➢ On Social & Self-Awareness

Critical Management Skills

We know that in people, avoiding pain takes precedence over gaining pleasure, but why is that so?  Consider that in the natural world from which we have only recently come, avoiding the predator takes precedence over finding food.  In every instance then, including the workplace, the mind is hard-wired to evaluate for potential threat or potential reward, and threat will trump reward every time.

Leadership is so difficult because social meaning is attached to a leaders’ every word and glance.  Sentences and gestures are interpreted, magnified and combed for meanings he/she may have never intended.

Soft skills have a bad rep.  They are squishy, can’t be measured easily, and can be difficult to assess in standard interviews.  But they are what makes a leader effective, at least effective with people.  Great leaders know how to communicate and inspire, even bring bad news, without triggering people’s fears and insecurities.  Social awareness ensures positive outcomes from every communication.

David Rock is doing important new work in Neuro-leadership, or the application of neuroscience to management science. He has studied the brain extensively and the neuroscience behind it, with the talent equation and talent retention in mind, and he has put hard science behind social awareness and other soft skills.   He has, in very simple terms, outlined how and why the brain reacts, so that we can now predict accurately how an individual or group of employees will react to any situation, policy or approach.   This knowledge helps us select leaders with the awareness to excel in this area.  It’s why great leaders can consistently inspire while others unintentionally demotivate, over and over again.

In short, the brain is a social organ, and its needs – status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness – are also social.  Threaten in any of these areas, and any potential reward is dismissed.  It is the threat response leaders have to avoid triggering, because nothing productive happens when someone feels threatened.

Intuitively, we all know this from hard experience, if in less scientific terms, so how does this new information help us?  Understanding the 5 needs gives us the ability to anticipate accurately the employee response.  For example, you can’t put lipstick on a plant closing and expect a positive reaction.  Spin confuses, alerts, and communicates insincerity.  On the other hand, transparency on the details, decisions and timelines behind a plant closing eliminates uncertainty, demonstrates a caring attitude on the part of management and makes life much easier for all involved.  In Rocks’ terminology, a plant closing threatens status, certainly, autonomy and fairness, 4 of the 5 needs the brain is most attuned to.

This same knowledge helps us retain key people, and specifically looking for social and self-awareness in executives ensures positive leadership in the organization.  See the link below for David Rock’s fascinating article, entitled “Managing With The Brain In Mind”.