In management training sessions I sometimes ask the group to close their eyes and leave their minds blank for one minute - that is, not to think at all during that time. With very rare exceptions they find this feat impossible. Unbidden thoughts just seem to arise in the mind, and the exercise shows just how wayward and unruly it can be, and how little control we often have over our thinking. We can be forgiven if we sometimes wonder who is in charge, when the mind thinks thoughts we do not even wish to think. We like to think of the mind as our servant, but if we are not careful it can be our master. This chapter is about the mind, and the ways it can deceive us or support us in our task as leaders and managers.
Effective thinking is at the heart of good management and leadership, whether we are concerned with strategic planning, settling conflicts on the staff or running a meeting. If our thinking and with it our perceptions are faulty, then all the management techniques in the world will not help. For example, it is now fairly well agreed that leaders need to be able to adopt a range of styles in order to handle different situations. Hersey and Blanchard (1982) promoted a situational leadership model which advocated four leadership styles applicable to four different employee 'types', and the Hay Group's classification of six leadership styles is extensively used in headteacher training in England (Goleman et al. 2002). Leaders are exhorted to use the styles most applicable to the situation they face.
This is, of course, very sensible and useful, but does beg the question of how the leader actually carries this out. In the first place, as leader, what skill do I use to understand the situation deeply and accurately? If I decide a situation requires me to use an 'authoritative' style, how confident can I be in my reading of the situation that has led me to this decision? For example, are the staff that I have decided need this approach actually as devoid of appropriate ideas as I have judged, or are other factors operating? However, given that my perception and judgement have been accurate, a second problem arises. How do I know how to carry out this style effectively? Whereas one person can practise a coercive style effectively, in the same situation another person can produce more harm than good. Assessing the