The Myth Of The Rational Leader – Why Spock Could Never Run A Business

June 4, 2019 Chris

3,957 views Nov 11, 2018, 04:58am

Chris Pearse Contributor I write about the realities and challenges of leadership.

3D Illustration of Human Brain with Nervous System Anatomy

3D Illustration of Human Brain with Nervous System Anatomy GETTY

Since the Enlightenment, Logic and Reason have been venerated as the only means to cut through the nebulous feelings that cloud judgement and distract us from the ‘right’ answer.

The notion that analysis and rationale are the primary tools of leadership are epitomised by the popular maxim:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it

However, this is a misquote – Deming, an Electrical Engineer and the father of Total Quality Management, condemned the idea as a ‘costly myth’.

Significantly, we measure outputs on the basis that they are ‘tangible’. We even have a collective name for these tangibles: KPIs or Key Performance Indicators, which are often the sole means of assessing the quality of an organisation.

Yet, on closer inspection, the idea that any of these measures is tangible becomes risible. Tangibility is the quality of touchability – something that is tangible can be touched or felt. But when was the last time you touched and felt EPS (earnings per share), Inventory Turnover or even Net Profit?

So not only do we mistake tangibility with abstract organisational constructs such as KPIs, but we also, in our ignorance, miss the real tangibles in our lives – feelings.

Also, contrary to received wisdom, feelings cannot be measured. Although attempts to assess feelings are made by asking individuals how they feel ‘on a scale of 1 to 10’, in practice this is neither rigorous, accurate nor repeatable. To measure any variable there needs to be a benchmark unit of measurement – a Volt, a Metre, a Kelvin. What are the units of Trust, Happiness or Anger that apply to any human in any situation?

So why are feelings important if they can’t be measured?

Feeling is the determining factor behind all our decision making. Without feeling, there is no action, no urge for change. The power of feelings to move is reflected in the related word emotion.

Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the field of Emotional Intelligence, in his book of the same name, provides a stark example of how central feelings are to our ability to function as leaders:

When Elliot’s brain tumour was removed, he underwent a drastic personality change. He could no longer hold down his job as a successful corporate lawyer. There was nothing wrong with Elliot’s logic, memory, attention or other cognitive abilities, yet he was oblivious to his feelings over what had happened to him. His thinking had become computer-like: able to analyse but unable to prioritise or take decisions.

Goleman states: ‘Formal logic alone can never work as the basis for whom to marry or trust or even what job to take; these are realms where reason without feeling is blind’

With feelings being central to our capacity to make decisions, respond to our environment and lead a team of people or an organisation, leaders need to respect their power.

This is not for one moment to discount the need for measurement, analysis, reason and logic, but just to assign them their proper status as necessary, but not sufficient.

In fact when you observe the mental sequence of events take place, you can perceive clearly how the rational process, when allowed to unfold, will impact the way we feel about an issue and influence the outcome accordingly.

In this context, leadership is about creating an environment in which people feel ‘right’ and that any feeling to the contrary is used by the individual or the collective to adapt.

Spock, of course, was half-human, not fully Vulcan, and he did occasionally betray an emotional dimension to his being. The longer we consider this to be a weakness and discount it, rather than exploit the immense power it gives us, the poorer we all are.

So to summarise:

  • KPIs are intangible
  • Tangibles – feelings – cannot be measured
  • All decisions are determined by feeling
  • Reason informs feeling
  • Leadership needs feelings

I help leaders accelerate their development and impact through a deepened awareness of our inner dynamics – the belief systems and emotions that shape our leadership. Discover more here…

Chris Pearse

Chris Pearse Contributor

I am an Executive Coach to leaders across diverse sectors including FTSE100s and SMEs. I am also an Interim CEO.