What Allures Us to Great Leaders?

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Air Force General John Michel sheds some light on what it is that makes people follow great leaders. Michel begins by relating the details of the winter of 1777 in which General George Washington and his revolutionary army faced many hardships. Michel writes, “Yet history clearly records that despite the harsh conditions and lack of equipment that left sentries to stand on their hats to prevent frostbite to their feet, the men who emerged from this terrible winter never gave up. Why? Largely because of the inspiring and selfless example of their leader, George Washington. He didn’t ask the members of his army to do anything he wouldn’t do. If they were cold, he was cold. If they were hungry, he went hungry. If they were uncomfortable, he too choose to experience the same discomfort.”

Michel tells readers that Washington’s “profoundly positive” demonstration of leadership teaches us that leadership is about “compelling [people] to join you in pushing into new territory.”

The lesson Washington’s profoundly positive example teaches is that leading people well isn’t about driving them, directing them, or coercing them; it is about compelling them to join you in pushing into new territory. It is motivating them to share your enthusiasm for pursuing a shared ideal, objective, cause, or mission. In essence, it is to always conduct yourself in ways that communicates to others that you believe people are always more important than things.

Michel quotes Donald Walter from his book The Art of Leadership. Walter state’s that great leadership “transcends intelligence and merely technical competence. It implies an ability to see the lesser in relation to the greater; the immediate in relation to the long term; the need for victory in relations to the needs that will arise once victory has been achieved.”

“Victory” in any scenario is always the goal; however, Michel notes, “this doesn’t imply that I should indiscriminately pursue my goals or blindly pursue my objectives at all costs. What Walters’ wise words strive to remind us of is that leadership, be it as a general in the military, an executive in the boardroom, a pastor serving a congregation, or a parent providing for a family, isn’t about exercising power over people, but rather, it’s about finding effective ways to work with people.”

The most important part of leadership is staying “other-centered” rather than “self-centered,” Michel writes.
Michel ends by writing, “Now is the time to not lose sight of the fact that people, be it in warfare, politics, religion, education, or business, are always more important than things.”

How to Become a Successful Creature of Habit

Charles Duhigg of the New York Times recently wrote on the science of habit in humans. He writes:

“Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we eat, how we spend our evenings, and how often we exercise have enormous impacts.”

While some may take this to mean there is a dubious lack of free will involved in our day-to-day lives, this is not the case. It is that habit is easier than “well-considered decision making.” While the fact that habits are easy can be a double-edged sword a conscious, mindful individual can use this to their advantage.

Duhigg explains that all habits are created in the same way, that we must “establish the right cues and rewards.” Duhigg sites a New Mexico State University study that looked at individuals who exercised at least three times a week.

What the study finds is very interesting. For many of the study’s participants their exercise routine began as a caprice, orr was generated from a sudden surplus of free time or a reaction to unexpected stress. What was it that reinforced their whim into habit? Cue and reward.
Duhigg writes:

“If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or always going for a run at the same time of day) and a clear reward (like a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a jog). But countless studies have shown that, at first, the rewards inherent in exercise aren’t enough.
So to teach your brain to associate exercise with a reward, you need to give yourself something you really enjoy — like a small piece of chocolate — after your workout.

Eventually, your brain will start expecting the reward inherent in exercise (“It’s 5 o’clock. Three miles down! Endorphin rush!”), and you won’t need the chocolate anymore. In fact, you won’t even want it. But until your neurology learns to enjoy those endorphins and the other rewards inherent in exercise, you need to jump-start the process.”

Cues and rewards can be anything and applied to any activity you wish to become a positive habit. If one is trying to learn to play the piano, learn a new language or be more vigilant about reading the news you must create a cue and reward. Listening to your favorite piano piece every evening after dinner, then allowing yourself to watch your favorite mindless sit com after practicing the piano could be one way to reinforce the positive habit of practicing the piano.

What habits will you change or create with this information?

Why is Maintaining Motivation So Difficult?

In a recent article by the Quiet Leadership Institute, they take a look at the concept of “deliberate practice” from the book Peak: Secrets of the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson, PhD, a leading psychologist in the area of expertise and Robert Pool, PhD, well known science and living writer.

The QLI defines deliberate practice as the “breakdown of expertise into a series of smaller, attainable practices.” And states that a deliberate practitioner creates and follows through on structured activities that focus on a small area to improve on within their expertise. This concept is somewhat like the mindfulness training that practitioners of Eastern philosophies use.

The QLI article quotes a section of Peak that focuses primarily on motivation. The excerpt tells readers a hard truth we can all recognize – that when we decide to learn something new, like playing the guitar or learning a new language the initial energy, motivation and interest we feel can lessen over time, sometimes very quickly, and we stop practicing as often.

Ericsson and Pool tell us that there are two primary mental road blocks. First, that when we think about expert practitioners in our fields we often assume they have “some rare gift of willpower or ‘grit’ or ‘stick-to-itiveness’ that the rest of us just lack.”

Ericsson and Pool assert this is a mistake for two reasons. First, there is very little evidence to support the idea that we have a quantifiable pool of willpower from which to draw.

However, Ericsson and Pool write that the bigger problem of will power is:
“the myth of natural talent … once you assume that something is innate, it automatically becomes something you can’t do anything about. This sort of circular thinking – “The fact that I couldn’t keep practicing indicates that I don’t have enough willpower, which explains why I couldn’t keep practicing” – is worse than useless; it is damaging in that it can convince people that they might as well not even try.”

The authors analogize improving performance to weight loss saying that those who are successful in losing weight over the long term are people who have “successfully redesigned their lives, building new habits that allow them to maintain the behaviors that keep them losing weight in spite of all of the temptations that threaten their success.”