A few years ago during an executive course entitled: “Reinventing Leadership,” I had the temerity to suggest it was a leader’s responsibility to appeal to the hearts and the minds would follow.
People in the room looked at me as if I had grown a second head on my shoulders.
During a breakout, I raised the concept again, and observed, fascinated, as the group quickly circumvented my perspective and proposed a series of “strong and bold” actions to help rescue the foundering company identified in the case. In all cases, the “strong and bold” actions reflected an “Us versus Them” perspective, and to my ears, a “We’re herding sheep” mentality.
And here I thought we were gathered to talk about reinventing leadership.
Navigating to the Intersection of Logic and Emotion:
Strong and bold are great descriptors for your morning coffee, and necessary, but frequently misapplied ingredients when it comes to leading.
Sure, given enough time in a leadership capacity, you will undoubtedly face situations that demand bold and strong responses (see below). However, keep your superhero tights and cape folded neatly in a drawer for those occasions, and focus daily on finding your way to the intersection of logic and emotion.
People don’t vanquish foes, conquer new worlds, or even strive for great quarterly numbers out of respect for the logic behind the push.
We change or adapt our behaviors when we associate the change with a personal gain or less of a personal loss.
We rally behind something because of the “Why” not the “What.” (Thanks, Simon Sinek for codifying it for us.)
People might intuitively understand why something is important, but if the issue doesn’t appeal to their emotions, all of the intellectual appeals in the world fall on deaf ears.
Sadly, the failure of those in leadership roles to safely navigate to the intersection of logic and emotion is present in more than just the collection of individuals in the course mentioned above.
In my long tenure as a manager and executive, I observed intellect-charged superheroes in full tights and cape regalia regularly succumb to their inability to appeal to the hearts of those who would follow them.
Support for their ideas was met with nodding heads and strong signs of outward agreement and backed by…almost nothing in the form of meaningful, coordinated and concerted effort. In many cases, passive-aggressive behaviors emerged as part of the resistance to this logical leader’s agenda.
As an executive and emerging leader coach, I am called upon to help otherwise talented individuals recognize why they crashed hard and short of their potential. In almost every case, the failure to see clearly through this metaphorical intersection of logic and emotion is at the heart of the crash.
3 Big Causes of Leadership Crashes at the Intersection of Logic and Emotion:
1. Failure to provide context for a direction or decision. What’s well-baked and clear to see in your mind is new and foreign to those hearing it for the first time. Fail to offer clear context, time for contemplation and opportunities to question and even suggest alternatives, and you fail to gain the hearts and minds of individuals.
2. Failure to heed Antoine de Saint Exupery’s advice: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, do the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
There’s ample data to support what we all intuitively understand—we’re not the rational actors of economics textbook fame. We’re emotional beings who make decisions on what moves or appeals to our personal interests, hopes, and dreams, and that fit within our experiences and biases. Ignore human psychology at great leadership peril.
3. Failure to recognize the need for involvement. One client surrounded herself with a group of incredibly experienced and talented professionals, and then oddly opted to not involve them in solving the issues of the business, preferring to keep this group focused on what they did best. The relationship crash was spectacular.
The cleanup involved a difficult (for the executive) change in behavior. Over time, trust was built based on involvement. The business survived and sustained in large part because of the ideas of this previously uninvolved group.
These three and many other examples share a common cause that sounds much like what Goleman describes as low emotional intelligence. Lack of empathy. Lack of understanding how our behaviors impact others.
In some cases, the failure to appeal to the hearts AND minds stems from a naïve view of power and control.
Yes, Bold and Strong Can Help You Navigate the Intersection of Logic and Emotion:
Bold and strong don’t preclude appealing to hearts and minds. Rather, they are essential ingredients for success, when applied properly. Some of my favorite examples where bold and strong influenced success include:
- A company executive trusting his key lieutenants to bring to life a new strategy to reinvent the company dared to let go instead of doing what many would have done and command and control. This individual showed extreme strength and boldness when most would have reflexively commanded and controlled.
- A project leader who received conflicting guidance from two top executives asserted for what the team needed, and not what the executives wanted. She got her way and the project succeeded!
- The manager who stepped in and fired the toxic genius on the team. Everyone in authority (and I do mean everyone) was reluctant to let this person go, regardless of the reality that the costs exceeded the gains from his genius.
- The senior leader who stood in front of her board and at risk of her job, said, “We will go this way,” which coincidentally was not the way her board thought the firm should go. Logic suggested a conservative approach and yet her team understood the only approach worth pursuing required bold, concerted action.
- The group manager who uncovered with his team a very different approach to winning business in a mature market and navigated the politics and conventional wisdom to ultimately prevail.
In each situation, the leader involved selected the right time and place for strong and bold. These leaders had all arrived at the intersection of logic and emotion with their teams, and they asserted because it was the right thing to do, not because they were worried about appearing bold and strong.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Effective leaders understand the need to find and motivate others to this location where emotion meets logic meets opportunity. And yes, sometimes bold and strong actions are required. However, the smart ones arrive safely and with ample support by appealing to the hearts of their people first. The minds follow and then the logic builds the plan.