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Episode 4 – The Man in the Middle: A Solution Focused Feuilleton

Their mutual anger and distrust caused major problems. John and Peter had been slated to work together on the new project of dismantling the production line, but it looked like the project would run into serious problems if Peter and John couldn’t reconcile. Employees began gossiping about the “bad chemistry” between their two managers.

John and Peter had been slated to work together.

The fight kept Peter awake at night. He came to work tired and quick- tempered. For the first time in many years he complained to his wife about work. Peter told her: “Now I understand what the saying ‘lonely at the top’ means. It’s no longer safe to talk to anybody about anything. I wonder if I should look around for a job somewhere else.”

When the budgets for the dismantling project had to be presented to the top management, Peter refused to support John’s budget proposal. In the middle of John’s presentation Peter remarked bluntly: “This proposal is rubbish. I will not work in such an unprofessional way, and I will not take any responsibility for the safety of my people who have to dismantle the production line.” John couldn’t control himself any longer. In the middle of the meeting he called Peter “an incompetent, sneaky old pig.”

The CEO was not amused. He adjourned the meeting and summoned both men to his office. A massive brawl broke out there. Jeff had to refrain himself from firing both of them on the spot. He realized the enormous strains that both managers were under. Jeff wanted to fire neither John nor Peter — they were both highly esteemed managers with proven track records. After explaining that Solteam. wasn’t a play- ground where little boys could fight over a ball, the CEO told them that he refused to stoop to such childish matters. They had to clear it up themselves.

The CEO had no choice but to inform his board of directors who immediately invited John for a meeting. They explained to him that they saw Peter as the only manager within Solteam. capable of heading up this project. Peter had built the factory that had to be dismantled: “He knows the ins and outs of the place. For safety reasons, we are convinced that Peter is the only one who should take care of the dismantling project.” John grumbled a bit (he even considered giving the management the ultimatum “Fire Peter or I will leave”), but, wisely, he kept quiet and decided to leave Peter alone. He even mailed Peter to explain the management’s point of view and wished Peter — not without double meaning — “Good luck.”

In the course of the following weeks John and Peter kept avoiding each other. However, it was clear that Peter had lost his old zest. He repeatedly expressed his doubts to his closest employees, had regular outbursts, and was late delivering project proposals. At home he also became more and more grumpy, slept very poorly, and lost some weight. He skipped his bridge evenings to work late at the office.

One day Peter was standing next to the coffee machine when the CEO walked in. Always keen on personal contact with his personnel, Jeff asked Peter how things were going. Peter blushed, started to sweat and stutter, and went to his office without the coffee. The CEO followed him and prompted him about what was going on. Peter poured his heart out: “I can’t do it anymore. Everyone is working against me. I don’t believe that the new project will succeed. I am working my butt off without any results. Maybe I should resign.” The CEO was shocked. He wasn’t used to hearing Peter talk like that. And it certainly wasn’t the kind of language used in the macho world of Solteam.

Jeff went back to his office to think about the situation. He immediately ruled out drastic changes: no one would get fired, promoted, or demoted. He still believed John and Peter were the right people in the right places for the company. But what should he do? 

(to be continued)

Read episode 5
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‘The Man in the middle’ is an excerpt from the book ‘The Solution Tango’ (and ‘Solution Focused Coaching’ e-book) by Louis Cauffman. This book presents a new approach to conquering the numerous challenges, problems, and failures that managers encounter at work, many of which are people-related. An important lesson identified in the book is that a manager must act as both the leader who provides direction for a team or company and as the coach who enables others to make the most of their skills, enabling the individual and the organization to succeed. A seven-step framework to enhance problem-solving capabilities, examples and tips, and a survival kit for sinking managers will help managers improve their people skills and learn how to approach everyday issues from a positive perspective.

Episode 3 – The Man in the Middle: A Solution Focused Feuilleton

About six months after the merger, top management announced a major change in strategy. A substantial part of Solteam ‘s traditional products would be discontinued and replaced by new products. This required building a new factory. This strategy change caused much tumult within the company: the large investments needed for this new factory were a heavy burden on the short-term financial forecast, the unions were worried about employment, and many of the old employees were afraid that they would be “removed” along with the old plant.

For the operations department, this strategic turn meant a great deal of extra work. After all, it wasn’t just the building of the new plant that needed to be managed — the old factory had to be dismantled, too. From a safety and environmental perspective, the dismantling of the old factory was a substantial and risk-bearing project. Top management asked Peter to head this dismantling project. John would have the overall supervision.

John supervising the dismantling project.

The conflict

The first open conflict erupted when John summoned Peter to his office. John boldly announced that he wasn’t confident that Peter could carry out the project that the management had just appointed him to. John explicitly expressed his belief that Peter was too easy on his employees and especially on the external contractors. Peter was shocked when John haughtily remarked: “You have to understand, Peter, that at this point in my career I can’t afford to have you mess things up while you are under my supervision.”

John had never before criticized Peter’s way of working, or his results, this harshly. Peter reacted with anger. He said that it was John who had ruined the atmosphere, that it was John’s fault that some projects were delayed, and that he was sick and tired of the way in which John played the different project groups off against each other. He angrily slammed the door and went directly to Jeff, the CEO of Solteam., to complain. Jeff soothed Peter by promising that he would talk to John, but he never did.

In the weeks following the incident Peter avoided John at all costs. He was so angry that he started to talk to his senior project managers about the conflict. Tension between John and Peter mounted steadily. During the kick-off meeting for the dismantling project the bomb really exploded: John repeated his doubts about Peter’s capabilities for the project in front of the entire team. Peter started cursing him. After a few minutes they were yelling at each other and the meeting had to be disbanded.

This caused major problems. John and Peter had been slated to work together on the new project of dismantling the production line, but it looked like the project would run into serious problems if Peter and John couldn’t reconcile. Employees began gossiping about the “bad chemistry” between their two managers.

(to be continued)

Read episode 4
Back to episode overview

‘The Man in the middle’ is an excerpt from the book ‘The Solution Tango’ (and ‘Solution Focused Coaching’ e-book) by Louis Cauffman. This book presents a new approach to conquering the numerous challenges, problems, and failures that managers encounter at work, many of which are people-related. An important lesson identified in the book is that a manager must act as both the leader who provides direction for a team or company and as the coach who enables others to make the most of their skills, enabling the individual and the organization to succeed. A seven-step framework to enhance problem-solving capabilities, examples and tips, and a survival kit for sinking managers will help managers improve their people skills and learn how to approach everyday issues from a positive perspective.

Episode 2 – The Man in the Middle: A Solution Focused Feuilleton

With the new merger things have changed, job certainty has gone and so has the sense of teamwork.

Peter is confident in himself and his expertise. He never loses sleep over the fact that he, too, might have to leave with a golden handshake. During the merger process, Peter did his best to serve the new company. He worked hard to facilitate the amalgamation of the different “styles” of both companies.

From the beginning of the merger, Peter had to accept that someone from the other company would run the department. John, a thirty-seven- year-old engineer, became vice-president of operations — a fact that didn’t bother Peter that much.

Peter is confident in himself and his expertise.

Initially Peter got along well with John, but that soon changed. John is a man of the new company style. He has a bossy attitude and he doesn’t socialize. His contacts are strictly businesslike, and he demands written reports on all possible issues. What annoys Peter most was that John didn’t mind bypassing colleagues if it was convenient for him. John’s style is to voice his opinion without worrying about what others think.

Two cliques soon form within the department. One consists of the employees who follow John’s methods. Using the same bossy attitude, they push very hard to get their own way: team spirit is not their highest priority. When they are successful, John praises them and their success reflects well on him. The other clique consists of the old company’s remaining employees, who keep to the “old style” of consulting and cooperating with each other.

Peter finds it hard to cope with the fact that things aren’t going as well as they did “in the good old days.” He has tried talking to John about this several times, but in vain. John plainly said that the good old days might have been golden, but they now belong to the past: “If you can’t adapt, Peter, you might have to think about finding another job. We don’t have room for dinosaurs.”

Peter has experienced one frustration after another. His secretary of many years took an extended sick leave and was not replaced. Peter was told to supervise a tiny project for several weeks. Peter sent a memo to John stating: “In my humble opinion, I believe I’m overqualified and way too expensive for this small project.” John didn’t even respond.

Over the course of the last few years, Peter had organized monthly meetings for every member of his department. These meetings were commonly known as “milestone meetings.” The goal of these meetings was to provide an opportunity to all of his project teams to report on their work. Successes and mess-ups were openly discussed. Peter and everybody working in his team were convinced that these meetings were very useful for keeping an overall view on what was happening. When John took on his function as VP operations, he immediately abolished these meetings. He told Peter: “Your milestone meetings are an instrument of the past. They take up too much time, are too expensive, and I know that we can do without them.” He replaced them with what he called a “real project-oriented approach.” Each project team just had to consult internally and report to their project manager with written reports. Peter was on the copy list but John claimed the final decision: “I prefer to tell you upfront that when I think it is necessary, I reserve the right to talk to the project managers directly, even if this means bypassing you.” Peter was obviously not very happy with John’s sudden decision to cancel these “milestone meetings.” One can easily imagine the atmosphere in the department.

John worked very hard to keep an overview of all the projects. He liked to call himself “the spider in the web.” Everyone, even Peter, had to admit that he succeeded in keeping everything under control. John therefore was held in high regard by the top management, a fact he flaunted to all his colleagues and especially to Peter.

About six months after the merger, top management announced a major change in strategy. A substantial part of Solteam ’s traditional products would be discontinued and replaced by new products. This required building a new factory. 

(to be continued)

Read episode 3
Back to episode overview

‘The Man in the middle’ is an excerpt from the book ‘The Solution Tango’ (and ‘Solution Focused Coaching’ e-book) by Louis Cauffman. This book presents a new approach to conquering the numerous challenges, problems, and failures that managers encounter at work, many of which are people-related. An important lesson identified in the book is that a manager must act as both the leader who provides direction for a team or company and as the coach who enables others to make the most of their skills, enabling the individual and the organization to succeed. A seven-step framework to enhance problem-solving capabilities, examples and tips, and a survival kit for sinking managers will help managers improve their people skills and learn how to approach everyday issues from a positive perspective.

Episode 1 – The Man in the Middle: A Solution Focused Feuilleton

Introduction

In fourteen exciting episodes, we present a true case study: real people, real business, real problems and exciting interventions. Most likely you will recognize situations that you have also experienced in your own company.

We have chosen to let the story prevail over the explanation of solution-focused thinking and working. We intersperse the story with technical paragraphs (in italic) that explain the solution focused interventions. For in-depth learning, you can click on the links in the text that will lead you to the theoretical explanations of the solution focused key notions.

This story comes straight from life and illustrates all the conversational techniques covered in the previous chapters. Most likely you will recognize situations that you have also experienced in your own company.

The story is about an average manager — not a famous individual or a famous company, not a superman educated in an exclusive business school. It is about somebody like you and me. You will meet his boss, his CEO and a solution focused coach. It is a case about a complex corporate project. It is an exciting case because at every turn it can end catastrophically for those involved, their careers and for the further development of the company.

While reading, you will have your own ideas on how you would have handled the problems that come up. As the events unfold, you will notice many points in the story where it could have gone wrong.

As the story unravels, you will be surprised and amazed by the power of words.

There we go. Have fun!

Louis

Episode 1: 

Background

Peter is a fifty-one-year-old petrochemical engineer. Having had a successful career in various other companies, Peter was hired by Solteam. and has been working with them for fifteen years. He is now vice-president of operations and he has the final word on a large number of projects. Peter’s team consists of about fifty employees. The projects he manages are highly technical and often require additional help from external subcontractors. As a results-driven manager, like most managers, two major concerns are always on his mind: being on time and within budget. Although he likes working with people, Peter has little interest in the organizational and relational side of working on a project.

Peter, a fifty-one-year-old petrochemical engineer.

As an engineer, he sees the dynamics of human relations as a necessary evil. In fact, he calls it “too much politics and window dressing.” He does, however, enjoy the general spirit of cooperation within his team and department.

Top management has expectations of Peter that are slightly higher than his own. “Stretching it to the limit’ is the style of the house. Peter in turn demands the same effort and results from his employees and from the external contractors. Typically, his project budgets are very finely cut and the time limits are always a bit too tight. The external contractors, who naturally also work for other companies, always try to stretch the limits of the contracts. After all, that is how the game is played.

Peter’s team is not immune to the internal power struggles that often develop in such high-pressure environments. Up until now Peter has always been able to control these power struggles. As a veteran, Peter knows the rules of the game within Solteam. he has used those rules himself to move up to his current position.

For Peter, his home is a place free of tension and that is just how he wants it to be. He is happily married with two adolescent sons and a beautiful house in a residential neighborhood not far from the factory. He lives a healthy life, jogging and playing bridge with his wife and friends on Thursday nights. Except for the normal stresses that everyone encounters in a top management position, Peter has been enjoying a relatively peaceful life, until …

Prelude

Last year, Solteam. merged with another company. Many of Peter’s direct employees left, some voluntarily and some not. Peter’s team underwent a major change — a significant part of his team is new. The style of the old company had been one of constant consultation and teamwork, of loyalty among employees and a sense of being at the service of the company. But with the new merger things have changed, job certainty has gone and so has the sense of teamwork. 

(to be continued)

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Read episode 2

‘The Man in the middle’ is an excerpt from the book ‘The Solution Tango’ (and ‘Solution Focused Coaching’ e-book) by Louis Cauffman. This book presents a new approach to conquering the numerous challenges, problems, and failures that managers encounter at work, many of which are people-related. An important lesson identified in the book is that a manager must act as both the leader who provides direction for a team or company and as the coach who enables others to make the most of their skills, enabling the individual and the organization to succeed. A seven-step framework to enhance problem-solving capabilities, examples and tips, and a survival kit for sinking managers will help managers improve their people skills and learn how to approach everyday issues from a positive perspective.

Question number 7: Who do I coach first?

Who do I coach best as manager: the stars or the underperformers?

Now this is a tricky question. First, you need the courage to admit that your team is not perfect while at the same time you need some wisdom so as not to blame yourself for your non-perfect team. Then you have to fight the misapprehension that everybody in business must be a star. This is simply not true: all corporations all over the world are filled with a mix of stars, average people, and slow movers.

Dividing your staff into three categories and then putting a label on each of them is dangerous. Labels tend to become reality and reduce people to the label they have on their foreheads: this may lead to “corporate racism.” Labels describe the intrinsic (lack of) qualities of people. But, they also say something about the one who applies the label. If your company only uses three different labels, then the company itself is rather simplistic in the way it treats its staff.

It is even more complex when you realize that someone can be a slow mover in one area of work while he is average in another. The lowest performing engineer may be good in administrative procedures while your
best salesman is a below-average administrator. To add another level of complexity, you could argue that companies have a responsibility to helping their staff to become better in what they do. This implies that the company (read: you the managers) has the responsibility of managing all staff towards better performance. Limiting labels are no help here.

What does help is to define the requirements you make of your staff in terms that are as detailed and concrete as possible. One can only be called slow if measured against a specific norm. A Ferrari is a fast car when compared to most cars, yet slow when compared to a plane. However, you can go shopping in town with a Ferrari and not with a plane.

Now, this being said, with all levels of complexity added, it still remains true that some are more equal than others. Even if you have distributed tasks optimally, described them well and allocated the resources accordingly, you will still have some staff members who are faster and more efficient than others. In an ideal world, everybody is perfect or at least more then good enough. But perfection is a myth, and managers have to deal with imperfection. The question of who to coach first remains.

So, let’s be practical while keeping the above-mentioned complexity in mind.

As a manager you coach individual employees, and you also coach teams that are made up of a bunch of individuals. In order for a team to be more than the sum of its individuals, they need to act like a cycling team that is competing in a time trial. The team that wins is the team that has the highest average speed combined with a fast leadsman. If the star of the team rides so fast that his slowest team mate comes in too late, they (all) lose.

So, you coach the leadsman to go as fast as is useful for the team, you coach the average cyclists to speed them up a little, and you coach the slowest to go as fast as he can in order to come in on time.

However, there are more people involved. Every cycling team has specialists in it who do not ride a bike. They prepare the bikes, arrange hotel rooms, and coach the sportsmen. During a race, they sit in a trailer, stand on sidewalks, or ride in the car that follows the team. Their sweat only comes from the stress of their commitment!

Make sure to spend time with these experts and show them how important they are, even if they will never cross the finishing line personally.

For the best results, you must coach all of them: the stars, the average,
and the slowest. Who you spend the most effort on depends on the situation. When you need a breakthrough in your team, you coach the person with the highest potential for pushing the limits. However, make sure that you help that person to stay in contact with the rest of the team: they need information about what he/she is doing concerning that breakthrough, so that they can do the groundwork when it’s their turn to work on the results of the breakthrough.

Take the example of a high-potential sales engineer working for a major business-to-business provider of logistic applications. His company really needs that new account that he has been working on for months. Winning this account will have enormous consequences for his team: they will need to develop, test and implement a giant new piece of software according to the specifications of the new client. His manager has supported and coached him when times got rough. At the same time, his manager made sure that the sales engineer constantly reported the progress on this account. The goal of this was two-fold: reporting his progress gave him additional support and ideas from his team members. At the same time, it prepared the team for what they would need to do after the sale was closed. Imagine what would happen if the sales engineer closed that deal with all the help from his manager but without any communication with the team.

Laws of statistics tell us that the most frequent subspecies of humankind is the average man or woman. Coaching them is great since they are average: they do not need too much, nor too little attention. They only need the correct attention. They have areas where they perform better and issues on which they are not so good. Good managers coach the average person on his well-functioning characteristics and support him to do more of what he is already doing well. The less well-functioning aspects of the average person are probably not so bad as to cause serious concern. Good managers coach the average person so that his less well-functioning aspects put no constraints on his contribution to the team or company. They don’t lose time or energy in trying to change the average person into a non-average person: this is idle and preposterous (although politically correct in certain business cultures). The only thing you need to avoid is setting the average as the norm: that will not help you win any business prizes!

Then come the slow movers. You pay attention to the slowest in your team for two main reasons. The first reason is that there always is and always will be someone who is the slowest. When you show your interest in the weakest team member as a manager, this instills a respectful atmosphere for the whole team. Showing interest is, of course, not the same as protecting them, let alone allowing them to lower the team’s performance. Secondly, you want to see if there is a way to speed them up a little so that they contribute to raising the average speed of the team as a whole.

There is of course a limit to the effort you devote to the slowest team members. This limit comes in sight when in spite of your coaching (or even coaxing) efforts, the slowest constantly stays too far behind in all aspects of his work. Then they offer neither added value nor useful contributions. If this is the case, they move into the category of chronic underperformers: they stay too slow on all aspects of their work and there is no betterment in sight. To question where their underperformance comes from, from lack of capability or from lack of motivation is actually irrelevant. The fact is that chronic underperformers have a braking effect on team performance. It is up to you as a team manager, if you want your team to ride a time trial with the brakes on. The intervention with these team mates is either to find them a new spot in the organization where they can perform better or to ship them out respectfully. When they are not able to shape up and you have to ship them out, it comes to firing them. Have a look at the paragraphs on how to fire someone (page 219 of the Solution Tango) for the best way to do this. If you have no time to coach all of them at the same time, you’d better
make time to give everybody a little of your attention and make sure to show respect to all the members of the team (which maybe is the most basic form of coaching).

To conclude:
• Perfection is an illusion.
• A perfect team consists of stars, average, and slow team members.
• Stars need coaching to help prevent overperformance, and thus losing as a team.
• Slow staff are an unavoidable statistical part of the population.
• A little extra coaching for the slow raises the average speed.
• The average performer is the most frequent, but cannot be allowed to become the norm.
• When it comes to chronic underperformers you have to make a choice for the good of the company.
• Success is all in the mix of differences.

Question number 6: How do I manage my employees?

A little note on the concept of resistance

Resistance is a peculiar form of cooperation.
How often do you hear: “I would like to … but no one will support me” or “If it were up to me, that would have been finished a long time ago but the others don’t want to …” or “The top/middle/lower management isn’t prepared to accept my proposals, so there is nothing I can do” or “They are against me” or “There are too many opposing forces” or “If that wasn’t the case, I would …”.

When they don’t achieve their goals, some people even use the concept of resistance as an explanation: something or someone else is the cause of their failure. Furthermore, it is not their failure, they are not to blame. It is someone else’s fault. “Well, it wasn’t possible anyway. The odds were stacked against us.”

We often have to work with people who don’t ask for our help, don’t allow us to help them, or sometimes openly oppose our offer of help. All the above-mentioned attitudes and behavior styles are called resistance to change, in the classical problem-oriented approach. Resistance is seen as a negative characteristic of a person — as if people prefer not to change or refuse to acknowledge the possibility of change.

When we meet resistance, we are tempted to keep repeating our viewpoint in other words. If we don’t watch ourselves, we get excited and annoyed. We might even become angry. But reacting with anger won’t help us to reach a solution — in fact, it will probably make things worse.

To summarize, in the classical problem-oriented management style, resistance is seen as “a thing, a virus” that exists in the world. In the solution-focused view, resistance is merely a concept in the mind of the one who defines certain behavior as resistance: it has no “objective truth” whatsoever.

Steve de Shazer showed that resistance in the classical interpretation is just a concept, not more, not less, and in addition to that a rather useless concept. The solution-focused model takes an entirely different stance on this topic. It defines resistance as “every interaction that initially doesn’t seem useful for achieving the goals, but that nevertheless offers information.” The word “seem” is crucial in this definition because it indicates that one can do something else with this information rather than just discarding it as negative.

If resistance is no longer seen as opposition, then we do not have to oppose it. Instead, if resistance is seen as information about a peculiar form of cooperation, it becomes a useful concept. Resistance is no longer a dragon to be slain. Resistance is a signpost guiding our behavior.

When you offer your best advice to someone who doesn’t ask you for advice, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that that person doesn’t listen, let alone follow your advice. Is that a resistant person? Or is his behavior of not accepting your advice his way of informing you about your less than appropriate action?

Seeing resistance as useful information isn’t easy. Learning this novel and innovative view of the concept of resistance will make you into a master of cooperation!

Beware of corporate sabotage

Some forms of resistance can’t be seen, let alone tolerated as information: insubordination, sabotage, deliberate and excessive criticism, (sexual and other) harassment, theft and other criminal actions, etc. Such acts of “corporate terrorism” are unacceptable, and swift action must be taken. Treating people in a respectful way does not mean that everything is allowed.

In cases of corporate sabotage, you will take off your manager-coach hat and put on the hat of the manager-leader who is also responsible for keeping good order. Of course, you will first make dead sure that you are not making a wrong judgment about the behavior of the employee concerned. You will probably consult with others about the issue. But once you are one hundred percent sure that their behavior is deliberately geared to doing harm to their fellow employees and/or the company, you will take action to remove these people from the payroll. The best removals are swift removals. And it is always good to inform the remaining employees about the facts behind this removal so that nobody is left in the dark. This sets a good example for everybody and, at the same time, it allows you to show your respect to the employees who are loyal to the company.

Question number 5: Coach hat — manager hat

What if wearing different hats as manager and coach gives you a headache?

If this happens, it is very unfortunate because wearing more than one hat comes with your double role as manager-leader and managercoach. When it is not clear to both yourself and your employees that every manager has (at least) two different roles, confusion is likely to occur. With confusion comes tension and with that tension comes your headache.

It helps if you are not wearing both hats at the same time. Just make sure that your employees understand that in your position you have several hats, and when you are wearing the leader’s hat, you keep the coach’s hat in your hand and vice versa. That way nobody gets confused.

Once you have said and done what needs to be said and done as manager-leader, your employees know the direction and the boundaries of what you expect from them. For example, you give them budget constraints, sales targets, allocate resources to their teams, etc. When that is clear, you can take the manager-leader’s hat in your hand and put on the manager-coach’s hat. Now they know that you will be supporting and encouraging them to do what is useful to meet their goals and the goals of the company. When the confusion is gone, your headache is likely to disappear along with it.

Of course, doing your best to make things clear doesn’t solve this problem
forever. Since both your roles are intimately connected, they cannot always be separated so neatly, even though you try. The two roles are different sides of your managerial coin, so there will always be a little overlap where both roles are at play. You may sometimes hear your employees saying: “I thought you were coaching me, and now you tell me that I was wrong in doing X.” Or, in contrast: “I thought you had given me an order and now you tell me that I have to come up with my own proposals for action.”

This overlap is unavoidable for different reasons. The first is that people
always make interpretations about what they hear: “I thought this is what you meant …”. These interpretations might or might not have anything to do with the hat that you had been intending to wear in a given situation. So, even if you had intended to wear the coach’s hat, people might perceive you as leading and vice versa. Secondly, some employees will use these interpretations to serve their own purposes, and this can be a challenge for your leadership. For example, while you are coaching your sales team to help them reach their targets, they might interpret your helping attitude as opening the door for a bigger budget. Thirdly, both you and your employees work in an ever-changing context. This forces you to shift your role and position constantly.

Let’s look at an example. As a sales manager you probably do some field coaching. You sit in on meetings with clients. The clients see you as the leader, and now that they have the opportunity to talk with the top guy, they may ask you to make decisions. These decisions may run counter to what your salesman has promised them. You neither want to cut his decision short nor do you want to say to the client: “Hey, sorry, but I am only coaching my staff for the moment.” So you adapt on the spot. You consult with your salesman as if you were on the same hierarchical level, and you jointly take or postpone decisions. After this meeting, you shift back towards the coaching position and discuss the lesson learned by both of you.

To summarize:
• Wearing two hats is unavoidable.
• Make it clear when you are wearing which hat.
• Accept a limited amount of overlap.
• Talk constructively about these gray areas so that your employees knows where they are.

Question number 4: The perfect manager – superfluous?

What is left for you as a manager when your employees can help themselves?

In your career as a manager you may well have dealt with a boss that suffered from the horror vacui: the feeling of anxiety that befalls someone when he or she thinks that they do not have much to contribute, or when they are not in control. People suffering from horror vacui have a counterproductive tendency to make themselves feel important by keeping themselves busy with all kinds of stuff that isn’t that important. To fill the vacuum, they invent new things that they think will make them indispensable.
To cut this illusion short: throughout the world, the cemeteries are full of indispensable persons…
It’s normal practice to see yourself as indispensable and fully in charge, working long hours and interfering with almost everything your staff is working on. Isn’t that the self-image of the modern manager? Isn’t that what we all craved for when we first wanted to become a manager? Isn’t that the big illusion the corporate world wants us to believe and adhere to? It often sounds that way. However, reality teaches us a different, although less traditional, lesson: being on top of everybody and everything at all times is not only impossible, it’s counterproductive. In addition, our staff are intelligent people who come up with interesting ideas themselves without always needing their managers. Our staff — like you — like to do things independently and crave acknowledgement for their efforts. So, if we make the mistake of thinking that as managers we are the center of the universe, while we are confronted with an entirely different reality, then it’s pretty normal that we have to fight feelings of being superfluous once in a while.
Now relax, actually, there is nothing wrong with feeling a little superfluous!
If nothing else, it keeps your feet on the ground. Let’s look at this topic from a more constructive and solution-focused point of view. If management is the art of getting things done through people and you notice that your employees take care of themselves, then the simple conclusion is that you are a very effective manager. Instead of feeling superfluous, you should give both yourself and your employees a big compliment. However, there is still a lot left for you to do and maybe the following tasks are the core of your job as manager.

One, if what they do is working, your job is to help them do more of the same that works, by encouraging them. Two, while your staff are doing a good job, you have time to look over the horizon of the future and make plans for the longer term. In short, your staff is acting and you can be proactive. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what you can do when your staff are operating well on their own:

• Help your employees to grow by coaching them (not because they’re deficient but to ensure that things stay the way they are).
• Facilitate meetings.
• Manage by wandering about.
• Socialize and take care of the good working relationships throughout your team and company.
• Be the interface with other departments.
• Provide your staff with resources where needed.
• Listen.
• Encourage people.
• Give compliments on what your staff do well.
• Smooth out potential conflicts.
• Speak up for your team towards the outer world. (Be the “foreign minister.”)
• Think about long-term strategy.

To conclude: it’s a great honor and pleasure to be the manager of a team that is able to do its work independently of you. It enables you to oncentrate
on your core task: helping them to do more of what works.

Question number 3: How do I manage myself?

It’s lonely at the top

The way to the top — every top — is long and often crowded. Yet only few really make it there, and the way up is never ever easy. You have been working hard and intelligently to get into the position you are in today. But that doesn’t finish the job! Getting to the top is one thing, staying there and achieving great things for your company is another. You are shrewd, hard working, persistent, self-confident, wise at some moments and a risk taker at others, well educated, emotionally and intellectually intelligent, and maybe you have been lucky at times. Yet, as the saying goes: luck favours the well prepared.
Being a manager, you have surely used all your resources and selfconfidence while avoiding the trap of over-confidence. In reflective moments, you probably once in a while say to yourself: “I got the top job because I was able to play the corporate game to this level. Of course I am competent, of course I am intelligent, of course I am an expert in handling business as a top professional. I earned it to have been selected for this top job, and the people who supported me on my way up are no fools.
They are in for shareholder value, and I am good at providing just that. Sure, the pay and everything that comes with my top position is good. Of course, it is a stressful job, but hey, pressure comes with the territory.” Once in a while some managers feel loneliness at the top. If you don’t recognize this feeling: congratulations, how did you do that? However, occasionally feeling lonely at the top is all too common. Some even say that this is the toughest feeling that comes along with the top job — the cliché is correct: it is lonely at the top. “I don’t belong to another group anymore. I am the top manager, and there is just one spot at the top. Being a CEO is no T.E.A.M. sport: there simply is no team that provides me with shelter from the storm. If we hit success, success shines on me, and I have learned that distributing success among my employees makes me a better leader. If we hit trouble, trouble lands on me personally. Being the acting CEO feels like a one-man show with an audience of hungry wolves staring at me and waiting for my first wrong move. As a CEO, I sit high in the corporate tree, but the storm wind is howling. I’m visible, and I do feel vulnerable. On top of that, I’m afraid and convinced that if I show my vulnerability, the wolves are out there to get me. I sometimes feel scared, but am afraid of that feeling, even a little ashamed. That is not something a top manager ought to feel. If only the others knew how much I sometimes feel like an impostor…’’

What can you do?

You may feel lonely but the fact is that you are not alone! Rest assured that you are not the only person in a high position with these thoughts and feelings. No matter how difficult it may be at moments, having selfdoubts, feeling scared and overwhelmed by certain difficult decisions that you have to make alone is normal. Virtually no one will ever admit it in public, yet practically everybody recognizes these negative moments. Furthermore, a person who never doubts him- or herself is so self-centered that he or she has no openness to what happens around them. That is not the stuff successful managers, let alone CEOs, are made of. Now it’s one thing to have these doubts, it’s entirely another to nurture them.

Here are a few insights that you might want to try:

• Think of moments in the past when you were doubting yourself: what did you do to stop doubting and start acting? What worked best then?
• Remind yourself of your resources and the way you have used them on your way to the top.
• Remember the people who helped you on your way up: how did they do this? What was most helpful then? Can you find a similar person now?
• Write these thoughts down in as much detail as possible and keep this document in a safe place. The next time you find yourself in doubt, reading this personal document, written when your emotions were not clouded, will help you to recover faster.
• Talk to someone you trust and respect that is not involved in your organization and has no stake in your professional life. Being able to vent your loneliness and doubts, and just being listened to without getting advice, is often the shortest way out.
• Beware of the inevitable corporate yes-men and flunkeys, hear what they say but don’t listen. Instead, keep searching for authentic opponents and counterparts, who have no stake in opposing you but sharpen your ideas by their opposition.

To summarize:

• Guard your self-confidence as your most valuable weapon.

Question number 2: Work smart, not hard!

How can you manage to work less hard as a manager, and still get your employees to work smarter?

Dear reader, this is your captain speaking. Please look at the instructions in the seat pocket in front of you. What follows is crucial information, so please sit tight and listen carefully. Because of your lack of time, I will say this only once.

For those readers that, instead of reading the whole book, were lured to this paragraph because of its enticing title, congratulations: you are the truly lazy ones! Why read a book when you can learn from reading one paragraph? Now, if you want to learn how to use the simple solutionfocused
tools in the easiest way possible, read the rest of this paragraph and then jump to chapter 5, The Man in the Middle. There you will find a real-life case study in the form of a story. However, beware: after reading chapter 5, you might — and this is our sincere hope as authors — be lured into reading even more of the book.
For those readers who took the effort of working themselves through all of the preceding pages: congratulations and thank you for your time and effort. If the title of this paragraph makes you think that what you are reading now contains the ultimate secret of the solution-focused model: again congratulations. This means that you truly understand what the solution-focused model is all about, and you already know the secret by now! This secret is: More is less, and less is more.
But hey, I thought that managers are supposed to work hard, or at least harder than their employees. Are we not paid for putting in the extra hours, the extra stress, the extra mile? Sure, but sweating when you work does not necessarily mean that you work efficiently, especially not when you are a manager. Managerial sweat ought to be reserved for the gym!
Remember, management is the art of getting things done through other people. Doesn’t this imply that you are not supposed to do everything yourself? Instead, your job is to create an environment in which your employees perform optimally. Your job is to help them work smart, more than just hard. Now, what is working smart?
You all know the famous acronym for the description of goals, of course. Classically, “S.M.A.R.T.” stands for: Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic and Time-bound. And as you know, a lot of smart management involves goal-setting and making sure that goals are attained whilst keeping a resource focus. With our adage “simple works best” in mind, working smart is defined by a precise balance between input and output: maximum results with minimal effort.

Tips from the hitchhiker’s guide for the lazy but efficient manager:

• Set clear, concise, and obtainable goals for the short, mid, and long term and make sure these are in line with the overall goals of the company.
• Make sure to involve your employees when setting goals: the more involvement, the more ownership, the more motivation and the better the results.
• Make sure to demonstrate the four tenets (page 22) of the solutionfocused model in everything you do as manager.
• Be a hunter for exceptions to the problem, for these open doors towards solutions.
• Prefer resource-drive over goal-drive.
• Encourage your employees to be as open as possible with themselves and each other about their own resources.
• Indulge in what goes well in the team, and make plenty of compliments about everybody’s contribution.
• Don’t be shy when it comes to giving compliments.
• Don’t be shy when it comes to criticizing.
• Don’t be shy when you take decisions. Just keep everybody involved in the consequences of your decisions.

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