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Team Effort

June 26, 2009

Selecting people for high-stress, high-stakes assignments is among a leader’s toughest jobs.  How do you know someone has the experience, maturity, intelligence, skill, and empathy to carry out these responsibilities reliably, that is to say without producing unwelcome collateral damage?

The more responsible the position, the more difficult it is to separate one’s personal and professional lives.  Efforts in one area often impact the other, and vice versa.  As such, it seems only appropriate to look at the whole person when considering someone’s suitability for a leadership role.

In Crisis Leadership, Ian Mitroff, examines the relationship between cognitive preferences and framing.  He notes that people tend to develop preferences for dealing either with people or things, and similarly tend to exhibit strengths at either end of a range from the very specific to the very general.  Industrial and organizational psychologists often use the Meyers-Briggs and other Jungian personality type indicator tests to identify these preferences in candidates.

None of these potential biases is clearly preferable to the others according to Mitroff.  Indeed, all of them have a place in managing the risks associated with crises.  In fact, he argues, effective strategies depend upon addressing all four combinations of these preferences.

Those with a people-specific orientation see issues in terms of individual relationships or small group dynamics.  Those with people-general orientations tend to see issues from the perspective of broad social goals or social values, and may even exhibit moralistic tendencies.  Thing-specific people tend to attend issues from the perspective of the tools or technologies required to get the job done.  And people with a thing-general persuasion tend to be interested in how or why things work and find themselves drawn to innovative or abstract ideas.

Clearly, crises demand broad-spectrum interventions.  People who do well in disasters tend to be centered morally or spiritually, and display adaptability despite their personal preferences.  Resilience, the ability to respond rapidly and resourcefully with robust solutions, comes from the ability to appreciate and apply all of these perspectives.

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