Managing the Movement (II): Developing Willingness

This blog is the second in a three-part series on “Managing the Movement.”

The initial installment focused on a leader’s role in helping others build task-specific competenceManaging the Movement Part I: Building Competence.

In the proverbial “nutshell, ask ” that role featured two primary considerations for the leader:

  1. Making the distinction between someone’s potential to perform a particular task and that individual’s task-specific competence is best described as the gap between what might happen in the future (if everything goes according to plan) and what is happening right now on full display for everyone to see.
  2. Developing competence takes time. It is most often a methodical process that is characterized by incremental growth, thumb periodic setbacks and perseverance. The upside to the incremental nature of developing competence is the stability that comes with it. By that, for sale we mean the effort expended in mastering a particular skill typically results in a certain amount of “staying power” (i.e., it takes time for finely tuned skills to “get rusty” so you rarely lose them overnight).

When we shift our attention to the leader’s role in helping others develop task-specific confidence, there are also some predictable patterns of migration we should be aware of and attentive to. Beyond that, there are some inherent connections between an individual’s level of confidence pertaining to successful task completion and the pace at which he or she develops proficiency. As Dr. Hersey used to emphasize in every Situational Leadership® workshop he ever facilitated:

Ability (knowledge, experience and skill) and willingness(confidence, commitment and motivation) are an interactive influence system. The better I am at something, the more willing I will be to take responsibility for producing/delivering desired results. The more willing I am to learn how to perform a new task, the quicker I will have a tendency to develop the skills necessary to perform on my own.”

While all three subsets of willingness are important, we would suggest confidenceis the most critical component a leader needs to consider when an individual is learning to perform a task for the first time. Confidence is the internal voice that speaks to us all. It is a little like a Personalized Risk Assessment Center (PRAC)that resides in each of us. It warns us. It seeks to protect us. And, in the spirit of Dr. Hersey’s previous remarks, when we don’t know what we are doing, it tends to activate in a profound way (“Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!).

Consider the graphic below as a point of reference. In moving from right to left, it is not uncommon for an individual that has low amounts of task-specific knowledge, experience or skill to also have their PRAC on high alert:

  • “You know you have never done anything like this before”
  • “The probability of this going well is really, really low”
  • “If you mess this up it will literally impact everyone on the team”
  • Etc.

It’s not that the person in question doesn’t value the outcome of the task or isn’t motivated and committed to the process (probably quite the opposite!). It is simply that the highest-strength need the R1 feels is safety. They are afraid to make a mistake because, whether they let on or not, they have absolutely no idea what they are supposed to do!

By providing much needed Alignment (i.e., guidance or direction on what to do; how to do it; when to do it; where to do it; etc.) the leader gets the task on track for the R1 and simultaneously calibrates an overactive PRAC. As a result, the individual simply needs to follow the instructions that are being provided. Responsibility for outcomes achieved (or mistakes made) reside with the leader. Beyond that, the leader has set the stage for incremental progress and opportunities to reinforce progress. The resultant effect of that dynamic is increased safety. Insecurity gives way to confidence, and commitment/motivation to engage in performance of the task emerges as the highest-strength need. As individuals develop from R1 to R2*their PRACs start sending messages like:

  • “You are really good at this”
  • “What the heck were you so scared about?”
  • “It’s really kind of crazy how quickly you have picked all this up”
  • Etc.

As the leaders begin to transition from Alignment to Enhancement (in an effort to match the individual developing from R1 to R2) their approach needs to be characterized more by discussion, positive reinforcement of progress and collaboration and less by providing direction, feedback on parameters of performance or guidance. As individuals approach “the R2 to R3 transition,” they typically demonstrate a level of task-related proficiency that suggests they’ve “got this.” It is not uncommon at this developmental intersection for the individual’s PRAC to reengage and for insecurity to reemerge. The source of insecurity at this juncture is a function of the level of comfort the individual has developed following the instructions of the leader while the leader remains close by. For those that have been there, it is the transition all pilots experience when it comes time for their first solo flight, or facilitators face the first time they deliver a program without a Master Trainer in the back of the room to transition to or a sales person confronts when they are making their first pitch to a high-potential customer without their manager by their side. Ironically, the PRAC for the R3 registers warning signals that bear drastic similarities to the R1:

  • “There is no way I am ready for this”
  • “I cannot believe my manager is seriously considering sending me out there on my own”
  • “What if____happens? Then what?”
  • Etc.

The temptation for the leader is to throw the transitioning R3 in the “water” because you know for a fact they can swim! The truth of the matter is that listening to the individual passing through R3 on their way to R4 and a level of task-related Mastery is every bit as important as providing direction and structure for the R1who is just beginning the journey. In general, Enhancing the development of others is characterized by open-ended questions, active listening, support and problem solving. When individuals complete a few “solo flights” and recognize their own comparative readiness to perform the task in question, the single biggest “stroke” they can receive is autonomy (i.e., empowerment is a strong match for those that have mastered the nuances of performance).

BOTTOM LINE: Insecurity is a predictable dynamic most of us need to work our way through when we are learning something for the first time. The leader can accelerate that progress by providing structure during Alignment and encouragement/support during Enhancement. Our final blog in the “Managing the Movement” series will focus upon Regression (individuals that are losing motivation or commitment to perform a task they have mastered).

*There is no rule stating that development always starts at R1. Many times, the process initiates with those that lack task-specific experience or skills but have confidence, commitment and motivation (R2).

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