What's In A Word?

Have you ever thought about how many words and sentences we utter every day, but that we also give little thought to those utterances?

I work with hundreds of people each year from a range of industries and it is surprising how few take the time to stop and give serious thought to the things they are saying and the language that they are broadcasting.  The use of motherhood statements, phrases and words is rife in the fields of Managing and Leading and we often use that language because it seems like something we ought to be doing if we are to be recognised as 'on top of our game.'  Management, leadership, empowerment, delegation, etc., etc.

Two words that we hear most often are 'management' and 'leadership' as in: "I see leadership as vital to the success of this operation."  We all know what the speaker is intending to say here, but what if the sentence read: "I see leading as vital to the success of this operation."  The first as a noun, an object of sorts, something that is separate from myself - while the second is the verb, an action, something that I do.  See the difference?  It is only a small difference but it can change the way we think about, and go about, our business.

Here are some others to think about, and I'm sure you can come up with your own list:

When someone talks about empowerment, ask them about empowering and what they might be doing when they empower.

When a colleague mentions management, ask them how they go about managing themselves and others.

When your report suggests that delegation is important, ask them to describe what they mean when they use that word, and what they are doing when they are delegating.

When a manager talks about benchmarking their organisation against others, remind them that in doing so they will only ever be as good as another organisation - the current benchmark.  Talk instead about being the benchmark and how they might go about setting standards that are a sustainable and competitive advantage.

When a CEO says that "people are our greatest asset", I cringe.  Besides being an overworked cliche, assets are purchased to assist in the output of a firm's goods and services.  As such, they tend to lose value according to the extent to which we have used the asset in our output.  Is this what we do with people?  Does their value depreciate, or appreciate, over time?  We also consume assets in the production of income and, in doing so, the asset is said to be 'expensed' or ‘written off’.  Is this really the way we should view our people, as something that is consumed or 'expensed'?

Let's not take language for granted.  There is a wealth of opportunity in rephrasing out intentions.

You can sign up here for the CED newsletter where I will be discussing topics similar to this one in a little more depth.

All the best


"I'm Just A Manager - Not The Pope!"

During the recent Papal elections in Rome, a Commentator discussed the concept of: "Cardinal one day, infallible the next".  The observation was based on the proposition that the Cardinal is fallible today but, upon being elected to the top job, becomes infallible tomorrow.  The new Pope, by the way, has chosen to forgo this doctrine, but it got me thinking about what we expect from our new Managers.

At a recent development program, I was speaking with one of the Participants who voiced concern that, now that they had become a Manager, they were supposed to have all the answers - that, overnight, they were supposed to have gleaned insights that were not there before and which would address all manner of issues. 

It is true that followers will often look to their Leaders and Managers for the answers.  Sometimes this is because they think that is what they are supposed to do, and at other times it is because the Manager requires them to consult with a higher authority (ask permission) before making decisions.  There are also circumstances when the followers become resigned to the fact that, whatever they suggest, the Manager will have the final say and decide on a particular direction so, why bother?  Of course, there are also times when the follower simply doesn't know the answer and is looking for guidance.

Why not take the pressure off yourself as the new Manager and, in the process, generate a climate of challenge, engagement, innovation, self-worth, independence and development among your followers?  Realise that you aren't required to have all the answers.  Instead, become known for having the best questions.

Asking great questions that make others stop and think will mean that those around you will learn to solve problems, innovate, take on more responsibility and work towards goals and objectives with enthusiasm.  They will also go home each day feeling that they have made a personal and significant contribution to something.  That is always better than feeling like a robot who has just gone through the motions.

Start formulating some great questions for your next one-on-one, rather than resorting to position, title and ego in setting your Leading and Managing signature.  Let "What?", "Where?", " When?", "How?", "Why?", and "Who?" become your mantra - and don't try to be the Pope.

You can sign up here for the CED newsletter where I will be discussing topics similar to this one in a little more depth.

All the best


If It Is To Be, It's Up To Me

In their book 'It Starts With One', two INSEAD professors, Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen, proposed that an organisation changes only as fast, and as far, as the front-line individuals implementing that change.  The authors suggest that it is here that we should be focusing our change efforts, rather than on a more conventional top-down paradigm. That view relies on managing and leading others to achieve an end.  But I think we should first focus on the step before - personalising the power of one. 

What about the power of each of us to start the ball rolling and influence our own environment? What if 'I' am the 'One'?  I have the power to choose the way I want to live, to manage and to lead - it's all up to me.

  • If I provide informal and constructive feedback to just two people with whom I work during the next week, think of the benefits that would accrue to them and the team, business unit, and organisation.
  • If I commit to practising one aspect of my management or leadership toolkit until it becomes habit, everyone around me will benefit.
  • If I really believe that I am a unique individual who can go about my business with purpose and consciousness, then I start to take control of my personal and professional life.
  • I can choose to take the rudder, or simply to hang on and be blown about by the wind.

It just starts with one - one idea, one dream, one purpose, one thought, one aspiration, one inspiration, one commitment, one word ..... me!

You can sign up here for the CED newsletter where I will be discussing topics similar to this one in a little more depth.

All the best



Where Are You Spending Your Time?

Hi Everyone,

Denis Bourke here, from the Centre for Executive Development (CED).

One of the biggest traps that we all fall into every day is that we turn up for work and go through the motions, giving little thought to where we are spending our time, and where we would like to be (or should be) spending our time.  Being 'busy' is very seductive in that we can delude ourselves into thinking that we are working hard, making a contribution, justifying our position and reward, and so on.  However, and while that 'busy' work makes us feel important and wanted, it might not be the best, most productive, or focused use of our time.

If you think broadly about managing as 'transactional' tasks and leading as 'transformational' activities, consider the sorts of things that fill your day.  Draw a line down the middle of a page and head one column "Managing" and the other "Leading".  Now list all the things that you are doing and which take up your time.  Under the "Managing" column, you might list things such as: planning; monitoring procedures; problem solving; fighting fires; etc.  Now, in the "Leading" column you might list activities that include: motivating others; leading change; setting direction; developing talent; and so on.

Looking at both of your lists, are you spending more of your time managing or leading?

Now draw up a similar list under the question of "Where would I like to be, or should be, spending my time?"

Has the balance shifted?  Are you spending most of your time managing when you should be leading, or vice versa?  If you are like most people who I take through this exercise, there is usually a shift from managing to leading between the two lists.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting for a moment that you should move to an emphasis on Leading just because it sounds more important.  Managing is a critical element in all our worlds and should never be underestimated or undersold.  What I am saying, however, is that you need to get the balance right - and that requires you to pay attention.  If circumstances dictate that you should be managing - then manage.  If you should be leading - then lead.  Then, think about what is getting in the way of you doing what you should be doing and set about removing those barriers.

You can sign up here for the CED newsletter where I will be dealing with this topic, and others, in a little more depth.

All the best

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