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Helping to focus by gaining an external perspective

Headline from the Sunday Times 29/9/97 - and still valid in the 21st century

Managers agree it's good to talk and some excerpts from the article.

  • "A culture of lengthening hours and increasing workloads has made corporate life a lonely and stressful place to be."

  • John Stoker, deputy director-general of Oflot, the national lottery regulator, says he too felt "the need for someone to open up to on issues to do with working methods, style and approach." While rising in the ranks of the civil service, people don’t expect you to talk about yourself, and in a social environment, people don’t expect you to talk about work," says Stoker.
  • He arranged sessions with Valerie Wark, of Ashridge. "The good thing was that I could be selfish about it: I could talk about and analyse myself, because it was supposed to be part of personal development and training."

  • "Talking to someone helped me to get an objective view of my strengths and weaknesses, and challenged my assumptions about how I came across. I learnt that I was more authoritarian than I’d realised, and to be more open to other people’s ideas."

  • Wark advises: "If the company gives training, consider one-to-one work rather than another mid-management training course."
  • Martyn Brown, co-director of a programme at Ashridge for men and women, says the need is for comrades in adversity. "A lot of people at mid-management level feel rather lonely," he says. "They’re asked to be positive and confident and to show initiative when they’re feeling deeply uncertain and uneasy over changes in the organisation. The use of an outside coach or mentor is growing, as people use them to handle stress."

Gill King's Comments

"When I was Personnel Director at ICCH, I know that the Group Managing Director found it invaluable to be able to discuss – in complete confidence (this cannot be emphasised enough) – ideas and concerns that he had about his board colleagues and senior management team, which it was not appropriate for him to discuss with anyone else, particularly within these peer groups.

As a Management Consultant, I find that Chief Executives, Managing Directors and Business Owners all appreciate the opportunity to bounce ideas off someone with no vested interest in their company who will be objective about the personalities and strengths/weaknesses within the senior management team. The sense of isolation mentioned in the above article applies even more to those at the top of an organisation. Highly visible, they are often under pressure from below for decisions on people issues. With no-one else to discuss the situation with, sometimes ‘gut feeling’ can be discounted when faced with a logical but biased argument from a self-seeking manager. Talking things through with an objective mentor who has vast experience of similar situations in other companies and a specific interest in team dynamics and individual personalities can give you confidence in the decisions you are making or perhaps help you avoid a ‘faux pas’.

 

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