Leadership Tips for Discovery in Action Alumni + network
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March 2018

Hello to all the 'DiA Monthly Leadership Tips' subscribers. 

And a special welcome to the new subscribers who are participants in the DiA programs that kicked off in February! Paul and I very much look forward to working with you.

Welcome to the March edition of our Monthly Leadership Tips for 2018:  your 'once a month'  'bite-sized' chunks of practical leadership wisdom!

This month we share :
We often post the blogs in this publication on Linked In.

Found something useful? Why not pay it forward and share a copy with your colleagues! Forward a copy of this email or send this link to join the DiA Monthly Leadership Tips list!

We also use the content we share each month, in the work we do in our consulting practice. Feel free to get in touch to find out more about anything in this newsletter or other blogs on our website.  Enjoy!

Melanie and Paul Eyres

How do I help create meaning and purpose?

We have recently developed a series of practical leadership actions responsive to major themes that have emerged through our work with over 500 Discovery in Action® (Leading People) program participants.  We have observed six major themes that have consistently emerged as participants have grappled with the question: When do people perform at their best?  These themes are around people feeling supported, valued and safe; creating a ‘team environment’; supporting learning and growth; empowering staff and building autonomy; ensuring clarity of roles and expectations; and creating meaning and purpose. Our participants have also articulated many practical leadership actions they take to address these issues.

Over 6 newsletters we are featuring a set of Practical Leadership Actions relating to each of these themes, generated through our exposure to on-the-ground leaders as well as various examples from blogs, articles and books.  These actions are not provided as definitive or comprehensive lists, but a working set of ideas that we are sharing broadly.  There is a minimum of at least 25 potential actions relating to each of these themes – so plenty of ideas that may spark your thinking and your day-to-day leadership practice!

So our final featured practical actions are around…

How do I create meaning and purpose?

The importance of purpose and meaning in people’s work and their lives has gained significant prominence in recent years. Numerous authors and academics, including Dr Martin Seligman in his PERMA (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement) model of wellbeing, Daniel Pink (drivers of motivation: Purpose, Autonomy, Mastery), Simon Sinek (the power of ‘why’ in the Golden Circle and Teresa Amabile (the ‘progress principle’ – making progress in meaningful work) have written extensively about purpose and meaning.  When people at work have a clear understanding of the ‘why’ of their work and it strongly aligns to their personal values, capabilities and aspirations it is likely to result in high levels of energy, commitment and motivation.  On the flip side, where people don’t strongly believe in the value of the work they are doing they are more likely to be just ‘going through the motions’ at work.  Leaders have a role in really helping people ‘connect’ with their work.  The challenge for leaders is being attentive to this and consistently having conversations that generate this connection to purpose.  We have created a simple one page sheet which contains 30 different ideas for action that leaders can take.  These actions are organised around the following 5 overarching strategies to ensure there is clarity of roles and expectations:

  1. Understand individuals’ goals and aspirations – leaders who make the effort to understand what people are hoping to achieve at work gain the double benefit of building a positive relationship through that demonstration of care as well as being well placed to create opportunities to help people achieve their aspirations.  You might our motivation card game a useful tool to help with this.
  2. Align individual aspirations with organisational goals – working with individuals and teams to set goals using language that makes a clear connection with their personal ‘why’ and aspirations strengthens motivation and stimulates discretionary effort.  You may want to consider having more conversations with people about the ‘why’ of their work, rather than the ‘how’.
  3. Reinforce the importance of people’s work – leaders who provide opportunities for people to contribute ideas, opinions and suggestions as well as regularly acknowledge the contribution people are making to higher order outcomes boosts morale and performance as people feel valued and respected in the workplace.
  4. Provide challenges and help people make progress – stretching people with achievable challenges whilst supporting them to make progress in their endeavours really helps tap into people’s inner purpose and drive.  The ‘progress principle’ is based on the finding that what is most important to people’s mood, motivation and perceptions of the workplace is making progress in meaningful work.
  5. Recognise the contribution that individuals are making – helping individuals and teams to see clearly how their day-to-day work is making a contribution to long-term goals and purpose demonstrates the impact of their work and enables people to find true meaning in their work.  This can generate real energy and commitment.

So while there is a list of possible actions for each of these 5 strategies contained in our one-page sheet, there may be many other actions, particularly relevant in your context, that you may also identify.  Of course, we’d be interested in other ideas for action that people have implemented!

This practical ideas list might be used in a variety of ways:

  • Reflect and review on your practice – do I have coverage across all these strategies?
  • Engage with your people – would they like to see more of some of these actions?
  • Select one or two actions from the list that you’d like to experiment more with over the next few months

Good luck and let us know of any other actions we can add to our list!

Click here to see this post on our DiA website.

How did you make your staff feel today?

So, take a moment to reflect on an interaction you had with your staff today or yesterday – maybe a regular one-on-one catch up, assigning some new work, a performance conversation or a team meeting.  Now, reflecting carefully on what you did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say in that interaction, do you believe you had a positive impact in one or more of the following ways did they leave the interaction:

  1. Feeling genuinely supported?
  2. Feeling that their work was valued?
  3. Having felt safe to express their views?
  4. Feeling that the work they are doing is meaningful?
  5. Clearer about what was expected of them?
  6. Having learned something?
  7. Feeling empowered?
  8. Feeling part of a team?

Are there a few ticks against this list?  Ideally you would have at least 3 or 4 ticks at least.  If not, what might you have been able to do more of, differently or better?

Or did you (unwittingly) have a negative impact in any of these ways – did they potentially leave the interaction (be honest with yourself):

  • Feeling unsupported by you?
  • Feeling that their work or opinion was not valued?
  • Uncomfortable to say what they were thinking?
  • Feeling that their work is not having a meaningful impact?
  • Confused about what is expected of them?
  • Feeling stuck in a rut?
  • Feeling micro-managed?
  • Feeling isolated and disconnected from their colleagues?

A mark against any one of these items has the potential to de-motivate your staff, particularly if such experiences are more than a one-off.  You may well have experienced these yourself from a Manager and can remember what it felt like – the old adage of ‘they won’t remember what you did or said but they’ll remember how you made them feel’ certainly holds true.  For better or worse, Managers have significant levels of power and influence – your staff are continually watching you and listening to you and creating meaning for themselves.  An ill-considered word or phrase, a lack of acknowledgement, a particular look or poor body language can all be interpreted negatively and result in a range of emotions.  Of course on the positive note, things you do or say can equally have a positive impact on people’s emotional state and generate tremendous energy, commitment and motivation.

Of course this responsibility can feel a little overwhelming – nobody is perfect and you are not going to get it right 100% of the time.  However the challenge over time is to ramp up the positive impacts of your interactions and to reduce or eliminate the negative – perhaps using the above as a reflective checklist might help if you want to work on it.

Nobody ever said being a Manager was easy!


Want some tips on how to have positive interactions with your team?

Feel free to print this info visual as a reminder of what to consider in your interactions… or check out some more ideas about things you can do to help answer these questions with a ‘yes’…

Click here to see tips on:

How to ensure people feel supported, valued and safe

How to create a team environment

How to support learning and growth

How to empower staff and build autonomy

How to ensure clarity of roles and responsibilities

How to help create meaning and purpose

Are your team members using their strengths every day?

If you are a leader of others, I want you to stop what you are doing for a moment, and reflect on this question. And I want you to be honest!

At work, is every member of you team able to use their personal strengths every day?

How did you answer that question?

Others I have asked have responded with answers such as ‘I think they do, well most of the time…’ or ‘You know, I haven’t really thought about that before. I’d have to think about that some more.’

In answering this question honestly, you need to be able to more fully answer these more detailed questions:

  • What are the strengths of each of the members of my team?
  • Have I recognised these strengths as strengths?
  • Do they recognise these strengths as strengths?
  • What situations are part of their day that give them an opportunity for them utilise them?
  • Are they getting the chance to do what they do best every day?

These are tough questions to answer – but as a leader, you do have a responsibility to find the answers. Creating an environment where our teams can be their best is one of the most fundamental things leaders need to do!

What do I mean by strengths?

As shared in a Huff Post blog by Susan Peppercorn, ‘we intuitively understand that strengths are something we’re good at, something that takes less effort than things in which we don’t excel. Strengths, however, are more than what we do well. Strengths also energize us. Did you ever notice yourself involved in something where you lost track of time because you were so engaged? That’s an indication that you were using one or more of your strengths. Strengths that are energising align with your values.’ So…strengths are things we are good at and actually enjoy doing!

Some of the ViA Character strengths include creativity, curiosity, perserverance, a love of learning, teamwork and hope. Some of the ‘At my best’ strength examples are dependable, sincere, fair, detailed and passionate. Those in your team may be good collaborators, able to pull disparate ideas together, are able to keep going when they hit a setback, are able to identify possible risks. The strength might be a talent, a part of their character, something or someone they know or something they can do, and ideally something they have an interest in! Everyone has things they are good at!

Why can focusing on strengths be challenging

Unfortunately many people don’t have an active awareness of what their strengths actually are! And even more don’t realise what can happen when you truly harness them. The ‘Australian tall poppy’ concept can actually backfire on us – humility is a virtue but not at the expense of misunderstanding excellence!

On top of that, many of us have a strong ‘negativity bias’. We focus more on what is not working rather than what is. And as some of our DiA participants reflect when receiving feedback about their leadership behaviours, some of us only see constructive feedback as useful feedback. Hearing about what we do well can make us feel uncomfortable, or worse, many don’t see it as valuable.

Why focusing on strengths matters

Studies have shown that people who get to use their strengths often feel more confident, motivated, energised, and satisfied with work. They are more engaged, innovative, creative and accountable. And people who get to use their strengths often are more resilient, healthier and experience lower levels of stress.

Gallup’s studies have shown that those that have the opportunity to focus on their strengths everyday are:

  • six times as likely to be more engaged in their jobs,
  • 7.8% more productive in their role, and
  • three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life

And after studying 20,000 people around the world, the Corporate Leadership Council (2005) found that conversations between managers and staff that focused on staff strengths (the things they enjoyed and were good at) led to an average improvement in performances of 36% for a period of time after the conversations. However, if the managers had performance conversations that focused on their staff’s weaknesses (the things that needed fixing) people’s performance actually declined by 27%.

And in a study published in HBR in 2018 exploring employee retention at Facebook, people didn’t just quit their ‘boss’ – as is often the saying, ‘they left when their job wasn’t enjoyable, their strengths weren’t being used, and they weren’t growing in their careers’.

So focusing on strengths helps to bring the best out of your team members, and helps ensure you keep your best people!

What I can do as a leader?

Gallup’s studies show that a strength based approach to managing is the single best method for improving the employee-manager relationship. (Source : Q12.gallup.com)

Start by helping others discover their strengths

Many people don’t have an active awareness of their strengths. Leaders taking the time to notice and recognising the strengths of each team member is one of the first things to do.

Make the time to talk about strengths with each team member.

  • Ask them to recall a couple of times at work in recent months when they had hit their ‘sweet spot’; a time when they were effortlessly absorbed in what they were doing, when they felt effective, inspired, satisfied and fulfilled
  • Help them to deconstruct what was happening in those experiences, help them to understand what energised them so positively and what specific talents they were drawing on
  • Help them to recognise some more strengths by sharing some of your recent observations
  • Suggest they seek some feedback from others who they often work with. What strengths do they see?
  • You may also encourage them to take a strengths audit – using one of the great ViA (free) or CliftonStrengths strengths tools.

Then find ways for your team member to use them more often

  • Talk with your team member and collectively explore ideas about more opportunities where your team member could use their strengths more often. Even if it is for 15 more minutes per day! Studies show even a short increase in time using strengths has huge benefits!
  • Coach your team member with conversations that help them focus on their strengths. Look for the coachable moment – and touch base often. ‘Employees are seven times more likely to be engaged when they report that their managers are aware of the tasks and projects that they are working on‘. This is likely to be even higher when team members are working on things that they really care about and enjoy!

And role model a strengths-focus within your team.

Share what you see as your strengths – and seek some feedback on them from your team members. Share how you try to use them each day.

Use strengths language in your daily dealings, and encourage team members to do the same. Encourage them to provide positive feedback about the strengths they see their team members using at work. Cultivate a strengths culture. This might help a team member realise an unconscious talent!


We all have good days – and bad days at work, and the moods that follow influence our engagement levels…How much effort do I want to put in to this task?

Whether the motivator is achievement, purpose, mastery, recognition or something else – giving your people more opportunities to use their strengths every day facilitates moments of self validation and satisfaction which are such powerful ways to help get the best from your people!


Want to know more?

If you’d like some help exploring strengths, for yourself or your team, please contact melanie@discoveryinaction.com.au or paul@discoveryinaction.com.au. We can help with team discussions about strengths, and we also provide one-on-one coaching services.

A simple trick to get the right stuff done!

This great Dan Pink ‘Pinkcast’ from 2016 shared a super simple but highly effective productivity technique called the MIT : the Most Important Task! Click the image above and be taken directly to his video that explains how it works!

He suggests you ask yourself : What is the most important thing that you have to do that day? That is your M.I.T.! Write it down – and do that FIRST!  Don’t check your emails, don’t return phone calls, don’t get distracted bu something less important – focus on this task and get it done!

You’ll feel so much better!

Click on his picture to watch the video.


Want to know more from Dan Pink:

Click here to source the video directly from his site, and catch up on other things he is doing.

Some recent assignments

  • Kicked off 2 new DiA Leading People programs
  • Ran a Leader as Coach workshop
  • Facilitated an regional business improvement strategy workshop for a Government department
  • One on one strategy and leadership coaching for a new owner of a small commercial business
  • Facilitated an annual operational planning workshop for an art museum
Click here to access the Eyres & Associates website to find out what else we do!

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Visit www.eyresandassociates.com.au to find out more about what we do in our consulting business.
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