old vs new picWe recently hosted a dinner party that included two very experienced executives. The older executive was a man in his mid-60s who has run a number of companies. The other executive, in his 20s, was the COO of a small technology startup.   I could overhear the executives digging into a discussion about when to terminate someone and how hard it can be to find good people. They were focusing on what is traditionally referred to as “inherent characteristics,” meaning the assumption that people are born with certain traits and these traits can’t be changed.  They were talking about two particular traits such as a passion for work or the ability to instantly “get” what needs to be done.   In my opinion, the focus on inherent characteristics is very “old world.” The science (and our Cerebyte methodology) has shown that both traits can be developed in virtually anyone.  So, I joined the conversation and started to talk about science and the ability to screen for and develop those important characteristics. Both of the executives immediately rejected this as a possibility, because it conflicted with their personal experiences and views.   As chance would have it, our conversation was taking place next to one of our family junk drawers that contained an old discarded flip phone. I pulled out the phone and placed it on the counter. Then, I put my smartphone beside the flip phone. I asked them, “What’s the difference between the two phones?” They instantly began laughing and responded with comments such as, size, capabilities and 10 years of technology development.   Next, I asked them what they would think if one of their employees or a client were still using a flip phone. They both answered that they would assume anyone using a flip phone was out of date and not very forward-looking.   Then I asked them if they thought that in the 10 years it took for technology to evolve and mobile phones to transition from flip phones to smart phones that an equivalent amount of development might have gone on in how people lead and learn. This was a new concept to them. These executives were primary leaders of their organizations and would be appalled to use older technology. However, they never gave a second thought to the development of leadership capability, even though they are still using 40-year-old leadership paradigms. I inquired why they didn’t seem to think much about leadership. They squirmed a bit but couldn’t exactly answer.   My perception is that focusing on how an executive leads and asking him or her to change his or her leadership paradigms is very personal and uncomfortable for most executives.  It is probably much more difficult for them to do than going to a store to buy a new piece of hardware.   The executives didn’t know that a smartphone equivalent was available for leadership and they didn’t want to do the work to learn more. Being a smart leader requires more effort, just like learning to use a smartphone requires more work.   Which are you—a flip phone leader hanging onto old paradigms or a smartphone leader looking to stay current with leadership in a complex and ever changing world?  ]]>

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