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Leadership after effects

Leadership after effects, what are they, what can they tell us, what do they mean for you?

Leadership is a hugely complex field of study, multi-disciplinary, and massively inaccessible.

Leadership involves one (or more) consciousness(es) influencing other consciousnesses, through inaccessible processes, where we don’t even know what consciousness is, let alone how those processes impact it! How then can we study an invisible process going on inside and between something(s) that we don’t understand (consciousness)? Where do leadership after effects fit in that picture?

We could study what leaders intend to do. Well, actually, we can only study what leaders TELL US they intend to do. As anyone who has spent more than five seconds studying leadership knows, what leaders intend to do, and what they actually do, and what the say they intend to do are three very different things.

In the light of the above problems, for those of us who seek to understand leadership and improve our own leadership, how can we best understand it?

Perhaps by looking at three things: what we intend to do, the effects of what we do, and the after effects, too.

Here is one scenario that illustrates the value, and limitations, of examining each of the above three.

You have a time sensitive, mission critical project. You know what you want to achieve. A member of staff is being difficult (for those new to leadership: yes, it does happen). You have tried everything you know how to help the recalcitrant party understand what needs to be done and why. Still they have a pic ‘n’ mix selection of excuses. In the end you feel your immediate choices are limited to: get someone else to do it, tell them to do it.

You decide (intend) to tell them to do it, and think that you will deal with the morale implications later. Of course, even as you make that decision you know it is a long way short of the ideal, but you feel your back is against the wall. The person does as required. You had a clear intention and achieved the desired effect.

When it comes to understanding your own leadership, you may think that such a scenario demonstrates that by seeking to understanding your inner world of leadership that you can improve your effectiveness, that you had direct and full access to the thoughts that led to your objective and method intention. 

Alas, at best, we have only PARTIAL access. Why? We are normally blind to the psychological phenomena that afflict us. Here, I am not talking about any kind of psychopathy, referring merely to the normal human condition.

Here are just two of the vast number of phenomena that impact our leadership reasoning: confirmation bias, attribution errors.

Confirmation bias: we tend to see and hear evidence that confirms what we already think, even to the point that contradictory evidence isn’t even processed!

Attribution errors: we attribute explanations for all sorts of things on an ongoing basis. There is a multitude of attribution errors just waiting to be made in every decision we make, made worse by the fact that we are blind to the errors, especially our habitual errors.

How then can we objectively study leadership by examining our inner world of reasoning? You can, study it, but not objectively. As any first year philosophy student can confirm, there is no such thing as objectivity.

Of course, that does not mean that studying leadership by examining one’s inner leadership life is fruitless. Much can learned, but it is far from a perfect learning environment.

Studying the effects of your leadership may be more productive, or at least more objective. Let’s see. 

A technique you intend to adopt works. You are pleased with it. It gets results… with the first three people, and then irritates persons four and five. Suddenly what worked, doesn’t! Hmmm… was the technique not as effective as you thought, or, did you change the way you applied it?

If you just look at the effect, your attributional thinking may conclude that the technique is, at best, hit and miss, and thus too unreliable to use. You have doubts. Was the intent the problem, or the effect? The goal or the method?

In reality, the effect works with some people, and not others. But if you didn’t explore that you would have dumped the technique.

As a quick and simplistic aside, highly effective leaders adapt their approach to suit the person they are leading.

A highly effective leader would explore the evidence and conclude that the method works with Mary, but not Joe. And then go on to explore what is was about Mary and Joe that caused such a different reaction to the same technique.

The above illustrates that studying the reported inner life of leaders and the effects of their interventions, can be productive, but is far from an ideal route to understanding what leadership is, or how it is best done.

What then of leadership after effects? What are they and what can they tell us?

Going back to the JFDI scenario above.

For those not familiar with JFDI it is a euphemistic initialisation, designed to disguise an autocratic and crass form of leadership, often only adopted in frustration after all else has failed: “Just ****ing do it!”

How would you react if you were ordered to do something, in such a crass way, where you either didn’t understand the reasons, or you disagreed, or, you thought the action was just plain wrong, and under the implied threat of dismissal? (JFDI contains an element of threat.) Would you put your heart and soul in to doing a good job? Probably not. You might, none-the-less get it done to some level of acceptability. The desired effect would have been achieved.

What would be the leadership after effects?

Having been so treated, will you let it pass, with your morale unaltered? Most unlikely. When you had a chance to give or withhold discretionary effort, after being “JFDI’d,” would you give, give, give, or, take another option? When you spot a problem that is going to cause the “JFDIer” some difficulties, and nobody knows that you have the information, will you tell them, or keep quiet and let justice be done?

In that scenario, you can see the leadership after effects.

When people are well-treated the leadership after effects make a huge difference. Problems that could have caused chaos are solved before they emerge. Opportunities that would have been invisible are seen and harnessed. Relationship problems that could have blown up into destructive conflict are smoothed before any damage is done. All are examples of leadership after effects. Great leaders create amazing after effects that are out of all proportion to the leadership input that caused them.

Even when studying why a given leader is so much more effective than another, few, if any of the differences will be detectable in their accounts of what they do and why, or visible in the direct effects.

Great leadership is almost always seen most in the after effects.

We even have phrases that note this phenomenon: “Things just go well when s/he is in charge.” You have probably heard that many times. That comment tells you, the leader being referred to is great at creating wonderful after effects, as a side effect of the way they lead, and those leadership differences are very, very subtle.

After many years of studying and coaching top leaders, PsyPerform understands many of the methods to create positive leadership after effects.

If you want to learn how to create great leadership after effects contact PsyPerform. You can have a free development session with Prof Nigel MacLennan either face-to-face or by SKYPE.

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