Avoiding Dissonant Behavior

In previous postings we explored that our beliefs (what we think) and attitudes (how we think) drive our intentions. And...intentions determine a leader’s motive which often highlights the character of a leader.

But what about this final piece...our behavior? How do our intentions equate to actual behavior...manifest from our decisions…ultimately resulting in our actions?

LRN #11 Graph

Intentions are likely predictors of actual behavior, but is this always the case?

"When we believe that a specific behavior reflects our values but do not behave congruently with those values, our actions are dissonant with our beliefs and espoused intentions." (Caldwell, 2010)

  • Constant self-awareness and reflection is needed to ensure our actions meet our intent. As leaders do we make this a common practice?
  • The challenge is knowing ourselves, engaging in "objective self-examination" and then modifying our behaviors. The latter is always the hardest part, but why?

"Possessing an accurate assessment of ourselves is critical to goal achievement and enables individuals to 'inoculate against self-deception.'" (Caldwell, 2010)

Enter Behavioral Ethics...

  • An integrated discipline that includes psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics
  • Provides an understanding of oneself and how being human impacts our ethicality that is essential to translate ethical awareness, ethical judgment and ethical intent into ethical action

This week at NLEC, we had a great engagement with Dr. Cara Biasucci from University of Texas and creator of a tremendous series on behavioral ethics called Ethics Unwrapped. In her series "Being Your Best Self" her video on "Moral Action" clearly lays out the three attributes that shape our intentions into action:

  • Moral Ownership
  • Moral Efficacy,
  • Moral Courage.

Only 11:00 minutes long, this video is a great example of her work - not to mention the myriad of “snackable” information and definitions found in the glossary.

Now...If our intentions are true then why would our behavior or actions be any different...?

In the HBR article, "Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions", Campbell, Whitehead and Finkelstein explore this concept. Here you can see how executives who were highly qualified for their jobs, made decisions that were clearly wrong; even though their intentions were true.

"The reality is that important decision made by intelligent, responsible people with the best information and intentions are sometimes hopelessly flawed." (Campbell, et. al, 2009)

The idea of "pattern recognition" and "emotional tagging" is brought to light. When individuals are faced with a new situation, they make assumptions based on prior experiences and judgments. As described in the article, a chess master can assess a chess game and choose the right move in a matter of seconds based on their prior performance and understanding of the game; but pattern recognition can also lead us astray... Our brains can cause us to think we understand situations even when we don’t.

Our greatest asset can become our ultimate liability!

"Our brains leap to conclusions and are reluctant to consider alternatives; we are particularly bad at revisiting our initial assessment of a situation." (Campbell, et. al, 2009)

We become creatures of habit and train our brain to build a "default" mechanism for our behavior, actions and our decisions. As leaders, do we make the best choice for the situation at hand or do we default to what was true before?