Over the last two decades, the most routine business tasks have been computerized or outsourced. As a result, today’s employees are increasingly hired to think. In 2005, 40 percent of employees were considered knowledge workers; for mid-level management and higher, the number is closer to 100 percent.
Modern leaders must increasingly shift management styles to reflect the needs of a more educated labor force. Unfortunately, business schools have neglected to teach leaders and managers how to improve their knowledge workers’ thinking and decision-making skills.
Strengthening these abilities is critical. We have not significantly reinvented our management models since the time Henry Ford hired a pair of hands and wished they’d left their brains behind.
Generations X and Y have been making major organizational contributions, albeit with different expectations. They embrace personal development, while valuing freedom and independence. They want to work for leaders who will help them fulfill their career potential – mentors who can help them improve their thinking.
As these future leaders develop, they will move from managing themselves to managing others. Their leadership potential depends on their ability to change the way they think. Regrettably, the organizations that employ them usually allocate few internal resources to help them through this shift. It’s time for leaders to learn how to train the next generation in higher-level decision-making.
The Iceberg Model
Some leadership experts have adopted the “iceberg” model to describe human performance. This metaphor suggests that some of our behaviors are visible, while most other behaviors, thoughts and feelings lurk below water.
Our work achievements are driven by how we think. Why, then, do leaders focus on what’s superficially visible when addressing employee performance? Evaluations rarely consider the factors that drive habits, nor do managers reflect on employees’ feelings or thoughts. Many employees are highly capable individuals who want to work – and be – smarter. They’re crying out for help. It’s up to their leaders to learn how to ask the right questions and conduct truly engaging conversations.
Start a Conversation
If we want people to think better, we must essentially let them do all the thinking. Dr. Rock suggests the following five-step process for establishing a conversation that enables self-directed learning:
Posing questions allows you to focus on your employees’ mental processes. Asking them to share thoughts:
As they process their thoughts, they’ll begin to search their mental maps for insights and potential solutions.
The following questions can facilitate a constructive conversation:
None of these questions focuses on the problem’s specific details. Notice how the questions avoid suggesting what employees should think or do. They’re designed to help your people take notice of their own thinking. At this point, your employees will begin to contemplate key issues on a much deeper level, which allows them to see things more clearly. This often leads to new connections in their brains that create fresh insights.
We need to abandon our need to find behaviors to fix and problems to solve. Concentrate on identifying and growing people’s strengths and abilities to think things through.
An effective conversation requires an environment where people feel safe enough to explore their thoughts and reach new insights. Four elements should be in place:
There’s almost nothing more personal than trying to change people’s thinking. Given that our perceptions become our reality, asking people to think differently means we’re invading personal territory. It’s therefore crucial to establish permission anytime you want to hold a conversation.
As you approach the most personal questions, ask once again for permission. People can quickly become defensive and stop listening to you. Asking permission frequently helps people feel safe, acknowledged and respected. Here are some sample approaches:
Advice Doesn’t Work
Ideas are like children; we love our own the most. ~ Chinese proverb
Advice is rarely helpful. People are far more likely to act on ideas they’ve come up with themselves.
Adult learning studies prove this is the way we acquire new habits. We find a connection for other people’s ideas in our own mental maps and decide to act. It then becomes our own idea – our own decision.
Empowering subordinates is hard and complicated work. You have to be willing to give up control and let people work through their own thinking. Empowerment means you must develop people – a strategy whose success depends on dialogue and trust.
The best way to develop people is through coaching conversations – I partner with you to help you to help others do their own thinking. This is also the best use of your time and talents. A good leader acts as a guide rather than the all-knowing expert.
I have a few spots available for June coaching. Call me right now.