A healthy suspicion

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While researching how successful people were in transferring leadership skills from one type of business to another (like the route of going from acting to politics that a number have traveled), I came across an article entitled “7 Reasons Leaders Can’t Transfer their Success to Other Organizations.” It sounded like a good place to start digging for ideas. Only the seven reasons were a list of universal characteristics of that could be applied to leadership at any place[1]– not the challenges which leaders face making it hard for them to succeed in another organization.

Why did the title not match the content? The author’s main premise was that leadership was either something you had or didn’t have, showing definite bias towards the belief that leaders are born. But the article hedged on the saying that leadership was strictly innate, instead ambiguously stating that “Leadership can be taught, but leadership is more of an attitude than a set of learned skills.”[2]

Research has been done on how to change attitudes, and apparently attitudes are not stable. They can change due to social pressure. Often people assimilate the behaviors of people around them, even when it rubs against their beliefs because that causes less friction.[3] However a resulting cognitive dissonance occurs. A longitudinal study found that most people change their beliefs to match their actions.[4] Other researchers have found that there is not a high correlation between attitudes and overt behaviors.[5]  People can comply with the demands of peers without changing their internal beliefs.

Individual motivation can also cause as change in attitudes. Often this is generated by a traumatic event, or a long period of suffering. Sometimes the resulting attitude is a stronger desire to be inclusive, or do what one considers right, and sometimes it is a retreat into bitterness. This is probably not a technique that people would be willing to pay for in order to learn leadership skills. Also, there is the likelihood that it will not work.

How about people who march to a different drummer, for whom the pressures of society have little effect on their attitudes. They may become a leader or an outcast or sometimes both. How many leaders can you name than were imprisoned at one time? Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Fidel Castro, Leon Trotsky, Adolf Hitler…. Now, you may not agree with all of their ideas, but enough people did for them to become leaders in their countries. You may recognize that these people are exceptions, typically when it comes to leaders, the majority of people prefer someone who supports the status quo, or a return to an idealized past, something that they can picture because they are familiar with it.

So this leaves us with few options for changing of attitudes (if leadership skill is actually based on attitudes). People can either surround themselves with those who have the leadership style attitudes and try to imitate them, or start acting like they own these attitude, whether they do or not. However, this very behavior has a common nickname, “Fake it ‘til you make it,” that brings it inyo obvious conflict with “Be Authentic” another attitude in the article “7 Reasons Leaders Can’t Transfer their Success to Other Organizations.” [6]

My conclusion?  Have a healthy suspicion of anyone who claims to be able to easily improve your leadership ability. It is a long hard road, which does include extensive learned skills and the willingness to go through experiences that will stretch you and even make you suffer.

 

[1] Llopis, Glenn. 7 Reasons Leaders Can’t Transfer their Success to Other Organizations. Forbes, 2012, Jan 10 @ 09:46 AM 11,
[2] Llopis, Glenn. Ibid.
[3] Cialdini, Robert B.; Goldstein, Noah J. (2004). “SOCIAL INFLUENCE: Compliance and Conformity”. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 55: 591–621. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.142015.
[4] Fotuhi, Omid, et al. “Patterns of cognitive dissonance-reducing beliefs among smokers: a longitudinal analysis from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey.” Tobacco control (2012): tobaccocontrol-2011.
[5] Wicker, A. W. Attitudes versus actions: The relationship of verbal and overt behavioral responses to attitude objects. Journal of Social Issues, 1969, 25, 41-78.
[6] Llopis, Glenn. Ibid
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