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Essay: Self-deception among leaders

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  • Subject area(s): Leadership essays
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  • Published: 16 December 2019*
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  • Words: 1,514 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 7 (approx)

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Self-deception among leaders is a prevalent issue in organizations today. The inability of a leader to recognize that he/she may be the root cause of some of the problems found within their circle of influence renders them ineffective at leading, and hinders productive follower-leader relationships. When leaders are trapped in the box of self-deception they may become oblivious to their counter-productive behaviors, and how these behaviors are being negatively perceived by others. Similarities can be found between self-deception and mental models, which can be described as conscious or unconscious beliefs, perceptions, ideas, rationalizations, and even images, which are formed out of our experiences. These experiences guide our thoughts and our actions, invariably through egocentric narrow-minded thinking. According to Senge (2006), while mental models are not inherently wrong, left unchanged, “as the world changes, the gap widens between our mental models and reality, leading to increasingly counter-productive actions” (p. 166).

Devaluing Others

Leaders who are self-deceived see themselves as victims of their circumstances rather than as contributors. They presume that others are inherently flawed and incompetent or lazy and therefore they must be the cause of the ineffectiveness, inefficiency, and the decreased productivity. Leaders who are in the box justify this behavior by focusing on their positive attributes such as being hardworking, having all of the necessary core competencies, and having a history of success, while undermining the talents of others and inflating their faults. Because of a self-deceived leader’s inability to demonstrate vulnerability by sharing weaknesses and mistakes, he/she cannot build trust with team members and putting themselves on a proverbial pedestal (Lencioni, 2002, p. 195). This results in follower demotivation, disengagement, lack of true commitment, and strained relationships with leaders.

Lack of Self-Awareness

Blinded by complacency, a leader’s true motivations are obscured by his/her the lack of self-awareness, leading to ineffective leadership and poor performance. A self-aware leader exponentially increases their scope of influence over followers, resulting in collective increased commitment and performance. Self-awareness allows a leader to recognize those behaviors that create barriers and derail a leader’s ability to inspire others to reach their full potential, thus creating value for team members and the organization.

When the self-aware component of emotional intelligence is lacking, leaders “dismiss certain facts incompatible with their myth of themselves in favor of other less threatening and more corroborative ones” (Diamond, 2008, para. 3). A leader that lacks self-awareness is essentially betraying themselves because they may inadvertently provoke the same self-deceiving behaviors in others, creating a culture which hinders progress towards goal attainment and positive organizational outcomes.

Process Fairness

Organizational leaders must make difficult decisions every day to ensure the long-term sustainability and viability of the business. Many of these decisions can have a potentially negative impact on stakeholder groups. While leaders are unable to change the outcomes of these decisions, they do have the power and the ability to control the process of how decisions are made and executed. The approach taken will determine how stakeholder groups respond–either accepting or unaccepting–and can result in negative attitudes and behaviors in the workplace. While the notion of whether something is fair or unfair is individualistic in nature, leaders must take special care to be sensitive to the needs of all employees, and have thoughtful processes and procedures in place to minimize discord and make the best decisions possible for the greatest amount of people.

Financial Implications

The financial implications arising from an organization that does not practice process fairness can be substantial, and can threaten the very existence of the organization.

Employees are more likely to seek compensatory and punitive damages if they believe they were treated with low process fairness (Brockner, 2006, p. 45). Some organizational leaders may needlessly apply expensive solutions with the intent of “satisfying” the employees that may be negatively impacted such as in a mass lay-off. However, this could result in increased costs such as legal fees, employee turnover and theft, and decreased productivity, if the execution of these solutions were mishandled. To this end, it would behoove organizational leaders to consider including employees in the decision making process so they feel as if their opinions have been heard

Performance Outcomes

It stands to reason that organizations which practice process fairness in all business initiatives, reward systems, recruitment and retention, separations of employment, etc., will have employees who are more engaged, more productive, and highly committed to achieving organizational goals. To this end, it would behoove organizational leaders to consider including employees in the decision making process so they feel as if their opinions have been heard, resulting in an increased probability of buy-in. Initiatives aimed at creating a culture of fairness will improve overall organizational performance (Simons and Roberson, 2003, p. 20).

Employee Perceptions

Most organizational leaders believe that they are being more than fair when they distribute tangible incentives to employees such as severance packages. However, for many employees the financial incentives are not as important as how the organization came to the final decision(s), and how the employee was treated in the process. Leaders often times do not take into account how the employees, who were not impacted by the decision, will respond. Let us consider a companywide lay-off. Managers focus on the employees who are being laid-off but do not consider their counter-parts, perhaps in other departments, who have strong ties with those being affected thus may have a sense of loyalty and begin to exhibit behaviors that impact performance. An emotional contagion can also surface because spared employees can have a strong sense of guilt and anxiety, leading to disengagement, a sense of betrayal, suspicion, and lack of motivation (Brockner, 2006, p. 53).

Recommendations for Creating a Culture of Process Fairness

There are several actions that organizational leaders can take to create a culture of process fairness, and reduce or eliminate the negative repercussions of employee perceived unfairness (Brockner, 2006, p. 54-57):

1. Address knowledge gaps – Managers and leaders should be prepared for the emotionality of process fairness. They will then be better prepared to cope with negative experiences the may result from interactions with affected employees.

2. Invest in training – Allocating resources for proper process fairness training can have a substantial return on investment. Through training, managers and leaders alike can arm themselves with the necessary tools to implement process fairness effectively, and help employees deal with challenges that may come.

3. Make process fairness a top priority – Process fairness should be an ongoing organizational strategic objective, and should permeate all aspects of the business, and at all levels. Organizational leaders must be role models for the behaviors they want others to emulate. This sends a positive message throughout the organization, and others will imitate the same behaviors.

Reflective Learning

What I learned that I can apply to my own leadership development.

Transpaency is a key comoonnt of effective leadership.

What I learned that I can apply to my own emotional intelligence development.

Be sensitive to

What I learned that I can use or incorporate into my organization.

As an HR professional I am tasked with exercising process fairness every day for my organization. I must seek to strike a fair and healthy balance between meeting the needs of the business, while remaining an employee advocate. Often times finding the right balance is virtually impossible because a “win-win” is not an option. I have found myself in many conflict mediation sessions where the manager is being unreasonable and essentially is seeking to bypass policy however the employee is not making the situation any easier with disruptive behavior.  While applying corrective actions that can result in litigation is never an option, the final decision comes down taking all of the information presented, and making a decision that is fair to both parties, even if the parties don’t agree.

What I learned that changed my thinking, or areas that I do not understand or disagree with.

How can you ensure that your organization’s decision-making processes are perceived as fair? Try implementing these seven steps:

1. To the extent possible, allow employees and/or relevant stakeholders who will be affected by the decisions meaningful opportunities to provide input into the decision-making process

2. State the decision criteria clearly in advance of the decision

 Use objective standards whenever possible

 Ensure they are logical, relevant, and used consistently

 Explain why they were chosen

3. Communicate the criteria to all employees

4. Make the process as transparent as possible – communication is key throughout the process, not just in identifying the criteria and rules

5. Follow the stated criteria consistently; if there must be an exception, justify it clearly and forthrightly

6. Ensure the results are consistent with the stated criteria

7. Provide appeal procedures for decisions where possible

In summary, fairness of the decision-making process is critical to the legitimacy of decisions as well as employees’ acceptance of them. Ensuring that employees perceive decisions as procedurally fair literally can transform your workplace from one in which complaints, mistrust, and dissatisfaction are common to one in which employees take disappointments in stride and continue to contribute positively to the organization. You have the power to shape your employees’ behaviors in a positive way or a negative way.

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