Why Leaders Need to Think Selfish, Scared & Stupid
Dan & Kieran
Today leaders are largely defined by two characteristics: an aptitude for making hard decisions; for reading situations and demonstrating credible judgment whilst amplifying certainty, and secondly, an ability to influence others; to persuade, to inspire and to shift hearts and minds.
Both of these characteristics are informed by a leader’s capacity for insight, their understanding of what drives human behavior.
For years, much of what has informed our knowledge of human behavior has been based on an acceptance of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs - like the food pyramid, Maslow’s triangle depicting humanity’s rise from base needs through our evolution to things like self-actualization and meaning.
And that’s where we human beings like to see ourselves – highly evolved and self-actualized.
You may even be reading this article and thinking, “But Dan and Kieran, I am self-actualized. I grew a mustache to raise money for charity; I’ve given money to save animals that aren’t even that cute and guys… I own a yoga mat!!! I’m totes self-actualized.”
Please understand that our goal here is not to deny your better angels (nor ours) but simply to assert that they are not always, or indeed very often, in the driver’s seat when it comes to human behavior.
Of course, it’s nice to think of ourselves as being highly evolved and to proudly proclaim the same is true of our team, our customers and our communities.
But consider that, in the roughest sense, the mathematical concept of average points to half of our workforce being below average competence at what they do, that half our customers are less honest than average and that fifty percent of our communities are more disinterested than the arithmetic mean. Which is not to say that they’re hopeless, simply less ideal in their behavior than most of us would like.
Add to this is the fact that, according to Gallup’s Global Workforce Engagement Study, at least 50% of the workforce is not engaged in what they do, with 20% actively disengaged and you begin to see why we spend a little more time at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid than we would like to admit.
The larger your organization and the more people in your customer base, the closer these numbers come to being true of your community.
So what’s the solution? Bring in a motivational speaker to ‘rev them up’ with a power move and a stirring story of victory over adversity? Or perhaps you’re more into the stick than the carrot and think it’s time to put some people on notice.
The truth is, these numbers will always be at these levels. The question therefore isn’t, “How do I get my people to change in order to achieve the results we need?” it should be, “How do I get my people to deliver these results even if they don’t change?”
In other words, how do we get a largely disengaged workforce of varying levels of competence to behave as if they’re not?
Welcome to the world of Behavior Design.
It starts by working with the current of human nature rather than fighting it. This begins with realizing that our survival brain still drives most of our decision-making (at least initially), and being honest enough to admit our survival brain is selfish, scared and stupid.
That means leaders and executives (and those who want to lead) need to:
# ThinkSelfish – in other words, frame your instructions and goals in terms of what’s in it for them. The more they see your interests as linked to theirs, the greater their engagement.
# ThinkScared – all of us filter the world in terms of risk and opportunity, so ensure that your people see more opportunity in the direction of your goals and greater risk in where they are right now.
# ThinkStupid – make things easy, make things simple, but perhaps more importantly, make it hard not too. The more you make ideal behaviors accessible and less than ideal behaviors difficult, the greater your influence and the more persuasive your leadership.