Adam Grant Explains What Traits Make Good Leaders | Davos 2020
Climate change is at the forefront of Davos this year it seems to be Millennials. In this a whole generation of people who care. Very much about this but as a group we aren't, making huge, progress yeah how do you get. People to shift. Those individual, incentives, for the greater good for a better outcome I see a couple of mistakes happening. Systematically, as a psychologist, when I watch how people communicate about climate change and. I don't even think this is about incentives, it's often just about motivation, and persuasion, so, one mistake is it is a very abstract for. Seemingly, far in the future costs a lot. Of the communication, is designed to change that right to say you know we need to act in the next eight years or you. Know we're gonna have big problems in 12 years that's, still much further in the future that most people plan to make decisions it's also hard to personify, the effects, of okay. So we're. Gonna have maybe rising, temperatures, and sea. Levels and you, know the whole planets gonna be affected I'm, not used to caring about a planet it's, too big it's, too abstract and, I, also don't feel like my individual actions actually, matter and so I think we need to do a much better job humanizing. The immediate, effects of climate, change one. Of the best examples, of this that I have ever seen was the invited the Environmental Defense Fund a few, years ago they, send out postcards with, an, image, of polar bears on a melting, ice caps and. It just immediately tugs at your heartstrings and you think you know what this is not okay alright somebody should do something about this and then, you start to feel like well maybe I could do something about this and I. Think that you, know if you can get people to care, about a polar bear you can definitely get them to care about the human impact of climate change and so I think we need some very immediate very, individualized. You know here are the consequences, that you can affect now, communication. In order to move the needle a little bit people, sometimes make the wrong decision, for their best interests, and when it comes to voting it sometimes seems like people do that as well have. You thought at all about the, dynamics, of voting and how people make that decision yeah. I so, this is way out of my expertise, right I'm, I'm, a psychologist, who studies work and I. Don't think we've become fundamentally. Different people at the voting booth but. I think you know we certainly often consider, different values and different specs of identities so you, should take everything I say with many grains of salt but I actually, think this this whole idea of voting, your interests or not it's sort of a misnomer because. When, it comes to interest people don't just think merrily about what's good for them right, they include in their interests, their community, often, their, state, their country, and so.
One, Thing that I like to think about is what's, often called the the, circle, of moral regard so, you know do you care about just yourself your family your friends and, then stretch, it outward and I. Think when when people are accused. Of voting against, their interests what they're actually doing often, is is voting, for a different part of that circle than what you might be thinking about and so I don't know what to do with that necessarily, but I think it's something we should be more aware of and we should allow people to be interested in things that did not immediately affect, their economic, well-being and, we've talked for about how the people who are selected for management positions, aren't, necessarily, the. Best managers, the qualities that make, them chosen, by, executives. That. Seems like something that might also be true in political, leaders the thing that the characteristic, that gets you there is not necessarily what makes you a good political leader yeah is that true is there any way for us to correct for that they're negatively correlated it's, that the more likely you are to get elected the less likely you are to be effective and. That's I think in large part because the. Things that we admire, from a distance are often really toxic up close so, if you look at research on narcissists, for example if, you watched a narcissist from afar they're often perceived as very charismatic, you, love the confidence the bold vision that they bring to the table if you have to work with that person all of a sudden you realize oh, they, constantly. Blame other people for your further failures they, take credit for other people's successes, they. Don't listen well and learn well from other people they, tend to be over confident, in their own bets which occasionally, works out well and other times leads. To disastrous, decisions, and, there's a whole body of research on how in. Teams, even when we're working with narcissists, we're more likely to elevate them in the leadership roles and regret. It afterward and so, you, know I think that for me the fundamental problem with elections is I think it's a it's a popularity contest when, it should actually be a confidence, in character character, contest so. The place that I would personally want to start if if I had a chance to kind, of reinvent this whole system is I'd. Say you know what you have to take a test in order. To get a license to do most things that have real consequences so. If you want to fly a plane right, you need a pilot's license you, even need a license, to drive a car you. Need you, know you need to go to medical school and then take a test if you want to practice medicine same for practicing law I think. It's crazy that we don't have a test or a license, to serve the public in office and so, my, first thought was well why don't why don't we have a civics test or, a history test where, you are not eligible to run for office unless, you demonstrate, that you have some basic knowledge of what's, going on in your country in your world or even in your city but, then I wouldn't want to stop there I also want to assess all kinds of abilities that leaders need I want, to know how, well you make decisions I'm interested, in your forecasting, skills can you predict the future can, you resolve conflicts, and so, you know obviously the complexity, of developing. All these tests and deciding, who should be the arbiters of them is something that I've not figured out yet but. I think it deserves some real attention I would even say you know what let's just do a simple knowledge test will. Allow you to phone a friend multiple. Friends I want to know can you assemble a group of people who actually have accurate knowledge that, seems like a useful, thing to gauge and potential, future leaders I would, even be willing to make an open book and say. You know it's the test is gonna be too long you can't use the book for every question but, you know if if you know where to find valid, information you can feel free to access that there's. A characteristic, that can make that person succeed as a leader believe it or not there's such a thing is what's called humble narcissism, this, is some really fascinating research lodged by Brad Owens in the US and then it's been extended to China.
Recently And. The finding is that if, you survey, people about their CEO, or about their manager that, they, can identify very. Quickly whether that person tends to be narcissistic right, so they, tend to think they're better than others they tend to have a sense of entitlement and grandiosity, and, that can be a huge problem from the pre since we've talked about but, it's also possible to have some elements, of humility along with that right, knowing that you have weaknesses as well as strengths being, motivated to overcome, squeak, this is maybe, occasionally recognizing. Strengths, and others and appreciating, those and so, when, you think about what it means to be a humble narcissist, that research says it's, possible to couple, the bold vision the grandiosity, with. A constant, desire to improve and overcome, your shortcomings, and if you can do that that you know that actually could make you a really effective leader I think about Steve Jobs and his return to Apple right so early days Steve Jobs you know I think just a plain narcissist, or maybe an extreme narcissist, if, you look at the typical, signatures, if you, look at his return though he, gave, a speech once where he said getting, fired from his own company was, awful, tasting medicine but, the patient needed him and you. Know I don't think he necessarily fundamentally. Changed as a person but everyone I know who, worked, closely with him in both of those windows has said what you got was a more humble Steve Jobs right, somebody who knew he didn't have all the answers who occasionally listened to other people and, that made him a more effective leader but, he still had that incredibly. Bold dynamic, vision and I think. There's there's value in that there's. Also there's. Another type, of narcissism, that I think is kind of interesting so. There's a difference between what's what's, often called agentic, and communal narcissism terrible, academic terms right so I wouldn't I wouldn't wish them on anyone but, the basic idea is a genetic narcissists, are people who define. Their, success as being superior to others whereas. Communal, narcissists, are people who who. Often believe that they're special but. Part of the way they define that is to want to make a real difference for others and they, end up being much less toxic than the the, agentic kind I always think of the Silicon, Valley episode, where Gavin, Belson, says I don't, want to live in a world where, someone else makes, the world a better place better, than I a little. Bit of a flavor of communal narcissism, but if, you have a I think the the common, thread across humility, and you, know being communal, or a, little bit other orient it is if it's not all about you if you, know you have very high expectations, and maybe even you're a little bit overconfident, but. You care about other people you listen to other people you learn from them, that can channel some heuristic. Traits in a more productive direction, and, let's talk about setbacks a letter a little bit how do you use. That in a positive way so that it doesn't, derail you there, are a couple of good empirical answers to that question, the. First one is you, want to avoid the traps that Marty Seligmann and his colleagues have written about when they stay the psychology, of our explanatory styles, the, question is when something bad happens how, do you explain, that to yourself and others and, what we find is that that, some people have a very pessimistic explanatory. Style that that sort of shoots them in the foot where, they interpret, bad events, as completely. Personal, permanent. And pervasive, so, they're often called the three P's so. You say look this is my fault this. Is going to ruin every, aspect of my life and it's, always going to be horrible and so, the the. Thinking style is that people are supposed to learn in order to become more resilient in their situations, is to say look it's. Not always true that.
There's Three P's apply and so, it's worth asking look yeah you want to take personal responsibility for, your failures or your setbacks but, what other external circumstances, contributed, to those and then what, what's, the proof that, you. Know maybe other parts of your life are unaffected by the job, that you lost or by. The failure you experienced, at work and. Especially I think the permanence one is that to me the biggest trap because. You'll, catch people you can actually see it in their language when they talk or when they write they'll, say things like well you know I will never be happy again or I will, always be a failure like I'm, sorry can, you predict the future do you have a crystal ball I don't it's, an incredibly, difficult task, and so, what you're supposed to do that according to this evidence is you're, supposed to edit your own language and say right, now it feels like I will, never be successful again a lot of your work is around how people make decisions either, with. Their best intentions, or or against, them and I've always wondered what guides your decision-making process. So. I think this is a great area where, they're sad what's. Often called it knowing doing gap right, so as an organizational, psychologist I studied these things daily, and yet. I noticed, this happens every year I only teach in the fall and one. Of the things I teach is, this, trap that's called escalation, of commitment to a losing course of action it's, where you make an initial commitment, it might be you know an investment of money it might be a project you take on might. Be a person you decide to collaborate with and then, it doesn't go as planned so maybe you get negative feedback maybe, you fail maybe it's just horribly. Frustrating, and then. You have a choice are you going to cut your losses or are you gonna you, know sort of double down and what, the data show is that peep often, double down right so they end up managers. End up spending more money on unfailing. Projects, and also struggling, people than. They do their. Star performers, and they're really promising projects they also end up over investing time and you know in the people who are not doing well as opposed to the people who are excelling and so. I talk, about this every fall and, then as soon as I'm out of the classroom, I find myself falling. Victim to it and I think there's a there's a really, challenging salience, part of this so I've learned from this is that. I actually have to teach this stuff regularly in order to practice it and, what that means in, the classroom I need to do interviews like this so, I have an excuse to talk about these principles but. I found myself I find myself a lot going. Back to the research but you know just writing a little bit about some of these principles, I find. Myself you. Know sort of deliberately, talking. Through them and you know in conversations, that I have with, people who are looking for advice well normally I would just go right to the advice I need. To be reminded of how difficult it is to deescalate so, let's let's take a concrete example one, of the things I constantly, do is I. Get over committed and I. End up thinking wow this project sounds really exciting and then pretty soon I've way, overextended. Myself so. I know that's an escalation situation, and as. I'm talking about it I realized okay one. Way to prevent myself from doing that is to set a rule which, is I will not ever say yes to a new project until I finish an old one and as. I have that rule handy I'm a lot more likely to remember that and say you know what I'd love to work on this right, now my plate feels very full so, you know is it okay if we circle back in a couple months once I finished what I'm currently working on and then the reality is what I'm currently working on it takes several months longer than I expected to do and then.
I Know once, enough time has passed whether this is really a project that's going to sustain my interest or whether, it was exciting in the moment and then not, at all and one thing I'd like you to touch on a little bit that I've seen you post a little bit on is how. Do you make a decision about your career, and it seems so attractive, to be seduced, by the. Power of a position or the title of the position or like you talked about like a book like a final project when. What, actually, takes to get there is maybe. It doesn't work. With your style or what you actually want to do can you talk a little bit about how you get. People to remind themselves of, that look I think we're all effect by concerns. About status, and image right I think, that I see this though all the time with my students and I'll give you a few examples of where, it jumps, out at me the first time I ever noticed it was I was actually teaching my first class had, a student come in to office hours asking, for advice about grad school and, I said why are you considering to go to go to grad school and the answer was well. Because I've always wanted to get my PhD I. Thought. It was such a weird phrase to say my PhD, like, one, you don't have one to, like most, people want to get a PhD and. It was very clear that this was kind of a centerpiece of, her, identity in this case that you know having a PhD was was an important, way either to feel educated. Or you, know to I don't know not disappoint, her parents and, I came back and I said you, know I yeah. There are lots of people who want to have accomplished something the, question is what do you think about the process of you know of working. Toward that goal and. What she realized really quickly was, she loved consuming. The results of research but, did not enjoy it all the process of producing it and so, it was pretty clear that a ph.d program was probably not a great fit for her and, I've. Seen this over and over again since, right where I have, students, who say I want to go and work for an investment bank and. I say okay why and. They say well you know because these. You know these companies are very prestigious and you, get to work with a lot of very. Important people like do, you know what you'll be doing all day do you like do you like Excel spreadsheets do. You like working, 90-hour, weeks do, you not do, you like not having say over who you work with and what you work on and what you get to learn and, yeah. I'm. Not telling anyone made they shouldn't necessarily, never, work in finance right but what I want to get to is. Do. You actually enjoy thinking about markets do. You like you, know trying to figure out a merger or an acquisition, or an initial public offering and if you find that kind of work interesting a better, job fit for you and so I guess, my takeaway. Here is to say that too. Often when we think about jobs we think about you know who the, job will make us right there the title we get to carry and I. Just think it's a travesty that the people are drawn to titles, and positions that, will impress other people but, then end up being depressed, by those experiences, it's, I think, it's worth asking how. Do how, do I feel about the day-to-day work do. I find it in turns eclis interesting is it meaningful am I going to learn something from this this set of maybe, knowledge and skills that I'm exposed to and I think again it's a knowing doing gap right we could probably give that advice to others the question is how do we how often do we take it for ourselves and, that's hard to reframe, it in that way I think.
It Is I mean in my case I I. Call, it an advisor when I was finishing grad school and I said you. Know I know that there, are there are certain places that. It's. It's hard to say no when when Harvard calls and I. Said you, know I want, to make sure that I'm really evaluating. The, media people I'm going to be surrounded by and the teaching role that I have so, please remind me do not go just. Because it's Harvard I actually ended up I, turned, down Harvard from my first job offer and went to UNC because. I felt that I was going to learn more from the the people that I'd be collaborating with there and it was an incredible, learning experience. After. Two, years I ended up getting poached by Wharton and one of my closest collaborators, ended up going to Harvard I don't. Know what that means, but it suggested. Sometimes, I don't practice what I preach one. Of the topics that I've been most obsessed with lately is happiness and trying. To figure out if that is the ultimate goal and how, what, will actually make people happy and if they're actually making decisions that will lead them to happiness is that, what people are trying to achieve how, good are we at achieving, it I think. Happiness is not always a good goal okay, John. Stuart Mill actually wrote centuries. Ago that. One. Of the only ways to achieve happiness is to have your mind fixed on some goal other than happiness and. There's, actually some new research in psychology to back, this up so. Iris, mouse and. Her colleagues have done these interesting studies where they, track how much you value happiness, so. They would ask how important is this to you you know is it a central life goal for you to be happy and then, they follow you and they survey you to find out how how, much you know joy and pleasure and satisfaction do, you have in your life it turns out the people who place extreme value and Happiness are significantly. Less happy than people, who just say yeah happiness, is important but it's not my most important, object and, then you could say okay well maybe, you, know it's there's. A there's, a reversal of causality, there and miserable, people become obsessed so we can becoming happy but, then when they do is they run these experiments where they randomly assign people to, try to pursue happiness and they find that their happiness drops a little bit so. The question is why when, people start, to think about becoming happy they get too focused on their own internal, states and, say well well how do I feel better as, opposed to saying okay what can I contribute to others, I think. Another piece of it is they, get stuck in this mode where they're never experiencing, they're, constantly, evaluating, right, so I'm trying to be happy wait am i happy right now I don't know am i enjoying this conversation are you enjoying this conversation so oh no what if I could have been doing something more delightful and then.
You Start to experience this you know this horrible, fear of missing out and. Being plagued by FOMO, makes, you, really unhappy over, time then that turns into what I've started thinking about is Romo the, regret of missing out which happens after the FOMO I love. What Oliver Berkman, has called for as an alternative, which, he goes jomo the, joy of missing out and. He says every time you're thinking about all the great experiences, you could have been having it said who and when you're currently having you, should instead think about all the unpleasant. Things that, you're not doing and how thrilled you are that you got to avoid them and. I found that really helpful but, I think in the workplace this is this, is a mistake that people often make is I think I've watched, a lot of people who maybe put they. Put too much emphasis on status and early career decisions, and then they realize okay I've got a I've, got to really pay attention to what's important to me and then, they try to choose a job that makes them happy and the, problem, is I think the joy is often fleeting so. You know the job that makes you happy today it might be boring next year right because it's become too easy it, might also become, repetitive it might be that your interests change there's some some research i've just read recently and it's that's, brand new which shows that when, people try to pursue passions if they think about passion in terms of immediate joy or momentary happiness they're. Less successful, in pursuing that passion less. Likely to find it even then, if instead, they think about a passion is what's personally important to them it's less about what you enjoy it's more about what you value and saying, can I find a job that, brings me meaning because. The work that I do is, going to allow me to to. Become the person that I want to be, and contribute, to the world what I want to offer.