Are you Theory X or Theory Y?

It’s not (ONLY) about Trust by David Pilbeam MA

Not sure that you trust your people to give their best every day when they are working remotely and you can’t see what they are up to? You are not alone. The issue of trust has long been cited in research as one of the principle reasons leaders do not favour home or remote working for their team members. This mistrust is often routed in the leader’s lack of confidence in a performers ability to do the job well and a suspicion that people will abuse their homeworking arrangement somehow. Leadership researcher Jennifer Garvey-Berger calls this a ‘mind trap’[1] and suggests that rather than seeking control leadership ‘requires the counterintuitive move of letting go of control in order to focus on creating the conditions for good things to happen – often with better outcomes than we could ever have imagined.’

Douglas McGregor[2] introduced us all to the idea that leaders tend to naturally favour Theory X or Theory Y 60 years ago. One leader we talked to this week reminded us of its relevance for the present climate. McGregor suggested that leaders favouring Theory X see people as motivated to avoid work when left to their own devices, while those who have a preference for Theory Y are inclined to see people as naturally highly motivated to perform their work. With a preference for Theory Y a leader is more inclined to give trust while the mindset of a leader coming from Theory X might be that trust must be hard earned. The leader in question wanted to make clear to us that more leaders in his sector still had a preference for Theory X than you might imagine and it was they who were struggling most to adapt to present context.

Many observers criticized this polar view of human nature as being over simplistic but McGregor’s central point – as with Maslow[3] before him – was that most people were motivated to give their best and would actively seek responsibility if they had clear goals they were committed to and could see the impact of their contribution. With a newly distributed team we can make a choice to give trust or face weeks of frustration fuelled by feelings of being out of control, and worry about what individuals are actually doing on company time.

CONDITIONS FOR SUCCESS

So, what if leaders diverted their attention away from issues of trust for a moment and started to frame the problem more in terms of motivation and contribution? How can I create the conditions in this now virtual team whereby each individual can find their own motivation? This being a more helpful question than: how can I over-come my suspicious nature, even if I wanted to? In our experience, when a leader creates the right conditions, people engage and the issue of trust rarely emerges.

Talk to anyone who has worked from home over a significant period of time and they will tell you that their motivation ebbs and flows through any given day or week. However, another theory of motivation[4] suggests that if leaders focus on creating 3 core conditions in the work environment, they increase the chances of a performer finding a more consistent and robust sense of motivation for themselves:

Purpose and Contribution

Many of the people we speak to who demonstrate unwavering drive and persistence in their work are dedicated to a higher cause or purpose and are driven by a desire to make a strong contribution to the work of their team. They go above and beyond the call of duty to persist and perform tasks and work productively, even at times of uncertainty. Finding significance in the project they are working on drives them. Where leaders actively help their people to find ways to contribute the to the team’s ambition and goals that is based on their strengths and passions, motivation increases.

Cultivating a sense of choice 

The more sense of choice people have about how they make that contribution, the higher levels of interest, excitement and commitment they bring. A choice mobilises people’s energies. Micro-management and constraints will sap them. Leaders may not be able to give people full choice over the end game but they can provide choice over contribution and latitude to deliver in a way that fits people’s preferences and strengths.

Growing capability

People want to feel that they are getting better, every day, at what they do. The feelings associated with increased levels of competence fuel confidence and development. Where leaders provide the opportunity for people to stretch themselves and learn something new, motivation increases and is more sustainable.

BACK TO TRUST

In our experience, trust building in a team, virtual or otherwise, begins with the leader working every day on becoming worthy of their team members trust. Rather than inviting people to earn their trust the best leaders see it in reverse – ‘it’s my job to earn my people’s trust’. Research[5] tells us that the best leaders do this by paying attention to:

  1. What they say and how they deploy their skills and experience in support of others development
  2. Doing what they say they will do
  3. Being genuinely interested in understanding the world of their team members – what makes them tick?

By combining this personal focus on becoming trustworthy themselves with creating the core conditions for people to find their own motivation, leaders who may be challenged most by engaging their teams in the current context, may discover a new path forward. It is the combination of human factors, such as trust and motivation, and technical solutions that will ultimately fuel success.

Before COVID 19, technology was already making it easier for people to work when they want, where they want, for the hours they want, and for the company they want. This is a trend that has now accelerated many fold – along with people’s increased desire to contribute and make a difference.


[1] Garvey-Berger, J (2016) Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders

[2] McGregor, D (1960) The Human Side of Enterprise

[3] Maslow, A (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, p370–396.

[4] Ryan, R. M.; Deci, E. L. (2000). “Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being”. American Psychologist55: 68–78.

[5] Maister, D.H., Green, C.H., & Galford, R.M., (2000) The Trusted Advisor New York: Free Press,

How to improve productivity in uncertain times

Leading by objectives helps improve productivity

Over the last 3 weeks of lockdown we have spoken to a number of business leaders about the impact that this period of change is having on their business and the different demands it places on their leadership. After the initial phase in which most leaders described a need simply to affect the changes necessary to keep the business functioning, came the need to explore new ways of working that were going to meet the challenges of the uncertainty we are all facing. For many this requirement was driven by teams being forced into working at home and far away from the central hub of business activity.

Many leaders have learnt quickly how to use technology in order to help people stay connected. For many, this is clearly a straightforward and natural process of adaptation. For others, it runs counter to how they prefer to lead. For some, the idea of having the majority of their team working from home is scary. How do I know they are doing the right things? How can I trust them to do what they say they are going to do? This often drives an over-dependence on the technology to ‘check-in’ with people – what they really mean is ‘check-up’.

Same but different

Talking to a senior leader in the world of banking last week we heard that those leaders who appear to be thriving currently are those who have already developed strong, high trust, relationships with their team members. In our research on how the most effective leaders ‘show up’ day to day with their followers we identified 5 essential human qualities that exist in all of us that we can practise consciously in order to build engagement and develop high performance: Determination, Compassion, Balance, Discovery, and Perspective.[1] Leaders develop their credibility with others by building these capabilities through deliberate practice. When the context for leadership changes dramatically it appears these qualities matter more than ever.

For many organisations, of course, the transition to a more distributed workforce happened a decade ago and they are largely untouched by this hiatus. Listening to Mark Mullenweg, Founder of WordPress, being interviewed recently on Sam Harris’s wonderful podcast on the future of work[2] you get sense of the massive benefits of having a globally distributed workforce. Find the best talent in the world and provide them with innovative ways to connect and magic will happen. However, many organisations are still organised on more traditional lines and therefore have leaders at the helm for whom navigating this new context remains tough. It rubs against their strong need for control and for systems and process over the more human qualities identified above.

Managing by outcomes

It is an old idea, but could Managing by Outcomes be an approach that would help such leaders succeed in this new order? Simply put, managing by outcomes means defining organisational goals; communicating these objectives clearly; rigorously measuring performance against those goals and then continuously managing the organisation in line with those goals and measures. It strikes us that a structured, goal-focussed approach, makes sense when followers are outside of a leader’s line of sight for extended periods of time.

In this approach, leaders give people the big picture because they recognise that the most talented performers prefer to work with high levels of autonomy. They then manage by outcomes rather than by tasks.They spend a lot of time with people agreeing on what must be delivered. They make crystal-clear contracts about the real results to achieve. From then on virtually every performance conversation will start by concentrating on the agreed outcomes rather than get into supervising the tasks or justifying their working week.

In our experience, organisations who use this approach well:

  • have a clear vision of why they exist, what they want to achieve and how well they are achieving against this;
  • plan their work keeping in mind a clear set of individual and team goals
  • take stock of their progress by monitoring, measuring, reviewing and re-evaluating as they go;
  • learn from success and failure, then modify what they do and how they do it in response;
  • report openly on their results, promoting transparency and providing a basis for dialogue about future decisions in the team

Interestingly they do not stop there. They also aim to deliver in a manner that is consistent with the values and principles that characterise the organisation. They encourage people to focus on setting the bar high when making decisions on how they go about their daily work.

A number of organisations we work with have successfully shifted to this way of working. One in particular, until recent events took over, had all their staff under one roof, but have moved seamlessly to becoming a distributed workforce. The leader tells us that clarity is vital and their role is to communicate the big picture, provide structures and frameworks to guide people and be world class at goal setting and reviewing. Each team member’s role is to make clear contracts about their part in achieving the goals. If people get out of bed a little later than usual or take time out in their day to teach their child’s English lesson, can we learn to live with it – so long as people are delivering what they say are going to deliver?

By David Pilbeam (MA) Leadership coach and coaching supervisor


[1] Pilbeam, D & Wallis, G.P., (2018) Leader iD: Discover your leadership profile – and how to improve. Pearson, London

[2] #194 The New Future of Work, A Conversation with Matt Mullenberg on Making Sense with Sam Harris, Podcast

Why do leaders stop leading?

Leaders Leading Leaders

Brilliant functional leaders who head up their own teams of high performers often share an observable trait: They stop leading when they come together in a group with their peers, e.g. at their regular senior leadership team meetings.

We see it. Too often.

Why do leaders stop leading?

From our data and experience of nearly 20 years, there are a number of reasons why highly effective leaders stop leading when they come together and they include but are not limited to:

  1. A lack of discrete contracting about the expectations of behaviours within the team
  2. A well-meaning but overly directing nominal leader
  3. Leaders in one context limiting themselves to being solely a follower in another setting

Let’s looks at each of these in turn and see what you might be able to do about them if these traits appear in the teams you are involved with.

1. Contracting around behaviours

Great teams spend time getting a clear and shared understanding of what the expectations are on each member of the team. This might include developing both specific roles in addition to a more generalised set of expectations.

One of these team-wide intentions must include the leadership requirement on all members when they are within a team setting or representing the team to the wider organisation, customers and/or other key stakeholders. Being explicit about this single aspect of what it is to contribute to a highly effective team is (in our experience) perhaps most especially important when team members are already leaders elsewhere i.e. have their own team to lead.

2. Overly directing nominal leader

We see the ‘nominal leader’ as the person with the title and ultimate accountability for the team. This person would be the one that the other members of the team would turn to for appropriate permissions, sign-off etc.

Where the contracting around leadership expectations has not been completed (See #1 above) and in some cases even when it has, there can be temptation for the nominal leader to feel that – for a range of reasons – they should very visibly and actively lead the team. Albeit that the team may comprise a number of highly experienced leaders in their own right. This disempowers the other leaders, creates doubt and a sense that you don’t trust or value their points of view, experience etc.

If you are such a leader, find ways to re-orient your identity within the team to be more of a facilitator of experts, rather than role model an identity that might look more like “the Boss” to outside observers (such as us when we come and work with you!) This helps you to:

a. add more specific value to team activities, from your own deep experience

b. provides a platform for your team members to add greater value

c. gives you first-hand evidence of how your team are operating and contributing.

3. Identity crisis

For leaders who are also part of other teams of peers/leaders – which is pretty much everyone in an organisation – you need to work out for yourself what it means to be a follower and behave accordingly, whilst … and this is important … not giving up all your leadership activities, skills and experience. You need to be able to do both dynamically – be willing to follow and be led by others, whilst also be willing to pop the leader hat back on when required, step up and do your thing!

We know it is tempting to welcome a break from the responsibilities for a while and let someone else take the mantle/burden of leadership.

But we’ve got some bad news: You don’t get not to lead. It’s a full-time role. That includes when you are working alongside your peers.

Glenn P Wallis helps leaders and teams become the very best versions of themselves. If you would like to know more, please contact us here.

Coaching vs. Mentoring the C-Suite Executive’s Dilemma

There is a misconception that top senior executives and business leaders no longer require a leadership coach, rather an adviser (mentor) who has been in the role successfully in the past.

We, at Glenn P Wallis, believe that this is an assertion built on erroneous thinking. Each C-Suite Executive is very different to the next. It assumes that a mentor’s experience will be of more benefit at a different time and potentially in very different circumstances.

So that does beg the question – how many ex-C-Suite Executives are forward thinking qualified coaches with a commitment to CPD?

The areas of development that the C-Suite Executive requires, will determine the success of the support they receive. A former CEO may be a brilliant mentor, but would they know how to coach effectively? Would they possess the skillset to spot and explore such areas as:

  • faulty thinking
  • personal bias
  • self-limiting beliefs
  • values conflict
  • projection
  • transference
  • counter-transference?

It’s unlikely, unless they have sufficient development in the skills of coaching.

At Glenn P Wallis, it is our firm belief that highly advanced coaching skills, coupled with being a former CEO, would make for the best coaching solution. However, omit the former and you are left with high quality advice that may or may not be fit for purpose. Omit the latter, and what remains is high quality coaching.

In our experience, high quality coaching trumps high quality advice for long-term career success. Because as the old saying goes: give a person a fish and they can feed themselves for a day, or teach them to fish and they can feed themselves forever.

Glenn P Wallis

Coaching for Leaders and Executives

Click here for further information about Coaching for Leaders and Executives or Contact us

©Glenn P Wallis Ltd

3 ways leadership subtlety can improve your pace

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Senior leaders in today’s workplace are required to work quickly. Almost all the time. The expectation is that executives make often quite complex decisions, rapidly. Everyone has to iterate innovation at speed. Many senior leaders I am asked to work with are approaching exhaustion at the relentless pace of work. The challenge here is that the rate of change is not likely to slow down very much any time soon. So how can leaders learn to cope better in this lighting-fast environment? One way to achieve greater capability to work at this pace, is to develop leadership subtlety. In this post, we’ll explore what I mean by leadership subtlety; how it can improve your pace and how to develop the kind of nuance that the very best leaders demonstrate.

What is leadership subtlety?

For the purposes of this article, ‘leadership subtlety’ refers to leaders developing the capacity to respond to situations and to other people, in the widest range of ways. This flexibility of styles is a mark of mature leadership. Mature leadership is not a function of time in the role. There are plenty of examples of very new leaders who have the range of approaches available to them, that engages their team and ensures delivery of great performance. For the sake of balance, leaders who have been in post for a long time but lack the subtlety of leadership approach, are legion.
Leadership subtlety is the direct result of a developed leader. The human being that is the leader, has high levels of awareness, sophisticated worldviews that allow them to be comfortable with paradox, accept the views of others, even when (especially when) they do not accord with those of the leader. Leadership subtlety enables many views and truths to be held together.

What are the three ways leadership subtlety improves pace?

1. Leaders who display the sort of sophisticated thinking and action that we are talking about here, are more likely to focus on the job of leading because they don’t need to be operational. They are clear on their role. They avoid working at a level that is inappropriate to the job they have. This ‘role discipline’ provides greater impact and value across the organisation. Leaders focusing on leadership avoid getting wrapped up in the operational parts of their function. Not easy but vital.
2. Leadership subtlety is accessible to leaders who have a lower ego-need. Such leaders do not need to be the centre of attention, they encourage the ‘best people for the job’ to take control. Leaders who have lower ego needs tend to trust others more. Their ability to retain an idea of the ‘big picture’ allows them to remain more open to ideas and avoid the ‘my way or the highway’ trap so many leaders can fall into.
3. Linked to the previous point, a highly nuanced approach to leadership allows leaders to be more comfortable with glorious failures. Brave attempts that do not produce the desired results, are not an assault on the identity of the leader. Nor are such lacks of success a prompt for criticising the originators of the idea and plan. In such subtlety of leadership approach lies the germ of risk taking, innovation, rapid iteration, agile work. Why? Because people led by such leaders are not scared to make a decision, try something out or just crack on.

Develop yourself to develop your leadership

Developing your ‘Self’ as a human being enables you to live a more fulfilled life but also allows you to lead much more effectively. Your ability to align your actions to your values and your role, improves markedly. Encouraging the creativity and uniqueness of others, maximises the resources of those you lead. Remaining squarely in your leadership role supports high performance and confidence in others too. You working on you, will aid your ability to succeed as a leader in these fast-paced times.
Dr Glenn P Wallis is the Director of Wallis Partnership Ltd a specialised leadership consultancy. When your organisation is ready to make effective leadership a business imperative, you can contact us here we would be delighted to hear from you.

Stretch don’t snap

StretchHigh performers like to be stretched. Indeed they will push themselves, if you as their leader are not providing sufficient opportunity for them to learn, aim high and ultimately hit it out of the ball-park. There are several areas to be mindful of with these driven types however and it is to those ‘Red Flags’ that this post will now turn.

Coasting

If, as a leader, you fail to provide frequent chances for high performers to engage deeply in their work and to be challenged by it on an almost daily basis, they will get bored. That’s not a possibility, it’s a given. Where we are asked to work within our comfort-zone all the time, disengagement will naturally follow as sure as Q2 follows Q1. High performers live to learn and contribute in a way that has meaning for them. Sure, some may do it for reasons of ego or the accompanying reward but in my experience of working with hundreds of these high performers, most seem to do it for the reward that comes from the achievement itself, rather than just some extraneous recognition.

Burn-out

As a senior leader, when you look around your team and know that there is someone whom you trust deeply to deliver excellent work under often quite tight deadlines, the likelihood is that they become your ‘go-to’ person. Often. Usually, too often. Due to the fact that these high performers want the stretch and love the challenge, they are often not the best at saying ‘no’ to the extra workload you put their way. Before they (and you) know it, they can be overly relied upon and in deep danger of burn-out. That is the worst of outcomes for them and for you.

Lead differently
  1. Challenges for leaders when leading this kind of high performer are several, including your own ego and self-confidence, which may lead to you squashing the opportunities for this person in fear of the fact that they might out-shine you. My advice? Make your aim to be out-shone by members of your team. Regularly. Your ability to develop such key people is an important indicator of what a great leader you are, not the opposite.
  2. Rather than over-use the superstars, provide a greater stretch for those in your team who are not at that level yet. Ensure that these ‘nearly-theres’ are pushed and challenged, so that they can add more value to the work of your team. There is more capacity and potential in these people that is being left on the table, than there is from you and your current high performer, both of who (Hint! Hint!) are working very close to their maximum most of the time.
  3. Recognise that you and those in your team, work best under conditions of stretch. Whilst you or the context, may mean you mis-judge that from time to time, remember that moderate challenge helps focus the effort and makes sustainable high performance a much likelier outcome.

Dr Glenn P Wallis runs a boutique leadership consultancy, where he and his team help organisations perform better through developing higher quality senior leaders. If you want to discuss how you can raise the strength of your leadership bench then you can contact Glenn here.