“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results” – Albert Einstein
Howard Stern has built his fame and fortune as the highly provocative and controversial American “shock jock” of the radio air waves – now with his own talk show on the Sirius satellite radio network. He is most known for his risqué interviewing approach asking penetratingly personal questions exposing the most intimate details of the vulnerable interviewee. Knowing his schtick I am certain the celebrities, sports stars and the like being interviewed in his radio hotseat are prepared to disclose and make public intimate secrets of their lives and relationships. Of course, our fascination with the figures of popular western culture keep his millions of listeners on the edge of their collective seats, enthralled, entertained and intrigued by “what will Stern ask now”. This is not unlike Trump’s 70 plus million Twitter followers grabbing their smartphones first thing every morning to read what shocking assertions and conspiracy allegations he is making that day as he sits on his bully pulpit in the bathroom. But I digress.
While I was amused as anyone by Howard the shock jock, I was equally impressed, ironically perhaps, as well with his interviewing prowess as he artfully disarmed his guests to extract undisclosed stories. Personally, I think one has to be very intelligent to do what Howard Stern does so easily. This was never more apparent to me until recently when I heard him interviewed in a special hour-long exchange with Anderson Cooper of CNN. Their conversation was free-ranging as they both had past family issues and life/career experiences to swap stories and insights about. Given their professional media roles at times it was difficult to know who was the interviewer and who was the interviewee. Over the course of the interesting dialogue Stern kept referencing and drawing personal insights about himself from the sessions he has had with his long-time psychotherapist which had now become an invaluable fixture in his life. He continually emphasized the ‘aha’ for him was “how can you ever grow up WITHOUT going through diligent self-examination!”. This reminded me of a conversation I had with a senior and experienced executive coaching colleague of mine and a Doctor of Psychology. As we were sharing executive coaching experiences using feedback and he made the point that people (aka executive leaders) will simply play out whatever was in their childhood if their lives are not examined. It struck me that this is in fact an embodiment of Einstein’s quote defining insanity. In my executive coaching practice I avoid engaging in past-life ‘therapy’, leaving such to trained psychologists and counseling clinicians who focus more on forensic diagnosis. However, I do need to be aware of self-defeating or ineffective leadership behavior patterns that have resulted in unexamined personal issues that may have taken root in their childhood. These could include such things as a high need to be recognized and accepted, low self-esteem, lack of courage, indecisiveness, avoiding standing out, not listening, and more. Getting validated, honest and objective feedback from one’s friends, peers and colleagues no matter what stage of career will surface such patterns and enable a constructive coaching exchange to occur. Personally, I don’t think it is critical that such patterns require identification e.g. “your lack of confidence stems from how your father always criticized you” as you can’t go back and change that. Although I have focused on the more negative childhood experiences embedding leadership effectiveness this does not preclude the many positive conditioning experiences which may also play out in adulthood. The point is that even these become largely unconscious, which is not a bad thing. The point is that even these cannot be made more conscious without objective feedback from others. Once revealed the examination can now shift to accepting and giving credence to the negative (and positive} feedback, i.e. catching yourself being yourself. Then behavioural strategies can be developed to both replace the limiting ‘childhood’ pattern with something more effective and thus not permitting it to continue unconsciously while also augmenting the positive behaviours. Otherwise, as Einstein has asserted and Stern has experienced, nothing changes and leadership “insanity” persists.