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How to Stop Delegating and Start Teaching

As a college professor, I regularly train PhD students. In psychology and most fields of science, students are assigned to a project early on in their studies and learn key skills through an apprenticeship model. Many go on to projects related to more specific research goals, and are eventually taught to design their own studies — a slow and painstaking process. Each step, from idea development and design to data analysis and reporting, requires a lot of supervision. It would generally be faster for lab directors to hire employees to carry out these studies instead, or to do all the heavy lifting themselves.

But, then, who would train the next generation of scientists?

Managers who have difficulty delegating tasks can learn from this process — particularly if your workload has become overwhelming, or you need someone to pick up the slack when you are out of town. The hardest part about delegating a task to someone else is trusting that they will do it well. And many managers are reluctant to turn over their responsibilities to someone who may not meet that expectation.

But there is a problem with this mindset. Managers need to stop thinking of passing off responsibilities as delegating — period. If you do, then you will only assign your employees high-level tasks when you don’t have time to do them. Until then, you will continue doing everything yourself. This is not an uncommon behavior. After all, you are probably better at doing your job than your direct reports, who have less experience in your role.

The problem with this style of delegation is that it sets your employees up for failure. A coach wouldn’t let an athlete go into a big game without practicing extensively beforehand. Managers should share this same mentality. When you assign someone a task for the first time — with no prior training — simply because you are unavailable to do it, their chances of succeeding are slim. You also run the risk of damaging team morale. Employees might get the impression that they are not capable of doing complex work if they are too overwhelmed by the task.

As a manager, a central part of your job is to train and develop people. This includes people who want to move into leadership roles, similar to yours, one day. When you take on the mindset of a trainer — instead of a manager delegating work — you will naturally look for ways to give a little more responsibility to the people who work for you. And those people who put in effort, and show an aptitude for the work, should be given more opportunities to try new, challenging tasks.

To start, try to gauge who on your team genuinely wants to move up in the organization, and identify their main areas of interest. Create a development plan for them and write down the skills they will need in order to reach their goals. Then, focus on giving them assignments that require those skills, as well as any tasks you think they are curious to explore. Often, people need a nudge to focus on their weaknesses — particularly ones that they are convinced fall out of their wheelhouse.

Structure the experience so that your employees are able to work their way up to a challenging task. Give them a series of practice sessions. The first time you introduce a task to someone, you might want them to experience it as a ride-along. Just let them shadow you while you explain some of the key points. Then, give them a piece to do on their own with your supervision. Only let them carry the full load when you sense that they are ready.

For example, you might want to teach someone how to run a weekly progress meeting while you are out. Start by training them when you are in the office. Have them watch you formulate the agenda and think through the issues that will be discussed. Then, the next time, let them create an agenda of their own, but critique it. Give them a chance to run part of the meeting with your supervision. That way, they are ready to run a full meeting on their own when the time comes. By doing this, you are both helping your team reach their career goals, and training them to take on some of your own responsibilities.

Taking on some of your direct reports as apprentices is an effort. It will take extra time out of your already busy week. You will have to check their work carefully at first to make sure that it is up to your standards. You will have to teach them not only how to do the tasks, but also, why the tasks are done that way. You will have to call on them to help fix any problems that arise from the work they’ve done, because practice is how they will learn. And your own productivity may slow down as a result of the time you spend mentoring others.

When you make this kind of training a regular part of your job, though, delegating tasks becomes easy. You will have created a team of trusted associates who can step in and help when you are overwhelmed or out of the office. And, as an added bonus, you have also groomed your successors. After all, as the old saying goes, if you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.


Art Markman, PhD, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He has written over 150 scholarly papers on topics including reasoning, decision making, and motivation. He is the author of several books including Smart Thinking, Smart Change, and Habits of Leadership.


 

Why Leaders Need to Cultivate Complementary Strengths

Robert is a strong leader.

How do I know? When he left one company to join another, many in his top team followed him to the new company because they wanted to keep working for him. That’s a pretty strong testimonial.

“Yes, he pushes us hard,” one of his direct reports told me, “but I work harder and I deliver. I like that.”

But every leader — even strong ones — have their challenges. And while Robert (not his real name) inspires hard work and loyalty, he also inspires fear, especially in people who don’t know him well or are a few levels below him in the hierarchy. To be clear, Robert is not abusive. He simply has a high bar and is respectfully intolerant of mediocrity. But the impact is one of fear. More than once, a member of his team has come to me with great ideas that they have not shared with him.

Fear doesn’t bring out the best in people. It mutes their performance as they take fewer risks and make overly conservative, safe choices. It also befuddles them, sending them down a confidence-sapping negative spiral: They speak nervously, which makes them appear unsure, which creates doubt in their leaders, who question them more aggressively, which increases their nervousness, which befuddles them even more…and it’s all downhill from there.

On the one hand, this is not Robert’s problem — it’s the problem of the insecure employee. People need to build the confidence to engage with leaders who have an incisive mind and high expectations.

On the other hand, it is Robert’s problem. If he wants to get the most out of all his employees (and their teams), he needs to create a safe environment in which they can perform their best.

As an executive coach of high-performing leaders, I see this all the time. And here are two mistakes coaches often make when trying to help these leaders.

  1. The coach accepts the leader’s perspective that it’s not his problem, that it’s the problem of the people with too delicate a constitution. They shouldn’t quiver in their boots under a legitimate line of questioning. He may be right about them, but he’s not right that it’s not his problem. As a leader who wants to get the best out of his people, it’s always his problem.
  2. The coach tries to help the leader tone down his approach so that he’s not so scary. This is a bad idea. Why? First, most leaders are right that their questions are legitimate. Second, muting the leader is an exercise in frustration and is unsustainable. Third, even if that works, performance suffers anyway since the leader is no longer holding people to the high standard they ultimately need and want. In other words, the leader ends up replacing high performance with mediocrity. And for high-performing leaders (and their organizations), that’s unsustainable.

So what’s the solution?

Imagine you make a soup and it tastes too bitter. The soup is made; you can’t remove the bitter taste. But you can add some sugar to it that balances out the bitterness and makes the soup far more palatable. In other words, sometimes it’s not about changing or taking out an ingredient; it’s about adding one that’s missing.

Instead of reducing his incisiveness, Robert should increase his warmth.

He can acknowledge a person’s insights before asking his questions. Or he can thank them for bringing something to his awareness that was missing (which has the added benefit of showing his vulnerability). He can add a few words of support. He can simply connect with the person warmly and with a smile. He can give context to his questions so that everyone can learn about the way he thinks.

We all have attributes that simultaneously work for us and against us. The solution is not to subdue our strengths but to add ingredients that balance them out. In other words, build complementary skills.

If you have the opposite problem of Robert? If you hold people with care and comfort but tend not to push them? Don’t reduce your warmth — rather push yourself to ask a hard question, without losing your warmth.

Recently someone I work with was accused (by more than one person) of being too political. Her role required that she be adept at managing the politics of the most senior leaders of the organization, so dulling this trait would have been counterproductive.

“Your problem isn’t that you’re too political,” I suggested. “It’s that you’re not communicative enough with your colleagues at your level.” I coached her to continue to leverage her diplomatic skills, while including her team in her efforts instead of working around them.

As for Robert? “Don’t dilute your greatness,” I told him. “Let’s just build a container for it.”


Peter Bregman is a Master Certified Coach and CEO of Bregman Partners, where he leads a team of over 25 coaches, helping senior leaders and teams create positive behavioral change and work more effectively together to achieve the company’s most critical business results. Peter is the best-selling author of Leading with Emotional Courage and hosts the Bregman Leadership Podcast. To receive an email when he posts, click here.

If Your Innovation Effort Isn’t Working, Look at Who’s on the Team

An all-star team is making headway with a new initiative that could alter the future of the organization. Spirits are optimistic and the team is successfully maneuvering through new, yet very promising, territory. Then, the results begin taking longer than anticipated to prove, and after too much time spent outside of their comfort zones, the team of high-achieving employees can’t seem to execute within the uncertain environment.

The team’s outlook shifts and it becomes clear that the group will not be able to weather the storm of uncertainty needed to realize this new organizational opportunity.

How could such a capable team fail?

At the heart of many organizations is a deeper problem that blocks transformation: product/function organizational structure. This structure works in well-understood environments, where maximizing delivery of a product or service is the goal, but transformative projects require the organization to return to a more malleable state. This challenge requires teams that are formed through a re-matching of resources and employee capabilities.

Transformation-capable teams are made up of people who are not only high performers, but who hold a unique balance of skills and mindsets that allow them to sustain focus, agility, and optimism in the face of uncertainty for prolonged periods of time. Ultimately, not all top-performing employees are equipped for this.

In our book, Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future, we highlight certain capabilities to search for and cultivate while building a transformative team. Specifically, there are three unique characteristics that will play critical roles as a team takes on a breakthrough initiative.

Negative capability: being comfortable with uncertainty

The term “negative capability” was coined by the poet John Keats while describing writers like Shakespeare who were able to work within uncertainty and doubt. Keats was describing the ability to accept not having an immediate answer and to remain willing to explore how something may evolve before there is a clear outcome.

In the modern context, negative capability can be thought of as the ability to be comfortable with uncertainty, even to entertain it, rather than to become so anxious by its presence that you have to prematurely race to a more certain, yet suboptimal, conclusion. Whereas many people cannot stand the fuzziness of uncertainty, those who demonstrate negative capabilities can facilitate the exploration of new terrain and the discovery of an adjacent possible opportunity.

Individuals with negative capability remain curious and focused even when your project is far from the end goal. Chances are, they will even find this point of the project enthralling, rather than overwhelming, which is exactly what you want. They will also be able to suspend judgement about an end result and stay open to many possible outcomes, rather than become fixed early on to one version of success.

Chaos pilots: leading and executing in unfamiliar territory  

In 1991, Danish politician and social worker Uffe Elbæk took out a $100,000 personal loan to open an unusual business school called Kaospilot. The vision of the business school was inspired by a previous project of Elbæk’s, where he observed a new skill set in students for navigating uncertain problems and saw the opportunity to teach these skills to business leaders who needed to do the same. Chaos pilot is a perfect label for a specific persona needed on a transformative team.

Chaos pilots are people who can creatively lead a project through uncertainty. They have negative capability, but they also have other critical skills, such as the ability to create structure within chaos and take action. Leaders who are chaos pilots are able to drive a team forward on a project even as the environment around them fluctuates.

Although it may sound glamorous to be such a person, being a chaos pilot is hard — they are the colleagues working on ambiguous projects and frequently getting beat up in the process. People who aren’t capable of being chaos pilots quickly flounder when the environment around the project gets shaky.

Chaos pilots often care more about creating meaningful change than about climbing a corporate ladder or getting another star on their charts. Finding chaos pilots to join you can be challenging and requires observation and experimentation, though there are a few fertile places to look for good candidates.

For example, look for people who are getting mixed performance reviews, but who are still highly prized by the organization. Often, these people are getting mixed reviews because they make those around them uncomfortable — because the potential candidates often challenge the status quo — but they continue to succeed, because they perform so well.

Divergent thinking, convergent action, and influential communication

Finally, there are three neuropsychological traits to seek while building a transformative team. These three traits — divergent thinking, convergent action, and influential communication — all play a crucial role to succeeding in innovation and transformation. While many individuals hold one or two of these skills, finding a person with all three is more challenging, yet optimal.

The first of the three, divergent thinking, is the ability to uniquely connect new information, ideas, and concepts that are usually held far apart. People with this skill can match dissimilar concepts in novel and meaningful ways and uncover new opportunities that others may overlooked.

Convergent action, the second trait, is the ability to execute on these new ideas in order to create something tangible. Though many people can come up with great ideas, it is often those with convergent action who will move that new concept from idea to product. Last, having the ability to communicate ideas in a coherent, compelling, and influential way is paramount. This trait will inspire other leaders and decision-makers to believe, support, and act on a novel idea or opportunity.

Similar to how many transformative business opportunities are found in unlikely places, the same is true about where you may find the best-suited team members to drive forward a promising new initiative.

Each organizational project represents a moment of potential transformation, and each successful project helps an organization self-correct away from becoming a calloused machine executing on routine, and instead become what they need to survive: a malleable organization capable of capturing new opportunities.


Nathan Furr is an assistant professor of strategy at INSEAD and a coauthor of Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018).


Kyle Nel is the CEO and cofounder of Uncommon Partners, a behavioral transformation consultancy, the former executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, and a coauthor of Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018).


Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy is the founder and CEO of Neurons Inc. He is a coauthor of Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future (HBR Press, 2018).

 

How Busy Working Parents Can Make Time for Mindfulness

It seems everywhere you look these days someone is touting the benefits of mindfulness — a practice that Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, describes simply as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Research shows that people who practice mindfulness are less stressed, more focused and better able to regulate their emotions.

But, if you’re a busy working parent, how do you build mindfulness into an already-packed day? Those of us with kids and jobs often feel tired and rushed. We’re constantly multi-tasking, juggling personal and professional responsibilities, and feeling stressed about all we can’t get done. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, 56 percent of working parents say they find it difficult to balance their time between work and family. Though I now counsel others on how to break this cycle, I can certainly relate to it.

Years ago, I worked as Twitter’s head of learning and development when the company was growing 350% year after year. It was like being on a rocket ship, and I loved the work. But I found myself struggling to stay connected to my family. I can remember the afternoon my son’s school called to make me aware that no one had come to pick him up. He was in first grade at the time, and I burst into tears.

Although I was already committed to a mindfulness practice (I would sometimes sneak away to the meditation and yoga room we had in the office), I was still having trouble figuring out a way to weave presence and awareness into my day. Here’s the solution that I came up with and now recommend to others:

Start by spending a few minutes writing down what you do each day. It might look something like this: wake, coffee, family breakfast, pack lunches, prep for school day, walk dog, shower for work, drive car, train ride, walk to office, work all day, walk to train, car ride home, dinner, bath time, family reading or games, bedtime.

Now consider where mindfulness practice can fit in. For example:

Coffee: Make sure to pause before the first sip. Smell the aroma, feel the heat of the mug on your hand, and take three intentional breaths. Now enjoy.

Train ride: Once you’re settled into your seat, set a timer for five to ten minutes and practice mediation. Sit in silence and focus on your breathing or use a mindfulness app on your phone to listen to a guided meditation. Your eyes can be open or closed depending on the situation and what feels safe or comfortable.

Work: Each time you sit down to your computer, take a pause. Close your eyes, notice the sensation of your feet on the floor, your body in your chair, feel your breath come in and out of your body. Continue with your day.

Dinner: As you are preparing the meal, spend a moment reflecting on where the food came from. Imagine who planted it, picked it, or drove it to the store where you purchased it. On occasions when your entire family is sitting around the table at the same time, take a moment to feel grateful.

Bedtime: Decide on a ritual that cultivates mindful awareness. For younger children, consider having them put a stuffed animal on their belly as each of you count how many times the animal rides up and down with their breath. If your children are older try a head, heart, gut check-in at bedtime. Is the mind busy or calm in this moment? Are any emotions present or lingering from the day? Is there anything that needs to be shared or said that has not been already?

Does mindfulness seem a little more doable now? Research indicates that it takes just eight weeks of relatively regular practice to make positive changes to the brain. But if we wait until we have enough “bandwidth” to devote big blocks of time to it, we may never start. For working parents, my advice is to instead insert just a few small moments of mindfulness into your day, even — and especially — when life seems too busy, hectic and out of control.

Michelle Gale is a mindful parenting educator and a former head of learning and leadership development for Twitter. She is the author of the new book Mindful Parenting in a Messy World (Motivational Press, 2017.

 

What to Do When You Realize You Made a Bad Hire

Sometimes it happens that a candidate who had the right credentials, seemed to fly through the interview process, and had lovely references turns out to be an unexpected problem after hiring. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, consider yourself lucky, because only 19% of new hires are considered fully successful, according to a frequently cited study, and by the 18-month point 46% are deemed failures.

If you’ve been in this situation, you’ve had to face the dilemma of whether it’s worse to be stuck with an employee who can’t handle the work and is damaging to the team, or to go public with the admission that you’ve made a significant mistake. Usually in these situations it’s less costly to make a change, and the sooner you make it, the better. Although coping with the impact of a bad hire will never be easy, following these steps will help you recover and move on with the least possible damage to all parties.

Prepare for a direct, and probably uncomfortable, conversation with the new hire.Rather than hoping for the best, or trying to deter a confrontation, leveling with the new hire about your dissatisfaction and their performance issues can open the way to joint problem solving. By sharing your concerns and asking for their input, you may be able to discover workable alternatives, or at least understand how bad the situation truly is. You can start off with something like, “James, I want to talk about the last few weeks, and where we seem to be on track and where we need to make some adjustments.” Keep in mind that the new employee may recognize the same problems that you do and be grateful for the opportunity to clear the air and work on a solution together.

Try to repair the situation with focused feedback or reassignment. One of my clients hired a relatively junior staffer for his moxie, energy, and drive. Within just a few weeks, though, the new employee started broadcasting his concerns that the job was not as exciting or rewarding as he had expected, and he started making careless mistakes and goofing around with other employees. His manager gave him careful feedback on his behavior and asked lots of questions about why the job felt unsatisfying. Luckily, thanks to projected business growth and flexible organizational parameters, the manager was able to shift the new hire to another department and a more challenging job that suited his ambitions better. We developed an intensive training program to equip him for the new role and ensure a smooth transition.

This doesn’t always work. At one client company, a new vice president who came from a different industry made numerous commitments to apply the feedback she was receiving, but she didn’t understand the business model and seemed either unable or unwilling to adapt her technical skills, so she was incapable of implementing the feedback accurately. Watch out for the escalation of commitment — many of us resist “giving up” on a tough situation. But if you’re giving the person lots of feedback, and you don’t see both significant personal effort almost immediately and actual improvements over the next three to six months, at some point you need to prepare to cut your losses.

Identify both the current and the future expense of keeping the bad hire. In some situations, the negative impact on other team members or the business makes it impractical to look for other internal opportunities or to invest in ongoing development. In one case, a senior executive who had previously worked for a very large public company joined my client, a midsize family-owned company, with such unrealistic expectations about resources and autonomous decision making that he cost the business dearly. Giving him feedback didn’t work, and moving him to another role wouldn’t have solved the problem.

In situations like these, the costs usually include reduced productivity or increased opportunity costs, employee disengagement and possible turnover, and increased interdepartmental conflict. Some clear indicators are missed deadlines or a decline in work quality. A less obvious sign is extra pre- and post-meeting meetings — often an attempt by colleagues to compensate for or work around an underperformer’s struggles. Compare those impacts with the cost of replacement and onboarding for a new candidate.

Often you won’t recognize how much negative impact the bad hire has until you remove them, as happened at one of my clients where they tweaked the organization multiple times over several years, trying to find a place for an executive who had made a good initial impression but did not have the necessary knowledge or skills, and who therefore bottlenecked work, suppressed innovation, and created dissension among colleagues and subordinates. It wasn’t until she was removed that others stepped up to build bridges and enthusiastically tackle languishing initiatives and propose new creative solutions.

Make the case for an exception to the typical exit plan. If the relationship can’t be salvaged, look for every opportunity to make the transition and departure as smooth and graceful as possible. Start by considering whether you can negotiate a mutually beneficial plan. An honest conversation can give the unsuccessful hire more sense of personal control and also give you the leeway to work publicly to support the team’s activities and find a replacement. Particularly if the employee has previously expressed discomfort, you could open with something along the lines of, “I appreciate your telling me how concerned you are, and the current situation is having a negative impact on the team, too, so I wonder if we can work this out in a way that benefits everyone.” Check with your HR department before you do this.

Otherwise, if it has to be a surprise to the employee, be direct and to the point: “As we’ve discussed several times, someone in your role needs to be able to accomplish these tasks and goals successfully, and you haven’t been able to do that. So unfortunately, we’re going to have to terminate your employment as of such-and-such date. Here’s how we’re going to manage the exit.”

Offering severance and outplacement services will demonstrate to both the unsuccessful employee and their colleagues that you’re acting in good faith. While it’s true that most companies only provide severance payments or outplacement services in situations where an employee has provided long and faithful service, when organizations take responsibility for the mistake of a bad hire, it helps everyone move on more quickly. The exception to this would be if the employee misrepresented their skills or has ethical or behavioral problems.

It’s painful for all parties when you make the wrong hire, so learn what you canabout what went wrong to avoid repeating the situation, particularly because it will be crucial that the replacement works out well. If you move deliberately but quickly to handle the problem, the new hire is more likely to still have some job opportunities in the pipeline, or to be able to return to their last position, and will be grateful for the chance to salvage their career — and it’s more likely that you’ll still have a batch of candidates to consider.


Liz Kislik helps organizations from the Fortune 500 to national nonprofits and family-run businesses solve their thorniest problems. She has taught at NYU and Hofstra University, and recently spoke at TEDxBaylorSchool. You can receive her free guide, How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflicts in the Workplace, on her website.


 

The 4 Types of Coaches Every Leader Needs

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” This quote from legendary college basketball coach John Wooden is one of the best ways I’ve found to describe the importance of coaching in the workplace.

The reason is that we’ve entered a new era of business in which the rapid pace of change requires people at all levels of the organization to constantly learn new skills, change their perspectives, and push themselves to higher levels of performance. That’s where coaching comes in: Coaching is about providing timely feedback to help someone strengthen their skills, knowledge, or behavior to better accomplish a short-term goal.

The word “short-term” is an important aspect to remember. Coaching is all about helping someone perform better right now. While coaching might happen repeatedly over the life of a project, it could also occur in the space of just one conversation.

While coaching has long been a critical part of how leaders interact with their direct reports, many organizations are seeing significant advantages from making coaching a part of their culture. Among other benefits, these organizations are more likely to have a strong leadership bench, experience lower leader turnover, and have more satisfied and engaged leaders.

While the benefits of a coaching culture are significant, it can be very challenging to build. One of the big issues is that many people have a misconception that coaching can only happen in one direction, with people at higher levels of the organization coaching people who have lower-level titles. But a coaching culture depends on breaking down those barriers, and enabling everyone in the organization to become a coach.

One of the key ways to overcome this barrier is for leaders to become comfortable not only with giving coaching, but receiving it. As leaders become more comfortable about asking for and receiving coaching from varied sources, coaching begins to become more ingrained in the organization’s culture. Specifically, leaders should seek out four different types of coaching, each of which plays a distinct role:

Leader coaches provide guidance

When a leader is getting coaching from a boss or another higher-level leader, the coach should ideally be serving as a guide for the leader. The coach should be focused on providing both proactive and reactive coaching that will help the leader succeed.

Proactive coaching is focused on helping set the leader up for success. It might take the form of offering insights or resources to help the leader complete a project similar to one that the higher-level leader has tackled in the past. On the flip side, reactive coaching is about helping the leader solve problems, such as helping remove barriers standing in the way of success or changing tactics to better approach the issue.

One trap for leaders as coaches, however, is that they may find themselves managing more often than coaching. While coaching is about helping guide people to solve problems, managing is telling people what to do. Managing involves setting goals, giving direction, communicating expectations, and making decisions. When coaching from a boss or other higher-level leader starts to become more like managing, leaders often get frustrated, and may feel micromanaged. While managing is a necessary part of leadership, it should occur much less frequently than coaching.

Peer coaches offer candid partnership

While bosses and higher-level leaders serve as important and valuable coaches, many people struggle to let their guard down among those who have higher-level titles in the organization. Even in high-trust relationships with their leaders, direct reports may feel that they still must present their best sides to ensure they don’t risk sharing issues that may affect their performance reviews, raises, career prospects, or job status.

Peer coaches can help to fill this gap. Peer coaching pairs together same-level leaders for mutual benefit. Without the burden of a title or rank dynamics, peers can provide candid feedback that’s focused on achieving the best possible outcome

Peer coaching can also help break down silos and improve collaboration across the organization. In addition, it can help people to feel more accountability for their work, knowing how much their peers are counting on them.

Direct reports can coach on their areas of expertise

While many leaders can see the benefits of coaching from their boss or peers, they often struggle with getting coaching from those who report to them. In the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, we learned that leaders are getting very little coaching from their direct reports—and that’s fine with them! Many leaders may be concerned that getting coaching from their direct reports may make them appear weak or lacking in knowledge.

However, direct reports often have specialized knowledge that can be extremely valuable to their leaders. As leaders are promoted, they lose touch with the day-to-day issues and experience, especially as rapidly changing technologies transform the workplace. Thus, direct reports often have much deeper knowledge of their subject matter, on-the-job pain points, and ideas for solutions than their leaders.

Coaching from direct reports is one of the most critical aspects of building a coaching culture. When team members get to share their expertise and input with their manager, they are much more likely to feel like a valued and trusted member of the team, which improves their engagement and commitment to their jobs.

External coaches provide objectivity

While developing a strong coaching culture within your organization is ideal, leaders say they desire coaching from external coaches more than nearly any other kind of development. External coaches can play a deeply valuable role in providing outside perspective and expertise to leaders. With an external coach, leaders can feel free to voice concerns without fear of damaging relationships with their colleagues and can gain perspective about how leaders in other organizations may have dealt with similar situations. They can also be objective to the situation without concern for organizational politics.

Unfortunately, leaders are rarely getting these opportunities for external coaching. Many organizations reserve external coaching only for leaders at the executive level, which can leave mid-level and frontline leaders struggling to gain outside perspective. The good news is that advances in technology are making it easier for these leaders to access coaching, such as by easily scheduling virtual sessions.

When leaders seek coaching from a wider variety of people, they not only maximize their own performance, but engage others in their success. As people begin to feel more comfortable giving and receiving coaching, it will begin to become a way of (work) life, transforming your organization not only into a coaching culture, but a high-performance culture.

 

Written by Ryan Heinl

Ryan Heinl is director of Product Management and leader of the Impact Lab at DDI, where he brings innovative leadership solutions to life. He is an entrepreneur, writer, chef, Crossfitter, mindfulness junkie and occasional yogi who travels the world in search of the perfect moment (and secretly hopes he won’t find it).

When Is It OK to Tell a Well-Meaning Lie?

A manager gives an employee overly-positive feedback to boost their confidence. A doctor gives a patient a too-rosy prognosis to foster hope. A government official conceals a security threat to prevent widespread panic.

These are relatively understandable scenarios in which an individual tells a lie because they think they are helping someone. In each case, however, it’s unclear whether the lie actually makes the recipients better off. Employees could benefit from honest criticism in order to improve; patients may benefit from a candid prognosis; citizens might take actions to make themselves less vulnerable to security threats.

Given the ethical issues surrounding deception, how can one be sure when telling a well-meaning lie is the right thing to do — and when it’s not?

Some would argue that deceiving others is never ethical, especially in today’s corporate climate. As reports of fraud, bribery, and privacy breaches abound, “transparency” is becoming a watchword in organizations. If an act of deception were uncovered in public, it could result in a severe blow to your reputation.

However, day-to-day life presents what comedian Jerry Seinfeld calls “must-lie situations” — or, at the least, situations in which people lie precisely because they believe it is the ethical thing to do. For example, if someone asks how they look on their wedding day, the only acceptable answer is “You look incredible,” regardless of whether this is true.

But what if your boss asked you for your opinion on an under-developed presentation that they had to deliver at an important meeting that is weeks away? This is a very different situation. True, it might cause you both discomfort in the moment if you tell your boss that you think the presentation is not in great shape. However, there is enough time before the meeting for you to save your boss from embarrassment if the presentation were to fall flat. To your boss (and perhaps the company), preventing this embarrassment later on could be more important than avoiding the discomfort of receiving criticism.

In this case, falsely telling someone that they did a great job could be considered a paternalistic lie—that is, a lie that requires the deceiver to make assumptions about whether lying is in the best interest of the person being deceived.

In our recent article published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, across seven studies with over 2,000 research participants, we find that paternalistic lies spark strong resentment from deceived parties. In several experiments, participants were paired with partners (“communicators”) who had the opportunity to lie or tell the truth in order to help participants earn different prizes. For example, in one of the studies, communicators had to report the outcome of a coin flip, but could do so honestly or dishonestly. If the communicator was honest about the coin flip outcome, the participant would earn one ticket for a $10 lottery that would be conducted that day; if the communicator lied, the participant would earn one ticket for a $30 lottery three months from that day.

This choice — a chance at $10 now or $30 later — requires the communicator to make assumptions about what’s best for the partner when deciding whether to lie. It models a number of real-world situations, such as when a financial adviser might lie to a client for the purpose of nudging them to save money for the future.

Although it’s well-intended, lying in this context is paternalistic, since it assumes that the client would prefer future savings over available cash in the present. We found that communicators who told lies in this context were viewed as less moral than communicators who told the truth. Three specific inferences underlie this judgment. In particular, participants believed that paternalistic liars did not have good intentions, that paternalistic liars were violating their autonomy, and that paternalistic liars misunderstood their preferences. In another study, we also found that participants were actually less satisfied with the prize they received when it resulted from a paternalistic lie.

Importantly, not all lies bring about these negative judgments. In our experiments, some participants learned that a communicator’s honest or dishonest statement influenced how many lottery tickets the participant earned, rather than which lottery they were entered into. In this case, there was no ambiguity about the fact that lying would help the participant—anyone would rather receive more lottery tickets than fewer. Indeed, in this situation, lying was not seen as less moral than truth-telling, and did not elicit the same negative inferences.

Our research yielded some specific steps you can take to determine whether your lies are paternalistic (and thus, whether they will be welcomed or met with resentment). To determine whether your lies will be seen as paternalistic, ask yourself the following questions:

 
  1. Can you safely assume that most people would be better off with the outcome associated with lying, rather than the truth? If not, tell the truth.

Sometimes the answer to this question will be obvious. Believing you look attractive on your wedding day is clearly better than believing you do not, and earning two lottery tickets is better than earning one lottery ticket. In these cases, lying is likely to be appreciated.

In many other cases, the answer will not be as obvious. If you’re not sure whether most people prefer the outcome associated with lying, consider asking a group of people. If there is disagreement, tell the truth.

  1. Do you know whether the person with whom you are talking prefers comfort over candor in this context? If not, lean towards candor.

Remember, it’s possible to learn people’s preferences simply by asking them. Consider asking your colleagues and family members the type of feedback they appreciate, and when and why they might appreciate constructive criticism over comfort. For example, you can ask your significant other whether they really want to know how they look when they ask you; and a doctor can ask their patients how much they want to know about their prognosis, or whether they would like to focus conversations on their treatment options.

We ran several studies examining paternalistic lies in close and professional relationships and found that people were more comfortable with a communicator’s deception if it was informed by an explicit conversation about a person’s preferences. For example, in one study, we found that people had a much higher regard for a doctor who offered a patient false hope when the doctor had previously discussed the patient’s preferences with the patient, versus when the doctor simply assumed these preferences.

  1. Are you confident that the target of the lie knows that you are looking out for their best interest? If not, any attempt to justify the lie may be ineffective. 

When caught lying (paternalistically or otherwise), people often defend themselves by saying they lied to protect the other person. But before lying to protect someone’s interests or feelings, ask yourself not only whether you are lying to protect them, but also whether that person would believe your lie was well-intended if they found out. In several studies, we found that people were not likely to believe paternalistic lies were well-intended, and reacted poorly to these lies even when the liar communicated good intentions. However, people were more likely to believe that paternalistic lies were well-intended when they were told by people who knew them well or had reputations as helpful, kind people.

Even though paternalistic lies are often well-intentioned, if uncovered, they will usually backfire. Lying may be helpful when there is no ambiguity about the resulting benefits for those on the receiving end. But in most other circumstances, honesty is the best policy.


Adam Eric Greenberg is an assistant professor of marketing at Bocconi University.


Emma E. Levine is an assistant professor at behavioral science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.


Matthew Lupoli is an assistant professor of management at Deakin University.

 

Dealing with Disappointment

  • Category EQ

Robert didn’t know what to think. How could he have misjudged the situation so badly? He felt angry, sad, and betrayed.

Because of his impending retirement, Robert had carefully groomed a successor to take over his key project. The company’s executives assured him that they agreed with his choice. But when push came to shove, they vetoed his candidate. Instead, they appointed someone else to take the lead — someone Robert didn’t trust to continue the work that had been the capstone of his career. Robert was left kicking himself for not seeing it coming. The sense of futility and bewilderment was almost too much to bear.

Many people successfully work through their disappointments. Somehow, they have the strength to take stock of what has happened to them, learn from the incident, and move on. They come out of such disappointments stronger. But others, like Robert, struggle. In these cases, disappointment can even become depression. How can we learn to manage our disappointments effectively?

Managing Expectations

Someone once said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” The quote recognizes that when we experience disappointment, our hopes and expectations are out of line with reality. We all feel this way from time to time. Some of these disappointments will not make much of a difference, but there are also disappointments that can change the course of our lives.

Given the convoluted nature of desire, there are no experiences that are entirely free of disappointment. This is what makes disappointment such a complex and confusing feeling. Many of our desires that we pursue are unconscious, sublimated, and frequently contradictory.

Paradoxically, we may even become disappointed when we get what we want. For example, in Sigmund Freud’s 1916 essay “Some Character-Types Met with in Psycho-Analytic Work,” he explored the paradox of people who were “wrecked by success.” Unconsciously, these people believed that their success was unjustified, so achieving it didn’t feel satisfying to them. In other cases, even when we do get what we want — and think we deserve it — we may discover that what we wanted so badly doesn’t bring the expected bliss and happiness.

Developmental Influences

The way we handle disappointment is related to our developmental history — our relationship with our parents and other early, formative experiences.

Some people seek to avoid disappointment by turning into underachievers. They unconsciously set the bar low and avoid taking risks, to prevent themselves or others from being disappointed. Without realizing it, they have decided that the best strategy is not to have high expectations about anything. Such behavior turns into a form of self-preservation. However, it also leads to a mediocre and unfulfilled life. Ironically, these people often turn into disappointments for everyone, including themselves.

Others, following a very different trajectory, seek to avoid disappointment by becoming overachievers. Although they tell themselves that their expectations of perfection are appropriate and realistic, these presumptions turn out not to be true at all. The bar is set far too high to ever make whatever they want to achieve attainable. They forget that perfectionism rarely begets perfection, or satisfaction — instead, it too often leads to disappointment.

Of course, there are also people with a more balanced developmental history. These people usually had parents who didn’t try to be perfect, and didn’t expect their children to be perfect either. By being “good enough” parents, they created a secure base for their children. These children feel secure in their relationships, supported rather than controlled, and are able to play, explore, and learn, thereby acquiring the inner strength to cope constructively with the inevitable setbacks that will come their way in their journey through life.

While it’s helpful to know which way we lean, our developmental history is not our destiny. Whatever our developmental history may be — having a secure base or not — disappointment can provide us with valuable information about our beliefs about ourselves, other people, and what makes us happy.

Styles of Coping

Major disappointments are often defining moments in people’s lives. Constructively dealing with disappointment can be a self-curative process that can contribute to personal growth and make for greater resilience. Take Winston Churchill as an example. Early in his career, the disastrous First World War military campaign at Gallipoli forced him to resign from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill had come up with a plan (later called “Churchill’s Folly”) to send a fleet through the Dardanelles strait and capture Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), which he predicted would cause Ottoman Turkey to quit the war. But the plan utterly failed, and tens of thousands died. Churchill was disgraced and demoted.

 

To cope with this calamity and the subsequent humiliation, he refocused his attention and energy away from politics. Six months after his demotion, he became an infantry officer and joined the fight in France. During his time out of the political spotlight, he thought through what had happened to him and what it had taught him about dealing with life’s challenges. While at first he felt overwhelmed by what he called his “black dog of depression,” Churchill realized that it was much more constructive to reframe his disappointments as learning experiences in order to be able to cope better in the future, and to use disappointment as a catalyst for personal growth. Such soul-searching provided him with new information about himself, the world, and others.

Far too many people, when faced with disappointment, tend to attribute negative life events to their personal failings. They resort to obsessional self-blaming, as they feel ashamed or humiliated of not measuring up to the image of their ideal self. As a result, they direct their anger inward, to themselves. It may prompt them to say that they deserved it, that they were not good enough. Others, however, will turn their anger outward toward others, to people who didn’t fulfill their expectations. It will contribute to feelings of spite, vindictiveness, and bitterness.

Unfortunately, both emotional reactions keep the person stuck in a web of disappointment. In many instances, disappointment can turn into a lingering sadness — a feeling of loss, of being let down, or even of betrayal. In particular, this is the case when disappointment has been inflicted by people whom they trusted deeply, as in Robert’s case. How can we overcome it?

Overcoming Disappointment

Unpleasant as disappointments may be, we can always learn something from them.

To constructively deal with disappointment, we need to first understand what has happened. Some instances of disappointment are predictable and preventable. But there are others that are unavoidable and beyond our control. To manage disappointment, we need to differentiate between situations that fall within our control and factors that are beyond it. Being able to recognize the difference will help us to deal with our frustrations more appropriately.

We also need to check whether our expectations are reasonable. Are we having unrealistically high expectations, and thus aiming too high? Or are we setting our goals too low? If you belong to that group of people who set their expectations too high, working constructively through disappointments may help you to modify expectations. You may learn to move away from perfectionistic standards; you may start to accept what is “good enough.” For those who have set the bar too low, what they should stop doing is hanging on to false beliefs about life like, “There is no more hope” or “Nothing ever works for me.” Avoiding disappointment is not possible in life; trying to do so is not a very constructive way of dealing with life’s challenges.

When disappointment occurs regularly, it may be advisable to reevaluate our perceptions and behaviors. We can examine whether we are inviting disappointment. Could we have been clearer in our communication of what we were expecting from others? Do we really know what we expect from ourselves? Are we listening to what others are saying to us? Could we have done something different to arrive at a different outcome? Also, given what we know about ourselves, how can we adjust our expectations to be more effective the next time? And what support and resources do we have at our disposal to help us move through our feelings of disappointment successfully?

To deal with disappointment constructively, don’t let it deteriorate into apathy and depression. Sustained negative rumination is not a prescription for change. When we become preoccupied by bad news, we lose sight of what is right in our lives and in the world around us. We only internalize feelings of sadness and anger. Hanging on to these feelings can result in us unconsciously making them a part of our identity.

When we catch ourselves thinking negatively, we should redirect our energy and focus on positive solutions. Although from an unconscious perspective we may be reluctant to let go of a disappointing experience, in the long run it will be more detrimental to continue holding on. When we become too preoccupied with thinking about situations that have not met our expectations, we only create unnecessary stress.

Disappointment is not meant to destroy us. If taken in stride, it can strengthen us and make us better. In spite of its devastating emotional impact, we may even consider encounters with disappointment as journeys toward greater insight and wisdom. But to be able to make these journeys of self-reflection and reevaluation meaningful, we need to look beneath the surface. Only by working through painful associations will we be free from them.

In spite of whatever disappointing experiences come our way, our challenge will be to not let bitterness take root. We would do well to keep in mind that although disappointment is inevitable, being discouraged is always a choice.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article wrongly attributed the quote “Expectation is the root of all heartache” to William Shakespeare. While HBR.org is not the first to make that mistake, we’ve updated the attribution to prevent others from repeating it.


Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries is an executive coach, psychoanalyst, and management scholar. He is the Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change at INSEAD in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi. His most recent book is Riding the Leadership Rollercoaster: An Observer’s Guide.


 

4 Ways Busy People Sabotage Themselves

You’ve left an important task undone for weeks. It’s hanging over you, causing daily anxiety. And yet instead of actually doing it, you do a hundred other tasks instead.

Or you’ve been feeling guilty about not replying to an email, even though replying would only take 10 minutes.

Or maybe the last time you needed stamps, you went to the post office to buy a single stamp because you couldn’t find the 100-pack you purchased a few months ago. You know it’s around… somewhere. But you just don’t have the time to clean your desk to find it.

These self-sabotaging patterns maintain a cycle of always having too much to do (or at least feeling like that’s the case). If you’re chronically tapped out of the immense amount of mental energy required for planning, decision making, and coping, it’s easy to get lured into these traps.  Let’s unpack the problems in more detail and discuss solutions.

1. You keep ploughing away without stepping back and prioritizing.

When we’re busy and stressed, we often default to working on whatever has the most imminent deadline, even if it’s not particularly important. Stress causes our focus to narrow to the point where we’re just keeping going, like a hamster on a wheel. We respond to emails and go through the motions of getting things done, without actually stepping back and considering what’s most important to work on. You might find yourself spending several hours on a task that wasn’t that important to begin with, even though you have a mountain of other things to be doing.

The solution is to step back and work on tasks that are important but not urgent. Use the “pay yourself first” principle to do items that are on your priority list first, before you jump to responding to other people’s needs. You might not be able to follow this principle every day, but aim to follow it for several days of the week.

2. You completely overlook easy solutions for getting things done.

When we’re stressed, we don’t think of easy solutions that are staring us in the face. Again, this happens because we’re in tunnel vision mode, doing what we usually do and not thinking flexibly. Especially if you’re a perfectionist, when you’re overloaded it’s likely that you’ll find yourself overcomplicating solutions to problems. For example, lots of busy people don’t keep enough food in the house. This leads to a cycle of stopping in at the grocery store on an almost daily basis to pick up one or two things, or a restaurant habit that ends up being expensive, time consuming, fattening, or all of the above. The solution seems horribly complicated: hours of meal planning, shopping, and cooking.

To get out of the trap of overlooking easy solutions, take a step back and question your assumptions. If you tend to think in extremes, is there an option between the two extremes you could consider? (To solve my no-food conundrum, I bought a $150 freezer and now keep at least a dozen or so healthyish frozen meals in there, as well as frozen bread and other staples. I’m not Martha Stewart, but neither am I grabbing takeout for every meal.)

On a broader level, breaks in which you allow your mind to wander are the main solution to the problem of tunnel vision. Even short breaks can allow you to break out of too narrow thinking. Sometimes, a bathroom break can be enough. Try anything that allows you to get up out of your seat and walk around. This can be a reason not to outsource some errands. They give an opportunity to allow your mind to wander while you’re physically on the move, an ideal background for producing insights and epiphanies.

3. You “kick the can down the road” instead of creating better systems for solving recurring problems.

 

When our mental energy is tapped out, we’ll tend to keep doing something ourselves that we could delegate or outsource, because we don’t have the upfront cognitive oomph we need to engage a helper and set up a system. For example, say you could really benefit from some help cleaning your house, but finding someone trustworthy, agreeing on a schedule, and training them on how you like things done feels more taxing than you can deal with right now (or ever). And so you put it off, week after week, doing the work yourself — even though even reallocating the time spent on one cleaning session would realistically be enough to hire someone else to do it.

Remedies for recurring problems are often simple if you can step back enough to get perspective. Always forgetting to charge your phone? Keep an extra power cord at the office. Always correcting the same mistakes? Ask your team to come up with a checklist so they can catch their own errors. Travel for work a lot? Create a “master packing list” so that trying to decide what to bring doesn’t require so much mental effort. Carve out time to create and tweak these kinds of systems. You might take a personal day from work to get started, and then spend an hour once a week on it to keep up; author Gretchen Rubin calls this her once-a-week “power hour.” When you start improving your systems, it creates a virtuous cycle in which you have more energy and confidence available for doing this further. By gradually accumulating winning strategies over time, you can significantly erode your problem, bit by bit.

4. You use avoid or escape methods for coping with anxiety.

People who are overloaded will have a strong impulse to avoid or escape anxiety. Avoidance could be putting off a discussion with your boss or avoiding telling a friend you can’t make it to her wedding. Escape could be rushing into an important decision, because you want to escape needing to think about it further. This can lead to a pattern of excessively delaying some decisions and making others impulsively. Avoidance and escape can also take other forms — an extra glass of wine (or three) after work, binge-watching TV, or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. It might even be ticking less-important things off your to-do list to avoid the urgent task that’s making you anxious.

If you want to deal constructively with situations that trigger anxiety for you, you’ll need to engineer some flexibility and space into your life so that you can work through your emotions and thoughts when your anxiety is set off. With practice, you’ll start to notice when you’re just doing something to avoid doing something else.

If you can relate to the patterns described, you’re not alone.  These issues aren’t personal flaws in your character or deficits in your self-control. They’re patterns that are very relatable to many people. You may be highly conscientious and self-disciplined by nature but still struggle with these habits. If you’re in this category you’re probably particularly frustrated by your patterns and self-critical. Be compassionate with yourself and aim to chip away at your patterns rather than expecting to give your habits a complete makeover or eradicate all self-sabotaging behaviors from your life.


Alice Boyes, PhD is a former clinical psychologist turned writer and is author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit.


This article is about PRODUCTIVITY

Research: Women and Men Are Equally Bad at Multitasking

According to popular stereotypes, women are better multitaskers. In fact, a quick Google search leads to many press articles claiming a female advantage. For example, women came out as better multitaskers when researchers used fMRI scans to measure brain activity, computer tests to measure response times, and an exercise in which people walking on a treadmill had to simultaneously complete a cognitive task.

From analyzing decades of studies of men and women in other cognitive skills, we know that men’s and women’s performance is usually quite similar. Yet there are a few tasks in which men and women consistently outperform each other — on average: For example, it is well-established that men typically fare better when imagining what complex 3-dimensional figures would look like if they were rotated. In turn, women reliably outperform men in certain verbal abilities such as remembering a list of words or other verbal content.

While women’s supposed superiority at multitasking has garnered headlines, the scientific findings regarding sex differences in multitasking abilities are rather inconsistent: some studies found no sex differences while others reported either a male or femaleadvantage.

One reason for these inconsistent findings may be that, to date, the vast majority of studies have examined gender differences using artificial laboratory tasks that do not match with the complex and challenging multitasking activities of everyday life. Another possible culprit is that different researchers define multitasking differently.

To address these concerns, we developed a computerized task — The Meeting Preparation Task (CMPT) — that was designed to resemble everyday life activities and, at the same time, that was grounded in the most comprehensive theoretical model of multitasking activities. That would be the model of University College London professor Paul Burgess. He defines two types of multitasking — concurrent multitasking, in which you do two or more activities at the same time (talking on the phone while driving) and serial multitasking, in which you switch rapidly between tasks (preparing your next meeting and answering an email, being interrupted by a colleague, checking Twitter). It’s this latter type of multitasking that most of us do most often, and this type of multitasking we wanted to test.

In the CMPT, participants find themselves in a 3-dimensional space, consisting of three rooms: a kitchen, a storage room, and a main room with tables and a projection screen. They are required to prepare a room for a meeting, that is, they have to place objects such as the chairs, pencils, and drinks in the right location, while at the same time dealing with distractors such as a missing chair and a phone call, and to remember actions to be carried out in the future (e.g., give an object to an avatar, put the coffee on the meeting table at a certain time). This computerized simulation was originally created to  allow for placing all the participants in the exact same conditions which permits to easily compare their performance and to avoid variables that may affect it (e.g., amount of noise). Such tasks also allow for measuring many variables at the same time. Finally, the task was designed to place participants in an unfamiliar situation, that is, in a situation where most people do not have any previous experience that would help them in carrying out the task.

Our idea with the present study was simple yet rare in the scientific literature: to use a validated task to assess whether there are gender differences in multitasking abilities in an everyday scenario in the general population. In order to do so, we recruited 66 females and 82 males aged between 18 and 60 years old and we asked them to carry out the CMPT. Thereafter, we compared the performance of both groups on several variables from the CMPT: overall accuracy of task completion (e.g., have participants placed the required objects on the table?), total time taken to complete the task, total distance traveled in the virtual environment, whether participants forgot to carry out tasks, and whether they managed the interrupting events (such as the phone call) in an optimal manner. We found no differences between men and women in terms of serial multitasking abilities.

We cannot exclude the possibility that there are no sex differences in serial multitasking abilities, but if they do exist, such differences are likely to be very small. There is a need for other studies that replicate these findings, or that investigate concurrent multitasking. But we think it is fair to conclude that the evidence for the stereotype that women are better multitaskers is, so far, fairly weak.


Julien Laloyaux is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bergen (Norway). His research interests include multitasking abilities and in particular in psychiatric and neurological disorders. Another main area of interest is the cognitive and emotional underpinnings of psychotic symptoms.


Frank Laroi is Professor of Psychology at the University of Bergen (Norway) and University of Liège (Belgium). His research interests include using state-of the-art technology in assessment and treatment contexts for various psychological disorders, especially schizophrenia and associated symptoms.


Marco Hirnstein is a researcher at the University of Bergen (Norway), whose main research focus is electric brain stimulation methods but has always been curious about cognitive sex differences.