Pathways for Leaders

Sections of this topic

    The wrong path.

    Alex was explaining some startling figures to the head of a global division with $7 billion in sales. Craig was thirty eight but had already been in this job for several years. Alex’s team had built the figures from many global data bases and cross-checked them exhaustively. They showed that the division’s markets in Europe and the US were growing much faster than Craig’s reports. So the division’s real market shares were bad and getting worse. And Craig’s shiny new strategy was built on sand. He looked up from the figures at Alex and said smoothly, “That’s very interesting. You should get on our management meeting agenda. See Frank.”

    A month later, Alex was still calling Frank. After six weeks with no response, Alex had to include the data in the company’s strategic overview so he sent the presentation to Craig’s head of marketing. Three days before the executive council meeting, the marketing director called Alex, hysterical. “Are you trying to kill my boss?” A month later, after almost twenty years of success and promotions, Craig was sidelined to a regional job. Six months later he was gone. It took more than two years for his successors to return the division to real growth and increased profitability.

    A better way

    Over the last several years this blog has explored a variety of insightful and useful models for leading effective change. But to lead change, you have to see the need for it, preferably before it’s too late. And that can be a problem if your mind can’t see what your eyes can. We all have a welter of thoughts, experiences and beliefs, what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls our “mindset”.(1) And they can help or hinder effective thinking, deciding and acting, often without our knowledge. This was Craig’s problem: his mindset made him, and through him his team, blind to information inconsistent with his beliefs, with severe adverse consequences.

    In this next series of blogs, we will explore in detail internal limitations that affect our individual performance. Leaders of knowledge workers need to be aware of these limitations: in themselves, those they work with and their organizations. And we will introduce techniques and practices for recognizing, overcoming and eliminating these limitations, permitting all of us and those with whom we work to become the leaders we are meant to be.

    Rapid self-assessment

    Since we are unaware of many sources of self-delusion that can undermine our leadership, we can start by checking the state of our inner awareness. There are simple but effective exercises that can assess and increase it: simple, yet their results consistently shock hard-charging business leaders.

    Here is one that takes just a few minutes. If you want to try it, don’t read beyond step 4 until you complete it.

    1-Sit in a straight backed chair. Slowly clench your fists, tighten your arm and back muscles and bend from the waist as far as you can. As you lower your torso, frown and tighten your facial muscles.
    2-Tighten the rest of your muscles and hold that position for a few seconds.
    3-Try to feel happy, joyful. What happens?
    4-Now try to feel angry, frustrated. What happens?

    Pause briefly to observe the outcomes of steps 3 and 4.

    5-Sit back up, relaxing as you do; then without stopping stand up.
    6-Take several deep breaths. Shake and loosen your shoulders, gently swing your arms, easily rotate your neck and head.
    7-Continue breathing slowly, deeply. As you straighten your posture, lift up your chest and head, open your arms wide and raise them above your shoulders.
    8-Smile. Really smile. Keep it up.
    9- Try to feel angry, frustrated. What happens?
    10-Now try to feel curious, happy, joyful. What happens?

    Lessons for leaders

    Our inner thoughts, emotions and beliefs can affect decisions and actions without conscious knowledge.

    Our mind, brain and entire nervous system are connected and highly interactive. Our mind can control our body, but our body can also control our mind.

    The less we are aware of our complex inner life, the greater the risk that key decisions will be affected without our knowing it and produce sub-optimal, even disastrous results.

    There are simple ways to assess our internal awareness that can lead to sustained improved performance.

    Next blog
    Types of awareness and why they are important to the leader in all of us.

    (1) Dweck, Carol S., Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House, New York. 2007.

    Tom is founder of Thomson-Roy Advisors, a firm providing international strategy consulting and senior leadership development. He is also a Program Director at The Mahler Company and an instructor in MBA and Executive Education programs in business schools in the US and overseas. He was an international executive with the Michelin Group for nearly thirty years, working in over forty countries while holding positions in law, finance, emerging market business development and global strategy. Tom is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Virginia Law School. Please contact him on LinkedIn or at