You’ve got your urgent to-do list in mind, and someone comes up to you and wants to chat. It can be an irritating interruption – or a chance to switch gears for a moment, really connect, and then move on.
Which way you go can have major implications for how you lead. If you always see the other person as a bother, and never stop to connect, that may be a clue you are caught in a counter-productive mode. Call it “duty-bound.”
Or, say, you’re on a tight deadline for a project, and someone you’re counting on for part of it makes a less-than-perfect contribution. That’s disappointing, for sure. But how do you react? Do you think about what it would take to help that person get up to speed in the future? Or do you focus in on what was wrong, and dismiss that person as a failure – someone you can no longer count on?
If you only ever do the latter, zeroing in on people’s flaws rather than their potential, you’re acting like a perfectionist.
These cases came up last weekend in a workshop I gave with my wife, Tara Bennett-Goleman. Those leadership examples were offered up by a coach – she calls herself an “organizational therapist” – who said “It really helps to have a name for these patterns. Then you know where to focus in coaching.”
The diagnostic labels for these patterns are called “modes” in Tara’s book Mind Whispering. While we’re in the “duty-bound” mode we focus on getting tasks done and ignore the people around us. That can be productive in the short-term, but if you are a leader and you are too rigid in this, you will fail to connect with those you lead. And it is only by connecting that you can guide, inspire, listen, communicate, motivate or influence – in other words, lead.
In the “perfectionist” mode you fixate on people’s failings. Perfectionist leaders only give failing grades – they never praise good performance. Research on leadership styles finds perfectionists (sometimes called “pacesetters”) have a negative impact on their direct reports’ emotional state and performance.
The good news: modes can change. Coaches can help guide this change, and leaders who are highly motivated to improve can do so on their own.
Tara spells out the steps of what she calls “mindful habit change” in her book Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits.
Emotional Intelligence author, Daniel Goleman lectures frequently to business audiences, professional groups and on college campuses. A psychologist who for many years reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times, Dr. Goleman previously was a visiting faculty member at Harvard.
Dr. Goleman’s most recent books are The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights and Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence – Selected Writings. (More Than Sound). Goleman’s latest project, Leadership: A Master Class, is his first-ever comprehensive video series that examines the best practices of top-performing executives.