Monday, 22 November 2010

What's the value in a network?

The Generation Y employee is used to texting, emailing, virtual networking, buying from ebay and googling. All of which are activities being tapped into by the more innovative organisations. Message to disgruntled employers who try to ban them - you're missing a trick. As I am frequently told when I moan about reality TV - "Resistance is Futile"!

Generation Y entrepreneur Mark Elliot Zuckerberg (born May 14, 1984) is an American who co-founded the social networking site Facebook. On Zuckerberg's Facebook page, he lists his personal interests as "openness, making things that help people connect and share what's important to them, revolutions, information flow, minimalism." Already facebook are trying to figure out how to monetise eliminating email through creating new ways for us to communicate.

The main criticism of facebook is that as it is centralised, it is a form of "spying for free" however this is where it's value currently comes from. Through selling this knowledge for commercial purposes as well as being able to generate advertising revenue. The current value of this network is huge - in terms of monetising its value, apparently Facebook falls somewhere between Google, Ebay and Yahoo (estimated between $30-50bn .. so pretty huge in financial terms).

When we talk of relationships and leverage in business we are no longer just considering the strength of those between employees, clients and suppliers. We have to think of our relationships with the world. In order to respond, adapt, and keep ahead of the pack, we have to let the employees who are ardent networkers, ebayers and googlers lead the way in terms of networking. It's no coincidence then, that the entrepreneurs who are making their mark in networking are from the Generation Y brigade. Is it then the case that we need Generation Y bosses who can think in the same way? Possibly ... Can it be learned by a Generation X boss? Possibly..

In terms of placing a value on your people, they are still considered to be largely an "intangible asset". However, in terms of networking and knowledge, their value is inestimable. Intangible assets such as human knowledge, internal structures, ways of working, reputation, and business relationships are not easily monetised in clearly defined terms. There are some methods which aim to model, analyse, evaluate, and improve the capability of a business to convert both tangible and intangible assets into other forms of negotiable value, and to realise greater value for themselves. Underlying this approach is an understanding that intangible, but nonetheless strong and dynamic relationships, and the intangible assets that make up and have an impact on those relationships, are the foundation of any successful business endeavour. It does appear to be the case that the future success of an organisation as a whole is going to depend more and more on how effectively it can demonstrate and so convert one form of value into another. This seems to be something which Facebook is also keen to do also - if they succeed then this will affect the value (and leadership and communication capability) of every organisation on the planet.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Fertile Learning Environments

So, in fulfilling the promise I made in my last blog, here are a few observations gathered from the experts highlighting the key conditions most needed for the more adaptable and ultimately healthier learning organisation to flourish:

1. Improve harmony through allowing freedom to adapt . As I said in my previous blog, if change is a top-down "sheep-dipping" exercise of pushing everyone through, then it will most likely fail. The impact is bigger when we think smaller and this is where equilibrium can more readily be established. Jack Welsch, ex-CEO of General Electric, moved from a top-down vision (that GE had to be no. 1 or no.2 in their markets) to a more learning organisation, his "Work-Out" concept. In societal terms, local communities understand peoples needs better than national governments can.

2. Develop trust. Sometimes a leader will say, "Oh we already do a lot of that. We hold monthly team-building sessions, etc." However, consider something more along the lines of getting beneath the "masks" that we wear. Many people have a different persona at work to home for example, and it can be risky to drop them (I do not mean crossing important personal boundaries, such as invading peoples' privacy however). Rather it involves understanding true opinions about ideas, uncertainties, fears and failures without judgement or blame. I remember one occasion where I observed a team all dutifully agreeing with the boss during their management meeting, except one, who was pulled up for opposing the others before then obediently falling into line. After the meeting however, several pulled me over privately to have a conversation much more meaningful than the one I had observed during the meeting. Which information is more valuable in this instance - that shared during the meeting or that outside it? So how as Team Leader or Department Head can you begin to develop more trust? Try exploring opinions and assumptions with attention given to underlying interests and fears; and ensure any "sacred cows" or "elephants sitting in the corner of the room" are broached. Where information is shared there is more transparency and so trust. As Sun T'zu wrote in "The Art of War", to defeat one's enemy one must first understand him. The enemy in this instance is the risk of misunderstandings and opportunities lost that lack of trust brings.

Teams exhibiting poor trust try to avoid failure through working longer hours, experience less job satisfaction, take less pride in their work, and more readily blame others for their shortcomings (Dee, 1995a).

3. Distribute authority.Team leaders who are able to "suspend the hierarchy" and serve as equal team members are most successful (DuBrin, 1995). This entails allowing the right people to make important decisions at the time they are needed, rather than deferring to a higher authority. From fairly inocuous examples of a waiter offering a compensatory drink or aperitif where the meal is taking too long to arrive, to a member of the military's rank and file nominating a peer for immediate stress leave or counselling and being taken seriously, both demonstrate how sharing authority can have an immediate and positive impact. Effective teamwork requires that team members feel free to contribute freely, despite formal hierarchies. This type of freedom is characteristic of high performing teams (McIntyre and Salas, 1995). One basic concept asserted by the leading thinkers in this area (Senge, Ross, Smith, Roberts, & Kleiner) is that teams have "common territories." The implication of "common territories" is that individual team members need one another to take action (Senge et al., 1994) and so achieving objectives is more important than formalised hierarchies.

4. Share the credit. Collaboration won't work where any one person hogs the limelight at the expense of the others. Make sure that any "wall-flowers" are drawn out and consulted and that prolific talkers are managed. Early indicators of collaboration and rewarding the collective as opposed to the individual is the use of language - "we", "us" and "ours" versus "I", "my", "you" and "yours". Individuals who work much harder at retaining their individuality, status or reward than on team goals will hamper adaptability and learning.

5. Respect conflict. High levels of creativity and initiative in team processes sometimes require conflict and many different perspectives. The mindset needs to be "resolving conflict" by working through it rather than avoiding it. Consider how your team's capability at striving for balance between conformity towards group goals and yet retaining uniqueness of thought and actions can be improved.

6. Leaders as coaches. Leaders who make effective coaches resist using management techniques that emphasize giving orders, making threats, setting deadlines, requiring quotas, and handing out reprimands. Flexibility, learning and adaptation will not occur in an intimidating environment.

7. Raise consciousness through dialogue. Dialogue should be considered a "core team competency" because of its impact on team effectiveness and team learning. Dialogue helps to bring faulty assumptions (mental models) to the surface so that they can be challenged. Dialogue requires four processes for success: 1. Invitation; 2. Generative Listening; 3. Observing the Observer; and 4. Suspending Assumptions (Senge 1994). This cannot happen where there is a climate of fear of disapproval, penalty or judgement.

8. Tap into social networks, virtual and real, for more rapid innovation. Technology has caused society to more rapidly change and as social networks are more easily formed the old hierarchical structures of organisations have been made obsolete. A good example might be to consider how traditional government and policy-making is being influenced more and more by a groundswell of a more connected and more informed public. As described by Charles Handy (1996), organisations have become more like "networks," and in order to function, "networks" must have connectivity. Social networks derive energy from feeling good through the act of participation, with contribution voluntary.

I must admit, I struggled to write this list. Each point above sounds like a simple statement of "how to" whereas in reality their execution would be far more complex and open to interpretation. Equally, not all points above hold equal weight. If we bake a loaf of bread for instance, the temperature can afford to be too high and we will still achieve something pretty close. If we forget to add yeast however, we will never get an edible loaf. If I were asked to define the most important thing needed for creating a learning organisation, my thoughts go to control and certainty (the yeast?). At the most fundamental level, how much does the organisation value control and how much does it need certainty? For a more adaptable organisation to exist, as with society, control must be relinquished and certainty sacrificed.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Top "Soft" Planning Tip

When planning the execution of new or modified operations, there are some critical "soft" factors that any strategist or project manager should be aware of. Most importantly of all is this:

Do not separate the "planners" from the "do'ers".

Many successful strategies are formed through an "emergent process" of organisational learning - learning from those doing the work that feeds back into, and modifies the detailed plans laid out beforehand. One recent example of the U.S. military conducting successful emergent planning is the evolution of the "Surge" Strategy in Iraq. This has been the result of a bottom-up feedback of learning from the leaders on the ground, rather than from top-down directives. This identified issues that would otherwise have been missed had plans simply been the product of a top-down strategic review. As such, learnings such as the need to firstly provide law and security for the local population were implemented.

Disappointing results from traditional models of strategic planning also led General Electric's renowned CEO, Jack Welch, to begin his transformation of the company by making major reductions in the overly bureaucratic strategic planning mechanisms that were in place in the early 1980s. Over the next several decades, other leading corporations such as Intel, Honda, Royal Dutch / Shell Group, Exxon and Google have followed more successful "emergent" planning strategies. As a rule of thumb, highly volatile markets and dynamic environments are best planned for with this approach. The role of emergence relative to formal design increases as the environment becomes increasingly volatile and unpredictable.

Henry Mintzberg and colleagues at the McGill University in the 1980s developed the learning model of emergent strategy formation, basing it on the premise that the “complex and unpredictable nature of the organization’s environment, often coupled with the diffusion of knowledge-bases necessary for strategy, precludes deliberate control; strategy-making must above all take the form of a process of learning over time, in which, at the limit, formulation and implementation become indistinguishable.” Mintzberg's "emergent strategy" is a pattern of action that develops over time in an organisation, often despite vision, mission, and goals, or in addition to them. Decisions emerge from complex processes whereby individual managers have the freedom to interpret the intended strategy and to adapt it to changing external circumstances as they are happening, rather than realising after the event, say during the post-project review, usually when it's too late and damage has been done, or market-share has already been lost.

Emergence is the result of multiple decisions at many levels, particularly within middle management, and is a true bottom-up process. As said earlier, the military employs this approach in planning operations as well as in countering terrorism. At Intel, a key historic decision to abandon memory chips and concentrate on microprocessors was the result of a host of decentralized decisions taken at divisional and plant level that were subsequently acknowledged by top management and developed into a strategy.

Two key "soft" traits required at every level, above all others, for emergence planning to work, are opportunism and curiosity, starting with the CEO. Mintzberg advocates strategy-making be an iterative process involving experimentation and feedback and so, as with any trial and error learning, there will be moments where curiosity must prevail over uncertainty. If the boss needs high levels of certainty and exhibits anxiety in the face of the unknown, then he or she will not be sufficiently adaptable for such a volatile environment nor embrace emergent planning. This is also true where decision-making processes have become highly bureaucratic.

The learning organisation's role for the strategist or planner is very different to the role of the strategist in a sclerotically bureaucratic organisation. Self-proclaimed "control freaks" need not apply! In my next blog I will address the conditions required for emergent planning to work.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Do We Work Better for Causes or People?

Positive psychology (psychologists studying the psychology of success) has become very interested in organisational capacity to tap into what they often refer to as the "added discretionary effort" of the people. Is it the the cause or company that is the driving force, or is it the relationships and the connections, that make an organisation truly successful?

One position is that people join good companies (or causes) but often leave because of poor management or decision-making. All the money, time and effort spent recruiting and training an employee, as well as their unique knowledge, can easily be lost. Another position is that good managers are worth their weight in gold, particularly where the organisation itself is weak on either process or people-management. In the war film, "Black Hawk Down", director Ridley Scott offers his view through the words of lead US marine, Hoot:

"When I go home people'll ask me, "Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?" You know what I'll say? I won't say a goddamn word. Why? They won't understand. They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the men next to you, and that's it. That's all it is."

Rather cliched some might say, but also a true reflection of what keeps people pulling together. On the downside, even where it is a dubious or lost cause, as history has witnessed many times, people can continue to pull together.

The organisation having the ability to intervene where there is blind loyalty, to encourage intelligent critique, innovation or better practice, as much as the capacity to create cohesive team spirit, requires certain learning processes as well as accompanying "soft" skills. Unsurprisingly, many of these processes were developed for the military, through activities such as "Wash-Ups" between task forces following certain operations, in order to identify what went well and what could be learned from. These, along with many others are now utilised to leverage not only continued loyalty, or added discretionary effort even, but importantly improved practice and innovation. Whether it's the people or the cause that is more influential is still very much open for debate and so I'll leave it up to you the reader to decide which matters most to you. Ultimately, they both count in encouraging added discretionary effort.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Staff Incentives Don't Need To Cost Much

My last blog talked about the importance of encouraging positive feelings in the workplace; acknowledging that how people feel at work will impact upon their productivity levels as well as innovation capability more than the material benefits being promised. I read an article reiterating this in Saturday's Financial Times, Aug.21st 2010 (Everyone Welcomes A Slice of the Pie, Jonathan Moules; Keep Spirits Up - Ask the Experts, London Business School, p.26): "It is too easy to think that you can motivate people with money. The majority of people would take an honest day's pay for an honest day's work rather than be bribed - particularly if it was for a low-paid job" - Rupert Merson, Professor, London Business School (extracted from FT article).

Without further ado, in addressing some requests that I received after my last blog about what I considered good alternatives to financial incentives, here are a few pointers:

- Take money off the table by paying fairly. Hang on a minute, in your last blog you were saying that money is not a good motivator, I can hear some of you wondering. Although not great at motivating, money is a very good demotivator and so a certain amount is necessary in order for goodwill to be available. Cooperation and esprit de corps will more readily follow where money is no longer the issue driving malcontent. Most people want a fair day's pay for an honest day's work.

- Avoid company-wide bonus schemes. These usually disincentivise more than motivate and can be time-consuming and complicated to administer.

- Involve everyone in business performance improvement, in a way that stimulates camaraderie and reduces internal competition. For some companies, this may involve engaging in generating improvement ideas over informal, friendly lunches together. For others in more service-oriented, technical or creative fields, it can also entail discussion forums, quality circles, communities of practice or localised improvement initiatives, in smaller focus groups. Most importantly, not everyone performs well in a large team-building or Quality Circle / Kaizen / Six Sigma or Lean forum. Staff members juggling home life with work life will not necessarily appreciate a drinks-after-work session or weekend retreats. Getting to know your staff and taking into account their different needs, strengths and weaknesses, will bring out the best in them, avoiding inadvertently discriminating against, or even alienating some.

- Have an open-door policy and a good quality working environment. Allow your staff a decent measure of autonomy and control over decision-making affecting them and provide opportunities for developing new skills. Importantly, everyone enjoys a degree of challenge, along with high appreciation and trust. How readily and confidently you can answer these four questions will indicate whether there are opportunities to improve here: 1. How well do staff on the "shop floor" feel heard?; 2. do they trust that in raising performance, productivity or quality issues that these will be swiftly addressed?; 3. do they believe that they will have a measure of control and involvement in finding the right solutions or adaptations? 4. do they believe that their inputs and opinions are welcomed and taken seriously?

- Detect early chronic stress in middle management. Bad moods, high stress, and fatigued managers are a cancer in the workplace. I say middle management as this is the area of most businesses prone to chronic stress and yet they are key to linking the vision of your business with the execution. It is one of the more challenging positions to hold in an organisation, coping with the expectations from above but also with the multitude of changes and needs from below. There are of course other areas where stress is more likely, including ongoing change initiatives, mergers, restructuring and downsizing. A smiling face, a service philosophy and a proactive approach to problem-solving from middle management goes a long way!

- Promote pride and recognition for work being done. Celebrate the good stuff and fix the bad. The good stuff is all around and rather than offering best staff member of the month awards or best improvement idea awards, etc., develop methods which encourage the efforts of the majority as much as the few shining stars.

In effect, as much as what is said or promised is important, how it is said and how people feel about that is equally so. In return, rather than costing you money, these incentives will pay back with dividends, creating a mood that ensures people want to come to work, as well as help you grow your business.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Connecting People with Passion

When I ask someone “what most inspires you?” the answer rarely comes back as simply money. Money is the thing that must be taken off the table in order for people to be able to think clearly about their life and it is definitely the vehicle for meeting most of our basic needs. Where it is being offered by the truck load it is cited as pretty inspiring (as in the case of banking). Most companies however cannot offer this much and even if they can, it does not guarantee that the right decisions will be made. In fact, at best money has a pretty inconsistent effect on human motivation and at worst it interferes with making good decisions. Social studies have shown that where even rudimentary cognitive skills are required, where more money is offered as the incentive, poorer decisions are reached. Many companies know this already and view profit as a necessity rather than their ultimate goal. The classic business doctrine “Maximise shareholder wealth” is understood, however businesses that are run simply to fulfil this tend to have bad things happen, to the environment, to their company, to the products, or to people. Companies that continue to innovate and prosper, do so based on other guiding principles. A more meaningful and inspiring raison-d’etre. Read on to explore the meaning or purpose of some of these organisations.

Stanford University:

To enhance and disseminate knowledge that improves human kind.

Lost Arrow / Patagonia (outdoor clothing and accessories):

To be a role model and tool for social change.

The John Lewis Partnership (UK Retailer):

The Partnership's ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business.


To be disruptive, but in the cause of making the world a better place.

Atlassian (software developer):

Our mission is to build a different kind of software company — one that listens to client needs, values innovation in development and solves customer problems with brilliant simplicity.


Your future is our purpose.

Waldorf Schools (Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophical schooling methods):

Teachers in Waldorf schools are dedicated to generating an inner enthusiasm for learning within every child… This eliminates the need for competitive testing, academic placement, and behavioristic rewards to motivate learning. It allows motivation to arise from within and helps engender the capacity for joyful lifelong learning.

The Dandelion Time Project (UK social care trust):

Dandelion Time is a charity dedicated to helping children with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties, and their families, through engaging families in every day activities and reconnecting them through nature.

An interesting point about these is that they are not very prescriptive. Rather they succeed in creating a positive mood, a sense of self-worth, and movement in a positive direction. I have worked for some organisations intent on nailing down values and behaviours into a menu-style list for everyone to follow. There is a place for these "behavioural contracts" (e.g. where behaviour has derailed into a conflict) however the rest of the time it's pretty much a passion-killer! Who wants to be so tightly controlled? People tend not to be too inspired when being told exactly how to behave; nor do they tend to behave in the way intended. It risks creating an unhealthy parent:child dynamic and interferes with our need for autonomy.

Few people come to work every day with the intention of maximising profits for their organisation; or to create a greater number of widgets than yesterday; or to cram in more tasks into their daily work routine. In fact, the real reasons are varied, and will differ from employee to employee. I say few do, because under certain conditions which have been quite manipulated (I'm thinking about the UK schools' league performance tables here), there are people becoming focused on productivity measures. When intelligent and flexible thinking is manipulated however, as I said before, the cost is that undesirable and often bad things happen. The opposite to behavioural manipulation is putting into practice what truly inspires and motives us towards a common goal.

Mostly, people are guided by their pursuit of meaning, mastery and autonomy, whether at home or at work. Removing obstacles to delivering one's best and inspiring sufficient meaning, respect and challenge, is the golden opportunity of our time.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Are you suffering from Holiday Deficit Disorder?

The holidays we Europeans are granted are often marvelled at (and sometimes ridiculed) by our North American colleagues. Currently however, the average vacation in America is being quoted at a mere three to four days - a long weekend. And this year, according to a recent survey, one in seven Americans will take no holiday break at all. In strong defence of the benefits of taking a break, read on to discover what happens when we do not switch off and how you can begin to redress the balance, if you think you are suffering from holiday deficit disorder:

- Working more than 48 hours a week doubles the load of stress our bodies are under. It puts one on course for heart disease due to a poorer quality lifestyle and also to our bodies increasing cholesterol production.

- A culture where working overtime is the norm is counterproductive as work is conducted by fatigued brains. This fatigue then seeps into regular working hours. Many studies show managers to be running on too little sleep.

- Companies who have a competitive "last to leave the office" culture generally suffer from poorer creativity, poorer tolerance of new ideas and are more prone to conflict. When we are stressed for too long our intelligent thinking capability goes out the window. As the brain's frontal lobes shut down (the intelligent thinking part) our "prehistoric brain" (the amygdyla) kicks into action, severely inhibiting intelligent thought in favour of survival.

- People who bring the "productivity" mentality on holiday go back to work exhausted (e.g. measuring number of sights seen, trying to cram in too many things into a short three day break, etc.).

So what can you do? Here are a few suggestions:

- Do things relating to your passions and build a holiday around the things you like to do with your friends or family.

- Practice the fine art of aimless wandering when on holiday. Practice letting go, exploring and discovering, with no other purpose than that of wandering!

- Linger with friends or family over at least one meal time per day.

- Put on your play hat. Connect with play, with your kids, your pets and loved ones.

- Enjoy the medecine of laughter. When was the last time you & loved ones laughed together? Relationships are much more resilient and mistakes more readily forgiven where laughter is present.

- Learn to live well in the moment as well as for the future. Life will pass by quick enough. Will you discover later on that most of yours was spent trying to fulfill the ambitions of your organisation at the expense of yours & those of people close to you? If this is not possible in your current job, consider what you need to do to find work with a better employer, one who actively promotes work-life balance.

- Recognise the impact of your own ambitions. Are you being guided by achievements which in hindsight no longer matter; or simply feel the need for high-adrenalin? If so, try to explore what it is you are really seeking? People who describe themselves as "Type A" (high-achievers); or "Type T" (high risk-takers or "adrenalin junkies" even) are prone to compromising important relationships and longer-term quality of life in order to experience the short-lived highs of achievements or thrill-seeking. Learning what you need to address in order to adapt to longer-term rewarding alternatives will bring healthy balance to your life and more harmony to your relationships.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Great Ideas That Almost Didn't Make It!

Good ideas usually come from outside sources rather than from inside the company or culture. This is largely due to our conditioned ways of thinking, which encourages us to think in terms of the common good, but unfortunately frequently makes us blind to new opportunities. The most creative companies rely upon ideas being generated outside of their walls as well as from within them. Here are some of the most famous ideas that nearly didn't make it (extracted from a great book - "Beyond Entrepreneurship, Turning Your Business Into An Enduring Great Company" by J Collins & W Lazier):

"the devise is inherently of no value to us" - Western Union internal memo in response to Bell's telephone, 1876

"in order to earn better than a "C" the idea must be feasible": a Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's proposal for reliable overnight deliveries. He went on to found the Federal Express Corporation.

"So we went to Atari and said, "Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you." And they said, "No". So then we went to Hewlett-Packard and they said "Hey we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.": Steve Jobs speaking about attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Wozniak's PC. Jobs & Wozniak founded the Apple Computer Co.

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?": HM Warner, Warner Bros, 1927.

"We don't like their sound and guitar music is on the way out.": Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles.

"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy.": any number of experienced drillers who Edwin L Drake tried to enlist in his project to drill for oil in 1859. He later became the first man to strike oil.

"That is good sport. But for the military, the airplane is useless.": Ferdinand Foch, Commander in Chief, allied forces on the western front, World War I.

"The television will never achieve popularity; it takes place in a semi-darkened room and demands continuous attention.": Harvard Professor Chester L Dawes, 1940.

NB: Apple didn't create the basic idea behind the Mackintosh; those ideas had been around for years, developed by defense, and later at Xerox. A group of Apple executives attended a demo of mouse and icon technology at Xerox (which became an investor in Apple) and carried the basic ideas over to Apple.

The NIH syndrome (Not-Invented-Here) can be countered by various practices introduced by thought leaders, the media and if in companies, by structured processes. If you hear of someone saying, "that will never work", or "we don't do things that way here" then you can be sure that somewhere else, someone will be saying "how can that work?" or even "I love it, let's try it". If you're the one with the ideas, the music, the project or the curiosity then just continue on your path until you have found the receptive thinkers or audience for you. Good luck!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Sharing the Leadership

Now that our UK elections are over, we have a coalition government, an uneasy alliance between two quite different ideologies. My interest in this is in predicting what will be the outcome, particularly given the sharing of leadership across very different parties.

I read in The Guardian the other day about the imminent house share of the grace-and-favour residence of Chevening (a 115-roomed house) between the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg (Lib-Dem), and the Foreign Secretary, William Hague (Conservative). It illustrates quite neatly the challenges ahead - these two being the most unlikely of house mates. Clegg for example is a former MEP and ardently pro-European, whilst Hague, it would be fair to say, is eurosceptic, wanting to renegotiate on the UK's integration with EU human rights, social affairs, criminal justice and employment legislation.

The situation is made even more unstable given there are 18 Conservatives and 5 Liberals in the Cabinet. As one Cabinet Minister put it, "as we looked around the table, it was hard to imagine that only a week earlier we were tearing strips off each other on the campaign trail". In a most recent YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, 45% of respondents think the two parties will soon be fighting among themselves. As a mediator I should point out that conflict is not a bad thing, in fact it is necessary and healthy, but only when handled well.

It is not just the ideologies which will make this coalition pitted with problems but the personalities of the two leaders. As with most leaders, Clegg and Cameron are fiercely competitive, ambitious and single-minded in following their objectives through. Will this energy be put to mutual benefit or to tear one another apart however?

These challenges are in no way unique to politics. Much research has been undertaken on the subject of corporate mergers and acquisitions and a fairly dispiriting statistic is quoted of around 80% of large cap European M&As failing to deliver on their predicted value, and 50% of European small cap, within 18 months, due to differences in corporate "culture". The fact that the majority of M&As fail to meet the financial and synergistic expectations of shareholders or employees is put down to post-merger "cultural clashes". This is the least tangible or measurable element of any partnership (the ideologies, the codes of conduct and the history) yet it is the glue that either binds people together or where at odds, they come unstuck. This is true in politics, as it is in business, as it is in personal relationships. Within the corporate world, there has been some research undertaken about the style of leadership needed post-merger, one addressing the key processes of creation, change, and integration. Just how this will work within such disparate political groups remains to be seen however. As a musing observer, seeing the most unlikely of pairings between such opposing ideologies, at this stage unfortunately I do not rate their chances of success too highly. At best, this is going to be a severe culture shock for both parties, at worst it is going to be trench warfare.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Reaching A Crossroads

At some time or another in your life you will probably have to make difficult choices, sacrifices or changes, if not already having done so. The difficult part is that it can often seem as though there is no right answer. Settle down and raise a family or travel the world and keep your freedom? Stay with the secure job that you're in right now or branch out as an independent freelancer / entrepreneur? Keep working on the relationship when things are difficult or move on and find someone new? And so on. Just what can one do to find out which path to follow?

Here's an exercise to try in order to help yourself come to conclusions.

Take out a picture of yourself as a child. Place it in front of you. Now as you study that picture ask yourself what this child wanted for you. What were the dreams and aspirations that were forming then? Now take out a more recent picture of yourself and compare them - how many changes that have happened to the more recent person would the child in front of you endorse? Are there any that have happened that the child would be unhappy about? Now place a card alongside these pictures and write down at the top the age that you will be when you retire, or in the next ten years even. Write down below a list of things that you hope to have done with your life by then, the sort of people you hope to have shared it with (friends, lovers, colleagues); include financial, familial, emotional, physical, material and spiritual elements. Hint: this exercise takes time and you might need to go away and make a cup of coffee and come back to it to think some more. Do it at a time when you are feeling relaxed and not going to be disturbed.

One client's conclusions looked like this:

8 year old me:

Be free
Be loved
Be creative
Be happy
Be fit

Me Now:

More cynical
More guarded
Direction has been more influenced by others
More worried
Less loved and more respected

60 year old me:

Be free
Be loved
Be creatively fulfilled
Be happy
Be fit
Have a close and happy family life

The interesting part of this exercise is that for this client, the 8 year old had the same desires as the 60 year old; and so something else had happened in the middle bit. To be fair, that middle bit could be called life! However, this exercise helped this client highlight that in order to create closer relationships, he would need to take his guard down. In order to worry less and be more creatively fulfilled, he would need to prioritise some of the less well-paid activities. If he wanted to be an active and fit 60 year old he would need to make some changes to his diet and exercise habits, starting now! He decided that as he progressed with making some changes, he would regularly revisit his 8 year old and his 60 year old.

Changes take time and if you find that you are quite far from where you'd like to be, remind yourself that you can still take little steps today to get you started and as you go the momentum of change will pull you along. Good luck and bon voyage!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Self Sabotaging Teams

I was recently asked to help a coach with an amateur football team, playing at a fairly high level. The team had until recently played so well that they would likely soon be promoted to a higher league. The dilemma as he described it was that now that the team were close to being promoted to the next league, their game was rapidly going downhill. Upon further exploration, the coach reflected that where they conceded a goal, they seemed to lose focus even more and their team tactics went out the window. The coach had begun wondering, had all their wins up till then been a total fluke, were his team self-sabotaging, or what?

Actually, none of the above, as it turns out. What the coach described is incredibly common where the ultimate target has become close enough that they can actually believe in it. In a nutshell, the team were beginning to become distracted by the trophy, not yet in their grasp but now a distinct reality. In sport, being in "the zone" is essential for good play. In other words, thinking only about what's just about to happen, not what has already been, nor what could happen in the future, such as picking up the trophy. Being so close to the trophy that they can almost see themselves holding it is one of the worst performance interfering images as well as one of the best. When on the pitch, the last thing you want as a coach, are your players visualising holding the trophy, getting promoted, when they really need to be preparing for the next tackle, or scoring goals during penalty time.

The second major block to their performance was a magnified fear of messing up. Up until that point, their play had come naturally, the players in a state of what psychologists call "flow". With all the distracting thinking about "what if I miss this shot" or "how could I have just missed that shot" the team began to tense up, over-analyse what they needed to do, get more frustrated with each other, and so make silly mistakes.

These two distractions are possibly the most common reasons why so many professional players make seemingly stupid mistakes when so close to winning the trophy. Missing penalty shots in football and faulty serves in tennis in the last few minutes of the game have been well-publicised.

Is this only relevant in sport? Consider the top saleswoman presenting poorly during the final pitch, or the messed up interview for the job that you're more than qualified to do. This could all be put down to this sort of performance intereference. I have also witnessed teams in the workplace getting ready to receive a performance-related bonus and refusing to alter the course of the project, even though it would have been in the organisation's best interests, simply because the bonus was too close to give up. Or getting increasingly irritated with each, less tolerant of error or disruption. As Pulitzer-winning author Daniel Yegrin wrote in The Prize(1991) "Creativity, dedication, entrepreneurship, talent and technological innovation have always gone hand in hand with greed, corruption, blind political ambition and brute force."

Sometimes just being aware of the impact of this sort of distraction can be enough to overcome it, or it might require further coaching for finding alternative ways of thinking that keep one in flow and adapting to the requirements of here-and-now. For the saleswoman in the final stages of making her pitch, it might require her switching off from thinking at all about the delivery of the project, rather focusing only on what the main concerns or questions of the immediate audience might be, in essence connecting with the people who must first make the decision.

For my coach's team, he gave a talk to the team about switching off from everything but the next shot, something they all readily identified with. He then coached individuals that he noticed needed extra practice or prone to ruminating after making a bad shot. Happily, they recently won 6-1 and so will be promoted into a higher league next season.

The psychology of winning, strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, is to forget about winning and just play every minute as you have trained to.

"I've missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot . . . and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed" – Michael Jordan.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Payback of Self-Awareness

Having better relationships.
Playing better sport.
Losing more weight.
Feeling happier.
Being a more effective leader.
Staying ahead of the competition.

This wish list is united by one single attribute, that of self-awareness. The word "awareness" can often start ringing alarm bells for the more results-oriented individual as it has been associated with some of the more esoteric, less tangible of the performance improvement activities. However, we know that athletes who have heightened self-awareness perform better, as does the leader who is negotiating change or leading the way for new innovation, as does the parent who wants to better understand his teenager. Simply put, it begins with you!

High performance requires one to be both relaxed as well as highly focused. The mind must be quiet in order for concentration to be possible and concentration is the most important element for self-awareness. With too much "mindless" chatter, the important thoughts and things that you can do will be lost. There is also a kind of rest that your mind requires in wakefulness for living well that you cannot achieve or compensate for during sleep. Imagine a sea which when calm clearly relfects the image of everything around such as the boats, the birds and the cliffs whereas when stormy it seems dark, and objects become lost and difficult to pick out. A mind that is agitated or distressed cannot clearly tap in to nor reflect reality.

Quieting the mind is a fundamental skill required for improving self-awareness. I use a training system which I call "the brain game", which can only be played where the mind is highly focused and highly relaxed. This game provides direct and immediate feedback relating to the brain's activity, using a technique known as "biofeedback" or "neurofeedback". This is a speedy way for someone to learn how to switch off the chatter or interruptions of the mind in order to become more focused and so more effective. Other methods I use for increasing focus are through learning how to apply visualisation and imagery, self-hypnosis and relaxation, tapping in to one's automatic "self-talk" and of course "mindfulness" training. The concept of mindfulness originates from Zen Buddhism but now is practiced by mental health practitioners, including the UK's NHS Clinical Psychologists, for clients who have not responded to more conventional psychotherapy interventions. Over the past 3 decades these methods have been tapped into more and more in the world of sport, the Performing Arts and much more recently, in the world of business. Books have been published aplenty, including most notably George Leonard's The Ultimate Athlete (2001;1975), Michael Murphy's Golf in the Kingdom (1974), Golf is not a Game of Perfect by Dr Bob Rotella (1995), Mastering Your Inner Game by David Kauss (2001) and Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation and Full Catastrophe Living.

These along with other practices taken from cognitive psychology have been applied to great effect for some time in the world of sport as well as in business at the highest levels. This does not mean it is not just as effective for the average player nor for the team-member who has just been promoted to the position of supervisor or department head. It is interesting to realise that the earlier that these skills are learned, the better chance we have of progressing smoothly on a calm rather than a more choppy sea, with less damage done along the way! The benefits are beyond quantification as they improve all areas of life including your health, not just simply at work, or in sport. Multinationals such as Google, Microsoft, and in fact most of the leading knowledge-based enterprises are certainly seeking out these methods which provide their people with that essential competitive edge, in the same way that the highest performing athletes have done now for so much longer. The "Eureka" effect of discovering the answer once the mind is at rest has been well-documented, however the implications of improved self-awareness are much broader and more fundamental than simply problem-solving or coming up with the next innovation.

So here are some of the most pervasive and key mind skills to consider in seeking to improve one's self-awareness:

1. What puts you "off course" on your calm sea - i.e. what are your triggers for anger and loss of concentration? What are your negative triggers? When we get angry or upset we become stupid. Critical thinking shuts down as the emotional or "reptilian brain" (the amygdyla) takes over. Health-wise it is well-documented that stress and negative emotions such as anger cause impaired decision-making as well as increasing cholesterol, raising blood-pressure and lowering one's immunity.

2. What are the "thinking errors" or in psychology-speak "cognitive distortions" that get in the way of your effectiveness? Quickly, the most common ones I encounter are over-generalising (always & never thinking; black & white thinking), magnifying problems, minimising the positives, emotional reasoning (because I feel angry you are making me angry; upset; depressed; etc.), catastrophic thinking (I will never recover from this; my career is over; etc.), mindreading (people are thinking I am boring, stupid, etc.), to name a few.

3. How aware are you of your "inner critic" at the expense of your "inner coach"? As the ancient Chinese proverb goes - the dog that barks the loudest is the one that gets fed. Inner critical thinking (your negative "self-talk") gets in the way of thinking in a way that allows one to be highly focused on the goal in question, to focus on what's coming, what's being said (including what you don't want to hear and what's not being said), as well as what needs to be done. Instead it activates fear, insecurities and hangovers from the past, ensuring we become stuck in the past. Concentrate on recognising how vocal your inner critic is (sometimes called the "critical parent" as it is claimed by some to have been learned from such a parent) and develop ways to encourage the presence and voice of your "inner coach". Self-hypnosis, relaxation and biofeedback techniques are all useful.

An example of the Inner Critic: "Why did I do / say that? That was so stupid"

An example of the Inner Coach: "Focus on what I need to do right now in order to help things go where I need them to; switch off from the mistakes of the past and don't project too far forwards"

4. Recognising how you feel. Feelings can often be an uncomfortable subject, particularly for someone who associates feelings with weakness. However it is clearly understood that when a player feels tense, she sustains more injuries, she makes more mistakes and in fact plays a lesser game. Knowing how it feels to be highly relaxed and yet highly focused creates a much better player; as well as creating better relationships and allowing better life decisions to be made. Learn to know how this feels for you as well as how it feels to be upset, tense, distracted, angry, etc. Where do these feelings manifest themselves in your body, what muscles tense for example, what happens to your body temperature, what are the early warning signals and most importantly what helps you ease them before they begin to interfere with what you are trying to achieve?

5. Recognise Performance Interference Thinking versus Performance Enhancing Thinking and consider that a relationship exists between what you are thinking and how your body and your emotions react. This is at the heart of self-awareness

Each and every one of us has a potential that is truly huge when we face everything internal that unwittingly slows us down and gets in our way. It's there in you but hidden under layers of life and thoughts that get in your way. When asked what I call this approach, I could describe it as many things - Performance Coaching, Sports Coaching, Leadership Coaching, Emotional Intelligence Coaching, Mindfulness training, Health Coaching, Hypnotherapy, Biofeedback and Neurofeedback. In essence it is a truly multimodal approach, when applied well it can overcome and manage harmful physiological, cognitive, behavioural and emotional responses. In developing self-awareness, I have witnessed many clients fast-track to a better place emotionally as well as physically which then delivers a more rewarding life. For the results-oriented among you, the most successful organisations are already doing it. I encourage everyone to try this, not just the high achieving sportsman or leader.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself" - Leo Tolstoy.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Limits to Growth

Early on in the Man Booker prize-winning novel "The Life of Pi", the setting is a zoo, where at the entrance a sign instructs visitors that by drawing back the curtain, they will see the most dangerous animal on the planet. Of course in drawing back the curtain, visitors see only a reflection of themselves in a mirror.

The idea that we are our own biggest limiting factor has been the self-improvement mantra for almost 30 years and yet it is the hardest one for most people to do anything about. It is easier to change our jobs, change our home, change country, change partner even but still, no matter where you go, there you are, and likely with the same self-limiting factors. So, just what are the parts of ourselves that we can change and what are the parts that we cannot; and even more importantly, how can we tell the difference?

In biology, the "Sigmoidal Curve" (or S-Curve) is used to explain the potential growth of something organic, a tree, for example. The curve starts low, rising rapidly depicting a growth spurt at the start of the tree's life, followed by a levelling off as growth plateaus in its middle years, and finally a drop as the tree begins to decline and decay. Every tree of a particular species, in theory, has the same potential, however the sigmoidal curve is used to highlight the impact that various factors will have on the tree's growth: the amount of available sunlight, the tree's proximity to other trees, the quality of the soil perhaps, the availability of moisture, and so on. A biologist can use all these factors to adjust the individual tree's sigmoidal curve to something more attainable for this particular tree.

Although we human beings are much more complicated than trees (according to most!) the analogy is one that I can identify with, as someone who facilitates improvements for people, to illustrate what is truly possible for someone seeking change through psychotherapy, coaching or hypnotherapy. Identifying what the limits to someone's growth, potential or achievement are, can often help a client identify what they are prepared to change and what they cannot, or indeed do not wish to change. If it relates to their family or loved ones then it might be that they accept this and carry on as before. If it is something fundamental to their personality, such as core values, ethics or temperament, then these are likely less changeable also.

A key area that I explore with clients wishing to achieve new goals or experience happier relationships is the concept of holding "core beliefs" about themselves which relate to their abilities, their behaviour and how they fit in with the world around them. Here's an example of some cognitions (thoughts) of one of my clients wishing to relate better to others, which we then used to uncover his most self-limiting core belief. His cognition was along the lines of "If I do not do mostly all the talking then I will be considered stupid", with his core belief being "I am stupid" (a high-achieving business man by the way). Holding a core belief such as this one is unfortunately far more likely to confirm the negative belief of "I am stupid" than negate it however. If you are doing all the talking, then you are most probably doing far less listening (and so learning, empathising, relating, etc.). Negative core beliefs, firmly held for a long time, often unconsciously, are usually the biggest limiting factor contributing to adults not reaching their desired potential. This is a key area that I work to identify with my clients wishing to attain new levels of performance, whether in relationships, sport, at work, in the performing arts, etc.

Sally (name changed), a court-appearing trainee solicitor, came to see me as she was having difficulty with public speaking. Each time she prepared to stand up in court, she prepared, rehearsed, but mostly worried, knowing how important it was to her career and each time dreading the experience even more. The first time Sally stood up to speak, her mouth literally dried up, she felt the presence of a hundred eyes upon her ("drilling holes into her") and was unable to coherently and calmly present her case. Sally, knowing that she was not performing as well as she needed to in this area of her job, sought me out with a view to overcoming her "public speaking phobia" as she described it. This is a good example of someone holding the necessary skills and possessing the attributes needed for being a good court lawyer, however with a negative core belief about herself which was severely hampering her abilities. The negative belief which we uncovered came from thoughts along the lines of "unless I do the presentation perfectly then I am a failure", "people will think that I am useless", etc. and so the unconscious core belief that she recognised was "I am a failure". The pros of holding this negative core belief of being a failure meant that Sally was pretty driven to achieve, however it had now become a limiting factor in Sally's "Sigmoidal Curve". Ironically, negative core beliefs usually become largely self-fulfilling i.e. in attempting to mask or deny the core belief, we bring about exactly what we wish to avoid.

Sally and I worked together over a couple of sessions, both on the behavioural aspects of how Sally could modify her anxiety and also on the cognitive bit (the thoughts that whirled around in Sally's head as she stood up to present her case). In summary, from a behavioural perspective, we worked on Sally reducing the perception of "eyes drilling into her" into something more realistic and less hypervigilant i.e. Sally was tasked with noticing how she watched every other solicitor in court - was she really paying attention to their every word, noticing any change in skin tone & being as hypervigilant as she was being with herself? Her answer, unsurprisingly, was no. Also, in identifying the link between her thoughts of being a total failure, the feelings of fear and anxiety and the physiological response of having a dry mouth, needing to visit the bathroom, losing her ability to think clearly and rationally on her feat, and heart pounding due to adrenalin being released, allowed us to work on modifying her catastrophic thinking into something more realistic and flexible which in turn vastly reduced her adrenalin surges. I introduced the concept of feeling the fear and doing it anyway and new, more helpful cognitions, such as: "I can make some mistakes and still be ok"; "people aren't as interested in me as I think they are"; "the more I do this, the easier it will become, if I accept doing ok rather than doing perfectly". Using hypnosis, I was able to link these thoughts with feeling more relaxed and thus reduced the levels of adrenalin likely to be released. When we are more relaxed, we are more focused and able to draw upon the full extent of our training and knowledge. In this way, something which had the potential to severely limit Sally's career prospects in this field, was overcome. This is a fairly typical approach for anyone experiencing debilitating performance anxiety.

If you think you are not reaching your potential, or notice that you always ruminate afterwards about how you could have performed better if only you hadn't done "x" or if you'd said "y", then it can be useful to explore what your personal limiting factors are, and whether you are willing to do anything about them. Acceptance of the status quo or change are then both realistic options!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

6 Important Keys to Success

Living a successful life is likely the most commonly shared goal of most people in the Western world. What exactly is meant by "successful" though? I offer a quick definition that it is a life with balance between meeting one's basic human needs (food, shelter, warmth, etc.) and those higher order needs (love, status, respect, acquisition of knowledge, etc.). Someone able to put food on the table as well as have the ability to continue to learn and be fulfilled emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. If I were to suggest anything else, it would be to say that true success comes from making the lives of those around us better as well as our own. So, with this in mind, here are my top six keys to being successful:

1. Find a way that you are happy with to meet your basic needs.

2. Learn about what you need to prioritise in order to ensure your emotional, spiritual and intellectual well-being. Here are some questions to consider when establishing priorities:

- What makes you happy / miserable? angry / excited? safe / insecure? and how do you act accordingly (in ways that move you towards or away from a life that fulfills you)?

- What gives greater meaning to your life?

- Who else do you affect when you make decisions or act and how do you consider them?

- What new learning or practice would make a significant positive difference to your life?

3. Notice what interferes with your motivation levels. When are you most motivated? As a rule of thumb, notice people who inspire you (informal mentors) and those who "steal" your energy. What does your environment need to contain (light, nature, smells, colours, sounds, etc.)? What times of day, week or year are you most motivated? If you cannot answer these right now, keep a motivation diary for a few weeks and you should notice patterns emerging.

4. Notice what eats your time. Time spent daily determines what your life will become. If you are spending most of your time on twitter, facebook or surfing the web for example, then visualise your life continuing in this vein for the foreseeable future. This might just be enough to encourage you to reduce time spent on these devourers of precious time. Remember that time for relaxation recharges batteries so don't deny yourself these activities completely!

5. Resilience: how do you respond to criticism, rejection and set-backs? Successful people are those who do not give up; who like to keep going even if others are not validating this. Reading a quote recently from someone highly motivated (I can't remember exactly who) made me smile - "never give up, keep on doing what you're passionate about, and never, ever go away - not even when they want you to".

6. Ethics or values: it is important to know what matters most to you and to live in line with those that you personally consider most important. Feeling uncomfortable doing or considering doing something that someone else has asked you to do, or with the behaviour of someone else? It is likely that your core values or ethics are being stretched, are in conflict or are being broken. Core values or ethics include fundamentally important ideologies or principles such as honesty, respect, religion, status, loyalty, fidelity, monogamy, marriage, abortion, family, speaking one's mind, being considerate of others feelings, breaking conventions, entrepreneurship, being part of the community; your personal rights and wrongs of living. If you find yourself feeling stuck or in limbo, it can be worthwhile exploring whether there are values in conflict e.g. if one value is considering the feelings of others but another is to speak one's mind then doing one potentially contravenes the other; or spending time with one's family versus spending time on one's career; or those that are personally important versus those that are communally (culturally) important. Write down those that are most important to you, that you consider the important rules for living a fulfilling life and prioritise these.

Together these keys to success offer a personal path to follow in order to achieve fulfillment and success. They are most likely personal to you and much more to you than others, even those close to you. The better you know them the better chance you have of meeting and fulfilling your own dreams.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Being Happy and Successful in the Face of Change

Why can it be so hard for people to change? The neurologists notice that as we age, so the pathways in our brains become more entrenched and physically it is harder for us to create new ones (the "neural networks"). Children learn new languages and tasks much more readily than adults for this very reason. The psychologists notice that as changes happen, so some people become more distressed than others. In fact, some people actively thrive on the changes even during later life - just not the majority.

In a time when change is all around us and it's picking up speed (or is this just me getting older?) change becomes important in determining happiness (a fundamental right of all I believe). As a therapist and coach, sometimes working to reduce organisational stress, there are certain factors that one considers - both from the perspective of the systems of the company and also the needs and perceptions of the individual. It is not necessarily so that events are universally stressful (change for example) as much as the view that one takes of these events. Change for one person might mean losing one's position, taking a salary cut or being pushed unwillingly to learn new skills - whereas for someone else it might be viewed as an opportunity to get out of a dead-end, to experience new challenges and to have more fun. Whether your your cup is half full or half empty, for example, depends entirely upon the view you take of it.

The authors of a popular book, "Who moved my cheese?" point out the many unconsidered benefits to change, with the business fable of 2 mice and 2 little people representing the human worker and the cheese representing happiness and success. The book explores four typical reactions to change: feeling victimised and fearful; getting angry and blaming others; being opportunistic / entrepreneurial; and going along with change. A good question, asked as a challenge to one of the fearful little people is "what would you do differently if you weren't so afraid?". The main criticism of the book is that during times of organisational upheaval, management have been known to mass-distribute this book in an attempt to get everyone onboard quickly, without acknowledging the reality that the change will not be professionally advantageous to all. As the book rightly points out however, change happens, irrespective of whether we want it to or not, and those who can accept and adapt more quickly are likely to be happier and more successful. Getting stuck in fear, resentment, anger or denial do the opposite. Organisations need to note however that they are responsible for considering their impact on the stress-levels of their employees, with the UK's Health & Safety Executive (a governmental regulatory body) defining change as a key factor in contributing to most employee's stress levels increasing. In other words, if an organisation cannot demonstrate that in all areas they have conducted risk assessments and provided adequate support to those vulnerable (being aware also of who is more vulnerable than others), then they can be held accountable for employees being signed off work due to stress (unsurprisingly, the numbers right now are at an all-time high); potentially being sued for long-term disability support.

Psychologists have noticed something interesting that contributes to individual levels of stress differing so greatly and they call this one's perception of "Locus of Control". I use a brief assessment tool with clients not coping and we explore their own perception of control in a given situation. A low internal locus of control score (i.e. poor perception of one's ability to control the outcome of events) and a client can begin to understand why they are prone to feeling victimised or helpless (and so acting accordingly); and an excessively high one and a client can appreciate why they might be feeling angry or blaming. It can be a good starting point to helping someone get their life back on track after a change has happened, or while it is happening.

Of course change doesn't necessarily mean change at work. The same principles apply during any situation that involves loss and change, at home as well as at work. If you are finding the new year bringing in unwanted changes, then considering your ability to take control, where you can as well as where you cannot, and breaking down the change into smaller parts of good and bad (versus all bad), can help provide you with the necessary will to continue on your journey, feeling happier once more.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Leadership isn't everything

US President, Barack Obama, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Price for providing so much hope to those wishing to achieve peace - rather than having actually achieved it. With his position as President of a "world superpower", as well as his background spanning cultural as well as religious divides, he holds a unique position with considerable "soft" as well as "hard" power at his disposal. Is it really possible though that the right leadership can overcome all other problems?

The most realistic answer is that there is no rule. Sometimes, yes it is enough and sometimes, no matter how good a leader you are, unpredictable events can conspire against you. The sort of leadership required can also change according to the situation one is confronted with - and situations can change pretty quickly. Winston Churchill steered Britain through the perilous times during WWII yet failed as the leader to introduce the social policies needed afterwards. Leadership is rarely enough but it is the necessary catalyst. Without it, unhealthy limbo prevails until a leader with the right skills appears to change direction or make the changes necessary. There have been so many theories on the subject - often contradictory - but they all agree on this.

Leadership has become one of the most hotly debated, disputed and contradicted management topics going. However, during times of crisis, leadership can build collaboration or create deeper divides, depending upon its quality. For lasting change to truly happen, it needs to be a team effort, all the way down the line, and although good leadership is required for that to happen, it isn't nearly enough.

No matter whether you are in an organisation or a family, leadership is the key to it functioning well and being able to move with the times. Being able to adapt to the situation as well as meet the needs of those around you are important skills for any leader, boss or parent (and they can often be at odds with each other). Will Barack Obama fulfill the hopes of the Nobel Peace Prize? I hope so, but in my heart I know that he is just one man. We need a prevailing will that is bigger than any one man. Can he inspire this will? Well, yes, I do believe that he can (as said by the leader himself!).