Karin Wills : As a manager, we have to firstly, recognise and manage our own emotions


We need to understand that the key to managing others lies squarely in finding out how we can first manage ourselves.

Q : As a coach, what is a good way for you to identify the individual strengths a person may have and focus on that, more than on the weaknesses? What are some of the concrete steps to take here?

Karin : The best way to identify individual strengths is to use tools such as the EQ-I 2.0 and the EQ 360 combined with one of the personality style systems such as the Striving Styles Personality System. Another option that works quite well, although it tends to provide a less comprehensive picture of the person, is to conduct ‘in-person’ 360 interviews with the person’s boss, peers, direct reports and/or persons as appropriate. All of these offer insight into the person, how they process information, how others perceive them, how they perceive themselves and how their behaviour creates outcomes. Weaknesses are something that we often misunderstand in the workplace performance management systems. We tend to think of them as things that need to be ‘fixed’ but this is a tunnel vision perspective. It is more constructive to look at things in balance.

Therefore, the first step is a one-to-one discussion with the person to discover what they want to achieve, what is important to them, what they are and are not willing to try and how committed they are to the process. Second is to implement the agreed upon tools as noted. Third is to review the reports garnered from the tools with the person and ensure there is a clear understanding of what it means. Fourth, is to create a vision and plan that capitalises on the strengths, and to then move into coaching to that plan in a way that leverages those strengths.

Q: We all have self-defence mechanisms. Can you explore some of the characteristics of these mechanisms and why we tend to almost naturally move to these reactions? As a manager, how best can you deal with this reaction with your team members so that you get your issues, and theirs, dealt with?

Karin :Our self-defence mechanisms are valuable in some situations; our ‘crocodile brain’ is active when it senses we are in danger and we come equipped with that at birth. The rest of our self-defence mechanisms are learned through the experiences we have in life. What we experience plus how we are wired, to respond to those experiences, create a behaviour set that kicks in when certain cues occur.

So, often we are reacting defensively, without being aware of this at all. We may feel a physical or emotional reaction that we don’t stop to identify, we simply respond to the threat with whatever behaviour protected us in the past.

When we encounter this defensive behaviour in the workplace, as a manager, we have to, firstly, recognise and manage our own emotions. We will all have a reaction, to what is happening, which is partly driven by our own needs and defences. How well we recognise and manage this, will affect our ability to resolve these issues, when they arise. In workplaces where resonant leadership is in place, there are fewer such incidents because the culture of the organisation is one of a shared vision and of working together to resolve problems.

One thing that I do know, from experience, is that the manager must be very clear what the process and protocol for resolving issues is and then must be consistent in how they handle problems as they arise. One key aspect is to be very clear that respect for others is mandatory and to ensure that this is clear and, in practice, is consistent.

Q: We press for greater accountability with others. It’s easier to see where others go wrong and we can be quick to come forward with solutions. As managers, how can we develop greater accountability in our direct reports?

Karin :This is a good question, at any time, but in this era where top down command and control is no longer seen as the favoured management style, it becomes more crucial to ensure that team members are able to function effectively when they may be making on the go decisions.

It isn’t unusual for a manager who is struggling with a team member’s performance to ask how to develop accountability in others. There can be several points to consider in this. Often, accountability issues are systemic. The culture in the organisation, the hiring protocols, the management style all contribute to whether or not the team members see their role as one in which they can or are confident enough to go beyond the basics. Accountability depends on trust being present in the relationship between the manager and the team members. Trust is required for many things to function well in an organisation but when we are talking about accountability, it is critical.

For example, I have seen people with a strong sense of being accountable for results, gradually withdraw into deferred practice because the manager they reported to felt the need to control everything. This translated into the manager doing many things themselves with a “if you want it done right, do it yourself” attitude. It doesn’t take long for team members to get the message that they are not trusted and to essentially give up. It creates a cycle of behaviour that erodes trust and thus accountability. Soon, team members are looking for ways to protect themselves rather than working towards the shared vision or the goals of the organisation.

If a manager is sincere, in wanting to ensure that team members become more accountable, they need to be aware of their own style and the effect it may be having on the behaviour of others.

Q: What do you believe is the key to leadership growth?

Karin : In my experience, in various industries and working with clients, I have come to believe that leadership growth comes from paying attention to three primary areas: Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence and Cognitive Intelligence. When I see that working well is when there is acknowledgement that all three are important. Creating a long-term learning plan that is updated over time is a good first step. The reason all three are important is because often we will choose to continue learning in the areas we feel the most comfortable or confident about. It is the other areas that really need to be included, as balance in these areas, is necessary.

We are best served by assuming that leadership is an ever changing adaptive process and approaching it from a lifelong learning perspective.

Q: There’s bound to be levels of toxicity within relationships, especially in workplaces, where we have to work within the relationships and boundaries set for us. When we see a situation beginning to display signs of toxicity, what is the best way to address it effectively, both in terms of the relationship and the business issues?

Karin :I believe that we need to look at trust and at communication in the workplace when we are considering toxicity. Disagreements are going to flare up from time to time. Having a clear practice for dealing with this and being consistent and clear that the type of behaviour that leads to a toxic situation is unacceptable will help ensure that disagreements are solved in a more effective manner rather than turning into simmering resentment.12.karinwillsimagecourtesykarinwills1

When we discern that a relationship has turned toxic, it is important to address issues, with the parties involved quickly, firmly, respectfully and directly. Be clear that toxic behaviour is not accepted. Avoid getting into a debate about who is right or wrong, and be clear that the behaviour must end and offer either mediation or other appropriate help to resolve the personal issues.

From a business perspective, be clear with the parties involved that their behaviour is negatively impacting others and the business and that there will be consequences immediately, if it continues. Remind the parties involved of why they are there. Confirm the shared vision, the goals to be achieved, and the expectations of each of them.


The EQ-I 2.0 and EQ 360 tools are both products of Multi-Health Systems Inc. and the Striving Styles Personality System is a product of Sage Kahuna Enterprises Inc. Both organisations are headquartered in Toronto, Canada.

Karin Wills, MA, CEC, is an executive leadership coach who focuses on strengths based coaching. She works with people in management roles, emerging leaders and teams. Clients include engineers, scientists, accountants, human resources professionals, health care professionals, business owners, IT professionals, educators, operations and administrative managers. Karin brings more than 20 years of accumulated workplace experience in human resources, organisational development, management and team coaching plus an MA in Leadership and Training and a commitment to lifelong learning to her coaching practice. Seeking out a coach or advisor is a key attribute of a superior leader. You realise that practice without a coach means you simply get better at doing what you are already doing. When seeking out a coach, consider one who includes change leadership in their skillset. For more on Karin, visit Evolve Executive Coaching.

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