Self-preservation is human – but when does it demotivate your team?

selfpreservation-is-the-first-law-of-nature-quote-1Leadership is about people, so understanding a bit about social psychology can help. An amazing amount of information about people has been gleaned from social research that leaders may forget – and maybe even deny.  Research findings show the majority of people really do automatically imagine that success on their part is due to their obvious strengths and virtues and abilities, but when other people succeed the real reason is about luck. The awful truth about human tendency is that we see ourselves as smart and hard working when we succeed, but others are just plain lucky when they do.

Now, all this nonsense if what the self identity (ego) makes up to help one self-preserve. As if we just cannot bear it when we are lowered in rank or skill.

So, let’s explore that thought for a moment.

One of the human elements of people that describes a relational dilemma (how people relate to each other) is the need for each person to self-preserve their own self-image, maybe even at the expense of learning and growing. Research shows people are quite naturally and instantly judgmental as a way to center on the all-important self-preservation.

This may explain why a coach must so often help a leader just look around and acknowledge others more by actually ‘seeing’ them, being aware of them as individuals. Sometimes their own self image clouds their struggle to acknowledge the achievements and talents of others. I’ve heard the following many multiple times by senior leaders, “I don’t want them to stop working so hard that’s why I withhold praise.”

It’s no wonder how the culture and climate is affected by the simplest ‘lack’ of what needs to be said. The missing link of leadership communication is acknowledgment, praise, and motivating dialogue that is sincere.

A critical thinking skill and attitude for a leader is to acknowledge others who may have greater talents, skills, gifts, or experience or success.  This needs to apply to everyone, not just those who directly report to you.

Apply acknowledgment all around you as often as you can.

But, as the fragile human animal that we are, we must use intention and maybe even mindfulness, to override the innate human tendency to short change others and to self-promote oneself.

A leader is aware and watchful to see and acknowledge others’ success.  If you are a leader you need to notice how you sense your body and feel in your heart when you hear of other’s good fortune and honest payoff for hard work.  A main one to watch is any negative reaction to other’s good fortune.

A good leadership practice is to think about the people around you, and intentionally notice something positive in others, even when they are struggling or derailing.

This is one constant observation made as coach over my career.  A leader needs to acquire a coaching ability that can help just turn others around enough in the moment to build a new momentum in a better direction.   Watch those who are soaring and genuinely witness their talents and success.

Whether you are soaring or not, it is important to be aware of what you say and don’t say — even to yourself in your mind’s eye.

 

 

About the Author:

Jane Hundley, Executive Coach, M.A. Industrial Organizational Psychology (I/O) & Development, President of Impact Management, Inc.