Having worked with 3 Groups of Senior Executives from very different industries over the last 3 weeks, it is interesting to note that they all asked the same question:
When getting feedback about our own behavior, why can’t we explain to the giver; why we behaved in that way? After all there is a good reason to it….
To help set context for the above question, one of the things that I remind senior leaders is that the faster and the higher we climb the corporate ladder, the poorer our listening skills become. And a leader who doesn’t listen, doesn’t lead.
All leaders swear that they listen, and I agree 100% – all leaders are phenomenal listeners. The real problem is that most people who claim to be leaders often times are not real leaders. The carry the title, they take the paycheck, but they don’t behave like it.
It is very unfortunate for us that we have little or no capacity to see ourselves. If the mirror was never invented we would never know how we looked like. Likewise we have very little capacity to really see how we behave, and more importantly how our behavior affects others. It is not surprising therefore to hear people say “I don’t know why s/he is upset with me?”
Most of the time, so called leaders are living in delusion. Because we have a mental image of ourself – we think that that image of ourself is real. We believe in our perceptions of ourself. The minute we get feedback that is contrary to our perception – we get emotionally stressed.
As an example: We all see our kids as angles, and when a friend says “I saw your kid smoking,” our first reaction is to deny the assertion, that it is impossible for my kid to be smoking. Even worse then that, if we have a low or negative opinion of our kid and we told our kid was seen doing something good, we also deny it; “that can’t be my kid.” In all reality we are hostage to our perceptions.
Now with people aspiring to become leaders, it is critical that they be able to listen and get feedback from others on how their behavior impacts other people. Where the feedback is inconsistent with the self perception – the brain goes into a state of cognitive dissonance. Because dissonance is uncomfortable, we immediately try to justify our behavior – by explaining why we behaved in that manner and what was the real intention of the behavior. In doing so, we immediately cut short our reflective loop and absolve our self from our responsibility for that behavior and therefore the need to change it in order to become a more effective leader.
As a result of this process of giving reason and justification – we continue to live in delusion.