What Leadership is NOT

What Leadership Is NOT!

3 Leadership Myths to Avoid
By Erick Lauber, Ph.D.

Bradley was failing, and failing badly.

Not only did the members of his team avoid him in the lunchroom and never stop by to say “good morning,” they had begun taping a target to his back every day and everyone had signed up for archery lessons.  Bradley’s leadership style just wasn’t working.

Unfortunately, Bradley’s core problem was that he suffered from several leadership myths he’d picked up from pop culture.  Like many of us, he didn’t have any formal training in leadership so his beliefs came mostly from watching movies.  Leadership to Bradley was square-jawed men taking on insurmountable odds, rallying the troops with award-winning speeches, and humbly waiting for passionate kisses from pretty co-stars.  Bradley thought he was prepared to be a great leader because though he didn’t have a square jaw and no one had tried to kiss him in years, he had been practicing his motivational speeches in the mirror.  He had worked up his volume to “passing car with the bass too loud” level, and he could spew out all of the latest leadership buzzwords without spitting too much.  But somehow it just wasn’t working.

What Bradley didn’t realize was that his ailments were completely fixable. They are pretty common today. Perhaps you’ve seen these leadership myths in your workplace:

1. The Myth of Omnipotence 

This shouldn’t be confused with the “myth of ominipresence” (the power to be everywhere) or the “myth of omniplexes” (the power to watch all of the movies in a theater on only one ticket).  The myth of omnipotence is thinking you can tell anyone on the team to do practically anything and they’re going to just hop to it, with a grin and a nod and a comment that means “You got it, boss. I’d walk through fire for you.”

It might happen in the movies but we know in reality a brand new leader doesn’t automatically get enthusiastic cooperation. He or she more often gets quiet acceptance, or perhaps begrudging compliance.  Building cooperation and energetic participation requires time and careful nurturing in the real world. You might have to listen to a co-worker tell that unfunny story about their nephew’s brief stint with the Ice Capades.  You might have to not get your way a few times in order to “collaborate” with your team. Real humans don’t give blind obedience because of someone’s position in an organizational chart. And leaders can’t alienate people, even if they do suspect some of them might be possessed by aliens.

2. The Myth of Omniscience

This is the belief that being the leader means knowing everything about everything.  It comes in two varieties.  In some environments, it makes the brand new leader micromanage and attempt to oversee the smallest detail.  In others, it makes the leader think they have to know the answer to every question.  Why else would they be the leader?

Bradley had these two issues. He started looking over everyone’s shoulder.  Bradley also never failed to give an answer even when he was clueless.  His staff noticed. They even started reading questions from the back of a quantum physics text book just to mess with him.

3. The Myth of Omni-adrenaline 

This is probably the most damaging myth in today’s complex, skill-driven team environments. It is the belief that excellent execution from a team demands adrenaline surges, rousing speeches and lots of shouting. Every movie has such inspirational moments and Bradley tried to create them every day. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work on his team.

Bradley’s attempts at motivating were actually hurting his team’s performance, not helping.  Shouting and adrenaline surges are only useful for invoking over-learned, mindless performance in the face of fear and actual physiological arousal. Military units and sports teams are perfect for this type of leadership.  They also provide clear winners and losers and are wonderful backdrops for the kind of dramatic storytelling Hollywood thrives on. Would you want to see a movie about complex, skill-driven teams toiling day after day to solve logistics issues, problems with customer service, or trying to get the copier man to arrive on time?

But adrenaline surges also narrow cognition and thinking. Today’s American work environment demands creative problem solving, flexible decision making and complex reasoning.  When was the last time you had to jump on a grenade or charge into an enemy bayonet line?  A leader suffering from “omni-adrenaline” in the modern workplace looks clueless and simple-minded. “Why is he shouting? I’m trying to concentrate over here!”

Americans and movie watchers worldwide are taught myths about leadership every day.  The myths of omnipotence, omniscience and omni-adrenaline are just a few of the leadership stereotypes that can be fixed with training or mentorship.  Fortunately, these “inoculations” are available in all kinds of dosage sizes.  Everyone can get access to leadership training in today’s technology-connected world. And why not? Wouldn’t you want to create a more productive, cooperative workplace by dispelling the myths of leadership you suffer from?

Re-post of a video on why Life Framing our goals is so important!

Life Framing is about re-setting our mental attitude AND our goals and tasks. In this brief (3 min) video Dr. Erick Lauber briefly demonstrates with an interactive audience how the information we perceive and remember is dictated by our tasks and goals.

High School Leadership Workshop transcript (8)

This is part of the transcript from a high school leadership workshop Dr. Lauber conducted in Indiana, PA in 2011.

There are such things as individual differences in the world.  As much as we like to study brains and minds, they’re not all the same, and they all interpret even the exact same stimuli differently.  They come up with different conclusions, different interpretations.

I remember the day my wife and I were sitting on the beach; my daughter Emily is making a sand castle, and my son Casey is pushing this dump truck around, and you know what’s going to happen next.  At some point, he runs the dump truck in to the sand castle because they’re about the same age, and that’s just inevitable.

And I remember my wife’s interpretation, “How could our son possibly do that?  What kind of evil kid is this?  He is going to grow up to be a mass murderer.  This is terrible.”  And my interpretation was, “That was inevitable.  I have seen boys build sand castles just so they can run over them with their dump truck.  It’s just the way it is.”

So the differences is between them, but more importantly, in that situation, there was another difference – between me and my wife and how we interpreted the exact same stimuli, the exact same situation, watching it happen in front of us.  She had a different interpretation of what it meant and what to do about it.

You’re going to come across these kind of situations in your life.  Differences between people can be significant and have impacts on your relationships with them.  Some differences aren’t quite important as others.  I like to do a little task with audiences because I have taught television production and I ask “What are your favorite television shows?”  So what’s your favorite television show?

SportsCenter on ESPN?  What’s your favorite television show?  You’re not sure?  Let’s have some volunteers.  Who over here wants to tell me what their favorite television show is?  Come on, it’s not that hard.

You like House?  Who else likes something else?  Yeah?  What?

Burn Notice?  Yes, you?

Reno 911, the comedy.  Anybody over here, what’s your favorite television show?

Law & Order, we’ve got some serious drama going on. Good deal.  Anybody else over here, favorite television show?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’ve always had fun watching that show.  She kicks butt, doesn’t she?

Anybody over here?

The Secret Life of the American Teenager, we watch that in our house because we have teenagers.  I think it’s a great show.  How about over here, favorite TV show, anyone?

Doctor Who, the British one, yeah, that’s a good – well, there’s an old, old, old version, and then there’s the new version.  Yes?

NCIS, I haven’t heard that one yet.

Hey, folks, that’s a huge diversity of TV shows that you all like in a crowd that the TV industry considers to be identical.  The TV industry thinks you are all the same demographic – little, tight narrow age range in the room right now – little tight geography as far as they are concerned.  They think you’re all identical and yet, I can walk around this room – and I can do this in any place – and find a huge diversity of shows that you all like.

Now let me share a little story with you.  I’m so old that when we watched television as a kid, we didn’t even have cable.  I know that sounds like a horror movie basically.  We didn’t have any cable, and HBO hadn’t been invented yet, let alone satellite.  Guess how many channels we had – three; ABC, CBS and NBC.  That’s all we had.

We had the test pattern on UHF.  Us old guys – we can go reminisce about that test pattern later.  That’s all we had.  Now let me tell you a little consequence of this that had dawned on me much later in life as I taught TV and communications.

When I went to college at Northwestern University in Chicago – I’m from a small farm town in Ohio – when I arrived at college and started having conversations over lunch and dinner and stuff, it turned out that nearly everybody had seen the same TV shows that I had.  Whole countrywide had seen the same TV shows.  We all chatted about Happy Days; we’d all seen Laverne & Shirley; we’d all seen the Wide World of Sports on ABC.

We had the exact same content to talk about.  And when we made jokes and references at the dinner table, we all got them because they were all jokes about Happy Days and shows that we’d all seen.

In fact – this is a funny story – I was watching – my favorite show in college for a time was Baa Baa Black Sheep, probably only the really old guys – Baa Baa Black Sheep was about a Korean fighter unit – Air Force fighter unit in Korea that would go up and have these fighter jet planes.  Robert Conrad was in it.

And all of us in my fraternity right after dinner would all go sit in the living room; we’d all watch Baa Baa Black Sheep together.  It was a huge fraternity event.  One day, they cancelled it.  It ruined our lives.  They cancelled the show.  We had nothing to do.  We didn’t know what to do with ourselves because we didn’t like the show they put on.  It could have been like Blossom or something, Facts of Life.

So I just started to go to the library and started studying.  So, “All right, might as well go to the library.”  A couple of buddies joined me.  You know what – our grades went up.  I have to write a thank you note some day to the network for cancelling Baa Baa Black Sheep.  I may never have survived Northwestern academically.  We all did better.

But the consequence of this today is that with the fractionation of the media, with all the little niche markets and all those channels… people are not having as many shared common experiences.  And when they meet new people, they don’t have much common ground as they used to have in the old day when everybody watched Walter Cronkite for the news.

They have a huge diversity of information, and it’s harder to communicate with people who don’t share as much background with you as maybe your sister, brother, or your neighbor.  When you go off to college, it’s a more complicated task for you now than it was when I went to college.

Even though Northwestern was very cosmopolitan – everyone from all 50 states – we had all that shared knowledge from TV, from music, back whenever LPs – remember those things.  But you guys, you have a bigger task.  You have a bigger task and a challenge ahead of you to have conversations with people who are more diverse.

So one of my messages today for you at your age is to think about the tolerance and diversity that you are going to have to exhibit in the near future.