In part 1 of this blog, I raised some questions about the need to change our approach to leadership during and beyond this coronavirus crisis to nurture and sustain the quality of organisations’ climates. In so doing, I revisited some of organisational psychology’s foundational theories, notably the work of Kurt Lewin. In this second part, focusing on Lewin’s seminal environment formula that avers behaviour to be a function of personality and situation, I explore why understanding one’s own and your employees’ personality is so important to creating a healthy climate.
Are you relying on the “scientific evidence”?
Social media displays countless articles about managing teams dislocated from their normal, intact work location to working from home. Many offer novel suggestions to deal with the novel virus. However, do they fall into one of three less effective categories of “science” (or research), namely popularist, puerile or pedantic, see Figure (1) below.
The curse of the virus
“May you live in interesting times,” states the Chinese curse. Courtesy of a global pandemic that arose in Wuhan in the Chinese province of Hubei, we certainly are. (Conspiracy theorists may counter that America introduced the virus covertly into China, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/12/conspiracy-theory-that-coronavirus-originated-in-us-gaining-traction-in-china.) The world is in lockdown. Even President Trump has had to backtrack from saying it was a non-event and all would be sorted by Easter to saying things are going to get far worse. The picture of the huge US navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, entering New York harbour is deeply dispiriting.
T is for training
Does training (or L&D) activity add value? Is there a return on the investment, if, indeed, the C-suite regards it as such rather than an expensive, preferably avoidable cost? An article entitled “The Great Training Robbery”, published by Harvard Business School, merits reading during the festive season, see https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/16-121_bc0f03ce-27de-4479-a90e-9d78b8da7b67.pdf. It says US firms spend something like $165 BILLION on “development” of which 90% generates NO performance uplift within 12 months.
The new vogue of e-training commoditises learning into read this, watch this, listen to this, do this tick-box exercises. This may satisfy compliance but the learning cycle of acquisition, assimilation and application of new knowledge does not complete a full cycle. The old practice of discussing expectations of performance uplift before undertaking any training, reviewing and committing to them immediately afterwards then subsequently tracking progress appears to be a redundant managerial practice. Is it all too humdrum?
Might that have something to do with the job descriptions including leading the team and growing its capability as the last in the list of objectives – see my previous blog (letter S)?
N is for nature or nurture
Have you ever heard a midwife say, “Congratulations, you’ve given birth to a leader / manager”? No! It suggests leadership is almost entirely nurture than nature?
Research about the psychology of leadership is extensive, yet still there is no one single model. David McClelland writes about personalised and socialised power. Sadly, I see far too many personalised powered, autocratic leaders . Where are the servant leaders that Robert Greenleaf writes about, see https://hbr.org/2015/09/new-managers-need-a-philosophy-about-how-theyll-lead?
As our understanding grows about the workings of the human brain, will we see more biological, physical and chemical processes identifed to have causal impact on leadership potential and subsequent practice? I’m holding my breath regarding any cogent conclusions concerning politicians!
Many people like putting letters after their names, e,g. honours and educational qualifications. Perhaps we should limit the choice to the following two options. As a colleague of my late father remarked of him, “He was the best effing bastard I worked for.” What are you, an organisational climate bolstering BFB or merely an FB who sucks all life out of the room they’re in?
I am enjoying teaching my 18-month old granddaughter new words using wonderfully colourful Dorling Kindersley books . It’s marvellous as we go for walks around our village and she spots cats, dogs, horses, cows, birds and butterflies (pronounced blies). Using the word “despondent” to describe Eeyore is beyond her pronunciation ability yet, but I succeeded in getting my eldest daughter to describe herself as obstreperous (“optrous”) by the time she was two. We’ll see how my granddaughter’s eloquence progresses over the next six months.
This joyous activity gave cause to this Grandad to consider how some of the keystone words from the lexicon of organisational leadership are used… and abused. Accordingly, here is the first half of the alphabet with my thoughts about the real meaning of some of those vital words; more next month!
Acres of hardcopy material and megabytes of softcopy content have been written about Greta Thunberg. This 16-year old Swedish girl started the Friday school strike phenomenon to protest against what she regards as government and corporate inaction to combat climate change. An article in the Sunday Times on August 18th suggested she is being manipulated by others taking advantage of her Asperger’s syndrome, see https://www.thetimes.co.uk/past-six-days/2019-08-18/news-review/greta-thunberg-and-the-plot-to-forge-a-climate-warrior-9blhz9mjv.
Putting that aside, however, what if Greta is right and our planet is standing Tom Daly-like on its tiptoes on the edge of a very high diving board and could all too easily plummet into some catastrophic climatic cauldron? As coaches, mentors, managers or leaders, are we providing destabilising counsel that cumulatively will increase the likelihood of that fall occurring? Or, are we exerting enough influence upon those we work with to cause them to start to think differently or, cliché warning, to think outside the box?
This time last month, the commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings were starting to be held. I found them moving, poignant and dignified. Most memorable were the remarks of those who had taken part, whose numbers, like the tides on the Normandy beaches, are ebbing away due to their age. Yet what astonishing and remarkable men and women they were. Never forgotten.
Unlike my 95-year old mother who was a WRN stationed in Weymouth during Operation Overlord, their memories have remained pin sharp and crystal clear. The understated manner in which they spoke about their experiences of the ferocity and horror of battle was humbling. There was no 21st century scream of “Me, me, me!”. Instead, their laser-like compassionate focus was on their comrades, especially those who were killed or injured.
During the last four weeks, I have re-read many articles written about the commemorations. What struck me most powerfully was the vocabulary used to describe the behaviours, motives and values of the soldiers, sailors and pilots. (Pleasingly, due recognition is now being paid to the countless women involved, many working covertly behind enemy lines or diligently in logistical activities, such as Mum.) These words resonated strongly with me. They bear repeating, so here in a random order is a selection:
So sang Pink Floyd in 1979 on their Christmas number 1 single Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 from their album The Wall. It was a protest against rigid, didactic education.
Let’s start this month’s essay with a musical philosophy question.
In the 1960s, the Who sang “The kids are alright”. In 1998, The Offspring sang “The kids aren’t alright”. Which group had the more prescient song?