Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Essential Life Skills So Many Fail To Learn

Anyone who does hiring should be aware of the book, Mind In The Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky.

As president of the Families and Work Institute, she also co-directs the now decades long trend analyses entitled, the National Study of the Changing Workforce and the National Study of Employers.

I first came across her work when Ms. Galinsky’s research think tank administered the rigorous national Sloan Awards for Business Excellence and Workplace Flexibility when I worked at the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, now a five-time awardee.

Her research and analysis of other research reveals that the most important skills employers seek have little or nothing to do with course work, degrees and specialized knowledge.

They are the skills needed to solve problems:

  • Focus and Self Control,
  • Perspective Taking,
  • Communicating,
  • Making Connections,
  • Critical Thinking,
  • Taking on Challenges, and
  • Self-Directed Engaged Learning.

At their core, they are all related to what are called “executive functions” skills that we should all begin to learn when we are very young children, such as the skills to “manage our attention, our emotions, our intellect, and our behavior…”

According to resources on “executive functions” at Harvard, in the brain these skills work as an “air traffic control mechanism” that “helps us focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, and revise plans if necessary.”

They begin with learning focus, working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control.  Galinsky explains that “as we grow older…these skills include reflecting, analyzing, planning and evaluating….” Sound familiar?

These are also the skill sets most crucial to strategy-making.

Researchers believe their development is also key to goals such as reducing drop-out rates and closing various achievement gaps. 

I listened to a program recently and then re-read the transcript that took me back to my childhood and the hours my parents would take to repeatedly go through several big albums of family photos with me.

The time they spent was crucial beyond the photographs.  They were weaving stories and narratives around each image, exercising my working memory and giving me a sense of self and inheritance.

They were also exercising executive function skills such as focus and working memory.  The point the expert made in the interview was it is the weaving of narrative that transcends image volume, a lesson lost in the age of smartphone apps.

I found ironic during my career that far too many reach executive levels or political office lacking “executive function” skills.  So they fall back on narcissistic traits instead.

Everyone who aspires to leadership has a healthy dose of narcissism but most are not narcissists.

True narcissists, by definition, are easy to spot.  They think they are special, act grandiose at times and manifest a sense of entitlement.  Their thirst for power and lack of empathy leads them to play games with relationships ranging from manipulation to exploitation.

Overly narcissistic leaders, and elected officials in particular, struggle with what researchers call “organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB),” the discretionary behaviors such as “civic virtue” and “altruism” that above and beyond reward systems make people stand out within communities, partnerships and organizations.

OCBs were first studied in depth beginning in 1970 by Dr. Dennis Organ who earned his Ph.D. in organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, a few miles from Durham, North Carolina where I live and finished my career.

He then taught and continued his research for nearly four decades at Indiana University and was already garnering attention when I was taking classes in 1972 on organizational behavior from another pioneer, Dr, BilL Dyer at BYU.

Organ’s 2005 book entitled, Organizational Citizenship Behavior: Its Nature, Antecedents and Consequences, was co-written with two other Indiana business school researchers.  It is a classic.

But overly narcissistic individuals find it difficult to grasp or exhibit OCBs, and they turn instead to counterproductive behaviors such as intrigue, forming cabals, blackballing, fronting for special interests, and playing other games.

They are primarily one-way street people.  They get things done by “my way or the highway.”  You’re either on their team or you’re not.

In researcher parlance, “narcissism is negatively related [not linked]
to (a) agreeableness, (b) the willingness to alter self-enhancing behaviors in close relationships, (c) commitment, and related
positively [linked] to interpersonal exploitativeness.”

Studies of “organizational citizenship behaviors” also find that when overly narcissistic individuals do try to exhibit them, usually with a false sense of humility, it is intended for the purpose of managing impressions.

Oh boy!

Overly narcissistic individuals take a huge toll on productivity within organizations and communities by starting fires, creating drama, reinventing the wheel, back-stabbing, second-guessing, foot-dragging, festering conflict and confrontation and meddling with decision-makers and governing boards.

These are behaviors that, as a result, drive up the cost doing business while putting an un-estimable drag on the productivity, time and attention of others especially when they ally with others who fall well up the narcissism spectrum.

By definition, overly narcissistic individuals have little or no regard for how their actions impact other people, which is why their ethical boundaries seem so often in flux.

Without this drag created by the handful that I came across in each of the communities where I did marketing, some of whom I considered friends, who knows?  I might have been able to accomplish twice as much in half the time.

No comments: