In 1976, Austrian philosopher and psychologist, Paul Watzlawick, published a book named “How real is real?”¹ and with examples and analogies he led us to reflect about what actually was presented as reality.

The conclusion is that reality is not as we deduct it, but is made up as facts, and everyone constructs the reality around said facts. Thus, in the culture of organisations there are several realities, probably as many as their members.

I recently read an interview with Rasgus Hougaard² who shared some interesting data, some from a McKinsey study, stating that 77% of top managers believe they do a good job motivating their teams, but 82% of employees do not agree with such affirmation. Said dissonance made me refer to Watzlawick’s book. Why is it so different? And what could we do to align the data.

Another article referred to a study by Potential Project (in collaboration with HBR), that included 35,000 leaders and 250 executives of 350 corporations. Data showed that at present, companies devote more than US$46 bn a year in leadership training, and yet, leadership is undergoing a deep crisis.

Organisations’ needs have changed, employees’ interests have changed, consumers’ habits have changed, how we communicate has changed. Leadership skills therefore also have to change to adapt to a new working environment.

Data shows a big dissonance. An enormous distortion of reality.

In these two particular cases, we have data (facts, ultimately) describing that:

  • leaders have a removed belief about the quality of their leadership in connection to the perception of the recipients of such effort, and
  • efforts and investments, by no means negligible, made to help leaders develop new skills, seem unsuccessful.

No doubt there is still a long way to go, but every journey is traveled in a sequence of steps. And there are some steps, that plus experience, knowledge and some boldness, I feel I should share with you, although much more remain to be done.

Experience has proven that small steps, plus consistency and focus, may produce radical changes in leadership, in associates and, as a consequence, in results.

So, here I go with my suggestions:

  • Define the purpose of the department that is responsible for talent recruiting and development. A purpose that answers to “what for” and be specific and memorable.
  • Based on this purpose, adapt the name of the department, moving away from the traditional “Human Resources” that leads us to managing resources but not talents and emotions, and get closer to something more inspiring, powerful and in accordance to the needs of what organisations should aspire to have from their collaborators (talent, networking, exploration, pragmatism, commitment, …). This will help to blend the return of current products and services with the exploration of new ways to meet needs or opportunities created daily.
  • Involve collaborators in the definition of development skills for themselves and their superiors, thus influencing the training matters to be given. For instance, no doubt, it is more stimulating having a coach-trained supervisor who encourages us with questions and reflections than one who provides the answers and does not give us room for our contributions and development. Then, train leaders with more questions and less answers, who give room to a different way from collaborators.
  • Train leaders on the advantages of continuous learning that carries exploring and testing new ways to meet the market needs. This involves dedicating time to conversation, reflection and experimentation, curiosity and imagination, to construct a common good.
  • Eliminate from the corporation terms such as error and penalty and change them by experiment and learning. We are not afraid of the error (per se) but we do fear the consequences of error since we are trained to suffer a reprimand after a mistake and in the worst case, the penalty. Nowadays, organisations that are not challenging themselves permanently on how to become better, leaner, more agile, how to better meet the changing needs of their customers, have no future. This implies a constant experimentation and validation, and experimentation is not valid if there are not unexpected results and permanent learning. Back to the beginning, words define us.
  • Develop positive self-recognition techniques, this does not only mean relearn when someone does something “wrong” but recognise constantly when he does something right that usually we do not recognize because it is “what you get paid for”. Do not confuse recognition with reward, which is also important but that is another issue.
  • Develop active listening techniques since only by listening we are able to learn something new. And, most certainly, collaborators always may teach something to leaders. Feeling heard is one of the most important “tools” of motivation and commitment.
  • Train leaders to know how to detect and encourage the talent of your collaborators, instead of training leaders to focus only on maximising performance.

Let’s imagine a group (either in the company, family, friends, etc.) that would manage reality as a single and common reality, where the purpose, open questions and commitment had a clear definition, how do you think would ideas, experiments, and results flow?

As Paul Watzlawick affirms, reality does not exist, we can build new realities based on curiosity, imagination and shared creativity. Would it be possible that much-needed innovations arise from this magical cocktail?