The scientific method is a cognitive model, with a structured approach, to achieve a certain knowledge, so-called scientific (epistemology). Scientific knowledge implies the formation and experimentation of a hypothesis, formed around a series of empirical evidence. The constant tests of the hypotheses lead to the formulation of a scientific theory.
Perhaps, after a description of this kind, the relationship between leadership and scientific method might seem very distant, but I will show you how far this is from the truth. A leader carries out a practical activity, not a research activity, however he acts in response to an environmental situation characterized by various variables, all of which affect the effectiveness of his action. Hence, he finds himself having to interpret and know his surroundings. In this activity, there are leaders who rely on more or less extra-sensory perceptions, others who rely on pure intuition, others on personal experience alone and others on chance, which, in my opinion, also summarizes all the previous categories.
The scientific method in rational leadership
My proposal is to preferably adopt the scientific method, that is, a logical and systematic method to remove the impediments of subjectivity, so that every judgment of the leader is authenticated with objective evidence. Mind you, no one is so naive as to think that the adoption of such a method makes leaders infallible, the same scientific progress shows us that knowledge is the result of a journey. Otto Neurath, a philosopher not particularly sympathetic to me, has hit a beautiful metaphor of the scientific progress of man, which I try to summarize here: it is like sailing in the sea on a boat and at the same time continuing to build the boat itself, so that, sailing , learn how to fine-tune your boat, based on the sea conditions. All in a continuous and essentially infinite process. Therefore, the method is part of the development of knowledge and the knowledge is part of the development of the method.
Here is the extent to which I intend to approach the scientific method with the practice of leadership. It is a way of personal growth, but also an objective one, of the rational leadership within a constant search for the best possible harmony with reality. And the reality of a leader consists of the market, production factors, economic management, asset and financial management and, above all, people. The choice of the scientific method has the first extraordinary effect of minimizing the influence of prejudices in the experimenting scientist (in our case in the leader). Yes, because even scientists with the best intentions cannot escape prejudice. They arise from personal beliefs, as well as from cultural beliefs, which means that man filters information based on his own experience. Unfortunately, this filtering process can lead a scientist to prefer one result over another. Isn't it the same (maybe worse) for a leader?
It must be said that for the scientist there is the scientific community, which critically reviews the results in the verification process. What is the leader's "scientific community"? Simple, his team. It is in that context that the leader tests his own ideas and theories. Of course, it is essential that the "scientific method" is shared, but this is part of a leader's training task. I repeat, the methodology does not protect from errors. Scientists themselves make mistakes anyway. For example, they may mistake a hypothesis for an explanation of a phenomenon without performing experiments, or they may ignore data that does not support the hypothesis. Confirmation bias is the tendency to choose data that supports a hypothesis, ignoring data that doesn't. Do you know leaders who have never been victims of these distortions?
That said, most of the time, the scientific method works, and it works well. Now let's take it a step further. When a hypothesis, or a group of related hypotheses, has been confirmed through repeated experimental tests, it becomes a theory. Theories have a much broader scope than hypotheses and possess enormous predictive power. The theory of relativity, for example, predicted the existence of black holes long before there was evidence to support the idea. It should be noted, however, that one of the goals of science is not to prove that the theories are right, but to prove them wrong (Popper). When this happens, a theory must be changed or discarded altogether. Analogies with the practice of leadership? A leader in his daily work formulates several hypotheses, which he tries to verify in the course of his activity.
Everything takes place within a process that is analogous to the scientific one, in fact rational leadership is (or should be) constantly looking for the relationships that make the different hypotheses coherent, in order to build a theory that summarizes the hypotheses themselves. The design of a theory serves to arrange information within a model that is logical and coherent. This is what allows for prediction, a fundamental element for science, but no less for the management of a company. It goes without saying that even the theories are subjected to constant review by the scientific community, read "team" for the leader. But what happened to intuition? And the leader's empathic ability? None of this is lost, indeed. The scientific method does not distort the rational leadership, just as it does not distort the scientist. Free intuition continues and will continue to enlighten us as human beings, beyond our occupations.
The choice of a method is only a way of containing random factors that could interfere with the search for "truth", be it the explanation of a physical phenomenon or the interpretation of a corporate event. The same goes for human relationships. A scientist does not lose contact with the reality that surrounds him, unless you want to cultivate the stereotype of the "mad" scientist, but integrate it into your existence, as a source of inspiration and enrichment. Our personal relationships and our ability to interact with what surrounds us, first of all our fellow men, are an emotional complement, but also a rational one.
To deny one's own pain or that of others, not knowing how to enjoy our joy or that of the people who are dear to us, is a serious intellectual deficit. Interpreting and recognizing the moods of the people with whom we live and work is an essential component of that scientific approach mentioned above. Ignoring the subjective and psychological components is an error of merit and, scientifically speaking, of method, which a rational leader never makes.
About the author
Giuseppe Ando is a C-Level & Executive Coach - Associate Partner at the acclaimed Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching. With a career that presides at the crux of the Venn diagram of Passion, Skills, and Experience, Giuseppe’s reputation as top executive coach has spanned decades. Among his many accolades, he is also recognized for his unique ability to understand and inspire those he coaches to excel professionally and personally while also delivering their organization’s desired results.