Why Real-Time Leadership Is So Hard

Weekly Business Insights from Top Ten Business Magazines | Week 329

Extractive summaries and key takeaways from the articles curated from TOP TEN BUSINESS MAGAZINES to promote informed business decision-making | Since September 2017 | Week 329 | December 29, 2023-January 4, 2024

Leading & Managing Section | 1

Why Real-Time Leadership Is So Hard

By Ryan Quinn et. al., | Harvard Business Review Magazine | January-February 2024

Extractive Summary of the Article | Listen

Sometimes when we lead, everything clicks. At other times we feel stuck. Nothing seems to resonate. What makes the difference? Writing in HBR nearly 20 years ago, one of the writers argued that what matters most here is our psychological state. After years of research, they have identified four common stumbling blocks. All four are ways of thinking:

  1. No Alternatives.  Habits, formal processes, social norms, biases, punitive reward systems, professional standards, legal regulations, and even a simple lack of experience constrain people’s ability to consider other options. For instance, sometimes when we ask people to come up with ways to exhibit more purpose, integrity, empathy, and curiosity (all hallmarks of the fundamental state of leadership), their answers are just modified descriptions of what they were already planning to do.  Often people need to adopt new perspectives to break free of this mental trap. Asking the following questions can help:  When have people made exceptions to processes or norms in the past?  Who might be willing to try something different here?
  2. No Hope.  A particularly insidious obstacle hindering real-time leadership is defeatism. This isn’t about limited perspectives or narrow thinking. It’s about feeling paralyzed, like a deer caught in the head­lights, daunted by seemingly insurmountable challenges. When individuals feel they’re facing inevitable defeat, leading with vision and courage becomes particularly hard.  When you think there is no hope, try these practices:  Review past successes, Set learning goals, involve others, Break the challenge into smaller parts.
  3. No Time.  Exceptional leadership usually requires an increase in up-front effort and preparation, which people often feel they don’t have time for. So instead they end up in reactive mode. Though we are all time-constrained, we can find solutions to that challenge by asking:  Which people or processes might I put more trust in?  How might I fix organizational inefficiencies?  How might I surface and address the activities most fraught with conflict first? 
  4. No Need.  Sometimes people don’t see any need for leadership because they’re doing a task that doesn’t involve social interaction. Alternatively, they may see no need to lead because they like the status quo. In such situations we try to help them expand their vision. Leadership may not be required, but it could still make these situations better. Thus we might ask them the following:  Who cares about the work you’re doing, and what could you do to inspire those people?  How could you transform this from good to great?  

2 key takeaways from the article

  1. Sometimes when we lead, everything clicks. At other times we feel stuck. Nothing seems to resonate. What makes the difference? What matters most here is our psychological state.  Four common stumbling blocks. All four are ways of thinking: The misperceptions that there are no alternatives, that there is no hope, that there is no time, and that there is no need for leadership.
  2. Leadership is fundamentally about unleashing potential: both your own and that of the people who follow you. People tend to leave much of the potential in their organizations untapped because of erroneous beliefs that they have no alternatives, no hope, no time, and no need. These perceptions are rooted in fear and a focus on what people lack. A person who can challenge those notions and resist fear, however, can enter the fundamental state of leadership and bring about tremendous positive change.

Full Article

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Topics:  Leadership, Decision-making, Risk Taking

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