Next steps in communication and leadership training – Working Voices

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In a recent interview with psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, author of the influential book Thinking, Fast & Slow, interviewer Adam Grant expressed surprise at one of Kahneman’s favorite things: the joy of being wrong.

Most of us, Grant observed, associate pain with being wrong. How did Kahneman find a way to link pleasure with missing the mark? “Those are situations in which you’re surprised”, said Kahneman of being wrong on a hypothesis or prediction. “I really enjoy changing my mind because I enjoy being surprised. And I enjoy being surprised because I feel I’m learning something.”

 

Seeking Ignorance

As a Working Voices Trainer, I’m frequently asked by clients and students about what I see as the next wave of communication and leadership training. Let’s use Kahneman’s observation to illustrate what I’ll call the first next wave of training: seeking ignorance, or deliberately searching for gaps in knowledge or abilities in order to improve both.

One of the biggest barriers to this approach is mental inflexibility. David Epstein’s book Range points to a 2017 study of political beliefs in which all participants were willing to read material confirming their feelings and beliefs – yet two-thirds of them were unwilling to look at material containing counterarguments, even when they were offered payment. People turned down money to avoid being exposed to different ways of thinking.

When we combine this mental inflexibility with growing chasms between people of different beliefs, backgrounds, and political leanings, it becomes clear the need for training that can help empower employees to seek ignorance in ability, mindset, and approach is increasing in urgency and value.

 

Care personally/challenge directly

The other next big wave in training focuses specifically on managers and leaders. Radical Candor, Kim Scott’s essential management text, expresses its central idea this way: “Care personally/challenge directly.” Radical Candor is the intersection of caring personally about your employees while also being willing to challenge them directly, to help them improve.

The caring personally aspect of leadership and management, especially among millennial leaders I’ve worked with this past year, is the next big wave in leadership training. Whether it’s Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, social movements around the globe, impacts of Covid, or just changing times, the focus on wellness, work-life integration, and workplace equity has grown and will continue to grow.

Even leaders at institutions with conservative reputations like JPMorgan Chase are seeing and acknowledging this change. In a recent interview on Bloomberg Front Row, JPMC Co-President and COO Daniel Pinto observed that: “Juniors want to work hard. They want to be recognized for the hard work they do. They don’t want to do things that are not impactful.”

The next wave of management training will focus more on the dimensions of leadership that contribute to creating more caring work environments and to empowering employees who stay.

During their interview, Adam Grant pressed Daniel Kahneman for more tips on finding joy in being wrong. Kahneman encouraged listeners to begin by not getting too invested in old ideas.

His deceptively simple advice for how to let go of outmoded ideas goes right to the heart of the next wave of communication and leadership training: “Think of another idea.”

 

Gene Douglas is a Working Voices Trainer based in New York City. He’s been teaching communication and performance since 1999.

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