“Small steps can make a big difference”
Psychologist Michael Gielnik has developed a program for the leadership app Leada. In this interview he explains why minor actions can have major effects ? and reveals why the Leadership Advancement Program might be interesting for non-leaders too.
Mr Gielnik, you wrote a 12-weeks program for the leadership app Leada that sends its users two short messages per day. Is that really enough to improve leadership?
MICHAEL GIELNIK: Absolutely! But I know where you?re going.
GIELNIK: Talking about leadership and leadership behavior, everybody immediately thinks of Barack Obama and Steve Jobs ? huge, far-reaching decisions and all that.
Why is that wrong?
GIELNIK: It?s not ? but we have to be aware that these examples are somewhat extreme. Most leaders don?t give speeches in the Oval Office or present the new iPhone …
… instead, they explain Microsoft Outlook to their employees.
GIELNIK: Sure, why not? Leadership behavior is a broad, complex and dynamic topic. And many of the things that actually make changes might seem very small, maybe even irrelevant at first.
Your position is that these tiny aspects are, in fact, central?
GIELNIK: Yes. If you look at leadership from a broader perspective, you realize that it is constituted by many micro-processes and only a few macro-processes. And it?s the micro-processes that make the difference. The way I act, the way I communicate ? these are the decisive aspects.
How do you address this in the Leadership Advancement Program?
GIELNIK: Users receive two messages per day. In psychological terms, you might call these micro-interventions or low-threshold impulses ?
? ?low-threshold? because I receive them on my smartphone.
GIELNIK: Exactly. They are bound neither to place nor to time. Also, they are extremely short ? a few sentences, that?s all. But they encourage users to reflect on their behavior. That is key.
And this works?
GIELNIK: Yes, that has been proven time and again. Daily behavioral impulses, however brief, can have huge effects. Ultimately, they can change who we are.
Does this mean that steady routines might re-shape my personality?
GIELNIK: In some way, yes. We often think of personality as of something fixed ? something you just have, like your blood type. But on closer inspection you realize that the multiple facets of personality are very dynamic and depend a lot on behavior. If I start improving my behavior ? just a little bit, but regularly ?, then this will have effect on my idea of myself. And this, in turn, might shape my personality. In this sense, small steps can make a big difference.
How did you incorporate these ideas into the program?
GIELNIK: Let me give you an example. Amongst others, the Leadership Advancement Program discusses the principles of transformational leadership. This is a leadership style that focusses, among other aspects, on the individual employee, his goals and needs. In this framework, the employee is not just a transactional partner, but a complex human being. Now, being a transformational leader requires that I permanently ask myself: What is my employee?s current situation? What does he need right now? What should I keep him away from? And so on. Our program help its user keep these questions in mind. It will, thereby, support him in acting like a transformational leader. It will remind him of the ideas of transformational leadership, it will put forward concrete actions and so on.
… and if a user acts like a transformational leader, eventually he?ll end up being one?
GIELNIK: In highly simplified terms ? yes. Personality grounds in behavior, and behavior is something that we might control.
Will 12 weeks be sufficient to achieve this kind of fundamental change?
GIELNIK: Certainly not. But 12 weeks will be sufficient to achieve two smaller goals: First, we create awareness for the fact that positive behavioral changes may be achieved by comparatively small measures. Second: 12 weeks will be enough to create some small successes. And these will make the users realize that they can, in fact, change and improve. This is all that we want to achieve: Make people understand the program?s purpose and make them understand that it does, indeed, work.
… as this will trigger the wish to go on with the improvement.
Who is the program for?
GIELNIK: Very basically, the Leadership Advancement Program is for everybody who has a smartphone, a few minutes per day and the willingness to change for the better. Users don?t necessarily need to be in leadership positions ? the principles of self-improvement that we put forward are universal.
Michael Gielnik is Professor for HR Development at Leuphana University Lüneburg.
The Leadership Advancement Program for Leada starts globally on March 11th. The program is entirely free. Registration is open.
LEADA is the app for leadership. Through nano-impulses, LEADA encourages its users to observe and optimize their leadership behavior. LEADA offers various corporate solutions.