Could Your Coaching Help Save Us?

In today’s post, I argue that the work that you do has potentially enormous value that you may not yet have recognized.

Let’s start with something a bit frightening. (Please don’t head for the exits. I know that there is too much to fear these days, but stick with this post. It goes somewhere!)

A volunteer in a community organization to which I belong shared this article. It describes a new kind of warfare, cognitive warfare, which is designed to disrupt whole societies without firing a shot. Then, on March 30, 2023, the Washington Post published this article, describing how Russia is doing just that.

Both articles are important, but are long and not that easy to get through. Here is the gist: Cognitive warfare uses recent advances in psychological and neurological science to create social media, chatbots, and the like, to sow fear and divisiveness. The goal is to undermine the social fabric that unites us. Cognitive warfare tactics play on fears, exaggerate, promote false information that pits group against group, encourage hatred, and so forth. Such efforts can make an adversary weak from within, easy to triumph against.

You may be wondering: “What has this got to do with us?” This is not just someone else’s problem. Our nation’s intelligence services work hard to stop cognitive warfare attacks, but clearly, they cannot be 100% successful. Intelligence services cannot inoculate our fellow citizens against hatred and primitive fears. That’s where we come in.

What makes our fellow citizens potentially susceptible to cognitive warfare? Major factors include:

  • A loss of belief in our leaders in general. This happens when leaders think only in the short term, put profits ahead of integrity, and fail to consider the wellbeing of all stakeholders. Cynicism naturally follows.
  • The erosion of long trusted cultural institutions that housed people with diverse thinking but which bonded them together with certain common values.
  • The increased sophistication, based on neuropsychology and other science, in the use of fear to alienate.
  • The loss of a common vision of America in which we scrap with each other but have a shared pride in what America/democracy should stand for.

If you are an executive coach, you can make a significant contribution to the welfare of our society by just continuing to do what you do. Your work can help your client leaders regain credibility by . . . wait for it . . . learning to actually be credible.

We know from research that when people who work in organizations are polarized, performance suffers, sometimes dramatically. “I won’t work with Sam. He’s a MAGA.” “I won’t cooperate with Bill, he’s a flaming Lib!” As a result, workers row in different directions, and fail to communicate, which feeds mistrust. Then as employees feel alienated, they leave, hiking turnover. Cognitive warfare fans all of these flames.

Every time you help a leader be more human, be more connected, be more trustable, and offer leadership more worth following, followers have more reason to believe in the organizations those leaders lead, even when people look different, think differently, vote differently, and live differently. In other words, these workers and other stakeholders have something positive to trust, to believe in, making them far less susceptible to the divisive lies of cognitive warfare. Instead, they have people and an organization with which they feel connected.

In summary, good leadership inoculates people against the psychological manipulation of cognitive warfare. That means that the impact of your work goes beyond the welfare of individual clients and their organizations. It is making a contribution to our society in general. It helps people begin to fall in love again with that old fashioned feeling of loyalty, safety, and togetherness that used to be part of our society.

It would be interesting to see how our recognition of the potential of this greater contribution might encourage creative efforts that have not yet been imagined, including by me. Is good leadership contagious? Could it help protect us from this new type of warfare?

What do you think? Have you got a story that illustrates how a client became more credible? If so, please disguise it and share it for all of our benefit.

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