Vistage Breakout Speaker of the Year Erin Peereboom doesn’t believe great minds think alike. To grant participants in her workshop insight into their thinking and behavioral preferences, she has them complete an Emergenetics profile. The profile, she explains, can highlight hardwired and learned strengths, but also biases.
To illustrate this, she likes to share an anecdote about installing a window well with her husband. “I found him standing waist-deep in a hole, explaining a technique for using plastic to prevent flooding. I asked a few questions about the process, which irritated him, which irritated me, so I stomped off.”
Unbeknownst to Peereboom, her husband had been quietly spending nights researching the solution. He had only shared his idea as a courtesy — not to solicit feedback. “I understood his solution as a work in progress. He heard my attempt to gather information as a challenge to his credibility. Neither of us was right or wrong; we were just looking at the situation from different perspectives.”
In her workshops, Peereboom helps participants transform this sort of unproductive tension into productive tension. “We run some role-playing exercises. I assign different behavioral attributes and have players react to a last-minute reservation change, or assign different thinking attributes and have them design an office space,” she offers. “They begin to see how it’s possible to arrive at a valid — even preferable — solution through a cognitive process unlike their own.
These exercises cause light bulbs to go off around all manner of interpersonal challenges. “I worked with a member who was annoyed by an employee’s inordinate number of small tactical questions. The member came to see that this employee simply had a ‘structural’ preference: Whereas others on the team saw the big picture first — the cover of the jigsaw puzzle box — he started with the pieces.”
If you’re looking to make a difference in the world, let people be their best and most brilliant selves — yourself included.
Just as leaders should be mindful of cognitive differences in others, they should learn to embrace their individual preferences, even if they don’t conform to those of a stereotypical leader. “As an executive, you should identify what types of thinking and behavior energize you. You’re in a position to delegate tasks that are personally draining. When you do, you tap into a well of energy.”
Peereboom advises Vistage members invoke the “platinum rule”: Do unto others as they want done unto them. “If you’re looking to make a difference in the world, let people be their best and most brilliant selves — yourself included.”