Management Skills: Focus on Success

During tough times work can feel like a lot of effort without a lot of results to show for it. As a manager, I’ve fallen victim to a seemingly common trap –– focusing on my team’s failures, shortcomings and missteps rather than on anything positive.

I ask them at meetings, “What are we doing wrong?” “Why aren’t we getting results?”

That’s when I see their shrugs, their eyes drop to the floor. They don’t have answers.

Ironically, when former bosses would ask these kinds of questions of me I would immediately think they did not respect the work I was doing. My thoughts would travel down a one-way street to defensiveness, frustration, and resentment.

In my Leadership and Management class I’ve learned a different approach. Ed Oakley and Doug Krug’s “Framework for Leadership” model is all about focusing on success. The framework tells us to start by asking the team, “What are we doing right? What is already working?” By focusing on success first the conversation evolves productively, leading to an action plan everyone can get behind.

I think this process is like starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together. Initially, there is tremendous effort but no result. If you were survival expert Bear Grylls’ manager would you ask him, “Hey Bear, what’s taking so long?”, or would you encourage him to keep going? Only with persistence can a tiny smoldering morsel appear and develop into a fire. It’s our job as managers to encourage this persistence.

Whatever we look for, failure or success, we will surely find.

All of this seems like common sense but I do not see it as common practice –– even in my work world. Which means I’m vowing to change my behavior starting today!