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Are You Surrounding Yourself With Aliens?

Posted by on in Leadership
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Real leaders aren't aliens, and they don't surround themselves with them either.Neil Gupta - @drneilgupta.jpgIt was the same reaction as a song getting stuck in my head where I keep singing it throughout the day. When I was a kid, I distinctly remember watching an episode of the aliens in Sesame Street like this one.

What made me remember it to this day, are those aliens repeatedly saying "Yep, Yep, Yep" ad nauseam.  It stuck in my head, and I know I spent days walking around the house annoying my parents and brothers responding to everything they said with the same, distinctive response.

To this day, I still catch myself having the alien image and internal response when surrounded by others who always agree with the leader on everything.  I can't stand it when I am encountered by mindless, agreeing aliens!  No matter what is being said, followers line up responding with, "Yep, Yep Yep".

They agree with whatever the leader says...no matter what.  All the time.  But, at the same time, I am equally as frustrated when leaders intimidate or combat responses adversarially, only to coerce others to agree or else suffer the consequences.  Even more frustrating than that, I hate it when I walk away from a meeting reflecting on my own alien response buckling under the pressure or pleasure of the leader, instead of focusing on the goal or issue by providing feedback or an idea I think may be better.

The problem is that the leader may not be aware they are surrounding themselves with aliens, but they need to expose them right away.  A litmus test in determining whether you are surrounded by aliens is reflecting on whether you have been challenged or had push back on ideas recently.   Being challenged, in a professional manner, is healthy.  

Leaders should overtly develop and cultivate a healthy "Team Dissonance", in which members share their ideas without repercussions.  Team Dissonance is a fundamental belief in productive teams which understand the collective genius of the room. 

In order to stop being surrounded by aliens, it's important for leaders to self-reflect on their attitudes and motives:  

Is it really about me or the team achieving the goal?

Am I monitoring the team's attitude regarding of compliance versus commitment?

What does the silence in the room mean - thinking time or fear of speaking up?

Am I really looking for input or feedback? 

With the proper gut check to determine whether you are attracting aliens, there are "3 Needs" which need to take place to keep them out!

1. You need to remember that you don't know everything. Are you comfortable knowing that others may know more than you?

2. You need to monitor your reaction to disagreement from others regarding an idea you gave. Are you open to the critical feedback, or do you take it personally?

3. You need to create a culture of Team Dissonance. Do you create agendas in which you foster opposing views to be shared in the spirit of putting all ideas on the table?

Be careful - aliens walk among us.  Leaders need to look for the signs on an on-going basis, and monitor their own demeanor and reactions in order to allow for free thinking and challenged debate for the benefit of the team.

If you are going to agree with everything I say, what do I need you for-Neil Gupta - @drneilgupta

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  • Guest
    Jonathon Wennstrom Wednesday, 03 August 2016


    Thanks for the reminder that we need people on our team to challenge our thinking and help us grow (in a respectful manner). We also need to have the courage to speak up for the good of students with our leaders as well. When we model that, our team members will do the same. Thanks again!

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Guest Monday, 15 July 2019