In 1989, Kenwyn Smith published a study entitled “Fix the Women”, describing a consulting situation characterized by fighting between two women in a troubled unit of a state hospital. After assessing the behaviors, the researchers determined the women’s hostility was actually fueled by feelings of competitiveness among the three senior men in the unit.
This is a phenomenon called parallel process thinking: when dynamics of one system are picked up and enacted by another system. In this case, the competitive dynamics of the men in the hospital unit fueled the conflict between these two women.
Consultants don’t always think of the theories associated with the work we do. They become part of us and our work. We talk to people and through years of experience, theories in behavioral science organically drive what we do, how we speak to people, how we solve problems, how we help, and how we advise.
When focusing on results with clients, especially within a limited timeframe, energy is usually spent toward practical application. But this theory is important because it affects everybody. If you can understand parallel process thinking, then it has potential to serve as a guide for better problem-solving.
The topic of leadership is so fascinating and vastly studied these days; it’s not surprising that the field of leadership development has grown exponentially over the past few decades. Qualities of great leaders are studied, as is emotional intelligence and how successful leaders can work with it.
The topic that hasn’t received as much traction yet, however, is overconfidence in leadership, and how detrimental it can be for organizational health.
Stereotypically, great leaders are charismatic and confident.
“Hey, what’s wrong with that?”, you may wonder. “They’re real go-getters. Not afraid to take risks.”
This may be true, but there is also merit in recognizing that many great leaders are simply not the most charismatic. In fact, though confidence may be necessary in certain instances, it is overconfidence that becomes dangerous and negates good leadership qualities.
In our quickly expanding, technologically reliant world, uncertainty and interdependence are far more common now than, say, 30 years ago. This rapid change has given way to agile organization structures, functioning in more democratic or flat ways. Frameworks (i.e. Scrum, XP, Lean) have aided these sort of initiatives, and the need for them has become increasingly more relevant.