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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Does Exercise Promote Creativity?

The link between risk-taking and innovation has been supported through research because both are associated with creative behaviors within organizations. Inherent to risk taking is a willingness to invest in failures, accrue debt, and commit resources at levels consistent with the manager’s individual risk-taking propensity. “A manager’s preference for risky behavior is positively associated with the attainment of higher innovation results” (Llopis, Garcia-Granero, Fernandez-Mesa, and Alegre, 2014, para 3). Risk-taking also entails feeling comfortable with the ambiguity inherent in uncertainty. Managers with a higher risk-taking preference are more likely to realize gains (Llopis et al., 2014).

Creativity often entails defying the status quo. In organizations that feel threatened by deviations from custom, leaders find ways to stifle creativity. The idea creator may feel punished through subtle cues, which signal that suggestions are not welcome. The creative individual may feel outcast and will often shut down or leave.

According to Henker, Sonnentag, and Unger (2014), leaders influence the level of creative expression in employees either through a promotion or a prevention focus (Regulatory Focus Theory). A promotion focus “is associated with developmental needs and goals related to the ideal self, ” (p. 3) whereas “a prevention focus is linked to security needs and goals related to the ought self” (p. 3). In their research, Henker et al. found that a promotion focus was a mediating factor between transformational leadership and creativity. The implication is that leaders can foster creativity by shaping a promotion-focused environment. Such leaders are often transformational.

In my book Transformational Leadership and High-Intensity Interval Training, the leaders interviewed foster risk-taking and creativity. The self-confidence they developed through their CrossFit® training enables them to provide a promotion focus. They are constantly striving to improve both in their physical training and their organizational lives. They feel good physically, and the mind-body connection reduces stress and promotes a focus on excellence. One leader commented:

I think it [CrossFit® training] helps me. One is I feel better physically. And I think that then puts you in a better mood mentally. I mean I think that also it helps me to — Knowing that I can go in there and do something pretty intense and crazy or however you want to say it and really push myself to the limit, makes me feel really good but also makes me feel I can do that in any area of my life.

Risk-taking often involves failure. One leader I interviewed embraces failure. She explained how failure is part of the scientific discovery process among the pharmaceutical researchers she leads. One must persist through failures to achieve major creative breakthroughs. She connected that process to her physical training as well. She said:

You see I failed at everything but I’ve never given up, you know. When you’re not afraid of failure, you’re ready to take the leap. I’m two hundred pounds overweight. I go to CrossFit®. Is that a prescription for failure? [LAUGHS] But you know what I never gave up. … I’m so much better off now than before.

The leaders in my study developed perseverance to endure challenges deemed insurmountable by many. Their resolve is something they developed because their physical training promoted their personal growth, all of which translates into their transformational leadership behaviors.

There are many paths to becoming a transformational leader with a promotion focus, and who is willing to embark in prudent risk-taking. My research suggests that exercise may be one path. More research is necessary to explore this potential developmental tool further.

References

Henker, N., Sonnentag, S., & Unger, D. (2014). Transformational Leadership and Employee Creativity: The Mediating Role of Promotion Focus and Creative Process Engagement. Journal of Business and Psychology, 1-13.

Llopis, O., García-Granero, A., Fernández-Mesa, A., & Alegre, J. (2014). Managing Risk-Taking to Enhance Innovation in Organizations. In Management Innovation (pp. 75-90). Springer International Publishing.

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

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.

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.

What “Really” Looks Good in an Employee?

Claire Suddath posted a quiz concerning the disadvantages of women in the workplace in the July 28-August 3, 2014 issue of Bloomberg Businesweek (p. 62). She shared these interesting tidbits:

  • Although 54% of the U.S. workforce reports to a male boss, a 2012 MIT study suggests that women cannot count on female bosses to help them advance their careers.
  • Male managers who are married to working women are more apt to recommend female employees for promotion than are men married to stay-at-home women.
  • Blondes earn 7% more than brunettes.
  • Women in organizations led by CEOs whose first children are female earn 1.1% more on average. Wages drop for all those reporting to CEOs with firstborn sons.
  • Women wearing makeup are considered more competent and professional; however, women who perceive other women as dressing “too fancy” are “put off” by their attire.
  • A woman’s weight influences her earning potential. “Even very thin women are punished when they gain a little” (p. 64). There is a correlation also between an increase in a woman’s BMI and a drop in income for both the woman and her spouse.
  • Good posture affects the level of power others perceive women to have.

Perhaps all women should dye their hair blonde, lose weight, practice balancing books on their heads for improved posture, wear makeup and khakis, and accept a position only if the boss is a male manager with a firstborn daughter, and married to a working woman. Yes, I am being facetious. What a superficial list!

The world isn’t fair. Although perception is reality, its effects are powerful. These findings reflect collective practices that are unethical and illegal. One cannot confront this behavior directly because managers have learned how to discriminate covertly in the last 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement began. A manager would never tell an employee “You are overweight so you are not getting a raise.” Rather, the manager would find other reasons that most probably could not be connected to discrimination.

Transformational leaders coach, encourage, and support employees. These are gender-blind behaviors. Through my research findings (shared in detail in my book Transformational Leadership and High-Intensity Interval Training) I suggest that transformational leaders hire employees who embrace their vision, which aligns also with the mission of the organization. Once on the team, these leaders manage to their employees’ strengths. They provide growth opportunities that are based on their skills and interests. They want their employees to shine because they realize when their employees excel, they “look” good and the organization benefits. Perhaps there is a need to redefine our notion of “good looks.” Employees who are motivated, energetic, enthusiastic, work hard and deliver results could be the new definition of attractive. A win-win for all.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved

“Conflict is the Beginning of Consciousness” –M. Esther Harding (1888-1971)

Recent media reports concerning the clash between Joan Rivers and her mentor, Johnny Carson, remind me of how uncomfortable I feel when conflict escalates and relationships dissolve. Apparently Rivers and Carson were close, yet never spoke again after Rivers hosted a show scheduled to run at the same time as Carson’s on a competing network. Although I have studied conflict resolution and know better, I prefer to move through life conflict-free.

Conflict is manifest in four domains: intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup, and intergroup. Causes may be economic, such as when resources are limited. Ideological or value differences are another source of disputes. The desire to exert influence and wield one’s power is a third cause. Five styles for managing conflict include accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, competing, and compromising (Types of Conflict.org). The style selected depends on the situation and one’s personal style. In the Rivers-Carson relationship, it seems none of the above was used successfully because their relationship ended.

The absence of conflict is a true concern. Leaders who surround themselves with “yes men/women” stifle creativity and innovation and limit their potential for making sound decisions. Employees watch leaders closely to uncover cues that signal their preferences. Organizations with tall hierarchies risk information loss as important developments are stuck as they try to move up the chain. Filtering information to protect the leader and the messenger is a natural inclination; however, withholding facts delays consequences and may prevent timely responses to trouble. Creating an environment in which it is safe to broach difficult topics is essential.

Groupthink, identified by Irving Janis in 1972, is a dynamic that results in flawed decisions because team members are insulated from critical information. Symptoms of groupthink include:

  1. Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
  2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  4. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
  5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
  8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions (PsySR).

Leaders can thwart groupthink by abstaining from sharing their predispositions at the beginning of a meeting, assignment, or project. Norm-setting is critical also. Each member of the team should be encouraged to offer dissenting views and to evaluate ideas of everyone on the team critically. Asking team members to share deliberations with others they trust, then reporting back the reactions of their trusted-others promotes creative idea generation. Inviting outside experts to meetings to challenge thoughts, requesting members to play “devil’s advocate” to challenge the team’s assumptions, and examining closely the actions of competitors to anticipate possible scenarios are other strategies that prevent groupthink (PsySR).

If managed poorly, the consequences of conflict are negative and include reduced productivity, low morale, unprofessional conduct, and more frequent and persistent clashes. Constructive conflict leads to a heightened awareness of important business challenges, an improved focus on organizational priorities, a broader recruitment of employee talents, and an appreciation of the benefits derived from people’s differences (Managementhelp.org).

The adage “There are three sides to every story. Yours, theirs, and the truth” applies to conflict. Although we cannot control others, we do have the choice to examine ourselves with a critical eye and to listen to the concerns of others with an open mind. If conflict resolution were easy, we wouldn’t have wars, divorces, lawsuits, mediation, arbitration, or dissolved partnerships and friendships. Making a concerted effort to engage productively in constructive conflict seems a worthy goal. I can’t help but ponder what the world of comedy would have been like had Rivers and Carson worked through their differences.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved