Why do many leadership efforts and organizational change initiatives fail? The state of the art is not the state of the practice. Luckily, there are some new insights that can help shape new management practices. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz summarize some counterintuitive conclusions in their article, “The Neuroscience of Leadership”, in strategy+business magazine.
Key Take Aways
I’m not actually surprised by the conclusions. I see these conclusions show up in my day to day at Microsoft. If I were to distill the most important points, I think they are:
- Lead a horse to water. The most meaningful changes come from within. It’s more effective and efficient to help others come to their own insights.
- Ask solution-focused questions. Stay solution-focused rather than dwelling on problems. See Solution-Focused Questions and Asking Better Questions.
- See the end in mind. Focus conscious attention on the improved result. See How To Paint a Future Picture and Step Into Your Future.
- Measure the approach, not just results. You get what you measure. More importantly, what you measure, you pay attention to. Just paying attention to something can open up opportunities for improvement.
Breakthroughs in Cognitive Science
Rock and Schwartz write the following:
Managers who understand the recent breakthroughs in cognitive science can lead and influence mindful change: organizational transformation that takes into account the physiological nature of the brain, and the ways in which it predisposes people to resist some forms of leadership and accept others. this does not imply that management – of change or anything else – is a science. There is a great deal of art and craft in it. But several conclusions about organizational change can be drawn that make the art and craft far more effective. These conclusions would have been considered counterintuitive or downright wrong only a few years ago.
Rock and Schwartz identify the following conclusions:
- Change is pain. Organizational change is unexpectedly difficult because it provokes sensations of physiological discomfort. (See Working Memory vs. Routine Activity)
- Behaviorism doesn’t work. Change efforts based on incentive and threat (the carrot and the stick) rarely succeed in the long run.
- Humanism is overrated. In practice, the conventional empathic approach of connection and persuasion doesn’t sufficiently engage people. In theory, the person-centered approach might be an effective solution but there is rarely time to go through this process with employees and guarantee that it will produce the desired results.
- Focus is power. The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain.
- Expectation shapes reality. People’s preconceptions have a significant impact on what they perceive.
- Attention shapes identity. Repeated, purposeful, and focused attention can lead to long-lasting personal evolution.