The DIY guide to getting the best out of yourself and your researchers
Date: 13 September 2022
A session with award-winning leadership coach Denise Chilton to discover how you can create a working environment where everyone flourishes.
Denise Chilton, career and leadership coach, Denise Chilton Coaching
You are responsible for the wellbeing of your researchers but what does that actually mean? How can you delegate more effectively and still feel confident that the work is going to get done without you having to step in and do it all yourself? How can you be more useful rather than helpful?
Creating a great working environment is everyone’s responsibility and this session explored helpful techniques to help raise awareness of your impact on those you manage and help create a working environment where everyone flourishes.
In this session Denise Chilton, a professional certified coach and leadership development specialist with over 10 years’ coaching experience, provides a range of strategies to help PI’s set and manage boundaries, resist the urge to take on too much and tame their inner rescuer when it comes to managing and developing their postdocs.
Why today’s session? I’ll give you a little bit of background. I think, when we were putting the promotion together we posed some questions, and one of the things around well-being is that it’s a very, very big topic. One of the things as PIs is that you’re responsible for the well-being of your researchers. What does that actually mean, and what does it mean to you? Actually I like to think of well-being at work is everyone’s responsibility and so we’ve, both as a PI and those people who you’re responsible for, also have a responsibility for well-being too.
Today we’re going to look at well-being from a few different perspectives that you might not have naturally looked at it from. One is around the working environment, the environment that you influence and you create, and I’m going to introduce you to the concept of what we call psychological safety and how people emotionally feel and are safe at work, and what the environment, and what our impact is on that. Again, it’s everyone’s. We all create the culture around us. we’re going to explore that a little bit more.
What’s your impact as a leader? You’ll have a natural preference and a style. Sometimes when I use the word leader, people go, ‘Well, I’m not really a leader.’ You absolutely are. we’ll do a little bit of… Help you do some self-reflection on your own style, and what feels authentic and comfortable to you. How can you get your balance right, as well.
One of the things that I know, working particularly around academia, is everyone’s very busy and we’re also very helpful, and sometimes we can be too helpful. sometimes we can dive in and do too much to help people. I’ve got some practical tips. If you’re the type of person that likes to be very helpful and can be over-helpful, and have a bit of what we call an advice monster, I’m going to introduce you to your advice monster and share quite a thoughtful little video to finish off the session today.
I also want this to be about you as well. obviously, you’ve got a responsibility to yourself, but also you’re managed by someone. I’d like you to flip in between your hats today and think about how do I like to be managed? How does this, what we’re going to talk about today, impact me from the person that manages you as well.
A couple of different perspectives to think of it. You may be here today thinking, well, well-being is nothing to do with me, so just stay open and curious. You don’t have to agree with everything I say. If it feels a bit uncomfortable, I just ask you to be open and curious about that. Sometimes you might go away from the session having more questions than answers. That’s fine too. this is where we’re going to head today.
I’m going to cover around what I call designing an alliance. It’s about how do we get the best out of our working relationships, and to give you some practical tips based a lot on the work that I see. A lot of the work that I’m doing at the moment, in fact it’s actually really increasing, is working with teams to really help them get the best out of each other, whether that’s a research group or whether it’s a team.
We do some team development sessions and really have some of those conversations that might be a little bit uncomfortable. I kind of facilitate that. We’re going to think a little bit more about that working environment and about the impact that you might have, and the impact people have on you. We’re going to have a little look at communication and I’m going to ask a question, when you’re making decisions and communicating are you a thinker or a feeler? I’m going to introduce you to a little concept of that. Then we’re going to watch to finish off a little tips for taming your advice monster.
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Wellbeing at work is everyone’s responsibility.
Designing the Alliance – How are we going to work together?
I’m going to introduce you to what I call design alliance. This is a question that I would ask. How are we going to work together? The question is do you ask your people who come to work in your groups, how are we going to work together? It’s what I call a design alliance.
I’ll give you a really great example. It sounds something like this. In 2015 I came to work at the University of Liverpool for a super guy who was Pro Vice-Chancellor at the time, and I asked him this question. I went to do some work. We were doing an enterprise project and I said, ‘How are we going to work together?’ He said, ‘Pardon?’ I said, ‘Well, how are we going to work together?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know. I’ve never been asked that before.’
I said, ‘Here’s some things that work really well for me. If you’re going to get the best out of me, here’s some things that work really well,’ and one of the things was around how I manage time. If somebody is going to get the best out of me, the conversation with him was very much around, I need as much time as possible. I’m not very good at last minute.com. That doesn’t work for me. I can do it, but if you want a really good result I need as much time as possible, and sometimes that doesn’t happen.
What I realised was, his time model and my time model were very different. he was a last minute.com person. I like to know what I was doing a week on Tuesday, so right away it wasn’t going to be a match made in heaven. we had the conversation around how was that going to work?
He wanted to do things spontaneously and I wanted things with structure. We had to meet somewhere in the middle. Because we’d had the conversation up front we were able to keep checking in on that. If we hadn’t, I would have probably gone to my friends and had a good old moan about it. I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to have the conversation with him.
Designing alliance and having a conversation is, how are we going to work together on this project? What’s the sort of things that I need to be aware of? Again, going back to well-being, what we’re trying to create is a connection. There’s a big difference between contact with someone and connecting with someone. again, what you’re trying to do is build a relationship, and also ask for what you need, and then you can really encourage that conversation.
What I’d like you to do is again grab your piece of paper and a pen, and what you’d like you to do is list three things that your manager could do that helps you be at your best. Okay, so these are just a little… I saw this and thought, oh gosh, that’s really good. If you were trying to put into a structure and looking for some… what works well? Email or do you want to call me? Do you want to give me time to think or should we work on it together? Are you more of a person that needs the details, or do you want the big picture?
Each of these will be on a continuum. You know, certainly for me it’s much better if you call me than email me. Do you want somebody to tell me what to do or let me figure it out for myself? Do you want to work from home or work from work? Again, just having some structure around… Again, might not be always possible. Again, it’s having to think about what’s going to get the best out of people.
Here’s some other things as well. Again, things that can be really simply done. Helping people get clear on their role. I do a management course for the university. It’s called Stepping Into Management, and I very often say to people, ‘How many people are clear on their role? Put your hand up,’ and sometimes not very many hands. They’ve gone into a role and thought they were doing one thing and then it all changed, but nobody told them.
Having some goals and agreeing some milestones, and how are you going to check in with each other, I think as we’ve just spoken to. How would you like to get feedback, and how would you like to… You know, how do you how do you like to give it, and how would you like to get it?
I saw a quote the other day. Feedback isn’t… It’s not about you. It’s for you. again, sometimes feedback can… Sometimes people don’t really like feedback. I do a whole section, a whole session on feedback and that, and again it’s different for everyone. How do people like to be challenged, and is there anything else?
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When starting to work with a new postdoc, think about how you can work well together. What works well for you, what is going to help someone get the best from you? And what about your new postdoc?
Considering how you are going to work together at the start is easier than trying to broach a difficulty further on in the working relationship.
Understanding your own preferences and making them aware of them (and helping them to communicate theirs to you) can help you find a working relationship that gets the best out of you both. For example:
Preferred form of communication (email, message, phone, in-person)?
Big picture or fine details?
Working from home or in the office?
Thinking things though before responding or thinking as you talk?
Helpful things you can decide and agree on early on include:
Help people get clear on their role
Set goals and agree on milestones
How will you check in with each other?
Preferred methods of feedback?
Creating the Right Environment – Psychological safety
How do you want people in your team to feel? It’s the F word. We probably don’t talk about feelings too much, but actually they’re kind of core in the workplace, and when our emotional needs aren’t met, this is where we get dissonance. I’m going to offer you some questions. You might have some of your own, and what I’d like you to do is, I’d like you to have a little read through those feelings and maybe pick one or two.
How do you want the people that work with you to feel when you’re working together? The other thing you might want to start thinking about, what would that look like? If you were appreciated and supported, what would people be doing around you that might they might not be doing now?
What I’m seeing a lot in business and in academia is that we very often have values and behaviours about what we want to see on a wall but actually, when we get down into our teams, what do we want? What does that look like? What does value… Value can be really different to each of you. I spoke to someone at the university and said, ‘What does valued look like to you?’ He said, ‘Can I be really honest?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘It means that when we do graduation I’m not left in the office back at the university, and I’m able to go to the graduation.’ He said, ‘That’s all I want, to feel part.’ I said, ‘Well, how can you make that happen?’ He said, ‘I need a different conversation.’
It’s different for everybody, and again, it’s really important. taking on from this, the F word or this feeling word, about how we want to feel at work, I’m just going to introduce you… Some of you might have heard of the concept of psychological safety. It’s becoming more common in the workplace, I guess. Psychological safety is actually really key to any team. Any team group, research group, success relies on what we call psychological safety, and it’s absolutely crucial if we’re going to innovate and be creative.
It actually looks like, do people feel valued and appreciated and included? Does their contribution matter? Are they listened to? Do they feel that they have control of their work? Is it safe to speak up, and do we have permission to fail and get it wrong? Everybody is responsible, as I said, for actually creating that safety. some of the teams and groups that I’ve gone to work in is that there’s some element of psychological safety that’s not being met, and again, it has a real impact on well-being.
I was talking to some people in the university. It was a team that I’ve been working with, and three of them when we started having this conversation said that they feel anxious in the morning before they go to work, because the person that they report in to, they’re not too sure what the mood’s going to be and they don’t actually feel safe, or what we call psychologically safe. again, as I say, there’s probably lots of research coming out at the moment because it’s something that’s infiltrating into the workplace and people are realising that actually it’s absolutely core.
Just have a think about those words that are on there, and just have a think about how psychologically safe do you feel in your role right at the moment. Then I just want you to pick one of the words. I don’t know if you want to… I’ll give you an example. if I pick listen to, how would somebody know? That would mean for me, if I was being listened to, that the other person wouldn’t interrupt me.
I want you to pick one of those words, and how might… What’s the behaviour that you would want to see? How would we know? How would we know that you felt appreciated or valued, or had control of your work? Again, just pick one of those and just do yourself some scribbles. I’m just going to share some things. These are really simple little behaviours that are associated with psychological safety.
Follow through on small commitments. If you say you’re going to do something, then you’ll do it or get back to them. Having control over what we call your nonverbal cues. They’re things like… It’s really interesting listening on Zoom when I’ve been talking to teams and groups that, oh wow, someone rolls their eyes, or folds their arms, or gives a big sigh. Our nonverbal cues, we might not even be aware of them, but actually are they creating safety, or are they setting off the stress response, a bit like the three people was talking about, that they get verbal cues from the person that they were working with as well.
Asking for feedback and help. Saying thank you. Creating opportunities to socialise outside of work. I know it’s been really difficult over the last few years to do this, but we absolutely know that when people socialise in groups – I don’t mean absolutely going out and having lots of alcohol but just actually sharing a meal together or a coffee – is when we create opportunities to socialise outside of work, it builds connection. Again, it all helps with our well-being and feeling valued and connected.
When we share our mistakes and explore our learning, and also when we shift from telling to asking. Again, we’re going to go into that in a little bit more detail. Some of the stuff we’re talking about today, which I’m really excited about, is about how do we humanise where we work? it’s not rocket science stuff, but it’s just stuff that we don’t really talk about.
I was reading the chat before while you were in the breakout rooms, and there’s a feeling of overwhelm. There’s too much stuff to do. I do a lot of work with doctors, medical doctors, and we have this conversation. They’re in this place of overwhelm and feeling, well, I should be able to do all this work, and I said, ‘Should you? Is that possible? If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
You’ve got exactly the same amount of time as everyone else.’ One of the doctors that springs to mind said, ‘I think I’ll have failed at my job because that’s how it makes me feel,’ and I said, ‘Is that true though? It’s just that you’re human. It’s not anything to do with your capacity to do your job. It’s just there’s too much of it.’ He’d not taken any holidays. We were talking about the impact of putting your own oxygen… I have this little analogy that you have to put your own oxygen mask on first because if you don’t, then you’re not going to be any good for anybody else. It might be really uncomfortable to say no, or I can’t do that just yet, or whatever that is, or while I’m doing this, what would you like me to do?
One of the other sessions I do is about how do you say yes more slowly, and you do that by asking a question. Okay, so who else have you asked? Which part of this is only I can do this? Which bit would you like me to do, this first or this, but I can’t do both?
I work a lot with senior leadership teams and I would say psychological safety is in any team. What happens is, we get a fear culture. actually it’s not okay to say, ‘I’ve got something wrong here,’ because we’ll look for who to blame. ‘who can we blame here? Who’s done this wrong? Who can we call out on this?’ Actually, that’s not the place for innovation and creativity. What happens is you have a fear culture, and that fear culture comes down.
Why I love this kind of concept of psychological safety and hopefully talking more about it… For me, it’s given me a structure to hang… I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time around helping teams to be psychologically safe, but didn’t have a word or vocabulary for it. I knew what was happening, I could see it, but actually now we’ve got something to work on and, as I say, I think you’ll probably be seeing it over the coming years.
There’s a lot more research coming out about this. I’m just working a lot, doing work on what I call emotional culture. in an organisation, academia you have a cognitive culture. This is what we do. actually how do we want people to feel here? I think it’ll be quite interesting to see how that goes.
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Consider how you want people in your team to feel.
Psychological safety is key to the success of any team and is crucial for innovation and creativity. People feel psychological safe if they feel: valued, appreciated, included, that their contribution matters, that they’re listened to, that they have control of their work, that they feel safe to speak up and that they have permission to fail. How would a member of your team feel valued, appreciated etc.
Every member of a team is responsible for the psychological safety of the team.
Simple behaviours associated with psychological safety: follow through on small commitments, control your non-verbal cues, ask for feedback and help, say thank you, create opportunities to socialise outside of work, share past mistakes and explore learning, shift from ‘tell’ to ‘ask’.
Many of the things that can create the right environment is considering how we humanise the working environment.
Looking after yourself is as important as looking after your team – put your oxygen mask on first!
We’re going to talk a little bit about leadership and I think I struggled with this for such a long time around when I was going through my early career. I just thought leaders are the people at the front. Actually, what I realised is we’re all leaders. So we all have a leader within us to lead ourselves.
We also have – I use a little model with four stages, if you like. There’s also what I call the leader behind. The leader behind is the person that works alongside. They don’t want to be the person up front with the charger and the big horse and all that stuff, leading everyone. There’s a positioning called the leader behind and that leader behind is very much around putting other people ahead of them and wanting to develop them.
There’s also, again, that leader upfront but also the leader inside as well. So we’re just going to touch on leadership. Again, I’m just going to introduce you to four, what I call, common leadership styles and I want you to think about which is the one that you lean towards. There’s no good or bad. They’re different and you need them at different stages.
So you’ll probably go through this and go, hmm, I’m a bit more like that. Actually, I might need a little bit more – like this if I’m dealing with this particular person. Okay? They’re a little bit wordy, the slides. So as I say, we’ll send them out later. I don’t really like talking through slides when the words are there, but I’m going to do this for the for the purpose of this. So just have a think about which is the one that resonates for you more. Maybe have a think about which is the one you think you’re managed by and think about people in your groups, thinking, is this style appropriate for this? So again, we just want to give you a little bit of time to contemplate that. So here we go. Which slide? So I’ll just hide my meeting controls. Okay.
So a democratic leadership style is very collaborative. Someone who has more of this style will seek advice of the people when they’re making the decision. Even though the final decision lies with them, they’ll want to know what every – they’ll be looking for consensus. They’ll want ideas. They’ll be very sharing. They’ll encourage people to make contributions and the communication will be both ways. Again, that helps really with psychological safety. The benefits is people tend to feel more valued and increase motivation and again, in encouraging innovation and creativity.
The disadvantage is it can take longer to make decisions. So when you get a situation where you just need to make a decision there and then, it can take longer. Some people don’t want to be involved in the decision-making. They just want to be told what to do. Okay? So that’s what we call democratic leadership.
Then we’ve got – and I see this a lot in academia because it’s appropriate – what I call laissez-faire leaders. They give little or no interference. They’ll provide tools and resources and the problem-solving and decision-making is left to the people. The benefits is it does create innovation and creativity, but you need a team of highly skilled people with expertise for it to be effective.
The disadvantage is if the group lacks skills or motivation and adherence to deadlines, it can result in poor performance and outcomes. So people feel that they’ve been left to their own devices. So again, it’s about getting that balance right between leaving people to their own devices and letting them get on with it. The very opposite to that would be micromanaging. So again, great for some people, but again, not for everyone.
Then you’ve got what we call autocratic leaders. They like to make all the decisions. Communication tends to be one way. So it can feel a bit command-and-control. People’s ideas and contributions are not encouraged and there’ll be a lot of checking and micromanaging and close supervision. It’s really beneficial for people who are new into role, if you’re managing people and looking after people who aren’t very skilled or new, and in times of crisis or tight deadlines where you’ve just got to get something done and decisions need to be made quickly. However, lack of ideas and input from staff can lead to real job dissatisfaction and not all staff need to be closely supervised.
Then you’ve got what we call coaching leaders. This is, again, encouraging people, empowering them to do things on their own, giving plenty of feedback, knowing that they’re resourceful to get things done. A coaching approach really helps them improve their own personal performance and develop strength. So it is very strengths-based. What do you do well? How can we build on those strengths and how can we develop more potential? It creates a really positive work environment and people know it’s what’s expected of them and it really starts unlocking people’s potential. So you’re empowering them to get on with it.
The disadvantage is it can take time and the effectiveness is dependent on the leadership skills of the manager for the collaborative approach. Yes, I would use different styles for different people and it’s hard. So if I give an example, I used to manage teams that didn’t work very well.
That was when I had a proper job, as my dad said. He doesn’t understand this self-employment stuff. So I used to get teams that didn’t work very well and they used to say, ‘Go and do that stuff you do, Denise.’ I’d go, ‘You mean talk to people and see what they want?’ My style is naturally coach and democratic. I find it really uncomfortable to be autocratic.
However, I had a couple of people that were underperforming, They also knew every rule in the book. So I had to be very direct and I had to micromanage. Actually, some of those also were in the wrong roles. So it was very uncomfortable for me to do that because I like people to feel good. I did it in the most empathetic way that I could.
So sometimes we have to, what I call, flex the muscle and build it, and it sometimes depends on the situation and the person.
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Everyone has a leader within them (the leader inside)
There are leaders in front, those who are ‘in charge’.
There are leaders behind, those who work alongside who don’t want to be the leader in front, who put other people ahead of them and want to develop other people.
Four broad styles of leadership – which works for you, what is your natural style of leadership, what are you managed by?
Democratic leader – collaborative, communication goes both ways, team feel values and motivated, but it takes longer to make decisions and some people don’t want to be involved in decision making.
Laissez faire leaders – provide little or no interference, instead provide tools and resources for people to solve problems themselves. Increases innovation and creativity but can result in a loss of direction.
Autocratic leaders – make all the decisions, one-way communication, beneficial for inexperienced staff and when decisions need to be made quickly, but it can lead to job dissatisfaction with staff.
Coaching leaders – encourage and empower staff to do things, provide plenty of feedback, help other to improve own performance, unlocks a person’s potential but it can take time for this to be effective.
You should use different leadership styles for different people – what works best depends on the situation and the person you’re managing.
Managing and appreciating differences – Communication and decision making
You have a natural way that you communicate. You tend to be either what we call a thinker or a feeler, but you can do both. When we’re using our non-preferred hand, if I’d asked you to write a page, you could have done it with your preferred hand quite easily. It probably wouldn’t have taken a lot of energy. If you’d have done it with your non-preferred hand, you’d have still been able to do it, but it would have impacted your energy. So I just want you to keep hold of that, this isn’t right or wrong what I’m going to share now, we can do both, but where do I sit, again a little bit like we’ve done with the leadership style.
This has come from something called MBTI, it’s a personality, it’s like what they call a typology preference analysis if you like. I use it a lot with teams to manage and appreciate difference. So we’re just going to look at the communication bit, and again I’m going to share some slides, and I want you to think about where on the continuum am I. Am I more a thinker or am I more a feeler? Then we’ll talk through some examples. So this is all around managing and appreciating differences. I love that picture, it’s nothing to do with anything really, but I just thought it was kind of quirky and unique.
Okay, so we have a preference to how we like to communicate and make decisions. We either are more a thinker, or a feeler, and the reason that I’m sharing this in this particular fashion, is in the work that I do with teens, this is one of those things that can be really easily fixed if we’re aware of our differences, but actually causes a lot of anxiety, or has a real impact on people’s well-being. So thinkers tend to be a little bit more detached and objective.
They’ll see situations from the outside, and they’ll apply objective criteria to rules. So if they’ve got a decision to make, they’ll be quite task-focused, how are we going to get the task done. They will think about the people, but it possibly won’t be the first place they go to.
Feelers are opposite. They tend to see situations from within about how it makes them feel, and they will go to the people first and go, if we make this decision, how is this going to impact everyone. Okay. You’ll be somewhere, you’ll either be very heavy thinker, I’m a hugely heavy feeler, and I’ve had to learn to be more thinking. Or you’ll be somewhere in the middle, or one of the preferences. Ts will apply logical reasoning. They may debate or challenge information. If you get an email from a T, it’ll probably have very little, it might have a few sentences, be quite logical, and to the point. It will, again very focused on tasks, and the logic, and will provide a critique.
Feelers are different. They will apply values. They’ll want to know if this is going to rock the boat, if it’s going to upset anyone. They want to focus on the relationship. Will it make anyone unhappy? They’ll seek harmony. Very often Ts and Fs in the workplace, a feeler can feel really wounded with some communication from a T. So again I see this in the workplace.
Their helping styles tend to be very different. So typical in a personal relationship, if you’ve got a T and an F, a T might buy something practical for the house, while the F wants some personal like clothing, or perfume, or an experience, or something. So again the helping styles tend to be very, Ts will look for logic, and practicalities, and focus on tasks, Fs will want to be supportive, and explore how people feel about things, and will focus very much on the relationship.
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How do you communicate and make decisions – are you more a thinker or a feeler? Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum between ‘thinker’ and ‘feeler’
Thinker – detached and objective, tends to see situations from the outside. Applied objective criteria to consistent rules. Task-focused. Will think about the people involved but it won’t be their first thought.
Feeler – involved, tends to see situations from within. Seeks harmony and judges importance of different values involved. Think about people involved first – if this decision is made, how will it affect everyone?
Communication and helping styles tend to be very different and this can lead to issues if people aren’t aware.
Be aware of your own style and consider the strengths of the style you don’t naturally lean towards, as well as your own.