Tag Archive for Kahneman

Is Your Leadership By Design or By Default?

I was recently having coffee with the chairman of the board for my organization, in one of our regular meetings that helps us stay connected. As we were discussing our way through several topics that needed our attention, we sidetracked into a conversation about some intentional communication we were working on. In the context of this conversation, he shared a statement that one of his own coworkers often said: “You’re either living by default or by design.”

When I heard him make this statement, I immediately thought of a parallel truth that also applies to the practice of leadership, which is that your leadership likewise needs to be by design, not by default. Translated, this means that everything you do in your leadership ought to be done intentionally; if it is not, circumstances and other people will dictate what happens, and you will be left with having to reactively respond, rather than proactively leading and directing. You see, effective leadership needs to be intentional leadership, which is why it is a concept that has become a (very intentional) part of how I lead.

I have often said, when in a leadership role, that there is very little that I don’t do on purpose. In other words, most of what I do is on purpose or for a purpose. It may seem that this is an obvious statement, and in one way it is, in that it is a leadership principle that makes sense. However, it generally requires a much more intentional effort to be intentional than most would realize! The reason for this is that intentionality, or ‘intentionalness’ (a made-up word), needs to be woven into even the most minor and trivial things for it to be effective, which requires much more work than being intentional in major or obvious ways.

Edgar Schein explains this same idea in Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010) when he talks about Primary Culture Embedding Mechanisms, which he lists as attention, reaction, allocation, example, rewards, and recruiting. It is interesting to note that none of these are actions, or embedding mechanisms, that happen randomly or by chance; rather they all must be actions that leaders intentionally take to embed cultural changes within an organization or environment. He goes on to emphasize the importance of the mechanism of attention, and says, “the most powerful mechanism that founders, leaders, managers, and parents have available for communicating what they believe in or care about is what they systematically pay attention to.” (p. 237) He then illustrates this further when says that “even casual remarks and questions that are consistently geared to a certain area can be as potent as formal control mechanisms and measurements.” (p. 237) The point that he makes is that the leader must be intentional about the way he conducts himself in front of and in interaction with his followers, even in the details of choices of words and comments.

It may be easier to identify and establish this characteristic in organizations as a whole than in individuals, because organizational culture tends to more easily be intentional and deliberate due to their complexity and size (like the greater deliberation it takes to turn a battleship as compared to a canoe). Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), says it this way: “Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures.” (pp. 417-418) In the same way, however, individuals can develop a more intentional way of thinking and acting by forcing themselves to think more slowly, deliberately, and orderly until it becomes more natural.

So if leaders are more effective when they are proactively intentional, then what does it look like in practice? It can be demonstrated by consciously asking yourself why something is done a certain way, and then thinking through or dialoguing options and ideas in order to make sure that what you are doing is for the right purpose and in the best way. It could involve making it safe for someone to make a mistake and allowing that person to fail so that he will learn and grow, and then stepping in to be a positive component of his or her growth process. Or perhaps it is choosing words that will be best understood in the organizational context and choosing to avoid words that would have a negative cultural connection in that same context (for example, in one organization in which I worked, I discovered that the word “debrief” caused much anxiety, which I could eliminate by using “review” or “talk through” instead). In the many decisions that you make every day, these and many other actions and words are simple (and often minor) communication and relationship practices that you as a leader can do – intentionally – that will enhance your leadership effectiveness.

 

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed.). New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

 

Be Intentional

I have often said, when in a leadership role, that there is very little that I don’t do on purpose. In other words, most of what I do is on purpose or for a purpose. It may seem that this is an obvious statement, and in one way it is, in that it is a leadership principle that makes sense. However, it generally requires a much more intentional effort to be intentional than most would realize! The reason for this is that intentionality, or ‘intentionalness’ (a made-up word), needs to be woven into even the most minor and trivial things for it to be effective, which requires much more work than being intentional in major or obvious ways.

Edgar Schein explains this same idea in Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010) when he talks about Primary Culture Embedding Mechanisms, which he lists as attention, reaction, allocation, example, rewards, and recruiting. It is interesting to note that none of these are actions, or embedding mechanisms, that happen randomly or by chance; rather they all must be actions that leaders intentionally take to embed cultural changes within an organization or environment. He goes on to emphasize the importance of the mechanism of attention, and says, “the most powerful mechanism that founders, leaders, managers, and parents have available for communicating what they believe in or care about is what they systematically pay attention to.” (p. 237) He then illustrates this further when says that “even casual remarks and questions that are consistently geared to a certain area can be as potent as formal control mechanisms and measurements.” (p. 237) The point that he makes is that the leader must be intentional about the way he conducts himself in front of and in interaction with his followers, even in the details of choices of words and comments.

It may be easier to identify and establish this characteristic in organizations as a whole than in individuals, because organizational culture tends to more easily be intentional and deliberate due to their complexity and size (like the greater deliberation it takes to turn a battleship as compared to a canoe). Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), says it this way: “Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures.” (pp. 417-418) In the same way, however, individuals can develop a more intentional way of thinking and acting by forcing themselves to think more slowly, deliberately, and orderly until it becomes more natural.

So if leaders are more effective when they are proactively intentional, then what does it look like in practice? It can be demonstrated by consciously asking yourself why something is done a certain way, and then thinking through or dialoguing options and ideas in order to make sure that what you are doing is for the right purpose and in the best way. It could involve making it safe for someone to make a mistake and allowing that person to fail so that he will learn and grow, and then stepping in to be a positive component of his growth process. Or perhaps choosing words that will be best understood in the organizational context and choosing to avoid words that would have a negative cultural connection in that same context (for example, in one organization in which I worked, I discovered that the word “debrief” caused much anxiety, which I could eliminate by using “review” or “talk through” instead). In the many decisions that you make every day, these and many other actions and words are simple (and often minor) communication and relationship practices that you as a leader can do – intentionally – that will enhance your leadership effectiveness.

 

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed.). New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

The Role of Luck in a Christian Worldview

I have recently come across a couple of references to the role of luck in leadership in two different books.  I found this to be very interesting, because it seemed that both authors promoted leadership strategy and intentional behaviors, but couldn’t explain “unexplainable events,” and so relegated these events to the category of luck. As a Christian who strongly believes in the teachings of the Bible, this prompted me to think about the role that luck plays in the Christian worldview, considering the Bible’s teaching on providence (as opposed to chance).

The first reference that I read was in Daniel Kahneman’s best-selling book on behavioral psychology applied to economics and business, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011).  In this book, Kahneman seemed to give a high amount of credence to luck and its role in organizational and individual success, and specifically stated that “luck often contributes to success.” (p. 177) He went on to say, “Knowing the importance of luck, you should be particularly suspicious when highly consistent patterns emerge from the comparison of successful and less successful firms. . . Because luck plays a large role, the quality of leadership and management practices cannot be inferred reliably from observations of success.” (p. 207)  Then he applied this view to the other author I had read that referenced luck when he said, “The basic message of Built to Last [Collins] and other similar books is that good managerial practices can be identified and that good practices will be rewarded by good results.  Both messages are overstated.  The comparison of firms that have been more or less successful is to a significant extent a comparison between firms that have been more or less lucky.” (p. 207)

Jim Collins, in Great by Choice (2011) – which I recently summarized in another post – also addressed the role of luck, seeking to understand how luck impacts leadership.  He couched it in the context of the premise of this book and said, “The very nature of this study – thriving in uncertainty, leading in chaos, dealing with a world full of big disruptive forces that we cannot predict or control – led us to the fascinating question, ‘Just what is the role of luck?’” (p. 153) He assumes that luck happens with and to everyone, and so he then focused on what he calls ROL, or Return on Luck.  His research concluded “that the 10X cases were not generally luckier than the comparison cases.  The 10X cases and comparisons both got luck, good and bad, in comparable amounts.  The evidence leads us to conclude that luck does not cause 10X success. People do.  The critical question is not ‘Are you lucky?’ but ‘Do you get a high return on luck?’” (p. 160)

As I processed these thoughts on luck, I was reminded of a similar concept in a book I read several years ago called Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret Wheatley.  Wheatley described the idea of chaos theory in science, and explained that “a system is defined as chaotic when it becomes impossible to know what it will do next. The system never behaves in the same way twice.”  (p. 22) But then she made what I thought was a very interesting and important observation, as she went on to say, “but as chaos theory shows, if we look at such a system over time, it demonstrates an inherent orderliness.” (p. 22)  She went on to describe, in further discussing quantum physics, that “at a level we can’t discern, there is an unbroken wholeness.  If we could look beneath the surface, we would observe an ‘implicate order’ out of which seemingly discrete events arise.” (p. 43) Her conclusion, which she applied to leadership, stated, “When we concentrate on individual moments or fragments of experience, we see only chaos.  But if we stand back and look at what is taking shape, we see order.  Order always displays itself as patterns that develop over time.” (p. 118)

I saw this as a clear illustration of the concept of the sovereignty of God. The Bible specifically – and in a number of places – implies, infers, and directly states that God, who is sovereign, has a perfect plan, and that nothing happens outside of His knowledge and permission, if not direct control.  The result is that there is a purpose and order underlying apparent chance and disorder.  What appears to be chance (or perhaps luck) is actually something that is part of a greater pattern and plan. And don’t misinterpret me here, because this does not preclude the importance of planning, strategizing, and seeking counsel (as stated in Proverbs 20:18 and Proverbs 21:5).  Three verses in Proverbs seemed to me to communicate both sides of this concept – that we are to plan, but that God directs the outcome; this is seen in comparing the first and second half of each of these verses:

Prov. 16:9 – A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

Prov. 16:33 – The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Prov. 21:31 – The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the Lord

So when the concept of luck, chance, and chaos is filtered through a Christian worldview, we know that we make plans, but we also recognize that things will happen outside of our control; sometimes perceived as good luck and sometimes as perceived as bad luck.  However, if we can view these events through the lens of God’s sovereignty, we can also recognize that God is in control and can trust His underlying order rather than relying on luck. We still do our part – develop a vision and a strategy, make preparations, implement policy and procedure, learn from others, and so on – but we don’t let “luck” discourage or define us, because we can (as Jim Collins also says in Great by Choice) “zoom out” and see the bigger picture and trust God’s providence to have a greater purpose.  It is when we can respond to these circumstances in this way, learning and growing from them instead of panicking, dismissing, or reacting negatively, that we can have the most beneficial “return on luck.”.

.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed.). New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Wheatley, M. J. (1999). Leadership and the new science: discovering order in a chaotic world (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

 

Be Intentional

I have often said, when in a leadership role, that there is very little that I don’t do on purpose.  In other words, most of what I do is on purpose or for a purpose.  It may seem that this is an obvious statement, and in one way it is, in that it is a leadership principle that makes sense.  However, it generally requires a much more intentional effort to be intentional than most would realize! The reason for this is that intentionality, or ‘intentionalness’ (a made-up word), needs to be woven into even the most minor and trivial things for it to be effective, which requires much more work than being intentional in major or obvious ways.

Edgar Schein explains this same idea in Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010) when he talks about Primary Culture Embedding Mechanisms, which he lists as attention, reaction, allocation, example, rewards, and recruiting.  It is interesting to note that none of these are actions, or embedding mechanisms, that happen randomly or by chance; rather they all must be actions that leaders intentionally take to embed cultural changes within an organization or environment.  He goes on to emphasize the importance of the mechanism of attention, and says, “the most powerful mechanism that founders, leaders, managers, and parents have available for communicating what they believe in or care about is what they systematically pay attention to.”  (p. 237) He then illustrates this further when says that “even casual remarks and questions that are consistently geared to a certain area can be as potent as formal control mechanisms and measurements.” (p. 237) The point that he makes is that the leader must be intentional about the way he conducts himself in front of and in interaction with his followers, even in the details of choices of words and comments.

It may be easier to identify and establish this characteristic in organizations as a whole than in individuals, because organizational culture tends to more easily be intentional and deliberate due to their complexity and size (like the greater deliberation it takes to turn a battleship as compared to a canoe).  Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), says it this way: “Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures.” (pp. 417-418)  In the same way, however, individuals can develop a more intentional way of thinking and acting by forcing themselves to think more slowly, deliberately, and orderly until it becomes more natural.

So if leaders are more effective when they are proactively intentional, then what does it look like in practice? It can be demonstrated by consciously asking yourself why something is done a certain way, and then thinking through or dialoguing options and ideas in order to make sure that what you are doing is for the right purpose and in the best way.  It could be making it safe for someone to make a mistake and allowing that person to fail so that he will learn and grow, and then stepping in to be a positive component of his growth process.  Or perhaps choosing words that will be best understood in the organizational context and choosing to avoid words that would have a negative cultural connection in that same context (for example, in one organization in which I worked, I deciphered that the word “debrief” caused much anxiety, which I could eliminate by using “review” or “talk through” instead).  In the many decisions that you make every day, these and many other actions and words are simple, and often minor, communication and relationship practices that you as a leader can do – intentionally – that will enhance your leadership effectiveness.

 

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed.). New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.