What is Intrusive Leadership?


Updated Over a Week Ago

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A significant part of leadership effectiveness is motivating the team.

Motivation is a hot topic in organizational science, but answering the question “what motives people” and producing effective solutions has been met with limited success.

Intrusive Leadership

Previously, I’ve written about the soft side of leadership and how subtle people skills can make a significant difference in leadership effectiveness.

And a significant part of exhibiting good people skills involves understanding yourself.

I’ve also written recently about the different selves that comprise each of us. The existence of our different selves plays into the elusive nature of knowing what motivates.

This article deals with how Intrusive Leadership works.

Motivation Surveys

The usual approach to determine what motivates people is employing surveys of what people say motivates them.

This process is viable if people actually know what motivates them in the moment-by-moment context of their average workday. But empirical research suggests we don’t really know.

I can think of three reasons why:

  1. When we are taking the survey, our mind is usually in a different state than it is in the moment-by-moment daily work environment. When we are taking the survey, it is difficult for us to switch our minds to the typical daily setting for several reasons, not the least of which is we tend to take the survey alone while our daily context involves interacting with others. Each of these two contexts can engage different networks in our brains.
  2. We often answer from fundamental motives, such as presenting a desirable image. We can present an image that meets what we assume is required of us, or we can have the motivation to present an image of whom we feel we ought to be. The first and second reasons appeal to our different selves, producing a different presentation of who we are in the two environments (survey and real).
  3. The third problem with the survey method for understanding motivation is the questions and answers not only lead us to particular answers but also limit our choices. What this means is that the surveys can produce their own evidence based on someone’s theory of you and of what the evidence should look like. Such a theory is said to be self-evidencing, meaning it is likely unrealistic.

If you want to know what motivates your direct reports, then forget the theories and get to know them. The realistic answer to what motivates people is to be an effective leader.

The thing is, effectiveness cannot be purchased in a package, neatly shrink-wrapped in some surveys. Effective leaders aren’t born; they’re developed.

Leadership Development

The other side of the effectiveness coin involves reaching out to each of your direct reports as unique individuals. And this involves what’s coined as “intrusive leadership”.

One time, I returned from an Air Force senior leadership development course. Representing headquarters, there was a top-ranking official who explained a concept he called intrusive leadership.

In essence, it is getting to know your direct reports and not waiting for them to get to know you or let you in. But to do so effectively, you must have a genuine interest in them.

This is a skill that can be developed with practice.

Trust and Rapport

It is important to be patient because you are also establishing trust and rapport with them.

Intrusive leadership is not about analyzing your direct reports, reading them, and jumping to conclusions. It is simply about getting to know them.

Think about your family, how you spend your time, what interests you have and things you value, and what motivates you. Then fill in similar categorical blanks about your direct reports.

Once they know you have a genuine interest in them, they will confide in you for just about everything at work.

You’ll discover their concerns, strengths, and weaknesses. You’d use such knowledge not to evaluate them but rather to equip them to know how to address their concerns, capitalize on their strengths, and address their weaknesses.

You can use the information to motivate them and help them progress in their careers. Don’t be afraid to share with them your goal to get to know them.

Team Diversity

Chances are you will have some diversity in your team. So it is important to understand the diversity you have, common issues they may face on the team and in society, and be able to detect when you can help them solve a problem, provide some assistance, or otherwise lead and mentor their advancement.

If you don’t know your direct reports or you have biases you need to eliminate, you’ll adversely impact team dynamics.

And you will likely have to deal with conflict or offense, so be educated and prepared for it.

Such is a tiny price to pay for the productivity your diverse team could exhibit if you get to know your direct reports and develop trust and rapport in doing so.

Don’t be afraid to talk with your direct reports about issues they may have because of their differences.

Bear in mind it doesn’t matter what their differences are; they are still people. It might also be good to be educated on the common stereotypes regarding their identity.

It is important to know that human beings are prone to stereotypes – we love to categorize people. It is also important to know that most stereotypes are fabricated and have no basis in genetics or biology.

Moreover, targets of stereotypes could respond by behaving according to the stereotype, and this will play into how you regard them. If you think they cannot handle a task, they may do worse on the task just because you expect it.

Making a Personable Connection

With reflective listening, a thick skin, and control over yourself while manifesting genuine concern and interest in your direct reports, you will be amazed at how much you can motivate people and how easily issues can be resolved.

Making a personable connection in your one-on-one meetings is an essential element of intrusive leadership.

Intrusive leadership is so named to make the point that to increase your effectiveness in motivating your team members, you need to be a hands-on leader.

And as I’ve written before, no one size fits all.

Your direct reports are unique individuals with strengths and weaknesses, dreams and goals, insecurities and confidence – and all the elements that comprise their unique humanity.

If you want to take your leadership up a notch, and you have not yet, I recommend employing intrusive leadership.

What Do You Think of Intrusive Leadership?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Mark Graybill
Mark Graybill
Mark has a Master’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and is a management consultant, a leadership instructor for the Air Force Reserves, and a Ph.D. student of Psychology specializing in Social Cognition and Instruction.
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