“One key rule of play is cooperation. Do this poorly and tensions increase, mistrust escalates, and relationships fall apart.”
President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remain in the news as the cat and mouse game of “will he or won’t he” escalates. The question being, will President Trump fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? By all news accounts today, the assumption is that he will. Their working relationship has been daunted with an uneasiness to it. They have often replied to the same questions with different answers. When appearing together they looked like two pals that couldn’t figure out how to get along any longer. The rules of play that children need to master to develop healthy relationships, is applicable to adult relationships as well. One key rule of play is cooperation. Do this poorly and tensions increase, mistrust escalates, and relationships fall apart.
“It is ‘parallel work’ and it has the same outcome: a lack of connection to others, not experiencing the work from the same lens as teammates, and possibly working to achieve an entirely different outcome.”
Knowing how to master cooperation will make any leader more effective. Every parent has made the plea to, “Please cooperate!” to a child. Saying it, even regularly, will not produce it. The fundamental parts of this rule must be practiced for mastery to occur.
Here is how any leader can master cooperation:
1. Make sure you have the “desire” to cooperate:
You must really want to behave well in the sandbox. This means feeling like you want to connect with others and develop relationships. You have a basic need for belonging and want to be needed by others. You willingly engage in team building and collaboration.
2. You are ready to give up “parallel play”:
Have you ever watched children under the age of three “play”? They look like they are playing together but they are actually just playing alongside of one another. They are engaged in their own activity, process, rules, and wants. Now, think about a leader who lacks cooperation. It’s the same behavior. They are on the team, but they are not really working with others. It is ‘parallel work’ and it has the same outcome: a lack of connection to others, not experiencing the work from the same lens as teammates, and possibly working to achieve an entirely different outcome.
3. You can control your impulses:
Leaders who cannot control their impulses are easy to identify. They say the first thing that comes to their minds, they forget the nuances of conversations (e.g., you call them and when they answer they immediately launch into what they are thinking about instead of recognizing that you called them and have control of the launch of the conversation), and in meetings they have a hard time waiting their turn or won’t relinquish the floor to others.
4. “It’s My Toy!”:
Leaders can think of their projects, tasks, and objectives as “mine!” They hold tight to what they think belongs to them and are not interested in sharing with others. Ownership takes precedence and they don’t see the value of sharing ideas, tasks, input, and perspective. Often, they will not let go until a supervisor forces them to do so (“Anna, you can play with the dump truck for five-minutes and then it’s Henry’s turn”).
So, what can leaders do to increase cooperation? Spend time mastering these two activities:
1. Build Something Together:
Build a project (perhaps a small one first) together and learn how to plan, shape things, and create with others. Take notice of how everyone’s’ contributions hold value. Encourage them to take on different roles so that everyone can look at the project from different perspectives. This will increase understanding, empathy, and will enrich the experience for everyone involved.
Leaders can “act out” how to respond and behave literally through rehearsals. This can be accomplished in private or just in their heads. This enables leaders to practice opportunities to strengthen their social skills by thinking ahead ways to share, take turns, and cooperate. Leaders can role play everyone's roles before a meeting and practice what to say (and not say) before the actual meeting. They can talk in front of a mirror to improve their gestures and their looks of interest and empathy.
Leaders, such as President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have not mastered cooperation and are stuck in playing like toddlers. The outcome is a misalignment with one another and may result in the destruction of their relationship. Leaders who are committed to being more effective need only to look at a toddler as he masters the rule of play and implement the same strategies. The result will be stronger bonds, richer experiences with others, and others embracing you and your work.
Phyllis Reagin, High Performance Strategist and Executive Coach with CSRH Consulting, guides senior leaders and high-potentials with mastering their leadership. To receive bi-monthly blogs that examine leadership lessons from the entertainment, business, and political worlds, join At The Coach's Table blog.