I’m really excited to share today’s episode featuring Jen Thornton! We dive into the addiction of being right; what it is and how it impacts the leader and the people that they interact with on a regular basis. Our talk today will provide you with a better understanding of why some leaders are the way that they are and as well as some advice to help you avoid the same traps yourself as you grow in your leadership walk. -ZH

Zack Hudson: Jen, welcome to Passing the Baton podcast. So glad to have you with us today.

Jen Thornton: Thank you for having me. It’s going to be fun!

ZH: I agree, I’m looking forward to our time. So to help our Baton Carriers across the world get to know you a little bit; tell us about your journey as a leader and then some things that you’re working on right now that you are excited about.

JT: So, my leadership journey started when I was actually pretty young. I won’t give out my age, but it was before the Internet was popular and everyone hung out the mall and I wanted to work at the mall. I got to work at the mall and I started my career in retail, so I was leading teams and running a good-sized business.

So that started my leadership journey, and I spent about half of my career in operations and retail and the other half of my career in HR.  During the last chapter, I was able to work in great countries like Hong Kong and the UK and Mexico and all over the place had a ton of fun doing it.

But you know, I think what I discovered is it’s hard enough to align executives if you add language barriers and culture barriers….. and it’s really fun trying to align executives, and that’s what I got really passionate about.

Once I really fell in love with that alignment and that process of really strategically looking at talent, I decided to take a leap of faith and almost four years ago open my own consulting firm and that’s what we do today. Here at 304 coaching and we get to help people create incredible talent strategies to match their business strategies.

ZH: Yeah, I love that we have a lot of similar journeys. Actually, I did retail too for quite a while and now I’m in HR these days and in the healthcare industry, so it’s different backgrounds obviously, but similar journey, similar passions.

Let’s jump into our topic today. because we’re talking about being addicted to right and the seven deadly sins of leadership. We are going to tackle this whole concept of leaders falling into this trap of being addicted to being right. Can you unpack that a little bit on what that means and how do we get to this point?

JT: The thing that’s really interesting about the human mind is, you know everything we do is really driven by chemical responses within our brain and what we know about the brain.  We’ve made some great learning breakthroughs over the last 20 years and new research continues to come out as we explore addiction.

Addiction is basically at its simplest form, a dopamine hit, so we get it from sugar or shopping, retail, whatever our addiction might be. We get a little dopamine hit and it makes us excited and happy. What we also know is you need a little bit more the next time to get that same high.

When we are right and we prove to someone that we know what to do and we’ve made a great decision. Guess what?

We also get that same exact dopamine hit!

Over time if we start to enjoy that dopamine hit a little too much, then the next time we have to be more right and we actually start to form an addiction to that dopamine hit for when we are right.

I think we all know that person that maybe we worked with early in their career and they were super smart and climbed the ladder fast and just always knew like how to tackle a project or do something, and then before we know it, we’re like, man, they’re just not even themselves anymore.

They used to be really open minded and collaborative, and now they’re combative and you can’t tell them the truth. That person obviously has become incredibly addicted to their own viewpoint and what’s important to them, and they start pressuring other people to believe what they want them to believe, and to think what they want them to think. They want everyone to fall in line and agree with everything that keeps their addiction going.

ZH: You know that’s a good point that it’s not necessarily that I wake up and I’m the bad guy, right. It’s a gradual process and I think that dopamine hit is underappreciated for his impact in steering our decisions both personally and professionally.

So how does the addiction to being right negatively influenced relationships and results around them?

JT: It’s interesting when you start to think about these people and I’m sure all your listeners probably have somewhere in their mind instantly thinking, oh that’s what’s going on with that person, right? What we start to see is when that starts to happen in the workplace, it’s incredibly dangerous for the future of the organization, because when people stop telling the truth to their leaders, they start just agreeing to agree so that they’re not in trouble.

The leaders of your organizations then no longer know what’s important.

They no longer know the truth about your product or your customer, or the things you need to really run your business. We also find that there is a lot of punishment, so if you don’t think the way that I tell you to and you don’t talk the way I tell you to then you will be punished because you know you’re out of step in out of line.

We need people out of stepping out of line in the workplace because that’s actually innovation, right? Innovation is stepping outside of that line, but if you’ve created this environment where you will be punished for stepping out of line because you know the executive or executives are so passionate about their beliefs, then it can be incredibly difficult.

I always use the example of Kodak.

They had the actual first digital camera, but their executives honestly said to the creator that no one would ever want to watch their pictures or will get their photos on the TV. So they thought it was a ridiculous idea and they shelved it. Now, Kodak is really no longer the Kodak that we all remember, and they walked away from that project because they had made assumptions and didn’t listen to the creators in their company.

ZH: That example really leans into some of the ideas about the seven deadly sins of Leadership, right? The seven deadly sins are often referred to across cultures across the world and you can tie those back to leadership pitfalls and traps. Just a refresher they are;

  • Pride
  • Greed
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Sloth

Why don’t you pull out a couple of these in and talk about the impact that it has on leaders that you hear a lot about.

JT: we’ve already talked a little bit about Wrath. You know, “If you don’t think the way I think, there will be punishment.” You can see this in some meetings.

 If you’re a leader and you ask your team really difficult question and they all look at each other and don’t say a word they’re waiting for you to tell them how they are supposed to think.

The reason why is if they think incorrectly, you’re going to lash out to them and that’s one of the first signs of the consequences of wrath and one of the ones I see the most often as punishing people for not thinking the way you think.

When I think of sloth, one of the telltale signs of the addiction to being right is telling everyone how to do their job even though you have never done the job yourself. They have no idea how to do the other person’s job and they carry about saying. “You’ve got to do this and you should do that,” but they aren’t willing to do it themselves. They are so deep in their addiction they think they’re an expert in everything.

“Giving advice” but they’re not willing to do the work or actually learn it either.

Envy is another one. The brain actually enjoys status. It actually wants status, because status provides a validation, and confidence and allows your brain to feel safer to go out and explore and do better.

But when you’re addicted to being right, you start to get so attached to the feeling. You want to have status. You want people to be envious of you and that also starts to build over time.

All the deadly sins of Leadership can begin to play in on each other.

ZH: As you think about leaders in your life and some of these concepts, it may be an “ah-ha” moment of realization on why the person acted the way that they did.  Our leader can become addicted to being right without even realizing it times, and that’s really what we started out with.

Our listeners may even see a little bit of this in themselves as they hold up this concept of being addicted to being right to the proverbial mirror.

Let’s walk through some practical steps that we can begin to grow through this trap.

JT: When I think about this issue, we all have a little bit of of these characteristics.  

  1. Watch your team around you, watch how they respond to you if you ask them a really challenging question about the business, one that you know where someone might be a little free to tell you the real truth.

If they don’t tell you the truth, you know you have a problem.

  • Put your team in a room and ask them, “What’s the one thing we did last year that wasn’t great for the business?” See if they actually tell you.  If they don’t, then there’s a good chance that you’ve created an environment where honesty is not popular.
  • The other thing too is I always ask leaders ask themselves as they’re driving home, “Did I learn something today from someone on my team?” If you aren’t learning from people that you’ve hired around you, then you’re probably hanging on to this addiction a little bit, or there’s a piece of it that we all have to manage.

The first step is to get your team to kind of jolt out of it, right?

You have to kind of do something big for them to see that things might be changing around here or communication style might change.  One of my favorite exercises to do with clients is to have what I call a crazy idea meeting where you present a problem that needs to be solved.

In this example, maybe you have a product that’s down let’s say 5%

Tell your team, “Hey, at Thursday at this time we’re going to talk about how we can get our numbers up with product X.”

Now if you say to them, “We’re going to go brainstorm, or I want your feedback,” you’ve instantly created fear and you’ve shut down their prefrontal cortex, which means they can’t actually think of new ideas.

If you’re that leader who thinks no one can think of new ideas, it’s because they’re in fear of you.

In the meeting let the team know that you want their ideas. You want ridiculous ideas! You want crazy ideas, and in fact, you’re going to reward people for the most ridiculous ideas they bring to the table. That tells people that they are not going to be judged because they’re right or wrong.

If it’s really insane and impossible, celebrate it even more because you’re letting people know that things are changing and you can celebrate big thinking and big ideas.

Put all those ideas out there, and even though all those ideas may be impossible, what’s really cool is there’s going to be some underlying themes that you’re going to find. Things will start to fall out of that meeting that are actually really usable and they’ll come out in a way in which allows people to use their brain and tell the truth and help you start to stretch yourself and get used to people telling you the truth.

Get used to not knowing the answer and then after the meeting, give out your awards. Hopefully, it’s just a bragging right, right? That’s all people need is to brag that they had the idea.

Make sure that you send him a follow-up email, thanking them for their time and then letting them know that you appreciated all of their ideas and their innovation and that you appreciate them speaking up.

ZH: I love that example and the intentionality to show people that you’re willing to change and that you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone.

You need to recognize the addiction because your team obviously recognizes it You’re providing affirmation with your team and encouraging them to be honest and giving them a chance to earn trust from you right as a leader.  It helps them see that they can put themselves out there in a weird or, crazy idea kind of way, and I’m be affirmed instead of being slapped on the wrist.

You talk about the strategy to combat the addiction to being right as part of this idea of conversational intelligence. Tell us a little bit more about what that means.

JT: Conversation intelligence is education. You may start to think about emotional intelligence, but conversation intelligence really goes one step further, and the reason that it starts to stretch you is because it starts to teach you.

When you think about the way that many of us were taught to lead was the idea that “I’m the boss and I’m right and I have to have the answers.  I am the person offering you experiences and knowledge, not the other way around.”

It’s very fear-based.

When we are in fear or are judged or feel like we might not be a part of the tribe, our brain kicks in and it’s that section that is built there to keep us alive.

Back in the day, you know it kept us in the cave and made sure we didn’t get eaten by the big Dinosaur. It kept you really safe and that’s its purpose.  In today’s world, your brain still tries to keep you safe, so if you’re at work and you start to feel judged or you are in fear for your job. Your primitive brain kicks in and your prefrontal cortex closes down.

It’s then much harder for you to learn because that’s the part of our brain where we learn. If you’re struggling at work and fearful for your job, it’s actually going to be even harder for you under this type of bad leader.

Conversation intelligence helps us understand how to use our language to create incredibly deep trusting conversations and to ask questions that we don’t know the answer to. It’s learning from people so that we can create environments where we get the most out of our team and our team is really high functioning and happy while doing a great job and creating great results.

ZH: It’s been such a great time understanding how our addiction to being can right can impact ourselves and those around us. Tell us how our baton carriers can find you out there and where they can connect with you.

JT: you can find us at 304coaching.com. We have a ton of resources. We even have a guide to having a crazy meeting, so hopefully, if you’re driving you didn’t take notes, just go down with the guide and connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love to continue the conversation. You can find me at Jennifer Thornton ACC.