Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to “Spread Love in Organizations”, a podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.

I am Naji, your host for this exciting episode from our new series focused on us as leaders. I’m joined by Professor Elsbeth Johnson, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and an expert on leadership, strategy and change. The main focus for her research is on what leaders need to do to help their organizations execute strategy, or deliver long-term, strategic change, without the need for the leader’s ongoing, personal involvement. Prior to joining MIT, Elsbeth was taught leadership at London Business School and London School of Economics.

Prior to academia, Dr Johnson worked as an investment banker, a sell-side equity analyst, and a corporate strategist. She also spent three years as a special adviser to the first Blair Government in the UK.

As a consultant and executive educator, Elsbeth has worked with a range of companies, helping them develop their strategy and the capabilities and culture that will deliver it. I had the opportunity to be her student this year in the MIT EMBA program and couldn’t but ask her if she can share her wisdom and advice with all of you!

Elsbeth – I am thrilled to have you with me today!

I’m eager to hear more about your personal story from investment banking to politics to now a professor of leadership! What’s in between the lines of your journey?

Elsbeth Johnson: Um, so I, I mean, investment banking was very much where I started and actually I loved the city. So the city has kind of what we, it’s the UK equivalent of wall street.

Um, lots of smart people, all of whom worked really hard. I really felt at home in that environment, but I’d always been very interested in politics. So as a teenager, um, as a student I’ve been interested and involved in. And so it was a bug that I had to kind of give into, um, until I felt like I didn’t want to be a professional politician myself.

And so I worked on, um, the labor campaign in 97, which resulted in, you know, the largest labor landslide and since 1945, not that, that was personally done to me. Um, but, um, and then I joined the labor goes or I left the city. Joined the government as a special advisor, uh, worked in three different departments of state.

Uh what’s on another two election campaigns. So it was very, very enjoyable. But what I, I guess I realized was there was quite a few things I missed from the private sector. Um, and there was quite a few things that I didn’t necessarily like about, um, doing politics. Professionally kind of for living. Um, but I guess if, if I looked at the red thread that linked.

Banking and particularly the kind of the kind of work that I did in banking. So corporate strategy, corporate finance, structure, finance, um, thinking about businesses and, and why they make money. I mean, that’s basically, you know, uh, sell-side actually almost essentially a well-paid financial journalist in many ways.

Um, and the sort of work I did in politics and the sort of work I’ve done since then. I mean, basically it’s thinking about. Two things it’s thinking about strategy. Um, you know what what’s, what’s not just the best way to do this, but what’s the right thing to do. And secondly, then once you’ve settled on what, what you’re going to do is what are the activities that leaders need to focus on in order to get that work done in the most effective way.

And so essentially, I mean, that’s that, I suppose to the extent that there is a red thread,

Naji Gehchan: Awesome. You touched it on, you know, this, um, this thread, uh, with your life or the decisions that you’ve made. And I know in, uh, in the very first course touch, we had video and the discussions we talked about, uh, you know, the green circle, blue circle, if you can touch it maybe before you say, but what I would love to hear from you is your, your personal green circle.

If I may, what is your personal purpose? I know you make us work a lot around this, so I’d love to hear that.

Elsbeth Johnson: So that’s a really good question. And, um, and it’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question and every time I’m asked it, I think, wow. I’m not sure my answer is very good. I’m not sure. My answer is probably as good as yours now is when, when not given, I asked you this question in class.

So I think, I think about the purpose of why, why I continue to do what I do with, particularly with clients, because I could just either teach all the time or retire or. I think what I really like doing is finding, and I think about, you know, the businesses with whom I work these days and the leaders with whom I work.

I guess what I really liked doing is finding and helping people find the work that they most love. Um, because an awful lot of people, um, you know, I, I don’t think spend enough time really focusing on the work that they really love to do. Um, you know, that a lot of people are very good at lots of things, right?

So they’ve, they, they’re in a spoiled position of, of having lots of options open to them. But if they were to focus on the work they really love doing, I think, I think that’s particularly interesting. I have to say, I think the most effective leaders out there are the ones who really want to lead rather than simply be senior in an organization leading and being senior are two very different things.

Um, the reason you, you do those things are very different, right? Um, so if all of our leaders are just the people who are obsessed with gaining and retaining positional power, then I suspect we’ll end up with leaders who are. It’s as good as the ones we, we could end up with. If we, if we really focused on getting people who really wanted to lead.

And so one of the things I really enjoy about my, my work outside of teaching outside of MIT is I get to spend time with people, both who are already like. But also people who are maybe one or two below C-suite who are thinking about, do I want to be on at the C level? Do I want to be a leader and really kind of helping, you know, finding the ones who really want to lead as opposed to simply be senior and then helping them get that is, is just incredibly real.

Naji Gehchan: I love where the discussion is going. Uh, you, uh, you know, I, I always say life is too short. , life’s too short. And I know sometimes it’s hard. It’s easier to say that into, but it’s just incredible when your personal, why isn’t total coherence with what you’re doing. I just think good morning. This is where I think magic starts.

Elsbeth Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m not sure that I’m, I’m always as disciplined. Like I really need to read my own slides a bit more than I do. Right. I’m not sure. I’m always as disciplined as. Could be about the Y I mean, you know, I really have no excuse to not focus on, um, you know, the stuff that I really enjoy and the stuff that I think has most value, um, because I’m in a privileged position of not, you know, not needing to work.

And so I have no excuse not to be doing the absolute, um, You know, most value adding work or most enjoyable work. And yet, you know, there’s still days when I just think, oh, why did I agree to this? You know, we’re all, you know, we’re all we all, we all, sometimes aren’t quite as focused as we ought to be. Um, but it’s the 80 20 rule.

As long as you’re doing it. Most of the.

Naji Gehchan: Exactly. As long as work is not more than, you know, 20% not liking a trap. We all have our jobs, things we do with sort of the people at that 20%. I do the same rule when you were talking about leaders, right? Is senior execs, C-suite leaders, younger managers, leaders that you have.

Is there a, what is for you the most important trait? For the leaders of the 21st century. If there’s one thing I know we discussed of different topics in class, taught us a lot about this, but for you, what is the most important one to have?

Elsbeth Johnson: So for me, and you’re right, there’s lots of traits that we know from empirical research or really.

But for me, and this probably says something about my own value set and upbringing. I am always looking for a combination of two things. One is high capability, and I guess what I mean by that is really high capability. Uh, really clever, very applied high capability with low. Now I have one or two clients who in my mind personify exactly that combination of high capability and low ego, and they are just a treat to work.

But I think if we can get more leaders who are in that combination, I just think regardless of the culture of the organization, that’s always a great combination because what that enables that, that what that combination enables is obviously high capability, right? People are smart. They’re able to get stuff done.

They’ve got a lot of processing power, but low ego means that they, they put the work, they put the business. They put their clients, they put each other, they put the people, the next generation of leaders before themselves or before their own. Need for validation or, um, or promotion. And, and I do think that’s important.

I think, you know, history is replete with examples of when, if an individual or a collection of individuals put the greater good, the quality of the cause ahead of their own need to, um, to benefit then. Chances are higher, that good things will happen. Um, I mean, as someone once said and forgive me, I can’t remember who this was, but it’s amazing what a mate, it’s amazing what good things you can do if you no longer care about who gets the credit.

And that’s kind of what I mean by, by low ego that they put the work and they put other people ahead of their own need for validation or.

Naji Gehchan: And do you think if I followed a double pick on this, do you think those are skills that can be developed? That can be COVID right.

Elsbeth Johnson: So, I mean, what, what psychology would tell us is that, um, you know, I mean that capable of both capability and low ego are a combination of, um, How we’re brought up and a little bit of nature, um, particularly capabilities.

Some of this, some of these intellectual or, um, cognitive skills are, are to some extent inherited. Uh, but our environment, particularly our young, early age environment is very, very important. I think, I think the low ego stuff is largely around how. What we, um, what we come to value and also, um, what our organizations value.

So, you know, I, I grew up on an island, um, where most people knew each other, a lot of people were related to each other. It didn’t matter if you were really, really clever. This island did not suffer tall poppies. So, so, um, you know, like you, you had to get on with everybody because you know, when, if the blizzard came and you needed somebody, hell you better have not been a joke to them at any point in the previous three years because people are on an island have long memories.

Right. So I think to your point about, is it, how, how do you, how do you get this combination of high capability, low ego? I think some of them. It’s nature, some of it’s nurture, but I also think it’s what we’re brought up to value. And so, you know, I’m, I’m pretty allergic to high egos because I grew up on an, in a, in a world, literally an island where hikers, just one tolerated, you know?

Um, so, so I think our own sensitivities to these things are, are largely a product of our value set. However that that’s been.

Naji Gehchan: You, you, you, you talked also, you know, we talked here about the traits of leaders. Um, you talked about you in your book. I, I have to, uh, relate to it and honestly the, the strategic leading strategic change and the framework that you, uh, that you give and, uh, and step up and step up that book is really amazing.

And you’ve touched on something that is called meaningful autonomy. So I’d love to hear about it. But before that, Why I’m talking about the book, because you summarize it in one sentence at the end of the class, and you talked about it, uh, just in the introduction here, you said something I would always remember is that the most essential Java either is to create more leaders.

So that, that is so powerful. And I think it clinks into the skill ego and how you care about your people, how you bring you sat in the beginning of the next generation. So a little bit more about the

Elsbeth Johnson: office. Well, let me, let me explain a little bit more on that. Talk about, um, meaningful autonomy. But, but I, I do think, I mean, this was, um, Mary Follett who’ve, um, originally came up with this idea that, or the statement that, you know, that the primary job of leaders is to create the next generation of leaders.

Now you obviously at one point or in one way, as a leader, you use your positional power to create the next generation of leaders just by promoting. Choosing a pipeline of successes and deciding who’s going to get the top job. I think the problem though, is that that either creates a vicious or a virtuous circle.

If the existing set of leaders are all, um, highly ego, um, you know, value certain things. What we know about human psychology it’s called the affinity bias is that people will choose. Um, they will essentially self-replicate, they will choose successes who look and smell like them. And so the real risk or danger is that if you’ve got an existing set of perhaps quite high ego leaders, is chances are that, that for, for a set, for a set of reasons, including that people self-replicate, but also that the candidates for leadership will look up above them and the low ego ones will go.

Oh, well, there’s no point in me trying to be a leader around here because when I look up above me, the only people who are in positions of power are high, he goes, so either I need to change and stop being low ego, or I need to go somewhere else and try and be a leader where my low ego tendencies are, are not going to be punished.

So the cell replication that we very often see in organizations around leadership and who gets promoted typically means. It’s quite hard to break the vicious circle of high ego leaders. But assuming that you can then, then yeah, your, your job as a leader is, is, is to create this next generation who can understand what good leadership looks like.

Who’ve been taught and coached about how to do it well. Um, because, because then it becomes, you know, you just cascade that down. So.

Naji Gehchan: Before you jump, make it to the autonomy piece, because it’s a very important one. You talked about affinity bias, self replication. Um, and I want to extend that even more.

It’s something I constantly have in my mind, try this. At some point, I remember very early in my career, someone told me, usually we recruit our clones, which I hate, you know what I think about it. Yeah. Especially when we think about diversity equity inclusion, right? So. Yeah. So this circle that we need to break on high ego, it’s the same that we need to break on.

Man. Women do diversity ethnicities. How do you consciously and intentionally look into those unconscious biases and every recruitment I make with the teams and the things specific you’ve seen and been successful on breaking this vicious circle last week.

Elsbeth Johnson: Well, I think two things. Um, I think first of all, getting as many people involved in the recruitment and promotion process as possible, um, if you like that, that’s not to reduce any individual affinity bias that any individual leader brings.

That brings to the table, but all it does is create a portfolio of hopefully different affinity biases, assuming that, you know, not all of your leaders are white, straight able-bodied men. In other words, assuming that there is some, both cognitive and social diversity amongst your leadership population.

If there isn’t, then you need to be looking outside for some help on that. Um, from, you know, recruitment consultants or, or head hunters to really force you to look at candidates who you, whom left to your own devices, you wouldn’t think of as plausible candidates. So that’s the first thing is to broaden the portfolio of afinity biases as to say, as individuals, we all have these biases because we’re human the best, almost the best we can hope.

Is that we, you know, if you and I are both recruiting somebody, you’ve got a different set of pharmacy biases for me, and therefore, you know, yours, yours will challenge mine and vice versa. So that’s the first thing. The second thing to say is that the process of recruitment. Um, has to be very carefully structured and managed.

So, um, you know, it frightens me, but it’s true that there are still some organizations in the world who don’t even use structured interviews, that they, they just kind of bring someone in for a chat or they meet over coffee or they recruit out of their network. And what we know about all of those sources of, uh, of candidates is because our networks will, will sell.

Um, there’ll be, and when we just chat with someone, we are essentially trying to work out, we’re trying to discern social fit. In other words, oh, look, we went to the same school or we, you know, we both play golf at the same club or we both, you know, do the same running track. Um, so it, it. So human beings are incredibly, um, almost invisibly skilled at sniffing out social fit.

And so if you just quote, unquote, have a chat with someone, um, actually you will be doing a terrible job, recruiting them or interviewing them. You’ll be doing a great job working. That whether you could be friends with them. Um, but so, so at the very least what what people need to do is have structured interviews.

In other words, you know, if I’ve got six candidates, I basically asked them the same question, hopefully in a sufficiently conversational way. So I don’t sound like a robot, but, but I am asking them the same set of questions. I can form my, um, my assessment of them across, but even more than that, we should be going beyond interview because most care human beings are actually very good at impression managing.

And so, you know, if, if you asked me to give you an example of where I’ve been really collaborative in the past, guess what. Semiotic human being. And I’ll probably come up with a couple of really plausible sounding examples of me being super collaborative and you’ll be thinking, oh, wow, she’s amazingly collaborative.

Actually I might not be, I might just be impression managing. So a much better way to test that is not in an interview scenario or setting at all, but actually in an experiential setting where you put me in a, in a group of other people, perhaps under some stressful conditions and you watch and see whether I can collaborate rather than ask and, and listen to me, tell you and quite possibly.

You know, fabricate some of my, um, collaborative tendencies. So I think there’s lots of ways we can get smarter about how we recruit now, the problem with all of the things that I’ve just talked about is they take longer and they are more expensive ways of recruiting. And so for those of us who, perhaps for organizations that don’t have that much time on or enough budget, it’s it’s, um, it can feel like.

Um, it can feel easy and free to compromise on our recruitment process. Whereas actually compromising on our recruitment process is one of the most expensive mistakes that organization can make.

Naji Gehchan: Definitely thank you for that. Going back. I want to go to this, these two words, uh, about meaningful autonomy and bed to talk about because.

Many people, some people would be afraid of the word autonomy. Some others would be excited about it, but I love how you framed it, which is meaningful. But me, what I have thoughts about this and for us as leaders, uh, how to get to that. Really good position where our people can, can be meaning fully

Elsbeth Johnson: autonomous.

Yeah. So the reason that I call it meaningful autonomy is because in my research, so my research is in inductive research, which means I go and watch and ask people, um, you know, very open-ended questions. Um, a lot of it done, um, by watching and observing. So ethnographic research. What is it that makes your autonomy meaningful or sorry?

What, what, what is it that, that, um, sorry, what, what is it that means that you don’t have to go and ask your leader for input or support or. And, um, a number of my informants, um, said, oh, well, in other words, what you’re really asking me is what makes my autonomy meaningful. And that’s the critical point that, that this, this, these words actually came not out of my mouth or my head, but out of the mounds of my informants.

And so that became a really interesting research question. Um, and it turns out there’s two things that really help someone come to work and access. The autonomy, the decision rights that they have technically been given. Um, but, but, but that where they feel that they can actually exercise these rights without having to escalate and go back to their leader and say, help me, or referee between these two options or tell me what I should do.

So the two things are when the autonomy, when the exercise of the autonomy is. Uh, in other words, they’ve got enough resources. Um, they’ve got enough time, uh, the scope isn’t stupid, um, or too great. Um, so in other words, lots of structural elements, all of the structural elements are in place to enable the, the, them to exercise their autonomy.

But then beyond the structural element, there’s almost a psychological element, which is that it is not. Possible, but also pleasant. Um, but they’re comfortable in exercising their autonomy. They don’t feel like they are having to go out on a limb or take on unnecessary risk. Um, and the elements that really help them.

Um, oh, when the leader has really put really signaled in every possible way that they can, what they want and, um, and back that up. So not only been clear about what they want, but also align the organization and been consistent in that, um, Uh, a period of time. That means that people don’t have to second guess, you know, well, you know, you say that you want this, but that’s not what I see you role model, and it’s not what you measure.

And, and by the way, that’s not how you know, it’s not all my OKR is contained. So, so all of a sudden, if you’re sending me in congruent, I’m having to second, guess what you really want me to do. And the critical thing there is that good employees who want to come to work and do their best. They do not want in congruent inconsistent leaders because that does not help them.

The Corolla is also. That your, that you’re less good employees who kind of wants to come to work and have a slightly easier time or not do amazing work. They upset you love it when leaders are inconsistent or in congruent, because it gets, gives them a get out of jail card. They can come to you at their performance appraisal and say so sure, I know you said you wanted me to do this.

You haven’t brought it in my job description, but I don’t see you role model and it’s not. You’re going to reward me and it’s not even what we measure. So you can’t possibly hold me accountable for the thing that you asked me to do. So that’s really what we mean by, um, by meaningful autonomy. And I guess the most interesting thing about, um, or, or almost counterintuitive thing about this idea is that autonomy needs to be constrained albeit in certain ways, in order to become meaningful.

Now this can feel a little bit paradoxical. First time I say that, right? What do you mean constrained autonomy. It’s almost an oxymoron. Actually. It isn’t unconstrained. Autonomy is. Actually frightening for your best employees because they, they actually really do need to know. And have you signaled consistently what you want?

Unconstrained autonomy is Nirvana for your back for your worst employees, because they just they’re rubbing their hands with glee. At that point, they, they get to do exactly what they want. They get to spend shareholder money doing whatever they fancy their hobbies. So unconstrained autonomy is fabulous for them, but this idea of constrained autonomy, it’s the constraints, the clarity and level of prescription that leaders give in the constraint that sets up that frees up, that they’re the people who report to them to really shine.

In delivering what the leaders have asked for. And so the, the, the quality of the autonomy experienced by managers is directly proportionate to the quality of, of prescription and the clarity of that prescription, uh, given to managers by leaders.

Naji Gehchan: That’s amazing. I’m not gonna detail. You know, things in

focus consistency. We’ve got to talk about these also a little bit more, but really the framework is super helpful. I’m going to jump into the section that is a little bit different. So I’m going to give you one word and I’d love to have your first reaction to it. And yeah, you can, will discuss a little bit about it.

So the first one is authentic leader.

Elsbeth Johnson: Um, and do you want a one word response or just, just my response

Naji Gehchan: and response. I’m going to be one. We’re going to be a fellow first thing in mind.

Elsbeth Johnson: So I guess my one word response would be misunderstood. Um, I know for a lot of people, I think certainly a lot of the leaders that I work with, they, they hear the words authentic leader.

And they, they, they misunderstand it in one of two ways. They either think, okay, in order to be authentic, I just show up as myself. You know, I just kind of vomit myself into the room, like a human hand grenade and, you know, whatever I’m kind of, you know, however I show up, that’s just my authentic self. So like, what else can I do in otherwise it’s relatively uncontrolled.

And that’s a huge mistake, obviously, because. As long as we have an obligation to manage ourselves for the benefit of, you know, our people, our organization. So, so that’s the first way in which I think a lot of leaders misunderstand authentic leadership and the requirements that it puts on them. I think the second way that leader is very often misunderstand, authentic leadership.

That they something in my experience, they don’t always realize that that who you are changes over time. Um, now I think that, that sounds really obvious when I say it, but you know, we very, again, part of the human condition, another, another cognitive misconception is that we very often. Underestimate the extent of the changes that will undergo as human beings over the longterm.

We typically overestimate how much we can get done in the short-term, but we underestimate how much we can do and how, how, how much we can change over the long-term I’m talking decades rather than months or years. And so I think as a result of that, we very often think, well, you know, in 20 years time, I’ll basically just be the same person, whereas actually, Johnson’s all that’s not true.

Um, but more than that, if you think you’re, you’re not really gonna change that much or that you don’t think you could change that much, you might be missing some opportunities that you could be looking for in your career. And I think that’s a real shame. So I think that will be my reaction. It’s it’s very often a misunderstood.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. And then you talked to, I remember you talked also about the different sounds try. It’s like in different places situation. So it’s really every day how we change over time. Right. The second word would be focused.

Elsbeth Johnson: Well, I mean, focus for me is the thing, it’s the secret. I’m going to say secret sauce, because that makes it sound like it’s kind of some secret recipe. Focus is for me, the thing that explains whether some strategies get implemented and some leaders make it versus other strategies that actually probably intellectually were equally good strategies, but they didn’t get implemented.

Um, focus is the thing that, that means that we, it requires choice. It requires deliberate choice to do certain things. We’ll spend time on certain things or invest in certain things and not others. And I think, I suspect we are much worse at this as human beings than we have ever been, because I think a lot of people they’re so used to.

No doing without in their lives, at least, you know, in the first world, right. You go on Amazon and you can have whatever you want. Um, you know, things are. Uh, available. Um, I mean, they’re not currently available in my country because we’ve managed to cut our own supply chain. Cause we’ve just, you know, left a 40 year trading arrangement unilaterally.

But, but assuming you, you don’t live in an irrational country that, you know, commit economic suicide, um, you know, things are available and, and I don’t think people have. Choose the often, but actually that’s a complete misconception because the most important things in life, like time for example, is completely finite.

So back to your point earlier, you know, life’s too short. I mean, that’s a classic example of the AFR. Uh, a series of choices. We only have so many hours in the day and so many days in our lives, so we have to choose how to spend them well. And, and, and focus is, is really the thing that focuses, what results from your, the choices that you make.

So the fact that Mo that an awful lot of people and organizations like focus, I think is basically because people just don’t want to.

Naji Gehchan: I love this frame, a bit of red choices, you know, and many times we see here discussing with leaders and organizations, right? The list of priorities that keep on moving and changing.

So I’m more, I’m more just talking about like, what are the choices, what are the two, three things that you want to do and be great at, right. And it’s, yeah, it’s tough to choose. And so what we need to do for able

Elsbeth Johnson: to be. But I would add to that, that I think the other problem is that, you know, an awful lot of organizations will run a strategic planning process, almost like an event, you know, um, once a year or once every two years, an ounce of that may actually come some pretty clear choices.

But the problem is that over time the clarity gets corrupted, um, because they add in, you know, so-called additional priorities. Um, and so one of the things that I, uh, I wouldn’t say force. Cause I mean, you know, I can’t quite force my clients to do things, but one of the things I very strongly advise my clients to do is that for every additional priority that they say they want, they have to take something off the list.

So the total amount of what. It doesn’t increase. And therefore the total amount of bandwidth that is being sucked up doesn’t isn’t eroded and therefore employees continue to have the slack that they need to stand back and think and reflect and learn about the work rather than just do the work. It’s what I call in the book, the tea party test, um, this idea that, you know, the total amount of.

Well in the tea parties, case legislation, doesn’t sort of passively accumulate over time. It’s exactly the same with work and organizations. You, if by all means, choose on alternative or another priority, but you can’t do that at the expense of the overall, um, you know, amount of work that’s on. So, so if something’s going to be added to the list, something else that was already on the list needs to be taken off it.

And it’s actually, by the way, amazing. When you say to people, okay. If you want that additional thing, that means you can’t have one of the things that you said was really important. It’s amazing how that focuses minds. Um, and an awful lot of people go, oh, okay. Well, in that case, I don’t really make that.

Naji Gehchan: And did the dude, did you find, uh, a good cutoff cycle to force leadership to go through the exercise and take, if you add something you, you take on something else or because you know, one of the things I’m always amazed by how organically things boil up and after like three months of clarity, if you don’t keep on having the same.

Discipline. Right. And coming back and making sure that it’s really focused on two, three things, organically things grow, right? Like it’s, it’s, it’s always the case,

Elsbeth Johnson: such a good point. And it, it that’s that organic growth is essentially the thing that you’re trying to, uh, I mean, a bit like a Gardner is always trying to kind of keep the wildness at bay.

Right. Um, so one of the things that we always encourage is, uh, Sure leaders to kind of take a cold, hard look at themselves in terms of, you know, are they, are they helping create and protect slack for their managers? But we also, um, encourage managers to give leaders feedback on exactly that point. When we have a set of diagnostics that we run in these organizations to say to test things like how much bandwidth has been taken up, um, to what extent is your leader giving you additional priorities that, that, um, that suck up the time that you previously had as slack.

And, um, and if we get a signal that, that that’s becoming a problem, then that’s the kind of red flashing warning light that says to leaders that they probably need to go back and, and prune the activity.

Naji Gehchan: The last word above the reaction is spread love and organizations. What’s your reaction to this?

Elsbeth Johnson: I mean, I suppose, I mean, obviously this, it, this is the total of your organization and, and, and it perfectly encapsulates the ambition of the organization. Um, part of me just feels really sad that we even have to say this and spell it out because I mean, I mean, I love the word love.

I mean, I love how, how kind of, um, Because I’m sure in some jurisdictions that that must feel a little bit edgy to people, but, but I just feel like what would be the alternative, what spread hate, um, you know, spread antagonism. Um, so I just feel almost kind of, I almost feel sad that we even have to have to for this to be the invocation, um, because you know, the, the most effective leaders, um, are the ones who.

I mean, they might not describe it as spreading love, but they’re certainly spreading, um, you know, respect, um, you know, they’re spreading the talent, they’re sharing their skills, that teaching people that, as we said earlier, that bringing on that next generation of leaders. So. For me, um, I feel kind of sad that we even have to ask for this to be done in this explicit way.

Um, but I just think that’s a pretty damning indictment of about what, you know, what that says about the leaders who get promoted and a lot of the organizations that we see

Naji Gehchan: any final words of wisdom for all of you. There’s this thing there, the word.

Elsbeth Johnson: I think I would say two things. I think the first is, excuse me, and this might not be a word of wisdom. And just the kind of word of warning is that very often in organizations, we confuse confidence with competence. Um, in other words, the people who walk into our office and you know, are incredibly eloquent and, you know, sell us on an idea.

Um, Yeah, it’s perfectly possible that they are incredibly passionate and competent and their idea is the best thing that they’ve ever worked on. It’s also possible that they’re just incredibly. That they came through, you know, a private school, Ivy league education, and they’ve acquired the trappings of confidence and it has got absolutely nothing to do with confidence because the really dangerous thing for organizations is these things are not necessarily.

They’re not perfectly negatively correlated either, but, but, but when we conflate them and think that when we see confidence, it must mean that there is competence. That’s a very dangerous assumption. So I think that’s the first word of warning. The second thing I would say to all of those leaders who are out there thinking, Hmm, I’m not really sure that I want.

Like it feels a bit icky. Um, uh, and there might be some people that are particularly, um, particularly women, I think have, uh, have, uh, a bit less of a natural inclination to seek positions of power. Um, I think I would, I would just remind people that unlike every other type of power, social power, Uh, you know, the power of, um, networks or, or, or, um, or authority, um, positional power is a zero sum game.

And what I mean by that is if you have, if, if, if you and I are both going for the, for the top job and you get it, it means that I haven’t got it. So let’s make sure that the organizations that we’re putting. Give the positional power to the people who are most worthy of holding it and exercising it and using it for good, because if all of the good people who would use positional power, well, if they all take themselves out of the game and say, oh, no, no, no, no, no, I don’t want positional power.

No, no, no. I don’t want power of. Then the only people, the only candidates for positional power positions will be the people who just want to be senior rather than those who really want to lead and lead for the best. So I think that would be the final thing. I’d say, make sure that, that if, if you want to lead for the best reasons, make sure that you’re working out how to get your hands on positional power, because it is a zero-sum.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for such amazing discussion, the great tips that you gave us to be better leaders and go use all that we can do for us to change the world for the greater purpose.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to SpreadLove in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.