Skip to main content
How to Develop Leaders

Why Leaders Don’t Behave According to Their Beliefs

Click here to access our Getting to Candor training

At that young age, I consider myself quite the communications expert, and I could teach you a course on listening. I could teach you more about listening than you’d ever care to learn. But when I got into a conversation with someone else, and we didn’t quite see the eye to eye on something, my ability to listen, I don’t know where it went, but it completely went out the window. And so you could see that even though I really valued it, my “espoused” theory, but my ability to behave according to it was completely lacking.

And that’s a big part of the reason why I went to Columbia, because I was trying to understand why can’t I behave in the ways of these great seminars that inspired me and these books that I read. It’s quite logical, the values are solid, and yet under pressure, I keep falling short. It was a very frustrating experience for me. And then I was in Dr. Victoria Marx’s class where it was the action science module, and your students are going to go through something similar through this video course. And then I realized that, wow, I’ve got this one theory, but I have this other theory that I behave according to. And I wasn’t aware of this other theory was the thing that was really making me behave in particular ways. And that’s what Chris called model one, and that’s what I’m calling the overprotective program. And he studied, as I understand it, some 15,000 people.

So the way we do this research, again, it’s an action science approach to research. There’s acts and research. So we look at what people actually do in real life, not some personality to us, not what they say they do, because we know from the research that self-reporting is highly unreliable, because it’s very hard to know how you’re behaving when you’re in the middle of behaving, right? Another way to say it, there’s a southern folk expression which is, it’s hard to see the label from inside the jar. The outside label from inside the jar.

And he noticed that this theory in use that catches us all out and covers itself up, has certain dimensions that are useful for the solving of more simple problems. But when we employ this theory in use… It’s subconscious, okay. When we employ this theory in use to solve novel problems, complex problems, problems that require other people and/or ourselves to change, it has severe liabilities. And in a nutshell, it has, I give it four dimensions, comfort, control, competition, and condemnation.

So comfort is, and probably people will resonate to this, is I may believe in being honest, right? And we got to, because it’s so important to be candid, because we can’t solve any problem that we can’t talk to each other about openly and honestly. So candor is vital. So that’s my espoused theory, right? I really believe it. Man, but I also like to keep things comfortable. I don’t want to get into some difficult conversation where there’s potential for conflict. And again, what Chris saw is, and that’s more my espoused theory, that that espoused theory will override my theory in use, I’m sorry, my theory in use around comfort will override my espoused theory around candor. And so that’s just an illustration.

Or let’s say I really believe in curiosity, right? That’s my espoused theory. I’m not sure which place of the screen to put it, but then I also have this theory in use of competition. Like I want to win and not lose. I want to be right and not wrong. So the hell with curiosity. Under real life circumstances, when I feel like something I care about is potentially going to be threatened, it could be my credibility, it could be my relationship, it could be the goals I want to accomplish, then what often will happen is this competition gene will kick in and override my good espoused theory around curiosity.

And so Chris looked at, I’m told about 15,000 documented interactions. You can call them personal case studies, which your students are going to do, where people’s attempt to talk about real issues didn’t produce the results they wanted. My colleagues and I have subsequently looked at 30,000, and in 45,000 out of 45,000 instances, at a minimum, in terms of a data sample, the theory in use was this thing that Chris calls model one. It blocked people from according to their better theories of action, which were both more effective and consistent with their real values. And made them blind to it, and also made them highly ineffective in these important leadership interactions.

And again, 45,000. 45,000 instances across companies, cultures, and countries every single time. So it’s one of the most important discoveries in the field of organizational behavior since the 1950s, and it’s one of the most highly researched ones. But of course, because it was so challenging to the status quo in the field, people promptly forgot about it and took Chris’s work and said, “Let’s just talk about the ladder of inference.” But this discovery around this universal subconscious theory in use called model one is a huge discovery by Chris, because it blocks people from behaving according to valuable things they’ve learned, and according to their higher values and principles, and makes people blind to that fact.

Leave a Reply