Radical Leadership: A Call for Street Smarts

In my series of posts about radical leadership I presented an idea from Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, about strategic intelligence, the key to help
leaders turn visionary ideas into business success.
Strategic intelligence requires a high degree of competency in five leadership areas:
1. Foresight
2. Systems thinking
3. Visioning
4. Motivating
5. Partnering
Foresight and systems thinking are pure intelligence skills. The other components of strategic intelligence – visioning, motivating and partnering – are real-world skills or street smarts.
Motivating is the most misunderstood and elusive element of strategic intelligence. It’s one thing to talk up a storm about how a corporate initiative designed to improve sales and profits will help you crush the competition. It’s quite another to grasp the importance of “soft” skills like influencing others to act as you see fit.
Motivating is difficult because it involves the messy work of igniting people’s passions so they’ll carry out your vision. A business model that neglects human motivations won’t get the buy-in needed to make your vision a reality.
Consider appealing to the four “Rs”:
1. Reasons
2. Rewards
3. Relationships
4. Responsibilities
You must reward positive behaviors to further your vision. By building genuine relationships, you convince people to take ownership of the responsibilities you’ve entrusted to them.
Many leaders motivate only their immediate teams, often ignoring front-line workers and lower-level employees. A CEO with strategic intelligence recognizes the need to motivate the entire hierarchy.
Partnering is the ability to forge key strategic alliances. It’s different than making friends; a leader with strategic intelligence makes allies. You need to understand how each alliance fits into your corporate vision.
Partnering is not a matter of acquiring companies to bolster overall financial holdings, it’s quite the opposite. Leaders who operate in this fashion are merely “serial acquirers”. Instead, you learn to partner internally (with advisers who complement your personality) and externally (with companies that add value rather than size). This requires an understanding of how companies work together to motivate a social system that achieves one’s vision.
Often visionary leaders are so passionate about their ideas, they neglect to develop the right alliances needed to make their visions realizable. And that’s where professional leadership coaching can lend another set of eyes to help you create a strategic plan.
If you’ve got great ideas, but don’t know how or where to take the next steps, maybe you could use a coach? Let’s talk.

The Five Elements of Strategic Intelligence

According to Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, visionary leaders succeed because they have mastered five elements of strategic intelligence:
1. Foresight
2. Systems thinking
3. Visioning
4. Motivating
5. Partnering
Any coherent view of strategy involves thinking about the future. Leaders anticipate how current movements, ideas and forces will play out in the short and long terms. They can identify evolving products, services, technology systems, global gaps, competitors, and customer needs and values.
Foresight is more complex than extrapolating today’s market into the future. The dot-com boom and bust between 1995 and 2000 is a perfect example of the difference between foresight and extrapolation. Aspiring entrepreneurs came up with ways to make it big on the Internet. They asked, “How do I capitalize on what already exists?”
Foresight would have required them to ask, “How do we capitalize on what doesn’t exist now but will in the future?” It’s not about linear thinking. Leaders must connect the dots among many interdependent forces and determine how they will coalesce. Foresight requires systems thinking.
Systems Thinking
Visionary leaders understand how disparate parts influence the whole. They synthesize and integrate various elements to build and maintain healthy systems.
Those who want to lead companies in new directions must have competency in systems thinking, as well as the other interdependent elements of strategic intelligence.
Foresight and systems thinking are pure intelligence skills. The other components of strategic intelligence – visioning, motivating and partnering – are real-world skills, sometimes referred to as “street smarts”. Unforeseen events, people’s quirks and qualities, messy interactions with other companies and a volatile economic climate make business success a complex affair.
Visioning combines foresight and systems thinking into a realistic view of business goals. In some companies (IBM, GE), visionary leaders have had the foresight to shift from selling products to selling solutions in a knowledge/service economy.
A focus on learning ensures that visioning evolves with the times. Yet, even the clearest vision can fail if a leader lacks the skills to motivate. My next post describes what’s needed to excel in the next elements of strategic intelligence: motivating and partnering.
If you’d like to develop your leadership potential and strategic intelligence, and have questions about executive coaching, feel free to contact me.

Radical Leadership: A Call for Strategic Intelligence

“All people, especially leaders, need a healthy dose of narcissism – it’s the engine that drives leadership.” ~ Manfred Kets de Vries
While some thought leaders claim that sustained business success depends on bold innovators and productive narcissists, many caution against celebrity CEOs, given that some of them have lead Enron- and Tyco-type scams.
Obsessive business leaders excel at cutting costs, culling nonperformers from the pack, and implementing the right processes and systems. On the other hand, productive narcissists want to create new games, changing the way we live and work. Which approach is better for leading your company?
The answer depends on the context.
I think that at this time in history, we need creative energy and passion more than ever before. According to Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, what differentiates the more successful visionary leaders from the failures is strategic intelligence.
Strategic Intelligence
Think of Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Bill Gates and Herb Kelleher, the flamboyant self-promoter who built Southwest Airlines. These leaders developed disciplined management styles by partnering with operational managers who implemented their strategies.
These visionary leaders (and others who succeed as productive narcissists) are strategically intelligent. It’s not enough to be a creative genius with media-worthy new ideas.
Building an innovative organization requires leaders who know how to motivate talented and ethical people within a socioeconomic system that creates value for customers, employees and owners.
The problem is, however, many companies, even those known for innovation, don’t want to hire or promote narcissists. No matter how much their leaders boast of encouraging independent thinking and creativity, many businesses have little tolerance for true originals or mavericks. They prefer the obsessive type who is driven to please and enforces company rules.
Too often, promotions are in short supply for high-performing, creative visionaries who aren’t “”team players”. Indeed, most narcissists don’t “play well with others” – unless, that is, they have strategic intelligence and pay close attention to the crucial requirements for leading a company to sustainable success.
I believe that with executive coaching, some creative visionaries can learn what’s needed to navigate career success, including developing their strategic intelligence. What do you think?

Radical Times Call for Visionary Leadership

The great accomplishment of [Steve] Jobs’s life is how effectively he put his idiosyncrasies – his petulance, his narcissism, and his rudeness – in the service of perfection. ~ Malcolm Gladwell
Like it or not, we are in the midst of great social, economic and political upheaval. The way we live and work has changed tremendously in the last 10 years, and I believe it’s likely to be radically different in this coming decade.
Perhaps we need to take another look at what’s needed in leadership style during this period of uncertainty and transition. Are conservative, by-the-book personalities best for driving success? Or is it time to call on radically visionary leaders?
There’s a case to be made for narcissistic CEOs who can lead companies to greatness, inspire followers and achieve game-changing solutions in our rapidly evolving world. In the words of Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails: “It is narcissistic leaders who take us to places we’ve never been before, who innovate, who build empires out of nothing.”
Unfortunately, with the banking meltdown and recession that followed in 2008, capital has been shifted away from risky investments, spurring more conservative, by-the-numbers leadership personalities to take charge.
This doesn’t change the fact that we’re still living in an era of continuous invention and experimentation. I think it takes strong, visionary leaders to unleash the power of emerging technologies, turn ideas into practical tools everyone can use, and change the way we live and do business.
Think about it: conservative leadership, focusing on what works now, can negatively impact the technological and social advances required over the next 20 years – particularly in emerging fields like nanotechnology, genomics and gene therapy, robotics, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, bioengineered food, environment, energy and health care.
Given the huge social and economic stakes, there’s an urgent need to understand leaders – personality types – particularly, the promise and peril of radical, visionary leadership. When does visionary leadership veer off into unproductive narcissism?
Narcissists can be honest or crooked, brilliant or ordinary, wise or foolish. The label is often misused and misunderstood, and it’s usually applied in a negative context. Consider this: narcissists can be passionately bold visionaries, highly capable of persuading others to embrace the value of their ideas.
In the last 20 years, we’ve enjoyed radical advances from companies led by productive narcissists like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Andy Grove, Howard Schultz, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey.
But how do you know if a budding leader with strong ideas in your company will turn out well or derail with increasing responsibilities? I see the potential – and the risks – when I’m coaching high-potential candidates in the work I do with healthcare coaching and other areas.
What do you think about the importance of leadership personality in the success of your company?

Less Confidence, More Leadership Success

In business psychology, the prevailing wisdom has assumed that a high degree of self-confidence leads to promotions and leadership success. New studies, however, prove otherwise, writes business psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in Less-Confident People Are More Successful (Harvard Business Review blog, July 2012).
According to this blog post, a moderately low level of self-confidence is more likely to make you successful, Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic asserts. Don’t confuse this with a very low degree of self-confidence. Excessive fear, anxiety and stress will inhibit performance, impede decision-making and undermine interpersonal relationships.
But low-enough self-confidence can work in your favor because it:
1. Makes you pay attention to negative feedback and be self-critical. This means you’re open to learning and improving. Most of us tend to listen to feedback and ignore the negative in favor of the positive. If you want to overcome deficits, you must listen to both positive and negative comments.
2. Motivates you to work harder and prepare more effectively. If you really want to achieve leadership success, you will do whatever it takes to bridge the gap between the status quo and your professional goals.
3. Reduces your chances of coming across as arrogant or delusional. People with lower levels of self-confidence are more likely to admit their mistakes instead of blaming others – and they rarely take credit for others’ accomplishments.
If you’re serious about becoming a strong leader, lower self-confidence can serve as a strong ally, inspiring you to work hard, conquer limitations and, put simply, avoid being a jerk.
In the work I do, like with hospital coaching, I’ve found that most come across as very self-confident. The news that this can inhibit their executive presence comes as a shock. They fear coming across as vulnerable to others with whom they compete for promotions.
And yet, when their confidence is dialed down a bit, they find there’s more room to ask questions, learn from others, and build better connections with the people who matter.
Consider this: when you’re courageous enough to question your own behavior and motives, you extend the privilege to others. We model the behaviors we wish to see in others. That is truly a strong leadership quality.
Avoiding blame and judgment opens the door to cooperation and productivity.
Help yourself and your staff by:
1. Reading Arbinger’s Leadership and Self-Deception.
2. Working with an executive coach to pinpoint areas of self-deception.
3. Asking yourself, “What’s my part in any given problem?”
4. Identifying ways to set aside your ego and achieve optimum results.
If you’ve found this helpful, let me know. I can be reached here. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with these issues.

Managerial Self-Deception

Try telling a colleague or subordinate that he has a problem, and the depth of his self-deception will become clear.
Helping others see what they’re unwilling to recognize is a widespread leadership challenge. And it’s one of the prime reasons my clients engage me as an executive coach. It’s especially tricky when we observe blind spots in others, yet are unable to acknowledge it in ourselves.
Even the most astute managers, no matter how much leadership trainingor executive coaching they’ve had, can harbor self-deceiving tendencies. All it takes is elevated stress for this occupational virus to sideline you – and it’s usually contagious, spreading throughout the work force.
Managers often pride themselves on how well they listen and show interest in subordinates’ family members. Some have received training in how to express “authentic” empathy. But people have keen internal radar systems, and they almost always detect efforts to manipulate them. If they think their boss is trying to outsmart them or clumsily demonstrating a learned management skill, they can smell the hypocrisy a mile away. It’s exceptionally difficult to feign genuine interest.
No matter what we do on the outside, people primarily respond to how we feel about them on the inside. It takes honesty and empathy to generate performance gains.
Always remember that no matter how nice you are when “suggesting” an improvement, your employees will have an internal reaction. That said, there’s no need to go overboard and kill them with kindness. You can be firm, yet invite a productivity or commitment upgrade.
This isn’t easy. Giving feedback that works to motivate improved performance never is. Quite frankly, unless you’ve worked on your own issues, you’ll struggle. Unless you’ve uncovered your own layers of self-deception, through the process of self-development and executive coaching [link], it will be hard to offer up your own stories and examples to help others improve.
If you haven’t experienced the benefits of coaching, please let me know. I probably have a few suggestions that you’d find helpful. Contact me here.

When Everyone’s Above Average

The vast majority of people attribute their successes to themselves and their failures to external circumstances. This self-serving bias is a feeble attempt to positively reinforce our sense of worthiness and self-esteem.
We all do it, but it occurs subconsciously – we aren’t aware, and so we deny it. In the work I do in leadership coaching, we spend time uncovering and discovering the ways a leader can fall into the traps of self deception.
It’s not just a matter of believing what we want to believe. Such flights of fantasy are reined in by real-world experiences and our need to perceive them accurately (when we can). Our motivations drive us to subtly process information relevant to a given belief. We collude with our subconscious to cherry-pick information that supports our self-image.
Responding to questionnaires, we’re an overconfident species. A survey of 1 million high-school seniors found:
o Seventy percent thought they were above average in leadership ability.
o Only 2% thought they were generally below average.
o Sixty percent thought they were in the top 10%.
o Approximately 25% thought they were in the top 1%.
A survey of university professors found that 94% thought they were better at their jobs than an average colleague.
While confidence and a fair view of one’s capabilities and strengths are essential, overconfidence and an elevated sense of worth lead to fragile relationships. When we focus on proving ourselves, we spend far too much time on defending and justifying our behavior. We cut ourselves off from opportunities to understand our colleagues. Our ego prevents us from communicating an interest in others. In other words, we lack empathy.
Our preferred perceptions and opinions lead us to test hypotheses that are slanted toward our chosen direction. By consulting the “right” people, we increase our chances of hearing what we want to hear.
We’re not consciously distorting information, but we have considerable opportunities to jiggle various criteria and arrive at conclusions that favor our biases. We slyly assign meanings to information, finding creative ways to frame it so we achieve comforting, ego-pleasing conclusions.

Are You “In” or “Out” of the Box?

I’ve been reviewing concepts from one of the best books written on leadership and self-deception. This is a common problem that leaders find they must confront with each promotion to greater responsibility. It’s something we work hard on in our executive coaching sessions.
Leadership and Self-Deception, a book written by the Arbinger Institute, features an entertaining story about an executive who is facing challenges at work and home. His exploits expose the psychological processes that conceal our true motivations and intentions from us and trap us in a “box” of endless self-justification. Most importantly, the book shows us the way out.
When you’re “in the box,” you’re speaking with your interests and goals in mind. Through the lens of self-justification, you’ll find external factors and other people to blame. You’ll deny responsibility for problems and fail to identify your part in perpetuating them. In your interactions, you’ll try to change other people and convince them to do what you would do.
When you’re “out of the box,” there’s room for openness, authenticity, and interest in and empathy for other people. You’ll seek the true basis for problems, including your own participation. You’ll be less interested in assigning blame or judgment, or being locked into unproductive battles. You can give up any delusions that trap you and force you to defend yourself. You can channel your energy into becoming self-aware, identifying needs and achieving results.
This struggle between being in or out of the box is exacerbated by the fact that our brains are hardwired to zero in on our strengths and needs and to aggrandize them.
The Lake Wobegon Effect
In Garrison Keillor’s fictional community of Lake Wobegon, “the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”.
As it turns out, this depiction is not limited to Lake Wobegon. One of the most documented findings in psychology is the average person’s ability to believe extremely flattering things about himself. We generally think that we possess a host of socially desirable traits and that we’re free of the most unattractive ones.
Most people – some high-achievers, more than others – deem themselves to be:
o More intelligent than others
o More fair-minded
o Less prejudiced
o Better drivers
This phenomenon is so common that it is now known in social-science circles as the “Lake Wobegon Effect”. Because of this natural human tendency to see ourselves as above average, we fall into the self-deception trap.
The question remains what to do about it. While there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with high self-esteem, when it’s based on delusions, the amount of energy required to defend it creates problems. My next post explores these issues further.

Why Do Leaders Deceive Themselves?

The secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes. ~ George Orwell
As much as we’d like to believe that we’re rational human beings, we can all too easily mislead ourselves. Self-deception is a process that encourages us to justify our false and invalid beliefs.
Individuals, organizations and communities experience self-deception – the root of most problems, according to the Arbinger Institute, a Utah-based consulting firm. It’s human nature to blame others, externalize causes and deny our role in organizational struggles. This tendency is so pervasive that few of us escape its reach, and self-deception intrudes into every aspect of our lives. Nowhere is it more destructive than at the top of the leadership food chain.
As someone responsible for influencing others, consider this: Self-deception blinds you to the true source of most conflicts. Once you’re caught in its trap, all of the “solutions” you propose will likely make matters worse. You’ll find that your self-deception:

  • Obscures the truth about yourself
  • Corrupts your view of others and your circumstances
  • Destroys your credibility and the trust others have in you
  • Inhibits your ability to persuade others
  • Thwarts wise decision-making

The extent of your self-deception determines how much your happiness and leadership efforts will be undermined. Without some form of intervention, your performance will suffer, and your subordinates will remain unengaged.
I see this problem frequently with the clients I work with corporate coaching. Like goldfish swimming in a bowl, oblivious to the fact they’re in water, it’s hard to know what others can plainly see.
Fortunately, recognizing this leadership trap can inoculate you against its consequences. If, however, you believe that guarding yourself against wishful thinking will prevent self-deception, you may be in for a bumpy ride. Ongoing vigilance is required to preserve immunity, note Arbinger’s experts in Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box. Awareness will:

  • Sharpen your vision
  • Reduce feelings of conflict
  • Enliven the desire for teamwork
  • Redouble accountability
  • Enhance your ability to achieve results
  • Boost job satisfaction and overall happiness

You can then leverage your leadership strengths, view yourself and others more positively, and resolve resistant personal and professional relationship problems.
It’s important to examine self-deception at all levels to improve teamwork, reduce conflict, boost engagement, and achieve remarkable results. But the self-discovery steps toward enlightenment are difficult without a trusted mentor or executive coach to guide you. If you have questions about this, give me a call.