Monday, May 26, 2008

The Ice or The Element?

By now you may have heard the "hot element" analogy...

it applies to leadership, coaching, parenting, basically- communicating. The basic premise is that no matter how well and no matter how many times you express not to touch a burning hot stove element (for example), basic human nature predicts that people will still go and touch the element.

Understanding this fundamental "I must try it myself before I know it to be true" credo of human nature is key for all leaders, especially if they don't want their great message to fall upon deaf ears (over and over again).

A manager who is not capable of real leadership will warn an employee about the hot element once, and then when they see the advice ignored, rush to get the ice and perform first aid...
In other words, they are busy putting out fires and rarely take time (they think they don't have any) to ask "how are the fires starting?" instead of putting them out all the time.

A great leader is someone who will talk about the hot element repeatedly and in different ways before you even get into the kitchen. They will explain that 90% of all people need to touch it to see what hot feels like, but don't be one of them- be exceptional and a fast learner! They will also explain that they will not enable such sheepish behaviour. They will then (in front of the employee) dump the ice cubes down the drain, and show the employee how to turn the hot element off; so that if employee A is foolhardy enough, they will learn to become a solutions provider so that employees B through Z don't all come back to the over-worked manager asking where the ice is kept.

The trick is simply understanding the trickle down effect each line of thinking (or reacting) has on your entire organization.

One method leads to lost productivity and learning one lesson at a time instead of connecting the dots; while the other leads to momentum, business speed and learning from multiple sources instead of the slow way always from the same manager always using the same medium.

Should you find yourself in a difficult people management situation (coaching, teaching, managing, parenting, or any other role), ask yourself...

Am I reaching for the ice? or pre-emptively showing how to turn off the element?

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