I have blogged about my experiences at the Simmons School of Management Leadership Conference. One session had me boiling inside – and they didn’t even have a Q&A session! I thought I’d write a bit about the session that bothered me, and why it bothered me, as the themes are very important in a connected world.
The session was a Leadership Seminar led by Annie McKee. Many of the first statements made were very good. For example: we are living in a time of profound changes that are reshaping the social structures around us. And these shifts are causing the basic systems that had been in place to crumble as they become irrelevant.
Ok, so far I could agree with it all.
Then the conversation started to focus on what makes a good leader. Statements such as “leaders touch our hearts” and “good leaders move us as complete human beings, they move our mind, body, heart, and spirit”. Hmm, ok, maybe I can buy that.
But then things were said that fully engaged my resident oppositional attitude:
Humans are good at reading social cues
OK, that is just not true. EVERYONE is not good at reading social cues. For instance, adults on the Autism spectrum may not be able to read social cues. Plus, social cues are tied to culture. If you work in a global organization, you may be good at reading the social cues from your own culture, but if you are on the other side of the world working — there is a chance you miss certain signals because they aren’t relevant in your culture.
But, not everyone is as sensitive to this topic as me, so I kept listening. Then I heard this:
Good leaders know how to draw people to them, and how to use and manage emotion in a positive way
OK, so good leaders can manage their emotions, use emotions to influence others, and are good at reading social cues. Basically they can’t have any sort of Executive Functioning Deficit. The things listed as signs of good leaders are the opposites of symptoms of many disabilities.
Then the conversation switched to the discussion of mirror neurons:
Mirror nuerons are what make us physiologically attuned to pick up social cues
Well that is not exactly what mirror neurons do. Marco Iacoboni, the neuroscientist best known for his work on mirror neurons, had this to say about the hype:
I think there are two key points to keep in mind. The first one is the one we started with: mirror neurons are brain cells specialized for actions. They are obviously critical cells for social interactions but they can’t explain non-social cognition. The second point to keep in mind is that every brain cell and every neural system does not operate in a vacuum. Everything in the brain is interconnected, so that the activity of each cell reflects the dynamic interactions with other brain cells and other neural systems.
So mirror neurons have a specific specialized purpose for interpreting actions, not non-social cognition. Of course the first thing I thought when these neurons were mentioned was: what about people on the spectrum? Are their mirror neurons broken?
The final straw in the presentation was this statement:
If you lead, how do you make emotions contagious across the airwaves?
This is just crazy. You can’t just send emotion over the airwaves, you have to be sure you are transmitting over a frequency that can be picked up by everyone you are supposed to be leading. So this means adjusting that frequency so that people on the autism spectrum, people from all cultures, countries, and creeds are able to receive the signal and decipher it.
This presentation cut to my core for several reasons:
- My daughter is on the spectrum. I would never her want to be at a professional conference where someone said she was “broken”, or even “dangerous”
- I think culture is vital to innovation. Perhaps this presentation would work if we had a pan-global identity – but we don’t. We have to work at making our intentions known, and cutting other people slack when they don’t “get” us right away.
I’m more convinced than ever that there is a great need to educate people about what it means to be on the autism spectrum, and how by just changing our views of “broken” and “dangerous” can enable very smart, focused, creative people to contribute even more to our society.
That is one way I hope to show leadership in the future.