Effective Leadership

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. -Nelson Mandela

What makes a leader effective? Derek Sivers would argue that “the first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.” Regardless of how an individual attracts his/her followers, the point is, when they are in fact successful, there are characteristic trends within personality that most leaders share. “Every leader has a particular style of leadership that is innate. However, the behaviors, attitudes or methods of delivery that are effective for one staff member may in fact be counterproductive for another” (CNN).
Here are what I deem the most important leadership traits mentioned by the CNN article that comprises a good leader:
1. Honesty: builds trust
2. Focus: mission statement and direct understanding of expectations as well as a clear path to get there.
3. Passion: find it.
4. Respect: treat each other with dignity and equality. There is no room for favoritism.
5. Excellent persuasion abilities: find your “why”. (See previous post by me)
6. Be Empowering: make your followers feel valued.
Whether it was Ghandi, Steve Jobs, J.F.K, Dr. Greene, or the manager at your favorite local coffee shop, in order to be an effective leader, these characteristics are essential. I would argue that charm, charisma, and intellect also play obvious roles. However, as theories of organizational behavior would reinforce, inspirational leadership styles, or walking the walk is a transformative method of management.
“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be..” The same is true in management; wherever your treasure or priorities lie, there too the desires of your business (or heart) will lie. If money motivates you, than that is where your heart is. If it’s within the people you guide, than that is where your heart is. Whatever it may be, your means to the end may vary, but the most common formulas have been prove to lie within the characteristics above. Where are you lacking?

“I’m not a Businessman, I’m a Business, Man”


The New York Times recently featured an article that suggested that instead of looking for experience when hiring for new positions, companies should consider hiring individuals with one or two years of work experience, or better yet, those fresh out of college (*cough or graduate school*). Most of us either have personally been victims of exclusion based on “inexperience” or have witnessed our elders’ strong resistance to new innovations based on their often blatantly expired mentality (social media, anyone?). It is rare that an experienced professional is an early adopter. Why do you think this is?

“More often than not, I find that those who come with experience and credentials have set ways; they don’t bring as much energy or out-of-the-box thinking as the untrained junior staff.” Can I get a hallelujah? But wait, I hesitate to be too overoptimistic. Undoubtedly there are specialized jobs in which experience is vital. In areas such as science and law, experience is invaluable. However, in jobs were creativity takes precedent, we find our place. Although, if we follow this logic, we will inevitably come to a screeching halt…what happens when the kids we once babysat come knocking on our office doors with an eviction notice and a smile? How can we keep up with not the Jones’, but the Sallys’ and Bobbys’ of the next generation?

Perhaps we can think of ourselves as a business within a business. In the words of Kanye, “I’m not a business man, I am a business, man.”  That is, we have to keep taking on the new and latest ideas in order to reinvent ourselves. Otherwise, we will be replaced. “In building a global team, I’ve found that people who have fire in their belly, who come to learn, and who are open to adaptation are the ones who flourish.” It is our job within a job to continuously add fuel to the fire, to strive for our personal best, and to become irreplaceable within our organizations. In psychological terms, we must be careful to not self-stereotype, the process that individuals define themselves in terms of their group membership. Instead, we have to understand ourselves as evolving in nature and capable of innovation and creativity at all times. We have learned over and again in Organizational Psychology the importance of the hiring process and the thought that must be evaluated in both finding the right fit and assessment of the psychological contract between employee and employer. There is a shared sense of responsibility, but on our end, this begs the question, how can we position ourselves in a way in which to ensure our own personal innovation?

“I am not young enough to know everything” -Oscar Wilde

Optimism is a Brain Defect

I repeat. Optimism is a brain defect.

I think it’s fitting to start out this post by talking about something I hate. I hate when I am having a really horrible day and I sit down next to someone who is having the BEST. DAY. EVER. I don’t care about the flowers your boyfriend bought you, carnations are filler flowers anyway. I know, I’m a terrible person.

On a normal day, however, I tend to be optimistic about most things. According to a recent study, this means I have a brain defect. Well that’s hopeful. I’ll explain:

Researchers at Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the University College London studied nineteen volunteers who were presented with a eighty situational/negative life events (i.e. car jacking, infidelity, being fired, and Alzheimer disease). During this time, researchers measured their activity in the brain while they were hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Participants were asked to estimate the probability that these negative events would happen to them sometime in their life. A few minutes later, the volunteers were told the average probability of these events actually occurring to them. 

The researchers found that people did, in fact, update their estimates based on the information given, but only if the information was better than expected. For example if individuals estimated a 40 percent chance of getting cancer in their lifetime and then later were told they actually only had a 30 percent chance, then the second time they were polled they would alter their probability to 32 percent. However, if they underestimated their probability of a negative event, they would not increase their likelihood.

Why? Well the brain scans suggest that “all participants showed increased activity in the frontal lobes of the brain when the information given was better than expected, this activity actively processed the information to recalculate an estimate. However, when the information was worse than estimated, the more optimistic a participant there was less efficiently activity in these frontal regions coded for it, suggesting they were disregarding the evidence presented to them.” In essence, when outcomes were better than anticipated, activity in the frontal cortices spiked, monitoring estimation errors. However, when things were worse than expected, brain activity was much weaker. Psychologically, this gives way to the confirmation bias, the tendency for individuals to favor information that confirms their preconception and disregard information that does not support their previously held beliefs. When factual information given by researchers to participants did not match up with their predictions, the subjects essentially plugged their ears and hummed a tune.

Perhaps this is the reason that unplanned pregnancies occur or DUIs are so prevalent. The “it won’t happen to me” mentality can be quite harmful. On the other hand, being positive isn’t negative. There are a million reasons why we may condition ourselves in this manner. Seeing the glass half full or making lemonade out of lemons undoubtedly lowers stress, makes us more ambitious, and contributes to our overall happiness. It’s the one brain defect I am proud to possess.   How can we as students of psychology, marketing, public relations, and human resources find a silver-lining applicable to our fields and more importantly, our lives?