Monday, May 3, 2010

Hiring Authentic People-Brain Advantage

I'm reading a new business book that everyone should go out and get a copy of. Its called The Brain Advantage, Become a More Effective Business Leader using the Latest Brain Research. A friend of mine is a co-author so I got a copy from him to read through. I've made several connections to my own experiences in leadership.

 In the Brain Advantage, the authors share research that shows that when in the company of others, people modify their reactions to seeing difficult images to match that of the other persons reaction. Moreover if the other persons' reaction did not match the expected reaction, this had a negative impact on them and the others physiologically. Non-voluntary inidcators of stress such as blood pressure increased or decreased in reaction to other peoples reactions or when someone did not react in a way that others expect. The research also showed that if the difficult images were viewed with consideration of the potential positive aspects that might come from the situation. The authors suggest that leaders have to be true to themselves in every situation but that this does not mean airing your dirty laundry or being negative about everything you disagree with, but if leaders can find the potential positives in a situation, they have an opportunity to have a positive impact on those around them, as well as themselves. The conclusion the authors come to is that managers should hire authentic people.  What if managers hired people who were authentic. Sounds like a good idea. Easier said than done, I think. I can visualize the efforts that would have to be undertaken to understand what authentic is. Its hard to get through the facade of what candidates want you to think they are, to see the real person. Of course, hiring authentic people requires leaders to BE authentic themselves and determine what authentic characteristics are in alignment with the organizations culture. Thats much more work than most companies put into their hiring processes today. Maybe that says something about the state of business today.

This insight from The Brain Advantage does line up nicely with a couple of key leadership messages of another of my favorite business books, Good To Great by Jim Collins. In Good To Great, Dr. Collins shares two of the key elements of success for Good To Great companies. Those elements are the Stockdale Paradox and Level 5 Leadership. I've talked about the Stockdale Paradox before so I won't go into detail here but click here for a review. The Stockdale paradox is the presence of two personal principles that are counter to each other; First is the ability to see the present situation for what it is, and Second is an unwaivering faith that the future will be better than today. The other leadership key to success for Good To Great companies is Level 5 Leadership. Level 5 leaders are characterized by two priniciples; personal humility, and a strong drive for success for the company. These sound alot like authenticity to me.  Level 5 leaders tend to shy away from personal credit for the success of the company. Assigning much of the credit to luck, but taking most of the blame for failures. Level 5 leaders tend to attract other level 5 leaders, just as devisive leaders tend to create that culture around them. Leaders who possess the Stockdale Paradox have the ability to see the problems of today, but not be overly negative about them, instead focusing on the future.

What if managers hired people who were authentic? Sounds like a good idea. I think it goes beyond hiring decisions though. Hiring authentic people is a good first step but I believe that leaders have to allow people to BE authentic once they have hired them. This should not be an issue if leadership acts authentically as well. In a business book reference trifecta; Harvey J. Coleman, in the Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed

theorizes that individual success in business is made up of three elements: Performance, Image, and Exposure. The author suggests that Image and Exposure are more important than Performance (Results). At least he is honest, but I believe he is wrong in the proportion of the PIE that is assigned to Performance. While peoples varied experiences on this point would create endless debate, suffice it to say that my personal experiences would suggest that the P is worth less than the 10% of the PIE asserted by the author. In an organization where people are not authentic, performance is not nearly as important as the image or the exposure of the individual. In other experiences from my past, the P was far more important.

So what can we take from these three books on the subject of authenticity? When results are what matters to the organization, authenticity is the recipe for success. When people are authentic, less effort must be spent managing an image, and more time spent focusing on helping the company move to the next level of performance.

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