground for these skills.  The basic tool of improvisation is “yes and” – we embrace any “offers” that come our way and we build with them.  We listen intently and actively.  We trust our partner/s; we make our partner/s look good.  We don’t know where something is going; we embrace the process.  We are dependable!

If you are a manager or are developing as a manager I encourage you to perform in new ways that might surprise the people who report to you/work with you – make some discoveries and play!

Social self – a contradiction?

Reading one of the more popular posts on the HBR website this week, The Must-Have Leadership Skill by Daniel Goleman — http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/10/the_must-have_leadership_skill.html — I was struck by Goleman’s notion of “social self”.

One of the social intelligence indicators: during a getting-to-know you conversation, does the candidate ask about the other person or engage in a self-centered monologue? At the same time, does she talk about herself in a natural way? At the end of the conversation, you should feel you know the person, not just the social self she tries to project.

I think “social intelligence” is a useful concept in management and I agree that a strong leader has to have a great deal of emotional or social intelligence.  And it seems to me that the “social self” we “project” is a performance that we create for ourselves in a particular setting. It’s hard to deny the importance of creating intimate conversations that are not “self-centered monologues”.  When we create performances that include talking about ourself in a “natural way” and focusing on “other” rather than on “self” we are creating intimacy.

Language makes us cateogrize and categories are static in a way that can prevent us from seeing human activity. The “social self” contains two words that contradict each other when you think about it! I like to contemplate this sentence that I previously quoted from a learning session with Dr. Lois Holzman:

Language prevents us from seeing that language prevents us from seeing.

So what does this have to do with my musings on business leadership and performance?

In conversations with executives who are working to further develop their performances in the workplace these issues come up all the time — how we are talking with each other, how we are listening and what we are istening for.  This is where improvisation is such a critical tool.  When we improvise a scene we learn to create intimate and socially intelligent conversations with others. How?  We keep our focus on the “we” (the social) and not on the self.  In this way we have the best shot at listening, communicating, persuading, and collaborating.

This post is my “yes and” to Goleman’s article.