David Wray

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Leadership Skills: Building up People

Building up a pyramid of people cartoon.
Credit: Quotesgram

Building up other people requires key competencies

Building up people isn’t quite the same as stacking them, so pictures really are worth a thousand words in moments like this. Many competencies, or skills, are critical to career and personal success. Building up other people by developing and elevating them is one of these essential skills.

I believe that it starts with caring about other people. Skilled individuals demonstrate this by caring about another’s non-work life as much as their work one. You’ll often hear conversations that circle around life plans, challenges, and desires as well as conversations showing a genuine responsiveness to personal problems. After all, we are each the sum of our parts, so an issue in one area quickly manifests itself in other parts of our lives.

From this baseline, development and elevation can occur because it starts from a place of trust.

Let’s get into each of these areas a little more.

Sharing is caring 

Like many new management individuals (admittedly many moons ago now), I failed to appreciate the importance of focusing on the person rather than the job. Needless to say, that manifests quickly in performance reviews! I quickly took action to develop the skill in the months that followed by:

  • Listening: recognizing that individuals need time to share their views, ideas, or concerns. Avoid cutting them off or finishing their sentences because it comes across as uncaring or insensitive. 
  • Sharing: recognizing the importance of sharing information that is not only relevant but also interesting or helpful for the individual. Actively share how you arrive at decisions, explain intentions, rationale, and considerations when discussing decisions made. 
  • Accepting: realizing the importance of listening without judgement. Avoid saying “I agree; I disagree”, just listen. Assume the person is simply looking for understanding which you can demonstrate by paraphrasing and repeating what you’ve heard. 
  • Asking: appreciating that individuals want to feel valued and heard. Reduce the probing questions and ask more curiosity-based questions like “what if you tried….” “How does this project benefit your…”

Armed with the skill to genuinely care about other individuals, let’s consider how we build up other people. 

Building up other people

Developing the best in others

When we talk about developing others, it should be seen from different perspectives. Three perspectives in particular:

  • The individual needs to want to grow themselves
  • The organization must show interest and offer support for growth
  • Peers and leaders need to be active players in the individual’s growth
Building up other people equation created by David Wray. The Power of Potential.

By this I mean, you don’t need to hold a management position to help others develop and grow. In fact, I’ve seen incredible examples of individuals naturally doing so in business and personal circumstances.

For instance, Tanuj is attending a strategic planning meeting where his peer the sales manager, Natalie, refuses to listen to anything other than what she wants to hear. Natalie is cutting off the team in frustration believing that they are just focusing on negative things. Tanuj sees the impact that Natalie’s approach is having on the team, he knows something needs to be done. 

What can Tanuj do to constructively help Natalie?

From development to elevation 

Supporting individuals in their development and growth starts from a place of honest, fair, and balanced feedback. A very effective on-the-spot technique for helping an individual recognize their impact in a given circumstance is the Situation Behaviour Impact model developed by CCL. Here’s how Tanuj could use the tool:

  • Situation: Start by explaining the specifics of when and where something occurred. 
  • Behaviour: Describe what the person (Natalie) did? 
  • Impact: State what happened to you/the team/the business results as a result of the (Natalie’s) behaviour? 

The tool de-personalizes the feedback by removing the finger-pointing that is so common in “bad feedback” experiences. For instance:

Saying: “You rudely cut off XX and YY in the meeting creating an awkward tension for everyone else.” – while sometimes tempting to say, won’t solve the issue and is likely to escalate it.

SBI changes the feedback to something like this:

“In the strategy meeting today, I noticed a few instances where you interrupted individuals as they spoke. I felt uncomfortable being in the room during these moments.”

  • S: in the strategy meeting today
  • B: A few instances where you (Natalie) interrupted individuals as they spoke
  • I: I felt uncomfortable being in the room

Words chosen to describe the behaviour are factual and unemotive – the goal is to create awareness and ownership rather than inflame emotions.

Elevating individuals outside of your team

Here’s the tricky part when the individual receiving the feedback is not a direct report (there are other techniques for direct reports which I will cover in a future blog). When it’s a peer or a more senior individual (than you) in the organization, there is an opening technique that tends to work well:

“Can I give you some feedback?”

Here’s the brilliance of this simple question:

  1. If the person answers “no”, then they are not in a place of wanting (or desiring) to develop, the equation fails. In this instance, it is better to invest effort in individuals that do want to elevate themselves.
  2. If the person answers “yes”, then they are open to improving themselves, so the equation has a good chance of success! The vast majority of individuals, in my experience, are in this second category.

Seizing the moment

The door opens, you need to think about how to address the other two elements in the equation “support” and “activity” given your relationship with the individual.

Tanuj has a couple of choices for supporting Natalie. He could easily set up a discreet notification strategy with Natalie to let her know if she falls back into her old patterns, a personal help button of sorts! He might also help her develop active listening skills. Or he can help her through role-plays where she is observing the behaviour and impact as an outsider, for many seeing is believing.

Now we arrive at the “activity” element ingredient towards success. This is about creating situations where Natalie can repeatedly apply the desired skill. It stems from the idea that practice leads to mastery, it’s about application rather than book smarts.

Tanuj can help by actively creating situations where Natalie needs to listen, paraphrase what she hears, respect others, and show people around her that she cares. This could be done by Natalie facilitating meetings, leading joint projects, hosting a lunch and learn, or similar activities involving a diverse group of attendees that need to be heard.

Building up other people boils down to a few simple steps:

  1. Assess fairly and objectively the individual (no halos or horns)
  2. Provide feedback that is fair, honest, and designed to help the individual
  3. Identify development opportunities to practice the desired skills
  4. Help the individual to continuously learn and grow
  5. Explain the “why it matters” side of self-improvement (i.e.: career or relationship stallers)

The goal in elevating other people is to open up the world for them so that they can better judge for themselves what it holds and what parts of it they want to seize!

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Section or comment below to share your views, tips, and tricks on how you support others or have been supported to elevate yourself.

Give it a try!

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