De­code it right

The Smart Manager - - Contents -

Chris Lewis, au­thor, The Lead­er­ship Lab, un­der­lines the need to view ‘lead­er­ship’ through a dif­fer­ent lens.

‘Lead­er­ship’ is a much­misun­der­stood con­struct. Dis­miss long-held be­liefs and ap­proach it dif­fer­ently, opines Chris Lewis, coau­thor, with Pippa Malm­grem, of The Lead­er­ship Lab: Un­der­stand­ing lead­er­ship in the 21st cen­tury, and founder of LEWIS.

There is a lot of talk about lead­er­ship at the mo­ment and quite rightly so. This is not just be­cause of po­lit­i­cal or gen­der is­sues, it goes wider. Con­sid­er­ing it is such an im­por­tant area, it is full of myths. Here, five have been iden­ti­fied, but there are many more.

01 univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion is es­sen­tial for modern lead­ers

Firstly, there is a per­cep­tion that lead­er­ship needs an aca­demic ed­u­ca­tion. We live in an age of data. We live by anal­y­sis. We live by logic and RoI. We want things to be cer­tain. All of these things are true. We also live in an age of lead­er­ship fail­ure. Since the turn of the cen­tury, we have learned that our cor­po­rate lead­ers have avoided taxes, lied about emis­sions in the car in­dus­try, rigged in­ter­est rates, shel­tered cus­tomers from taxes, laun­dered drug money, presided over an off­shore bank­ing sys­tem that was larger than any­one ever thought, forced good com­pa­nies into clo­sure and de­stroyed pen­sion funds as they them­selves grew wealth­ier. Col­lec­tively, they over­saw un­prece­dented de­struc­tion of wealth and the col­lapse of the fi­nan­cial sys­tem and watched as life sav­ings placed into in­vest­ment funds set up by lead­ers of unim­peach­able in­tegrity turned out to be Ponzi schemes. So why has this hap­pened? You could ar­gue that it has al­ways hap­pened and now we just know more about it. That is true. It is also true though that many of these items were hid­ing in plain view. We just chose not to be­lieve them. So, this gives us an in­sight into the prob­lem. The an­swer is not one thing nor an­other, but fre­quently both. The an­swer is no longer bi­nary. The truth can be both true ‘and’ false at the same time. So, it is no longer enough for a leader just to do the math, they have to do the ‘mood’ as well. This means they have to unify and look across and not just drill down and for this, a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion that no­tices the dif­fer­ence in ev­ery­thing, is pro­foundly un­help­ful. It is not that ed­u­ca­tion is a bad thing. It is not. It is a good ‘and’ a bad thing.

02 anal­y­sis is worth more than imag­i­na­tion

So much of ed­u­ca­tion is based on the prin­ci­ple of Western Re­duc­tion­ism. This means we are trained to take a prob­lem and tear it apart. Then we take the re­main­ing parts and tear them apart, too. And again, and again un­til we are left with com­po­nent el­e­ments. This process is over­whelm­ingly what we are taught to do. Of course, there are arts cour­ses, but these are be­ing ig­nored in fa­vor of STEM sub­jects, which tell us there is a right an­swer and it is at the back of the book. That is also just not true any­more. Her Majesty, the Queen re­cently toured a fi­nan­cial trad­ing floor in the city of Lon­don. She asked about all the screens and the data avail­able to the trader. Then she asked how, with all the data, the great fi­nan­cial crash hap­pened? The re­sponse was re­veal­ing: “We didn’t have the imag­i­na­tion to see it com­ing.” Not data. Not anal­y­sis. Not logic. ‘Imag­i­na­tion’. This is the abil­ity to look across or paren­the­size. This is the op­po­site of an­a­lyt­i­cal think­ing or ‘drill-down’. It in­volves sim­i­les, metaphors, even parables. It ex­plains why a lot of peo­ple grad­u­ates call ‘un­e­d­u­cated’ see things dif­fer­ently. To them, what ac­tu­ally, log­i­cally, demon­stra­bly, ex­ists, does not mat­ter. These are what we call facts. They are dif­fer­ent from what ap­pear to be facts. These are called opin­ions and they are formed be­cause of the way things ‘ap­pear to be’. And with so­cial me­dia, we can now hear a lot more of these as well.

03 be­ing con­nected helps you think more clearly

You are busy at present, right? Maybe, more busy than last year? Maybe busier than ever be­fore. Well, at least we ‘feel’ busier be­cause we are con­stantly in­ter­rupted. On av­er­age, email in­ter­rupts us every twelve min­utes. When you add in so­cial me­dia, it is even more fre­quent. This can ac­tu­ally lower our IQ. Far worse is that it con­sis­tently

re­turns us to our ‘left-brain’ or re­duc­tive state. This is the an­a­lyt­i­cal mind­set. What has hap­pened? Why? When? To whom? The over­load of in­for­ma­tion makes us im­pa­tient and frus­trated to get on with our ob­jec­tives de­spite the in­ter­rup­tions. At­tempt­ing to move fast also make us fo­cus on the quan­ti­ta­tive rather than the qual­i­ta­tive. This can have a pro­found ef­fect on cre­ativ­ity. In my first book, Too Fast to Think, I in­ter­viewed forty lead­ers from all walks of life to find out where they were and what they were do­ing when they had their best ideas. The re­sults were re­veal­ing. The vast ma­jor­ity re­ported three con­di­tions un­der which the ideas came. They re­ported that they were most of­ten on their own, not at work and most im­por­tantly, ‘not try­ing’. This tells us that the sub­con­scious has an im­por­tant role in prob­lem solv­ing, but only if we al­low us to ac­cess it. Or more ac­cu­rately, al­low it to ac­cess us. This is a core com­pe­tence at the high­est lev­els of lead­er­ship. When lead­ers find their po­ten­tial, they tend to find it in oth­ers.

04 con­fi­dent, charis­matic lead­ers are al­ways com­pe­tent

Many of our ex­pec­ta­tions of lead­er­ship are founded on the model of a sin­gle, charis­matic, in­fal­li­ble per­son. Whether it be Moses and Elon Musk or Je­sus Christ and Steve Jobs. Our lead­er­ship fo­cus is on the leader and not the ‘ship’. We ex­pect this per­son to be right, and their con­fi­dence is too of­ten cor­re­lated with com­pe­tence. These two things are not the same. We are cul­tured to be­lieve that lead­er­ship is some­thing that can­not be trained or guided, it is just handed by divine right to a hand­ful of the cho­sen. Oddly, then we place blind faith in these in­di­vid­u­als. Then, as they fail, we fi­nally use our logic to ques­tion how we could have been so de­ceived. There is a dis­tinct gen­der im­pli­ca­tion here as men tend to be more con­fi­dent than women. This is es­pe­cially the case at the younger end of the age spec­trum. The con­clu­sion is that women can be much more com­pe­tent than they are con­fi­dent, yet they fre­quently wit­ness in­com­pe­tent men mak­ing greater progress.

05 there is such a thing as truth

So, what if we took the op­po­site in­tel­lec­tual ap­proach and in­stead of break­ing things down, built them up and looked at how they re­late to other sys­tems? Let us take the car as an ex­am­ple. You tear it apart into en­gine, trans­mis­sion, steer­ing, brakes, etc. The con­clu­sion is clear. The car is a trans­porta­tion de­vice and a great util­ity. All true. But then use the op­po­site process and the car is now ‘black boxed’ and treated holis­ti­cally. So, we look at the sys­tems it in­ter­acts with. It draws in clean air and pushes out pol­lu­tion. You put healthy hu­man be­ing in one door and get dam­aged ones out the other side. The car uses pre­cious non-re­new­able, fos­sil fu­els, which are ir­re­place­able. The car is a now a ma­jor threat to hu­man­ity. Both of these are true. Truth can be a func­tion of the logic we use to ar­rive at it. The point is that things can both be true and not true de­pend­ing on the in­tel­lec­tual process that you ap­ply. It be­comes am­bigu­ous.

When you add all these myths up, it be­comes no sur­prise that lead­er­ship is dif­fi­cult. At best, it is am­bigu­ous. At worst, it is com­pletely para­dox­i­cal and that is one of the rea­sons it needs to change.

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