What I want to break down for you now is a process that's happening all the time that moves a group of people to a direction towards whatever that leader wants to accomplish. Now, the focus of this post is about helping you lead from a secure identity. If you're going to lead from a secure identity, you're going to be a healthy leader. You're also going to learn to recognize the ways that people attempt to lead you in an unhealthy way.
A lot of people have never tapped into this reality, but once you see it, you can't unsee it. Fear is the controlling narrative of so many different rhythms and parts and pieces of our lives. Credit scores, cable news, the idea that you have to get a college degree or you won't get a job. We'll talk a lot about some of these as we move forward. What I want to do is break down a sequence that happens. This is just from me studying movements. It's from me looking at a resource called The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. Dwight Eisenhower had his staff read this to understand different movements were happening around the world.
As I've looked at different resources, I've broken it down, and I want to show you four movements, four parts and pieces that make robot kingdoms. When you're secure in who you are, you escape the robot kingdom.
Let's jump in. The four pieces are you're stunned, then you're influenced, then mass hysteria kicks in, and then you numb out.
Let's talk about what it means to be stunned.
My mind goes back to when I was in college and had pledged a fraternity. One of the things that we had to do is we cleaned this cafeteria. It was nasty and it stunk. We came outside one by one, and they flicked a quarter into the trash. It's got all the crap from the meals of that day. There's water in there. It's a hot, greasy, nasty mess. But they flicked a quarter in there and they told us we had to dive in and get it. Everybody was surrounding you, staring at you, and you're stunned so that you'll get influenced into this action. Of course, people would dive into it to get that quarter. Some threw up in it, and some threw up when they came out, and it was nasty and you smelled that smell for month afterward. I don't care how much Palm Olive you tried to wash your hair to get all that grease out, it messed with your head because the scent is so powerful.
It's the same thing as going into the mall. This is something named the Gruen transfer. It was an unintentional phenomenon. When you would walk into a mall, you would be spatially stunned. Let's say your original plan was to go in and get some socks. But you go in and a mall disorients you, you're spatially stunned. Now you're getting a chicken sandwich and an airbrushed t-shirt. Your original plans are gone.
When they lay out these massive interior spaces, they're actually doing it in such a way to intentionally disorient you. The angles confuse you so that you can get lost, so to speak. You're stunned, spatially, so you'll be influenced to buy more.
A car salesman is trained to match your language. They're listening for cues that you give them so that they can speak in such a way that you feel seen, known, heard, and understood. If there is, in a retail clothing space, a bigger checkout counter so that you can fit more clothes, it's proven you'll buy more clothes. Most casinos don't have windows or clocks. Why? They don't want you to know what time of the day it is. They don't want you to know what's happening outside. They want you to get lost.
Now, let me just pause right here and say this real quick. Influence isn't bad. As leaders, whether we're in the startup world and we're trying to get something moving or we're in a corporate environment that has a lot of layers, we need to not be afraid to leverage all of our influence. We don't need to be afraid to be the most strategic person in the room. It's what we do with the influence that's so important. Are we helping people develop? Are we empowering them?
I want you to think about this a little bit. Look at massive movements where people have been lead astray in huge ways. An easy example to use is Hitler. What was Hitler doing? He was stunning them with the voracity of his ideas and the way that he argues them, the way that he staged military things to show Germany's might. I remember reading one time that he used every airplane light that he had, these massive lights that beam up into the sky, for a giant display. The idea was that if they had that many to waste on a display, how many more did they have access to? What does he do? He stuns a group of people and then he influences them and he moves them to mass hysteria, fear. Then he gets them to numb out while he commits these atrocities.
Beware the mass hysteria.
Disorientation is good. It's what you reorient to after that makes the difference. For a lot of leaders, a lie that they fall into is “The leader above me knows best.” This is just hardwired into some of our evolutionary thinking in regards to religion, thinking, "They're closer to the divine than me." What a lot of people are doing is they're projecting and transferring their fears and their past experiences into this leader. It gives them a way to find some kind of false certainty. "I'm just going to trust in this person." The first thing that we do when we get stunned is believe somebody in authority over us and we're not questioning things.
The second lie that we fall into that allows us to get stunned is that people are worth what they produce. We don't see human beings, we see objects, and we objectify them. Because we objectify them, then we can blame them for our problems. Brené Brown says, "What are we afraid of, and whose fault is it?" I love that. It's such a narrative that we buy into. This was what was happening in Germany with Hitler. We fall into this lie, and we blame them. Or the way that we interact and relate--I mean, this is a huge deconstruction of corporate culture. You're only worth what you accomplish today.
Now, I know a number of people that I work with where it's in two extremes. It's either in the startup culture or layered corporate environment. Maybe this could be a shout of understanding to those of you in layered corporate environments, and a little bit of a survival guide that the leader over you doesn't always know best. It doesn't mean you have to be aggressive or intentionally rebellious and press against their leadership, but it doesn't mean in your mind you're non-conformist. You're not allowing yourself to be stunned into just falling into step. In the way that you treat people around you, you're not just engaging them based on the reality that they're worth what they produce, you actually see human beings with real struggles.
One of the huge things that has to happen in our leadership is to separate people's personhood from their performance. Sometimes you've got to say to people, "I like you as a person, I like you on the team, but when you do that and it scares the client away, I don't like that. Let's talk about how to stop that and how to replace it with better behavior." Sometimes, though, people aren't going to fit on the team. Their repeated behavior means they self-select off the team. Either way, when you understand people are worth more as human beings than just what they produce, you will lead, coach, engage, and help them better.
A third reality that positions you to be stunned is to believe that the company or organization is your provider. Here's the reality with that. When you wake up thinking that way, it automatically locks your brain into a limitation. It’s much bigger than your company being your provider-- you are the provider. You get to go out and figure different streams of income and different ideas. You may be already doing that. If you’re in a layered corporate environment, that seems far off. It may be five or ten years from now before you start building separate streams of income, but you can't fall into that trap that the company is your only provider.
If you're going to not create a robot kingdom and if you're going to be healthy in your leadership, you're not trying to stun people into getting them to do what you want. Unhealthy leaders don't look at to see you and help you feel seen in a good way, they stare you down into submission or they totally pull back. They give you the silent treatment. They twist a story, they spin it to always make it about what they can manipulate or they play the victim card. They get you feeling sorry for them.
An unhealthy leader will stun you with some of these tactics so that they can influence you.
A healthy leader is a leader who empowers you. There's two types of leaders. There are those who want you to conform to the vision they have for you, and there are those who empower you. You need to know the difference.
Robert Kegan was an adult development specialist at Harvard. He's retired now. In his book that he wrote for the business sector, he talks about how most adults never move from a socialized mind to a self-authoring mind. A socialized mind is where you say, "Tell me how to believe and behave so I can belong with you." A self-authoring mind means you're not part of the robot kingdom anymore--you find and taste freedom. You get to build your identity around what you choose, who you are, and then you choose your beliefs and behaviors out of that.
A healthy leader is going to take you to empowerment. Yeah, they need you to play team ball, they need you to help accomplish the initiative, they need you to get the objective done, but as they go about doing it, they’re lookin to helping you develop. Think of the kind of leader you are and the kind of leaders that you're surrounded by. Everybody is influencing. It's going to happen. We're building robot kingdoms if we stun people to influence them. That's the tactic that's used to build robot kingdoms.
Let's talk a little bit about the difference between what it means to be an unhealthy leader, building a robot kingdom who wants to use influence to increase your influence, or a healthy leader, who wants to use influence to build others. As I talk through this, you might be afraid to bring influence. This isn't about being afraid. Again, we're all influencing. If we can recognize these distinguishing characteristics, we can use our influence for good.
An unhealthy leader is going to stun you so they can influence you. As they influence you, they want to focus on staying king of the hill. They fought for this top spot, and they want to keep it. They're focused on results over motive. All they care about is the bottom line. They're focused on what's being accomplished, not how you're getting there. The most important thing you can realize is how you go about doing everything in your life shapes you so much that it actually becomes more important than what you're doing. You didn't wake up this morning and think, "Am I going to go to work or am I going to rob 7-Eleven?" The choices you aren't making between bad and good, you're making a decision every day between good and great. You're doing good things--how you go about doing them gets you to the great level. A healthy leader focuses on motive over results. An unhealthy one focuses on results over motive.
An unhealthy leader will build systems to reward compliance and punish innovation. It's not about whether or not you're innovative, it's about whether or not you do what they say. All kinds of environments will say, "We want you to feel empowered and go make decisions," but the minute you make a mistake, they're not secure enough to let you fall off the bike and let you skin your knee. They're afraid about how that makes them look to their leadership. A healthy leader says, "No, you can skin your knee. I'm here to help coach and guide. I want to help you ride the bike."
A healthy leader doesn't focus on staying king of the hill, they use their influence to ask others to join them on the top of the hill. They use their influence to get you to think about motive. Motive is foundational. How you go about doing things becomes important in shaping your brain. It's shaping your responses, , it's shaping your mood, all of these things. A healthy leader uses their influence to build systems to reward personal development and team risk-taking. This isn't about being the most powerful person in the room.
A healthy leader isn’t afraid of being strategic. They're not afraid of using their influence. They're not afraid of being the most cunning person in the room, but their motives are in check and solid because they're using their influence to build and develop others. If you want to escape the robot kingdom, what do you do? You think through how you use your influence. Are you using your influence to accomplish the task, or are you focused towards developing others?
Now, people that are building robot kingdoms are going to stun you so they can influence you. Once they influence you, they get you moving as a mass in group with other people, afraid. Again, I want to break this down for you.
Take the example of the Betty Crocker cake mix. It had the egg already in the mix, and it wasn't selling. So they take the egg out. Now, a mother has to add the egg. She feels like she's doing something, and sales took off. What happens? They removed the obstacle of guilt and shame. Take Axe body spray. I'm going to spray this on, and it's going to handle the awkwardness andshame that I feel as a pre-adolescent. One unblocks it, one covers it up. All of these little things add up to move people in big ways.
Labeling is a huge part of moving masses of people into certain things. I don't know if you know how this works, but if you understand psychiatry, they have a massive psychiatric bible, if you will: The DSM. It's this massive booklet that's put out. When it's published, it's full of labels, and it's changing with each new edition because it's not a perfect science. It's not like we can look at the human psyche and break it down at a molecular level. Instead, it's people's best guesses. Somebody's coming up with these things. I think it's helpful, and it can move the conversation forward. It can also confuse and get people stuck in labels.
One of the things that I remember reading was going to go into the fifth edition was Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD). Here's how it read. "DMDD is characterized by severe and recurrent temper outbursts that are grossly out of proportion in intensity or duration to the situation. These occur, on average, three or more times each week for one year or more. " Do you know any kids like that? If you don't, you don't know any kids, I would say. What it would look like for a parent to read that and to be stunned, influenced, to mass hysteria, and think, "Oh, my kid has DMDD. I got to get this treated." Maybe they need to learn self-control. I don't know. Every situation is different. Some need help. Get help if you think that you need it.
What I am telling you to do is to peel back the layers here, look underneath what's happening. Just because the memo says it's this way doesn't mean you have to think it's this way. Just because this was proclaimed to you on the news doesn't mean it actually happened. I loved Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan where he pointed that out and how Saddam Hussein was captured, market goes down, but Saddam Hussein to stand trial, market goes up. All the false causation that happens.
Here is the reality of why branding exists. I think it was Douglas Rushkoff that talked about this in one of his books. I love the way that he phrases things. Code or be coded. Program or be programmed. He talks about this reality of branding that branding exists to create the perception of a relationship that isn't there. You go down the street to buy oats from your oat guy because you do that, right? No, this isn’t colonial times. As history moves forward and consolidation occurs, you're not going down the street to buy oats from the oat guy, but you need to feel like that. Quaker Oats develops this imagery that makes you feel like you're still going down the street. The name, the imagery, everything, makes you feel like a relationship is there even though it isn't.
Your brain wants a narrative. The smartest people that have the most influence on society give you the narrative that you need. We'll talk about what the narrative accomplishes in just a second.
The man who designed World War II housing said something like, you can't own a housing lot and be a communist. You have too much to do. One of the things that he worked on, as these guys came back from the war, was that it's hard to turn a warrior into a farmer because your brain gets wired for war, PTSD can occur, and all that comes with that. One of the things that was developed was this idea that everybody needs to own a home, and when you own a home, you have so much to do, you won't be able to be distracted and be a communist.
Anybody that owns a home out there, you know how much work it is--an endless list of all these things to do. My neighbors would be really happy if my yard got mowed right now. It is longer than theirs. I just don't have time to do it right now, and it is what it is.
What I want to do is help you be free of the robot kingdom. What does it mean to be free of the robot kingdom? You see where the fear narrative stuns you to influence you, to move the masses into a certain direction. This is why websites use psychographic typing, so that when you go there, they're positioning the text and the copy in such a way to trigger certain responses. The people that can see all this for what it's worth, that actually learn how to have a secure identity apart from the stunning influence of any leader, almost become mystical.
I love Josh Waitzkin in The Art of Learning, the way that he talks about what a mystic is. A mystic just sees things in a slower time frame than others, so they're able to respond in such a way that their actions seem mystical. They're just more aware. That's why I'm talking about awareness all the time. The mystic laughs when others panic. They'll go where others won't. They'll see, feel, and hear things what others don't.
We don't want to build the robot kingdom. We want to escape the robot kingdom as we look at our reality and say, "I won't fall into the trap of the fear narrative."
Now, if you're part of the trap of the fear narrative, what happens is a leader stuns you to influence you, which builds mass hysterics. This is the last piece of what it takes to have a robot kingdom: you numb out. The mass hysterics have to numb you out so the action can keep building.
I remember reading accounts in Hitler's Germany where Christians would be in a church and would hear the trains going by that they knew had Jewish people on them, and they would sing louder to drown it out. You talk about using something to numb out--anything can be used. Anything can be used to numb you from reality.
What do you do? How do you escape this? We want to get to the point that we have a real courage to break out of the robot kingdoms and not build robot kingdoms for others. How do we get that courage? We know an abundance in our identity where other people are trying to trigger us with scarcity, and we learn that everything is a false threat to our identity. Everything. If you're just diving in this, listen to the first twelve episodes of my podcast, because I walk you through a sequence to understand that.
Then you get clarity in what you do because there's a peaceful feeling that allows you to not be unnecessarily stunned and influenced by unhealthy leaders. Then, you have compassion for others. You see the oppression of the robot kingdom, and you want to help them get free of that.
How do we recognize when we've gone into this fourth piece of the robot kingdom? We've moved from stunned to influenced to the mass hysterics to being numbed out. We allow ourselves to live lies. One of the ways is our affluence, what we possess. We can eat and spend our way into staying numb, past our pain and past the pain of others. We'll make future plans to distract us from any present pain. We'll believe the next purchase will make us happy. Here's the thing: You've got to feel that pain because pain means you're alive. Pain shows the gap between your current reality and what your future reality could be.
I think sometimes our political power allows us to dismiss the marginalized as weird and unambitious. It's their fault they're that way, so we stay numb. Self-help content hypes us up so that we miss the reality of internal despair and we miss the opportunity to actually experience a new identity.
How do we wake up? How do we wake up out of our numbness? It's not going to happen through managing our time better or managing our money better or trying to put some superficial Band-Aid on the situation. We're not going to relieve it, this numbness, by just doing something nice for somebody so that we can relieve our affluent guilt. We're not going to be able to hype our way to hope. This is why I think the zombie narrative is so powerful for today.
The college classes I used to teach were coming and talking about this show. I remember the first time I watched an episode of The Walking Dead, I'm just captivated by this storyline. I think the zombie narrative fits with today's reality, because we are totally numbed out. I had a college professor, a religious professor, I was talking to. He was making this point. He said we need somebody to breathe life into us.
What do we do? This sadness between where you are and where you want to be, between what you see that pisses you off and what you want to make better, wakes you up. The tears, the grief, the rage. Endings are real. They happen. The pain in the present can make the future exciting because you see what has to change. Passion breaks through the numbness.
My hope is that you recognize any robot kingdom you're part of. If you're in corporate culture, you see it and you can play the game intelligently and cunningly, but not lose yourself in it. If you're building something, if you're leading a team, or if you're starting something, don’t contribute to robot kingdoms but actually dismantle robot kingdoms. You don't stun people to influence them, to create mass hysteria, and get them to numb out. You break that cycle. How? By empowering others. You get empowered. You learn about your own path for development. Go back and listen to the first twelve episodes of my podcast for that. Then, you empower others.
There are two clear actions here. Number one, do not settle. Don't settle for anything less than growing and being empowered. You're either growing every day and becoming a better person and leader, or becoming a worse one. As you grow, secondly, you build kingdoms that empower others, not robot kingdoms. As you have influence around you, use that influence to dismantle robot kingdoms, even subversively, by empowering others and helping them learn who they are.