FIRST SEEN in The Australian – Weekend Professional 20 October 2018
Leaders who judge others would do well to examine themselves
Celebrated neuroscientist Daniel G. Amen claims each individual has 70,000 thoughts per day and more than 80 per cent of those are triggered by fear.
Fear drives many of our behaviours, including the natural tendency to see others as the problem and judge them for their shortcomings – a habit that exists in every workplace.
Despite being completely normal, this habit of judging others for their perceived weaknesses can be a barrier to effective leadership.
According to University of Chicago psychology researcher Justin F. Landy, these judgments are made based on three key personality aspects: morality, sociability and competence.
Such judgments made in private might seem harmless, but this natural human dynamic presents a real problem for business leaders who are unaware of it. For those who are, it is an opportunity. Great leadership begins with managing the weaknesses of others and leveraging their strengths.
In his book The Triune Brain in Evolution, American neuroscientist Paul MacLean suggests humans have a reptilian brain that is fear-driven and triggers the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ automatic response system. Above that sits the mammalian mind, which engages the emotions and needs for communal connection. At a higher level again is the neocortex, which governs the ability to think, reflect and strategise. The neocortex is where leadership begins.
Many contemporary neuroscientists have now moved beyond MacLean’s triune brain theory, believing it overly simplistic, but it remains a useful model for laypeople to understand the workings of the human mind.
It is also possible that judgments of others are just an outward expression of one’s own self-judgments.
Twentieth century psychotherapist Carl Jung believed that as the ego formed through the tumult of childhood it learned to accept or to disown parts of itself. Usually people accept the good things and disown the bad by pushing them into what Jung named ‘the ego shadow’ of their psyche.
Jung said: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Put simply, others are not always the problem. Leaders who find themselves judging others for what they see as undesirable personality traits would be wise to examine themselves as well.
A 2010 study by Wake Forest University researcher Dustin Wood corroborated Jung’s theory. Wood claimed each person’s perceptions of others revealed plenty about their own personality, and a large number of negative personality traits were associated with viewing others negatively.
Seeing others as the problem can seriously limit a leader’s effectiveness. Problem centric leaders disempower others, they cause caution and dependency, they limit idea generation and they stifle fun and effectiveness. Good people leave the team and those that remain learn how to avoid scrutiny and accountability by agreeing with the leader on every subject. They agree and do just enough to placate the fears and problem centric style of their boss. The team becomes a projection of the leaders fears, worries and judgements.
If a leader is in charge of a ‘below par performing team’ and they can see all of the team’s flaws, chances are the team is mirroring back the leaders inner qualities, the leader’s ego-shadow.
People in the team are judging the leader too and they are thinking about the leader’s morality, sociability and their leaders competence.
Through understanding more about their own psychological make-up and emotional habits, leaders can build trust, increase dialogue, foster collective intelligence, increase the fun and strengthen business relationships – ultimately leading to better business outcomes.