Gregg Brown explains four techniques you can use when managing your executive through change

Managing your executive through change can seem like a daunting task. Some of you may question if that’s even your role. I believe that everyone is a leader regardless of their job title and that everyone has the ability to shift people’s mindset during change – including you. I’ve worked with CEOs who are not great leaders, and I’ve worked with Assistants who can influence and get people to almost do anything. Now that’s what I call a leader! 

With a few simple tweaks to how you engage with your executive, you’ll be able to support them efficiently and effectively so that you are an even better leader than you are today!

1. Shift your mindset – and help them shift theirs

Change starts internally before we do the external change processes of plans, strategies, meetings and deadlines. 

Our mindset is not a fictional item. It is a collection of neurons in the prefrontal cortex of your brain that is designed to improve how you deal with issues, solve problems and make decisions during the day. If you program you brain correctly, it will respond efficiently. 

Here’s a simple example. When you get up in the morning and the weather isn’t the way you like, do you say, “It’s a lousy day,” or do you say, if it’s raining, “It’s a wet day”? If you say it’s a lousy day, your brain will be programmed towards a negative version of your day. You are programming those neurons to look for examples to support that.  

Saying it’s a wet day isn’t putting a positive spin on what you may perceive as a bad situation. It is removing the negative emotion from your language. Your brain is then programmed more efficiently and positively. It doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen during the day, but it does mean you’ll be in a better mindset to handle them. 

As the adage goes, how you start your day is how you live your day!

2. Remove the words “but” and “should” from your vocabulary

You may have had performance discussions over the years that look like this: “You’re really good at this, BUT you need to improve on that.”

When you use the word “but,” you negate everything you’ve said before it. Replace it with the word “and.”

Imagine if that conversation instead happened like this: “You’re really good at this, AND you need to improve on that.” 

Sometimes when we use “but” it can be perceived as an excuse, so to keep your executive listening, use the word “and” instead. 

When you or your executive needs help with prioritization, use this phrase: “Yes, I can do that work for you, AND this will be the impact.  Are you okay with that?”

Here’s the other way: “Yes, I can do that work for you, BUT it will make this late.” If I was your executive, I would see that as an excuse. When you use AND, it shows me you’re thinking strategically. 

When it comes to influencing change, erase the word “should” from your vocabulary. When we use “should” with others (or with ourselves: “I should’ve done this…”), it creates blame, guilt, and sometimes even shame. It also takes away the concept of choice. Everyone has a choice. You can choose not to do something the right way. There are consequences from that choice.

When you use “should” to influence someone to change their behaviour, it will disengage them from listening to you. 

Instead, use “I’d suggest…” or “You could…”

 “You should do it this way,” thus, changes to “Next time you could do it this way, and the software will work better.” Or “Next time I’d suggest you involve the stakeholders sooner so I can complete the report on time.” This approach keeps people open and more receptive to your ideas and keeps them open to changing their behaviour.

3.  You don’t always have to problem solve

You would not be in your role if you didn’t want to help people! You also want to remove roadblocks, give advice, problem solve, and generally make people’s lives better. As soon as people come to me with a problem – I want to solve it!

One thing I’ve had to learn, and my guess is you may too, is that you need to be at peace with the fact that you can’t remove all your executive’s problems or make their lives less busy, less complex (fill in your own adjective here), etc. etc.

What you can do when it’s not your role to solve the problem is listen to their issues and acknowledge them. Acknowledging issues will move your executive down the path of change often as much as problem solving.

If you’re unsure of what to do when your executive or a colleague comes to you to have a conversation during change, use these 3 questions:

  1. Do you want me to solve it?
  2. Do you want me to help you solve it? 
  3. Do you want me just to listen?

What do you think I want to do? Solve it!  (Probably like many of you want to do!)

What do you think my colleagues and my executive want me to do most of the time? Listen!

4. Use solution-focused thinking instead of problem-based thinking

There are times when you are supposed to support your executive by problem solving. Problem-based thinking is generally good to use in the short term.  For example, if you’re in a leaking boat, the best way to solve the problem is to plug the hole.   Similarly, if your project is going over budget, you need to bring it back in line.

However, to really solve a problem in the long term, you need to use solution-focused thinking. 

Solution-focused thinking takes a higher-level approach. In the case of the leaking boat, you would ask questions such as, “How do we prevent this from happening again?” and “If it does happen again, what do we need to put in place to reduce the impact?”

The most important question used to determine if you are thinking at the solution-focused level is to ask this question: “If we put this solution in place, will we be having the same conversation a year from now?” The answer should be no.

If a bank realizes it’s behind in its technology, solving the problem obviously means upgrading. However, they will most likely be in the same situation a year from now if they don’t deal with it at a solution-focused level.

A solution-focused approach would also involve asking, “What do we need to put in place so we are not having the same conversation a year from now?” The answer may be to stay better in touch with industry trends and to be more aware of what our competitors are doing.

When you support your executive by thinking at a strategic level and using solution-focused thinking, they will want their colleagues to do it too.

Using the above strategies will show your executive that not only can you manage them through change, but you can also manage yourself and contribute to your organization at an even deeper level. 

How great is that?

Gregg Brown is a keynote speaker, author and change leader. Gregg has spoken to executive professionals and CEOs, associations, governments, Fortune 500 companies, NGOs – even prisoners and nuns: all organizations and people that are passionate about ... (Read More)

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