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The Queen Of Candour
Shari Harley has spent the last fifteen years developing talent in Fortune 50 companies, and in this exclusive interview, she tells us how to say just about anything to anyone!
Growing up attending personal development workshops made for a slightly unusual upbringing. However, Ms. Shari Harley, Principal of The Harley Group says that these sessions helped her understand the career path she wanted to take. Ms. Harley followed her heart and is now a leadership and organisational development expert. In this exclusive interview with The Human Factor, she talks about how each of us is responsible for the success of our own career.

Q. You are often called ‘The Queen of Candour’ for your intensive work on conversation and communication. What does that feel like?
I really believe that people can say anything to anyone when trust is present. Most of us just do not do the work early in our relationships to develop that trust and gain the permission to say whatever we need to say. As a result, saying hard things remains hard. I start every relationship by setting the expectation that each person not only has the right, but is expected to say whatever they need to say. I am very open to feedback. I learned early on in my career that people have a tendency to talk about us, not to us. And if I do not know how I am perceived, I cannot manage my career. I must know what people are thinking and saying about me. Having that knowledge allows me to adjust my behaviour. Each of us is responsible for the success of our own career. No one else. Not a manager or leader.

Q. What was it that motivated you to get into this field?
Growing up, my parents sent my brother and me to seminars for children focused on personal responsibility and communication skills. While other kids talked about sports, my brother and I talked about how we were responsible for everything that happened to us. It made for a slightly unusual upbringing.

At the age of 12, I knew that when I grew up I wanted to lead seminars helping other people develop good communication and relationship skills. I wanted to major in training and development in college, but there was no training major at the time. Instead I majored in Psychology. When I graduated, I went to work for Dale Carnegie Training. I wanted to work for myself, even back then, but knew I did not have the experience or credibility. In preparation I got a Masters degree and spent 15 years leading leadership development training, succession planning and operations units for corporations. Two years ago, I finally decided I was ready to go out on my own.

Q. What is the key to building powerful relationships?
I think the reason most of us have difficulty saying hard things is that we do not have the permission to do so. If we started every relationship – personal and professional – by agreeing, “We will talk about what comes up in our relationship. If we do anything that frustrates or violates each other’s expectations, makes the other person happy or impacts our reputation, we will tell each other,” when something difficult happens, we are more likely to talk about it.

Human beings are wired to keep themselves safe, and as a result we avoid conflict. We do not tell people what we want, instead we expect them to approach work and relationships the way we do. When they do not, we are frustrated but do not feel we can say anything for fear of damaging the relationship. If we would just agree, early in every relationship, to speak up and say whatever there is to say, saying hard things would not be so hard.

Q. How can we remove communication barriers between managers and their employees?
I tell all the managers I work with to get to know their employees on a personal level early in the working relationship. People want to work for human beings. When employees know their managers on a human level, and vice versa, they work better together.

At the beginning of a relationship, take new employees out to lunch. Spend a little time getting to know employees and sharing about yourself. What do you like to do in your free time? Where did you go to school? How long have you been at the company? Employees are curious about their managers. Managers should share this information and ask their employees to reciprocate.

After I have a basic get-to-know-you meeting, I tell employees this. And I use these precise words every time: “As your manager, my job is to help you get where you want to go, whether that is here within the company or elsewhere. As a result, I am going to ask for your permission to let you know anything I see you do or say that either contributes to where you want to go or gets in the way of that goal. Is that okay with you?”

Managers do not need permission to give employees feedback. The title and direct authority gives managers that right, and employees know it. But leaders get something for asking. As Stephen Covey would say, you are depositing into the emotional bank account.

You start to build trust, a little at a time, because while trust is broken in an instant, it is built over time. So from the first day you interact with your employees – starting during the hiring process – you are building trust. Because all long lasting relationships are built on trust, you are laying the foundation for a loyal, committed and long-term workforce.

I then give employees a list of questions I began writing 10 years ago and continue adding to even today. I tell the employees, “I want us to get to know each other and have a great working relationship. We are going to have our first one-on-one meeting in a week. At that meeting I want you to feel free to ask me any questions on this list and I will do the same.”
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