Last week I was running a Leadership course in California, working with a huge global networking company whose turnover was nearly $12 billion last quarter.  I’ve worked with this client for nearly 15 years, so I know the culture pretty well.  They employ some amazing people, and it always gives me a buzz to be with them.

During this three day foundation  course we covered a huge amount of ground, and it was a real wake up call for all of us.  The company makes a huge amount of money and is seen by many as a bellwether for the state of the economy, but despite that there are some dysfunctions which came shining through during these three days.  The average length of service of the people in the room was 8 years, so these are people who have become somewhat acclimatised to the culture and whose behaviour might reasonably be assumed to be representative of those around them.

Here’s a summary of what I think were the top 5 behavioural dysfunctions which inhibit the achievement of the full potential of the business.   We discussed each of them at length during the course, so I hope any participants reading this will recognise the list. As you read it, ask yourself whether you can relate to them.

1.  Jumping out of the helicopter and working out how to open the parachute on the way down.  Over several separate exercises this habit became clear:  a tendency to get started too quickly without thinking through WHAT we are supposed to do, or HOW best to go about it.  Leading to outputs which were not expected or in line with customer expectations.  In short, doing the Wrong thing Wrong.

2.  Jumping to conclusions too quickly.  Particularly apparent when coaching each other, the habit of coming up with the answer rather than finding out more first, or indeed letting the other person work out the answer.  Leading to solutions which are not owned by the other person, and a Parent-Child relationship.

3.  Asking Closed Questions.  And thus not finding out the real truth behind the situation.  Probably a habit borne of being in too much of a hurry, knowing too much, working in a technical environment, and believing that innocent 8-year old type questions  (especially “Why?”) make you look  stupid.

4.  Thinking that Leadership means telling and directing.  As opposed to involving, collaborating, leaving things open, seeking creative solutions.  Thus leaving others feeling uninvolved, disconnected and  searching for meaning.

5.  Taking things too literally, and thinking too low level.  When faced with information, being sucked in by it and not seeing the real meaning, the implication, the bigger picture.  Because they are good with numbers and data, a tendency to poke around with it at low level as opposed to seeking to use it to inform a strategy.  Basically missing the point, and being easily distracted when in the comfort zone of FACTS!

It was interesting also to note that this group of 10 people, all of whom had been identified as having strong Leadership potential, was made up of 70% Myers Briggs ESTJ or ISTJ profiles.  This means that their “Temperament” (the lens through which they see the world) is that of “Guardian“.  This can be summarized as:

“Trust the past, tradition and authority. Want security, stability and to belong.”  How does that square with acting as a change agent, inspiring others, setting the direction, and so on?

I think the participants found this a really useful wake up call:  a reminder that there may be some basic behaviours which they display which inhibit their contribution as leaders, and that there are others around them who also do the same.  The great news is that they could all see if for what it is, and made a commitment to doing something about it.  Easier said then done, but they have all now made a start.

I wonder how many of these you recognise, and what you can do to compensate for them?

As a postscript to my previous posts about in-flight conflict resolution, you might like to know what happened to me on the return journey.  I had anticipated that as I was again in seat 28D I might be asked to relocate, and so I was ready and waiting with my “IF” gun.  Sure enough, once we’d taken off I was approached.

MR STRESSED:  “Excuse me, sir, would you mind swapping seats with my wife?  We have an infant and would like to be able to use the Cot facility.”

MR COLLABORATIVE (ME): “IF you can find me a seat with the same legroom, I’d be happy to help you.”

MR STRESSED: “Sure, my wife’s window seat has even more legroom than yours, as there is no seat in front of it.”

ME:  “It’s a deal.”

Because I wasn’t caught off guard (sometimes known as the Amygdala Hijack) – because I had thought it through in advance – I was able to access the logical bit of my brain and weigh up the situation quickly.  It was a clear Win/Win.

Smiles and thanks all round.  Seat 29A has indeed no seat in front of it, so I could stretch out without being whacked by drinks trollies, or being  disturbed by having to pass drinks and trays etc for others.  It doesn’t get any better, in Economy at least.  I donned my noise cancelling headphones and slept the sleep of the righteous until they woke me for breakfast.  (A personal first, by miles).  Lesson:  if you’re a natural Accommodator like me, and you want to Collaborate, it can help to plan it and rehearse your response to a conflict situation in advance.

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