I love reading insightful books about leadership and culture in organizations.  I tend to find books with a balance of theory and practice the most useful professionally and personally.  My latest read is David Rock’s, Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work, which I learned about in preparation for an upcoming workshop for a local non-profit client.  Link to David Rock’s blog and website for more information.

Since so many leadership books highlight similar themes, I like to highlight areas of differentiation. Here are 4 examples of ideas that stood out to me while reading this book:

1. Brain-based research approach.  David Rock does a great job of linking the latest neuroscience research to his extensive coaching expertise.  Thanks to neuroplasticity, our brain’s ability to create new connections, it turns out that it’s much easier to create new patterns in the brain rather than to “undo” old patterns. Rock says,

“Changing a habit, now that’s hard, but leaving it where it is and creating a whole new habit–that turns out to be far more achievable.” (p. 21)

And thankfully, much of the book goes to to supply a wealth of information on exactly how to create these new habits.  Somehow just being reminded that we can create new patterns with time and practice goes a long way in motivating us to try new ways of being and interacting with others.

2. Our job as leaders is not to give advice, but to help others have insights for themselves.  This takes some self-control on the leader’s part, but in a knowledge-based economy, what better service could leaders provide than to help their teams think and act on their own?  Rock calls this self-directed learning.

“There are five big reasons why a self-directed approach is so useful when we are trying to improve performance: People still need to make their own connections about anything you tell them; you’ll never guess the right answer anyway; it allows people to be energized by the new connections; it’s less effort; and it’s faster.” (p. 38-39)

For some managers, these are revolutionary concepts. “You mean I can sit back and help people think for themselves?  I don’t have to figure it out for them?” Yes, you can, and you will have far better results Rock argues.

3. Managing processes and people requires different approaches.  While many of us are skilled with analytics, managing people using analytics is a road to frustration.  Instead there are other tools (some of them detailed in #4 below) that just work better with people.

“When analyzing and trying to change process, an analytical and problem-focused approach is very useful. But when trying to change people, something else is needed. . . Quiet Leaders know that problems are interesting to discuss, but that focusing on solutions is more useful.” (p. 48 & 49)

We’ve all been in way too many meetings that stay grounded in the problem and not the solution. Rock’s model says that’s a waste of time and gives concrete suggestions for how to solve the problem rather than bathe in it.

4. Ask “thinking” questions to encourage the brain to make new connections.  Rock provides a list of questions that are different from what we usually expect. To help define the current reality, and to get the other person doing the thinking, here are a few questions Rock recommends that a leader asks after someone has raised a dilemma and once the leader has the person’s permission to proceed into a solutions-oriented discussion.

“How long have you been thinking about this, in days, weeks, months or years?”

“Is this is in your top three, five, or ten priorities right now?”

“What are your main insights about this issue up to now?”

“On a scale of one to ten, how confident are you that you have all the information you need to act?” (p. 156)

While I like to ask a lot of questions of peers, colleagues and clients to get at the heart of an issue, I must say that these have not been the types of questions I tend to ask.  What Rock is doing here is to get leaders to help their own team members think about their own thinking–to get the team member’s own brain to form connections that may not have been otherwise linked in order to clarify what actions can solve the dilemma.

A few closing thoughts.  This book is actually very heavy on the model of how Rock’s recommended approach works. In fact I found myself struggling to get through the middle section of the book because there seemed to be so many theories packed in.  But, I’m glad that I kept going with it, and now I’m excited to put the theories into practice.  If you want to learn more, I would recommend picking up a copy of this book. You can find it on Amazon through this link.  Just take your time with it.  I did not go into much of the actual model here because it’s all interlinked and David Rock has already done a masterful job in the book of tying it all together.  If you read the book and want to discuss it more, let me know!  Every use of this kind of content just helps makes those neural pathways even stronger.

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Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


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