Crafting Leadership Belief Systems For Remote Teams

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In today’s episode we interview Don Schmincke, Award-Winning Speaker, Researcher, and Founder of the SAGA Leadership Institute. For over 35 years–and with in-depth study of human group behavior and leadership at MIT and Johns Hopkins–Don and his team have consulted and trained executives in North America, South America, Europe, and India. The purpose of today’s podcast focuses on how to reject traditional leadership myths and then craft leadership belief systems that help employees as they Team Anywhere.

What Don Learned Over the Past 2 Years

Amidst the pandemic Don learned the importance of remote team culture and strategic alignment. The moment leaders experienced isolation from their teams, they freaked out! Leaders tend to forget that humans are a tribal species who depend on stories, practices, rituals, and symbols to function appropriately. The pandemic eliminated those norms and leaders felt defenseless. Don found it interesting to watch leaders realize that they needed to develop new mindsets, visions, and stories to create strategic alignment, productivity, and engagement. 

Three Major Leadership Myths

There are three main myths that leaders love to hold onto. The first is that people and teams “follow the leader.” In truth, teams “look to the leader” for guidance, direction, and vision. People become motivated by the excitement, energy, and emotions behind a powerful story and goal. The leader carries and continuously instills that goal in the process of leading. This encourages emotional engagement.

A second myth is that use of certain tools enables a leader to be highly successful. In truth, tools themselves can’t do that. Tools can definitely be helpful, but if leaders depended just on tools–tools that have been written about in over 35,000 texts on leadership–why do so many organizations fail? Again, it goes back to stories and mindsets. Without a compelling story and vision to support the appropriate use of the tools, a company is merely trying to survive through tactical means. The tools and all messages must be connected by a story and mindset that goes beyond basic, everyday actions.

The third myth is that “drama is bad” and should be eliminated from organizations and teams. The key to understanding this myth is having the right definition of drama. Certainly, negative drama around ego, selfishness, and dysfunctional outbursts is not conducive to a healthy organization. However, there is a necessity to have “good drama.” Drama in and of itself is part of the human need for group interactions. It consists of energetic dialogue, curiosity, constructive challenge, and a buzz around projects. When people go to Disney or a movie, their intent is NOT to have a boring experience. Then why do leaders think that boredom is the key to rallying the troops towards success? And once again, it goes back to stories and vision. When you study ancient history, you find cave drawings of men dancing around a campfire–not sitting in cubicles. According to Don, ’dramalessness’ has been proven to be a pathological condition that humans can’t tolerate. 

Crafting Leadership Belief Systems For Remote Teams

Don points out that there are two major steps that can be taken to foster something he calls “high altitude leadership ”Don warns that taking leaders and teams on this journey will make them feel uncomfortable since they need to shed safe paradigms and take risks towards higher performance. Don’s method is to educate leaders and their teams around an entirely different mindset in order to break out of myths that are holding them back. 

  1. Define the present mindset. The beginning point is to conduct intense data gathering around the habits, rituals, and belief systems that the team and organization is presently living under. This is usually done through in depth interviews.
  2. Experience, learn, and dialogue about a different leadership mindset. Here is where leaders and teams learn about the historic models from past centuries, including examples such as Samurai behavior 700 years ago. Together, the leader and team concentrate on the “belief systems” underlying the planning and decision-making from many different historical tribes from all segments (military, religious, literary, governmental, etc.). Most stories emphasize the importance of failure, getting up again and again, and then discovering the real winning strategy. Participants are encouraged to challenge standard beliefs and test out the “art” of leadership and team behavior. More importantly, they discuss how to craft better belief systems.

Realistic Leadership vs.Textbook Leadership

Don believes that we are doing a disfavor to students when we teach leadership in higher education and leadership development programs. The textbooks teach basic tactics, tools, and approaches. Unfortunately, history has proven that this is not how leaders succeed. Many leaders have followed these traditional texts religiously and have failed miserably. Don advises that we expose leaders to realistic examples of how to create dialogue and craft belief systems that reach the human spirit of group behavior. 

Who is Don Schmincke?

Don Schmincke is the author of two best-selling books, The Code of the Executive and High Altitude Leadership. He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. He is an Award-Winning Speaker, Researcher, Founder of the SAGA Leadership Institute and delivered over 1,700 speeches around the world.

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