Published on: April 14, 2009by Michael Sansolo
Words convey so much both in how they are used and how they are chosen. This past weekend I witnessed a great example of this while riding a New York City subway train - always a great place to experience language.
What happened wasn’t about foul or ugly language, but rather something intended to be helpful. In New York, like most cities, the subway system creates a little problem at every stop thanks to the small amount of space left open between the subway car and the platform. In London, the ever-civilized city, riders are reminded constantly to Mind the Gap. It’s even on tourist items.
New York approaches the problem a little differently. The sign in my subway car urged riders to be aware of the space with a simple phrase: Get Over It! Oh how I love New York.
The language we use in managing people similarly creates an image as vivid as Get Over It expresses New York’s curt, but effective manner. But ask yourself what language and what style you use and how well it conveys the message you wish to your staff.
A recent study by the excellent Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) examined personality traits that are signs of problems in a career. It provides something every leader or manager needs to consider as we approach daily interaction with our staff.
In 25 years of study, CCL found some basic characteristics of managers whose careers fail to reach the heights. Three key personality traits predicting failure are executives who are less trusting of people, who are more conceptual and abstract in the way they think, and those who tend to reveal too much personal information.
Getting into specific characteristics, CCL found problems come for those who are: authoritarian, cold, aloof, arrogant or insensitive, fail to handle staff effectively, fail to handle conflict, fail to build or lead a team, can’t think strategically and can’t adapt, grow, learn and develop. In addition, those who are overly ambitious, lack follow through, perform poorly or lack preparation to move to the next step are also bound to struggle.
In many ways, this isn’t a surprise. People who don’t trust others won’t create much trust in themselves. Abstract thinkers may be important, but occasionally we have to come down from the clouds to manage the nuts and bolts.
But most importantly, CCL explains what managers have to do to succeed. It begins with understanding these key personality traits and honestly assessing ourselves for areas to improve and adjust. There are countless business books these days that remind us how leaders aren’t born, but rather grow into their skills and success.
The start of baseball season always reminds me of this point because it provides such clear examples of growth and improvement. Joe Torre, now the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is a classic case. Torre grew from a fairly unsuccessful leader at the Mets, Braves and others into a certain Hall of Fame candidate in his winning years with the Yankees and now the Dodgers. He’s the same person, but he became a completely different manager. (And any baseball fans who attribute his success to the players he was given need only contemplate the performance of the Yankees or Dodgers just before he arrived.)
For those of us in less objective fields, where winning and losing isn’t so easily measured, the challenge is tougher. But CCL’s guidance offers some food for thought as we think of that next discussion with an associate or a superior.
Remember, there is only a small space between the train and the platform, but a yawning divide between Mind the Gap and Get Over It. Choose your words - and style - carefully.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com .
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