by William D. Anton, PhD, Founder of CEO Effectiveness

The boss who deserves a hug on National Hug Your Boss Day is the one who has revised their old mental models and not let their ambition override their character. As noted in Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week (Aug 2-8, 2015), “Naked ambition is a notorious vice, but when clothed in character it can be transformed into a great virtue.” Those trustworthy souls are self-aware, effective, and worth hugging.

question-mark-96286_1280The difficulty arises when the bosses’ ambition is energized by little or no self-knowledge or even self-awareness. Those bosses often remain ignorant of their truer self and seek external power as a substitute. For them inner confidence remains elusive since it is a byproduct of self-knowledge. Hence, position power and domination over others serves as a misaligned compensation for inner powerlessness[1].

This type of maimed ambition was beautifully characterized by John Adams: “Ambition is the subtlest beast of the intellectual and moral field. It is wonderfully adroit in concealing itself from its owner.” If you have a boss who knows themselves as they truly are, consider yourself fortunate. But, if your boss is operating using an outdated mental model of the world and their place in it, you can be relatively certain that workers and company are similarly encumbered. What self-focused bosses receive from others is compliance disguised as commitment, and their companies and employees pay a steep price for this.

One of the enduring principles of psychology is that commitment to a relationship (or an organization) is a function of the possibility of growth. No potential for growth, no commitment. Knowledge is the most important product of 21st century companies. But what kind of boss energizes the workforce, models and creates “flow”, and celebrates the evolution of those who work alongside them to create bold futures? The research based answer comes from fMRI studies conducted by Richard Boyatzis at Case Western Reserve: Resonant leaders stimulate mirror neurons in persons they have contact with and dissonant leaders have the opposite effect.

In his book Return on Character, Dr. Fred Kiel correctly observes that “trust flows from strong character habits”, and I would add, these habits flow from self-knowledge. As long as your early mental models (supported by neurobiology) and fortifying habits remain in force, you will only achieve a more efficient existence, not true freedom. Self-knowledge brings forth “moral intuitions”, modulates the expression of shared personality traits, and integrates the slow brain and the fast brain (i.e., unconscious) in a way that balances drives. The way people treat others is one of the more direct reflections of their character.

In short, “the truth will set you free.” and the best bosses liberate energy, commitment, creativity and respect in the workforce. If you are fortunate enough to have this kind of boss, hug her today. Dreams and fears lead to very different paths!

[1] The brain interprets ambiguity as danger.