Appraisals of leadership

Weaponised words

I found myself living angrily this week. Angry at the realities of leadership that is evidently serving itself.

I try hard to maintain a network diverse enough not to be an echo chamber. I now find myself doubting whether my LinkedIn commentary this week has been constructive. Particularly that aimed directly at leadership. However, there were plenty others doing the same. Those voicing concern at direction – not the personal attacks that some feel free to share.

From my own filtered view, this social media showing of public mood seems to have been a persuasive factor in international diplomacy. A weight of sentiment, acting as a straw poll. Certainly the discourse rattled my own thoughts enough to draw some conclusions. And then call foul on leadership seemingly content to rattle sabres whilst quietly cashing in Russian cheques.

v | b | trust

This is low trust – the deceit of leadership. This is trustworthiness at its lowest ebb. Based upon remembered past bad experience of the individual. Or less helpfully, the bias and social stereotypes we each bestow upon out-groups, whilst we pretend we and our in-group stand tall.

visibility | b | t

This is increased visibility being sought. Increased uncertainty requiring closer examination. More regular checking. More questioning of response. Higher trust would curb some enquiry. But this is following discovery of falsehoods by our servants of government. Having been let down before and therefore wanting to see more. Seeing statements like “we will be decisive” meaning “we are being hesitant”. Still seeing the old characters in the spotlight. Smirks. Arrogance. Contrite. I’m alright.

v | behaviour | t

This is poor behaviour. This is Vladimir Putin receiving all manor of dignitaries in the last two weeks in order to reinforce a duplicity of assurance and intent. This too is the international responses that have since been slow to act – privately gauging public mood – whilst offering strong language to Ukrainian counterparts, in need of action not words.

On the other hand this is a speech from a comedy actor, turned premier. Speech amidst action. Leading by example. All capturing the attention of a wider world because it highlights the flaccid response from the rest. Words lead from the front in direct action, not cosy intentions or promises pretending to be more.

Other poor behaviour in leadership this week. This is Grant Shapps merrily posting on LinkedIn that he has set a TfL budget and that he now expects others to carry the blame. Delegation with no interest in ongoing influence or control. This is the Post Office scandal – a board and their lawyers allegedly attempting to hush up a litany of errors and concealing the collateral damage they knowingly caused. This is Carillion and it’s auditors now under investigation for what I can only assume to be – at the very least – contemptible apathy by all. In all cases this is leadership by proxy. A defensive decision-making attitude that exposes a willingness to see failure on their watch – conditional only upon ensuring failure is permitted to pass by with blame attached. Delegated blame, intended to ensure protection of a party, a corporation, or (more cynically) individual interests that can be thereafter restored.

A side note here is the caveat we all hold. The attempt to distinguish behaviour, by its intention. The white lie for good reason. Any parent or friend or mediator will know that – what is justified, half-said, or left out. In positions of influence or power, such intention inevitably becomes selective toward self-interest. The goodly compromise, that erodes morality; becoming the compromised, via self-declared moral cause. We are all human, after all.

visibility | behaviour | trust

What I conclude here is that I have been heuristically seeing these evolving situations with the tool improvisation anyone does when in a hurry. Returning to quick and peripheral judgements. I have sought more closely to assess what I think are hidden motivations and self-serving attitudes, based on a low level of trust in those I observe.

The sting in this tail

A final point is one I have had to ponder. Because I truly wish to reflect upon truth. This low trust in leadership I hold is recurring. It is sometimes one bordering on anti-establishment sentiment from within the establishment that keeps me safe. At some level it is a projection. If I am honest, one drawn from wondering if I would fair any better in face of such challenge of my own leadership. Or more squarely, my aversion to it’s sting.

In of itself, this is much the same assessment possible via a truth outlined via my own visibility | behaviour | trust. I am angry at leadership that does not serve, because the temptation is ever present to be just the same. We are all human, after all. But that’s the challenge, not the excuse.

Leading by example

Winning hearts and minds

We are about to turn a European country into a guerrilla buffer zone. That seems to be the (lack of) plan. Pretty despicable by all sides, and the worst-case outcome for Putin who I assume still favours that outcome to an overt NATO alliance war.

SWIFT may be a symbollic gesture. It is still a more meaningful gesture than the symbollic words and bluster offered so far. All nationalities weighing up economic priorities are sharing the shameful hesitation that Putin was counting on. And denying the early moral support “swift” action would have offered to the people of Ukraine.

This is the overt and globally supported economic action. Whatever is covert as forces and weapons on the ground is not what is putting hope into hearts and minds. SWIFT is the tangible actions that fearful Ukrainian people can see. Ironically slow is this response.

Enough of the powderpuff words that us armchair patriots desire. Time to test the hypobole of contingent planning, not just the rhetoric of resolve.

Original LinkedIn comment here

History repeating

Standing up for truth

My heart hurts for the innocent this evening. But if I’m honest, what I think I really feel is fear. Anxiety based upon a bursting of assumption. Assumption that tragedy of war only befalls distant shores.

I’m in awe of the bravery of the peoples of Ukraine tonight. And those in Russia prepared to stand up and break a silence upon what now unfolds.

As World War Two was becoming history, Karl Jaspers wrote his classic book “The origin and goal of history”. Publish in 1953. A monumental piece of philosophical discourse. He asserts that the human project only has 6,000 years of history, because to have history requires means to remember. He writes, “only with history did man become truly human” (Jaspers 1953, pp57). He is making the case that with history comes potentiality as well as substance; our transitory nature becomes a conscious reality and with it an ever-present awareness of our time and mortality; calling the individual to action amidst a historical perspective; this dependently acquired set of beliefs.

I read this book over Christmas, thinking how powerful his insights. Coming as they did, so soon after the Second World War. I also read his work thinking he was writing in a very different age. This week, we seem to be dragged back a little closer to that time again.

Karl Jaspers was a Swiss-German. He was a psychotherapist, turned scholar of philosophy. Brilliant, but without a philosophical position of his own, his name is less well known than other Germans of this time. Most notably Martin Heidegger, who infamously took to Nazism. Jaspers, married to a Jew, and generally regarded as the better human being than Heidegger became, is inevitably less well remembered.

In this same era – the era of propaganda and mass communication owing to the availability of radio – another psychological perspective was published in 1953. This was Carl Hovland and Yale University who explained persuasion inspired by the effectiveness of messaging in World War Two. The Hovland/Yale model, remains the prominent means to explain the critical importance of “who says what to whom”. It explains our susceptibility to propaganda. This model became the foundation stone of sales, marketing, and what we know to be the power of persuasion.

These insights came from moments of heightened uncertainty. Where a disdain to historic reality had prevailed. By those seeking to own truth, rather than speak it.

Today this same owned truth, is heard once more, in its insidious glory. Abroad. But also at home. What must prevail is the demand that we judge leadership that takes care for truth. And through that lens we must call out all who dare lead by weaponising truth. For it is they few alone, who are dealing out this new despair. In the name of owned truth.

Is less, more?

Measures, posts, and perspectives

I find myself writing offline with some regularity in early 2022. My daily blogging habit was intentionally broken over Christmas, but the faltering return was less planned. I have instead taken to being more active on LinkedIn again, or taking an idea from a discussion or lecture or journal and committing the thought to notes on my iPhone, maybe never to be seen again.

Daily visits to this website have fallen as a result. But my engagement and discussions have increased. So, I content myself with less blogs and less traffic as an acceptable loss to gain insight from discourse. Less of me, more of you. Being influenced whilst influencing.

So which is better? The habit and regularity. Predictability of output. Or the discourse and discussion with less committed but more explored?

Sound familiar? Because I contend that this is precisely the mistake early project commitment without room for discourse becomes. Sponsors responding to deadlines. Surrounding themselves by lawyers and bean-counters and procurement tacticians. Driven to move on and direct. Inform and commit. Instead of reframing, responding, and listening to what needs to be next.

There is no single right answer. But there are plenty of wrong reasons to either commit early, or dither without decisions ever being made. Sometimes its simply a matter of perspective or the inappropriate hidden influences elsewhere.

Are we gambling everything?

Hiding in plain sight

Superbowl Sunday is here. Or get up early Monday, as it is in my house. I’ll have watched it in 45 minutes by 7am tomorrow.

The name Warren Sharp meant nothing to me until ten minutes ago {here}, but as an infamous name in punditry, gambling, and – as reported by the NYer – with legitimate links as both poacher and gamekeeper in the worlds of professional sport and gambling, I suspect I will be seeing his name again. Or at least his pseudonym.

Visibility | Behaviour | Trust

My heuristic toolbox rattled as that revelation was read. A man too keen to keep a lid closed. High visibility but defensive in identity is a behaviour that gives reason to not immediately offer much trust. When new information offers reason to trust less, it is our own behaviours that necessarily change. We need to step closer and see more. Much as with our home grown current truth dodging politics. We see the lies, we more closely attend to the suspicious behaviour, as reduced trust is replaced by wider sources of information and intervention.

I’m sure Warren Sharp’s real name is less interesting than the mystery. But there is a wider point here. Gambling visibility is on the increase. Be it betting online, bingo on our phones, charities advertising weekly lotteries (in the name of their benevolent cause). How has this more overt behaviour that is aimed at playing on gambling habits been allowed? With the revelations of who is propping up political interests – maybe something is beginning to look more covert through another lens. Maybe my comparison of politics and gambling is more than just analogous.

And if visibility | behaviour | trust is nothing more than my heuristic warning light, it’s on full alert as the biggest gamblers of all in the pyramid builder crypto-currency world prepare to engulf the Superbowl tonight.

700 days…

No big blog. Just a note for my diary.

1.918 years. 23 months. 100 weeks. 700 days. With my better half now recipient of a fourth attempt at vaccination, we can but hope we are not counting days of lockdown for much more.

Next milestone is 2 years. 13th March 2020-2022. Another season will be upon us, and a hope we can soon spring back into externally relevant action then.

lockdown learning

Day 699…

Tomorrow is perhaps a more poignant number to observe. But 699 is a more interesting number. An odd composite. A multiple of two distinct primes (3 and 233).

799 is also a composite prime. But I do hope I’m not contemplating the approach of another hundred day milestone after this one, but who knows what Covid treat is coming next.

Day 700 of lockdown tomorrow. Two years on 13th March.

To be continued…

Instigating behavioural change

Do we start with behaviour or mind?

My thanks to my friends at Praxis for prompting this blog. I pondered upon this yesterday only because of a Praxis Framework post via LinkedIn yesterday (thanks Adrian). With some ironic confirmation of one argument or the other (you are invited to ponder upon which) I did not even think to blog this answer – I just responded via LinkedIn. It can be inferred that I have fallen out of the habit of daily blogging, so I have been prompted (via intrinsic motivation or external impetus) to respond more fully here.

What was offered is a position outlined by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith:

Start with changing behaviours, not mindsets. It is much easier to ‘act your way into new thinking’ than to ‘think your way into new actions’

Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith (1993) via Praxis website

Followed by an invitation for response by anyone who disagreed. I am not committing to disagreeing, but I did have an alternative acadamic perspecive I wanted to share.

This behaviour not mindset approach is in line with behaviourists sentiment. But it would be quite wrong of me to suggest this 1993 book, or even this quote, are behaviourist inspired. As explained in the Praxis summary this quote is advocating a specific “beginning with behaviour” approach to an underperforming or “pseudo” team. Per this same Praxis post this is also referencing Katzenbach et al and their Team Performance Curve. Accordingly, that is not to say Katzenbach et al are advocating behaviour first for already effective or high performing teams. My argument is that this is with good reason.

Social Psychology considerations

This is a prompt to wider psychological consideration of what, in team context, is influencing behaviour, or indeed what behaviour is influencing toward mindset. I (re)introduce below several theories from social psychology, countering particularly considerations of reward and punishment as go-to behavioural controls (cf. BF Skinner’s operant conditioning e.g., here).

I am going to group a number of principles of cognition together into the term mindset. Some latitude is asked therefore as I introduce various abstract notions of cognition. Concepts such as attitude, motivation, intent, or belief. Precisely the abstract and subjective concepts that behaviourists would argue is the reason cognitive psychology is flawed. But also precisely what is, to developmental psychologists, what children from as young as eighteen months are becoming subjectively aware of when they distinguish their perspective from that of another (cf. Theory of Mind e.g., here).

These comments are an expansion of my response on LinkedIn. I have also crossed referenced a number of blogs I have previously offered in this regard.

Behaviourists beware

Intrinsic Motivation (IM) is easily replaced by external incentive – mindset orientation changing behaviour. [This is in reference to Self Determination Theory – see my blog Motivation vs Coercion]. We want to encourage personal ownership and motivation. Throwing cash at a problem, or forcing compliance, can backfire if well functioning teams are suddenly just driven to a big pay-out (how many times do we have to see that…).

Predicting behaviour may necessarily require consideration of attitude. And attitude may be best established against specifics rather than general conditions. Icek Ajzen and Martin Fishbein considering belief, intentions, and actions and in later work surmising that individual sense of control plays a part (cf. Reasoned Action – see my blog).

Context is key. No single factor is going to change behaviour – and beliefs, intentions, or past events have a place within mindset

The Elaboration Likelihood Model would suggest it is only in situations of peripheral attention that low cognitive engagement thresholds will be applied (e.g., fearful or trusting) – an alternative is heuristics. That being the case it is only in conditions of low cognitive engagement that a team is going to accept behavioural change first – accordingly, unless fear is a 21st century tool of choice you can justify, or as leaders you are offering a high level of trust to an underperforming team, simply attempting behavioural correction is not going to bring the central (and cognitive) attention required.

As to persuasion, one may also need to consider who is saying what to whom before accounting for change in mindset or behaviour. [This is in reference to the work of Carl Hovland and Yale in the 1950s which explained propaganda variables and influenced the advertising tactics we still all buy into today]. Persuasion needs a receptive audience, a convincing message, and the right seller to convey what is being sold.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Leon Festinger 1947) would suggest changing attitude, cognitive reappraisal, or changing behaviour can each apply to resolving two conflicting perspectives (assuming one has a choice). Which of these is changed may be specific to any of the factors described above. [This sits within a wider notion of the Three Motives Ontology – see my blog Motivated Behaviours. Cognitive Dissonance Theory also sits within the paradigm of attitude, persuasion and change].

In summary

It is important to attend to behaviours. It is critical as a leadership role. But have in mind the many moving parts beyond behaviour itself. Being SMART with you team and instilling an intrinsically motivated team ethos requires the winning of both hearts and minds.

Finally, if you have made it this far – that’s motivated behaviour I cannot help but applaud. Thank you. But if you made it here without checking out Praxis, you really should. Here, let me save you some time.

The role of persuasion

11 slides to change a mind

Fascinating insight tonight about the process of persuasion upon one man. A man of whom I am less and less persuaded by, but who is necessarily persuasive in ways few can claim to be. But this story is how Boris was turned around to the reality of climate-change.

This is not my story to tell. Here’s the full background in carbonbrief.org. Judge for yourself how compelling a case was made in just 11 slides.

When it comes to being persuaded, the most important factor for those most intellectually astute is to offer them the most robust argument from both perspectives, to enable them to independently evaluate if a different conclusion is to be drawn. Moderate fear may work, but no more. When it comes to influence both propaganda and advertising demonstrate the factors of “who says what to whom, and with what effect” – in essence the key factors in play. At least according to Hovland-Yale’s model (1953).

That assumes external factors have been the most persuasive. Innate motivation is alternatively considered in a number of theories. Elaboration Likelihood Model suggests an individual may either take in the detailed assessment centrally, or peripherally in less detail and more focus on the credibility of those conveying the message. Balance Theory would attribute attitude change to association – sources, trustworthiness, expertise. Social Judgement Theory examines the psychology distance of one attitude to another. Cognitive Dissonance theory could explain both increasing resistance or relief at hearing a better perspective – dependent upon wider beliefs or concerns – and only if a choice was to be freely made rather than compelled.

All potentially valid factors and explanations we can perhaps have in mind in experiencing the powers of influence we each witness, make, or receive, each and every day.

11 slides must be particularly compelling if they alone have turned a mind so far from one perspective to another, on such an emotive issue, and in such a short time.

I’m going to be the optimist and conclude the case is indeed that powerfully made. Others may conclude a more cynical factor was in play.

Tools of the trade

Form follows function

“Form follows function” is a term I hear said with some regularity. What piqued my interest tonight was hearing it said in two very different settings. The first said in the context of construction (my day job); the second said in an introductory lecture as I begin studying neuroscience (my psychology MSc).

I will not dwell on this in detail other than to share a slide from those lectures. It introduces the main tools of trade in contemporary neuroscience. It offers a simple evaluation of relative merits of tools based on their temporal and spatial range. The underlying lesson being the importance of knowing what is being compromised and what is being complimented by methodology and tool choice.

Precisely what we all face in every project situation. And precisely what fails us when we consider the form in the absents of process we are intending to change.

Right tool, right question (source: UoN)

A literal reflection upon the cross-over of interests in projects of mind and management, but one we all struggle to contend with. Particularly when there is lacking clarity of what that intended process outcome truly is.