“Understanding natural, hard-wired behaviors would enable us to better manage our own strengths and struggles while adapting our expectations and communication”
An exclusive partner of Dasein in Brazil, Lee Ellis recently launched his book “Leadership Behavior DNA” – which introduce an innovative methodology to investigate individual differences and human behavior. In this interview, he talks about the work carried out in co-authorship with Hugh Massie and how it can contribute in leadership development.
The innovative methodology “Leadership Behavior DNA” is the central theme of his new book, in partnership with Hugh Massie. For Brazilians who do not yet know the advantages of the methodology, could you emphasize its importance for the evolution of professionals and companies?
The challenge of relating to individual differences in human behavior has been evident in every family and workplace since the beginning of time. However, being able to clarify and manage differences consistently has never really been done effectively in society, especially in the workplace.
Understanding natural, hard-wired behaviors would enable us to better manage our own strengths and struggles while adapting our expectations and communication style to better relate to others which is essential to good leadership, collaborative teamwork, and ultimately: mission success.
Because of this basic understanding of natural behavior gained early on, friends and colleagues began to ask us for help in various ways related to business—particularly areas that related to the human domain: hiring, managing, motivating, developing and retaining people. After gaining insights using other assessment tools, some of which we had created, owned and used, it was clear that we needed to develop and refine a new assessment that incorporated both the latest research and our deep experience gained from years of coaching and training work with clients.
This effort brought us the “best in class” DNA Behavior assessment, employing eight Factors of behavior that represent sixteen powerful Traits. The scientific core of this new book that we’ve written focuses on sharing these performance Traits, which we believe are the solution to successfully working with people and succeeding in relationships of all kinds.
How was the collaborative work with Massie and what is the main benefit of the union of such valuable experiences?
Hugh and I are both similar and different in our talents. We tend to see the same big picture vision quickly, yet we may respond differently because some of our Traits are different. Of course, we also come from different experiences, and our passion and calling for work is slightly different too.
If you judged us only by our early professions, you’d never expect that we would be teammates. There was nothing in our backgrounds to indicate that our passion and calling would be collectively focused in the field of human behavior.
In my first career, I was a US Air Force officer, fighter pilot, and flight instructor, holding leadership positions at every level along the way in his twenty-five-year military career before retiring as a colonel.Hugh grew up in Australia and became a recognized CPA in Sydney, Singapore, and Bangkok, working in a leadership role with one of the world’s most acclaimed accountancy firms before founding his own wealth management company in Sydney.
Now, it’s been nearly two decades since we began to discuss our common interest in natural behavior and how capitalizing on natural talents could address several objectives in the workplace. We celebrate our different perspectives which make for a more holistic methodology on the power of understanding human behavior.
Understand the differences in depth and know how to manage them to gain in engagement and productivity. This is one of the benefits of the “Leadership Behavior DNA” methodology. Through the book, is it possible for the reader to put this concept into practice in their daily work? How can he do this?
Much of what undermines teamwork is just people being themselves. That is the reality. Each person is unique and often the people we need most in our lives at home and work are the ones who are very different from us—often making them the ones hardest to relate to. This important insight is crucial for building the trust needed to form cohesive teams—teams that can work through the stress and meet the challenges of a highly competitive and rapidly changing world.
First, we must apply the Platinum Rule in our daily interactions – “Do unto others as they would like to be done unto”. Even though it’s very simple, it’s often difficult to grasp and always challenging to follow. We refer to this rule many times throughout the book because of its importance.
Second, if you’ve identified and removed some of your limiting filters and distorted (or biased) lenses, you will be able to see others from a more accurate and balanced perspective. This type of awareness will enable you to experience the powerful and positive benefits of individual differences.
Instead of expecting unity around the necessary but divisive individual differences (such as talent, motivations, interests, needs, and styles), successful teams choose to celebrate differences and focus on those attributes that unify them (mission, commitment/loyalty, organizational values, opportunity, and policies/discipline). When there is disagreement or confusion on these two lists (diversity and unity), there is likely to be a breakdown in trust, cohesion, commitment, and teamwork. Make clarity a priority.
In 1967 you were a prisoner of war in Vietnam and managed to transform this drastic situation into honorable learning. How did this experience contribute to the development of “Leadership Behavior DNA”?
During my time as a Vietnam Prisoner of War, the living situation varied from isolation to cells of four to six people, but eventually I spent almost two years locked up in one large room with 52 strong-willed, competitive aircrew cellmates. There were no inside walls in this cell of roughly 1800 sq. ft.; it was packed with bodies. The POWs slept elbow to elbow on a raised concrete slab. There were some hard times, but it was the perfect laboratory to learn about human nature and practice the Platinum Rule (mentioned in the last question)—long before it was so named.
With little to do, most of us decided it was a good opportunity to grow and develop. We soon organized an educational program with formal academic classes six days a week. It was optional, but most guys engaged in some of the classes. The teamwork in that cell became remarkable.
We organized everything, assigned and rotated duties, and most importantly learned the power of respecting and caring for others—even those who irritated us the most. Only twice in those 20 months did someone raise their voice at another, and in both cases, they apologized before bedtime. Besides a greater awareness of the unique strengths and struggles of each person, we also learned to live the Platinum Rule and effectively manage our differences.
Getting professionals out of the comfort zone and encouraging them to collaborate with the whole team is one of the main challenges for leaders. How can the book contribute to this task?
In our training workshops, we always start out with understanding self—self-awareness is essential for development. As they gain insights into their own strengths and struggles, they learn that some are like them and some are very different. Very quickly, folks are wanting to know what their teammates are like: who is like me and who is different and in what way? Fortunately, there is a simple way to avail that information using the DNA Behavior Team Performance Report. It gives a clear visual team array and highlights the science of how individual DNA Behavior differences impact team dynamics in a very real and powerful way.
Teammates can visually see how they are different and use that information to have realistic expectations for each other. Each person can understand and value the different talents of everyone on the team. It’s obvious to the leader that each person is unique and needs to be encouraged, managed, and communicated with differently.
The discovery process and subsequent flow of learning are so logical and transparent that they facilitate
a low-threat environment that frees people to be vulnerable and openly discuss their strengths and struggles. Self-awareness and others-awareness increases objectivity which facilitates vulnerability which builds team trust.
There is an entire section in the book dedicated to this team dynamics process, but the first two sections build the framework needed to apply this knowledge.