The ant and the elephant: How to lead with momentum – not control

Dr. Lee Pulos' research sheds light on the vast difference in processing power between our conscious and subconscious minds

The ant and the elephant: How to lead with momentum – not control

In today’s fast-paced, high tech world, leaders often find themselves pondering the age-old question: "What do we do?"

This quest for purpose and clarity is not unique to organizations; individuals, too, seek alignment between their intentions and actions. HRD sat down with Vince Poscente, a renowned keynote speaker and author, to glean insights on how practitioners can foster a sense of purpose in their employees – without adding to their already intense workload.

And if anyone’s positioned to take on the big questions, it’s Poscente. Going from a recreational skier to an Olympian in just four years shows his personal ability to harness the power of purpose.

“In the consulting side of my business, I’m often asked ‘what do we do?’” he tells HRD. “Clients ask, ‘What do we do in this situation?’ A better question is, how we focus ourselves and as leaders, how we focus others and thereby have focus ourselves.”

This all comes back to understanding not the ‘what’ but the ‘where we are right now’.

According to Poscente, Dr. Lee Pulos' research sheds light on the vast difference in processing power between our conscious and subconscious minds.

"In a second of time, the conscious mind processes with 2,000 neurons, while the subconscious mind is processing with four billion neurons. Think of the ratio of that activity between an ant and an elephant - imagine there's an ant on the back of the elephant and the ant is making decisions on direction.”

This discrepancy, akin to an ant attempting to steer an elephant, underscores the challenge faced when our intentions and actions diverge. For HR professionals, the crux lies in aligning the "ant" (conscious mind) with the "elephant" (subconscious mind). Poscente underscores that achieving this alignment is vital for making decisions that resonate with the broader direction of the organization.

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"When we create that alignment," Poscente explains, "leadership becomes less about command and control and more about guiding the collective momentum that naturally emerges."

It's about fostering an environment where individuals feel their actions are in sync with the company's objectives. And a lot of that comes down to understanding and embracing uncertainty – especially in today’s constantly changing world.

“Uncertainty has everything to do with risk,” says Poscente. “And we all have our own level of risk tolerance. There's also the question of safety - will I be safe psychologically? Will I be safe physically? Is this a good decision in itself? We live in the age of speed – meaning we have less and less time to be able to understand the runway that we have in order to assess that decision-making status – and say, ‘okay this uncertainty is I've minimized the risk’.”

Poscente draws a parallel between uncertainty and physical health. Just as we can take proactive steps to maintain good health, we can also mitigate uncertainty by gradually expanding our risk tolerance. It's akin to adopting a healthier lifestyle to prevent potential health issues.

“And so to mitigate this from an uncertainty, a risk standpoint, and I think it's very, very similar,” he tells HRD. “That we consistently and confidently tried to grow that risk tolerance where we can say, ‘I've been okay in the past. I was afraid of something I didn't really know.’ It really behoves each of our employees to embrace that growth of risk tolerance.

“You don't instantly drive at 125 miles an hour in a car and perfect it - you work your way up to that as a race car driver would.”

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