By Simon Mitchell
As keen supporters of Benchmark for Business, we were recently lucky enough to share the stage with two world-class thinkers at a day focused on exploring “adaptive leadership” and how leaders can optimise their performance every single day. Some of the discussion really made me think about the above two questions. It’s not easy but I believe there are four elements that contribute to someone’s likelihood of success. The first two – experience and knowledge – are easy to spot in advance; they are easily demonstrated on CVs and in interviews.
The latter two - skills and personal attributes – being more intangible, are difficult to predict and often only become apparent when someone is actually in a role. Some personality aspects may work in a leader’s favour, and others, which may impact on their role negatively, will have to carefully managed. It’s often said that in this success profile, the first two get you hired, the second two will get you fired!
First on stage was Dr Steve Peters, Professor at Sheffield Medical School and consultant psychiatrist working in elite sport, business and education. Second was Michael Watkins, the famous expert on accelerating leadership transitions.
Dr Peters illuminated the model he’s created to help understand and manage the personal attribute part of the profile. He describes the functioning of the mind and the way this can influence behaviour and has called it “The Chimp Model.” This sees the brain as being divided into three broad parts (forgive me if I am doing scant justice to a sophisticated model!):
- The Human – the conscious, thinking, analysing being that works with facts and truths then makes deductions using logical thinking. Us.
- The Chimp – an independent thinking brain that is not always under “our” control. It works with feelings and impressions and then puts the ‘information’ together using emotional thinking. Also us.
- The Computer – the part of the brain that stores information that the Human and the Chimp have put in for reference. It acts as a memory and can act as an automatic thinking and acting machine.
The Chimp is a lot stronger than the Human and if you try and wrestle with it the human will lose. So emotions will win out over logic and cause problems unless they are carefully managed. We at DDI talk about derailers and that an effective leader will learn how they are predisposed to act and understand how to manage themselves. Or as Dr Peters puts it, to manage their Chimp and respond in a rational way, rather than allowing their emotions to rule.
So what helps make leaders aware if they are managing their Chimp well? Well, the first stage is to understand the difference between how a leader does act and how they are predisposed to act. Personality tests and profiles can help with the first, assessment and feedback with the second. If you’re looking to the future and trying to decide how said leader will act in a new situation, personality and assessments incorporating unfamiliar scenarios are your best bet. Fortunately, for many leaders how they do act every day is more important than how their Chimp is pushing them to. It’s in times of stress that we all need to watch out and ensure that the chimp is firmly, nicely, under control.
Simon Mitchell is UK General Manager, European and Multinational Segment Marketing Director at DDI.