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The Dangers of Groupthink

Source: pixabay.com/pexels.com/CC0 license
Source: pixabay.com/pexels.com/CC0 license

Everyone one of us has blind spots. But we often don’t see them until someone points them out. As leaders rise through the ranks, the less honest feedback they receive from peers.

A high-level executive can become isolated. They surround themselves with people who won’t report negative information. They’re afraid to deliver bad news for fear of repercussions. Not knowing the reality of a situation means you can get into a distorted bubble. A lack of information can lead to poor decisions. You go down a path that’s a mistake from the get-go, but nobody tells you.

When Daniel Goleman spoke with Bill George for Leadership: A Master Class, they discussed what Bill learned from a first-hand experience with the dangers of groupthink.

“Early in my life, I worked in the U.S. Department of Defense as a civilian in the year of Robert McNamara and the Vietnam War. Some of the most brilliant people I’ve met in my life were at the high levels of the Pentagon. But toward the end they were walking off the cliff together. They suffered from groupthink. McNamara was so powerful. His team simply reinforced what he was saying. They didn’t take different perspectives.

Any good leader needs to have a reliable team who will ask tough questions, or poke holes in logic.

Another time one of my co-workers asked, “Do you think everyone agreed with that decision in the meeting?” I said, “Yeah, they all said yes, and at the end. We even voted.”

His response was an eye-opener. “Well, there were three people backing their managers that were so angry, they could hardly speak to you because you  blew over them, and forced them to say yes.”

After some thought I knew he was right. I had to go back, tail between my legs, and say, “I’m really sorry. I guess I didn’t hear what you were really saying.” That allowed me to be open to honest conversation.

I also learned that it’s not just looking for and appreciating feedback from that special trusted group, but bringing the attitude with you to the office. I now try to surround myself with people who have diverse viewpoints.”

Fine tune your executive management skills with Daniel Goleman’s video series, Leadership: A Master Class.

Additional resources

The Coaching Program is an online streaming learning series for executives, highlighting methods for enhancing any leader or manager’s effectiveness, creativity, and ability to connect with their teams.

The C-Suite Toolkit is designed for senior management (or those new to senior management positions) seeking a comprehensive reference library from the most respected business and leadership experts of our time.

The Competency Builder program was created to assist workers at all levels learn how to work more mindfully, improve focus, handle daily stresses better, and use these skills to increase their effectiveness. A great resource for any HR library.

The EI Overview provides easy-to-understand insights into proven-effective ways managers can best employ leadership styles, as well as develop the areas where they lack.

 

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Flex Your Mental Muscle

Think of your mind as a muscle: You need to keep it in great shape.

Adapted from Dr. Jutta Tobias‘s conversation with Elad Levinson, recorded for his online course Thriving on Change.

mental muscle
Image: Business Insider. DOTS App

Mindfulness training isn’t much different than muscle training. Just like working out regularly and consistently will show a gradual growth in your biceps and quads, the more you practice mindfulness the bigger your mental muscle becomes to approach situations differently and in a more open-minded way.

Working out your mental muscle and toning your mindfulness is a door-opener to endless beneficial skills for leaders, such a resilience, open-mindedness, self-control, patience, and regulating impulses. Being patient with yourself as you develop your mindfulness will indirectly slow down your impulse to judge situations quickly.

Think of your mind as a muscle: You need to keep it in great shape.
Credit: rgh.cc

If you wake up one morning after doing nothing but sitting on the couch and eating chips for weeks and decide to run a marathon, chances are you will not succeed. Similarly, you cannot wake up in the morning and decide, “Today I’m going to be in complete control of my emotions,” or, “Today I’m going to take total charge of my impulses.” In order to become directly in charge of your emotions, you must work at it indirectly layer-by-layer through training in mindfulness practice.

Emotions can be very fickle
Credit: entrepreneur.com

Emotions are fickle and sometimes can never be directly controlled. Because emotions are deeply functional and have been our survival method for millennia, your boss can’t simply approach you and say, “Just be happy now!” However, you can follow this “work-out program” to begin your journey to a happier, more mindful life.

  1. Focus your attention on the here-and-now. Really emphasize the importance of the task at hand.
  2. Focus on your sensory experience, and see if you can become aware of how quickly or rashly you might be judging situations.
  3. Become more adept at seeing multiple perspectives. Look at everyone involved in a situation and try to see it from their point of view.
  4. Attempt to see each challenging situation not as a daunting, impossible task, but as an opportunity to learn and grow.

If you can begin to grasp those concepts, you are taking the first steps to creating a link between mindfulness and resilience, and becoming an effective decision maker in both your personal life and within your organization.

Dr. Jutta Tobias has been published in the Journal of Business Venturing for her work on entrepreneurial and social change in Rwanda, received several academic awards (including the President’s Award from her doctoral alma mater, Washington State University), worked with clients such as Goldman-Sachs and the United States Congress, co-facilitated non-violence workshops in United States/United Kingdom prisons, and holds counselling qualification from the University of Cambridge. Dr. Tobais is also a contributor to our Praxis You course, Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit.

thriving on change

You’re invited to preview our new online course, Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit for free here. Module 1 is now available for purchase.

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What Are Business Schools Missing?

business school
Image: Amy C. Edmondson

The following is an excerpt of Elad Levinson’s interview with Leadership Development News.

It’s no secret that I’m not thrilled with the environment of today’s business schools and management training. The business world wants leaders, but the education only gives their students the skills to be workers. A recent Bloomberg study about the skills gap that executives are finding in corporations says the four areas that are really missing in business education are:

  1. Problem Solving
  2. Decision Making
  3. Leadership Skills
  4. Communication Skills

These four skills are missing pieces that have been sighted since 2001 when I first started reading Josh Bersin and Company’s annual report to the Learning Development world. Some companies are highly engaged with the personal development of their employees and actually provide them with formal training to make up for the slack in their education. They put them in situations that cause them to cultivate their problem solving and decision making skills, and have a mentor/coach follow up with them. This open stream of communication helps organizations view their new employees not as workers, but as their leaders of tomorrow.

A company I worked with, ICANN, was a 13 year-old start up with a very small staff responsible for the resilience, safety, and security of the internet. The staff was filled with very bright and skilled personnel, but never had any formal training. I wanted them to be well-rounded, adaptable individuals, but to get there these four skills have to be a required part of the performance management process. If employees are responsible for problem solving and decision making but it isn’t part of their performance management process, they’re (understandably) just going to ignore it or find a way around it.

From my own experience, I have found the case study method to be the most effective. My online course, Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit, uses three pillars – mindful awareness, focused attention and intentional relaxation, and cultivating goodwill – as major skills areas that are required for employees to develop a foundation that they can grow from. These skills allow them to be better equipped to handle any challenges and tough judgments that arise.

Thriving On Change teaches you to not only listen to other people, direct reports, or peers, but to really hear what they’re saying. Your coworkers’ views and words are just as relevant to a collaborative environment as yours. But to hear them properly you have to be able to put aside your views, opinions, and biases first. You have to be able to bring a kind of neutrality and objectivity to the decision making process.

A lot of conflict arises due to the lack of communication, leadership, and decisive skills, which is where mindfulness and goodwill comes in. If you’re going to generate goodwill in your workplace and life, you have to be skilled at conflict resolution. Mindfulness is one thing, but you have to be able to stand the heat when people have differences of opinion and strong negative emotions. Mindfulness goes out the door if you don’t also have the confidence to be able to skillfully have that conversation.

thriving on change

Preview the free Introductory Module from Thriving on Change here.

Learn more about the course here.

Download Elad’s free ebook, Learn to Dance on Jello here.

Elad Levinson, head lecturer for the Praxis You course Thriving on Change, has over 45 years of experience as a leadership coach and organizational consultant. He’s currently the Senior Organization Effectiveness Consultant at 4128Associates

Elad has been a senior organization development and learning and development professional at Agilent, Stanford University, ICANN and several start-ups. He was the first to apply the stress theory to business and leadership at many of these organizations.

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Why a Fluid Leadership Style Gets Results

Leaders who have mastered four or more leadership styles – especially the authoritative, democratic, affiliative, and coaching – have the very best climate and business performance. And the most effective leaders switch flexibly among the leadership styles as needed.Such leaders don’t mechanically match their style to fit a checklist of situations – they are far more fluid. They are exquisitely sensitive to the impact they are having on others and seamlessly adjust their style to get the best results.

Fluid Leadership In Action

Consider Joan, the general manager of a major division at a global food and beverage company. Joan was appointed to her job while the division was in a deep crisis. It had not made its profit targets for six years; in the most recent year, it had missed by $50 million. Morale among the top management team was miserable; mistrust and resentments were rampant.

Joan’s directive from above was clear: turn the division around. Joan did so with a nimbleness in switching among leadership styles that is rare. From the start, she realized she had a short window to demonstrate effective leadership and to establish rapport and trust. She also knew that she urgently needed to be informed about what was not working, so her first task was to listen to key people.

During her first week on the job she had lunch and dinner meetings with each member of the management team. Joan sought to get each person’s understanding of the current situation. But her focus was not so much on learning how each person diagnosed the problem as on getting to know each manager as a person. Here Joan employed the affiliative style: she explored their lives, dreams, and aspirations.

She also stepped into the coaching role, looking for ways she could help the team members achieve what they wanted in their careers. She followed the one-on-one conversations with a three-day off-site meeting. Her goal here was team building, so that everyone would own whatever solution for the business problems emerged. Her initial stance at the offsite meeting was that of a democratic leader. She encouraged everyone to express freely their frustrations and complaints.

The next day, Joan had the group focus on solutions: each person made three specific proposals about what needed to be done. As Joan clustered the suggestions, a natural consensus emerged about priorities for the business, such as cutting costs. As the group came up with specific action plans, Joan got the commitment and buy-in she sought.

With that vision in place, Joan shifted into the authoritative style, assigning accountability for each follow-up step to specific executives and holding them responsible for their accomplishment.

Over the following months, Joan’s main stance was authoritative. She continually articulated the group’s new vision in a way that reminded each member of how his or her role was crucial to achieving these goals. And, especially during the first few weeks of the plan’s implementation, Joan felt that the urgency of the business crisis justified an occasional shift into the coercive style should someone fail to meet his or her responsibility. As she put it, “I had to be brutal about this follow-up and make sure this stuff happened. It was going to take discipline and focus.”

The results? Every aspect of climate improved. People were innovating. They were talking about the division’s vision and crowing about their commitment to new, clear goals. The ultimate proof of Joan’s fluid leadership style is written in black ink: after only seven months, her division exceeded its yearly profit target by $5 million.

Expand Your Repertory

Few leaders, of course, have all six styles in their repertory, and even fewer know when and how to use them. In fact, as these findings have been shown to leaders in many organizations, the most common responses have been, “But I have only two of those!” and, “I can’t use all those styles. It wouldn’t be natural.”

Such feelings are understandable, and in some cases, the antidote is relatively simple. The leader can build a team with members who employ styles she lacks.

Take the case of a VP for manufacturing. She successfully ran a global factory system largely by using the affiliative style. She was on the road constantly, meeting with plant managers, attending to their pressing concerns, and letting them know how much she cared about them personally.”¨ She left the division’s strategy – extreme efficiency – to a trusted lieutenant with a keen understanding of technology, and she delegated its performance standards to a colleague who was adept at the authoritative approach. She also had a pacesetter on her team who always visited the plants with her.

An alternative approach is for leaders to expand their own style repertories. To do so, leaders must first understand which emotional intelligence competencies underlie the leadership styles they are lacking. They can then work assiduously to increase their quotient of them.

For instance, an affiliative leader has strengths in three emotional intelligence competencies: in empathy, in building relationships, and in communication. Empathy – sensing how people are feeling in the moment – allows the affiliative leader to respond to employees in a way that is highly congruent with that person’s emotions, thus building rapport. The affiliative leader also displays a natural ease in forming new relationships, getting to know someone as a person, and cultivating a bond.

Finally, the outstanding affiliative leader has mastered the art of interpersonal communication, particularly in saying just the right thing or making the apt symbolic gesture at just the right moment. So if you are primarily a pacesetting leader who wants to be able to use the affiliative style more often, you would need to improve your level of empathy and, perhaps, your skills at building relationships or communicating effectively.

As another example, an authoritative leader who wants to add the democratic style to his repertory might need to work on the capabilities of collaboration and communication.

Hour to hour, day to day, week to week, executives must play their leadership styles like golf clubs, the right one at just the right time and in the right measure. The payoff is in the results.

Excerpt from Daniel Goleman’s book, What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters.

 

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What makes a leader: why emotional intelligence matters

Daniel Goleman’s What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters is the author’s collection of business journal writings on his key actionable findings about leadership and emotional intelligence. This often-cited, proven-effective material is essential for stellar management, performance and innovation. The collection makes available his most sought-after writings in one single volume.

The collection reflects how Dr. Goleman’s thinking has evolved about emotional intelligence, tracking the latest neuroscientific research on the dynamics of relationships, and the latest data on the impact emotional intelligence has on an organization’s bottom-line.

The articles have become essential reading for leaders, coaches and educators committed to fostering stellar management, increasing performance, and driving innovation.

Print copy available March 14, 2014. Digital copies available in early February.

Save 30% on pre-orders of 20 or more copies. Email mike@morethansound.net for details.