What is your reason for either aspiring to be a leader or wanting to be more effective as a leader?
Perhaps you are motivated by the potential rewards (compensation and recognition) that come from additional responsibility. You may decide that developing stronger leadership skills is part of an overall professional development plan.
Alternatively, you may believe that a leadership role is part of a central purpose in your life. It may be important to you as part of a personal identity. You may be driven by a sense of obligation to serve others in some leadership capacity.
In a recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors tested the hypothesis that potential leaders with a combination of motives were the most committed and highest performing. Their findings were somewhat surprising.
Is there an undiscussable topic that is preventing your team from working well together or is causing you to avoid working on the things that matter most? Then you may have an elephant in the room.
An elephant in the room is an obvious truth or condition that is being ignored or not addressed, or a risk nobody wants to discuss. Everyone knows these elephants exist – but we try to avoid them or refer to them obliquely. They are often discussed privately either before or after meetings. Our fear is that if we talk about these elephants, they will come to life and trample us. The problem is that unless and until we are free to identify and discuss these sensitive topics openly, they never go away.
“Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
– Henry Ford
Do you consider yourself an optimist, a realist, or a pessimist? Many experts have opined on this topic as it relates to leadership.
Dr. Martin Seligman, a prominent researcher in the field of optimism, claims that optimism or pessimism lies in the way you explain the events that happen to you. Our thoughts can cause us to assess events inaccurately. They can also cause us to jump to erroneous conclusions.
Strong leaders are seldom characterized as pessimistic. By definition, if someone in a leadership role sees mostly negative outcome, it will be nearly impossible to rally the masses to meet a difficult challenge.
On the other hand, it is uncommon for dynamic leaders to see themselves as pure optimists. Someone with this view could be seen as a Pollyanna – a person who doesn’t have a grip on reality and believes that everything will eventually work out, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Rather, the consensus view is that the most effective leaders are those who lean toward optimism.
When was the last time that you or someone on your team proposed a crazy, unique, absurd, outlandish, or otherwise unconventional idea? Has this ever happened? What kind of reception did the innovative idea (and the person who proposed it) receive?
William Barnett, Professor of Business Leadership, Strategy, and Organizations at Stanford, discussed this topic as part of a recent webinar. He described a “thought experiment” that helps us to consider what happens when someone comes up with a novel idea. This concept aligns with the notion of how the fear of failure can influence whether innovative ideas are surfaced.
Barnett asked the hypothetical question, “When you have a good idea, does everybody have to agree with that idea for it to be correct?” (Most people would say, “No”).
Barnett then asked, “When we have an innovative idea, what is often the first thing we do? We ask others, ‘What do you think?’ “If the people we ask don’t like our innovative idea, what do we do then? We often ask someone else. Basically, we are looking for affirmation that the idea that we have is a good one.”
Years ago, I moved to a community in a different state for a new job. While driving to work on the first day, I was involved in a number of near-miss automobile accidents. Let me describe a risky driving behavior, which I quickly learned was “the way we drive around here”.
Drivers approached an intersection with a traffic light. The green light turned to yellow. As expected, one or two cars entered the intersection while the light was still yellow. But what I observed next surprised me. After the light turned red, the next three drivers continued through the intersection. Remarkably, the cars in the opposing lanes (who had a green light) paused for 3 or 4 seconds for the red light violators to clear, then drove through the intersection. When the light turned red for opposing lanes of traffic, the same behavior repeated. The unspoken norm was that a “red light” meant that 3 more cars were allowed to pass through the intersection….the 4th car should stop. The amazing thing to me was that somehow everyone knew that this was the rule. At first, I thought this was an isolated incident. As I soon discovered, this happened at every intersection.
Now imagine someone who had never been to this town (me) approaching an intersection – and expecting that red means stop and green means go. It took me four or five close encounters (of the wrong kind) at intersections with local drivers to figure out what was happening. I quickly adapted to the local behavior. By the time I arrived back home, I was Driver #3 going through a red light. No consequences. No tickets. In fact, local police cars were following the same protocol! (I learned later that 3 cars was indeed the limit. If the police observed a 4th car driving through a red light, that person was always ticketed).
What was going on here? How could every local person in this large community end up developing and accepting a norm that was clearly violating the standard? One explanation could be the concept of entropy. The dictionary provides one definition as follows:
en·tro·py lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.
Have you ever wondered why some people don’t seem to be motivated to take action, even when what you are asking them to do is clearly the “right thing” ?
Have you noticed that some desirable habits are relatively easy to develop, while you struggle to make other habits a part of your routine?
Have you become frustrated when someone repeats a poor habit or behavior, in spite of a recent detailed coaching conversation?
Dr. BJ Fogg of Stanford University developed a behavior model that helps us to understand how to influence someone. The Fogg Behavior Model shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing or insufficient. His model is depicted in the graphic below.