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Developing Leadership in Today’s Competitive Business World
Holly G. Green, CEO and managing director at The Human Factor Inc., is passionate about helping others be more successful. “I am very focused on and believe that most people have the potential to use their brain much more effectively at work and accomplish the things they get clear on,” she said. Recently, we asked Holly a few questions about how organizations can develop great leaders. Here’s what she had to say:
What individuals or organizations do you look up to when it comes to leadership? What can we learn from them?
I am constantly looking in all sectors to gather insights regarding leadership. This includes everything from U.S. Navy Seals and other elite military forces to Olympic athletes to symphony orchestras and NFL referees. There is so much we can learn from those that are truly elite in what they do, and apply that knowledge at work in the corporate world.
What has been one of the toughest lessons about leadership you’ve had to learn in your career so far?
That much of what we learn in university in Management 101 books is simply not the way it works with those “darn humans” in the office. We are illogical, irrational creatures most days and we have to learn how to better understand how the brain actually works at work, and take advantage of human tendencies versus relying on logic.
How does The Human Factor Inc. approach leadership training and consulting differently than others in your field?
We leverage how the brain works at work. We help others understand the basics of the brain and how to manipulate (only for good) other humans into achieving amazing things. We use techniques and tips that lead to hands-on practice – the only way to create myelin wiring in the brain. We use neuroprompts (short visits to the brain) to encourage people to pause, think and focus versus just run (and do it over). Our approach seems counterintuitive on the surface because we help others slow down to go fast.
You write that “excellence happens in context.” What do you mean by that?
We are all a part of the system we operate in. We are strongly influenced by other people and things around us. I often say “your system produces exactly what it is set up to produce. If you want to change things, you have to look at the whole system or context in which people operate.”
Just like a machine is designed to do certain things and not do other things, our work systems are the same way. We have to be intentional on what we want the output to be and make sure we have created an environment that supports that at every touch point (i.e. the way we hire, manage, promote, recognize, and make decisions). It’s all supposed to support getting us to where we want to go versus getting in the way or unintentionally supporting dysfunctional behaviors.
What are the tools every organization needs to have on hand to develop leaders?
A basic understanding of how adult humans think and make decisions, as well as techniques to prompt the desirable thinking and doing. We use 99 different neuroprompts in the work we do. This includes 30-second techniques to focus on a target to change perspective, challenge assumptions, look for the second right answer, expose yourself (your thinking and others) as well as two-minute techniques to develop a winning mindset to have effective meetings, cold eye reviews, pre-thinking, etc.
What advice do you find yourself repeating to organizations over and over again about effectively growing new leaders from within?
Being a great leader takes practice. It is not something you magically get. You have to be intentional and disciplined to develop leadership skills. Our brain creates “wiring” every time we do something. When we run into meetings late with no agenda and talk about the same things we’ve talked about 100 times before, we are practicing behaviors. The problem is, these are the wrong behaviors. Our brain does not distinguish between them; it just likes what it already knows and tends to lead us to repetition.
Think about any great sports team. They practice getting it right. They review the film to uncover where they did not and then they make adjustments and practice getting it right again. Sadly, at work we “play on the field” each day and don’t take the few seconds required to intentionally get it right. We do the same things over and over again and get frustrated by the results.
What types of environments do you think tend to stifle leaders and innovative thinkers?
Any environment where the refrains below are common:
- It’s too much work.
- It hasn’t been done before.
- Don’t rock the boat.
- Get your head out of the clouds into reality.
- Yeah. We’ve tried that before.
- You have a point, but … it costs too much.
- That isn’t your problem.
- We don’t have the time.
- Good idea, but it’s impractical.
- They won’t buy it.
- That doesn’t concern you.
- You will never get it off the ground.
- We haven’t budgeted for it.
- Stay in your place.
- You are ahead of your time.
- It’s too radical.
- It won’t pay for itself.
- You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
- It won’t work.
- Let’s put the idea on the back burner now.
- We have always done it this way.
- It would take too much effort.
- Management will have problems with it.
- Don’t be a dreamer.
- Oh no. Not that idea again.
- We’ll become laughingstocks!
- Where did you dig that one up?
- We did fine without it before.
These all keep organizations and people doing the same things they have always done. In a hyper-changing world, it is a dangerous approach. Believing your industry won’t change, isn’t subject to all the “new” ways of working, communicating, buying, being influenced, etc. is a sure way to stifle leaders.
The second environmental scenario that stifles leadership and innovation is not being clear on excellence or winning or being able to articulate it with specificity. Most leaders know what it looks like when things don’t go the way they want, but they are unable to proactively communicate the goals/what winning looks like when it has been achieved up front. Getting crystal clear on winning and defining it so that you minimize the interpretation of your words is a true challenge today. And once you do it, you have to consistently talk about winning, measure it, provide feedback as compared to it and build all your systems to achieve it.
What are the biggest challenges facing business leaders today?
A hyper-paced world that has created a perception we just have to run at all costs. So we run and have to do it over, but we don’t slow down to get it right. We rely on our old patterns of thinking that were created when the world moved at a very different pace, our customers had different challenges, our employees expected different things, etc..
What do you think leadership will look like in the coming decade? What type of organizations will thrive?
Successful leaders will need to be more agile. Organizations will have to have strategic thinking skills, including the abilities to innovate, execute, and make informed decisions, throughout versus just at the senior levels. Leaders will have to be very intentional at unlearning as well as at learning constantly. What helped organizations be successful in the past could be the greatest stumbling block to future success because we so want to do the same things over and over.