Sunday, November 21, 2010

Self-Referentiality - Leaders in Social Selves

Why the return to self now?

The future did not look like their own, especially when the rat race of the post-1960s provided us with engineers, doctors, chartered accountants, lawyers, bureaucrats and of course businessmen. Recently however, during the Diwali of 2010, when talking with a MBA student with work-experience and former education as an engineer, I was stumped at his clarity in belief. He mentioned that the future would belong to social scientists, whose services would be extensively consumed as a balm for the rapid and unrealistic pace at which individual and collective entities need to make themselves economically and socially worthwhile.
With a near meteoric rise of information and services led civilizations, especially since the mid-1980s we’ve seen the emergence of large organizations of a different genre. These new large organizations are a different genre. In fact, the variety in psychological and sociological boundaries these organizations define for their consumers and their employees makes it necessary to examine unconscious biases in terms of memories that people repress or drive out. These biases influence their lives. For psychologists, unconscious biases are almost always pathological in some way. Unless of course, you’re on the school of positive psychology, where there’s a positive intent even in the most bizarre of human efforts.
For sociologists, there’s a palpable challenge to explain deviance and control of significant roles in both formal and informal groups. Sociologists define unconscious biases in terms of cultural influences that people assume are normal because of how they were raised—color of skin, attitude to genders, respect for authority, frugality, in-group and out-of-group mannerisms. For sociologists, these biases can be positive—valuing hard work—or negative—valuing self-indulgence; and yet difficult to resist sounding authoritative when verbalizing their observations of control and order in social relations.
Peoples’ core values determine their behavior in ways that they often don’t realize. For leaders, core values shape what they pay attention to and what they ignore, the kinds of subordinate behavior of which they approve, or of which they disapprove. According to Dr. Robert Hogan, President, Hogan Assessment Systems, a person’s performance as a leader will be improved by some understanding of his/her unconscious biases.
Recent understanding of self-referentiality adds to such a perspective. There are indeed distinct concepts of the self at work. It spans philosophical and psychological domains. At one level, the deep search for ‘meaning’ intersect in phenomena that imply inferences in the subjective reality of the leader and the cognitive and reflective insight that is perceived through the leader’s senses. At another level, as playwrights once pronounced, leaders arrive at their Third Act as it were with a ‘central figure’ demeanor that is the great unfolding of one’s final imprints on life.
Acts in Leadership Lives - What they Value gets played out

We assume that the First Act is about a struggle to find the individual self amongst several others to eke out a living of relative subsistence. The Second Act is about personifying a sense of relative order and mastery over social relations and basic obligations that keeps the actor on the stage without having to care for the attention that central figures get irrespective of their roles. At the Third Act, the leader taps into a longing or a desire that is an undifferentiated fuel of energy that filters through hard work and consistent pursuit born of one’s passion and yet acknowledges that the final performance may not be through the self, but a realization of humility that time ages the self beyond one’s years. An invigorating sense of Purpose beyond the Self engulfs the Third Act and a Hope born of Moral Imagination is the description of the character.
Self-Referentiality goes beyond verbal representativeness to include the autobiographical, the emotional, and the kinesthetic/motor and facial stimuli. The autobiographical self reflects the domain of memory. The reflective self is a context-dependent and embedded process of owned experience in the subjective self. In fact, self-referential processing in one’s brain constitutes the experiential self. What constitutes intrigue is however the following kinds of questions.
1.   What unites the various concepts of self, so that we speak of a self in all cases?
2.   What verifies within the self the falsity or verity of one’s self-referentiality?
3.   Being believed to be part of a collective entity, are leaders as individual selves therefore accurately perceiving their equivalence to the purpose which they define?
While these questions beg answers in the empirical world, propositional rules of logic like circularity of inference can partly explain the inter-subjective space in which social relations and psychological phenomena of humans take place. Let us look at some of Dr. Hogan’s offerings for leaders as below. On first reading, I for instance, was reminded of polarity thinking, much popularized by Barry Johnson. Hence, I append each of the ten look-out signals that border self-referential concepts with a polarity treatment that may be a shadow side to our personality.

1.   Recognition: Wanting to be the center of attention, assuming that other people need attention as much as you do, and not understanding modesty. Polarity : Wanting to avoid attention, assuming that others respect privacy as much as you as you do your own, without understanding the impact of recognition through attention.

2.   Power: Wanting to win and make a difference, assuming that other people are as competitive as you, and disliking people who lack a winning attitude. Polarity: Not wanting to domineer with a differentiating edge; assuming that other people value meekness as you do, and disliking therefore people who want to win on their own terms.

3.   Hedonism: Wanting to have fun and share experiences, assuming that other people are as fun seeking as you, and not understanding people who are overly serious. Polarity : Wanting to be conserved in energy and reserved in expression, assuming other people value intense internal reflection, and not sensing the value of compulsively fun-seeking people

4.   Altruism: Wanting to help those who are disadvantaged or victimized, assuming that others are as concerned about them as you, and not understanding the need for self-reliance. Polarity : Wanting to be self-reliant and thereby competent in one’s self-efficacy; assuming that others are as self-reliant and independent, not understanding the giving that other people engage in when the disadvantaged and victimized need assistance

5.   Affiliation: Wanting opportunities to network, assuming that others want to interact as much as you do, and not understanding people who don’t want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Polarity : Wanting to be insular and self-protective, limited in one’s free-willed interactions; not understanding people who wish to be part of other people networks as an opportunity to be bigger than themselves

6.   Tradition: Respecting hierarchy, rules, and tradition, assuming that others are as conservative as you, and disapproving of any kind of non-conformity. Polarity : Irreverent of conformity and rules, assuming that others wish to overcome rules and tradition, disapproving of those who respect hierarchy to preserve traditions.

7.   Security: Disliking risk-taking and risky activities, assuming that others are as cautious as you, and not understanding people who enjoy uncertainty and like to test the limits. Polarity : Embracing risky activities, assuming that others are as risk-taking as you, and not understanding people who are secure in certainty and confined to self-imposed limits.

8.   Commerce: Wanting to acquire concrete symbols of success, assuming that others are as materialistic as you, and not understanding people who are indifferent to money. Polarity : Indifferent to money and material acquisition, assuming that others are as frugal as you; and not understanding people who want to acquire concrete symbols of success.  

9.   Aesthetics: Wanting to be in attractive environments, assuming that others care as much about quality as you, and not understanding people who lack a sense of style. Polarity : Indifferent to style and beauty, assuming that others are as oblivious to form as you, and not understanding people who want to be in qualitatively attractive environments.

10. Science: Wanting to solve problems with logic and data, assuming others care as much about finding the right answers as you, and not understanding irrational or intuitive decisions. Polarity : Wanting to be spontaneous and non-rational in decisions, assuming others enjoy arriving at solutions intuitively, and not understanding logic and data to find more methodically solved problems.

Therefore my proposition is for leaders to treat the stage of the Third Act as a therapeutic process in which the Self comprehends the futility of staying on either end of a pole that hardens both matters of intellect and affection. While on the one hand, choice and free-will is subject to checks and balances, the projection of a higher purpose statement is born of such meaning that self-referential thinking can cognitively induce and reflectively transform for the Leader in process.