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It's not about you it's them with Steve Carroll

With Steve Carroll, REA Group

Nelson Mandela once said, 'A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don't have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.' Managing people is not easy. It’s not about you – it’s about them.

Director of Industry Relations for the REA Group, Steve Carroll knows that managing people is not about him. He has been a student of great leaders for decades and really understands the necessary attributes outstanding leaders demonstrate.

Steve says, “A brilliant sales manager is somebody who knows the difference between leadership and management. Somebody who manages people as though you are a process, is never going to be someone who inspires. Somebody who leads people and encourages people to be involved, to learn, to be part of what needs to be achieved - they're the leaders that people want to work for. The average person will give an extra 20 to 25 per cent of productivity to a leader versus a manager."

To be effective and inspiring, leaders need to understand that staff need their complete attention. Steve says, “In some ways technology hasn't helped. I see managers having one-on-ones and they're half looking at the person they're talking to, and they're half looking at their mobile phones. That is really poor management. The best leaders are those leaders who walk into a one-on-one, they leave their phone in their briefcase, or they leave their phone elsewhere. And at that moment in time, that person you're speaking to is the most important person."

1. Leaders cast big shadows

Steve says, “An old boss of mine, Arthur once said to me, 'Great leaders cast a big shadow.' That shadow could be a shadow of positivity, or a shadow of negativity." Leaders have power and great leaders impact their staff positively.

2. Leaders care more about others

Steve cites Phil Harris as the type of leader who gives the impression that the most important thing he wants to achieve in a day is to help others. Steve says, “Helping himself is secondary to helping others." If you're the type of person that is all about me, me, me – and you want the fastest car, the biggest house, the best holidays – leadership may not be your thing. On the other hand, Steve says, “If you're the type of person that has an attitude of, I want to create an environment where lots of people can thrive and learn, and realise their dream - if that is genuinely you, there's a pretty good chance that you're going to be a good leader."

3. Leaders instinctively know how to look after people

Leaders also make sure their staff and their families are looked after. Steve says, “Many, many years ago, in 2005, I was caught up in the London bombing, and I was stuck in London, and my boss, who was an amazing leader, knew that I was somewhere in London. He rang my wife to make sure my wife was okay. He sent a gift to my children a few days later, just to say, "Hey, I'm sure that was a pretty worrying time for you.' He would not leave the office until he accounted for every single member of his staff that were in London. And there were about 16 of us. And once every single one of us was safe, he went home. And that is the trait of a good leader."

4. Leaders uphold corporate values and have the hard conversations

Arthur also told Steve, "If you walk past a behaviour, or a value, that doesn't live up to your expectations - if you walk by that, in effect, you're endorsing it." Steve says, “If I see something in our organisation that doesn't live up to the values of REA, and I walk past it, in effect I'm saying that it's okay. But worse still the person who's performing below the standard thinks well, 'It's okay, because Steve just walked by,' but others see that as well. And when you think about managing good performers and poor performers, if you allow poor performers to continue to be poor, you're sending the wrong message out to everybody else in the office, which will not make you a good leader."

How to have the conversation with a sales person who's lost his or her way

Steve says, “The first thing you've got to do is you've got to sit down with them and you need to explain to them how you're feeling about their performance, or how you're feeling about their attitude, and the impact it's having on others. And you can't sugar coat that. So I think that the best leaders that I've worked for, and worked with, are those that are very good at giving constructive, firm, and fair feedback."

The first thing is to get permission to start the conversation. Steve says, “I'd say, 'Hi, I'd like to talk to you about what I'm seeing in the context of your performance, your attitude - is that okay'."

"If you allow poor performers to continue to be poor, you're sending the wrong message out to everybody else in the office, which will not make you a good leader."

Steve says, patience, listening and pausing is paramount. This is what leadership is all about.

He starts with, 'Okay, so you and I have known each other for 18 months. And for many of those 18 months, what I've seen, is passion, and I've seen real commitment, I've seen results. I've seen laughter, I've seen fun. I've seen celebrations, and, I'm missing that. I haven't seen that from you for the last six or seven weeks. And I'd just like to chat to you about it to see if there's anything that I can do to help'."

Steve advises, “You have got to shut up and let that person digest what you've said, and you've got to listen very carefully as to what they say next. You’ve got to be empathetic. Pause. The pause is important. 95% of the time, the person will come back and say, 'Well Steve, I tell you why it is like that at the moment. This is happening, or that is happening'. And then that's bingo."

This creates an opening for Steve to then say, "How can I help you to work through that?"

He then invites the staff member to download all the issues. He says, "And often I'll write them down on a piece of paper or on a whiteboard. And I might get to 13 or 14. So I'll then say, 'Now, so there's 13 or 14 things that are frustrating you, impacting your performance, your passion levels," and so on. 'Is there anything else, or have we got every single one of those on that board?'"

Steve looks for acknowledgement and then moves through sifting and sorting through the issues to work out what he can help with and what is outside their circle of influence. He asks, “'What is in our circle of influence? What can we change? What can't we change?' If we do that exercise and six of them are completely out of our circle of influence - for example, listing numbers are down year on year - there is nothing we can do about that." At every stage, he seeks agreement to continue the process.

He then says, “'So would you agree with me that these four or five things are out of our circle of influence?

We can talk about them, we can acknowledge them, but you would agree we can't change them, correct? Would you agree the six or seven that we've got up here, are things that actually you and I can work on together, and we might be able to pull a few teammates together as well to come along. We can actually change that, would you agree?"

Steve then categorises and prioritises the issues, he says, “What is the number one thing that you would really like us to walk through in our time together today? And what's the number six? Because if we run out of time, I just want to make sure that we cover number one, number two, number three. And we might need to look at four, five, and six next week'."

So the discussion begins and when the meeting draws to close, Steve believes the summary is really, really important. He concludes with, "'So we've got 10 minutes left, this is how I'd like to spend our final 10 minutes together. What are you committing to do over the next week, before we meet?' And then I'll talk about what I'm committing to do, and then we've both got skin in the game. And the important thing is when both of us walk out of that room, we know that we have actions to implement over the next seven days."

When the meeting is finished, he sends a note saying, "'Thanks for your time this morning. We agreed that you would do this, and I would do that. My intention Lee (for example), is to get back the Lee Woodward that I've seen so many times, the celebration, the success, the fun, the positivity that you bring to the office. That's my intention Lee'."

While he is incredibly accommodating, Steve will not let underperformance slide. He adds, “'Now, let's just say that in a week’s time, if you come back and of the three or four things that you said you were going to do, you haven't had time to do, I just won't brush that under the carpet'." He will say, "'Now I need to give you some feedback. So the three things that I committed to do, I have done. Because I take our relationship seriously because you're an important part of our team. You actually bring joy to others. But, I'm disappointed that of the three things that you said you'd do, you've only done one. And I need to let you know, that I'm disappointed in that'."

In the follow up meeting, Steve would refer to his notes and say, "'Now Lee, great to see you again. Now this time last week, I've shown you that I've kept notes. Lee, I agreed that I would do A, B, and C and you agreed that you would do D, E, and F'." If the tasks remain undone, then the process becomes a disciplinary one. Leaders have to lead and apply equitable and fair standards.

Steve says, “You reach a point where if you feel as a leader, you've given that individual plenty of opportunities, you've put your arm around them to demonstrate that you're serious about supporting them and helping them. If they're not taking the bait, and they're just not coming along on the journey, you need to have the conversation, "This is not working for me. You're an important member of my team, but only if I'm getting a hundred per cent of you. If I'm only going to get sixty per cent, then it won't work for me, and the next conversation that we're going to have is potentially a conversation that we might find uncomfortable'."

At this point, if the staff members wonders if they could be fired, Steve lays out the cards on the table, and says, “'I want to make it clear that over the last four or five weeks, I've tried to bring you on a journey. I don't feel as though you're responding as I would expect. And so yes, that might be the conversation we have next week. But that will be the last resort'."

It ain’t easy…



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Steve Carroll