Someone once described to me the experience of slipping into a "K-hole" after partying on too much ketamine. He felt as if he were in a dissociative state, floating above his body and looking down.
Mosby's Medical Dictionary describes dissociation as "an unconscious defence mechanism by which an idea, thought, emotion, or other mental process is separated from the consciousness and thereby loses emotional significance."
Some of the best company builders I've witnessed have the ability to, naturally, slip into a dissociative state when analyzing their business.
I call these founders "dissociative architects" because they have a knack for pulling themselves out of their business and looking down on it objectively, as if it were a great big science fair project.
When things go wrong, dissociative architects don't get emotional; they simply tinker with their business model.
The other style of company-building is what I call a "sleeves-rolled-up" leader."
These are leaders who react to situations with emotion. When something goes wrong, they triage the problem and seek to smooth things over with the force of their personality.
Imagine a situation where a customer calls to complain about a product they have bought. Dissociative architects have the ability to sit back and analyze the situation without getting emotional. They will use data as their guide as they seek to understand why that customer is dissatisfied. They will consider other similar customers and measure their relative satisfaction to see if this situation is an outlier or represents a trend.
The sleeves-rolled-up leader will call the customer and find out how to make it right. These leaders often think they can – and often do – improve things by the sheer force of their personality.
Which leadership style is best?
All of us have the capacity to lead in both ways but we likely have a dominant style. I think the trick is to be able to toggle between them effectively.
If you're too much of a dissociative architect, your employees will have trouble getting inspired – some situations require emotion. Instead of the battlefield commander who sits back and analyzes the trajectory of the grenade that is about to explode on his troops, most of us would rather follow the sleeves-rolled-up leader who yells "Run!"
Likewise, sleeves-rolled-up leaders who think everything can be solved with perseverance and sheer emotion may be inspiring to follow for a time but will lose the confidence of their team if they keep making the same mistakes.
One of the most effective tools that sleeves-rolled-up leaders can use to be more dissociative is the post-mortem. Like the medical procedure, a business post-mortem does not seek to fix the problem but to understand what went wrong, so a permanent repair can be developed.
Here are five steps to an effective post-mortem:
Cast the net wide
Invite anyone who was involved in the project that went wrong.
Seek understanding, not scapegoats
Explain upfront that the purpose is to understand what went wrong, not assign blame.
Pick a moderator
As the founder, you probably have an opinion about what went wrong, which is why you should assign someone else to moderate the discussion. He or she can act as a neutral third party.
Focus on the fix
Once you have figured out all the things that went wrong, document a fix for each discrete failure point in the system
Communicate the new procedure
Once the post-mortem group has developed a set of new procedures, share the process with your entire team.
Raw emotional leadership may feel natural to most of us, but effective leaders occasionally use techniques like a post-mortem to slip into a dissociative state.
Special to The Globe and Mail
John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. You can download a free chapter of his new book, Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You.
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