Modes: A New Model for Leadership Development
Modes are orchestrations of how we feel, think and act. They dictate how we perceive and react. Each mode has its own behavioral repertoire – we are, literally, a different person in our different modes. Modes are usually invisible to us – though everyone we interact with while in them senses what’s going on.
The good news: our modes are sets of learned habits. Because the brain is plastic, we can unlearn the negative ones and replace them with more effective habits.
But we need the right lens on ourselves, and some guidance. Our self-defeating modes persist partly because they smack in the middle of a blind spot. Like that executive, we usually don’t realize they are dictating our behavior unless someone gives us feedback.
For the executive, the threat of failure triggered a mode in which he felt angry and his thoughts focused on the failings of the people around him, whom he blamed for the failure. He fell back on his worst interpersonal habits, lashing out in anger. He disempowered people, taking over from them in his fit of micro-management.
But in his best frame of mind, called the “secure” mode, he was at his best. He didn’t catastrophize failure, but rather could see a setback as an opportunity, if only for the person involved to learn to do better in the future. He realized that the people he depended on could improve, and that anger was no solution. He was empathic, calm and clear – not harshly judgmental.
Once his coach alerted him to his micro-management mode, he engaged in some deep introspection. He started to monitor his own behavior to track what made this mode trigger – and realized underlying his lashing out at employees whose performance disappointed him was his own fear of failure.
This unconscious fear reveals the underside of a healthy goal-oriented performance drive. We all want to do better – and companies need us to. But with that hope of improvement comes a natural fear. The question we need to ask ourselves: when the inevitable setbacks and obstacles to our goals come along, what is our automatic reaction? Does it help us get to that goal, or get in the way?
A bit of further reflection led that executive to see that his pattern was self-defeating: when someone let him down, he attacked them. The corrective for his negative mode was to tune in to the person’s situation – to empathize – and analyze what had led to the performance failure. He realized his need to listen. Only then could he motivate and influence. And that all worked best when he himself was in his secure mode where he could empathize – not just judge harshly.
Negative modes drive self-defeating habits. As one coach put it, while in the grip of our self-defeating modes “we go on auto-pilot. Nothing can change.” Bringing the modes into awareness gives us a platform for improvement. That awareness begins by understanding our modes in the first place.
Modes are a more useful way to think about helping people perform at their best than are personality types – or any “typing” system. The “type” model of behavior assumes that people stay the same, and so we should fit them in the right organizational cubbyhole.
In contrast, the mode model lets us understand what triggers our modes of being, the underlying beliefs and habits that hold that mode in place – and then goes on to help us change negative modes for the better.
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.
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