reacting or showing adaptive leadership

Just Reacting or Showing Adaptive Leadership?

How much of the time are we simply reacting to the environment as opposed to demonstrating adaptive leadership?

Good leaders are obviously very rational – aren’t they?

Many leaders will consider themselves to be logical and rational thinkers however contemporary neuroscience is starting to reveal a somewhat different picture in fact it may be that for a lot of the time we are not consciously reasoning at all. Here are 3 potential ways a leader’s decision making may be being influenced “behind the scenes” if you like or unconsciously without our awareness.

Understanding these can help you appropriately challenge your own thinking and biases and improve your decision making and adaptive leadership qualities.

1. Priming to Respond as a Leader!

In 1999, North et al. conducted a field experiment in a grocery store. For two weeks, stereotypically French and German music were played on alternating days and the amount of French wine versus German wine sold was measured. Additionally, purchasers of wine were asked to fill out a brief survey, the results of which revealed that they were “unaware of [the] effects of music on their product choices.” More French wine was sold on days when French music was playing and more German wine was sold on the German music days.

This phenomenon called Priming and is something that marketers have already cottoned onto as a means of influencing our behaviour.

As a leader it might be an interesting question to ask yourself did you just rationally come to that decision or conclusion or were you being influenced unconsciously by something that had happened earlier?. According to Daniel Kahneman (2002 Nobel prize winning psychologist) Human beings are actually hardwired to make snap judgments, or to engage in what has called “fast” thinking—much of it taking place outside of our conscious awareness.

It is pretty much agreed that Priming is real and powerfully Influences our thinking here are some more examples that have been verified though experimental studies”

• Psychological Science published a study showing that when people eating in self-service restaurants can smell cleaning products, they keep their own table cleaner

• If the recipient of a placebo believes it will make them feel better, then the act of taking it stimulates endorphins, making them feel better. However, if you tell the recipient it’s a placebo, no endorphins are released and the placebo has no effect.

• Another recent study, by Adam Pazda from the University of Rochester discovered that women judged another woman wearing red to be more sexually receptive and promiscuous than a woman in white. Additional experiments found that women were more likely to display jealousy and mate-guarding behaviour if a woman wearing a red dress, instead of a green one, was on the scene.

• In almost every blind taste test of Cola Pepsi Cola wins every time. If you tell the participant what they are drinking this dramatically reverses and Coke wins the taste test handsomely. Does knowing the brands somehow change our experience of the taste?

Cues in our physical environment evoke specific thoughts and reactions, without our being aware of their provenance. There’s a pretty obvious evolutionary advantage to the brain metaphorically sniffing out a potential danger before you actually see it and this trait continues to influence our behaviour in meaningful ways.

From a leaders perspective could priming also apply to our relationships and conversations at work?

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2. Our brains are lazy and look for shortcuts without telling us.

The problem is that unless we know to look for those shortcuts or biases in thinking, we’re absolutely clueless about the fact they’re in play. The key such bias to me is what’s known as the availability heuristic. In a nutshell: The faster something comes to mind, the more credibility and importance you assign it. Of course, certain thinking popping up first has no bearing on either credibility or importance but is a function of the brain’s really fast sifting for information needed to solve a problem at hand, a question that needs answering, or a decision to be made. As Kahneman notes, availability is enhanced by personal connection (your house was broken into, so you assume burglaries are on the rise in your area, discussions in the media and a focus on recent plane crashes convinces you flying Air Malaysia is no longer safe.

The good news, as Kahneman also reports, is that the availability heuristic can be beaten — by reconsidering your thought and questioning its content. For example, realizing that the availability heuristic is at work, you can reconsider the burglary and consider it a one off event, not a trend (at least until you seek out local crime statistics) and decide against rushing to install expensive floodlights and CCTV over your driveway. This particular mental shortcut influences decisions both large and small—from buying a lottery ticket at a Dairy 15 miles away because someone got a winning ticket there last week, to deciding not to move to Auckland because of concerns about Tsunamis so checking what’s behind what you call “thinking” is crucial.

3. First impressions are far faster and stronger than you ever imagined.

You take an immediate shine to Susan or Jamie because you’re certain that he or she is open and honest. But you instantly dislike David or Elizabeth because your gut tells you he or she is utterly untrustworthy. Even though you’ll doubtless (eventually) come up with what you think are perfectly reasonable explanations for these beliefs, the reality is that you assigned those traits to these people based almost entirely on your perception of their faces. And how long did it take you to form that first impression? About a tenth of a second. (If you’re wondering, the blink of an eye takes considerably longer.)

In a series of experiments by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, participants viewed photos of individuals for varied lengths of time—100 milliseconds; a half-second; and a second—and identified the traits they associated with the faces. Among the traits considered were likeability trustworthiness, attractiveness, competence, ambition aggressiveness and extraversion. Perhaps most striking about the study’s conclusions was that these snap judgments were highly correlated with judgments made in the absence of time constraints. The researchers propose that yet another bias—the person-positivity bias—may operate when the amount of information we have to go on to make a judgment is minimal but may decrease when there’s more information and time. Increasing the time from a half-second to a full second didn’t necessarily change people’s judgments, but it did increase confidence in those judgments.

Thus, the authors write, “Additional encounters with a person may serve only to justify quick, initial, on-line judgments.”  Research continues to reveal that human behaviour and motivation may not rely on conscious reason as much as we like to think.

I think for Leaders the best strategy to overcome and mitigate these biases for both leaders and their team members has to be to build trust and respectful relationships with others.

Get that right and some of these thinking short-cuts are probably less likely to get in the way of good two way communications. So are good leaders obviously rationale?

Well sometimes but it is complicated…..