Leadership, Chameleon Style
Mind or Heart?
“Think before you act”. This is what we have heard all of our lives. Principles, dogma and models are designed to guide our thinking in avoiding mistakes. However, in truth, there is no model that has accuracy in the form of anything above a correlation. In other words, as the environment around us constantly changes, we are left with our intuitions, not served by the guarantees of models and modern science alone. In a very revolutionary study of molecular biology, Bruce Lipton Ph.D. was able to show that it is the communication within cells and in between cells that defines what takes place within cells. In other words, even at a molecular and a cell level, awareness rather than biology was at work; “a cell was either in defense mode or in growth mode- It could not be in both at once.
Our thinking often times betrays us into making decisions that are limiting, disempowering, safe and disengaging, rather than growth oriented.
During the past two decades, there have been a series of studies, theories and discussions surrounding effective leadership, leadership styles, and the leader-follower mix called leader-member exchange theory. At the heart of all of these theories is the concept that there is no one size fits all but also the concept of Authentic Leadership, which I would like to emphasize as mindful leadership. In an age where competition is global and technologies are quickly changing performance is obviously a big expectation. However, when all said and done, as opposed to common belief, studies have found that “Leadership soft skills” are often why CEO’s get replaced not necessarily the bottom-line. In my over 18 years of practice as an I/O psychologist and executive coach, I have been entrusted and privileged to coach many executives whom have believed they have done the “right thing”, taken the guidance of their superiors, acted according to company policy and what was expected of them and have come to face great turmoil, stress, and even a nervous breakdown.
It no longer surprises me but rather pains me to see the many examples of leaders who struggle in the attempt to be one way at work, while their “true” identity is different outside of work. I have in fact heard the same theme: “I am Type A and work and I am type B at home”. Or that “I have to act it, if I want to win it”. So why is it surprising when employee engagement survey after engagement survey comes back to haunt organizations with lowest scores on employees lack of trust in leadership.
Cognitive bias describes the inherent thinking errors that humans make in processing information. Band wagon bias, confirmation bias, mere exposure effect, congruency bias etc. are just a few examples of the various form of “tricks” are minds play on us. Some of these have been verified empirically in the field of psychology, while others are considered general categories of bias. However, over the centuries, our reliance on science and technology, models, theories and rationale have shown over and over that relying on hard data or our mind in decision-making does not guarantee results and neither does it win a following in leadership. In fact, our mind is colluded with previous experiences, pains, fears and judgments that cloud our judgment and make us aversive to making the right decisions. Our reptilian and mammalian brains (residing within the limbic system) are designed to stick to the status quo. Their primary task is self-preservation. In other words, our brains are wired to prioritize safety, so fear is what is naturally a focal point of our attention. So in essence, when we think, we “think” we are relying on our mental maps, or raw emotions to guide the process of decision-making and often times, these emotions are unrelated to the decision at hand.
What if I were to tell you that the secret to making smarter decisions could lie in emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a term used in psychology to signal the ability to identify and relate both to your emotions and the emotions of others.
According to a study by Stéphane Côté, a professor in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, Emotional Intelligence protects individuals from being guided by their cognitive biases.
In this study, published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers conducted a series of experiments to evaluate how different levels of emotional intelligence in various individuals, influenced their decision-making. In one such experiment, the researchers found that anxiety had a great effect on a decision involving risk with people measured to have lower emotional intelligence, when the anxiety had nothing to do with the decision at hand. On the other hand, this anxiety seemed to be blocked in people with high emotional intelligence.
The researchers were able to demonstrate that emotional intelligence had the ability to help guide many other emotions besides anxiety that were not just negative and instead focus on emotions that were positive such as excitement. Furthermore, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research also demonstrated that emotional intelligence had a strong role in decision-making by helping people realize their emotions.
It is of course thanks to some very discombobulated literature that the world of leadership and organization development seems to be misled. In an article written in Harvard Business Review, which is a highly regarded sources for many in management including myself, I was disturbed to find that Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones believed that “Authenticity is not the product of pure manipulation. It accurately reflects aspects of the leader’s inner self, so it can’t be an act. But great leaders seem to know which personality traits they should reveal to whom and when. They are like chameleons, capable of adapting to the demands of the situations they face and the people they lead”.
They go on to discuss a case regarding a man they called Bill who “could not mimic his superiors’ political savvy” in a utility company and “started to loose his way” and “alternated between indecision” hence was called a “failed leader”. What was confused here was the concept of politics and authenticity. The truth is that more often than not, organizations choose leaders because of their skill sets, including their intuitions and instinct and promote them for those same qualities, however when those same successful leaders get to a certain height in the organization and want to stick to their instincts as they always have, they are met with rebuttal and bias because they simply won’t bend. So no, Authentic leadership is not being a “chameleon” as Goffee and Gareth propose. In fact, that analogy does not even relate. Because science has shown that when chameleons change color, they are not adapting to their environment, they are displaying their moods/emotions in relationship to their environment and their emotions happen to influence the tint of their skin similar to us humans when we blush for example as a results of feeling embarrassed for example. In truth Authentic leadership is being true to yourself and true to the greater good. This is sometimes not necessarily the good of the powerful few.
The hard truth is that the corporate world supports the concept of putting on many faces, mixed agendas, expectations, quick judgments and lack of uniqueness and real expression. However, it is up to the individual, to support this notion.
Emotional intelligence training which directly ties in to the concept of authenticity, and mindfulness can be a guiding principle; a way of work and life.
Here are six everyday practices that can help guide your vision to continue to practice emotional intelligence and authentic living wherever:
- Take time everyday to listen to the chatter of your mind, record it, but then don’t decide through it. Instead listen to the quiet voice deep within which is your heart.
- Connect your heart, and your health in all your decisions.
- Lead with your values not your immediate thoughts or emotions; they are your essence and have been and will be always true to you.
- Connect with people from where they are, not from where you want them to be and allow the acceptance on both sides to guide the trust.
- Be guided toward your true potential by making all your decisions from the heart.
- Have a thirst for mystery and learning without fear and you will attract a following that highly regards character rather than reputation.
Farnaz Namin, Ph.D. is a psychologist, executive coach, speaker and bestselling author with the Center for Work Life. For insider tips and exclusive content join the newsletter at www.centerforworlife.com