Maureen Taylor
Maureen Taylor, co-founder and CEO of SNP Communications, at Inspirefest 2017. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Maureen Taylor: Why seeking understanding creates the best leaders

26 Sep 2017

SNP Communications’ Maureen Taylor knows a thing or two about moulding a real leader. She explained the importance of conscious intent and empathy for managers at Inspirefest 2017.

Let’s face it, management is a tough job. A high level of responsibility, an endless to-do list and having to deal with a variety of people on your team can make it quite challenging.

One of the most daunting tasks a manager has to do is to deliver hard feedback. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, least of all in industries where you could be managing a team of people you would also consider friends.

The key to doing it well, according to Maureen Taylor, CEO and co-founder of SNP Communications, is to “seek understanding”. She was referring back to Aristotle, who she discussed in her previous keynote at Inspirefest last year.

Good intent – the key to problem-solving

Taylor said that no matter how tough the meeting will be, if you take some time to understand your colleague’s point of view and face it with good intent, it will run a lot smoother than going full steam ahead like a raging bull.

She explained that we could all do with trying to hone our listening skills.

“How many people out there think they are good listeners? God gave most of us the ability to hear, but nobody listens to anybody.”

By really listening to somebody and working together with them, issues can be solved in a much healthier way, according to Taylor.

“It’s about how you inspire, how you motivate and how you can persuade to move something in a certain direction if your intent is good.”

How to solve workplace issues the thoughtful way

So, how do you go about discussing that issue with your team member, whether it’s chronic lateness or not delegating tasks properly?

First, you need to ensure that the person in question is someone who is of value to your team.

“I’m not talking about someone that should be fired. I’m talking about high-performance team people and there’s just some behaviour that could the person could do better.”

Don’t ambush

As Taylor said, springing an issue on a colleague by saying everyone on the team was discussing it behind their back can be very damaging. “You can never, ever, ever tell someone that everybody said something about them because as soon as you say, ‘Everyone’s talking about the fact that you’re blank’, what is that poor person thinking?”

Think of examples

Figure out what exactly it is that this person is doing that is bugging you. Have some examples at hand, even if you “need to hunt them out a little bit”. Instead of saying someone is always late, explain to them you noticed they were late a few times last week, and ask them if everything is OK.

Don’t let it slide

It’s better to give feedback early, rather than letting behaviour continue, creating anger before you finally have an explosive confrontation. Take just a moment to think about the intent. “I do want them to stay on the team, they are very valuable, I like them, only if they wouldn’t do this one thing.”

Explain why you’re having the meeting

Nothing is scarier than a mystery meeting, and chances are your colleague will enter the room feeling immediately defensive. Let them know what you will be discussing together. As Taylor said: “The kindest thing to do is let them know what the meeting is about.”

Listen to their story

Most people who enjoy their work will have a reason for a drop in interest or change in outlook, Taylor said. “Listen to their story, because sometimes there’s things you might not know and then, when you’re done with that, ask them what they think they should do about it.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Ultra Early Bird Tickets for Inspirefest 2018 are on sale now!

Ellen Tannam
By Ellen Tannam

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects. She keeps her library card close at hand at all times and is a big fan of babies, chocolate and Sleater-Kinney.

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