Addressing ‘softer issues’ in business

2011-08-16 00:00

ALTHOUGH addressing the “hard or formal stuff” in an organisation is critical to business success, it is often the “softer issues” that drive effective and inspirational leadership, as well as performance and productivity.

This was clear from a recent Training Leadership Consulting (TLC) Executive workshop, which focused on developing personal effectiveness within the organisational environment. The event, which was aimed at senior managers and executives, was well-attended.

TLC is a city-based professional services company, with husband- and-wife team Rick (co-founder and MD) and Debbie McCarthy (co-founder and operations director) at the helm.

Organisational development practitioner Lisa Kinnear stressed that the tangible or formal issues in the workplace — such as systems and processes, goals, technology, structure, policies, products and financial resources — are often easier for us to manage. These are driven largely by rational forces.

However, the informal issues — such as beliefs and assumptions, perceptions, attitudes, feelings, values, group dynamics, emotions, culture and individual needs — are often very difficult to manage.

“They are messy and unpredictable. We can’t see them, we don’t understand them and we don’t manage them very well,” Kinnear said.

Effective and inspirational leadership often emerges out of an effort to address such issues within an organisational culture that is characterised by trust and empowerment.

Judging by organisational and design development specialist Ginty Chalk’s presentation, improving one’s personal effectiveness starts with understanding the various social styles exhibited by oneself and one’s colleagues. Chalk said that a social style is essentially a way of understanding our own behaviour and how our behaviour affects others. She emphasised the importance of being able to listen and observe effectively.

Industrial psychologist Dr Karen Ortlepp noted the importance of managing change in a 21st-century environment, adding that individual leaders need to learn about their strengths, weaknesses and blind spots. Effective initiatives in this regard, such as group interventions and one-on-one coaching are designed to “hold a mirror to leaders”.

As Rick McCarthy pointed out, the ultimate aim of effective leadership is to move yourself and your team from judging to understanding, from doubt to trust and from coercion to cooperation.

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