Leadership, Leadership Transition

How leaders can avoid creating the ‘pounce’ effect with their team.


What is the pounce effect?

The ‘pounce’ effect is the situation created when a leader has team members with requests for information / feedback / decisions but no structured time to raise these requests – so they wait like a predatory cat, waiting to ‘pounce’ on the leader the first time they look free.

Maybe this is you or maybe you have worked for a leader like this?  They want to help, they often use terms like open door policy and fully available – which they are however they are still very busy so as a team member you spend a good amount of energy trying to best time your ‘pounce’.

You want to be respectful but you need something to move the task forward and that something is sitting with your boss. Hang on – she’s off the phone, he’s at the water cooler, she looks like she is getting a coffee, he is walking towards my desk.

Ready. Set. (Grab my list) Pounce.

The ‘pounce’ effect is born out of good intentions on both sides but in the end creates stress – stress for the leader as they know people are waiting for them / watching them with requests and stress for the team member as they keep one eye on the boss looking for opportunities to get their input.

One solution is structuring times when the leader will truly be available or better still structuring times with the staff members to discuss things they need.  When the staff member knows that there is a time (relatively soon) where they have the boss’ undivided attention they are often happy to work around their issues and then come forward with a list that can be dealt with efficiently.  They are calmer and the leader can go to the toilet without fear of being jumped on the way.

The exception – of course there are always exceptions, primarily when things are on fire. Then don’t wait. Good communication between the leader and the team member should make it easy to identify what can wait and what needs to be dealt with immediately.

Most roles have tasks or aspects that need the team person’s full attention.  Time needs to be blocked out for these tasks and putting some daily structure in place will help with that in many cases.

It works both ways though.  Leaders can be a major distraction for their team by doing the same things.  The concept of flow is very relevant with many of the more challenging tasks people need to complete and nothing breaks your flow like your boss coming to your desk with a request for something that is now urgent for them.

So, leader’s check that you are not one of the main breakers of your team’s flow and efficiency.

Whilst there are likely many solutions here, adopting some structured time or blocked time for ‘arranged pouncing’ will help both the leader and the team.

Leadership, Leadership Transition

3 things HR should do before a new leader starts (but often don’t)

FishSuccessful on-boarding of leaders involves several areas of a business – a prominent one is HR.  Their involvement in the recruitment and on-boarding (or in-boarding) of leaders is crucial and across our coaching and research we regularly see three things that HR do in organisations with a highly successful on-boarding program.

Address performance issues prior

Frequently an business will wait for the new leader to come in to address the poor performers in the team. When performance problems are left for the new leader, either the new leader will identify the problem, quickly take action to discipline or remove the person and thus creating first impressions that are quite negative. Or the issue will remain untouched until it surfaces and causes problems potentially casting doubt over the new leader to make assessments of the people.

Either way, ignoring performance issues in the team places the new leader, someone who hasn’t established a reputation within organisation, in an unfair position of dealing with old problems that no one wanted to address.

Allow the team to air concerns

Another important HR intervention is the facilitation of a formal team meeting that provides a forum for the whole team to raise any issues or concerns that they may have about the transition process or the new leader.

We see this as especially helpful when the team feels strong loyalty to the departing leader and/or may be resistant to welcoming the new leader. By proactively addressing the issues rather than waiting for them to fester and potentially hinder the productivity of the team and the new leader, HR can have a large impact with a relatively small intervention.

Meet one-on-one with potentially problematic individuals

HR might want to take a more personal approach for specific, high-risk individuals. This is particularly important with individuals who have sensitive emotional issues surrounding the hire e.g. people who were passed over for the position.  In many of the transitions we work with this becomes a key issue.  The person passed over rarely survives and when they don’t they can cause significant distraction and angst to the new leader and team.

Business Strategy, Leadership, Leadership Transition

Why leaders should ‘show their working’

“Show your working’ is an expression we use when working with leaders around improving their communication and developing their teams. The concept comes from the days doing high school maths where we were encouraged to ‘show our working’ during the exams so that even if the end answer was incorrect we would receive marks based on the working.

In the context of leadership the ‘show your working’ is really ‘show your thinking’. Your team want to understand how you think as much as what you think. By this we mean that they are most interested in understanding how you got to the solution so they an follow the same process to the same solution.

When you don’t share your thought process and use of other information to get the solution, you rob your staff members of one of the most important learning opportunity that situation offered.

Leaders that adopt a coaching approach instead of a telling approach tend to get better engagement scores from their staff. A coaching approach means that you help your staff member develop their understanding by not solving the issues directly but ‘coaching’ them through the process. It tends to take a few minutes longer in every exchange but ultimately leads to greater engagement and leverage.

Consider the following exchange:
Staff – “I have an issue, what should we do here?”.
Leader – “In these cases we should do X”.
Staff – “Ok thanks”.

Very limited learning and development. Certainly there are situations where you can’t take the time to explain your thinking but in most businesses they are rare.

This is what we help leaders move to:
Staff – “I have an issue, what should we do here?”
Leader – “OK what are you thinking we should do?”
Leader – “Why that option?”
Leader – “What other solutions did you consider?”
Leader – “Why did you dismiss those options?”

If they have chosen the right or appropriate solution:
Leader – “Excellent, that is the same reasoning and solution I would have chosen as well”.

You might even want to extend it to:
Leader – “Excellent, that is the same reasoning and solution I would have chosen as well. In future with decisions like this one I am comfortable for you to make them using the same reasoning without my involvement”.

The key is to understand how they got from A to B.  If correct them make sure that they know they have matched your thinking and outcome (be crystal clear).

If they failed to identify the correct path, this is the coaching opportunity  to show them not only the path they should have chosen, but to clearly and with as much detail as possible, explain the ‘whys’ around your decision.
Leader – “In this case the best solution is X and the reasoning (or the missing information) is …..”

The most important element is that you have had a discussion about the source (thinking) instead of just the outcome (decision) and this is where the real leverage and engagement is gained.

Much of our work is with new leaders or experienced leaders in new roles and it is also very beneficial to use the same concept with newly acquired staff to understand their thinking.

When you are working with new staff one of the most powerful assessments you can make is their approach to problem solving, what steps do they take, what other information do they collect and how consistent are the outcomes. If you can ascertain their capability early you will know if they can be relied upon to make decisions without you or if you need to retrain their process so that they come to the same outcome as you would.

Ultimately if you can trust your key staff member’s process / approach then you can trust their ability to be consistent in solving problems and making decisions.