Dr Richard Boyatzis; Distinguished Professor of Organisational Behaviour; Case Western Reserve University

Leadership Insights of Professor Richard Boyatzis

Published 9th April 2014
Dr Richard Boyatzis

Distinguished Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Case Western Reserve University

Published 9th April 2014

Professor Richard Boyatzis, a Distinguished Professor of Organisational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University distills his top 8 insights on leadership.

1. Meditation not Metrics

I believe leadership begins with self-awareness. And the best ways to enhance self-awareness are actually very common in Asia. These techniques include meditation and taichi. Such practices activate your parasympathetic nervous system – which allows you to be more relaxed, self-aware, and open to new ideas. The problem is that most of the time, managers do the opposite. They increase stress in their team by emphasizing financial goals and metrics. This activates our sympathetic nervous system which leads to perceptual impairment. One study documented that our usual peripheral version is about 180 to 270 degrees. When we are under chronic stress however, our peripheral vision drops to only 30 degrees. When you are under stress, your openness to new ideas, people, and even your moral judgment become compromised.

2. Social Media and Social Isolation

Asia has a great tradition of practices like taichi and yoga. The problem is that young people today are no longer doing such practices.  What is the first thing they do in the morning instead? They turn on their computers and check Facebook or Twitter. There is a new study that showed that people who use Facebook and Twitter the most, are also the most likely to be depressed. You can be active on social media and yet suffer social isolation.

3. Train Less, Coach More

In Asia, there is often a culture of high power distance, and so training programs don’t really work here. People don’t want to sit in big groups and divulge personal information, especially if there is status difference in the room. But coaching is different – it’s private. In Asia, coaching is more effective than training. So why are training programs much more common than coaching? I think it’s because a lot of managers don’t really want to develop people. They just say they do. Training gives them a way to have guilt-reduction. They can say “Oh we put 1000 people through this training program.” In reality, they have just wasted a ton of money. And worse yet, a lot of training programs in Asia use the lecture format. Lecture is one of the least effective ways of learning! It’s easy to talk about the right things to do, it’s much harder to do the right thing. People don’t listen to their doctors about exercising or smoking – things that could prolong their lives. So why would they listen to a leadership trainer?

4. It’s Not What You Say

I had wanted my son to be a scientist – like me. I started my career as an aerospace scientist and then moved into psychological research. But he decided to go into journalism of all things.  Imagine my horror! It only dawned on me later that it made perfect sense. When he was a child, I was the CEO of McBer & Company (now part of Hay Group). I was still committed to research, but could not do it during my regular work hours. So what he saw me do at home on weekends – and on the few vacations I took – was sit at a typewriter. What he saw me doing was not research – but writing. He has since become a very good writer and is now Vice President of Corporate Communications for a large company. Children don’t listen to what you say – they learn from what you do.

5. Help your Children Dream

In cultures where you are taught to revere your parents, it’s very hard to figure out what you really want - versus what your parents want you to do. In my classes, I often see Chinese and Indian executives who have spent their lives being great doctors or engineers. But that was not what they wanted to do with their lives. The biggest danger for a person exploring their dreams is the “ought self” – the imposition of what they “should” do. Even though it often comes from a loving parental perspective, with the best of intentions, it nonetheless is a form of oppression. It would be far better for us to encourage our children – even at a young age – to talk about their dreams. At a young age, kids are going to say things like, “I want to be an astronaut”. They are not going to say the same things 15 years later – mostly. But it will get them into a habit of self-awareness and a habit of learning what matters most to them.

6. Don’t Confuse Dreams with Goals

This is an important point. Goals are not dreams. In fact, research published over the last 25 years on performance oriented goals versus learning oriented goals shows that goal-setting actually hurts performance in the majority of situations. We now know that goal setting only helps a small segment of employees – people who have a high need for achievement. The other 80% of employees find goals to be a source of stress that leads to cognitive impairment. Furthermore, goals only help when your work activities are routine and simple. But as soon as you need to innovate, adapt or learn on the job, goals hurt.

7. Have a Functional Mid-life Crisis

People usually do odd things when they have a mid-life crisis: They take up sky-diving, have affairs or buy fancy red sports cars. What would be smarter - and cheaper – would be to go to a university program designed for adults. Invest in yourself. Develop yourself.

8. Beware the Trappings of Success

As people get older, they can feel trapped by their success. It’s harder to change when you feel you are making a lot of money, and you have a lot of status. For these folks, I tell them, “who says you have to do all-or-nothing?” Why not devote half a day each week to your passions? I know people who have discovered a passion for the arts and have used their professional skills in marketing to promote the arts. Listen to that voice inside you that says, “I’d like to do something different.”

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