Dating back to the mid-1950’s, the term charm offensive is commonly referred to as a concentrated attempt to gain favor or respectability by conspicuously cooperative or obliging behavior. Currently, a nation’s president (Hassan Rouhani), a country (China) and a business leader (Vernon W. Hill II of Metro Bank) are using charm offensives to win over a particular constituency.
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Charm offensives can be an effective strategy for leaders in the workplace. Recently, I was presented with a situation in which a startup, comprised of 25 people, was under extreme pressure to deliver against a critical client initiative. The founder and leader of the project had taken a confrontational approach to managing the team. This was exhibited in behavior such as publicly demeaning the efforts of co-workers, attacking their character, barking orders and shutting down any contrarian views.
Those attacking behaviors amped up the stress levels and disrupted the office "Mojo'' so much that people were desperately searching for a coping mechanism. Should they match the aggression to curry some respect and personal dignity? Or should they acquiesce in order to get through this tumultuous time? Neither stance brings out the best in people or their work. Typically, it results in everyone exerting energy trying to figure out how to deal with the “bad leader” versus doing the work.
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During times of tension and tight deadlines it is more productive for a leader to launch of charm offensive to galvanize the team. Here’s how to do it:
1. Get everyone together from the onset and clearly state what needs to be accomplished and when. Assign specific roles and responsibilities.
2. Be humble and engage in an open dialog with the team throughout the project. Make yourself available to answer questions and brainstorm.
3. Be respectful to everyone on the team. Enable them with what they need to get the job done. This is not the time to be chiding each other.
4. Practice patience. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
5. Meet with people individually to see how they are doing. Go to them instead of waiting for them to come to you.
6. Make thoughtful and timely decisions.
7. Run interference and clear away distractions that are inhibiting people from completing their assignments.
8. Set milestones and take a break along the way to celebrate progress.
9. Surprise them with random acts of kindness to keep their spirits up.
10. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them. This is the time to be in service of your team.
Stressful situations naturally bring out the worst in most people. Leaders who allow their “bad boss” to surface run the risk of alienating their team, forcing people to consider other employment and losing business. Launching a charm offensive may just be the best game plan for leading through strife. People will respond positively when there is a calm, thoughtful voice leading the way.