Monday, February 05, 2007

Fighting Retention

The key principles of Counterinsurgency are, as noted in Twenty-Eight Articles; Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency,
If you have not studied counterinsurgency theory, here it is in a nutshell: this is a competition with the insurgent for the right and the ability to win the hearts, minds and acquiescence of the population.

You are being sent in because the insurgents, at their strongest, can defeat anything weaker than you.

But you have more combat power than you can or should use in most situations. Injudicious use of firepower creates blood feuds, homeless people and societal disruption that fuels and perpetuates the insurgency. [...]

For your side to win, the people do not have to like you but they must respect you, accept that your actions benefit them, and trust your integrity and ability to deliver on promises, particularly regarding their security.

In this battlefield popular perceptions and rumor are more influential than the facts and more powerful than a hundred tanks.
(Emphases mine.)

Parallels between counterinsurgency and leadership are easy; "the insurgent" is any other motivating factor acting on your people, particularly those managed by competing influences such as marketers, propagandists, and educators.

Leadership is a competition with the world for the rights to use people. Does sound a bit harsh, doesn't it. Credibility puts it well;
"Leadership is a process and a set of practices. As such, leadership is amoral. [...] To our way of thinking, [Charles] Manson, and anyone who would do evil, has no legitimacy as a leader. Such legitimacy is determined not by the leader, but by the society."

The reasons why the Charles Mansons, David Koreshs, and charismatic leaders succeed despite their (in hindsight) often evil intentions is because they know people. By manipulating the expectations and values of their target audiences while isolating them from the general populace, anyone can move a normal person into a position where they act in ways formerly strange to them.

Cialdini's Influence devotes an entire chapter to this process of isolation and escalating commitment.

Cialdini notes that once a person has been shoved across the border of their normal behavior into a foreign land, usually by small pushes, "the man himself uses [his deeds] to decide what he is like. His behavior tells him about himself: it is a primary source of information about his beliefs and values and attributes." (p. 75) Once a person sees themself as the sort of person who acts in this strange, new way, it is no longer strange and new. It's normal.

Think of being thrown into college or a new job. For a while you're offset by the new patterns, but soon enough you catch on and know that this is what college students do, and you are a college student. So it's normal. In fact, not doing it is weird.

Cialdini compares it to Jiu-Jitsu or Judo. The Judo master uses their opponent's own force against them. With nothing but slight pushes, pulls, and expertise a judo master leaves their opponent helplessly laid out on the mat with minimal effort.

Influences such as Manson, Koresh, and Insurgents in general are part of the competition every leadership faces, and they often succeed at wrenching people away simply because of psychological biases and knowing how to keep someone off balance and heading in the 'right' direction once they've taken the first step.

The way our brains work predisposes us toward those dangerous first steps. In Why Hawks Win, authors Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon talk about the psychology which makes it easy for us to change.

Their results are shocking;
when we constructed a list of the biases uncovered in 40 years of psychological research, we were startled by what we found: All the biases in our list favor hawks. These psychological impulses [...] incline national leaders to exaggerate the evil intentions of adversaries, to misjudge how adversaries perceive them, to be overly sanguine when hostilities start, and overly reluctant to make necessary concessions in negotiations. In short, these biases have the effect of making wars more likely to begin and more difficult to end.

If war is seen as "active hostility or contention; [i.e.] a war of words," then all of these biases point toward change, and anyone who can present a rosy picture that involves small changes can hook people into being led.

So the question is,
How can a leader keep their followers against such powerful competition?

The answer is in the definition of Counterinsurgency noted above; "you have more combat power than you can or should use in most situations."

By not abusing the authority given to you by your followers, you let them find out why they want to follow you.

"Injudicious use of firepower [a.k.a Overemphasis on carrots or sticks] creates blood feuds, homeless people, and societal disruption that fuels and perpetuates the insurgency."

Blood feuds, "bitter, continuous hostility, esp. between two families, clans, etc., often lasting for many years or generations," can be seen as any lingering resentment or hostility. Homeless people are unhappy people (they don't like where they live, and want to move into something better), and societal disruption is the annoying factors which make it difficult for normal work to continue.

By giving followers obvious reasons to follow like money or the threat of a lost job you make it easy for your followers to see the benefits of alternate leaders.

Put simply; by pushing or pulling you move the focus of your followers away from the job and onto the forces moving them.

The easiest way for a leader to keep their followers is to leave them alone. All followership is a grant by a follower to allow a leader to give them direction.

By trying to do your job first and foremost and leaving motivation to the follower a leader can guarantee that the people who stay are those who want to help.

People do need a little help and support now and then. The job of a leader isn't to pay people to work, it's to find how people are doing well and encourage it as respectfully as possible. People know this, whether or not they could tell you that they do.

Paying someone to do their job is saying that they wouldn't be doing it without the money, and threatening someone with the loss of their job is telling them that they're only as valuable as what they're doing right now.

The carrot and the stick are better applied to animals than people. People know this. People get their paycheck and ask themselves why they work for so little money, or think that being fired actually... wouldn't be so bad.

Giving people respect when they perform to task and only giving out praise when someone shows initiative shows followers that what matters isn't the job on the table, but the end goal and the people behind the jobs.

Respect for success and praise for initiative shows that you value the qualities a follower uses to help with the goal and the things that make them human. That's all most followers want from a leader. Everything else is icing on the cake.

It shows that a leader values success and values people who work hard toward success. Respect only works on people. People know this. Respect is the only way of showing someone that you value them as a person, not an animal.

A basic strategy of public respect for success and public praise of initiative leads to all the successful parts of counterinsurgency;

The people know that you respect them and are working toward the task which allows them to respect you. Respect requires respect.

They know that you're working as hard as you can to achieve the task for the benefit of all. Leaders helps followers do their best.

Your integrity and honor are proven by your total commitment to the goals of the organization. Bribery is always faster and easier than respect. Only an honorable leader can ignore bribery in favor of respect. Only a leader of integrity can stick to the strategy of public respect for success and public praise of initiative all the time.

And once you achieve your goals as their leader, it's much easier to find goodies for your people.

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