Radical Leadership Wisdom

  • Leaders who don’t think like leaders.
  • Leaders who look for blame
  • Leaders who think like managers
  • Leaders who devalue their leadership
  • Leaders limited by their belief structure

So it is time to create some new Radical Leaders, right now. Why? Well looking up the dozens of Google synonymous or conceptual triggers of this word, consider these as applied to radical leadership: Amazing, Innovative, Uncompromising, Profound, Rigorous, Far-reaching and Essential.

Radical is in fact an amazing word, contaminated by it’s evil cousin ‘radicalisation’, which has a connections to extremism, which, in turn has a connotation of extreme violence. However the good version of radical can be twinned to the biochemical version ‘radical’: group of atoms behaving as a unit in a number of compounds. So radical leadership seems to induce alignment, one team, synergy of hearts and minds.

Using the principle of my knowledge leadership ‘still’ (and modeled on my memories of synthesis biochemistry), I have ‘distilled’ a potentially precious droplet of Radical Leadership Wisdom (RLW). Great abstractions are the distillation of an ideal and can be formed with just that ideal in mind, devoid of specific assumptions. Starting from what we see now and abstracting from there is not unlike solving a maze backwards. The best way to explore these radical leadership ideas is to start from a blank slate with lots of research behind it. Starting with an abstraction allows you to research and explore with that abstract solution grounding your explorations.

So my radical droplet proposition for leaders, is that leadership knowledge, wisdom and insight may sound like synonyms, but they are not. Though they all refer to the mind and an accumulation of thoughts and experiences, they have some very real differences in the essence of their meanings and their applications for Leadership.

Radical Leadership Wisdom is the ability to discern and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting, and applicable to your business. It’s the ability to apply that knowledge to the greater scheme of life. It’s also deeper because it is the knowing the true meaning or reason. RLW is all about knowing your why and what it means to your business.

Wisdom is the result of the distillation of your experiences 

-Adamus Saint-Germain

Insight is the deepest level of knowing and the most meaningful radical leadership. Insight is a deeper and clearer perception of life, of knowledge, of wisdom. It’s grasping the underlying nature of knowledge, and the essence of leadership wisdom which changes everything. So Radical Leadership Wisdomwould be uncompromising leadership that is rooted in integrity, authenticity and the ability to create (biochemical) ‘radicals’ of commitment.These radical leaders would be also uncompromising travellers in search of the truth, with high levels of antibodies to bullshit, and determined to make a profound difference.

Discussion is always good and here we could debate what Radical Leadership Wisdom (RLW) might look like:

  • RLW always creates more leaders (not just) followers
  • RLW change from the old (management) style of ‘I Leadership’ to ‘We Leadership’. Radical Leadership begins with We.
  • RLW moves from controlling people to aligning passions. Successful leaders align the passions of their teammates with organisational mission.
  • RLW enables people to simplify, edit and amplify. Some leaders enjoy the feeling of importance that complexity creates. But, any fool can make something complex. Leaders always simplify.
  • RLW requires change from deciding who was right to what is right. In the world of RLW, it doesn’t matter who comes up with solutions.
  • RLW create pursuing clarity and abstraction of truth. Most people don’t have the discipline or endurance to bear the frustration of pursuing clarity. They just want to get something done.
  • RLW is massive movement from receiving praise to giving it.

To have this Radical Leadership Wisdom means to have a new powerful positive vision in life and be able to see beyond the ordinary. This radical vision when combined with massive action can truly change the world. Now is the time to re-take the word ‘radical’ and use it for new breed of leaders. It’s time for Radical Leadership Wisdom to be at the core of the curriculumSince we can’t simply carry on applying exhausted leadership to our vibrant enterprises, the time of Radical Leadership Education (RLE) has also come. [Ask me how]. It is my experience that RLW and RLE combined with discipline and perseverance, are the most important skills you can have.

Individually, we have one drop of Radical Leadership Wisdom. Together, we are an ocean.

Be Amazing Every Day. 

Be Amazing by Thin Slicing

This is truly amazing: the latest neuroscience research reveal that our decisions are made 7 seconds before we become aware of them. We already know that within 7 seconds of meeting people decide all sorts of things about them, from status to intelligence to promiscuity. But this new research questions the very notion of free will.

When you meet a new business acquaintance for the first time you do some quick brain references and heuristics (short cuts). It could be when you first meet your new boss, a recent addition to your team, or a potential client you want to sign up. There are lots non verbal clues that your brain scans for to make these decisions. In fact, studies have found that nonverbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than anything you say. The moment that someone sees you, his or her brain is asking as a hard wired survival mechanism:

  • Are you different?
  • Are you someone to approach or to avoid?
  • Are you friend or foe?
  • Do you have status and authority?
  • Are you trustworthy, competent, likeable, confident?

Indeed people decide on your trustworthiness is judged in a tenth of a second, or less based on your facial appearance. The Princeton researchers found this out by giving one group of university students 100 milliseconds to rate the attractiveness, competence, like-ability, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness of actors’ faces. Members of another group were able to take as long as they wanted. While other traits differed depending on time spent looking, trustworthiness was basically the same.

Psychologists call it thin slicing, the ability to find patterns in events based only on narrow windows, of experience.The term seems to have been coined in 1992 by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in a paper in the Psychological Bulletin. One of the most popular books on thin-slicing is Blink written by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book, the author goes through and describes interesting examples and research which exploit the idea of thin-slicing. John Gottman, a well-known marital expert, describes how within an hour of observing a couple, he can gather with 95% accuracy if the couple will be together within 15 years. His accuracy goes down to 90% if he observes the couples for 15 minutes, supporting the phenomenon of thin-slicing.

Even more intriguingly, neuroscientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain found that decisions are made before you know. In the experiment participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand. Using fMRI, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use before they were consciously aware of the decision. By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the front polar cortex, the researchers could predict which hand the participant would choose 7 seconds before the participant was aware of the decision.What might this mean, then, for the nebulous concept of free will? “We think our decisions are conscious, but these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg,” says John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.

What does this mean for you? Well, be aware that people pick up your attitude instantly (less than a second). Before you turn to greet someone, or enter the boardroom, or step onstage to make a presentation, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. I encourage people to use their eyes first. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. While you do this slowly raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the eyebrow flash that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.

There a universal truth about the power of the smile. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. Condition yourself to stand tall and move slowly. Status and power are nonverbally conveyed by height and space. Standing tall, pulling your shoulders back, and holding your head straight are all signals of confidence and competence. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested. But be respectful of the other person’s space. That means, in most business situations, staying about two feet away.

Some people believe that thin slicing causes the phenomenon known as déjà vu as they happen within the same time frame of thin-slicing and might also have a direct correlation. So even if you think you have heard this all before, every encounter, from conferences to meetings to training sessions to business lunches, presents an opportunity to meet people, network, and expand your professional contacts by making a positive first impression.

You’ve got just seven seconds, but if you handle it well, seven seconds are all you need. But, I do find it a bit disconcerting that decisions are made by unconscious me 7 seconds before conscious me. Better still read my card below:

Be Amazing Every Day.

Leadership Excellence: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Leadership Excellence: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants



Don’t look back in anger. Leaders (and potential leaders) will do well to remember their past and quote it correctly. While not being limited by dogma, they might be wise to acknowledge the body of work that has proceeded them.

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

While this quotation can be traced to at least the 12th century and is often attributed to Bernard of Chartres (in Latin, nanos gigantum humeris insidentes), its most familiar expression is by Sir Isaac Newton. It is found in his 1676 in a letter to Robert Hooke. Sir Isaac Newton used this expression with respect to his own accomplishments and he accepted that his scientific breakthroughs owned much to those who had gone before him. Despite centuries of scientific progress, Newton’s discoveries and theories continue to influence today’s generation of scientists. Indeed Stephen Hawking’s compilation of works by the greatest minds Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein is entitled On The Shoulders of Giants. The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy, (Running Press 2002).

There is a common misconception among some leaders that you have to do everything all by yourself: you are the leader, you are responsible and it’s all you. This is, in my humble opinion, misleading, dangerous and wrong. Business leaders operating within the new economy are often quick to dismiss the received wisdom and practices of an analogue age. Every generation likes to challenge the views, conventions and behaviour of the previous one, but we appear to be experiencing a particularly profound generational shift within the world of business.

Leaders have to understand that they have a very talented team around them and it’s only the collective whole of the team that can result in a win, not any one individual effort. The smart business leader also knows when to borrow from the past and to recognise that despite the almost limitless possibilities of a digital age, the core business principles and practices, developed and codified by earlier generations of business leaders and theorists, are just as relevant as they have ever been. Google Scholar has adopted the motto, Stand on the shoulders of giants.

In the great book What’s Next, Gen X, Tamara Erickson describes how,

Today’s businesses are facing new, unpredictable challenges. What we’ve thought of as leadership skills – setting direction, having the answers, controlling performance, running a tight ship – are less relevant in an environment of constant change. Increasingly, leadership is about creating a context for innovation and inclusion in the face of ambiguity and the unexpected.

Not only should this resonant for leaders and potential leaders, it asks some fundmental questions. Warren Bennis is an American scholar, organisational consultant and author who is widely regarded as the pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership. Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at USC. My favourite two quotations are:

1. Three words leaders have trouble dealing with:‘I don’t know.’

Good leadership will often start with questions whose answer is: I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.

2. None of us is as smart as all of us.

I think that both these quotations have the quality of If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Sir Isaac’s wisdom is in challenging us to remember and use the nuggets of those who came before us; Professor Bennis’ words invites us to use the people around you. The smart business leader also knows when to borrow from the past. They recognise that despite the almost limitless possibilities of a digital age, the core business principles and practices, developed and codified by earlier generations of business leaders and theorists, are just as relevant as they have ever been. Indeed if too much ego or too little discipline prevents us from showing we care about those with whom we work, we are taking up room where giants are needed.

If you ever forget the importance of this nugget (and you live in the UK), the £2 coin bears the inscription STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS on its edge. The challenge for all of is to find those shoulders to lift others up to see more, and to be all they can be. If we don’t invest time in knowing the needs, values, and passions of those we lead, we by omission invalidate their real worth. Great Leaders in my opinion need to:

  • Develop new leaders, not followers.
  • Will invest in management training and development.
  • Learn from best practice and develop new strategies.
  • Be humble enough to stand on the shoulders of business giants.

Using Newton’s principle of standing upon those broad shoulders, perhaps we should look to Aristotle. He was the first genuine scientist in history and every scientist is in his debt. Aristotle writings cover many subjects including: physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics and government and constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy. Aristotle is often quoted as saying:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

The sentiment certainly sounds great, but the trouble is that he did not say it. These words were actually written by Will Durant in The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers. After quoting a phrase from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions), Durant sums it up this way…we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit. This is an example of the way that provocative words tend to gravitate toward famous mouths. As the great quote-sleuth Ralph Keyes says, clever lines … routinely travel from obscure mouths to prominent ones.

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Be Amazing Every Day.

I Quit! Neurobiology of Overcoming Fear

Slide3Fear may be one of the oldest emotions we know. Well before we knew happiness, before grief and sadness, before joy and long before the desire to start a new business, there was fear.

It has been said that the 3 most addictive substances in life are: CarbohydratesCrack and the end-of-month pay Cheque. The reasons are becoming clear and generally are associated with the emotion of fear. Although the word fear is hard to precisely define, everyone knows how it feels to be afraid. The fear of quitting a good job and starting a new business can be crippling. Can we ever truly get rid of these fears? Neuroscientists are trying to find out the neural pathways of this powerful emotion. There are a few useful tricks that can really help overcome fear.

Human anxiety is greatly amplified by our ability to imagine the future, and our place in it, even a future that is physically impossible. – Joseph LeDoux

But fears very much like fire; our best friend when it isn’t raging out of control. It is essential for your survival, allowing an organism to detect a potential threat to its life. Too much fear, however, can lead to pathological conditions such as anxiety, phobia, paranoia, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Please note that fear is definitely not anxiety. Fear is an emotional state that exists in the presence of danger and ends once that danger has passed. Anxiety exists when we anticipate a danger or threat, regardless if one is present or not.The physiological response to fear is called the ‘fight or flight’ response, was first described by the American physiologist Walter B. Cannon in the 1929. The response is caused by the actions of adrenaline, noradrenaline and the steroid cortisol, whose release is triggered by the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. The following physiological responses will happen, that you will have experienced:

  1. Your heart rate increases
  2. Your breathing speeds up
  3. Your pupils dilate to let in more light
  4. Your metabolism of fat and glucose in the liver increase to provide the energy
  5. Your production and release of endorphins is greatly increased
  6. Your brain’s decision-making areas become primed for action.

On top of this (and it is surprising), your brain doesn’t want your conscious awareness to override your fear response. This is a result of millions of years of evolution. If I ask you, right now, to get on stage with no preparation and be funny (with a big, ugly audience whom are restless and hostile), you may have an evolutionary response to protect you and help you survive. It turns out that it was a helpful survival mechanism in our cave dwelling days but is distinctly unhelpful at The Comedy Store. What your brain does next is very interesting. It does two things simultaneously.

Firstly, is the powerful Primary Response. This is both innate and unconscious and very fast (a few milliseconds).

  • The sensory thalamus receives some sort of a sensory input, like seeing rows of unfriendly people sat there, staring at you.
  • The sensory thalamus then passes that information to the amygdala.
  • Your brain isn’t even sure what exactly it’s seeing here but knows that you might be killed or eaten.
  • Your amygdala recognises that the input is a threat and prepares your body to respond.

The Secondary Response takes a few seconds, is both conscious and rational.

  • Your sensory thalamus also sends information to your cortex (which gives you context to understand what you are seeing).
  • Your higher brain, the cortex says, OMG, that is a lot of people. They really do look aggressive. I might die out there.
  • This information is sent back to the amygdala, where your fear response takes over: your heart rate further increases, your pupils dilate, and you sweat more.
  • You may feel sick, forget your lines and run off the stage screaming.

This neural circuitry, which processes information about fear is now well mapped, but otherwise, little else is known about the biological basis of this emotion. In recent years neuroscientists have understood some of the cellular and molecular mechnisms underlying fear. Your brain is set up to allow fear to take control. The evidence is in the wiring: there are a good number of pathways from the amygdala to the neocortex. There are far fewer pathways from the neocortex to the amygdala.

What can we do about this fixed pathway of neurones and circuits? Research indicates that just admitting what fears you have can help you get over them faster. The research shows the ability of the brain to restructure our fear pathways and heal itself throughout life. This discovery alone tossed out centuries of scientific belief which previously held that we cannot do much about the damage caused by trauma and certain set patterns such as those labeled mental or behavioural disorders. Known as neuroplasticity, the findings show you have an innate ability to restructure the gray matter of your brain. Change the primary and secondary response pathways with your mind and conscious-mind action. We can then challenge these fears and barriers to success.

Because your fear responses are largely unconscious many people have struggled to think that they can change them. The become bound by unwritten rules and don’t change. It is these poor decisions (or fear of making them and non-decisions) that stop us achieving our potential. The evidence is that we can change and help re-wire our circuits with some simple actions. The first thing you need to do is bring awareness to what is happening for you right now. By being honest and asking some good questions about the basis for your fear you have the capacity to change the basis of your fears. So ask the following questions and right your honest answers down:

  • What am I actually afraid of? [Specific / Detailed / Thoughtful]
  • What triggered this fear? [Look at the timing, circumstances and previous traumas.]
  • What is the worst that can happen? [When I ask this question, many people start to exaggerate the actual real risk and consequences. This end of the world scenario needs careful re-framing and a reality check.]

You may think these questions seem silly or indeed obvious, but it’s not about the complexity of the question, it’s about unravelling the fear. By untangling it from our minds we can get control of it. The thing about fear is that it often makes us believe things that just aren’t true.

So back to the title question, why do people fear quitting and start out on their own? What do they need to do to be fearless and courageous? Maybe it starts by resolving a fundamental fear and changing those neural pathways.

For example, If I quit my job, I am a quitter.

  • What am I actually afraid of? [ List, sort edit and amplify]
  • Am I afraid of not being good enough? [To whom? When? Where? Why?]
  • Am I afraid of letting people down? [About? Where has this come from?]
  • Am I in fear of not living up to my potential? [ Analysis and Honesty]

If you can understand this, you can use evidence to contradict your fear. It’s also extremely beneficial to talk to others about your fears.

When you start to ask the right questions and reframe them, challenge what you think, say or do in response to an event or situation, you change inner emotional states. As emotions are molecules that transmit the what to fire and wire messages, whenever your felt experience of an event changes, accordingly, this physically restructures the neural pathways of your brain.

By disputing fears and reframing them, you can covert them into something that isn’t a scary abstract beast. Break the fear apart by questioning and understanding; dissect it, smash into small pieces, then you can control it Your brain will do the rest if you can change your physiology (start with your breathing) and if you ask the right questions.You can quit that job and become an entrepreneur, a business leader or your own boss.You can achieve anything you want in life if,

  • You have the courage to dream it,
  • The intelligence to make a realistic plan,
  • The will to see that plan to it’s end.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Take the Leadership Failure Test

I have… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [small cough] tears… in… rain. Time… to die… I love this final speech in Blade Runner, when the dying replicant Roy Batty makes this speech to Harrison Ford’s character Deckard moments after saving him from falling off a tall building.

I have… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… in leadership, education, hospitality and management. Well maybe you would not be surprised but it never ceases to amaze me at the numbers of people in leadership positions that just shouldn’t be. Likewise, I’ve stopped being surprised when those charged with leadership development can’t seem to figure out what constitutes a leader. The classic myth still persists that great leaders are born, not made. So time for some myths and cognitive biases to die…

The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than bornWarren G. Bennis
So to re-phrase the classic question with a twist: can everyone be a leader? Well take the view of Tom Peters, Leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders.Now that is truly powerful. You see most people I meet think they are a leader but most are far from it (yet). The harsh reality is that we live in a world awash with leadership lightweights. The answer to the question is of course is that any one could be a leader, but most fail to be real leaders. It all depends on how you define the word leader. Truly amazing leaders empower others to become leaders. Their higher goal is to work themselves out of the job so that if they are not around, the organisation functions just as successfully as when they are around.

Anyone can excel at anything if they truly put their mind to it. All the evidence points to leadership being a skill, not a genetic disposition. How do you know who will make a great leader in a given circumstance? Try my Leadership Failure Checklist; someone (maybe you or someone you know) isn’t a leader if…

  1. They don’t get results. Obvious? Well the acid test of leadership is Churchill’s classic, It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary. Real leaders perform and they get the job done. They consistently exceed expectations. No results will equate to no leadership. It’s just that simple.
  2. They don’t make decisions. Real leaders must make decisions, and so if a person always seems to vacillate on choices big and small, from who should handle a certain client to where to go for lunch they will probably have difficulty in a leadership position. It indicates a lack of self-confidence.
  3. They have all the answers. The best leaders have a clear understanding of their own limitations. They know that success is a team sport and there is no such thing as a self-made man. They realise that it takes a diverse team to truly innovate. I believe that truly great leaders listen more than they speak. They listen with the goal to understand, not the goal to answer. They admit their mistakes and empower their people.
  4. They can’t lead because they don’t have a position of authority. I hear this excuse a lot: I need a tittle! No. This excuse stems from the traditional definition of leadership. It equates leadership with a position and with authority. If we define leadership in a different manner, it opens up an entirely new perspective for students. What if leadership was more about people pursuing a calling in life; a calling with which we will influence others in its fulfilment? What if it had more to do with finding an area of strength and in using that strength?
  5. They fear change. A classic leadership excuse is found here. Change is scary for everyone, especially when it involves loads of money and/or people’s jobs. But leaders who cannot embrace change are destined to be left behind.
  6. They want to be in the spotlight. It is true that if you are a leader of the company there is an expectation that you will also be a company’s spokesperson. But leadership comes in many forms. You don’t have to be on the organisation’s executive team to be a leader. True leaders are humble. They don’t much care about the spotlight. They care about the results and therefore they really focus. In his book Good to Great Jim Collins says that exceptional leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. Amazing leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.
  7. They lack real empathy. The lack of empathy is a key indicator of a poor leader. If the person cannot seem to put him or herself in another person’s shoes and see things from a different perspective, they will never be a truly great leader.
  8. They just don’t care. Indifference is a characteristic not well suited to leadership. You simply cannot be a leader if you don’t care about those you lead. The real test of any leader is whether or not those they lead are better off for being led by them. Also are they developing new leaders?
  9. They lack humility. These are the people who act as though they can do it all and are the only one who can do it right. It is unlikely they will be a great leader, because they’ll be too busy doing everyone else’s job. Micro-managers need not apply.
  10. They are far too bossy. It’s a common misconception that bossy people make good bosses. Actually, the opposite is true. Someone who simply orders others around is unlikely to engender any loyalty or make subordinates feel empowered. True leaders have followers who want to be led by them.
  11. They care more about making promises than keeping them. Leadership isn’t about your rhetoric, it’s about your actions. Michael Jordan famously said,Earn your leadership every day. Leadership might begin with your vision, but it’s delivering that vision that will ultimately determine your success as a leader.
  12. They follow the rules instead of breaking them. Boring, Dull and the great enemy of leadership. Leadership is nothing if not understanding the need for change and then possessing the ability to deliver it. Push yourself further and consign the rule book to the bin.
  13. They take credit instead of giving it (see also mudita). True leadership isn’t found seeking the spotlight, but seeking to shine the spotlight on others. The best leaders only use I when accepting responsibility for failures. Likewise, they are quick to use we when referring to successes.

What was your / their score?

Well the take home is more important than the number: it is less about position and more about disposition.It is not so much about superiority but about service in the area of our strengths. Dwight Eisenhower once commented that, the supreme quality of leadership is integrity. It also seems then, it has less to do with a set of behaviours and more to do with a perspective with which we view life. Daniel Webster’s There is always room at the top should encourage you to be a great leader. One person’s success does not leave less for the rest of you. The leadership universe expands and the fact is there’s always room at the top because there’s always people getting there. It isn’t a zero sum game with a loser for every winner. There are plenty of winners coexisting at the top and you can be amazing every day and a true leader.

Leadership is a great calling for every one of us…at some level and to dome degree. It’s about becoming the person we were meant to be. Being that amazing person everyday. All those… leadership moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain.

A leader is best when people barely know they exists, when their work is done, their aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. Lao Tzu

Be Amazing Every Day.

Engage Sceptics, Fire Cynics

Engage, hire and develop sceptics; don’t feed the cynics. I think you may agree that we live in very cynical times. There is an increasing distrust of those in leadership and management positions. Indeed many doubt their basic honesty, integrity and authenticity (see also: very low approval ratings of politicians globally).

So what can the new generation of ‘leaders’ do about this? I believe that if you anticipate it and have strategies for coping with it, leaders can learn to turn the cynics into believers. Really. Well we can try to understand how we could effect such a change. In my experience, there is usually a sceptic or cynic in every group, every organisation and each audience. Sometimes, in large groups, there are both and there are lots of them. I have encountered cynics who disguise themselves as sceptics and I find that the difference is very important. One demands evidence before embracing change, while the other resists it at all cost. [By the way, skeptic and sceptic and interchangeable spellings].
The modern definition of cynicism certainly doesn’t have any positive connotations. But the word has an older (and perhaps more innovation-minded) meaning originating with the philosophy of Diogenes and his ancient Greek colleagues. Diogenes refused to do anything out of ‘convention’ or because it was the ‘norm’; for example, it was uncouth to eat in the marketplace, so he ate in the marketplace. This idea of a cynic as contrarian, not pessimist, is something that modern workplaces could benefit from more of. Diogenes’s tradition is alive and well with several modern visionaries.

I have written before about the careless and inappropriate use of words by companies. Some engage in overtly positive statements. Positivity seems to be one of the most valued traits in modern companies. At Whole Foods, the core values areWe Satisfy, Delight, and Nourish Our Customers. At Coca Cola, values includeintegrity: be realpassion: committed in heart and mind, and collaboration: leverage collective genius. All these things are great, but as the New York Times‘ Adam Bryant says,

if there’s a gap between the values you profess and the actions you take, people start shutting down, rolling their eyes, and getting cynical’

My journey towards understanding cynics and sceptics in organisations, has taken a long time. By helping clients, across many professions, towards this one conclusion:you should listen to the sceptics and avoid the cynics when making crucial decisions enthusiasm for the reform of the day. This mean you need to do the following:

  • During meetings, listen patiently to sceptics, cynics and anyone else with an opinion.
  • Engage sceptics, encouraging action research and systematic analysis of the evidence.
  • Sceptics want to be effective educators and seek evidence to support or oppose proposed new policies.
  • Cynics are uninterested in inquiry or research, as resistance to change is part of the change process.
  • Change in any system means a loss of previously accepted practices and challenges to prevailing wisdom.

There are of course, lots of self-help cynics out there. Those who have become totally disillusioned with anything associated to personal development. Until they can see the point why would they change? Of course they wont ever see the point. They feel the entire field is a sham populated by scammers and charlatans. Cynics don’t subscribe to the idea that people can actually change by conscious intent. They are who they are, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

As opposed to a cynic, a skeptic is doubtful but still open-minded and logical enough to consider new input. Sceptics primarily seek truth through the process of asking questions. Sometimes the real truth cannot be pinned down so easily, so the skeptic must learn to live with ambiguity and uncertainty much of the time. For the cynic, however, the mere existence of doubt is immediate cause for labelling an entire field as erroneous. If you try to engage a cynic about his/her beliefs, you’ll usually receive some emotional and very close-minded arguments but little logic. So leaders need to adopt a strategy to turn the cynics and recommend the 6-point plan:

1. Who are you really? A key to credibility is the knowing who you are and what you stand for. It gets back to the fundamentals of having a set of values that guides your behaviour. Be consistent in communicating your beliefs and values. Mixed messages and signals weaken credibility. The Simon Sinek application of Starting With Why?

2. Do What You Say You Will Do. Authentic action is the bedrock of trust, and leaders are frequently reminded to have consistent words and actions.

3. Listen, Listen, Listen (don’t make it any worse). It always sound easy, yet is hard to do. It’s the key to having insights into followers and understanding their needs. Engage in a conversation where you learn what others value.

4. Build a Real Community. To avoid the spread of cynicism in the workplace, leaders must work to get everyone working towards the same vision. Leaders are an integral part of the community. When they stand outside of it or, even worse, seeking to control it, it weakens their credibility

5. Be an Enabler. Credible leaders are open to sharing authority with others and allowing them to be part of the change process. By inviting their followers to take on leadership roles, confident leaders give everyone a stake in the success or failure of projects.

6. Life Long Learning. Here’s another reason why leaders need to always be learning to demonstrate their awareness of what all staff are going through, and to offer compassion when needed. We’re all going to fail at some point. Leaders need to be a part of it, and to do what they can to right the wrongs and to learn from the mistakes and improve.

There aren’t many (any?) great leaders who are cynics, at least not publicly. Leaders have to believe in something, and cynics are too cool to believe. Leaders have to create community, they have to work with their enemies, they have to love and be committed to people, and they have to convince people of their ideas. I find that many cynics are often bullies that don’t see any problem with their verbal attacks on others. If someone doesn’t like what he or she is saying, that is the other person’s problem. While sceptics are reserved about their opinions and very matter of fact, they tend to be very respectful and courteous.

Engage Sceptics, Fire Cynics.

Big Ideas: Emotional Design in Business.

You would probably recognise your own signature on a piece of paper (or maybe less so electronically) but do you know your own emotional signature? We all have one. It’s our own predictable way of reacting to situations. Our inner programming that we believe does not control our emotions. Your friends and family will know what your emotional signature is (probably better than you) and can usually accurately predict your reaction to any given situation. What about your company’s emotional signature? Is it consistent and delivered across all platforms with passion and clarity?

Many business leaders currently face a massive problem: trying to understand their niche, their reason for being and their own Emotional Signature. Not just in hospitality but across all sectors the old model of assuming that customers act rationally in their decision-making is no longer enough to explain their attitudes and behaviour towards companies. To quote neuroscientist Antonio Damasio,

Emotion is in the loop of reason.

Let me tell you a true story about a hospitality (Hotel) business that is locked into the ‘old way’ of thinking about the ‘customer experience paradigm’. I walked into a well-known global Hotel chain on Friday with a client of mine. I successful predicted (by writing the answers in advance, putting them in an envelope and handing it to my client) that:

  1. How long it would take for someone to approach us at reception? [We were 3 metres away from the desk standing still. It took a mind numbing 2 minutes 32 seconds. Urgent?]
  2. Will open body language be used to engage us? [Closed NVC with no eye contact; no engagement. I accurately predicted how my client felt: We were ‘in the way’ of their job – gosh where do I start?]
  3. What would be the first question we would be asked? [‘Excuse me, are you waiting for some one?’ Really]
  4. What was the emotional experience (smell and feel) of the foyer / reception? [The 5 words I predicted in his paragraph describing the feeling (including smell, visual and auditory)were old, stale, dated, cleaning product smell, dull]
  5. How would describe the experience to someone else? [He used my predicted emotional descriptors: unwelcoming and uninspiring].

He opened the envelope. He was amazed and thought I had somehow ‘cheated’, or manipulated the situation. I had been completely truthful; I had not been there before and not manipulated or hypnotised him. I had of course visited many branches of this particular chain of hotels and recorded a detailed assessment of their emotions signature and the responses I felt to their service (or lack of it). My predictions were nearly 100% in line with his experiences (within 12 seconds for question number 1) and consistent with all the thick data from my multiple visits elsewhere.

The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. – Peter Drucker

It’s not difficult to find support for what appears to be the ‘ultimate truth’ in hospitality: the customer experience is everything and key to business success. Since virtually every business leader espouses this truth, it must be great to be a customer.Except we know it is not the case. Colin Shaw writing in my now favourite bedside book, The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value(www.landmarkonthenet.com) talks about the challenges ahead for all businesses. They are all so conformist, so dull and so boring. He says,

Organisations are selling similar products and services to the same people. This, along with massive improvements in technology and more efficient offshore manufacturing, enables price reduction, which drives commoditization, which in turn drives down profits and ultimately shareholder value.

Emotions guide our every thought, transaction and deed. The next battleground, therefore, is not the customer experience, but the emotional signature and it’s delivery. What can business leaders do to drive their organisations into these winning emotional positions? They need to look at developing a Emotional Signature Delivery process:

1. The Emotional Discovery. Most of what companies know about their customers tends to be descriptive and data driven: who they are, where they live, what they’ve purchased and their customer history. There may have undertaken a segmentation analysis that groups customers by attitudes and emotional drivers. But there is little or no work (certainly in the hospitality industry) to determine what the emotional signature is of the product or how the customer really feels about their experience. Far beyond an out-dated feedback form (post experience) or a text survey (so annoying it makes me scream).

2. The Emotional Design. Emotional design leverages emotional discovery in order to create products and services that allow customers to more easily accomplish the goals that are important to them. This includes designing products and services that customers love because they’re meaningful and make them feel good.

3. The Emotional Delivery. Customer service is a monologue; it’s about technical delivery, standards, and execution. The company decides what to do and how to do it. Well-designed and executed customer service usually does a good job of meeting customers’ baseline needs and expectations.

These create what Shaw describes as the ‘attention clusters’ which are (he believes) the new value drivers. In order of importance they are attention, recommendation and advocacy. The ‘attention cluster’ incorporates emotions of being interested, indulgent, stimulated, exploratory, and energetic. The emotional marketing components are diverse and need to relate to the 27+ senses we have and the emotional triggers they require. Hotels are already looking at:

  • Creating a Visual Impact. People everywhere are visual creatures. Imagery is a smart, subliminal way to sell. According to the Travel Industry Association, most online reservations are still made from the picture gallery, or one click later. Yet, most guests think their decision was intellectual, not an emotional; cold facts aren’t nearly as compelling. The emotions response is being subconsciously aware of every aspect of the visual. This includes dull reception areas.
  • The Sweet Scent of Success. Among all the basic (old school) five senses, smell is one of the most powerful trigger of emotions and memories. Hotel ‘scent-vertising’ could be the stimulation of jasmine at a boutique, or the relaxation of lavender in the lobby. These scents should be barely perceptible, almost subliminal. They are meant to lull guests into a serene state, prompting them to relax, buy more and, ideally, remember the brand. Or in the case of my visit the smell of bleach.
  • The Sound and Audio. Some hotels have misused sound for many years. Fine-tuning the sound of products satisfies the consumer while subtly ingraining a brand’s intrinsic quality, is the ultimate quest. For years, major department stores used soothing music to slow down shoppers and induce them to look at all the merchandise displayed around them. Those oh so predictable hypnotic, dull, lift-music sounds. Specialty boutiques may play anything from old French jazz to soundscapes such as laughing children, birdsongs or lapping water. Understanding this emotional signature for a hotel or restaurant is a real science.
  • The Haptic Response (Feel & Touch). If customers handle merchandise or take pleasure from simple things like cool buttons and switches; they tend to develop a liking for the product or hotel. That makes them much more likely to buy other products. Natural décor, featuring tactile, green elements, seems to be the way forward in interior innovation. Botanical facades are not just artistic installations anymore. They are suitable for growing, and even eating. An outstanding way to link the brand with green, organic and health foods. A real emotional nudge for potential clients.
  • Chemotaxis and Taste. Taste is a chemical response at the molecular level, in the nose and on the surface of the tongue. It is a incredibly powerful emotional driver. Marketers are constantly using taste to differentiate their brands. Starting in the 1980s, DoubleTree Hotels began building a welcoming reputation with their signature cookies. Warm chocolate-chip cookies were handed out with room cards at check-in, while travel agents received cookies with their commissions. Now the passion for these cookies is global.

Identifying true emotional drivers for your customers includes structured ways to embed these emotional experiences in the core processes of customer discovery, design and delivery. Unfortunately (and fortunately for their competitors), Emotion Signature Delivery is rare in the hospitality and business world. Rules, processes, policies, metrics, resource constraints, as well as more deeply entrenched beliefs often get in the way.

If good customer experience makes for good business sense, then business programmes that strive to deliver really memorable positive emotional customer experiences promise to take organisations into high-performing and high-profit market niches. The very important message and guidance for business leaders across sectors is clear: measure your emotional experience, drive the emotional change from the results and track these emotional changes over time.

It’s been emotional.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Top 10 Business Rules for Success

Top 10 Business Rules for Success

Want more money? Want more clients? Want to be a true success in business? These are my top 10 business rules for being successful every day.

There are so many books, blogs and so-called experts / gurus / consultants out there who think they have a quick solution to being successful in business. I am here to tell you they are short changing you. You can Be Amazing Every Day, but it takes time, discipline, energy and lots of motivation. I love showing people how this works for them as individuals, as teams and as a business. If you want success, then follow these 10 simple life changing rules. They can massively increase your chances of success. I have been reviewing all the literature, watching hours of videos, listening, asking questions and reading so much more than is required. Most importantly, allowing myself time for some deep thought about how it all works. I have written this directly for you; a very short, sharp course on how to be Amazing in Business. See if you can achieve every element: each one has a link to a specific resource, videos and more of my thoughts and other people I admire.

These are my distilled droplets of wisdom:


Exude Passion. Passion is the #1 element in business success. Passion is a term applied to a very strong feeling about what you do. It is not shouting or being a clanging wok. Passion is so obvious and without it you will fail to be a success in business. Passion is an intense emotion, compelling enthusiasm or desire for anything. If you are not passionate about your work, product or service, everyone can tell. There are no short cuts. You need to get a grip of your physiology (ask me how).


Knowing Your Why: the reason for which your business exists. What is your motivation, your grounds, cause, impetus, occasion, reason, point, basis, justification and PURPOSE. Find your why by asking the right questions. Remember, people by why you do it, not what (or how) you do it.



Excellence is a continuously moving target that can be pursued through actions of integrity, authenticity and continuously learning. it involves a commitment to improving in all spheres to pursue your goal.Change in a nano-second and only do excellent work from now on. Know everything about your business, your customers, your product your field, your world and constantly demand more of yourself.



Transcend your fears. Single minded attention to the task. Simplify and Edit, then amplify.What is the core of what you do? Put your mind to one thing and exceed expectations and deliver excellence, always. Aim for genius but stay humble.



Risk more than is required.Application of better solutions that meet new requirements. Be passionate about innovation. Be original and break the mould. Do Different. See the world in a different way.Outsource your brain.



Act now, don't stop. Endurance is the ability to be persistent and remain active for a long period of time, as well as its ability to resist, withstand, recover from, and have immunity to trauma, wounds, or fatigue. Never give up. Never. Be strong and show courage.



A push is an applied force typically intended to drive or impel. In contrast to a pull it acts in a direction away from person or thing causing the force. Your energy and enthusiasm are infectious; show, lead and inspire. Drive your business every day. Work on your business not in it. Leadership can be acquired.



The desire to give back, givers gain and to help others will result in a positive feeling of involvement in the wider world. It often results in Law of Reciprocation and people want to help you. Make a contribution and others see your capacity to inspire and grow. Great companies develop the habit of being amazing at training, giving to those that don't have their opportunities and inspiring those less well off than they are. Change the world.



Deliver more than is needed. Dedicated, habitually working diligentlyand for long hours, is part of the process. But make it fun not a grind. Understanding the concept of SMART work, focus on what matters and making it fun everyday. Work and Play are the same thing, if you get it right. Understand PFR: Performance, Feedback,and Revision.It changes everything.



Learn more than is required, read more than you thought possible and ask better questions everyday. Find out why: Explore, Play and Create Novelty. Use the genius of others to stand on the shoulders of giants. Never stop learning and be willing to teach others. Be Amazing Every Day





The Emotional Signature of Hospitality

The Emotional Signature of Hospitality

The Neuroscience of the Peak End Rule & the Emotional Signature of Hospitality.

Hello, do you have a reservation Sir?

The restaurant is empty. There are no people. A veritable desert, a ghost town. Why are you asking me this?

You’ve got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk*?

Clearly they need some basic training in the Peak End Rule and the Emotional Signature of Hospitality. The theory behind the Peak End Rule is simpleHumans hedonically (pleasure based) evaluate past experiences using a short cut in the brain. This heuristic process leads people to judge an experience by its most intense point and it’s end, as opposed to the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. It occurs regardless of whether a ‘peak’ is pleasant or unpleasant, and regardless of the duration of the experience. Maya Angelou once said,

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.


So what is the emotion you are trying to evoke in your customers when they walk into your bar, hotel or restaurant? Do you really know? If not, why not? Emotions are the biggest driving force behind all human behaviour. And the neuroscience of this emotion is the future of marketing and the future of all success in hospitality. Buck Rodgers, not the Sci Fi guy, but the Vice President of Marketing for IBM once said,

People buy emotionally and then justify with logic.

The concept of customers’ emotions have now been widely accepted, as Forresterpoints out in the article, ‘2013 Predictions for the Customer Experience Industry’ stating:

Emotional insights will take centre stage. The idea that happy customers are more likely to remain loyal, try new products and services, and spread good news about their experiences has started to catch on.

But amazingly, surveys reveal 80 percent of companies believe they deliver superior customer experience, yet only 8 percent of their customers agree. What is going on to create this massive disconnect? The first thing that neuroscience tells us is that in hospitality, like any form of transaction, everything is an emotional buy; everything. Whether buying a cup of coffee, a fine dining restaurant, choosing a wine, purchasing a holiday, a car, or a house. Our emotional reaction to a service transaction is the fundamental driver of the purchasing decision.

According to psychologists, what people remember about a customer experience is determined by the intensity of emotions created in specific moments, not the overall experience. During the ‘80’s and ‘90’s customer satisfaction was king. It was based on research suggesting that continued improvement in product and service quality would mean corresponding increases in satisfaction, and customer satisfaction was going to ensure a returning purchase.

What further academic research and empirical evidence now shows is that companies who followed this guideline were surprised to find that even high scores in customer satisfaction did not guarantee loyalty. Companies have discovered that loyalty, not satisfaction, drives profits. The economics are very compelling. 

As little as a 5% decrease in customer defections can mean a doubling of profits. Loyal customers are not only repeat purchasers, and are more likely to buy other products and services, they become advocates of the company. It is nine times cheaper to keep an existing customer than acquire a new one.

This is true for most experiences throughout our lives. Our sub conscious mind categorises and catalogues experiences according to the nature and intensity of emotions. When it starts processing new stimuli, the sub conscious mind associates past memories and responds emotionally before rational thought occurs. When neurologists discovered that 95 percent of thought, emotion and learning occur this way, behavioural economists like Daniel Kahneman realised that:

We are not thinking machines that feel. We are feeling machines that think.

In other words, sub conscious emotional responses shaped by past emotional memories determine customer attitudes, perceptions and behaviour, rather than conscious, rational decisions. This is the basis of the Peak End Rule (PER), citing that customer experiences are judged almost entirely on the intensity of emotions at their peaks and resolution point. Virtually all other information appears to be forgotten, including net pleasantness or unpleasantness and how long the experience lasted. Think about this in the context of any aspect of hospitality.

More than 60% of the typical customer experience is emotional. Everyone wants loyal customers. Consider the meaning of the word loyalty. A well designed hospitality or customer experience (process) triggers emotions that have a positive effect on customer retention and customer loyalty. Effectively, a great experience transcends the rational/physical attributes of the literal product (quality, price, delivery, quantity) or the what and becomes part of the product itself. The irony is that right now your customers are feeling emotions with your customer experience; the issue is that you have no control over them and they are not deliberate. Great customer experiences are emotional and create an attachment to a company and once that emotional bond is created it is difficult to break, and thus can become a long term differentiator.

What the customer feels or doesn’t feel at every single encounter with a service provider is directly related to the service providers ability to manage the totality of the experience and customers expectations. Customer experience is not simply about smiling sweetly, or keeping an even tone when handling an irate customer.

Here is the key:

It is all about creating, operationally, transactionally and behaviourally an emotional connection with the customer that leaves them feeling that they are the most important person in that moment in time.

Addressing the emotional needs, desires expectations of fickle – I want it now and I’m not going to wait – customers is difficult and can’t be left entirely to the great customer service skills of the individual. Start with some fantastic training.

Now let’s start that again.

Good evening Sir.


*I know what you’re thinking: 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?



Be Amazing Every Day