Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Do We Equally Value Warmth and Competence in Leaders?

Do We Equally Value Warmth and Competence in Leaders?

December 11, 2018

This question sparks great debates in my leadership classes. Many argue that competence is critical to “getting the job done” so as a skill it must edge out warmth. Others rebut that without warmth, do we really want to work with that leader? After all, leaders can’t get much done alone. So, warmth plays an important part in the mix to the extent that it must be an equal partner. Or, is it more than equal?

Warmth as Giving

In his book, Give and Take, Adam Grant (Wharton University) describes researcher Shalom Schwartz’s findings on the values and principles that matter most to people cross-culturally:
  • ·         Helpfulness (working for the well-being of others)
  • ·         Responsibility (being dependable)
  • ·         Social justice (caring for the disadvantaged)
  • ·         Compassion (responding to the needs of others)

In Grant’s view, these behaviours together reflect an orientation toward giving. In the many case studies he describes, such influencing behaviours are contagious in groups and teams. They create an environment of reciprocity which in turn boosts collaboration and productivity.

Warmth as the Conduit of Influence

Harvard University’s Amy Cuddy in her book Presence concurs that warmth is the conduit of influence –the medium through which trust develops and ideas travel. We seem to have a built in survivor and belonging sense that consistently picks up words and signals linked to warmth faster than to competence. Yet we tend to evaluate ourselves on competence first but others on warmth! According to Amy Cuddy, if we put competence first, it undermines relationships, the necessary bonding essential for real teamwork. Thus, the balance is toward a genuine caring for others (warmth) that fuels a strong partnership with competence. 

Grant characterizes this as powerless communication used by great coaches in various sports arenas and successful leaders anywhere. Why? It sparks the sharing of ideas, innovations and ultimately group performance. The skills show up as asking for advice, showing vulnerability (not being a know-it-all with a big ego), and being genuinely interested in learning from and supporting others. Those who also study leadership effectiveness echo Grant, using the terms humility and curious to describe how warmth impacts others.

Will AI Supplant Warmth?

As we move increasingly toward an AI era of robots, self-driving cars and big data management in general, how will the balance of warmth and competence play out? Columbia University’s Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an International guru on leadership development, predicts that the soft skills will become even more crucial. In his view, AI will increasingly take care of the raw cognitive processing of facts and information. The agile parts of leadership - curiosity, emotional stability, humility, adaptability, vision and constant engagement (with, for example, front line workers who likely know more than you do) will supplant an “I am the decider” leadership. 

The Tango

What’s the take away then? Of course competence is critical. But without being leavened by warmth, competence will have less opportunity to grow and be in sync with what people want and need to bring their best selves to any challenge.

Perhaps the warmth/competence relationship is like dancing the Tango. It is a partner dance with diverse influences from African, Native American and European cultures. The Tango’s origins - musical gatherings of slaves and the lower classes in Argentina and Uruguay in the 1880s – speak to the need for belonging, inclusion and community. To this day great Tango dancers entertain, inspire, lift spirits and bring people together. Prowess at the Tango for its best effects thus is essential. But, without a huge dose of warmth, how could anyone competently dance the Tango? 

Linda Pickard is an organizational psychologist, experiential educator and coach.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Can One Positive Person Turn a Dysfunctional Team Around?

The Team Battle

No matter what havoc Nik wreaked, one group he was part of did not go down in flames. The other members kept their eye on the goal eventually succeeding with flying colours on the task. But, when he tried the same tactics in other groups, they struggled. What was the magical juice of the first group?

Negativity is highly infectious. It travels fast below our level of consciousness affecting behaviour in all realms of our lives, shutting down the relationship parts of our brains. In any team or group environment, one negative member can “infect” teammates with the same vibe. Productivity suffers. Trust plummets. Tribalism takes over because it is no longer safe to be in the group. This is a common story that most teams struggle with either all the time or occasionally when team membership changes.

But is the opposite true? Can one positive team member resuscitate the team’s culture despite the pervasive negativity? In that the root cause of “culture” is derived from the Latin word ‘cultus’ which means care, team leaders and members alike know intuitively that constant negativity is a detriment to success. Better to have a ‘caring’ or benign environment at the least because it is less stressful, more relaxing. This switch from fight or flight to rest and relax allows members to listen to each other and dare to share. Positivity literally and automatically opens up our connecting minds stoking idea flow and creativity.

The Magic of Positivity

Daniel Coyle’s most recent book, The Culture Code, describes an experiment in which an actor with the pseudonym “Nick” deliberately plays three different roles in up to forty small groups:
  •         Jerk – aggressive, defiant and argumentative
  •         Slacker – a with holder of effort
  •         Downer – negative type

The group is tasked with developing a marketing plan for a start-up. In the majority of the groups, performance drops 30% to 40%. Team member energy, interest in the task and caring about succeeding take a hit. In almost every group, Nick’s negativity is picked up by everyone as evident by various signalling such as heads on table, crossed arms and other negative non-verbal behaviours. But, in one group, despite Nick, team members stay engaged and the group overall does well. Why?

The researchers solve the mystery by viewing the video of the outlier group. One group member (assigned the name “Jonathan”) always deflects Nick’s negative moves with body language that conveys warmth making the “unstable situation feel solid and safe”. He asks “simple” questions to elicit viewpoints. He smiles, listens closely and acknowledges the ideas. The result is higher energy levels, riffing with the ideas cooperatively and eventually achieving a quality outcome. 

The Win-Win Bonus

Decades of research on social conflict point in the same direction. For example, when group members who play the prisoner’s dilemma game eventually ‘get’ that sharing in the bounty creates a win-win for all, they see the limitations of win-lose (tit-for-tat). By dialing up a group mindset of inclusiveness, prosperity for the many overtakes prosperity for the few or as economists put it – win-win instead of zero-sum. In an organizational environment, this also applies to sharing and communicating among teams. The positive culture helps people to cooperate leading to higher quality decision making.  This is a universal effect.

If the “secret juice” is positivity, what are the ingredients? According to MIT’s Alex Pentland, two factors are critical:

Switching out status or power differentials, even temporarily, creates an atmosphere of  equality (everyone matters)

Social sensitivity, especially positive signaling, as our ancestors did before language emerged, kick starts mutual sharing and the vetting of ideas. The vibe of “it’s safe to say something” permeates the team. All ideas are worthy for consideration.

Positive “social physics” according to Pentland and his book of the same name, generate higher performance returns by enhancing the flow of ideas and by association the “collective intelligence” of the team. Special Ops teams in the military know this well.

Two-Way Street

Team conflict has a healthy and unhealthy side. On the healthy side, differing opinions enable an environment of challenging assumptions and digging deeper. But non-respectful conversations simply escalate bad feelings. The good news is that one person can make a difference one way or the other.

In Thinking Fast and Slow, page 54, Daniel Kahneman explains how “simple, common gestures” “unconsciously influence our thoughts and feelings”:

If you “act calm and kind…you are likely to be rewarded by actually feeling calm and kind.”

Consider this - every member of a team imagines this mindset in advance of each team meeting and during tumultuous times in team meetings. Even visualizing a positive scenario seems to help!

Tips for building positive conversational intelligence in a team:

·         Be curious – ask lots of open-ended and clarifying questions.

·         Watch your non-verbal signaling – no rolling of eyeballs, crossing your arms in disgust or defiance, ignoring other members, glaring and checking your smart phone.

·         Convey respect in both your verbal and non-verbal signals– inject humor, laugh appropriately, smile, acknowledge good ideas, give your full attention in the moment (as if you are in an improv class).

·         Guide the group to dig deep, challenging conventional wisdom and assumptions.

·         Let go of being right.