You don’t need charisma to be an inspiring leader


Virtually all leaders want the power to inspire people to change. This is because every leader has had times when they identified a change that needed to be made, devised a great strategy to make it happen, but then struggled to get people in the new direction.

The problem is, most leaders think that in order to inspire other people, they have to exude the unusual charisma of someone like Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., or John F. Kennedy. These inspiring examples don’t seem particularly relevant or achievable for leaders who aren’t trying to build the first iPhone, end racial segregation, or send someone to the moon. What if you were just trying to change the way your employees handle loans, manage a supply chain, or interact with customers?

There is an easier way to inspire change. In recent years, sociologists led by Todd Thrash have demystified the phenomenon of inspiration. Basically, inspiration is what happens when a person feels stimulated to bring a new idea to life after spontaneously realizing new possibilities. Bold visions of greatness and charismatic speeches are certainly a way to spark that feeling. But a few years ago we stumbled upon another path.

In a series of field experiments, my colleagues and I at Decision Pulse asked groups of managers from four different companies to anonymously submit the changes they decided to make in response to a change initiative. wider. We then asked the managers in each group to consult the list of decisions made by their colleagues, and to vote for the decision that had the most impact in their respective companies. After our experiences, a clear pattern emerged among the winning decisions. See if you can spot the winner in this picket set below among the officials at a health insurance company.

Decision A: “I addressed an employee relations issue through direct coaching and performance management rather than letting this customer service manager ignore the issue. “

Decision B: “I removed layers of security for the new customer portal, as it would slow down customer access. ”

Decision C: “I chose to present the company as the leader in good health not only for the current member, but for everyone. “

The three decisions illustrate good management and logical thinking. But decision B received overwhelmingly the most votes from other managers. In fact, none of the 19 reviewers in this experiment voted for decision A or decision C. What made decision B so special?

Decision B contained what I call a “missing piece of the puzzle”. In order to make sense of the world around us, our brain treats each situation like a puzzle that must be put together. When we put together a puzzle of “how a microwave works” or “what technicians do”, our brains store this puzzle in long-term memory. But these puzzles are fragile. When something unexpected happens, for example, if a microwave oven suddenly makes food colder instead of hotter, or if a tech geek intentionally removes layers of data security just to improve the experience customer, our brain senses that something is wrong. The microwave puzzle or techie puzzle suddenly misses a corner piece.

What happened next is the interesting part. A part of our brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) tells us about the error. Unsurprisingly, this error makes us uncomfortable. To protect us from that disgusting feeling that part of our world is no longer meaningful, our brain has developed an instinctive defense mechanism. Instead of trying to replace the missing piece in the “technician” puzzle, our brains compensate by reassembling new, unrelated puzzles.

Researchers Travis Proulx and Stephen Heine have repeatedly shown that even tiny disturbances of a relatively unimportant puzzle like “how a microwave works” can stimulate our brains’ ability to spot new patterns and see. new possibilities in other areas. For example, when your microwave unexpectedly chills food instead of reheating it, it can inspire an eye-opener about your marriage or your job or even your political views.

What Proulx and Heine discovered is that a missing puzzle piece not only makes us more motivated to see new possibilities, it makes us more qualified to see new connections and possibilities. (Perhaps this is why periods of intense creativity so often occur during the most tumultuous times in an artist’s life?)

This phenomenon is exactly what we have seen in our field studies. Before the first round of voting on the decisions of their peers, many managers said something like, “I really don’t see anything that I can change. I’m just in finance “or” I’m in the field, and it’s more of a business change so … “In other words,” I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. “

But then, after seeing the technician reduce data security or discovering that a plant manager was not prioritizing improvements in plant productivity just to increase supply chain efficiency, the other directors of the group suddenly saw new possibilities for change in their own areas of work.

During the next two sets of experiments, almost every other manager in each group began to make legitimate and creative change decisions. They saw new possibilities and began to exploit them. Simply put, they were inspired to change.

This inspiration did not come from big, hairy and daring goals, grandiose visions of the future, charismatic speeches, or displays of the innate genius or passion of their leaders. All it took was an awareness of someone else’s unexpected decision to shrink an old thing and make a new thing. This is something that every manager in every situation is capable of doing.

A decision to cancel football for a year is how a high school principal inspired a city in Texas to get creative to save their school. The decision to temporarily remove breakfast sandwiches from Starbucks stores is why Howard Schultz inspired employees to refocus on coffee. A decision to kill the cutting edge ‘Newton’ PDA in 1996 is how Steve Jobs inspired Apple engineers to start thinking differently on their way to one of the world’s most innovative product development cycles. story.

All of this means that change agents don’t need to be bright or charismatic to inspire change. If you can make a decision, you can inspire change.

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