Something is troubling me and I’m going to get straight to the point. As if sitting back and accepting the status quo weren’t bad enough, many leaders go out of their way to actively maintain it.
Of course, no self-respecting person would openly admit to setting their sights so low — that would be nothing short of an embarrassment, surely. No, it’s never quite so explicit. Their determination to keeps things exactly as they are is usually disguised under the auspices of following system’s process and procedures or delivering on KPIs (key performance indicators) — many of which are ill-conceived or ineffective in the first place.
The way I see it, there are two types of leaders. First, we have “preservation leaders” who lack the courage or appetite to rock the boat. Often driven by self-preservation, they simply don’t want to lose what they have. Then we have “result leaders”, who want to make gains and advance their organisations.
I should point out here that I’m using the term “leader” very loosely to denote anyone in the management ranks or above. What I should really be calling the preservation cohort is LINOs: Leaders in Name Only.
Unsurprisingly, few leaders would place themselves in this less-than-appealing category, yet I’ve had the displeasure of seeing many such LINOs in action. Trust me when I say that it is incredibly annoying to witness a leader repeatedly blame others or cower behind policy, procedures and bureaucracy to preserve their own interests.
Without exception, leaders should be obsessed with results, not with preserving their own comfort at the expense of their firms’ success. I’ve spent my entire adult life studying, observing and interacting with leaders and, I have to say, the preservation camp scares me.
Some within it are obsessed with preserving their jobs, some with preserving their bonuses and others their reputations. But, while their obsessions may differ in focus, they are invariably and undeniably always about them.
What I find ironic in all of this is that delivering results are the surest path to preservation. Think about it: What should you need to do to keep your job? Deliver results.
How should you be able to maximise your bonus? By delivering results. What should you build your reputation on? You guessed it: results.
The trouble is, somewhere along the line, preservation has become accepted not only as the means to an end, but as an end in itself.
Frankly, this boils down to fear, and it stems from loss aversion.
Loss aversion is prominent in the domain of economics, but it is actually a psychological theory about the human preference for avoiding losses over acquiring equivalent gains. According to the theory, many, if not most, would prefer to avoid losing $5 (Dh18.36) than to finding $5. In fact, studies suggest that the sting of loss is twice as powerful, psychologically, as the satisfaction of gain.
If you operate from the premise that it’s preferable to not lose your job rather than find a new one, then loss aversion is guiding you. The same holds true for your bonus, your reputation or whatever you’re preserving: not losing is better than gaining.
It goes without saying that none of us likes to lose, but to those who are truly loss averse, the very idea is inconceivable and they will do all they can to avoid it. Even when that means putting the brakes on progress.
Sadly, it is exactly this kind of loss aversion that has given rise to the tolerance for preservation that now permeates our businesses and holds them back.
What are you afraid of? Missing the exciting new targets you’ve set, or stepping out of your comfort zone to risk nothing more than what you already have?
If it’s the latter, then ask yourself this: do I want to be a results-driven leader, or an uninspiring LINO? The choice is yours.
Dr Tommy Weir is CEO of EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of ‘Leadership Dubai Style’. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.