• Monday, May 20, 2024
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How cognitive dissonance erodes your leadership

How cognitive dissonance erodes your

By Toye Sobande

Have you ever poured your heart and soul into inspiring your team, only to feel a disconnect between your efforts and their engagement? You might be experiencing the insidious effects of cognitive dissonance. Leaders who unknowingly hold contradictory beliefs often create a “trust gap” with their teams. This happens when your stated values and everyday actions are misaligned.

Imagine a CEO who champions innovation yet clings to outdated processes. Picture a manager preaching work-life balance while working nights and weekends themselves. This internal conflict, the dissonance between words and actions, is the silent killer of leadership. These seemingly small inconsistencies can create a “trust gap” between you and your team. When your words and actions don’t align, it undermines your credibility and erodes the foundation of a strong leadership dynamic.

Cognitive dissonance, a term coined by psychologist Leon Festinger, describes the mental discomfort we experience when holding two opposing beliefs or engaging in behaviour that contradicts our values.

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The science behind cognitive dissonance is simple, our brains seek consistency. When our beliefs and actions clash, we experience discomfort. To resolve this tension, we can either adjust our beliefs or our actions. Unfortunately, for leaders, changing deeply held beliefs can be difficult. This leaves them with one option:

Aligning their actions with their stated values

The consequences for leadership are significant. Disengaged teams, low morale, and a lack of buy-in are just some of the ways cognitive dissonance can hinder organisational success. Building trust is paramount for effective leadership, and when your actions contradict your message, it sends a powerful signal that undermines that trust.

This dissonance creates a tension we strive to reduce. In the context of leadership, this can manifest in several ways.

The ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ trap: When leaders preach one thing but do another, it sends a confusing message to their team. Employees become disengaged and lose trust in their leader’s credibility.

The innovation paradox: Leaders may champion innovation on paper but be unwilling to invest in resources or embrace change, creating frustration and stifling creativity.

The work-life imbalance conundrum: Leaders who prioritise work above all else, despite advocating for healthy boundaries, create an environment where employees feel pressured to follow suit, leading to burnout.

These are just a few examples. The impact of cognitive dissonance on leadership effectiveness is undeniable. When a trust gap exists, team morale suffers, communication breaks down, and organisational goals become distant mirages.

Q: “When your words and actions don’t align, it undermines your credibility and erodes the foundation of a strong leadership dynamic.”

How can you spot the signs of dissonance in your Leadership?

The good news is that cognitive dissonance is often unconscious. By becoming more aware of your leadership style and its potential inconsistencies, you can take steps to bridge the gap and foster a more authentic relationship with your team. Here are some signs to watch for:

Preaching values you don’t uphold: Do you champion collaboration but micromanage projects? Do you value work-life balance but expect constant availability? Identify areas where your behaviour contradicts your stated values.

Mixed messages: Are your words inspiring, yet your tone conveys doubt or negativity? Are your goals ambitious, but your actions hesitant? Pay attention to mixed signals you might be sending through both verbal and non-verbal communication.

Extreme levels of stress: Constant mental strain can be a sign of unresolved cognitive dissonance. If you find yourself feeling burnt out or overwhelmed, take a step back to evaluate your leadership approach for potential inconsistencies.

High turnover and disengagement: When your team lacks enthusiasm and motivation, it might be a sign that your actions aren’t aligning with your stated values.

Communication silos: If employees are hesitant to voice concerns or offer suggestions, a trust gap might exist.

Low morale: A pervasive sense of negativity can stem from a lack of alignment between a leader’s words and actions.

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Missed deadlines and declining performance: If your team is struggling to achieve goals, consider if your actions contradict the strategies you advocate for.

How can you bridge the gap and ensure trust?

Fortunately, overcoming cognitive dissonance and fostering a more authentic leadership style is achievable. Here are some actionable strategies:

Self-awareness is key: Regularly reflect on your leadership style and values. Ask yourself: “Do my actions align with my words?” Consider engaging a leadership coach or mentor for honest feedback.

Embrace transparency: Be upfront and honest with your team about challenges and setbacks. Hiding mistakes erodes trust.

Lead by example: Your actions speak volumes. Demonstrate your commitment to your values through consistent behaviour.

Empower your team: When you empower your team and value diverse perspectives, you foster a culture of trust and accountability.

Embrace continuous learning: The world is constantly evolving, so be willing to adapt your leadership approach and learn from your mistakes.

In conclusion, leadership is not just about pronouncements and eloquent speeches. It’s about living and breathing your values. By closing the gap between your words and actions, you can bridge the trust gap and become a more authentic and impactful leader. This, in turn, will lead to a more engaged, motivated, and successful organisation. Remember, cognitive dissonance may be a silent killer, but you don’t have to be its victim. Embrace authenticity, bridge the gap, and watch your leadership soar.


About the Author

Dr. Toye Sobande is a strategic leadership expert, lawyer, public speaker, and trainer. He is the CEO of Stephens Leadership Consultancy LLC, a strategy and management consulting firm offering creative insight and solutions to businesses and leaders. Email: [email protected]