How to change your emotional state as a manager to prepare for the toughest team challenges

5 minute read

Managers who are able to change their emotional state are better equipped to lead their teams through tough challenges. Dominic Ashley-Timms and Laura Ashley-Timms provide six steps that managers can take to develop this important skill

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Managers around the world who are being swept along by their careers can find that they’re struggling as a result. Outside clearly defined expectations about what it means to be a modern line manager and precisely how to engage the talents of others, many end up retaining aspects from their previous role and even, perhaps unknowingly, adding other people’s work to their already overflowing plate. But this state of overwhelm doesn’t need to be accepted as something that comes with the managers’ job description.

Implementing coaching-related behaviours in day-to-day interactions with employees has the potential to change the dynamic. To achieve this, managers must confidently interrupt unhelpful behaviours and change their emotional state to become receptive to handling situations differently.

But how do you go about disrupting the status quo and create a more helpful coaching state? Here are six steps that any manager can take:

1. Understand your employees

The workplace is changing and some organisations report having five generations under the same roof. From traditionals and baby boomers to generation Y and gen Z, each cohort has different priorities and contrasting opinions on best practices when it comes to getting the job done.

In order to manage such a diverse workforce you need to understand their needs and wants. A 2015 study published by Gallup found that among the three most populous generations (baby boomers, Gen X and millennials) respondents cited both the quality of the manager and the quality of management within their top three priorities.

With this in mind, to become the manager your employees are desperate for it is vital you get to know the people that work for you.

While a person from the traditionals generation might desire a job for life, their generation Y colleague might switch roles often to build a varied résumé. Similarly, a baby boomer might be dedicated to work, while a member of generation X might strive for a healthier work-life balance.

2. Pinpoint what is triggering stress

In many ways the digital age has transformed the workplace for the better, but it has also brought a set of new challenges, not least,upping the urgency to respond.

Where once we could leave our work behind when we left the office, now it follows us everywhere. It is not unusual for people to take work phone calls or respond to emails late at night, during annual leave,or on weekends. Keen to progress and keep the status they’ve worked so hard to achieve, many managers find themselves following suit, without complaint.

This difficult-to-maintain and stressful cycle trickles down to their employees. Immediate answers are expected from managers, so in turn,managers tend to expect immediate answers from their teams.

In these situations, it’s easy for stress levels to increase as managers find themselves overloaded and feeling as if they’re firefighting as they try to reprioritise.

To demonstrate their value many managers fall into the trap of taking on more, further blurring the lines between work and home, which, consequently, contributes to an increasing number of people suffering from burnout.

3. Identify where it’s going wrong

With managers feeling the pressure it’s not surprising that many find themselves reverting to a more familiar command-and-control leadership style-stepping in to solve the problems brought to them by team members by ‘telling’ them what to do. But helicoptering in this way has a twofold negative effect. Not only is the manager taking on more, they’re also inadvertently robbing employees of valuable learning opportunities to do the thinking and come up with solutions to challenges themselves – crucial for their own learning and career advancement. Discouraged as their confidence, growth and development declines, continued marginalisation of team members in this way ultimately diminishes employee engagement and productivity levels.

While many organisations have turned to coaching as a method of supporting managers and their people, few (if any) are seeing a revolution in the release of untapped human potential. That’s because the courses on offer are typically centred around teaching managers how to have sit-down, pre-planned, one-to-one sessions in an executive coaching style. The realities of a busy workplace means managers are rarely finding the time to be able to apply their new skills in the flow of work with employees.

In fact, it might come as a shock to discover that employment surveys reveal that coaching hasn’t had a lasting impact on organisations. For example, a study in the United Kingdom for the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development showed that employees ranked coaching skills (“coaches me on the job”) at the bottom of a list of 15 different competencies demonstrated by their managers.

This sobering finding might also provide clues as to why, despite a big investment over recent years, few companies see an improvement to their bottom line as a result of coaching.

4. Fixing the issues and taking a new approach

If the current approaches to training and developing managers aren’t leading to the change we want to see, then how can managers learn to coach in a way that’s more effective? To be really transformational, managers need to develop more of a coaching mindset while learning to adopt coaching-related behaviours into their everyday style of management, a proposition that’s very different to the executive coaching approaches that are still being taught and which are still largely based around episodic sessions focused on a specific coachee’s development agenda.

Coaching is not merely a transactional skill you can add to your toolbox, it requires behavioural adaptations from managers, allowing them to encourage performance improvement in their teams whenever the opportunity arises.

This approach allows managers to challenge, support and grow the capabilities of their team members. Colleagues become more engaged, recognised and rewarded. As their competency and confidence grows, managers are released from aspects of their to-do lists and are able to invest even more attention towards coaching their team members.

5. Learn how to change your state

Our state at any given moment is made up of three factors: our physiology, our focus and our feelings. Neuro-linguistic programming (NPL) suggests that the way that you are feeling is strongly influenced by your physical attitude. The way you’re carrying yourself, for example, while walking is directly linked to how you’re feeling in that moment.

With this knowledge in mind, you can take charge of your state by changing your posture or simply smiling. These micro-movements in our bodies immediately impact our minds and how we feel, giving us a different outlook on the task at hand.

As a manager and leader learning to manage and change your state at work to a positive coaching state can be transformational; a transformation you can make every day, at any time, in a split second.

6. Create an anchor

Another technique borrowed from NLP that can help you to change your state quickly is to develop an anchor that you can activate instantly as you need it.

An anchor may be something like taking up a 'power pose' in the moments before giving a presentation to create a feeling of immense confidence. It may be something more subtle such as anchoring a particularly positive state to a small movement, such as pressing a finger and thumb together.

To introduce an anchor into your routine, you must start by harnessing the state we want to achieve. This could be done by imagining a time when we felt self-assured, calm, in control or confident. We might recall what we saw, felt and heard in that situation (perhaps we were engaging a group of people we were speaking with for example) and revisit the feelings we were experiencing at the time. Once we’re there, we can anchor that feeling with a physical sensation, such as pressing a thumb into our palm. After practising this a few times we can activate that state we were in again by firing off that physical prompt.

With these six steps, it’s time to start remodelling your approach to management, adapting your own behaviour to be able to engage with others more openly, finding opportunities to intentionally stimulate their thinking and acknowledging their contributions with appreciative feedback. A sustained effort to embrace this approach can help develop an enthusiastic and self-learning team.

Dominic Ashley-Timms and Laura Ashley-Timms, pictured below, are the CEO and COO of performance consultancy Notion and co-authors of The Answer is a Question

Dominic and Laura Ashley-Timms headshots

Published 8 November 2023
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