by Dr. Thomas Gordon, published 1977, 2001
I find this book to be interesting as a potential “handbook of general management practices” and as such, I made extensive notes throughout the text as I read. There are many sections of the book that I copied in whole into my notes. My plan for this review, unlike other reviews focused on pithiness and synthesizing my impressions into a summary, is to keep more of these notes and direct transcriptions from the book in tact so that I have a good resource in the future.
What is leadership effectiveness?
How to influence people without using power is the key to leader effectiveness.
A revolution has started– a human relations revolution of great significance. People want to be treated with respect and with dignity; people are demanding to have a strong voice in their own working lives; people are less willing to be coerced and exploited; people want the right to achieve self-respect in their work and have work that is meaningful and rewarding; people are rebelling against inhuman working environments in very human ways — by jobhopping, absenteeism, apathetic attitudes, antagonism and malicious mischief.
While workplace regulation and government interference don’t help the capitalist or manager in this regard, the shift in workplace expectations is cultural and -psycho-intellectual-progressive (not political-progressive!) and gone are the days, real or imagined, of early industrialism in this country in which the business had all the power and could dictate, like a “captain” how would would be performed or else. Today, the dignity of the organization’s members is paramount to leadership effectiveness and great managers both a.) leave their associates feeling heard and understood and b.) offer them agreeable reasons to do the company’s work that serve their own self-interests.
Seems simple enough, so why does workplace and managerial conflict persist?
People come naturally to these built-in patterns of negative responses; they learned them when they were children. The leader inherits each group member’s “inner child of the past.”
Because group members at first perceive most leaders as probable controllers and dominators, that’s the way they will respond to her, even though the leader may have no intention of using power and authority.
It is vogue to ask of people to “leave your personal problems at home.” But this proves naive because it is the same person having problems at home who comes to work– there is no way to cleave one’s personality into two halves, work and personal. Further, people wish to believe that personality dynamics are mysterious or pertain only to events and developments occurring in the present, adult life. However, just as it is the same person at work and at home, it is also the same person who is an adult now but was a child in the past! A manager need not become people’s personal therapists, but they do need to understand that many of the negative, “childish” behaviors they witness in workplace conflict are in fact a result of unmet childhood needs and failed coping strategies developed in childhood adversity and trauma.
Being the leader doesn’t make you one, because leaders don’t automatically get the respect and acceptance of their group members; so in order to earn the leadership of their group and have a positive influence on the group members, leaders must learn some specific skills and methods.
How leaders acquire followers
There is a set of principles rooted in human evolutionary biology and the logic of economic scarcity that informs social organization development and leadership roles therein:
- Every individual is engaged in a struggle to survive by meeting needs and relieving tensions
- Means are necessary to survival
- Most means are acquired through relationships with other people; therefore people and the groups they form become the means of survival
- People seek out relationships in which others are seen as the means of survival
- People join groups with the goal of satisfying their needs and ensuring their own survival
- People follow a leader and permit them to direct their activities whom they believe will help them get what they need and want to survive
Organizational needs are primarily for increased productivity and efficiency, while the group members needs are sometimes those that motivate them to resist pressure for increased production and efficiency.
An effective leader cannot be only a “human relations specialist” nor only a “productivity specialist”, they must be both.
A job must provide opportunity for growth, responsibility, recognition and advancement if it is to be satisfying; it is not enough to simply remove dissatisfying items from a job.
Expecting people to show up for work just to earn a paycheck is not enough. People also want a sense of personal satisfaction and meaning from doing work they consider important and doing it well.
The principle function of a group leader is to facilitate problem-solving; in somewhat different times, it is to maximize productive work time and achieve mutual need satisfaction.
Effective leaders must behave in such a way that they come to be perceived almost as another group member; at the same time they must help all group members feel as free as the leader to make contributions and perform needed functions in the group.
Group members draw away from leaders who make them feel inadequate or lower their self-esteem.
When leaders achieve this “another member” status, they actually increase the contributions they can make to the group, because their ideas will get evaluated like those of other members.
An effective group leader, then, does not need to solve problems, but to see to it that they get solved.
A 6-step process for effective problem solving
- Identifying and defining the problem
- Generating alternative solutions
- Evaluating alternative solutions
- Implementing the decision
- Following up to evaluate the solution
Observant leaders can use “signaling behavior” to become alert to the existence of a problem:
- being unusually uncommunicative
- avoiding you
- excessive absenteeism
- being unusually irritable
- not smiling as much as usual
- looking downcast or depressed
- being sarcastic
- walking slower (or faster)
- slouching in their chairs
Once alert to a problem, a leader can follow the problem-solving process to resolve it and thus allow the team member to return to their productive functioning within their organizational role.
As a rule, people don’t get down to the real problem until after they have first ventilated a feeling or sent some opening message.
It has not been an evolutionarily-successful social strategy for human beings to be directly confrontational. As a result, most people learn in childhood to show they are hurt or have a problem without specifying what it is upfront. This necessitates the leader engaging in an exploratory process to help the person with the problem feel comfortable revealing what their problem actually is.
The “helpee” usually will not move into the problem-solving process unless the listener sends an invitation– opens the door for the helpee:
- “Would you like to talk about it?”
- “Can I be of any help with this problem?”
- “I’d be interested to hear how you feel.”
- “Would it help to talk about it?”
Active Listening as a tool for building trust and leader engagement
Active Listening involves establishing equilibrium between the expression of the person needing help and the impression being received by the one trying to help them. Frequent and continuous feedback of the results of the receiver’s decoding is what “Active Listening” is all about. Listeners need only restate, in their own language, their impression of the expression of the sender. It’s a check: is my impression acceptable to the sender?
At least two ingredients are necessary in any relationship of one person fostering growth and psychological health in another– empathy and acceptance. Empathy is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of the others and understand their “personal world of meaning.” Acceptance is feeling good about what a person is doing.
The 12 Roadblocks to Communication
There are 12 common roadblocks to effective, empathetic communication between leaders and followers and almost every leader makes the mistake of running into one of these roadblocks at some time or other in the course of carrying out their leadership duties.
- Ordering, Directing, Commanding
- Warning, Admonishing, Threatening
- Moralizing, Preaching, Imploring
- Advising, Giving Suggestions or Solutions
- Persuading with Logic, Lecturing, Arguing
- Judging, Criticizing, Disagreeing, Blaming
- Praising, Agreeing, Evaluating Positively, Buttering Up
- Name-calling, Ridiculing, Shaming
- Interpreting, Analyzing, Diagnosing
- Reassuring, Sympathizing, Consoling, Supporting
- Probing, Questioning, Interrogating
- Distracting, Diverting, Kidding
What makes these roadblocks ineffective tools of communication?
Implicit in these 12 categories of listener responses is the desire or intent to change rather than accept the sender, acting as vehicles for communicating unacceptance. A climate of unacceptance is very unconducive to personal growth, development and psychological health.
Listening helps keep the responsibility for problem-solving with the member. The 12 Roadblocks tend to grab responsibility away from the owner of the problem and deposit it in the hands of the leader.
Part of demonstrating acceptance is being willing to hear the WHOLE person, not just the part of the person we enjoy being around or working with. Feelings, even negative feelings, are part of everyone’s total reality and existence and will be a necessary part of an effective leader’s daily experience.
Contrary to the “feelings don’t belong here” belief, there is evidence that expressing feelings actually increases a group’s effectiveness and productivity. Openness in expressing feelings serves very much the same function for a group as pain does for one’s organism.
Leaders should treat feelings as “friendly”, not dangerous. Feelings should be welcomed because they are cues and clues that some problem exists.
Negative feelings can be quite transitory. People purposely select strong negative feelings as codes to communicate “I want to make sure I get your full attention” or “I want you to know how bad you’ve made me feel.”
However, don’t confuse the simple expression of a negative emotion as the start and end point of the problem to be explored. Sometimes people don’t know what the real reason is for their discomfort and need help finding it, and other times they just aren’t comfortable saying what it is.
People’s problems are like onions– they come in layers.
This is not unlike a child’s temper tantrum, and, as parents know full well, the best strategy is to wait for the feelings to dissipate.
Leaders do a lot of teaching– giving instructions, explaining new policies or procedures, doing on-the-job training. Yet very few leaders have received special training to carry out this important function.
Little or no learning is going to occur until you acknowledge the team member’s feelings and help him work through them somehow. Your teaching has to stop until you get evidence that he is again ready to learn. This is the most important principle of effective teaching. Just as you can’t be a leader without followers, you can’t be a teacher without learners.
Getting learners more actively involved and participating in the learning process is the mark of an effective teacher.
It’s also naive to believe that problems can simply be ignored or avoided.
The price unassertive leaders pay is that the problems rarely go away; they suffer in silent marytyrdom or build up feelings of resentment toward the person causing the problem.
The difference between “I-Messages” and “You-Messages”
You-Messages carry a high risk of damaging relationships because:
- they make people feel guilty
- they may be felt as blame, put-downs, criticism or rejection
- they may communicate a lack of respect for the other person
- they often cause reactive or retaliatory behavior
- they may be damaging to the recipient’s self-esteem
- they can produce resistance, rather than openness, to change
- they may make a person feel hurt and later, resentful
- they are often felt as punitive
People are seldom aware their behavior is unacceptable to another. Their behavior is usually motivated only by a desire to meet their own needs, not by a deliberate intent to interfere with the needs of others. When you send a You-Message, you communicate “You are bad for doing something to meet your needs.”
I-Messages are less confrontational because they represent a plea for help from one person to the other. Most people are willing to be of service to others when asked for their help.
The Three Components of a Complete I-Message:
- a brief, non-blameful description of the behavior you find unacceptable
- your honest feelings
- the tangible and concrete effect of the behavior on you (the consequences)
BEHAVIOR + FEELINGS + EFFECT
When people resist changing, it is generally useless to keep hammering at them with subsequent I-Messages; what is called for at such times is a quick shift to Active Listening.
The “diagnostic model” is the fashionable management belief that a leader’s job is to figure out what kind of person each of their team members is and then to speak “their language.”
The assumption implicit in the diagnostic model is that it is the leader who assumes responsibility for producing changes in the group members, and the more leaders know about their team, the cleverer they will be in selecting methods for changing them. This is ultimately a method of manipulation.
This is the “language of control” versus the “language of influence” in the confrontive model, where the leader cares more about knowing how people feel than why they feel that way.
With the confrontive model, leaders need only understand their own feelings and how to communicate them in a nonblameful way; then they need to put listening skills to work so they and their group members can work out mutually acceptable solutions. This is simpler than trying to “figure people out” to manipulate them into doing what you want done.
The role of meetings for effective leaders
There are two kinds of meetings, each with a distinct purpose: informational and problem-solving.
Informational meetings are for such purposes as personal growth, continuing education, keeping informed about what other group members are doing (including the leader). Should problems arise, they should be put on the agenda for the next Problem-Solving Meeting. Problem-Solving meetings have 6 types, following the six step process for problem-solving outlined above.
An organization without many problems is one that is not growing, changing, adapting. Expect problems, and embrace them as vehicles to making organizational progress!
Leadership effectiveness requires regularly scheduled meetings for problem-solving and decision-making with your management team. “Show me an ineffective organization or group and I’ll give you a leader who either does not have management meetings at all or who conducts them poorly.”
Guidelines for effective management team meetings:
- Frequency of meetings; it is important to meet at the same time, day and place on a regularly scheduled basis, with or without the leader
- Duration of meetings; meetings should start and end at rigidly enforced times, and include a break if meeting for longer than two hours; it is better to have multiple meetings than one that is too long
- Priority of meetings; ideally the meeting should have priority over other organizational responsibilities and people should be prepared to be fully present during the meeting
- Alternates for members; if a member can not attend, he can designate an alternate with authority to act on his behalf
- Place of meeting; conference rooms with sufficient privacy, quiet, seating and comfort are preferable to offsite lunches or dinners
- Physical arrangements; white boards, chart pads and other note-taking instruments should be present, members should be seated and have tables for writing on and refreshments for relaxing; the meeting leader should not necessarily sit at the head of the table
- The recording function; the leader should not be the recorder as they must be free to perform other functions; the recorder can be a designated person or a rotating responsibility; the recorder should capture decisions, plans for dealing with unresolved problems, problems emerging from the discussion to be placed on future agendas, task assignments and follow-up actions; a brief formula is a statement of the problem and who is to do what by when; meeting notes should be distributed to attendees after the meeting
- Developing the Agenda; the group should own its own agenda, not the leader; the agenda can be collected and formed before the meeting or at the beginning; discussion should wait until the agenda is complete
- Establishing priorities for the agenda; the most critical items should be discussed first
- Rules for speaking; effective groups usually function informally; the leader can be most helpful not in setting rules, but in ensuring each attendee has a chance to provide input
- Kinds of problems appropriate for the group; typically appropriate problems are those which require data from the group to solve, and whose solutions require the group members to implement or which effect the members of the group
- Kinds of problems inappropriate for meetings; never use group time to solve problems affecting only some of the members, that are too unimportant for that level of the group, that require study and preliminary data gathering (without conducting this first), or that are outside the authority of the group
- Rules for decision-making; ideally, all members of the group should agree on the solution and the problem should be discussed until all members are able to voluntarily buy in; voting should only be used to help the group understand which direction members are leaning, not to settle upon the solution and make a decision; when time does not permit further discussion, decision-making can be delegated to one, two or three members acting as a subgroup
- Confidentiality of Group Meetings; the procedures of the group should be kept in confidence to encourage open sharing, and only the decisions of the group should be shared publicly, not how they were arrived at
- Disposition of Agenda Items; every agenda item should be disposed of by reaching a solution, delegating the problem for further study outside the group, delegating the problem to an individual or subgroup for a recommendation, being placed on the agenda of a future meeting, taking the problem off the agenda by the person submitting it, or having the problem redefined in new terms; no problem should be left hanging
- Record of the Meeting; notes should be distributed promptly and cover all decisions made by the group, the disposition of all agenda items and all task assignments with due dates including WHO does WHAT by WHEN
- Procedures for Continual Evaluation of Group Effectiveness; the group can improve the functioning of its meetings by periodically reflecting upon itself and evaluating its own performance by written or oral evaluation and feedback
Some leaders pride themselves on having a problem-free workplace. They ask and expect people to “forgive and forget” or, worse, to not bring up problems in the first place. They pay a heavy price for this attitude of enforced ignorance.
The absence of conflict may be symptomatic of an organization or group that is not functioning effectively– not growing, changing, adapting, improving or creatively meeting new challenges. The number of conflicts in groups (including families) is not at all indicative of how “healthy” they are. The true index is whether the conflicts get resolved and by what method they get resolved.
I have heard executives proudly describe their groups or organizations: “We’re just a big happy family around here– we get along, no problems.” I am always suspicious of such leaders, as I am suspicious of husbands and wives who say, “We’ve been married for twenty years and we’ve never had a fight.” Usually that means that their conflicts are not allowed to surface and be faced.
Beware also of team members who avoid bringing up conflicts in order to earn rewards and avoid punishment.
In relationships with leaders who rely heavily on reward and punishment, group members selectively send messages that they think will only bring rewards, avoiding messages that might invite punishment.
These leaders, too, believe they are operating without problems or conflict, but are usually unpleasantly surprised to learn something major has simply been hidden from them out of view!
It gets a lot of mocking treatment amongst pundits and the entertainment industry, but it’s nonetheless worth reiterating the The No-Lose Method of Conflict Resolution: we will work together to find a solution to this problem that respects both our needs. For organizations which fear reward and punishment-based leadership, this can be an effective means of building trust that problems can be talked about because they will be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.
An additional concept is the “Principle of Participation” which states that those who are responsible for helping to shape a decision, feel responsible for seeing that it works. Utilizing the PoP, leaders can avoid the temptation to dictate solutions to problems that are brought to their attention and instead get their team members involvement in finding a resolution that they will actively support.
The Periodic Planning Conference Concept
People who believe they ARE the organization will want to contribute to its success, this means people need:
- Work that is meaningful and provides need-fulfilling experiences
- Their ideas and contributions are valued and needed
- Guidance for how to grow and develop so they can enjoy the satisfaction of being more competent over time
- A feeling of freedom and self-determination through improving their own performance
The Periodic Planning Conference (PPC) is an instrumental practice in soliciting their ideas, providing guidance and giving them a sense of self-determination in improving their performance such that ultimately work becomes more meaningful and need-fulfilling because the person is creating their own work.
The PPC is an alternative to the annual performance appraisal and is instead a regularly scheduled conference, generally every six months, with each group member. It may be as short as a half hour, averages two hours but may involve several meetings stretched over a period of days.
Items for discussion:
- Group member’s ideas for improving performance in the next six months
- Ideas for developing new skills
- Plans to institute changes in carrying out functions of the job
- Discuss ways the group leader can help the group member accomplish their goals in the next six months
- Discuss with group leader ANY problem or concern impacting their job performance, job satisfaction or future with the company
It focuses on FUTURE performance (what can be done) rather than PAST performance (what has been done). It has no scores and focuses on job functions rather than personal characteristics or qualities. It is a two-way conference.
- It is the leaders’ responsibility to help the individual member improve their performance
- Provides useful organizational by-products:
- Identifying qualified candidates for each level of management
- Providing means for systematic follow-up and development of people
- Focus on job performance instead of personality traits (de-personalize management)
- Help people to help themselves grow in the job and the org
- Builds a relationship between leader and group member where free discussion can exist and problems can become visible and addressed
- Focuses on the future, engages with positive behaviors to make improvements
- Group members become more engaged in their work by suggesting solutions to their own problems
- Provides an opportunity to resolve conflicts when they arise, creating a mutually rewarding relationship
Important assumptions to discuss and keep in mind during a PPC:
- Companies face competition and must make constant progress to avoid being surpassed by competitors; for the company to grow, people must grow; most people don’t like standing still
- There is ALWAYS a better way of doing things
- No one is EVER working at 100% of capacity
- Change, growth and modification are an inevitable part of effective organizations
- People are strongly motivated to accomplish goals they set themselves, not goals set for them by others
- People are happier when given a chance to accomplish more
Steps to prepare for a PPC
- Prepare your people
- Explain the deficiencies of traditional performance-rating systems
- Explain the rationale of the PPC and its assumptions
- Listen to the feelings of team members
- Influence them to try the new PPC system on an experimental basis
- Get mutual agreement on job functions; what is the team member expected to contribute to the organization? What do they do in return for their wage/salary?
- What do you do to contribute to the organization?
- What do you do that warrants the organization paying you a salary?
- Why does your job exist? What is it supposed to contribute?
- When you feel you are doing a good job, what are you actually accomplishing for the organization?
- Explain the definition of a job function as opposed to a job duty
- Ask the team member to develop his own list
- Developer your own list as the leader
- Review them together
- Get mutual agreement on how performance is to be measured
- Reduces misunderstandings
- Points out what data will be needed for the group member to evaluate their own performance
Conducting the PPC
- Set the date for the PPC in advance, preferably by 1 week minimum
- Ask your team member to prepare goals in preparation for the conference
- Provide an opportunity to ask questions about the PPC
- Explain that the focus of the PPC is on the future, not the past, and that the team member is expected to “carry the ball” in presenting goals
- Explain your own goals for the work group, so the team member understands the larger context
Potential questions to prompt the team member in preparing for the PPC:
- What do you want to accomplish in the coming year?
- In which of your job functions do you feel the need for improvement?
- What are your goals for doing a more effective job?
- What help will you need from the organization to attain this goal?
- What is your program this year for improving your performance or the performance of your work group?
- What benchmark will let you know that you have improved?
Key points to remember about the PPC:
- It’s the team member’s ball. Get his ideas and feelings out first. Active Listening.
- Remember to keep the discussion forward-looking, the past is gone.
- When it’s your turn to talk, be candid, honest and open. Send I-Messages.
- Secure agreement on the goals to be accomplished. Keep their number to a workable size. Use Method III.
- As a leader you want to have a clear understanding of how your team member plans to reach each goal– what actions are planned.
- Share ideas when you think there is an opportunity or need
- Maintain a climate that is warm, friendly and informal, but task-oriented.
- Setting goals is a commitment to change, some may resist sticking their necks out
- Review and put into writing goals agreed upon, with a copy for each participant (and, can share with the group)
Implementing the decisions of a PPC
- Provide data needed to evaluate progress
- Provide material, financial or personnel resources required to accomplish goals
- Make yourself available as a counselor or facilitator of problem-solving (use the Six Step process)
Expected benefits of the PPC
- Team members respond to trust by becoming more responsible and less dependent
- Higher motivation in your team members
- Greater self-fulfillment and satisfaction from team members
- You will spend less time supervising and overseeing
- Witness continuous improvement in job performance; doing things better will become the norm
Deeper issues for leaders
Just as the adults before us are grown versions of the children they once were, and a person at work is the same person he is at home, leaders must reflect on how their choices and actions will extend and reverberate beyond the narrow confines of the workplace. These personal philosophical inquiries may be of benefit for the leader in contemplating his place in society at large and, more importantly, what kind of impact he wants to have on that society:
- What kind of person do you want to be? How you behave as a leader will shape you as a person
- What kind of relationship do you want? How you behave as a leader will determine the kinds of relationships you have with others
- What kind of organization do you want? Organizations are made of people in relationships, so the kinds of people and the types of relationships they have determine the type of organization they form
- What kind of society do you want? An open society requires open leaders running open organizations where the members are allowed to exercise their own talents and wills