Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Leadership in Everyday Life

If you ask therapists to identify the essence of good relationships, they will usually respond with a paean to love. They might even take it a step further and throw some empathy into the mix. In the therapy culture feelings rule.

As it happens, this is a gross oversimplification. You cannot have good relationships with family and friends, to say nothing of lovers and mates, without knowing how to negotiate, to lead, and to manage.

Today Peter Bregman offers some lessons in these skills on the Harvard Business Review website. Link here.

Bregman is a business consultant and coach. He works to help managers develop into effective leaders.

Specifically his article addresses resistance to change. And he suggests that most people are not resistant to change; they are resistant to being pushed around, bullied, and forced to do something against their will.

An interesting point, one that perhaps sheds some light on the great Freudian concept of resistance, concept that has now morphed into the notion of denial.

It would appear that psychoanalysts, who try to force their patients to accept their interpretations as the ultimate truth, are provoking resistance because of their offensive and disrespectful behavior.

How do you avoid resistance? First, Bregman asserts that a manager should not assume that the staff will resist change. Most people are more than willing to change; they are usually not willing to accept being disrespected. The former will provoke cooperation; the latter, resistance.

Second, Bregman says that leaders should involve staff actively in the deliberative process, should tell them clearly what the company goals are, and should show respect for their opinions.
At times that means allowing them to pursue an initiative that the manager has doubts about.

If you want to produce resistance, you need merely do the opposite. Try to impose your will on everyone; ignore their suggestions and recommendations; treat them like people who can either give in to you or walk out the door.

But Bregman takes his discussion a step beyond the usual discussion of corporate leadership. He applies the concept to childrearing, discussing how he persuaded his six-year-old daughter to eat fruit instead of ice cream for desert.

You may think that this does not fall within the category of negotiation and leadership skills, but if it is done well, it must.

Bregman begins with a child who wants ice cream. He wants her to eat fruit. How does he get from here to there?

He engages her in a negotiation that resembles a game. He offers his daughter a choice between an apple and some grapes. She declares that she wants ice cream. He responds that that is not one of the choices.

Thus, he does not confront her, or dramatize the situation. He invites her to play the game and he clarifies the rules. She responds that she still wants ice cream. So he repeats the rule.

She is not going to cave into pressure, but she wants to have something like a free choice in the matter. Finally, she says that she does not want an apple or some grapes. She wants a banana.

Of course, Bregman accedes to his daughter's wish. Psychologically speaking, both have won.

The father's goal was not to break his daughter's will or to show her who is the boss. He wanted to point her in the direction of healthy eating.

He did it by allowing her to feel that she was making a free choice. She was pleased with herself and was happy with the banana because she had mastered the game. She had negotiated a disagreement, developed a social skill, and had avoided a conflict. She might even have found that more satisfying than ice cream.

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