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Too much of a Good thing can be Bad

Diana’s story Part 1: Diana is a highly driven team leader. She is highly task-focussed and extremely committed to her job. She starts every day writing out her daily goals and enjoys crossing them off as she completes them.

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Diana’s story Part 1: Diana is a highly driven team leader. She is highly task-focussed and extremely committed to her job. She starts every day writing out her daily goals and enjoys crossing them off as she completes them. In a leadership development session with her team, she expresses a frustration that lately, she seems to be getting behind, which is a great source of disappointment to her, as she prides herself on her ability to get things done. Diana decides that what she needs to develop in this session is improved time management skills.

We are all systems of roles. A role is a thinking-feeling-behaving response we make to other people or situations in our lives. We have a huge repertoire of roles from which to respond and as we go through life, are met with a myriad of people and situations which give us opportunity to expand our role repertoire. To illustrate this definition of role, when called into the Manager’s office for the annual performance review, some folks will go into the role of Admonished Schoolchild, waiting to be told off for what they didn’t do so well, while others will go into the role of Autonomous Co-worker, keen to discuss what they do well and have a mutual conversation about areas for future growth. The role that we enact impacts on the relationships we have with others and vice versa.

Oftentimes, our role responses are unconscious, more like a default response; we put ourselves into habituated roles which may or may not serve us well in the moment. However with awareness, we can learn to choose our role responses to life’s situations. The key thing about our personalities is that they are made up of a large, complex and interconnected system of roles.

Leader and leadership development must take account of the complex nature of humans and their role systems. It must also apply systemic methodologies and principles. If Diana were to have looked at herself from a linear, mechanistic perspective, she may well have looked at her inability to get through her task list as a time-management issue. She may, as a result, have sent herself off to another time management course. She may also have come back frustrated, either with the feeling of having wasted her time and learnt nothing she didn’t already know or with the idea that she just needed to do more of the same, i.e. apply her time management principles even more assiduously. Both of these would have led to an unhappy ending to her story. However, in Diana’s case, the story has a happy ending for everyone concerned.

Diana’s story Part 2: In this development session, Diana is facilitated to identify one specific incident from work which illustrates the frustration she feels, so that she can get a chance to actually demonstrate what she believes to be her below-par time management behaviours. As she re-enacts an incident from her working day, it becomes apparent to everyone in the room that her time management skills are second to none. In fact, she could probably run a training session on it. What also becomes evident through the re-enactment is her brusque manner with her team. Because Diana is a leader and needs to work closely with her team, a big part of her daily task list involves some form of collaboration with others. When she is allowed to see, in action, how she comes across to others, she realises that it is her over-developed time management orientation that actually gets in the way of achieving her daily goals. She is also able to ‘reverse roles’ with others in her team so that she has a visceral experience of how she comes across. She sees and experiences herself as officious and bossy, which causes her team to find ways to avoid her, leading to her lower productivity. This stark picture causes Diana to seek new ways of approaching her team members and successfully rehearse a range of options which invite collaboration from others. This results in greater satisfaction for both Diana and the team.

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