Managers stressed out and distracted by downturn

by 29 Apr 2009

Managers are more distracted as a result of the downturn, with stress levels increasing in the face of the tougher challenges and choices made about issues such as retrenchments and budget cuts.

While managers need to effect change, influence their teams to work more effectively and assist staff to be more creative and innovative about the future, they have to pay attention first, according to Richard Searle, program director, Mt Eliza Executive Education, part of Melbourne Business School.

“Leadership involves influencing change, but in the absence of true attention to others and reality, our efforts at influencing often degenerate into being reactive and coercive,” he said.

“To be truly effective and innovative a symbiosis of attention and influence or ‘attfluence’ is needed.”

Paying attention means that managers need to develop a strong connection with reality and notice what is happening beneath the surface for themselves and in their relationships and teams, he said.

“They need to notice the quality of the collective thinking, relating, communicating and creative processes. They also need to pay attention to the dynamics within their organisation, customers and external players – typically these dynamics may include avoidance of tough issues and conflict, survival behaviour to lower anxiety, wearing masks and playing roles, low trust and factionalism.”

Paying attention requires a deep form of listening and genuine dialogue, but Searle said managers get distracted and often pay only superficial attention to a large number of things at the same time.

“There is a certain busyness about managing – it can be quite addictive but doesn’t contribute to effectiveness or fulfilment. When managers are actually trying to pay attention, their views can get distorted and filtered by pre-judgment and personal identity or ego issues,” he said.

How can managers influence by paying attention?

1. Listen – deep, still and generous listening will move groups

2. Ask the tough questions and raise issues being avoided

3. Be personal and drop your mask

4. Deeply connect with your team so that you are not outside the group, either above or in front, manipulating them

5. Help your team to connect to core values and purpose

6. Help your team to confront conflicts, hidden agendas and contradictions in values

7. Let yourself be inspired and inspire

8. Tap into your intuition and creativity

9. Build your credibility with your team through the value you’re offering them

10. Become more mindful and build this capacity through meditation


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