By Dan Fine, Management Consultant at Hive Business
In an interview regarding his new book Leaders: Myth and Reality the retired four-star general Stan McChrystal talks about the diagnostic capability of physicians: the less they talk in an initial consultation the more effective they are.
Leaders, like doctors, should try not to walk into a new situation with a bag of solutions. You’re more effective if you’re able to trust that the people around you are capable and have the answers. If you have a challenge in your dental practice, it doesn’t matter what the solution is, the important thing is that the people around you create that solution themselves and believe in it. It might be hard to hear them, so it’s vital to be able to listen humbly.
On the other hand, the conventional ‘expert’ approach is to say sensible sounding things like: “Taking 15 minutes for NHS check ups will be loss making, and repeatedly delivering loss making treatments will have a catastrophic effect across your business.” It may be true, but when I’ve demonstrated to a practice owner why indeed it is, it’s taken them 18 months to really receive the message. When I say receive, I’m talking about witnessing a change in them, seeing the excitement and urgency latent in the idea finally untether from an abstract stuckness to a feeling. I’ve seen, finally, the blood pumping. Like Murphy’s Law, the Pareto distribution and other old wisdom, we like to think we grasp plenty of concepts, only for them to skim off. Ideas can sound trite and simplistic until we’re ready to really hear, and then feel, them.
The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt captures this ambivalence brilliantly with an analogy about elephants. A rider sits atop each elephant, and he is busy offering convincing post hoc reasons for where his animal is going, always careful to make it look like he knows what he is doing. He tries to remain upbeat, vocal and in control, almost like a little mobile PR agency.
What’s really happening is he has no control whatsoever, he goes wherever his elephant goes. He is like the prefrontal cortex, the seat of logic, abstract thought and executive function in the human brain: mostly operating in the shade just below our conscious awareness, it’s a master of wrapping retrospective sense around the activities we carry out as a result of emotions from a more primitive brain cortex, the limbic system — our elephant.
Yes, we can get something abstractly, but when we really feel it, that’s when we move, like the elephant. I suppose that’s why they say you can’t trust experts and academics; they’re only ever speaking to your rider. It’s platitudes. Real action, action that harnesses all your formidable drive and focus and gets incredible business results, requires both: an emotional connection with your work plus your rational self.