Have you ever noticed that most crooks, even after they are caught, will claim they were not criminals? According to David Luban, social psychology can offer an answer. It is called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs whenever our conduct clashes with our principles in a way that threatens our self-image as a right, moral person.
Dissonance is the inner tension that is created when opposing forces face each other.
- You know that smoking is bad for you while liking to smoke.
- You know that lying is wrong, and yet you feel forced to lie.
- You know speeding is against the law, but you are late for your appointment.
All of these situations and thousands more create these opposing tensions.
Cognitive dissonance, according to Luban, says that wired into all of us is a fundamental drive to reduce this tension.
Most of you reading this are not crooks, you are leaders, but the concept is the same. When you act in a way that is in opposition to your character or leadership principles, a battle ensues. Maybe you have taken credit for the work of another. You didn’t mean to, you know it isn’t right, and yet when the praises came it just felt so good that you didn’t say anything.
Years of research on the topic of Cognitive Dissonance have shown that when our actions collide with our principles, our principles will swing into agreement with our actions. And yet as we sit and watch others, we judge them saying, “How could they act that way? They know better."
As leaders, this is dangerous! We justify our actions by finding ways around what we truly know is right.
I have been reflecting this week on a quote one of the readers of this blog sent to me (Thank you, Lynn) in response to Monday's post:
“Integrity is never being afraid of your own reflection” - Unknown Author
On Monday, I wrote that the great writer CS Lewis says that the problem with your pride is that it is in competition with everyone else’s pride. I believe what Lewis writes is true. Cognitive Dissonance would say that pride is also competitive with our principles, beliefs, and values.
This is why integrity, or living by your principles, is a key to successful leadership.
Realizing that your principles are always in battle against your pride is the first step to solving the conflict between the opposing forces. Writing down your leadership principles can also help. Sharing this with a mentor or accountability partner is another great step in preventing this battle from occurring.
Have a great weekend, Scott
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