Leadership and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Businessman Consulting Glowing Crystal BallWhat I have been seeing in the past six weeks or so among my clients is what I would call, "The Paradox of the Double Dip." Let me explain. As you all know the economy and financial markets crashed badly. In March we saw "the low" and the economy was supposed to be on the road to recovery. Now we are seeing another down trend and the term "the double dip" is being discussed - meaning a second dip that might indicate the economy is not actually on the road to recovery after all. I am hearing "the sky is falling" from a variety of people about what's happening. I am also hearing comparisons to the '80s when we had the S&L scandal and Japan's economy tanked. The US recovered from the S&L scandal and cleaned up its mess. Japan did not recover in the same way and in fact is still experiencing repercussions because of the actions they did not take. In the current scenario we are being compared to Japan and the fear is our economy is going to be a mess for an undetermined length of time. The problem with all of this from a leadership standpoint is that instead of Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" we are in a "speak and grow poor" mentality and this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When asking clients how business is going right now I hear a range from "it's a good year," to "it's a record year." These are statements based on financial facts. However, the "looming crisis" conversations are not based on facts, but on fear and speculation and there in lies the paradox - things are going well for many on multiple fronts and yet there is a belief taking root that it's all going away. 

This brings up one of the most important lessons for leaders to learn - it's critical to understand that when fearful concerns and speculations are put out there it alarms the troops, which changes their behavior and the self-fulfilling prophecy is triggered.risks ahead sign One of the foundational pieces of our philosophy at 2130 Partners is our set of Operating Principles. One of these Principles is "Be Responsible for What Gets Heard."

From a leadership perspective it's critical that executives recognize when they are spreading fear. Leaders create "an emotional wake," (as our friends at Fierce, Inc. would say), just like boats leave a wake on the water. When leaders speculate in a negative tone and leave a wake of fear there are significant consequences. A frightened team is not going to be bold, innovative and confident. They are not going to be high-functioning and highly capable. Leaders need to be clear what emotion they are triggering within their troops - confidence, or fear and be responsible for it. 

Does this mean leaders should just be pollyanna positive and "paint the world pink" all the time? Of course not, but leaders do need to realize the power of their words, the emotional wake they create and learn to be responsible for what gets heard.