People running

extraordinaryIn my last blog I talked about focusing on the extraordinary and the importance of identifying and developing what makes an individual extraordinary to build high performing teams and organisations. Leaders need to understand the qualities of each team member, and ensure that each and every member of the team understands the unique contribution they make. So how can anyone managing people apply this thinking on a daily basis?


  1. “Everyone shines, given the right lighting” *

Understanding people and appreciating that every single person is extraordinary in some way, and all have a role to play is at the core of this thinking. Anyone managing people needs to be able to adapt their style to fit the person they are leading, directing, managing or working with. Teams often ostracise the individual that is perceived as ‘glass is half empty’, who seems to be negative and never fully supports new ideas. In my view, this is one of the most important people to have on the team. What if you had a team full of positive thinkers and go-getters? The team may miss risks in a plan and it might fail as a result.

Similarly, we used to think all great leaders need to be extrovert. However, introverts also make fantastic leaders because they are able to think deeply about problems and develop inspired solutions. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain argues that we lose out by undervaluing the benefit of having introverted leaders and team members: “Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.” We need to create an environment where everyone can contribute.

Embrace difference, this is what makes teams extraordinary!

  1. Question. Talk.

If you believe in your team – and you tell them – it has a huge effect on morale. Listen. Ask questions. Become adept at adapting messages for your audience. Some people deal in facts; some are very visual. A lot of the breakthrough moments I have when working with people come from really understanding them and their motivations, but it takes an investment of time, along with mentoring or coaching to reach that point.

Leaders also need to think carefully about the messages they are sending, as they are not always the messages that are received. In addition to a more traditional focus on communication skills, working on the personal resilience and stress management skills of leaders is key conveying the right messages.


  1. Pinpoint the root cause


Where is your company is feeling pain? Why are targets being missed? What unhelpful behaviours do you see repeatedly? Look at issues from all perspectives and draw valuable insights, don’t make any assumptions at all before devising a development solution. Be bold, include your people in the process, present your concerns in a balanced and objective way – a temperate approach goes a very long way in a highly complex world. Including your team in finding a solution not only gets their buy-in but also builds team cohesion and develops their skills and experience.


  1. Relationships count


An organisation’s strength lies in the ability of its people to build great relationships, internally and externally – the natural side-effect of this is achieving faster and more effective results. Leaders need to take time to get to know each team member, build a rapport and sense of trust. At board level, it’s the job of the CEO to make sure everyone has a voice and this is just as important for middle managers and their teams. Relationships need to be nurtured so that the extraordinary contribution people make is recognised.


If you are managing people, seek to understand behaviours and build rapport with everyone you come in contact with. Every experience you have, every person you meet will teach you something – sometimes good and sometimes not so good – so be open to learning. In time, with trust, people will share what they really think, feel and believe – that is where you will find the extraordinary.


  1. Transference

Between the classroom and real world there’s a transference gap, which is tricky to bridge. People become extraordinary when they are clear about what needs to change, engage with that understanding and then connect this to organisational and personal values. It’s important to always give feedback and continue to embed any learning, to support the development process.


  1. Drill down and design


It takes emotional intelligence and strong business experience to identify the extraordinary in people. A good starting point is a qualitative assessment, combined with input from managers, which will begin to highlight the most obvious areas of excellence, but also begin to tease out the less obvious. You can then build on that connection and drill down further to identify areas for development and match the gap in knowledge and skills with the best route. Henley Business School’s Corporate Learning Survey 2016 found that individual and team coaching are among the most commonly used development methods for organisations, while classroom-training will be the largest external investment this year.


Whatever way you design an individual’s learning and development path, it’s important to select the route that will achieve the results needed for the organisation. It may be anything from allowing people to take responsibility for their own development through iTunes Uni, watching TED talks or reading an inspiring book. It may be on-the-job mentoring or coaching to give people an insight into how they behave, work and what motivates them, even allowing people to come to their own conclusions. Or you may look to develop people in a more linear way by progressing through a whole leadership programme.


*Susan Cain