Leadership: Survival of the Fittest

In business, it takes a lot to survive and thrive as a leader. How are you surviving these days? Is your leadership growing stronger?

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.” ~ Charles Darwin

There’s no question that surviving the corporate jungle requires intelligence, flexibility, political savvy, and the right amounts of courage and aggressiveness. Leadership is not for sissies — nor is it for authoritarian bullies.

The four drive theory that I’ve been reading about in Paul R. Lawrence’s book, Driven to Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership(Jossey-Bass, 2010), cites contemporary brain research that sheds light on how leaders are influenced in their decision-making and actions.

Great leaders must be smart and emotionally intelligent to influence people, fully engage their hearts and minds, and encourage peak performance. By understanding the four drives, leaders will bring out the best in others and create a thriving workplace.

Leaders juggle multiple priorities, while making important decisions that drive people, performance and the right organizational results. They must find ways to satisfy all four drives for all stakeholders, their employees and customers:

  1. The drive to acquire
  2. The drive to defend
  3. The drive to bond
  4. The drive to comprehend

Leaders use conscious and unconscious brain processes to form decisions in the face of uncertainty, rapid changes and conflicting motivations. The better a leader can balance these four basic drives, the more successful they’ll be at sustaining success.

Conflicting Impulses

In my work coaching clients, some executives complain about conflicting priorities. In fact, humans are hardwired to feel conflicting emotions. As leaders, we must continually assess options and arrive at acceptable decisions through negotiating the best compromises that we can.

Animals don’t have this problem. After acquiring food, shelter, a mate and ways to defend themselves against threats, they’re basically set. We, on the other hand, must balance two additional drives:

  • To bond with, trust and care for other people (and to be trusted and cared for by them)
  • To make sense of our lives (understand the “why” and “how”)

These additional drives allow us to adapt better than lower animals, and they also explain why our brains are three times larger than those of our nearest primate ancestors. But the drives also make us more responsive to the environment, giving us more to react to and consider when making decisions.

Modern managers and leaders must take into account so many different impulses. They must balance their teams’ needs and desires against those of the boss, corporation, customers, stock market, environment and self.

We are built to work and achieve in groups: to lead and follow, to learn from each other, to trust, to protect and care for each other, to acquire what we need collectively even if we later enjoy it individually. We have evolved in this way because it’s a very successful means of survival.

What about you in your organization? How well are you balancing these drives? I work with many leaders, some of whom find it nearly impossible to find the right balance between profits and people. Perhaps I can help you. Let’s have a conversation. You can contact me here.

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