Notes to “The Psychology of Leadership” [Part 2]

Oct 27, 2016 · Leadership

Let’s not waste any time. Here are my notes to lectures 2-5 from “The Psychology of Leadership” by Tal Ben-Shahar.

Lecture 2: Januasian Thinking I

Janus – the Roman God of beginnings and endings, the god of opposites, who is able to reconcile with his two heads between the opposites.

Januasian Thinking: “Conceiving two or more opposite or anti ethical ideas, images or concepts simultaneously.” – Robert Rothenburg

Great minds are able to hold seeming contradictions at the same time.

This theoretical concept can be applied to your role as a leader.

“We see everything as this and that, plus or minus, on or off, black or white, and we fragment reality into an endless series of either-ors. In a phrase, we think the world apart.” – Parker Palmer

This happens when we do not have any leadership. Leadership offers stability. A leader thinks the world together.

“Paradoxical thinking requires that we embrace a view of the world in which opposites are joined, so that we can see the world clearly and see it whole… The result is a world more complex and confusing than the one made simple by either-or thought—but that simplicity is merely the dullness of death. When we think together, we reclaim the life force in the world, in our students, in ourselves.” – Parker Palmer

This is why Januasian Thinking is important: A leader must always make a decision between opposites like the moral and the practical…

The following quote shows Januasian Thinking in a real world example:

“Ben Franklin was a paradox. He fiercely believed in the power of the individual, but he was a relentless advocate for acting on behalf of the community. He believed in competition, but he never hesitated to cooperate with competitors when it was in his interest. He could be the most partisan of politicians—and the most accommodating of diplomats.” – Jack Uldrich

He recommends the book: Built to Last by Jim Collins.

The best companies have a strict culture and strict boundaries, but allow for freedom which brings creativity – again Januasian Thinking.

Leadership is about opposites: being democratic and being authoritarian, being though and being nice… evaluating the context and acting accordingly.

Person AND situation, democratic AND authoritarian, dogmatism AND relativism, though AND nice

Is it the leader that ultimately makes the difference or is everybody just “a pawn” and history would have happened anyhow?

Liebersen and O’Conner: The leader does not matter, it’s all about the situation. The variance of organizational performance is influenced very little by leaders.

Thomas 1987: Yes, Liebersen and Pfeffer are right, leadership makes little difference – if you look at it in one way. So if you compare two organizations with each other, the leadership does not really matter. But if you compare different leaders within an organization, leadership does matter a great deal.

Analogy: How much does the skill of a driver matter if we compare a racing car to a standard car? Not much. What if we compare different drivers within the racing car? It does matter (between vs. within).

There are great disadvantages if you think into both extreme ways: If you think it’s all about the situation and leadership doesn’t matter, then we think that nothing we do does matter. And if we think that it’s all about leadership, then people suffer psychological and will be much less likely to be effective, because we don’t take into account the structural / societal situational factors, which a leader needs to think together.

“Similarly, by the time Martin Luther emerged, the seeds of the Reformation had already sprouted in many places, but no one would argue that the passionate, charismatic priest who nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door was a puppet of history. Historical forces set the stage for him, but once there, he was himself a historical force.” – John William Gardner

“Historical forces create the circumstances in which leaders emerge, but the characteristics of the particular leader in turn have their impact on history.” – John William Gardner

A great leader sees the opportunity and meets it with greatness, courage, eloquence and persistence.

“[…] it takes a special kind of person to master the challenges of opportunity.” – Locke and Kirkpatrick

Kirk Lewin case study: Children where split into three groups (Democratican, Laissez-faire, Authoritarian). Most productive and satisfied was the democratic group. The Laissez-faire group was the most unsuccessful and most unhappy group, and they even were aggressive. The authoritarian group was productive, but only when the leader was present. They were also unhappy and aggressive.

Democracy is not enough: every leader at some point has to go against the grain, but only if it is really necessary. Sometimes we need to take a stand, otherwise all we are is pseudo leaders.

Analogy for a pseudo leader: A dog who is running way ahead of his master – until he reaches a crossroad. Then he will stop, turn around and will see what decision the real leader in this situation makes.

Pseudo leaders care about “What will make me more popular?”, “How do people like me more?” or “What do other people think?”. Other opinions are important, but the real leader has to take a stand.

Lecture 3: Januasian Thinking II

Contingency Theory (Fiedler, 1696) – There is no best way to lead an organization, it always depends on the context. You should apply your own style to each situation.

Leadership means listening to all opinions and afterwards making a clear decision.

Relativism: anything goes, there is no right or wrong. Dogmatism: there is only one way.

Moral Relativism: truth is always relative. This is a big problem, because if everything is equally right, then there is no wrong either. Why should one even bother if anything is equally right or wrong? This mindset closes our mind.

A great leader can not be a moral relativist (which does not mean he should be a dogmatist).

Relativism on the one side is a commitment to open-mindedness and flexibility, but lacks the conviction and certainty for sustained action.

Dogmatism on the one side possesses conviction and certainty, but lacks openness and flexibility.

Relativism is more popular today, because the biggest crimes in history stem from dogmatism. The problem is, that the pendulum shifted too far to the side of relativism.

Inaction is dangerous for a leader. This inaction might be caused through relativism.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

A strong leader has to have convictions, a strong cause, strong beliefs. And this also means to believe, that there are absolute wrongs.

“If we regard truth as something handed down from authorities on high, the classroom will look like a dictatorship. If we regard truth as a fiction determined by personal whim, the classroom will look like anarchy. If we regard truth as emerging from a complex process of mutual inquiry, the classroom will look like a resourceful and interdependent community.” – Parker Palmer

This is what a leader does. When necessary, drawing on people, discussing topics, thinking about them and making a clear decision on their basis, and thereby forming beliefs.

Beautiful Enemy (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841): In friendship, we are not looking for someone who is a mush of concessions but rather for someone who challenges us and thereby is a beautiful enemy.

Leaders are not forming an entourage of yes-sayers, but teams of beautiful enemies. They by themselves are beautiful enemies.

A leader does not criticize, but offers feedback. He is not just getting something of his chest, but rather give valuable and honest advice.

Leaders needs integrity. Hence, they should not ask for feedback, if they are not able to receive it without judging it. They need to be open to honest feedback and completely accept it.

The leader needs to build a culture, which does not withhold important and unpleasant information.

The higher someone is in an organization, the less reliable feedback someone gets. This problem needs to be addressed by forming the right culture.

Often we rationalize ideas rather than look for the rational response.

“The leader needs a circle of associates who are willing to be both supportive and critical. Pity the leader caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers. Leaders need reassurance, but just as important they need advisers who tell them the truth, gently but candidly.” – John Gardner

Lecture 4: Executive Coaching I

The field of Executive Coaching is still very young and open for innovation. The demand for it increases rapidly.

Assumptions: Leaders need authority, authenticity and adaptive capacity.

“As nations, as organizations and as individuals, we fear taking risks. The context of our work and personal lives reinforces a set of common values, attitudes and perceptions that discourages us from standing out in a crowd – that calls for playing it safe… [Understanding this] includes learning about the context that limits the full expression of leadership. This context is inherited from our youth and shapes our current view of ourselves. As long as it remains invisible to us, we cannot shift our thinking or our behavior to fill the leadership gap.” – Warren Bennis

It’s nearly impossible to follow a leader, which one does not trust to be real. That’s why authenticity is so important.

The True Self / False Self Theory – Donald Winnicot

“Since so many workers are knowledge workers who are working in post-industrial organizations, those who can simply look to and imitate the technical model of superiors are dwindling while more workers than before, even at management level, are being expected to lead an adaptive problem-solving process.” – Danielle Kennedy

Process of Executive Coaching: Contracting, data gathering, delivering feedback, development planning, coaching, evaluating (spot-check)

360° Feedback Model: Feedback model for your performance from boss, Peters and direct reports , spouse or partner, parents or children. More valuable than feedback from just one person because of the different perspectives. Moreover, the self-picture often does not match with the way other people see us. The model therefore promotes self awareness, builds rapport and creates motivation for change.

The model asks questions about strengths, weaknesses, challenges, leadership qualities, relationships with direct reports, relationship with superiors, integrity and congruence, emotional intelligence, current effectiveness and future and work life development.

The information is gathered verbatim, anonymous, holistic and confidential (data only belongs to the client).

Based on that feedback a development plan is created. It states a clear vision and actionable advice.

Four stages of development: Unconscious incompetence –> conscious incompetence –> conscious competence –> unconscious competence.

Lecture 5: Executive Coaching II

I didn’t find any video ressources to this lecture online. Thus I cannot provide any notes. You can find the slides to the lecture here.