Mark Cole is Leadership Development Programme Manager, London Leadership Academy, NHS. He is also Head of Learning and Development at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust. Mark will be speaking at the CIPD Annual Conference 2017 on Wednesday November 8th on equipping line managers with coaching and mediation skills.
Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: Can you start to embed a coaching culture before everyone has the required skills and mindset, or do you need to start with upskilling everyone and then think about the cultural side of embedding?
Mark Cole, Leadership Development Programme Manager, London Leadership Academy, NHS: I think, in terms of organisational change, it is important to capitalise on the energy you find rather than get too hung up on points of resistance.
Where you know of managers who are well disposed to a supportive rather than directive style of leadership, it’s worth investing in them initially, so that their behaviours are seen to exemplary and they can influence their peers.
In my view, organisations change through tiny adjustments in local climates – encouraging one small team to relate to one another directly, supporting a manager to offer more positive feedback to those with whom they work, exploring the notion of speaking truth to power at a team level.
The impact of these changes in climate are amplified as more and more spring up – and your learning and OD people nurture them and speak about them elsewhere in the organisation.
Ultimately, these micro-changes support a broader bottom-up shift in the overall culture.
Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: What are the top interpersonal skills needed to be better at mediation?
Mark Cole, Leadership Development Programme Manager, London Leadership Academy, NHS: Actually, there’s one key skill that we pay lip service to in organisations all the time but which is central not just to mediation but to sensible management, solid leadership, and general effectiveness in the workplace – and that is listening.
The problem in most organisations is that our practice sits a long way from our espoused positions: we advocate listening, yet spend hours in structured meetings where we fiddle with our phones and tablets, zone out of most contributions, say what we feel we need to say, and sit thinking about the next meeting instead of the one we’re in!
These aren’t purposeful conversations, they’re scripted set pieces. Imagine a committee or a task and finish group meeting where you genuinely turned up to listen and to converse around a shared purpose; just think of how different those meetings would be…and imagine how much more effective they could become.
Mediation needs non-judgemental listening skills, as these help to create the time and space in which people can genuinely explore their issues in a supportive and thoughtful environment. But, if you want to be a manager who mediates, you need to be a leader who breaks the mould in terms of meetings – who listens, who encourages contribution, and who goes so in order to encourage a genuine diversity of voice in your team, department, division and organisation.
Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: Line managers need the confidence to mediate and handle conflict. Does this mostly come from experience, skills or mindset? Is there a way to shortcut confidence?
Mark Cole, Leadership Development Programme Manager, London Leadership Academy, NHS: There’s not a shortcut, although we need to remind ourselves constantly of the need to use sophisticated talent management systems to foster and encourage our people in terms of identifying future leaders – and then to support our newly appointed managers, particularly with coaching, buddying and other forms and direct support.
We need also to work really hard in our organisations to refute traditional notions of leadership, those models that pivot around heroic behaviour or the deployment of charisma. Despite everything, we know these still persist: pick up today's paper and scan the politics, the business and the sports pages and these outdated modes of leadership will be immediately apparent.
Whilst these antiquated notions continue to hold sway, managers will find it difficult to accept Carol Dweck’s notion of fixed and growth mindset – and the need to try and foster the latter amongst their teams.
Confidence comes from connection, through ensuring that your leaders are having conversations about leadership in your organisation about what it means to lead in light of the burning ambitions that exist.
Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: Can you give an insight into the type of language line managers should be using to create better performance conversations?
Mark Cole, Leadership Development Programme Manager, London Leadership Academy, NHS: Ultimately, they need to be using less language and listening to more of it! And we need to stop privileging the act of “doing” to the exclusion of considered conversation and careful thought, which is where real work takes place, of course.
As a simple rule of thumb, the idea of an 80:20 conversational balance works well in most settings: managers need to have the confidence to open up the space for their staff to speak – and not to feel the need to jump in, either to offer solutions or to fill the silences.
It represents a shift for many, of course: we think that leadership is about processing information quickly and being heroically decisive.
Quite simply, it’s not. Instead, it’s about allowing the talent that forms your team to take the lead, with you simply offering a framework. A simple technique for a leader is of course to ensure that open questions are central to their conversational repertoire – and this is the case for all leaders, from the front line manager through to the CEO.
(Edgar Schein’s notion of humble enquiry is really important in this regard, as it reminds us that all of us in organisational life would benefit from asking simple questions that give us access to a wealth of data in terms of the responses that we then hear.)
Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: What's the most important part of your career? What type of legacy do you want to leave?
Mark Cole, Leadership Development Programme Manager, London Leadership Academy, NHS: It may sound glib, but the most important part of my career is what I do at work tomorrow.
My ambition has always been to work creatively in the space in order to support people to be more happier and more effective in their organisations.
At this point in my career, I am committed to the idea of practising OD in a way that facilitates conversation, connection and knowledge flow, as I am convinced that this supports that ambition. I would be content if more and more organisations took this notion seriously – and strived constantly to work in this way.