As leaders, where should we focus our energy in 2014?
Another year has come to a close and we face yet another. For some of us this is a new opportunity to get “it right” if we did not quite get “it right” in 2013, so as we professionals focus on 2014, there are a few things we can do to ensure our success, if we so desire.
To ensure a successful 2014, we must approach it with a positive mental attitude, firmly believing that this is the year when we as individuals can make a tremendous difference in the lives of those close to us and by extension our country, Belize.
Benjamin Franklin – “Blessed be the man who expects nothing for he shall get it”
This is the time when we set new goals and I thought it might be useful to share this article with you.
AS LEADERS WHERE SHOULD WE FOCUS OUR ENERGY IN 2014?
Should Leaders Focus on Results, or on People?
In 2009, James Zenger published a fascinating survey of 60,000 employees to identify how different characteristics of a leader combine to affect employee perceptions of whether the boss is a “great” leader or not. Two of the characteristics that Zenger examined were results focus and social skills. Results focus combines strong analytical skills with an intense motivation to move forward and solve problems. But if a leader was seen as being very strong on results focus, the chance of that leader being seen as a great leader was only 14%. Social skills combine attributes like communication and empathy. If a leader was strong on social skills, he or she was seen as a great leader even less of the time — a paltry 12%.
However, for leaders who were strong in both results focus and in social skills, the likelihood of being seen as a great leader skyrocketed to 72%.
Social skills are a great multiplier. A leader with strong social skills can leverage the analytical abilities of team members far more efficiently. Having the social intelligence to predict how team members will work together will promote better pairings. Often what initially appear to be task-related difficulties turn out to be interpersonal problems in disguise. One employee may feel devalued by another or think that she is doing all the work while her partner loafs – leading both partners putting in less effort to solve otherwise solvable problems. Socially skilled leaders are better at diagnosing and treating these common workplace dilemmas.
So how many leaders are rated high on both results focus and social skills? If this pairing produces especially effective leaders, companies should have figured this out and promoted people to leadership positions accordingly, right? Not hardly. David Rock, director of the Neuroleadership Institute, and Management Research Group recently conducted a survey to find out the answer. They asked thousands of employees to rate their bosses on goal focus (similar to results focus) and social skills to examine how often a leader scored high on both. The results are astonishing. Less than 1% of leaders were rated high on both goal focus and social skills.
Why would this be? As I describe in my book, Social: Why our brains are wired to connect, our brains have made it difficult to be both socially and analytically focused at the same time. Even though thinking social and analytically don’t feel radically different, evolution built our brain with different networks for handling these two ways of thinking. In the frontal lobe, regions on the outer surface, closer to the skull, are responsible for analytical thinking and are highly related to IQ. In contrast, regions in the middle of the brain, where the two hemispheres touch, support social thinking. These regions allow us to piece together a person’s thoughts, feelings, and goals based on what we see from their actions, words, and context.
Here’s the really surprising thing about the brain. These two networks function like a neural seesaw. In countless neuroimaging studies, the more one of these networks got more active, the more the other one got quieter. Although there are some exceptions, in general, engaging in one of the kinds of thinking makes it harder to engage in the other kind. Its safe to say that in business, analytical thinking has historically been the coin of the realm — making it harder to recognize the social issues that significantly affect productivity and profits. Moreover, employees are much more likely to be promoted to leadership positions because of their technical prowess. We are thus promoting people who may lack the social skills to make the most of their teams and not giving them the training they need to thrive once promoted.
How can we do better? For one, we should give greater weight to social skills in the hiring and promotion process. Second, we need to create a culture that rewards using both sides of the neural seesaw. We may not be able to easily use them in tandem, but knowing that there is another angle to problem solving and productivity will create better balance in our leaders.
Finally, it may be possible to train our social thinking so that it becomes stronger over time. Social psychologists are just at the beginning stages of examining whether this kind of training will bear fruit. One exciting prospect, one that would make the training fun, is the recent finding that reading fiction seems to temporarily strengthen these mental muscles. Wouldn’t that be great — if reading Catcher in the Rye or the latest Grisham novel were the key to larger profits?
We do know that one’s life will change based on the books one read, the people they associate with and the training seminars they attend. I am therefore recommending 12 must read for leaders in 2014, if you have already read them, send me an email for more suggested books
12 Books Every Young Leader Must Read
I certainly subscribe to the fact that Leaders should be readers, I would dare to say, leaders are readers. Reading has a host of benefits for those who wish to occupy positions of leadership and develop into more relaxed, empathetic, and well-rounded people. One of the most common follow-up questions was, “Ok, so what should I read?”
That’s a tough question. But if I had to focus on a short list for young business leaders, I’d choose the 12 below. Reading broadly can make you a more interesting conversationalist.
- Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived life in the Nazi concentration camps. Man’s Search for Meaning is really two books — one dedicated to recounting his frightening ordeal in the camps (interpreted through his eyes as a psychiatrist) and the other a treatise on his theory, logotherapy. His story alone is worth the read — a reminder of the depths and heights of human nature — and the central contention of logotherapy — that life is primarily about the search for meaning — has inspired leaders for generations.
- Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full. Tom Wolfe founded the New Journalism school and was one of America’s most brilliant writers of nonfiction (books and essays like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) before he became one of her most notable novelists. Often better known for his portrait of 1980s New York, The Bonfire of the Vanities, A Man in Full is his novel about race, status, business, and a number of other topics in modern Atlanta. It was Wolfe’s attempt, as Michael Lewis noted, at “stuffing of the whole of contemporary America into a single, great, sprawling comic work of art.” It’s sure to inspire reflection in burgeoning leaders.
- Michael Lewis, Liar’s Poker. One of the first books I read upon graduating college, Liar’s Poker is acclaimed author Michael Lewis’ first book — a captivating story about his short-lived postcollegiate career as a bond salesman in the 1980s. Lewis has become perhaps the most notable chronicler of modern business, and Liar’s Poker is both a fascinating history of Wall Street (and the broader financial world) in the 1980s and a cautionary tale to ambitious young business leaders about the temptations, challenges, and disappointments (not to mention colorful characters) they may face in their careers.
- Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. What does it take to make a great company, and what traits will young businesspeople need to lead them? Jim Collins introduced new rigor to the evaluation of business leadership in his instant classic Good to Great, with a research team reviewing “6,000 articles and generating 2,000 pages of interview transcripts.” The result is a systematic treatise on making a company great, with particularly interesting findings around what Collins calls “Level 5 Leadership” that have changed the face of modern business.
- Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Persuasion is at the heart of business, where leaders must reach clients, customers, suppliers, and employees. Cialdini’s classic on the core principals of persuasion is a sterling example of the cross application of psychological principles to business life. Based on his personal experiences and interviews — with everyone from expert car salesmen to real estate salespeople — Cialdini’s book is riveting and, yes, persuasive. It serves as a great introduction to other works by modern writers like Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Levitt, who translate theories from the social and physical sciences into everyday life.
- Richard Tedlow, Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built. Richard Tedlow taught one of my favorite business school classes, The Coming of Managerial Capitalism, and this book is something like a distillation of a few of the high points of that class. Giants of Enterprise chronicles the lives of some of the businesspeople — Carnegie, Ford, Eastman, Walton — who shaped the world we live in today. It’s a brief introduction to the figures and companies who built modern business for the young business leader seeking to shape the future.
- Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. Financial capital is at the heart of capitalism. Any young person aspiring to business leadership should understand the financial world we live in. Ferguson is one of our era’s preeminent popular historians, and The Ascent of Money traces the evolution of money and financial markets from the ancient world to the modern era. It’s an essential primer on the history and current state of finance.
- Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Clay Christensen was recently ranked the world’s greatest business thinker by Thinkers50, and his breakout book was a thoughtful tome on innovation and “disruption” called The Innovator’s Dilemma. All of Christensen’s books are essential reads, but this is perhaps the most foundational for any young leader wondering how to drive business innovation and fight competitors constantly threatening to disrupt his or her business model with new technology.
- Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s book represents the best in self-help. His advice — about prioritization, empathy, self-renewal, and other topics — is both insightful and practical. Seven Habits can be useful to the personal and professional development of anyone charting a career in business.
- Bill George, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. A hallmark of next-generation business leaders is a focus on authenticity. Bill George has pioneered an approach to authentic leadership development articulated well in his second book, True North. George (who, full disclosure, I’ve coauthored with before) conducted more than 100 interviews with senior leaders in crafting the book, and offers advice for young leaders on knowing themselves and translating that knowledge into a personal set of principles for leadership.
- Ben Sweetland, Think and Grow Rich While You Sleep. This book shows how to use the deepest thinking part of you, while you sleep, to get whatever you want out of life, money, personal influence, love, and admiration, as well as directing your creative mind to assist you in solving problems
- Ted Turner, Call Me Ted. An innovative entrepreneur, outspoken, non-conformist, revile his story from his difficult childhood to the successful launch of his media empire.