I was at a squash tournament with my 10-year old in Belfast last weekend and was watching his pal playing a match.
He was playing pretty well until his opponent started serving - and the wheels came off. Time after time this kid served great big high serves that dropped straight into the corner, and time after time my son's pal tried to scoop them out - to no avail. Seven points in a row.
At the next break we had a chat and I suggested that he should have come out from the corner and tried to catch the serve on the volley, stopping it from dropping it in the corner.
He did so and went on the win the match.
The moral of that story is that often it's easy for outsiders to see when something needs to be changed. But when we're in the goldfish bowl, deep in the midst of something, it can be really hard to see it yourself.
I was working on a leader communications up-skill programme for a client today (feedback in their employee engagement survey suggested that leaders needed a bit of support). I was of course thinking about lots of angles and themes but the two that came up time and time again were self-awareness (something I spend a lot of time on workshops and training courses talking about) and being open to feedback.
Being more self-aware
As a leader, it's easy to fall into a rut, to keep doing the same things because 'that's the way we've always done things'. And that can be very true when it comes to team communications - the same language used in the same team meetings, based on the same format, in the same room with the same people in - probably - the same seats.
I get it - you're busy! So it's easier not to change.
But look around you. Does your team seem engaged? Do they ask questions and perhaps have a laugh? Do you ask for their feedback, insight or support? Are you having the impact you want to have?
If the answer is no then maybe it's time to change something up. Think about how you can change your tone or language; or change the format of emails and team meetings. Perhaps think about asking your team to take turns running your team meetings - as well as empowering them, it gives you a chance to watch and see what's going on. Maybe change up the location, head outside for a walk or to a local café or try shorter stand-up meetings just to shake things up a bit.
But remember, to change you have to realise that you need to change. So prick your ears up, get the radar turned on and be more self-aware.
Asking for (and taking!) feedback
As part of the programme I'm thinking of asking leaders on the course to ask their team to give them feedback on their communication style and how impactful they are. I don't know if they'll do it or not - it requires a huge amount of self-confidence and vulnerability (both of which are core to strong leadership according to the majority of guests on my podcast) on behalf of the leader.
And, of course, it requires a lot of trust on behalf of your team to know that it's OK for them to provide constructive feedback.
So my advice is not to ask them to dissect your entire communications style in one go - start small. Perhaps start by them for feedback on how a particular session went, or how an email landed, and if there was anything you could have done to make it better or more impactful. Maybe ask them if they'd have done anything differently - like adding something else, taking something away or changing the tone.
By starting small you can signal that you're looking for feedback and that it's OK for your team to provide it. Then, over time, when you've built up a level of trust, you might want to start delving into areas where before they (and you) mightn't have gone.
As a result, they get to feel like they have a voice and you become a more engaging leader - two of MacLeod's four cornerstones of engaged teams.
That's it for this week - some thoughts on communications, leadership and change spawned by two 10-year olds playing squash.
Who'd have thought.