Why Dissonance Resonates, the Road to Abilene, and Lying to Yourself (and others!)

Have you ever enthusiastically recommended a book or movie you didn’t really like to someone? Get home from a less than ideal vacation, only to tell people how great it was when they ask? Or how about this: have you knowingly taken a mind-numbing job because you “had to”, only to find yourself increasingly extolling its virtues the longer you are in it? Enter Dissonance Theory, one of the more famous social psychology theories out there (insofar as theories seek fame), which seeks to describe our attempts to ease the cognitive “discomfort” of doing things which don’t “make sense” to us, or even run contrary to our beliefs.


Messages of peace and love written by children on artillery shells? Cognitive Dissonance.

If the picture above hasn’t provided you with enough to think about, the fine folks at BBC Future explore Dissonance Theory a little more closely – including a link back to the classic study results originally published by Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith in 1959. While the original article is itself very short, allow me to summarize further: If you are induced to do something that is against your personal beliefs/values/opinions, you are likely to change your original beliefs/values/opinions to match the behavior. However, the larger the pressure needed to induce the behavior, the less likely it is you will change your own beliefs/values/opinions. What does this mean?


Common practice on pirate ships and in board rooms around the world.

For individuals this can manifest itself in a number of ways, but as a coach I have heard and seen it primarily through the “work” lens – when clients are at a point in their lives where 1) they’ve been working for a long time at something they just “weren’t into”, and 2) there is great pressure to take a step they just don’t want to take; “selling out”, a line in the sand, the last straw. The point where they are looking at a fork in the road where the two paths represent wildly different choices: either giving in or starting over. Of course the choice is ultimately theirs to make, but as a coach one of my responsibilities is to ensure they truly explore where they are standing and what is around them before deciding where to step next. What brought you here? Where do you want to be? Are there really only two choices? Who do you become if you go down path A, B, or C (or x, y, or z)? What happens if you turn around, or start building a ladder/digging a hole? Who else is on this path? Echoing back to (and/or shamelessly promoting) an earlier post – it’s about exploring the full spectrum of possibilities, not just exploring the two conflicting options we see or emotions we feel.


The Road to Abilene. Literally.

I actually feel that folks who are conflicted are in many ways better off than those who just continue “down the road”. Acknowledging the conflict is critical if you want to change directions. If we failing to recognize the conflict, we are putting ourselves into a solo Abilene Paradox – sending us “happily” down a path we really aren’t keen to travel (no offense to the fine folks of Abilene).

“But Felix, I don’t want to go to Abilene!” (again – no offense … Abilenians? Abilenese? Abileños? People of Abilene). Well, time to apply some intuition and courage, and not necessarily in that order. Doubt is not bad. Your “shoulder angel”, voice in your head, feeling in your gut – these shouldn’t be summarily dismissed. They are likely the result of the cognitive conflict you are going through as a result of the mismatch between your actions and your values. Have the courage to look for it if you aren’t hearing or feeling it naturally. Once you have identified that voice, more courage still is needed to act on it. Find the truths and the lies, and most importantly, find the possibilities. Decide your path, and have the courage to walk it.


Some paths will be easier than others.




Photo Credits:

Kids and Artillery Shells – http://www.guardian.co.uk

Beatings & Morale – http://www.voraciousrationalist.com

Texas Highway – http://www.aaroads.com

Trail Sign – Al_HikesAZ via photopin cc

One Gene To Rule Them All?

Recently, researchers announced that they have discovered the “Leadership Gene” – a genetic marker (otherwise known as rs4950) which seems to identify a person’s “innate predisposition” to occupy a “leadership role”. The report, in all of its scientific glory, can be found here: ScienceDirect.com – The Leadership Quarterly – Born to lead? A twin design and genetic association study of leadership role occupancy.


Just because you are pointing the way doesn’t mean everyone is following.

Since I am a “leadership guy”, I looked through this study and immediately noted a few things:

  1. Genetic studies have lots of big words.
  2. The folks who conducted this study seem to know their stuff when it comes to identifying genetic markers and conducting studies. Of course this is coming from a Political Science major who last took a biology class in the mid to late 80’s. (But I got a 5 on the AP Exam!)
  3. While they may also know their stuff about leadership – I am hesitant to call what they have found a “leadership gene” (as most media outlets have labeled it). My biggest issue lies with how they determined if someone was occupying a leadership role: by asking them if they were a supervisor or not!

I understand you need a “clean” definition for a good study. The researchers understood the limitations of such a definition, and made it very clear that “leadership role occupancy” is only one aspect of one type of leadership, and that environmental factors (such as training, for example) play a huge role in an individual’s development as a leader. Unfortunately, when a study like this hits the news, they don’t talk about the shift leader at your local fast food joint. Names like Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and Churchill get thrown about. Newspapers talk about whether your genetics will make you “Born to Rule”, or whether you will wind up as a “manager or a minion” (from the UK’s Independent).


Who couldn’t use a few minions?

As much as that hype bothers me, it is nothing compared to the thought of how this type of information will play out. Will companies start testing employees before investing time and money in their development (laws against genetic discrimination notwithstanding)? Will the question, “Do I really have what it takes?” have an actual answer? (Note: It already does – you do.) Are you a “real” leader if you don’t have rs4950 in your genetic code? Like any good research effort, this one has identified the need for more research, but I wonder to what end? Wouldn’t it be better to research the outwardly focused, “teachable” characteristics of leaders and leadership rather than further identifying genetic markers of leaders after the fact? I like to think so.



photo credits: lumaxart via photopin cc, and Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment

Power – lots of it.

So this is a belated “Deep Thought Sunday” post, but given I was wrapping up a dizzyingly fulfilling and emotionally draining weekend (really a series of weekends over the past 5 months) which I spent with a group of amazing people, I am amazed I got it out today! And since this is my blog, I give myself permission to post this on Tuesday. Please refer to the blog “Plan” page if you have any questions or are otherwise confused.

CTI Balance - Washington DC

This qualifies this post for “Telegenic Tuesday”.

I started down the “official” coaching path as a result of a personal leadership challenge put before me in March of 2012 – it was pretty specific: “Get a professional coaching certification.” I distinctly remember asking myself, “Is that really a thing?” I spent all of 30 minutes on line before determining that not only was it “a thing”, but it was a thing that appealed to me a great deal.


So after five weekend sessions over the past five months (104 hours to be precise), I am well on the road not only to coaching certification, but really on the path to a future quite different than what I had imagined a year ago, or even a couple of months ago. Or maybe it isn’t so different – just clearer to me now. To engage with people at a deep, personal level so they can realize the power we each have as human beings – that’s “my thing” now.

Marianne Williamson’s quote from Return to Love (beautifully read by a beautiful classmate who I will not name – but she’s in the red pants in the photo above :) ) sticks with me:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.

What’s “your thing”? What’s your power?



A New Year, A New Blog, and a reNewed Resolution

Having apparently misjudged the exact date of humanity’s demise (again), here we are at the beginning of a new year, and I, for one, am quite happy to be here.

I was not looking forward to this.

Not only here (on a mostly intact Earth), but here in my life as it is right now, and here, blogging on Semper Felix. Will anyone read these entries? Ideally, yes. I hope a community of interested folks (no matter how small) decides to share on a regular basis. But who knows? What I know for sure is that it will never happen if I just sat around thinking about it. I’ve tried journaling a couple of times in the past, but it was much too “solitary” for me. Don’t get me wrong – I totally “get” the benefits to journaling – I just couldn’t maintain the enthusiasm for writing without sharing (and if you know me, you know I love to share). I already know how to write – but Blogging is something quite different. I have already learned a great deal, and there is so much more to learn (it is barely day two). Exciting stuff – for me anyway :-)

So now what? Resolutions, of course! I’ve got plenty, but the main one I’ll be sharing is with regards to my health. A few years back (the end of 2009 to be precise, shortly after turning 40 and weighing in at 197 lbs. I am barely 5′ 9″), I resolved to losing 20 lbs by the end of 2010. I did that and proceeded to lose another 10 before hurting my shoulder and straying from the path sometime in 2011, and regaining about half the weight I lost.

What bothers me more than the weight gain is the energy loss, so while there is a “new” magic number out there for me, that isn’t (nor has it been) the focus – just a proxy. When I was at 167 lbs I felt great because I could do more. More at work, more for my friends and family, more for myself. I still feel good (a lot better than when I was tipping 200), but I want to feel great again. Because I have a lot more I want to do this year. And next year. And every year that an asteroid just misses the Earth. I’ll keep you posted.

What are you looking to do this year? More importantly, why?

Here’s to an awesome 2013! Wishing everyone a Happy and Blessed New Year.



KILLER ASTEROID Image credit: NASA/Don Davis (no copyright in accordance with NASA’s use policy)