I was talking to a client recently about a local HR conference she had attended. When I asked her for her thoughts she said that the main theme that emerged for her was a variation of how we are all going to have to work harder, smarter, better and faster if we want to be successful.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I have to work any harder, smarter, better or particularly faster, I’ll need to break into light speed. The pace of change we are all dealing with is staggering. Everyone I know already has too much on their plate and yet, because the bar keeps getting raised higher and higher, most of them are also feeling like they don’t measure up.
As far as I am concerned the propagation of this competitive, status quo mind set is placing us directly, as the Talking Heads wrote so years ago, on the Road to Nowhere. And on that Road, values like respect, compassion, fairness, connection, and authenticity are nowhere to be found.
Dr. David Rock, who studies the neuroscience of leadership, has found that as leaders progress up the organizational power hierarchy, their capacity for both self-awareness and awareness of others diminishes. This, as Dr. Rock points out, is quite problematic given that what is required for effective leadership is an increase in behavioural awareness. The reason for this phenomenon, which he has documented in his research, has to do with the fact that leaders today have too much to do, are inundated with too much information and are under too much pressure.
It seems that from a brain functioning capacity, we humans have not evolved all that much over the last several thousand years. Like our ancestors, when we perceive a threat, whether it be a sabre toothed tiger or a corporate take-over, our fear meters starts soaring and we have a flight or fight response. That fear causes us to operate from the emotional or limbic part of our brain. The rational, and much smaller part of our brain that allows us to make sound, reasonable decisions, basically turns off.
What is needed to ensure that leaders and those they lead make insightful, thoughtful decisions is a quiet and happy mind. People are at their most creative, their most productive when they are relaxed and having fun. This is why, Dr. Rock shared with us, brainstorming doesn’t work. We feel stressed and pressured to come up with creative ideas, which starts the fear motor going and actually limits our ability access the incredible power of innovative knowledge most of are capable of.
Bigger, smarter, better, faster does not make for quiet happy minds. It makes for stressed out minds within stressed out people. In my line of work that translates to increases in disrespectful power based behaviours like bullying and harassment, which create toxic environments where no one is happy. Make no mistake. Individuals that bully and harass are generally not happy people. Rather they tend to be deeply unhappy, angry, insecure and fearful.
I really don’t care if “those in the know” tell us we have to work bigger, smarter, bigger and faster to be successful. I happen to think they are wrong. I have no interest in travelling on the Road to Nowhere. I am much more interested in continuing my journey on the Road to Respect.
What about you?
Brilliant post Erica. I really appreciate the idea of moving away from working people like machines to treating them like the valuable human beings they are. The irony is that we can get so much done when we treat employees with kindness and compassion but we seem stuck in the productivity at all costs model. I’ve noticed that leaders benefit greatly from being self-aware and also understanding how they impact others. Perhaps one way to keep traveling the road to respect is to encourage leaders to keep taking small actions that will help them create honoring workplaces.