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Managing and leading with the skills of NLP

Syed Imran Balkhi Corporate Management Team Leader
Syed Imran Balkhi 

By: Syed Imran Balkhi

Corporate Management Team Leader (Saudi Arabia)

In management and team leadership NLP is a valuable skills plug-in with which to extend and fine-tune your influence and your ability to communicate, coach, motivate and manage.

Incorporating NLP into your repertoire will enable you to develop the skills, the attitudinal outlook, and the behavioural flexibility with which to improve your performance in a world of flatter corporate structures, cross-functional responsibilities, complex relationships, stressed workforces, and local and remote team-working.

Managing and Team Leading in tougher times

The art of managing and team leading has always been dynamic and demanding and it seems that every 5 to 10 years since the 60’s we’ve moved into yet another ‘even tougher times for managers’ era.

Yet, there can be no doubt that today, in the 2010’s, things are changing more quickly and dramatically than at any time since, perhaps, the Industrial Revolution. And the demands on people-who-lead people, whatever their official title, are greater and ,more complex than ever.

How to compete and survive

It is tough maintaining the competitive edge in today’s marketplace; when an organisation’s USP in price or product innovation can be matched by competitors in weeks. As a result many companies develop a reactive, almost panicky culture of in which staff or training or R&D or other budgets are slashed, production is moved around the world, or employees are pressured to do more in less time.

This culture means that good staff leave and move to companies which are better managed, who take a longer view and are dealing more proactively with a tough climate.

What characterises these proactive companies isn’t how good they are at slashing costs but how good they are with their people; their ability to create an environment where people are happy to give of their best. And it is this environment which enables them to at least weather the rougher storms and come through stronger.

Managers who lead

The question of what exactly enables the more proactive companies to survive and thrive is complex, impossible to define in a short article and is already well addressed by the hundreds of books on the subject that are published every year.

However and there does seem to be one key theme which is their ability to attract, keep and motivate their people. And key to this, in turn, are the abilities of their managers or team leaders to put this into action.

They are invariably aware of the importance of what used to be somewhat disparagingly called the ‘soft skills’ – the skills of being able to lead people so they are truly motivated to give of their best.

Incidentally, soft skills could more accurately be called subtle skills since their impact, while less immediately dramatic and obvious than that of the old hard skills, is often more pronounced and enduring (see below).

‘Subtle Skills’

The subtle skills that are needed by today’s managers and team leaders include being able to motivate rather than coerce people to do a great job – and to be able to do this in the knowledge that they

  • may have less job security than ever before
  • may be dealing with a significantly increased workload because budgets prevent vacancies being filled
  • may now be functioning in a workplace that is experiencing almost continuous change – something which a majority of people find stressful and corrosive of morale.

Preventing or countering low morale

Such elements make life tough for managers and teams leaders because they are quite corrosive of morale; of ‘buy-in’ to the objectives of the team or to the vision of the company.

Or, to be precise, they frequently have this corrosive impact… Though in many teams and work environments such factors may exist without having this effect….

How is this? How come some teams are high performers despite dramatic and disruptive changes in the working environment?

The difference is rarely because of increased remuneration.

The difference is more usually the result of their management and leadership.

Practical steps

The Gallup organisation did a long-term survey of 1,000,000 employees and 80,000 managers to identify what factors encouraged employees to give of their best.

They then data-crunched this huge amount of information and identified 12 key factors which determined what motivated high performance. High performers:

  1. Know what’s expected of them
  2. Frequently receive recognition/praise for doing well
  3. Recognised that their manager/supervisor had a genuine interest in them
  4. Were encouraged in their development by their managers
  5. Recognised that they were listened to
  6. Recognised how what they did contributed to the company’s objectives
  7. Worked alongside highly motivated colleagues
  8. Were able to talk about their progress at least twice yearly
  9. Had the resources to do their job
  10. Were in a role which enabled them to do what they do best everyday
  11. Had friends in the workplace
  12. Recognised that their job provided them with opportunities for development

The authors then analysed these 12 key factors and found they could be encapsulated in one single conclusion:

Talented employees need great managers. The talented employees may join a company because of its charismatic leaders, its generous benefits, and its world-class training programs, but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.’

(Source: the excellent and very readable ‘First Break All the Rules’ by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Simon & Schuster, 2000)

Subtle skills and leading people

It’s interesting that only four out of the twelve key factors (9-12) are dependent on organisational structure or management hard skills.

Factors 1-8 require the manager or team leader to be skilful with people i.e. to be skilled in the subtle skills such as the ability to

  • Communicate perceptively and skilfully with peers, direct reports, and with senior management
  • Understand the systemic nature of communication with and within teams – including the subtle dynamics of non-verbal influence
  • Understand the thinking and emotional make-up of teams and of the individuals within these teams – and of the manner in which these individuals pull together
  • Understand oneself so that one is not easily influenced or manipulated
  • Manage one’s own moods – a manager cannot afford to have off-days
  • Understand the role of beliefs and values in what makes people tick
  • Know how to utilise values to tailor the motivational approach to suit each individual
  • Inspire people by ‘selling’ them the team or organisational vision and getting their ‘buy in’ to this vision.

These skills, and the tools for doing putting all of these 8 subtle skills into practical action, are included in our NLP Core Skills training programme in Hampshire’s New Forest. This is an NLP personal and professional development training which looks at a wide rage of NLP skills, insights and applications.

NLP and Subtle Skills

NLP is becoming recognised as one of the best available bodies of knowledge on people-skills. This raises the question of how best to use NLP to get better at the subtle skills?

Certainly lots of tips and insights can be picked up from NLP books, from websites such as this one, and from the popular lecture-style or motivational-speaker led training programmes. The drawback of learning this way is that NLP is treated, and learned, as an intellectual process rather than behavioural skill.

The alternative approach (and one which you will not be surprised to know we use in Pegasus NLP) is to learn NLP in a workshop that is

  • Designed to be a team-based learning experience
  • Includes lots of practical breakout sessions to ensure that skills are wired in rather than treated as intellectual constructs
  • Is based on adult learning principles
  • Is interactive rather than didactic (we strongly agree with the Japanese proverb* ‘none of us is as smart as all of us’)
  • Includes one-to-one feedback from qualified NLP trainers.

Incidentally, NLP Core Skills provides a thorough grounding in some particularly powerful influencing skills. Our core trainer, Reg Connolly, says “I consider three of these skills to be so important that for the past 17 years I have included them in all my management, sales and customer care trainings”.

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