There’s usually a pecking order in the animal kingdom. There are queen bees, alpha gorillas, and male-female wolf pairs that dominate the pack. Humans are no different.
This may come as a shock, but organisational constructs like tribes, societies, and companies are not the result of high-level intelligence but of primitive survival impulses reinforced by neurotransmitters in the brain’s ancient limbic system.
To say that leadership and organisational behaviour has been successful in the animal kingdom is a gross understatement. The planet is fully populated by millions of animal species that all exhibit the same sort of behaviour.
The point is, leadership is not so much a thought process as it is instinctive behavior. It’s evolutionary. It’s to a great extent responsible for our survival on earth. And that’s why we do it. As survival imperatives go, it’s right up there with eating and breeding. No kidding.
So when I say, “Leaders lead. Followers follow. You can’t do both,” in my upcoming book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow, I’m not making this stuff up. It’s biology. Granted, you can behave any way you like by overriding your survival instincts, but neither you nor I get to change how the species behaves. Evolution’s got that covered.
I know you didn’t click on the headline to get a biology lesson, but it’s important to understand that leadership is not really about traits or habits. It’s primarily a behavioural phenomenon. So let’s be practical for a moment and discuss the sort of behavior we consistently value in our most cherished leaders.
Apple CEO Tim Cook credits the company’s success in no small part to Steve Jobs’s role as a teacher. The way Apple’s unique culture continues to flourish and scale, even as the company grows to enormous size and valuation, is a testament to the way Jobs taught his team what matters most, so they could teach their teams, and so on.
If they hear you, they will listen
Whether it’s politics, business, or non-profit, there are great demands on leaders’ time. That comes with the territory. So there are physical, organizational, and mental barriers they put up to block out the noise. Nevertheless, their success depends on being open to new and different perspectives. So, if they hear you, they will listen.
They challenge themselves
Great leaders are never satisfied with the status quo and that goes for their own status quo, as well. They may recognise the success of the team, especially after a long hard effort, but you’ll rarely see them patting themselves on the back. Their own accomplishments don’t excite them; the next challenge does.
They don’t follow
All leaders learn from experience and mentors. All leaders serve their stakeholders. But learning and serving are not the same as following. Real leaders serve and learn from others, but they still carve their own path. They have their own unique ways of doing things. And, when it comes to key decisions, they trust only their own judgment and their own gut.
They solve big problems
Real leaders don’t play small ball. Whether it’s a customer problem, a constituent problem, or a societal problem, they live to come up with innovative solutions to big, tough problems. Real leaders are great troubleshooters.
Their vision inspires others to act
I’ll never understand the endless debates over what leadership is and isn’t. It’s simple, really. Leaders are those who others follow. And leadership behaviour causes others to act. Whether they have a vision for a product, an organisation, a people, or a future, that’s what inspires them to lead and their followers to action.
They don’t whine
Most great leaders grew up with adversity, so they learned at an early age that complaining gets them nowhere. Instead, they set out to prove something to themselves and others – that they’re special, unique, worthy, capable – and that’s often a self-fulfilling prophecy.
They don’t overindulge their egos
Even if it’s not self-evident, most successful leaders have healthy egos – a strong sense of self. There are exceptions, but they’re rare. In any case, when our egos write checks that reality can’t cash, that’s self-limiting behaviour. Some leaders learn from those mistakes and gain wisdom and humility. Others don’t, and that’s unfortunate.
They do only what matters
Leaders are by definition people of consequence. They’re driven by their vision, their obsession, a problem they must solve, whatever, but they’re usually driven by one thing and that’s what matters to them. They move heaven and earth to make it happen and ignore pretty much everything else, although there’s usually an exception or two.
They’re effective, not efficient
Since they’re consumed by a passion of some sort, that’s what they’re all about. Minutiae like optimising, fine-tuning, efficiency, and productivity are completely off their radar screen, unless of course it just happens to be their specific focus. I suppose there have been leaders of the Toyoda (yes, that’s how it’s spelled, not Toyota) family obsessed with Kaizen – continuous improvement – but that’s an unusual circumstance.
The important thing to keep in mind is that leaders are defined by their behaviour. What they do and don’t do. How they act and don’t act. They come in all shapes and sizes.
They are extraverts and introverts. They’re morning people and night owls. They’re healthy and completely out of shape. They have neat desks and workspaces that look like a tornado ripped through it.
One thing’s for certain. Real leaders don’t follow. It’s biology.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
6 Ways To Lead In The Multi-leader Economy
Why business leaders today compete for mindshare among their employees, and how they can lead.
I recently attended an event where a CEO delivered the company’s annual results and outlined its future strategy. He closed the talk with some inspirational content to get the team excited about the year ahead.
While I listened to this business leader speak, I also had my eye on the audience. While the content was relevant and inspiring, the narrative and delivery was off. This was evident in the audience, who seemed disengaged – most had their faces in their phones. These employees, who should be inspired by their leader, were simply biding their time, waiting for the next speaker.
Was it because they’re generally rude, disengaged people? Not at all. In fact, they were a phenomenally switched-on crowd when we presented to them. So why weren’t they listening intently to the proverbial captain of the ship?
Leadership competition hotting up
I believe it’s because leaders today are competing for the attention of those they lead. People are exposed to hundreds of potential leaders in their daily lives, and that number grows daily as the internet brings a whole host of outside influence into reach.
While many of these influencers are not tasked with leading, per se, great leaders seldom have to force a following. They naturally build one through an innate ability. They achieve this by delivering inspiring and engaging content on a regular basis via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, podcasts or TED.com.
And it’s not just inspirational visionaries like Jobs or Branson who people listen to today. Anyone with a strong message can self-publish to spark debate, inspire or influence.
Understand the new dynamic
Accordingly, whenever a leader steps up to deliver something relevant to their team, they need to be aware that in the past 24 hours their audience has probably watched people like Simon Sinek, Mel Robbins or Will Smith deliver a message that could spark a different way of thinking.
If you’re a business leader and have not considered the possibility that your team is also being influenced and, often, led by a host of other leaders, then you’re in for a tough time. The reality is that leaders now face fierce competition, and as the head of an organisation you need to take charge and own that space.
Here’s how you can take the lead in leadership:
1. Maintain face-to-face engagements
This is still the best way to work, especially when talking about important matters. I have a standing one-hour meeting with my team every three weeks. I open this session with a 10-15 minute talk on a specific topic I feel is important. The remaining time is used for open discussion. These sessions have been incredibly powerful, because it’s an opportunity for everyone to have their say, share their views and contribute to growing the business and the team, together.
2. Write narrative that catalyses conversation
This pertains to the content of your engagements. This needs to be something that’s not only on your agenda, but also on your employees’ agenda. People need both answers and guidance, but when leaders and teams can work on both aspects together, magic happens.
3. Deliver with conviction
Leaders often throw out a concern, hoping that it gets resolved. You can’t do that. Leaders need to stand up and deliver with passion to galvanise their teams. Sure, be part of the conversation, and ensure that your team knows how important it this, but understand that it’s more than just a conversation.
4. Get them to challenge you
The proverbial ‘open door policy’ requires employees to walk up to the door. Our regular team session offers me the opportunity to ask everyone, collectively, about their thoughts on a subject. I’m basically standing at the open door and asking them to come in, and not just randomly, but to discuss something pertinent.
5. Make the changes required
After listening to your team, take action. Due to the influence of social media, society today is plagued by “ask-holes” – people who ask for advice or ideas, but never action them. Leaders need to listen and take action. Not that you should do everything you team asks, of course, but listening is the first step to understanding, and action needs to follow.
6. Rinse, repeat
Effective leadership is not an annual speaking engagement. It requires constant work to keep teams focused on the business. The biggest failure in most businesses is a lack of communication, which is something leaders need to constantly work on.
Want To Achieve Greatness? Force Everyone Out Of Their Comfort Zones
Diverse teams are better performing teams, but only when they are inclusive.
Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance.
Diverse teams are smarter teams. They have higher rates of innovation, error detection and creative problem solving. In environments that possess diverse stakeholders, being able to have different perspectives in the room may even enable more alignment with varied customer needs.
Being able to think from different perspectives actually lights up areas of the brain, such as the emotional centres needed for perspective taking that would previously not be activated in similar or non-diverse groups.
In a nutshell, you use more of your brain when you encourage different perspectives by including different views in the room. However, work done at the NeuroLeadership Institute has proven that this only works when diverse teams are inclusive, and this still remains a key challenge in business today.
When we consider the amount of diversity present in the modern workplace and the addition of more diverse thinking as a result of globalisation and the use of virtual work teams, it’s clear that the ability to unlock the power of diversity is just waiting to be unleashed.
Here’s how you can unlock this powerful performance driver.
The Social Brain
Despite the rich sources of diversity present in most workplaces, companies are still often unable to leverage the different perspectives available to them in driving business goals. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have enabled us to understand why. The major breakthrough has centred around the basic needs of the social brain.
We have an instinctual need to continually define whether we are within an in-group or an out-group. This is an evolutionary remnant of the brain that enabled us to strive to remain within a herd or group where we had access to social support structures, food and potential mates. If we were part of the out-group it could literally have meant life or death. We are therefore hypersensitive to feelings of exclusion as it affected our survival.
The brain is further hardwired for threat and unconsciously scans our environments for threats five times a second. This means, coupled with our life or death need for group affiliation, we are hypersensitive to finding sameness and a need for in-group inclusion.
When we heard a rustle in a bush it was safer to assume that it may be a lion than a gust of wind. It is this threat detection network that has kept us alive until today. The challenge is that society has developed faster than our brains. In times of uncertainty we often jump to what is more threatening.
Some of the ways that this plays out is when we leave someone out of an email and they begin to wonder why they were left out. The problem is that it’s easy to unconsciously exclude someone if we are not actively including. The trouble occurs when we incorrectly use physical proxies to define in-group and out-group, as this is the most readily available evidence used unconsciously by the brain.
Barriers to Inclusion
A study done between a diverse group and non-diverse group demonstrates how this plays out in the work place. Both groups completed a challenging task and were asked how they felt they did as a team after the exercise.
The effectiveness of the team and how they perceived effectiveness were both measured in the study. It’s no surprise that the diverse team did better in the completion of the problem-solving task, but what is surprising is that they felt they did not do well. In contrast, the non-diverse team did worse, but felt that they had done well.
Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance. It feels easier to work in a team where we feel at ease in sameness, but in that environment we are more prone to groupthink and are less effective.
We can’t assume that when we place diverse teams together we will automatically reap the rewards of higher team performance. As discussed, we’re hardwired for sameness and if we’re not actively including, we may be unconsciously excluding.
If we want diversity to become a silver bullet, we need to actively make efforts to find common ground amongst disparate team members. This in turn will build team cohesion and create a sense of unity, including reminders of a shared purpose and shared goals. Many global businesses put an emphasis on a shared corporate culture that supersedes individual difference.
It’s the same mechanism that is used in science fiction films that bond individuals together against a common alien invasion. It can also be used to describe why we felt such a great sense of accomplishment during the 2010 World Cup as we banded together as a nation.
We must also make sure we uplift all team members by sharing credit widely when available and recognising performance. The last thing we can do to further inclusion is to create clarity for teams. By removing ambiguity, we allow individuals to not jump to conclusions about their membership within groups and calm their minds so they can use their mental capacity to focus on the task at hand.
To Get A Job Or Not Get A Job. What Are We Teaching Our Children?
Remember the days where if you went to school and studied a degree, you got a job and built a career that enabled you to retire comfortably? I don’t, in fact I’m not sure those days ever really existed. If they did, they are long gone.
Today STATS SA tells us only 1 in 3 of the youth in South Africa have a job, even worse still – 34% of graduates aged 15-24 are unemployed1. The bottom line is that there are not enough jobs to cater for every child that finishes school. Our children need to learn entrepreneurship. If we want a brighter future for them, we need to nurture, teach and develop the skills and behaviours required to create jobs of their own.
With no intention of knocking the school system it would seem for the most part it discourages entrepreneurial thinking on a fundamental level; it prepares students to become good employees. Tuck your shirt in, sit still, stand in line, do your homework, focus on the task, check this box, you get the picture. Three decades ago this may have worked but it won’t work when we are trying to teach our children to survive the forth industrial revolution and prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist!
It may sound like a cliché, but kids are our future. As a parent I believe one of the most important duties we have is to give our children the best possible start. We need to prepare them on how to live, survive and thrive in a world that is rapidly changing, mostly unpredictable and often unforgiving. This starts by identifying the skills and nurturing the behaviours that will give them the best chance for success.
Teaching entrepreneurship prepares our children for the future
Entrepreneurship encompasses so much more than starting and running a business. It’s a shift in mindset, a different way of thinking. Entrepreneurship views problems as opportunities and fuels creativity in the pursuit of solutions. All these skills can be applied to life.
Successful entrepreneurs are resourceful, self-confident and tenacious. They are great communicators and marketers, good at identifying and understanding risk. They have learnt from failure and made mistakes. Entrepreneurs are financially literate, understand cash flow and how to manage money. Again, these are skills that every child and student can benefit from.
To make it in the workplace of the future you will need to be self-confident, innovative, creative, motivated and curious.
Employers will need to hire staff that have the creative ability to innovate and ensure the longevity of their organisations. Those people that show entrepreneurial flair will be in demand in a world that is ever and more rapidly changing.
Exposing our children to entrepreneurship, teaching them the fundamental skills and behaviours required to start a business, and letting them know it is a career choice should be a requirement in all schools and endorsed and supported by all parents.
- Youth unemployment still high in Q1: 2018 http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=11129
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