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  • Writer's pictureMichael Soderling

The power of personal warmth, consideration and curiosity



Lately I have witnessed three managers who have made important contributions in three different settings.


To better understand the value of their actions, I would like to offer you a bit of theoretical background. In management teams in the early stages of their development, you can view members as islands that are isolated from one another. Different members possess different insights and different notions on, for example, what the priorities are. If the team's purpose is to lead and develop an organisation, then making insights common and enabling different views to bump into each other should be a priority. One plus one can become three, which emulates an established theorem within the Theory of Living Human Systems: Groups survive, develop and transform by discriminating and integrating differences.


My job is to ensure that the discrimination of differences occurs in an orderly manner. For instance, we want to counteract an emerging dynamic about right or wrong. Ultimately such a dynamic can lead to a stalemate in crucial issues and cost a lot of money. The most remarkable example that comes to my mind, was a top management team that wasn’t able to decide on a downsizing process that everyone involved realised was necessary, unless they wanted the company to bleed out. Here’s a link to an article in Swedish about that particular case. For English-speaking readers, here’s a link to an article that makes you think about costs when people who have to cooperate are unable to negotiate in a constructive manner. Thirdly, here’s an example of the opposite.


So how do you create functional dynamic? A good starting point is helping members to decrease their use of “yes, but" and increase their use of “please elaborate”, in particular when they don’t agree with their colleague. Icing on the cake is when members of a team show appreciation, especially when colleagues name the elephant in the room or ask so called stupid questions.


What happens when curiosity and encouragement reign is, firstly, that no one feels the need to save face or defend a position. Secondly, the conversation deepens, nuances emerge and what initially appeared to be divergent views often turn out to contain several common denominators. Thirdly, you’ll end up with a climate where people feel safe and thus are able to truly contribute and where no one feels a need to shy away from trumpeting elephants.


Now that I’ve explained the background, let’s go back to our three managers. During a management team development session, one of them responded enthusiastically to my suggestion that members would benefit from validating and encouraging each other to a greater extent. In a tongue-in-cheek manner, she made it a point to give confirmation to every single speaker. It created a lot of laughter, but in the follow-up a month later my client and I agreed that that behaviour had contributed greatly to the team’s process.


In another management team, one member tended to never stop talking. The more he talked, the less the rest of us understood. My feeling was that he himself didn’t know what he wanted to convey, and his frustration was clear for all to see. I feared that once he stopped talking, he would be met with complete silence and awkwardness. Just as I was catching my breath to deal with that possible outcome, I heard another member kindly and gently declare that he didn't understand. He continued “what I think you want to say is this…. Or possibly this…?”


Using patience combined with thoughtfulness, this member did important work for the team in its endeavour to discriminate and integrate differences. And obviously important work for the frustrated colleague. Given the verbosity and vagueness, I suspected that he was not used to being met with curiosity and warmth. This more considerate approach built rapport and helped him understand what he really wanted to say.


Finally we come to our third manager, whom I observed in a workshop comprised of 75 participants. There was a moment in the workshop when employees were encouraged to direct questions and suggestions to top management (to which this manager belonged) – often a stressful situation for many, even if what you have to say is not controversial at all. When the employees gathered the courage to say what they thought and felt, this manager responded with warm and genuinely interested questions, which facilitated the discrimination and integration of differences.


You can think of the concept of leadership in so many ways. It can be about courage and personal maturity. It can be about open-mindedness, not taking things personally or about how you communicate. In any event, the power of personal warmth, consideration and curiosity can never be overestimated – especially if you want to contribute to a group surviving, developing and transforming. If we can make such transformations happen by nurturing an encouraging climate where everyone's thoughts are allowed to be expressed and where isolated knowledge is shared, then we can assume that the team will excel. Would you agree?

 

The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.



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