Practice Makes Perfect

task

Photo Credit: Rob Swatski via Compfight cc

This morning, a co-worker and I were discussing how busy our Spring Semester has felt. We talked about feeling as if we are speeding ahead toward the end of the semester, fighting just to get everything accomplished. And sometimes along the way, we struggle to connect with people in meaningful ways.

These two dimensions of our work, being concerned with getting a job done and being concerned for the people involved in the work are highlighted in the managerial grid developed nearly 50 years ago by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton. Though the grid has 81 possible combinations, most of the time we discuss five major styles (Blake and McCanse, 1991):

  • The Impoverished Manager – with low concern for production and low concern for people.
  • The Sweatshop or Authority-Compliance Manager – with high concern for the work, but low concern for people.
  • The Country Club Manager – with high concern for people, but low concern for accomplishing the work
  • The Status Quo or Middle of the Road Manager – with a moderate concern for both people and task
  • The Fully Functioning Manager or Team Management – with a high concern for both the task and the people doing the task

In recent weeks in Organizational Leadership, we’ve been working through various models, theories, and concepts related to “concern for people” including employee motivation and follower engagement.

Creating task-related assignments isn’t all that difficult for me, but I have discovered that it is tricky to create assignments to help students gain skills in working with people. I think many of my students struggle to see the value of these assignments. It seems obvious that we ought to be concerned about people and speak to them in ways that uphold their dignity, so many of us assume that we do so naturally. But communicating concern for a person while also communicating a concern for getting the job done is trickier than it sounds.

This week, I asked students to create a draft of an email they might use to delegate a task to an employee.  I asked them to use what we’ve learned about employee motivation and engagement to create this document. I got quite a few sample emails that told me about the new task that the boss wanted me to do.  A lot of them were straightforward and to the point.  Many of them clearly communicated the new task.  They weren’t rude, but very few of them effectively showed much consideration for the employee.

Last week, I asked students to role-play a situation with an employee where they intentionally integrated one of the leadership practices identified by Kouzes and Posner in The Leadership Challenge: Encouraging the Heart.  As I listened to their role-plays, I heard a lot about the task, but most of my students found it much more difficult to find words to recognize contributions and celebrate victories as a part of their conversations.

While I perceive that some of my students think that role-playing and writing out emails are unnecessary work, I tend to believe that many of us have to actually practice expressing concern for people in the midst of our work.  I know there are some people for whom this is a more natural process, but even then, I think it requires practice to communicate that concern in a way that each unique individual can hear and receive it.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

We seem to take for granted that practice is necessary for gaining skills in playing basketball or the piano.  But I think many of us mistakenly believe that we are automatically going to be good at the skills necessary for working effectively with people.

Or perhaps we just assume that we get on-the-job experience at these skills, so we don’t need to practice them ahead of time.

That seems a lot like asking someone to attend your oboe recital when you’ve not ever actually picked up the instrument.

 

So, I’m going to keep looking for ways for my students (and myself) to practice effectively demonstrating concern for people without losing sight of the task at hand. Maybe you’ve got some ideas.

How do you help students “practice” new skills in your classroom?

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Emily Row Prevost

Director of Leadership Development at East Texas Baptist University

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