Change Lessons from Psychopathic Toddlers?

Proto-psychopath or normally developing brain?Two leading criminologists (see below) at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington have presented studies that they suggest show that violent tendencies may have a biological basis. They believe brain scans on children as young as 3 could identify the future violent and criminal.

What a marvellous idea – that through the marvels of science (rather than messy interaction and assessment), we may identify those who do not conform to our community norms and that we may do so when they are still small enough not to be really dangerous. Even better and very comfortingly, if behaviour is an inevitable result of biology (rather than nurture or environment), then surely nothing may be done to change it. The attraction of the thesis is obvious.

Of course, there is one glaringly obvious flaw. Ask any parent; small kids daily demonstrate psychopathic and anti social tendencies in their almost complete disregard for the wishes and concerns of others. Then they grow up.

Caution is always needed with these discourses – remember phrenology, eugenics and genetic predetermination? They pander to our understandable reluctance to manage difference. Perhaps relevant for a governmental department which is able to make people do things, and a prison service that acts as a final destination storage facility for those who will not or cannot conform. They are particularly damaging when it comes to creating and changing high performing organisations. Building an organisation of ‘People Like Us’ (homogeneity), is not great for success in the fast moving complex markets of the global economy.

The comfort in sameness is understandable. Managing people from very different backgrounds is difficult as it requires the manager to stay adult. It usually challenges the manager’s assumptions about behaviour which will have been built up since childhood – be it how stress (emotion) should be expressed, how women should behave, or the place of people of different sexuality. For high IQ managers, who have often had the personal advantage of a relatively stable upbringing and education, it may be particularly onerous.

With change destroying networks, fracturing teams and making new demands upon existing staff, (never mind the incomers), even once apparently staid ‘people like us’ can suddenly become fractious and difficult. With the pressures of revenue and profit delivery, it is easier to not even try – just buy the myth, the software that promises automated work processes and oust those who complain. Yet the rewards for just a little effort are immense; re-invigorated individuals, engaged and high performing teams, continuity of knowledge and external relationships.

The challenge for senior teams and CEOs is to find of way of helping their managers improve their skills without it feeling too personally risky and distracting from business.

Talk to us, in confidence and without obligation about helping your managers develop the competence and confidence to manage effectively. Solutions that engage, motivate and fit around the business

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