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Leadership is listening

15 Dec

Just as I was trying to slow down the introspection train in my life, it’s totally in style now! GOOD just deemed introspection the new scapegoating. Now I’m faced with bucking the trends or pretending I’m ahead of them. Projections for 2012 are that instead of blaming everyone on the outside for our problems, maybe we’ll look in. Or up if you’re Tim Tebow.

Despite living in Florida (college home to Tebow), I didn’t follow his final season as a University of Florida Gator. Over the past two years, I’ve also stopped following the NFL like a crazy person, so it wasn’t until a friend linked to The Washington Post‘s “In Sports, There’s No Faking Leadership,” that I gave the new Broncos’ starting quarterback much investigation. Sally Jenkins uses Tebow’s 7-1 quarterback run as a perfect example of leadership that works. Tebow holds the keys to the Denver kingdom because he believes his team can win, no matter the circumstances. Real leaders listen to what you need, so you believe in what you’re doing. Then they help you do what seems impossible. Like scoring 10 points in a two minute comeback against the Bears on Sunday.

‎“The academic study of leadership has failed, and the reason is that it focuses on the leader, when the appropriate focus is on the followers,” suggests research psychologist Robert Hogan, who profiles executives for Fortune 500 companies. When we flip the examination of leadership on its head and look at what followers will follow, we get a better idea of what quality we’re talking about.

“What is it the followers are looking for?” he asks. “The focus should be on the work force or the team, and what they perceive. Because if they don’t perceive the right thing in a leader, you’re through.”

Tebow credits his faith and upbringing for being able to “block out the craziness” and believe. Instead of telling his teammates all the reasons they’re losing the game, he tells them all the reasons they can win.

It’s the ‘bad is stronger than good effect’: Bob Sutton summarizes this well here for The Wall Street Journal and in more depth on his blog. Research from psychologist Roy Baumeister says people have more positive interactions with colleagues and superiors than negative ones; however, the negative ones have five times the impact on people’s mood than the positive ones. FIVE TIMES.

That means every time you’re micromanaged or treated rudely, it assaults you with five times the force of someone giving you a compliment. You’re working at a deficit all day. Recovery mode is never the most productive, and forget about creative.

This explains why micromanagers are the most ineffective leaders. They don’t listen to their followers, and often alienate them instead. They don’t intend to do this, and often believe they are doing what’s best for the company/team.  But in the battle of intention versus perception, perception always wins.

If your team perceives you as unsupportive, it doesn’t matter your intentions. If my students perceive me as impatient, it doesn’t matter that I was trying to be patient. If my husband feels criticized, it’s irrelevant that I was kind of kidding.

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink writes about the dangers of managing for the 15 percent of people who are either incompetent, lazy, or generally negative. Instead of rehabilitating the 15 percent into team players, you only cripple the 85 percent who are hard-working, motivated, and creative. You slowly kill their passion and make them want to quit. All the while, that 15 percent will figure out a way around any new system you put in place. It’s like making the 85 percent run around a hamster wheel, when the 15 percent is not even in the cage.

I have to listen to my students (even when I hate what they are saying) so that I can understand what they are perceiving from me. Then I can meet their needs better. Unfortunately, I cannot fire my bad apples, so I try to manage for the 85 percent,  while doing my best to let the 15 percent know I still care about them, and that they’re welcome to switch sides anytime.

And what does it take to navigate all this? A crap load of introspection. So much that I don’t even want to do it. But I will keep showing up and looking in.

I just ask my leaders to do the same.