Automated Complacency

According to Pater (2014), complacency is one of 10 top leadership mistakes. I wonder whether or not the other nine are caused in part by an excessively-relaxed mindset. The additional nine mistakes noted by Pater are arrogance, distraction, disconnection, command and assume, tunnel vision, overcomplicating or setting unrealistic goals, failure to use leverage, reinforcing ineffectively, and “no juice.”

Despite all its benefits, automation is associated with complacency because the technology may disconnect us from the processes we manage (Carr, 2014; Strand, Nilsson, Karlsson, Nilsson, 2014). The very tools that create vast efficiencies have the unintended consequence of depleting our skill levels. Supplanting the knowledge work formerly conducted by highly-educated professionals are computers, which guide pilots in flying planes and doctors in diagnosing patients as well as architects in designing buildings (Carr, 2014).

The saying “use it or lose it” is relevant, especially when our skills become rusty from lack of use. Consider the following mistakes attributed to pilot error:

Even a slight decay in manual flying ability can risk tragedy. A rusty pilot is more likely to make a mistake in an emergency. Automation-related pilot errors have been implicated in several recent air disasters, including the 2009 crashes of Continental Flight 3407 in Buffalo and Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean, and the botched landing of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco in 2013 (Carr, 2014, para. 11).

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) task force last year found that pilots have become passive and reactive as they watch the automatic pilot control the flights. The desired state, of course, is proactive anticipation that comes through hands-on engagement. In fact, the FAA recommended that pilots fly “by hand” more frequently A study by scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that people using sophisticated software suffered from short-circuited thinking whereas those using simple software developed a deeper capacity to perform work with fewer mistakes, which produced higher-quality strategies (Carr, 2014).

In short, it is a mistake to rely too much on technology to avoid working hard because it may result in “de-skilling” and an accompanying higher error rate for the given task. “When those mistakes happen, designers respond by seeking to further restrict people’s responsibilities—spurring a new round of de-skilling” (Carr, 2014, para. 26). We need to control technology as opposed to letting the technology control us.

The solution endorsed by Carr (2014) is not to abandon technology. Rather, it is to use “human-centered automation,” which     permits technology to assume routine functions already mastered by humans, but requires human control over complex decisions. For example, airline pilots, doctors, accountants, engineers, architects, and other professionals would rely on their own judgment rather than depending on machine-generated algorithms to make decisions for them.

Keeping our skills current is essential to long-term success. Complacency creates a trance-like state in which we disconnect from our passion and disengage from our work. As I ponder complacency at the intersection of fitness and leadership, I surmise we can use exercise to feel present in the moment. Exercise is a low-tech strategy for improving cognition and brain plasticity (Pieramico, Esposito, Cesinaro, Frazzini, & Sensi, 2014). Oppenzzo and Schwartz (2014) found that creativity is increased when individuals increase their levels of physical activity. Perhaps exercise conquers physical complacency to better prepare us to fight off the urge to shut down mentally when technology makes our lives so much simpler. Training our bodies out of a complacent state may very well prevent snoozing through important decisions that are handled best by human ingenuity rather than by machine automation.

References

Carr, N. (2014, Nov 21). Automation makes us dumb; human intelligence is withering as computers do more, but there’s a solution. Wall Street Journal (Online) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1627147017?accountid=28644

Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking.

Pater, R. (2014). Overcoming the top 10 leadership mistakes. Professional Safety, 59(6), 30-32. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1545821501?accountid=28644

Pieramico, V., Esposito, R., Cesinaro, S., Frazzini, V., & Sensi, S. L. (2014). Effects of non-pharmacological or pharmacological interventions on cognition and brain plasticity of aging individuals. Frontiers in systems neuroscience, 8.

Strand, N., Nilsson, J., Karlsson, I. C., & Nilsson, L. (2014). Semi-automated versus highly automated driving in critical situations caused by automation failures. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved.

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Exercise and BMI – Mediating Factors for Better Episodic Memory and Executive Function

The Wall Street Journal reported the research of Stephan, Caudroit, Jaconelli, and Terracciano (2014), who found a connection between how we perceive our age ( called “subjective age”) and our cognitive function as we grow older. Essentially, a younger subjective age correlated with sharper episodic memory and executive function among the 1,352 subjects in the study. This improvement was mediated by a lower body mass index (BMI) and a higher frequency of regular exercise. In other words, those who exercise and have a lower BMI are more likely to have better cognitive functioning in old age.

Sharp cognitive skills influence leader effectiveness. According to Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991), leaders must interpret and integrate information, formulate strategies, solve problems, and make sound decisions. Moreover, ” Effective managers have been shown to display greater ability to reason both inductively and deductively than ineffective managers” (para. 58). Followers respect people in authority who possessive cognitive capabilities.

Taken together, the association between fitness, cognitive functioning, and effective leadership is worth noting. Much of our health is under our control. Those of us without medical restrictions can choose to eat well and exercise. The research by Stephan and colleagues suggests that doing so will reduce our subjective age and increase factors that shape our cognitive function. Indirectly, this prepares us to lead effectively.

This research holds promise also for senior managers, many of whom reach these positions as they grow older. Maintaining a lower BMI and remaining active will improve one’s odds of mental acuity. According to Henry Mintzberg, their roles include serving as figurehead, leader, liaison, monitor, disseminator, spokesperson, entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator.

Feeling younger than one’s biological age provides benefits that reach beyond well-being. How exciting to know that so much of this is under our control!

Reference

Kirkpatick, S. A., & Locke, E. A. (1991). Leadership: do traits matter?. The executive, 5(2), 48-60.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved.

Goal Setting – A Form of Self-Regulation

“Goals are mental representations of desired outcomes to which people are committed” (Mann, Ridder, & Fujita, 2013, p. 488). Setting a goal goes beyond valuing something. For example, a person may value good health; however, that individual may not be committed to eating vegetables and fruits or to exercise. A goal represents a desired end state. Self-regulation refers to the processes people use to attain their goals. Self-regulation begins when a person explicitly adopts a goal. A goal can be as small as drinking an extra glass of water per day, or as large as living a healthy lifestyle. There are many obstacles to goal-setting and attainment. For example, one could argue that most people desire good health; however, many do not understand fully the connections between their behaviors and their health, or perhaps they feel overwhelmed by the abundance of health information, much of which is often conflicting. Another barrier is competing goals. A person may wish to be healthy, but the demands of achieving health may compete with scarce resources like time, money, and the energy required to pursue the goal seriously. The chances of adopting a goal increase when achieving the goal is consistent and compatible with other goals. Certainly, the more intrinsic one’s motivation, the more likely the person will achieve his or her goal.

The characteristics of the goal itself matter. Translating a vague wish into a concrete goal is a necessary step. Mann, Ridder, & Gujit (2013) synthesized several studies of the characteristics of goals set effectively. They are as follows:

  • Motivational orientation – Goals are designed either to approach the achievement of a certain outcome or to avoid an unwanted outcome. Approaching an end state is easier and more clear-cut than avoiding something unwanted. For example, stating a goal of “avoiding being sedentary” lacks clarity and specificity. However, walking 30 minutes each day is phrased positively. It is both concrete and measurable.
  • Level of difficulty – An unanswered questions concerns the ideal discrepancy between a current and desired state. The acronym SMART is commonly used to convey characteristics of well-formulated goals (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely). Current research is mixed. Some studies suggests that people may feel inspired to pursue unrealistic goals rather than give up on them. Other studies suggest that people may adjust their evaluations of their goals to reduce the discrepancy between the desirability of the goal and how realistic it is to achieve. One way to reduce that discrepancy is to work hard to make the goal more attainable. Awareness of both the feasibility of a goal and its level of desirability can increase a person’s self-efficacy.
  • Performance versus Mastery Goals – Whether a goal entails achieving a standard (performance goal) or developing a skill (mastery goal) matters. Setbacks are less likely to affect individuals developing skills than those focusing solely on achieving a standard. For example, a person who focuses on losing 25 pounds is more vulnerable to setbacks than is the person who learns how to lose those 25 pounds. Mastery goals avoid the “all or nothing” approach, which can be self-defeating.
  • Abandoning Goals – When people abandon goals, they may have adopted goals for the wrong reasons, or encountered conflicts with other goals or other current needs. They may have insufficient goal-striving skills. Abandoning a goal is considered a self-regulation concern. Sometimes giving up on a goal is the prudent thing to do. There is a difference between a setback and a goal that is affecting a person negatively. Frustration and anger may indicate one needs to work harder; however, sadness and depression may signal that it is time to abandon a goal.

Goal striving is the process of planning and performing the necessary behaviors to achieve a goal. Knowing what one needs to do and when to act is critical. There are many ways to achieve a goal, of course, as well as many opportunities to act. People routinely confront distractions, frustrations, and temptations to quit as they strive. Protecting one’s goals from disruption is an important component of striving. One needs self-regulation strategies for protection. Rehearsing goal-directed behaviors in advance of performing them is one strategy. Mental rehearsals equip people to fend off disruptions when they encounter them in practice. Increasing the cost of goal abandonment is another strategy. For example, a person losing weight may donate old clothes that no longer fit. If that person were to regain weight, he or she would need to spend money to purchase new clothes at that larger size.

Strategies

Mann, Ridder, & Gujit (2013) researched effective strategies for achieving goals. The first, prospection and planning entails anticipating event that are pertinent to achieving goals and rehearsing in one’s mind the behaviors necessary to achieve those goals. Automating behavior, another strategy, encompasses the use of behaviors that become habitual with repeated use, and do not require conscious effort to implement. For example, the successful dieter recruits positive thoughts that help resist temptation to eat ice cream automatically. The third strategy, construal, refers to a person’s orientation toward the goal-directed behavior changing over time. It is called construal because the constructs differ between present and future attitudes toward a goal. For example, one may have think positively about the future health benefits of exercise; however, at the end of a long work day, the attitude may be negative because the person feels tired and hungry, and lacks the motivation to be active at that time. The idea is to make the current and distant construction of the goal consistent and positive. Effortful inhibition is a strategy people use, which entails consciously fighting off behaviors that distract the person from achieving a goal. Research suggests this strategy is not very effective.

Goal setting is an important theme in my book Transformational Leadership and High-Intensity Interval Training. The leaders in my study are avid exercisers. One participant, Juliet, lost 200 pounds through her exercise and diet regimen. She reported that no matter how tired, exhausted and stressed she is at the end of the day, she needs to go to the gym to survive. Otherwise, she would not be able to cope with the pressure of developing drugs and vaccines to “save mankind.” This is classic goal-striving and effortful inhibition behavior because she protects her fitness goals to prevent distraction. All five leaders in my study go through the prospection and planning. Although the Workout of the Day (WOD) may be new, they understand enough about the individual moves, sequencing, and configuration of the intervals to strategize how to tackle the regimen successfully. All leaders use measurement as a motivational tool – both for themselves and their employees (team members). Their aim for to improve continuously, striving always to hit that personal record (PR). They track and record their progress. Goal-setting strategies are useful in every aspect of life. There is much to learn from the successful leaders in my study, who apply goal-setting theories to all aspects of their lives.

Reference

Mann, T., de Ridder, D., & Fujita, K. (2013). Self-regulation of health behavior: Social psychological approaches to goal setting and goal striving. Health Psychology, 32(5), 487-498. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0028533

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved.

Boosting Executive Brain Function for Better Leadership

The New York Times article How Exercise Can Boost Young Brains shared a new study, which found that regular exercise over one academic year improved the executive function, or the ability to impose order on one’s thinking, among eight- and nine-year-old students. Their concentration skills improved. They were also better able to switch between cognitive tasks. The benefits apply to other age groups as well. For example, Best, Nagmatsu, and Liu-Ambrose (2014) learned that executive function declined less among elderly women who exercise. Nouchi and colleagues (2014) established that executive function, episodic memory, working memory, reading abilities, attention, and processing speed improved after four weeks of combination training (aerobic, strength, and stretching) performed by 64 healthy older adults. Behrman and Ebmeir (2014) suggest that exercise may increase self-esteem, improve mood, and have a favorable effect on cognitive functioning later in life.

Last week, I blogged about the possible connection between exercise and leadership. Research has shown that cognitive skills are important, especially when one considers the need for creative problem-solving in today’s economic climate. David Day and colleagues (2014) conducted a review of the research over the past 25 years, and noted six skills that are germane to these demands. The cognitive skills include problem solving, planning and implementation, solution construction, solution evaluation, social judgment, and metacognitive processing (or self-monitoring one’s own cognitive processes). Leaders need to sharpen their cognitive skills to stay on top of the game.

Exercise is one of many paths to improve cognitive functioning (e.g., playing chess, recombinant growth hormone, antipsychotics, resveretrol, psychopharmacology, etc.). However, I was astounded when I started researching the question of how to improve cognition because physical activity was mentioned so frequently. Research connecting exercise and leadership is still exploratory, but studies connecting exercise and cognition are abundant enough to influence my personal decision to exercise. It is an inexpensive path to improved executive function and problem-solving skills.

References

Behrman, S., & Ebmeier, K. P. (2014). Can exercise prevent cognitive decline?. The Practitioner, 258(1767), 17-21.

Best, J. R., Nagamatsu, L. S., & Liu-Ambrose, T. (2014). Improvements to executive function during exercise training predict maintenance of physical activity over the following year. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8.

Day, D. V., Fleenor, J. W., Atwater, L. E., Sturm, R. E., & McKee, R. A. (2014). Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25years of research and theory. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(1), 63-82.

Nouchi, R., Taki, Y., Takeuchi, H., Sekiguchi, A., Hashizume, H., Nozawa, T., … & Kawashima, R. (2014). Four weeks of combination exercise training improved executive functions, episodic memory, and processing speed in healthy elderly people: evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Age, 36(2), 787-799.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved.