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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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Only Compassionate Action Can Bridge the Empathy Gap

 

Source: snapwiresnaps.tumblr.com/pexels.com/CC0 license
Source: snapwiresnaps.tumblr.com/pexels.com/CC0 license

A portion of this article contains excerpts from Daniel Goleman’s book, A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World.

Annie came to America while she was pregnant to assure her abusive husband would never be able to reach their children, as being born on American soil would make them citizens. She has been waiting for her green card for seven years, terrified she’ll be deported and separated from her twin boys. They live in a small, two-bedroom apartment and her boys walk five miles to school through a questionable neighborhood to get to school every day while she works three jobs. She leaves before sunrise and gets home well after dark every day, and hasn’t had a day off in three years. Her only solace is their elderly neighbor, Rosa. She loves cooking dinner for the boys and helping them with their homework, as her own children are grown and gone.

Susan is a CEO at a major corporation, and can not only afford childcare, but to have live-in assistance around the house. She can stock her fridge with the best, organic food, and her children are able to take weekly horseback riding and water polo lessons. She lives in a gated community, drives an eco-friendly car, and is able to take time off at her leisure to spend with her children. She went to college for business so she could take over her father’s corporation when he retired, and her children will never have to worry about affording a higher education.

Annie and Susan are similar women who live in the same city. They’re both single working mothers. They love their two children, and work hard to provide them with the best lives possible. They are the same age, like the same music, and are both reading a Milan Kundera novel in their free time. Annie tries to order a coffee (the sole luxury she allows herself to splurge on) and is fumbling around for change at the bottom of her purse. She’s desperate to avoid the public embarrassment that comes with not being able to afford $3.92 for a drink. She apologizes profusely for holding up the line, and manages to leave a crumpled, well-intentioned dollar bill in the tip jar. Susan, behind her in line, taps her foot impatiently and audibly sighs, even though she could easily buy Annie twenty coffees without ever noticing a lack in funds. When it’s finally Susan’s turn, she doesn’t look up from her phone as she orders, and puts an X over the tip space on her credit card receipt.

Why wouldn’t Susan just help Annie, or the hard-working people at the coffee shop?

In Daniel Goleman‘s recent book, A Force for Good, he interviewed Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Throughout his studies and a series of experiments, Dr. Keltner has concluded that in direct encounters, a person of higher status – or privilege – is significantly more prone to disregarding a person of lower status. On the contrary, a person of lower status is much more likely to pay attention and show compassion to other people, regardless of their status.

“Those with few resources and fragile circumstances – like a single mother working two jobs to pay her bills who needs a neighbor to look after her three-year-old – depend on having good relationships with those may one day turn to for help,” Goleman writes.

 

Wealthier individuals, in contrast, are able to afford help as needed – they don’t rely on the goodwill of the people surrounding them. Keltner suggests that because the rich can afford to tune out other people, they also learn to tune out the needs and suffering of others. In organizations and corporations, he observed that when high- and low- ranking people interact, the higher person avoids eye contact, interrupts, and steam rolls over the conversation.

John Ogbu, the late Nigerian anthropologist from UC Berkeley, noted that Berkely had a de facto caste system, much to Goleman’s surprise. Ethnic minorities and the while middle class were centralized in different, but defined, parts of town. The schools were in between them, separating the caste lines.

“The moment he pointed [the caste lines] out, I saw he was right. But until then that glaring fact had been under the social radar for me – while I was going to those very schools, I hadn’t given it a second thought,” Goleman reflects.

The Dalai Lama has a lot to say on this topic of socioeconomic divides, and added the aspect of faith to the conversation. Followers of certain religions believe social order determines their destiny. If someone is in a lower class, it is because they deserve to be there. If someone is in a higher class, it is because they have a greater destiny.

[Listen to The Empathy Gap, an excerpt from A Force for Good.]

The wealthy and elite have many reasons for justifying their choice to ignore the needs and suffering of those around them. They displace the blame to the elect, saying change is out of their control or this is the way it’s always been (a feeble guise for their willful ignorance). They may profess “God made them [the worse off] that way,” or believe a divine being decided these people should be below them. The Dalai Lama dismisses this as totally wrong, and nothing but flimsy excuses for callousness. He calls upon people with the privilege and ability to make change to do so.

“You can repeat ”˜equality, equality’ a thousand times,” the Dalai Lama says, asking his followers to act, not just sympathize. “But in reality, other forces take over.” Awareness without action following means nothing.

There is little empathy in the business and political leaders of today, and little thought is given to how it will affect those without access to power when they make decisions. This callousness makes the gap between the classes, between the tops and bottom of organizations, between the castes invisible. This lack of compassion becomes the norm when it isn’t acknowledged, and isn’t just a problem in Berkeley, California. It’s prevalent everywhere, and can only be changed by action.

Like Gandhi once said, “Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use.”

Become a force for good

Join A Force for Good initiative here.

Audio excerpts

Listen to other excerpts from A Force for Good:

Wise Selfish

The Empathy Gap

A Boyhood Passion

Constructive Anger vs. Destructive Emotions

Partnering with Science

Doing Good While Doing Well

 

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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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How Compassion Can Transform Your Organization

thriving on change

The following is an excerpt of Elad Levinson’s interview with Leadership Development News.It’s no secret that the “softer” personality traits aren’t as valued in organizations. Empathy, self-reflection, and goodwill take the backseat to efficiency, results, and profits. What would you say if I told you that fostering the former skills would actually improve the latter?

Jane Dutton, one of the founders of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship and University of Michigan Roth School of Business, has been studying and researching compassion in the workplace. Her research shows that when you train in mindfulness, it has an immediate impact on the quality of your relationships with your colleagues.

Mindfulness and compassion in the workplace happens in three ways:

Responsibility

You take more responsibility for your own reactions to situations. Instead of being unaware of the impact you have on the people around you – whether it be the team you manage, the project you’re a part of, or even in your personal life outside of work – you begin to step back and observe. Once you are able to view yourself from a semi-objective standpoint, you will find that your actions, positive or negative, may have been really influencing outcomes.

Listening

Your listening skills will be immediately impacted. When you are mindful, you tend to be able to put aside your internal reactions to things and really listen to someone and what they are experiencing. As a result, you will improve in being able to include other people and their experiences with the problems you’re trying to solve, which will make not only you, but your team, happier and more efficient.

Warmth

You just might become warmer. You become more interested in others. There is a sense of concern that the people around you might translate as, “I’m with you, not against you. I’m here for you and interested in your growth and development.”

What people like Jane Dutton and myself are trying to say is that there is room for compassion in the workplace. Work should not be a place you have to completely turn yourself off. Practicing mindfulness and compassion in the workplace can start with you; give it some time and you just might notice your colder co-workers warming up to you, and your workplace become a more enjoyable place.

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.

 

 

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A Mindful Workplace: Shifting from Difficulty to Opportunity

Praxis You

Mirabai Bush, co-founder of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and long-time mindfulness coach for organizations, has noticed the positive impact mindfulness techniques can have on employees throughout her 40+ year career. Below is an excerpt of her conversation with Elad Levinson, creator and facilitator of the upcoming Praxis You course, Thriving on Change.

Benefits of a Mindful Workplace

“When I began introducing mindfulness methods to co-workers or clients, the most noticeable shift was that people became more present with difficulty. They didn’t repress it or push it away. They were better able to say, “Okay, here’s a difficult situation. What are our options? What are the possibilities? What can we do with it?” I began to see a calmness and acceptance in difficult moments.

People also started to accept change with more ease. As you may know, when we practice mindfulness, we learn to see that everything is changing all the time. We watch our mind and our body. We notice thoughts and physical sensations rise and fall away. Sensations are changing. Ideas are changing. We become much more comfortable with change.

When I first started working with Google, I was intrigued by a real-time projection of what people were Googling. The whole wall was a projection of all these questions, phrases and fragments going up the wall, and then disappearing. I thought, “This is the global mind at work.” Just the way you watch your own mind in meditation, you’re getting to watch what the global mind is thinking and letting go of.

Back to coping with change. When I worked with a large chemical company in the mid-”˜90s, there was always a possibility they were going to be bought by somebody else. It was that period of mergers and acquisitions. The employees were always really worried about job security. I would focus our mindfulness practice retreats on dealing with change.

We discovered that the more comfortable we become with change, the more we can just be with whatever arises. Including a job loss. And that’s not to minimize that such a change could cause suffering. But we’d be able to be there with that suffering. That presence and awareness was huge in terms of developing leaders.”

Praxis You

Sign up for More Than Sound’s free newsletter to learn how and when to register for my Praxis You course, Thriving on Change. Email mike@morethansound.net to sign up.

Take a Survey

To help us develop useful, practical courses for you, please take a few moments to complete a very short survey. As a thank you, we’ll give you free access to module one of our first course, Thriving on Change. Be sure to provide your email address when you’re done with the survey.

Podcasts

Mirabai Bush on founding The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Mirabai Bush and Daniel Goleman on the importance of self-awareness and self-regulation

Coping with Change guided exercise

Practice Emotional Intelligence

Additional Resources

Working with Mindfulness: Research and Practice of Mindful Techniques in Organizations

Working with Mindfulness Guided Audio Exercises (CD or digital download)

Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence

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Distraction: How Americans Manage Stress

Avoiding Stress Doesn’t Help You Manage Stress

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