By: Dale A. Hicks, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, Certified CEO Effectiveness Executive Coach

human-43351_1280In his commemoration of National Wildlife Day, Dr. Bill Anton articulates several differences between humans and other animals.  In so doing, his post also serves as a reminder that humans are, nevertheless, part of the animal kingdom (more specifically, mammal and primate) and often struggle with “hardwired tendencies” that can be problematic, especially when not acknowledged, understood and mastered.

Desmond Morris, a renowned zoologist, in his classic works, The Naked Ape (1967) and The Human Zoo (1969), not only seeks to explain many human physical characteristics but, also, much of human behavior, in terms of our inclusion in the biological Order of Primate. Long before Morris, Sigmund Freud presented a theory known as the “pleasure principle,” in which he posited that humans and other animals instinctively seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Importantly, however, humans are advantaged by superior cognitive capabilities, including critical thinking and the ability to reflect on ourselves, our beliefs and our behaviors, as well as on the world around us. As Bill states in his post, humans “enjoy unique freedoms and are confronted with a greater burden of choice than other species.” It has been said that with greater advantage, comes greater responsibility. As we all know, this greater advantage can be dedicated to good or to evil. It also can be dedicated to seeking greater self-knowledge.

Understanding “why” we feel, think or behave in certain ways (whether attributable to genetic inheritance, messages we’ve perceived and incorporated throughout our developmental years, or simply from modeling after the behaviors of our parents) is insufficient, in itself, to gain self-knowledge. But it is a critical initial step in the process. Remaining ignorant of, or denying, our underlying feelings, impulses and mental models either precludes change altogether or drives our efforts in inappropriate and unhelpful directions.

In a recent article, “Conquer Yourself, Conquer the World” (Scientific American, April, 2015), Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist, presents research-based evidence that “People with good control over their thought processes, emotions and behaviors not only flourish in school and in their jobs but are also healthier, wealthier and more popular. And they have better intimate relationships…are less likely to go astray by getting arrested, becoming addicted to drugs or experiencing unplanned pregnancies. They even live longer.”

CEO Effectiveness encourages everyone to seek greater self-knowledge in the service of their own and others’ well-being, including their families, friends, classmates and co-workers. Leaders, in particular, who enjoy unique positions of influence and impact on many lives, can benefit from expanding their self-knowledge in the service of their own well-being and that of their students, employees, customers and other stakeholders. And, as Fred Kiel clearly demonstrates in Return on Character, for corporations this translates into greater employee and customer satisfaction, greater productivity and greater profit. Doing the right thing (using our “greater freedom to revise our original programming,” as Bill states) can result in a “win-win” outcome for everyone.