There are probably six excellent change theories and models, and hundreds of books. Here are a couple of little factoids about the human brain that just cuts to the chase on this topic:
People can only really focus on one big goal at a time. Setting another goal will most likely cancel out the original goal (Rock).
2. Change is hard for everyone and really really hard for some, because it literally sets off alarm bells in the brain (Rock and Schwartz). When navigating a change, take more time than you think should be needed, set up systems for people to have conversations about the change to process it. People need time and coaching to relate, repeat and reframe (Deutschman) their thinking about the changes expected of them. Be ready to be talking about the change long after you have become bored to death with it.
Many people have an intuitive sense about how sensitive people are to their own and others’ status. Some are oblivious. BUT…it is critical that you be mindful of your people’s status. People need to know where they stand, and will respond well when treated appropriately in terms of their status (Rock) (Zinc et al).
People who feel that their status has not been fully recognized will also feel a damaging sense of unfairness which will negatively impact how they feel about their work environment far beyond what might seem rational (Tabibnia). When people act like lunatics, before you judge them, check first to see if someones’ place in the hierarchy has been threatened. Don’t upset the cupcakes, unless you mean to.
You will vastly overestimate what people know, for example, your take on the current context or your reasoning for a specific course of action, assuming that others know what you know and see what you see; this is called False Consensus (Ross et al). Remember this when explaining the nuts and bolts of your vision, strategy and goals. Become accustomed to seeing the world differently from others, and defining reality as you see it regularly, more than you think you should need to (Senge).
Stan Slap once said “Most leaders would just get where they’re going by themselves and send a postcard if they could.” Don’t try it, it won’t work. Stand at the front, hold the map aloft and keep explaining again and again. Long past the point when you are bored.
Feedback: The never ending mystery! Here is yet another installment in the series on what we have to learn about Leadership from the study of neuroscience.
Hire for Feedback Orientation. Individuals, who have feedback orientation like feedback, believe it has value, seek it regularly, have the wherewithal to process feedback with and without help, are sensitive to others’ view of themselves and generally feel accountable to act on feedback (London and Smither). Ask yourself about your own feedback orientation? Are you a role model for asking for and receiving feedback?
2. Build a culture in which feedback is natural and given in the moment. A culture of feedback is :
“…one where individuals continuously receive, solicit, and use formal and informal feedback to improve their job performance. This may be linked to effective policies and programs for performance management, continuous learning and career development. The individual’s feedback orientation depends in part on the support and climate for learning. The more frequent the feedback and the closer it follows the behavior in question, the more likely it is to be accepted. The more support [from you the leader] for learning and development, including the availability of behaviorally-oriented feedback, the more the individual is likely to develop a positive orientation toward feedback. ” (London and Smither)
3. People who have sustained a great deal of trauma are going to have a very hard time distinguishing a real threat from a potential one (Rock). This means that workers who go through rounds of layoffs and are not given new information to raise their levels of certainty will most probably become less and less able to receive any critical feedback. Only people working in an environment where they feel safe will be open to learning, be more likely to have insights and be generally more creative and productive (Gordon).
A new installment in the series on what we have to learn about leadership from the study of neuroscience.
Fear is bad for Business:
Well, it’s true. We suspected that it was, but now we know for sure. No one gets smarter when they are afraid. Living in an environment of constant threat erodes creativity and cognitive ability (Phelps) (Gordon).
Expectations have real power. The disappointment of expectations feels much worse to people than simply not liking events or policies when something happens. If an employee has an expectation of a reward or promotion that is not met, the brain feels just terrible. It is critical to manage expectations carefully to avoid people feeling awful and taking it out on each other or even more likely, your customers (Rock).
1. The division between thoughts and feelings is in fact an artificial one. From a brain standpoint they are indistinguishable (Phelps). The best ways to understand what you are thinking and feeling is to make time to reflect upon them, (Ochsner et al) and use language to label them (Lieberman et al). This means you will need a trusted advisor who will listen to you, e.g.: get a coach if you don’t already have one.
2. Habits are driven by the unconscious. Some are useful, some are not. It serves you well to notice your habits, examine each one and choose whether or not you want to allow it to continue (Rock).
1. You can choose what happens in your head when you are not thinking about anything in particular by choosing to be mindful instead of simply letting your mind wander in what is known as the “default network”. Mindfullness is defined as:
a) Self regulating attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment
b) Adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance (Bishop et al).
By practicing mindfulness you can choose to pay attention to sensory information coming in. What you pay attention to is what you are conscious of (Rock)(Berman).
2. What you choose to pay attention to can dictate the quality of your mood, your quality of life and the quality of life of people around you. Pay attention to the past and you will end up ruminating uselessly, whereas when you stay focused on the present, you get useful information about what is going on with your own thoughts and feelings (Tang et al) (Hassed).
3. One of your key jobs as a leader is to continually remind your people of what to pay attention to (Hassed).
Pioneers in the coaching profession began coaching people using age old wisdom gleaned from history, philosophy, art, spirituality, anthropology, psychology, psychiatry and business. The techniques we used were built from trial and error, when we found ones that worked we simply kept using them even if we didn’t necessarily know how or why they worked. The great value of the study of neuroscience in the context of leadership is that what we intuitively knew to be true is in fact supported by the scientific research. The following will be part of a series over the next few weeks. Each item is short referenced, full references available on request.
Your Brain is Key:
Take care of your Pre-Frontal Cortex, the “seat of judgment”. It requires rest and glucose. It fatigues easily though you don’t necessarily feel it when it is tired (the way you do when you are physically tired). Every decision you make adds to “decisions fatigue” and erodes your energy for thinking things through (Beameister). Your ability to regulate your emotions and make good decisions declines with fatigue. People who make consistently good decisions aren’t necessarily smarter; rather they know when they are not at their best:
I recently spent seven days on a deserted island with just my husband. No children, no family, no friends, no cellphones, no iPhone, no blackberry, no computers, no internet, no TV. No work projects that make us feel guilty that we said we would do but don’t. This is the 6th year we have done this, we try to do it every year but with work and four kids, sometimes we just can’t swing it. We walked, we read, we paddled around in the water, my husband played his guitar. We did some light snorkeling. When we walked, we talked. About our kids – we have four 22,19,14 and 12, all of whom need something different from us. About our jobs – we work together and we work constantly- about our health, about our disappointments and dreams. How we are different today that we were 6 months or a year ago. How we are growing, how we would like to grow. We always have a few epiphanies. This year I realized that I had let my work dictate my schedule and that my health is suffering because of it. Now, some folks don’t have a choice in this area, but I specifically built my life so that I would, so it is completely my own doing. How is it possible that I had not seen this? I needed some distance.
The jury is out on the topic of what this modern 24/7 connectedness is doing to our brains. I am quite certain it is making us smarter in a lot of ways, and that my children’s brains will literally be wired differently from my own. But I do know this for sure: taking seven days to completely unplug is one of the healthiest things you can do to refresh yourself and get some perspective. If you are married, doing it with your spouse will result in a healthier marriage. You don’t have to go anyplace fancy or expensive. It is really hard to get coverage for work and kids but it is so worth it. Nobody died because I didn’t answer my phone for seven days. No, a four day weekend won’t do it. If you give yourself permission, and save up vacation days, you can actually do it.
In a recent 360 degree Feedback coaching session with a guy who is clearly a talented manager and completely decent human being, he saw that he needs to give more feedback, more coaching, and more praise in general. He said “It must be my background, I grew up on a farm, and in my family, a job well done was its own reward.” So true. So many high achievers didn’t get feedback themselves as they were rising through the ranks, so it never occurs to them to give it.
Everyone wants feedback – the good, the bad and the specific. I submit that all you have to do is pay attention and let people know what they are doing that is great – specifically – and what they might want to tweak. Jobs today are so complicated and often opaque, a job well done is often hard to define – it isn’t as obvious as a clean barn or a full truck. So it really is the manager’s job to help their people see what a good job looks like and then to assure when a good job has been done.