we get what we expect

“Tell me about the people at the organization you just left,” said the senior manager who was screening candidates to fill a key leadership role. “They were uneducated and lazy,” the candidate responded. “You always had to keep an eye on them because they were constantly trying to goof off or rip off the company. They were lousy communicators, resisted change, and only cared about themselves.” “That’s too bad,” replied the senior manager, “I am sorry to say that’s the same type of people you’ll find here. This doesn’t sound like a job you would enjoy.”

Once the next candidate was seated, she was asked the same question. “Oh, they were great,” she said. “Although many of them couldn’t read, and we had some trouble communicating with each other, they were very driven to succeed. Once we all got to know each other, they were constantly helping one other and working together.” “Great,” the senior manager responded, “That’s the same type of people you’ll find here.”

The American poet and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, said “There is no rule more invariable than that we are paid for our suspicions by finding what we suspected.” Physicists, philosophers, and psychologists are probing ever deeper into the murky realms of reality. It’s becoming ever clearer that our perceptions really do create our reality. That’s especially true in leadership.

Tomorrow we publish my November blogs in the December issue of The Leader Letter. This issue features a powerful new book by historian and author, Rutger Bregman. The Guardian describes him as “the Dutch wunderkind of new ideas.” Humankind: A Hopeful History provides new perspectives on 200,000 years of human history. My review below highlights a number of its key points counterbalancing so many negative views on the “reality” of human nature.

Bregman digs deep into the origins of many negative assumptions about humanity. His research and historical perspective show core values and assumptions that stunt leadership effectiveness and cause so many organizations and nations to fail.

“One of the effects of power, myriad studies show, is that it makes you see others in a negative light. If you’re powerful you’re more likely to think most people are lazy and unreliable. That they need to be supervised and monitored, managed and regulated, censored and told what to do. And because power makes you feel superior to other people, you’ll believe all this monitoring should be entrusted to you.”

This also explains why some extraordinary leaders are so effective at building thriving, highly effective organizational cultures. As you’ll see in this issue, The Fish Tank Factor creates a very different reality. Based on trust, a growth mindset, and treating people as responsible partners, highly effective leaders build nurturing environments where everyone thrives. Countless studies show the reality of those approaches lead to much higher performance for investors, customers, communities, employees, and the environment.

We don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are. What are your assumptions about the reality of human nature?