I remember my very first economics lesson. As well as being introduced to demand and supply curves the one thing that the teacher stressed to us was that economics isn’t a science. What he meant by that was that you can’t predict what will happen based on your existing knowledge of what has happened before, there are just too many variables at play.
Any science experiment will look to control known variables in order to determine a result. Some may argue that economic modelling has come a long way and that complex computations can account for very many variables in the real world. But the real world has the uncanny habit of still surprising us. Just look at the global economic slowdown of recent years – it wasn’t predicted!
So what has not being a science got to do with leading people in groups and organizations. Well, if trying to predict at a macro economic scale is difficult for the experts then trying to predict how numerous people will respond to the way you operate is at least as difficult. The only advantage you have as a leader is if you know the individuals concerned really well and have built up a good relationship with them. Even so, what may have worked one month may be completely ineffective the next time you try it.
Why is this? Well think about it. The environment in which you work will be different. You might think it’s the same but consider for one moment the interactions with everyone you deal with. Each individual you are interacting with will be influenced by a whole set of factors at home and at work and you are merely one of them. The reality is that you have no idea what all those influences are and how they impact the people you are trying directly to lead.
The environments outside of work will in all likelihood have a far bigger influence over the people you work with than you can ever hope to. That’s just life and you have to accept it and recognize any changed responses that come your way.
Be Aware Of What You See
You simply can’t hope to know what is happening in peoples’ lives and it’s none of your business anyway. What matters is that you are responsive on your interactions with those around you in a work setting and don’t fall into the trap of regurgitating tried and tested routines. By all means recognize what was of use for you in the past but implement with care and be prepared to adjust based on what you see and what’s fed back to you.
Leadership can never be a science. It’s impossible to model in your head all the variables at play when you are dealing with people. Until that day comes and I sincerely doubt it ever will, we will all need to remain fully aware of the emotions, the signals, the verbal and non-verbal communications of those we lead and work with. Leadership is about people, pure and simple.
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© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2014.