Friday, 21 December 2012

Fifth day of Christmas digested: Existential Eric

Today is dedicated to Existential Eric, who is asking himself the question: what do I want to be? Maybe the Eric in your life is still at school, or someone arriving at a turning point later in life.,, either way, give them the gift of guidance to make their decisions a little easier.

Is leadership for Eric?

The best leaders often emerge from a match between their background and that of the group that they lead (and this year's New Psychology of Leadership is definitely giftable on that front). But there is consistent research linking individual traits to leadership effectiveness, a recent study even suggesting that these can be identified at school age.

Give a Warning: if your Eric is bullish about getting ahead and being in charge, you might want to give them a bit of farsighted wisdom: evidence suggests that people who make their way into management roles and then implode often possess a set of antagonistic traits summarised as 'moving against' others. Eric would need to discover how to manage his behaviours in order to manage others - or he's setting himself up for a fall.

Give Encouragement: conversely, if your Eric is cautious and preoccupied with their impact on others, there is actually evidence that they may be fit for leadership. You are more likely to be perceived as a good leader if you are prone to feelings of guilt - but not shame, the difference being that guilt is accompanied by an urge to take action (rather than hide in your room). Not only that, the guilt-prone are rated as actually being better leaders in both experimental and workplace situations.

Where to go

Where indeed! Your Eric might take a moment to consider following the family way: family firms have unique features that make them perform differently and form particular cultures.

They might want to do the opposite: pack their bags and see the world. The army is one time-honoured route for this, but it's worth their considering whether they will make it past training; recent research looks at the risk factors, which are complex but throw up some ideas, such as forming clear routines, and not joining up simply due to lack of options elsewhere. They should be aware, however, that military training appears to affect personality, damping down the flourishing of agreeableness that normally accompanies the movement into adulthood.

They might want to try something random: the 'happiest place on earth', where they will get to learn about customer-delighting techniques that are getting rolled out in more and more organisations, or they might want to take a grittier job that exposes them to all walks of life: that was one of the appeals reported by sex shop workers in this article on 'dirty work' occupations

Ultimately though, evidence again and again points at the importance of getting a job that you want. Intrinsic motivation - enjoying your work - leads to better managerial performance, and for all types of workers being involved with work that interests you leads to better performance, much more so than traditionally understood. Even training outcomes are influenced by being in your job of choice.

Finally, if your Eric is at a waypoint in later life and trying to figure out directions, he could do worse than consider his alternative self: who he could have been had he made other decisions. This seems a promising way to inform life decisions and crystallise understanding about your own strengths and weaknesses.

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