Leadership Lesson: Why people believe what you tell them.
At some point in our lives, we’ve all been told “you won’t be able to achieve…” something by a teacher, boss or even a parent. For many, this type of discouraging mentoring propels them to do just that thing. However, for other this can prevent the very learning, practice and dedication needed to achieve whatever that “something” is.
Remember this rule; your team will believe you.
It’s entirely possible that some of your team are driven by the idea of achieving that unattainable goal or proving you wrong. The risk of using this strategy is too great. I was once told by a hiring manager that they “couldn’t see me managing people”. If I had even the slightest hesitation, based on that comment, my career would have stalled. I fought the subconscious effect of this comment and pushed through it. I was aware that this comment could subconsciously hold me back. It’s not safe to assume those on your team can do the same. When my manager attempted to give me “advice”, their intention might have been good. I don’t honestly know. It’s possible that this manager didn’t see the qualities they thought a good manager had. It’s possible they also didn’t see the ability to improve my skills either. Regardless of the intention, this advice could have stopped my pursuit towards a leadership role right there. At the time, I had just read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink and was introduced to the idea of priming.
Priming refers to subtle triggers that influence our behavior without our awareness of it happening.
An example that Gladwell uses is in Spain, where authorities introduced classical music on the subway and after doing so, watched vandalism and littering drastically decrease. I was determined not to let priming effect my behavior. I would in fact begin to do the exact opposite of what priming does. I would change my behavior to act more like a leader. I slowly began to change the way I dressed, moving towards more professional choices at work. I began reading leadership books, blogs and listening to podcasts.
Always assume you are priming your team members.
No matter what your thoughts are on a team member’s future career aspirations or goals, don’t shoot them down. As leaders, simply decide that every team member should be given the benefit of the doubt. That way you won’t negatively prime them. For example, that team member that applies for the open management position. Who does it benefit if you tell them they “aren’t management material”. Maybe you, the next time a role opens, won’t have to deal with the discussion again. Does it truly benefit you? The demotivation, the priming has taken place. Why would that team member attempt to work harder, learn more or stick around?
Priming doesn’t only happen with major life changing or career changing situations.
Priming can also happen when a team member presents a new idea or concept. If a team member comes to you with a horrible idea and you immediately respond with “that won’t work”, you’ve primed them. Some people are more resilient than others, some believe they are more resilient than they are. Regardless, it’s not about your opinion on the idea, if it truly won’t work then it won’t work. The objective is to change how you respond to avoid negative priming. The over used term, “it’s not what you say it’s how you say it” is accurate. Instead of saying it “won’t work” ask for more details, or explain the history or approach you’ve tried before. Avoid jumping to the conclusion or verbalizing it. “I’d love to see you in a management role in the future, we’ll build a plan and I’ll help you get there” for the management material example. For that “off the wall” idea that won’t work, “here’s what I’ve tried before, do you think your approach would have a different result”? Have a conversation, after all…..