How you'll fail to truly align 40% of your team - xquadrant

How you’ll fail to truly align 40% of your team

If you are a driven, strategic leader, you might be creating unnecessary resistance, stress and drama in your organisation because you’ve unintentionally shut down a critical leadership perspective on your team. Here’s how you can avoid this common trap.

A Visionary Leader…. An Organisation in Tatters

When I was at Cisco, a new leader came in to the company to merge two departments together and create a new business unit. The company went big on the announcement, wheeling said leader onto the quarterly earnings call with investors, and so on.

Two years later, the leader had left and the organisation was in tatters. There were a number of factors involved of course, but the absence of a critical leadership perspective had a major role.

We’ll pick up the story in a minute, but let’s step back and understand this absent insight.

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The Overlooked Perspective of the Mediator

Through our coaching and consulting work with leaders and teams, we’ve observed that we all see the world through five “lenses”. These are filters that govern how we see the world, and how we lead as a result. We tend to use one primary lens (our default way of seeing the world), but can deploy all of the lenses to a greater or lesser degree depending on the situation.

Working with teams at all levels, we’ve seen that one lens is consistently rendered invisible. It’s the lens of the Mediator, the lens that brings a people-centric focus.

Here’s a quick pen-sketch of the Mediator. Take a minute to see whether this is your primary lens, a lens that you value and can use when necessary, or a lens that is rather uncomfortable for you and used only occasionally.

Leadership Lens:

The Mediator

The Mediator lens is the perspective of PEOPLE and RELATIONAL HARMONY, asking the questions:

  • How will this affect people?
  • How will they react?

Sweet Spots: Emotional Intelligence, Pragmatism

  • Mediators are the ‘relational oil’ in a team or organisation, smoothing out the frictions caused by more abrasive personality types. Like a spider at the centre of a web, they can detect the emotional ‘vibrations’ across the organisation. They look beyond the numbers to the relational and emotional impact, and instinctively understand how people will react to a new idea or project. 
  • Highly values-driven, they place people above profit, understanding that if the team is OK then results with naturally follow.
  • They’re natural team players, putting team success ahead of personal success, and are able to genuinely celebrate the successes and accomplishments of others.
  • They are grounded in reality, with an earthy, pragmatic perspective. They will ask “have we really thought this through?” and will want the people implications thoroughly examined before supporting a new project.

Blind Spots: Conflict-avoidance, Confidence

  • Because of their desire to protect people, change can be seen by Mediators as more a risk than an opportunity. Conflict-avoidant, they are unlikely to speak up in a heated discussion and tend to retreat into silence rather than assertively make their point. This can result in passive-aggressive behaviour when the Mediator disagrees with a decision (but didn’t speak up at the time) and acts to derail or slow down the implementation of the decision in order to protect people.
  • Mediators also rarely value their own competency enough. They can struggle to step up into a leadership role, believing that leadership is reserved for more domineering, aggressive types. The reality is that people love working for Mediators - their care and kindness wins people over. The Mediator needs to own their leadership and know when to stop facilitating and actually make the decision themselves!

Summary

Probably the quietest perspective around the table, the Mediator lens is actually the primary perspective of a massive 40% of the population.

  • ACTIVATE THEM BY: affirming them, building a relationship that goes beyond transactional task-achievement - and by truly listening to what they have to say.
  • BEWARE OF: Silence. It doesn’t mean the Mediator agrees!

Why Overlooking the Mediator Is Bad News for Leaders

The absence of the Mediator perspective in leadership teams is a real, practical problem.

That’s because the Mediator lens is the primary perspective of around 40% of people. So any team who fails to integrate the Mediator’s unique wisdom into their decisions and communication plan are highly likely to create relational friction, misunderstandings and resistance with a huge proportion of stakeholders!

What happened at Cisco? Well, the leader I mentioned built a leadership team of competent business-builders, but there was no evidence in any of his communication or actions of the Mediator lens. Unspoken values were violated, alienating the staff; valid practical concerns were ignored, leading to strategic blunders; and key internal stakeholders were bruised at the abrasive style of the leader and his team, which led to the withering of internal support.

Had this leader valued and consulted the Mediators in his midst, much needed relational oil could have been poured on the business changes that were happening, and the abrasiveness smoothed over sufficiently to lead to a rather different outcome.

Activate a Mediator

Who is the warm, caring and supportive person on your team? Who remembers the birthdays and knows how people are truly feeling? Who only rarely speaks up in meetings? Chances are you’ve found a Mediator.

Remember, Mediators bring incredible relational insight and ‘fluidity’ to organisational dynamics. But they need to be heard.

A simple way to start is to invite a Mediator to share their thoughts at the very start of a discussion, before the more domineering personalities have had a chance to establish positions and begin a heated discussion, which the Mediator won’t want any part in.

ACTION POINT: What’s the specific action you can take to activate a Mediator in your world today?

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Richard Medcalf
 

Richard Medcalf is Founder & CEO of xquadrant. Having held senior positions in both the professional services and hi-tech sector, he's committed himself to improving the quality of leadership and organisational performance around the world. The way to his heart is through curry.

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