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.
The wobbly stool of personality
I liken personality to a three-legged milking stool. One leg relates to traits or predispositions, our natural or preferred way of behaving. The second relates to our motives, those drivers we all possess that impel us to do things because they give us pleasure. The third is our values, those attributes of our belief system, which may be faith-based and/or secular, and very often are our lodestars.
The stool is not balanced. Our traits, motives and values pull and push against each other. Consider a GP who remarked, “I am the fourth generation to do this important job here (a large market town), yet I detest it.” Their motives and values are not aligned – are yours?
Set on even ground, the stool wobbles. Yet, at this moment in time, the ground is shaking with the perturbation of the coronavirus crisis. Thus, fleetingly, all three legs may be grounded – a situation sees behaviour and personality congruent, you are “in the zone”. However, that ground on which the stool of personality is stood moves again and the congruence disappears. It is likely you feel anxious or stressed.
As a leader in these turbulent times, what do you know about your traits, motives and values? Equally as important, do you understand those of your team members? Let’s remind ourselves of the “grain of the wood” of the three legs of the stool.
Is that apparent extravert’s personality more introvert; are they enjoying the chance to be away from the hurly burly of the workplace? The reverse can arise too. Someone who is quiet and unassuming in work may exhibit subdued behaviour because their boss or a colleague is overbearing. Yet out of work they are gregarious because the shackles of being oppressed by someone else’s positional power are released.
Who is finding adjusting to the ebb and flow of the changing situation difficult; who are relaxed about things? How will being cognitively open or closed affect this? Whose plans have been disrupted much to their personal irritation, who is more phlegmatic about the “corona-coaster” ride? When things do not go someone’s way, are they getting annoyed or do they “re-set” and adopt a “Yes, what if we do this…?” approach?
These questions tie into the first four traits of the Big 5 theory of personality (see a ream of papers by R.R. McCrae and P.T. Costa Jr). These are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeability and, fifthly, Neuroticism. Often abbreviated to OCEAN, sometimes as CANOE, which seems more appropriate at this moment as we appear to be out of one, with no paddle, and up the proverbial creek. The well-being elephant in the room relates to neuroticism or emotionality, i.e. the “N”. Yet how do you engage in conversations about that aspect of a person’s character?
Some data is needed. There is a slew of instruments available that enable exploration. Some, however, are less pragmatic than others. My favoured instrument is Glowinkowski International’s Global Predisposition Indicator (GPI™) because feedback is positioned within a holistic organisational design and development model. Some fellow “Sherman bloggers” have experienced the GPI™ feedback process with me.
I also like a relatively new product called Spotlight, produced by Mindflick, see https://mindflick.co.uk/, whose chairman is Andrew Strauss, the successful English cricketer. The firm aims to apply learning from working with elite sportspeople into more ordinary, organisational contexts. I was introduced to Spotlight by my friend and colleague Bruce Isdale, see https://www.linkedin.com/in/bruce-isdale/. Its focus on adaptability reflects the current zeitgeist.
Any discussion about motives takes us into Maslow’s realm. Unwittingly or, may be, intentionally, has 24/7 media coverage dragged a great many people down to the second-lowest tier by threatening their safety; a growing “fear of going out” – FOGO? Is lockdown being gradualy breached by virtue of the third-level need for the love and belonging of family? Has WFH undermined some people’s esteem, probably even more harshly damaged if furloughed or laid-off with receding prospects of gaining reemployment?
The opacity of much of the (UK) government’s communication coupled to its claimed “reliance on science” when there remains a multiplicity of views does not bode well for clarity, the most important facet of climate. Climate applies equally as well at a national level as it does at that of the individual firm.
Conversely, is it all the media’s fault – both mainstream and online? Has our didactic education system opened a considerable flaw in how we consume news by failing to nurture the competence of critical thinking? The same Economist column I mentioned in part 1 includes this comment, “In ‘Academically Adrift’ Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa argue that over a third of America’s students show no improvement in critical thinking or analytical reasoning after four years in college.
Consider too this about the gullible acceptance of conspiracy theories, https://www.propublica.org/article/immune-to-evidence-how-dangerous-coronavirus-conspiracies-spread?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=majorinvestigations&utm_content=feature. Now, remind me, what was the origin of the virus?
The ever-excellent Matthew Syed in an article in the business section of the Sunday Times on May 31st reminds readers of Max Ringelmann’s famous rope-pulling experiment. When asked, his students individually pulled harder on a rope than when they worked together in a team of seven. This gives rise to the concept of “social loafing”, about which one psychologist said, “Social loafing can prove contagious because those putting in a shift start to feel like suckers.” How will loafing be aided or abetted by the changing workplace situation? How many people are becoming marmosets as Frank Clayton wrote about in his most recent article, see https://www.tsp-uk.co.uk/leader-of-leaders/self-insight/adventures-with-the-marmoset-of-mischief/?
Motives and Power
Generally, as far as motives and leadership are concerned, I prefer David McClelland’s work about personalised and socialised power, see https://psychology.fas.harvard.edu/people/david-mcclelland. Fundamentally, autocratic leadership rarely creates a healthy climate; servant leadership does, which draws me again to the work of Robert Greenleaf.
One exhibition of personalised power is “high busyness” or a sense of importance; how many Zoom meetings are suddenly truncated by one participant saying they must move on to their next meeting? As these individuals flit from the flower bud of one meeting to the next, how effective a contribution do they actually make?
In the physical world of the old normal, another meeting often meant a different location. Even if this is the adjacent meeting room, moving between the two provides time to reframe one’s mind and consciously adjust your behaviour. With one Zoom meeting bleeding into the next, are you giving yourself this chance to change your act for each situation? Give yourself a break of at least 15 minutes between calls – go listen to the birdsong now audible in these traffic-light days – it is beautiful!
I also like one of the outputs of Saville’s Wave instrument, which contrasts Motive and Talent or, if you wish, Ambition and Ability. Is it the case that we appear to have far too many ambitious yet incapable leaders? Is the climate created by such people toxic; is it akin to a castle keep surrounded by high walls the less ambitious are reluctant to try and scale by confronting their leaders’ antics?
I remember hearing on Disney’s Approach to Customer Service course that when leaders try to point the finger of blame at someone else, they must remember three fingers point back at them (or in Mickey Mouse’s case, just two).
I wrote about values in one of my first blogs for Trevor so won’t recover that ground here, see https://www.tsp-uk.co.uk/leader-of-leaders/change-leadership/organisational-values-21st-century/#more-758. This was prompted by a remark made by Frank.
In a recent Twitter post by Mark Goyder, @MarkGoyder, he reminds us of the importance of being truthful, including admitting our mistakes, and for this truth to spell out unambiguously leaders’ individual accountability.
As a leader, you are accountable for your people’s health and well-being. This does not entail being wishy-washy; it concerns exercising tough-love. A cornerstone of servant leadership is not being parsimonious with the truth especially concerning behavioural competence and how it can be strengthened and improved. Such conversations are most effective when accompanied by a mug of tea.
A vital values related issue concerns what we consider to be skilled and unskilled work. As I sat with my sister in the care home alongside our mother as her life ebbed away at Easter, the skills of care and compassion exhibited by the relatively young employees was off the scale. The Times columnist Jenni Russell wrote in December 2012, see https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/nurse-russell-knows-whats-killing-the-nhs-xnzff6jzmrd, about the need for nurses to be recruited for their care not their degree qualification. She should know, she was an auxillary nurse.
Decisions, decisions, decisions
In trying to combat Covid-19, why have political leaders across the world made the different decisions they have? How have their traits, motives and values played their parts? Some have been speedily decisive, others have vacillated. I find it pleasing to see that among the former group, many are women, see https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivahwittenbergcox/2020/04/13/what-do-countries-with-the-best-coronavirus-reponses-have-in-common-women-leaders/#176061433dec.
Perhaps female leadership provides the best immediate vaccine? In effect, Simone Roche’s Northern Power Women network is a bio-tech laboratory, a petri-dish of the future!
The recent VE Day commemorations made me think about the rights and wrongs of the classic, British, stoic, stiff upper lip. I am glad we now live in a more empathetic and inclusive age (although the reaction to the murder of George Floyd suggests we have but scratched the surface). Yes, “grit”, “pluck” and resilience remain valuable qualities. However, they are not the only admirable ones. Like a cable is formed of many wires, so too do we as human beings comprise more than one string to our bow. The more we appreciate what these attributes are and how they are woven together, the better placed we should be as leaders to contend with whatever Mother Nature (to whom we are entirely subservient) next throws our way.
Consider the over-used analogy of combatting Covid-19 to fighting a war. The Second World War lasted just shy of six years. Rationing in the UK was not finally repealed until 1954, nine years after cessation of hostilities. By comparison, ten weeks of virus lockdown is a short-lived crisis. Have we become unconsciously incompetent in dealing with calamity in the intervening decades?
Let’s dance (socially distanced, of course)!
One great benefit of using an instrument like GPI™ is that it facilitates psychological safety. The choreography of the feedback conversation enables issues to be teased open and deftly explored; sometimes the dance needs to be paused to permit reflection and deeper contemplation. One constant aim is to help the participant(s) (feedback can be provided to individuals or teams) to understand why in certain situations they feel upbeat, in others more unnerved. Through subtle probing, deference, respect and compassion the conversation is mutually and richly rewarding (it is an immense privilege to be trusted to be a partner in these dances).
However, the far more important conversations are those that transpose the data into meaningful information and that into nurturing and developmental servant leadership. This occurs when leaders engage compassionately with their team members, team members do so amongst themselves and across whole team. The consequence is team members appreciate each other with greater clarity, which builds respect and admiration, perhaps a kinship or filial love. Knowing each other’s traits, motives and values enables deeper reciprocal awareness about communication and development needs to be formed. Mutual support is more readily provided: the boss calling a team member is not “checking-up” but “checking-in” – there is a world of difference. What is the intention here? As a leader, it is to get one’s team to cohere despite being physically apart and achieve its common purpose – “social loafing” can be minimised.
As the fragility of the current situation continues with the threat of a second wave or a fresh viral mutation, a team will be better prepared to dance through any new working arrangements. A hybrid model of one week in the office, one week at home starts to resemble the hokey-cokey and we need to do more than just shake it all about!