How Darwin Can Make You a Better Leader
Paul R. Lawrence is a Professor Emeritus of Harvard Business School, where he served nine years as chairman of the Organizational Behavior area and also as chairman of both the MBA and AMP programs. His research, published in 25 books and numerous articles, has dealt with the human aspects of management, organizational change, organization design, human nature, and leadership. His 1967 book, Organization and Environment (written with Professor Jay Lorsch), added "contingency theory" to the vocabulary of students of organizational behavior. Recently he has, with others, made a comparative study of Soviet management practices that was published in 1990 as Behind the Factory Walls: Decision Making in Soviet and U.S. Enterprises.
Question: What can Renewed Darwinian Theory teach business leaders?
Paul Lawrence: Well what they can learn is that we can be much more specific than we have in the past about telling them what we mean by a leadership brain. They can learn how their own brain is actually constructed to help them be good leaders. We evolved to have such a brain, we have evolved to observe the world around us in terms of whether it is a help or a hindrance to our need for these four drives. And we can sense those things in ourselves and we can say, by practicing the skills of thinking of such complex situations of that kind, we can improve our own leadership capacity.
Let me give you one kind of an example. One thing that the world faces these days is a lot of organizations that are loaded with distrust. Distrust is a very costly characteristic to have in organizations and business leaders and managers are often confused that they have unfortunately a lot more distrust in their organization than they wish they had. People do not trust enough in each other to engage in some kind of deal or transaction. They think they are going to be undercut some way. And this is very expensive if you’ve got to have six lawyers to make an everyday agreement between two people in how they are going to work with each other, you’re going to pay an awful lot of lawyer’s bills.
Well, this certainly can help you build a structure of trust throughout your organization which will enable people to cooperate much more readily with each other without having to build up defensive systems just in case the other guy double-crosses them, which is in the back of minds when they have distrust. And it teaches us... can teach us how on a step-by-step basis, just in everyday conversations, we can notice when we or the other person does a below-the-belt comment. You know, sort of throws out a half-truth or throws out a put down or a way of diminishing the other that the other feels they’ve got to get back at them and begin a game of tit-for-tat and see who can kind of undermine the other’s position. And stop such conversations; call them out for what they are. These are busting trust is what they are, they’re trust busters, and engage in the kind of dialogue that builds trust, where we listen carefully to other’s ideas and give due credit to it and tell each other truths instead of falsehoods. And see how we can build a larger accomplishment by that quality of cooperation based on trust and build up the habits of trusting each other so it means you can take it for granted that you can have... you’re working in an organization that it has a structure of trust. That’s a very specific skill that we can help people acquire really by engaging in the kind of moral rules that fall out of examining what’s behind the four drives and the leadership behavior involved.
Recorded on July 28, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
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