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.

The Economic Future. Brilliant

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

The powerful opening line of William Gibson’s debut masterpiece Neuromancer definitively sets the tone for what was and perhaps remains, the single most influential science fiction novel in shaping the public consciousness.

Neuromancer was published 30 years ago this year (1984). Gibson was predicting our rather grim future and popularised the idea of cyberspace (a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions). He described a (internet) network that can be jacked into, while in the real world characters flit from Tokyo to theSprawl, an urban agglomeration running down the east coast of the USNeuromancer gave us not onlycyberspace, but also the matrix and dub music (a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast libraries of digitalised pop). The cities along the Eastern seaboard from Boston and Atlanta have yet to merge into a single megalopolitan Sprawl but it is only a matter of time. Starbucks has become Beautiful Girl, a franchised coffee shop seen on nearly every street corner. Microsoft was founded before the novel’s publication, but Gibson’s microsofts, small computer chips that insert directly into the brain, may well represent the company’s ultimate goal.

There is a character in BBC’s The Fast Show, who was an over enthusiastic Manchester teenager. He believed everything was‘Brilliant!. He marches around many diverse locations biggingthings up with boundless energy. Amongst the things Brilliant thinks are brilliant are: shelves, gravity, the Mafia, holes, yesterday, Ronnie Corbett, sequels, holidays, echoes, several different types of natural disaster, paint, kids, pavements, the sky, mothers, microwaves, old people, sex, the Romans, shepherds, Jesus and golf.

Something else that is brilliant is the power of predicting the future. One of the buzz words of the moment is Nowcasting. It has recently become popular in economics and uses standard measures to assess the state of an economy, e.g. GDP, which are only determined after a long delay and are even then subject to subsequent revisions. While weather forecasters know weather conditions today and only have to predict the weather tomorrow, economists have to forecast the present and even the recent past.

It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. – Yogi Berra

Billions of dollars are spent on experts who claim they can forecast what’s around the corner, in business, finance and economics. Most of them get it wrong. Data analysts forecast demand for new products, or the impact of a discount or special offer. Scenario planners produce broad-based narratives with the aim of provoking fresh thinking about what might happen. Nowcasters look at Twitter or Google to track epidemics like Ebola, in real time. Intelligence agencies look for clues about where the next geopolitical crisis will emerge and banks, finance ministries, consultants and international agencies release regular prophecies covering dozens, even hundreds, of macroeconomic variables.

Real breakthroughs have been achieved in certain areas, especially where rich datasets have become available e.g. weather forecasting, online retailing and supply-chain management. Yet when it comes to the headline-grabbing business of geopolitical or macroeconomic forecasting, it is not clear that we are any better at the fundamental task that the industry claims to fulfil – seeing into the future. Philip Tetlock at the University of Pennsylvania has found most forecasters do only slightly better than chance.Chimps randomly throwing darts at the possible outcomes would have done almost as well as the experts,” is how one political scientist summarised the findings to the New York Times.

Forecasting with the power of a Gibson novel may be possible when you have clarity and imagination. Some people (called by the popular press as Superforecasters ) may be able to predict geopolitical events with an accuracy far outstripping chance. The most helpful advice on how to become a Superforecaster (or a predictive science fiction writer) can be derived from using some clear rules:

  • COMPARE & CONTRAST. Comparisons are important: use relevant comparisons as a starting point. Turn up the contrast and use false colour.
  • WATCH, LOOK & LEARN. Historical trends can help (but cannot predict future trends accurately). There is a look at history unless you have a strong reason to expect change. Ethnographic understanding is needed at the highest level.
  • META DATA. Average opinions matter; experts disagree, so find out what they think and pick a midpoint. Big data and understanding of statistical analysis.
  • DO THE MATHS. If possible use the most powerful model-based predictions available. The numbers are the starting point for understanding.
  • UN-BIAS VISION. Predictable biases exist and can be allowed for. Don’t let your hopes influence your forecasts, for example; don’t stubbornly cling to old forecasts in the face of news.

Night city was like an experiment in social Darwinism designed by a bored researcher who kept his thumb permanently on the fast forward button.

Predictive capabilities frequently serve as a metric for judging the worth of near-term science fiction. In many ways, Gibson’s prognosticative capabilities continue to impress thirty years later. Certainly, he misses the mark on some counts. He amusingly chooses the megabyte to represent units of big data. His world invokes powerful computer terminal fixtures and sleek cybernetic implants, but omits the intermediary stage of handheld technology like smartphones. He has changed the world through the sheer power of his dream and vision. Even though Gibson imagines such a ferociously revolutionary world from the 1980’s, he tempers this dream that could easily be that of ecstatic revelation with the knowledge that, as with all things, there will be some winners and some losers.

Need to make a major decision about your future or predict a trend? Want to write the next Neuromancer? Embrace uncertainty and identify your biases. Of course, if you are a Superforecaster already, you probably saw that advice coming.

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.

The Internet, Procrastination and Productivity: The Truth

Nov 25 2014

I am waiting. After a long delay, neuroscience, and psychology is finally beginning to understand the complexities of procrastination and Mental Inertia. It is thought that an amazing 25% of adults around the world are chronic (long term) procrastinators. There are (apparently) two types of procrastinators out there:

  • those who delay making decisions, and
  • those who delay taking action.

A long time ago, a man approached J.P. Morgan, held up an envelope, and said,‘Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell you for $25,000.’ ‘Sir,’ J.P. Morgan replied, ‘I do not know what is in the envelope; however, if you show it to me, and I like it, I give you my word as a gentleman, that I will pay you what you ask.’ The man agreed to the terms, and handed over the envelope. J.P. Morgan opened it and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look, a mere glance, then handed the piece of paper back to the gentleman and paid him the agreed upon $25,000. The contents of the note:

  1. Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.
  2. Do them.

Believe it or not, the internet and cat memes did not give rise to procrastination. I know that may shock some. People have struggled with habitual hesitation going back thousands of years. Around the time of Homer in ancient Greece, Hesiod, writing around 800 B.C., cautioned not to,

‘put your work off till tomorrow and the day after’.

The Roman consul Cicero called procrastination, ‘hateful in the conduct of affairs’. What’s become quite clear since the days of Cicero and Hesiod, is that procrastination isn’t just hateful, it’s harmful. In research settings, people who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and lower well being. I hope you will agree that concentration is a finite resource with which we all struggle sometimes. When our minds start to wander from that document, that business plan or crucial essay, the first place we go to tends to be the most conveniently located area of procrastination. The wonders of the web, which at the worst of times, can be the black hole for productivity.

The internet can be a wonderful tool for productivity, but also for distraction. The majority of adults in the UK admit to being distracted from their work by theinternet, as well as feeling less productive. Over half of the 2,500 individuals surveyed by Stop Procrastinating, admitted that checking their emails and social media when trying to do work revealed a worrying lack of impulse control. Over 60 per cent (63 per cent) said they lost their chain of thought because they checked and responded to an email or social media alert while they were working on a report or longer piece of written work.

When you interrupt a task, it can be difficult to pick it up again. Sometime it is called inertia (or Mental Inertia). Newton’s First Law tells us that the velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force. Some people are quite content to be potted plants lined up on the windowsill; staying in place without much movement. Others are like hamsters on the training wheel – happily jogging at a steady pace, until there’s a change in their hamster-haven environment. Have a watch here if you doubt this feeling.

How many times have you…

  • opened books you couldn’t wait to read, but never actually finished?
  • started projects you started that petered to stagnation?
  • had brilliant ideas that never moved into actual conception?
  • Created new projects, creative ideas, daily tasks, half-written emails?
  • and that thing you stopped working on just now until you clicked on Linkedin?

That resistance to completion of a task can be very powerful. It can take the form of physical, emotional, conscious or unconscious response. The Creativity Research Journal studied the working habits of a particularly intelligent group of people, winners of the Intel Science Talent competition. They found that some groups procrastinated productively. They used procrastination as a trigger for a helpful amount of stress needed to ignite positive action.

That trance feeling you can go into when finding yourself scrolling through Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter or memes has a name and it was first coined by psychologist MihályCsíkszentmihályiFlow. The concept was and was originally considered a good thing because it’s a state of deep engagement and absorption, as he abstractly explains in a Wired interview. Now here is some ‘obvious scientific research’ bit. There is, apparently, a strong link between procrastination and problematic internet use, according toJournal of Computers in Human Behavior. They also found that when someone was in a state of flow while engaged in a non-work related activity, they were more likely to end up with problematic internet use. No really.

Back to some practical physics. If you’re at rest, you tend to stay at rest. What causes a change in state? This happens when you introduce an external force.Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion (including a change in direction)… Inertia comes from the Latin word, iners, meaning idle, or lazy. (from Wikipedia). However, we’re not talking about physics we are discussing people. What is this external force that can get us going when we’re stopped, speed us up when we’re moving, or bring us to a crashing halt?

It’s our glorious mind that is our internal and external force. Our minds are incredibly productive and original structures. As such, they require constant, meticulous care. Have you ever felt like you’re on top of the world? You were being amazing every day? It’s that feeling that comes when everything is firing on all cylinders, and you know things are going your way. Then, a problem arises, and one of two things happens. In one version, you power through the problem, changing and adapting to the new circumstances. You deal with the problem and move forward with renewed vigour, assured and confidence. In the other scenario, the problem hits you like the proverbial ton of bricks. You can’t think straight. It feels like the whole world is crashing down around your ears and nothing you do seems to make a difference. The problem stops you in your tracks, and you can’t figure out how to make things right.
Recently the behavioural research into the problem if procrastination has ventured beyond cognition, emotion and personality, into the realm of neuropsychology. There is a structural part of the brain and a protective mechanism for the mind, that we callMental Inertia (MI). MI is a part of our lives, and not just as it relates to the physical laws. MI is a constant issue for some employees. So how can they break out of the MI hold and start being productive?

  1. Just Do It Now. Make a (good) decision and do it. If Not Excellence, What? If Not Excellence Now, When? Dump your MI and take action.
  2. Pick Up The Phone and Call Now. Make That Three-Minute Call! Today! Now! Yes it is all about relationships. And ever so many are off track or under-nourished—at any point in time. As Tom Peters says, in short, a three-minute call made today (NOW!) to deal with a “slightly” bruised ego or a “minor” misunderstanding can go a long way toward helping you avoid a trip to divorce court, the loss of a billion-dollar Client or an employee lawsuit tomorrow.
  3. You Are Your Product Now Develop It. Being held back by metal inertia is no longer an excuse. You are capable of so much more.Remember this, The last of human freedoms, the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances. —Viktor Frankl, psychologist and Holocaust survivor, on concentration camps
  4. Being a Perfectionist is No Excuse. We can’t be perfect and it is better to make a wrong decision than none at all. Use the power of your mind and think bullets then cannonballs.

When it comes to our roles as leaders or followers, it’s important to understand Mental Inertia. It is time to take control of this external force and use all our skills to convert inertia to action. Churchill said, It is not enough to do your best—you must succeed in doing what is necessary.

Be Amazing Every Day

Strive for excellence. Ignore success.

Some Non-Obvious Advice on Authentic Leadership

Be an Amazing Leader Every Day.Leadership is behaviour, not position.

The perceived wisdom about Authentic Leadership is confused and dull; many so-called ‘consultants’ and ‘gurus’ have tried to tell us the ‘right’ answer. The current plethora of articles on ‘Thought Leadership‘ is astonishing. I have read, researched and evaluated (ingested, digested, absorbed, assimilated and egested) a huge collection of material on Leadership (from different cultures, writers and traditions) and tried to distill this knowledge into a small droplet of wisdom.

I have a lot of time for Rand Fishkin’s original blogs (co-founder of Moz andInbound.org) and his thoughts on ‘thought leaders’,

‘I don’t particularly like the phrase “thought leader” or “thought leadership” for two reasons: 1) just *thinking* about something doesn’t make you a leader, nor does being a leader enable you to simply think about things AND 2) the term has pretentious and sometimes negative associations. When I hear people describe me that way, I have a viscerally uncomfortable reaction. I kinda wish the terminology would go away.’

Apart from some poor use of English, I think he is spot on. Leadership is not a theoretical concept. Tom Peters is one of my main leadership influencers. His clear observation, that:

the best leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders

seems to be one of his finest assertions. It is also not something that is assumed by a position, salary or access to executive facilities.I embrace the idea that ‘Leadership is Behaviour, not Position’ (possibly coined by Tim Longhurst and even he is not sure where he sourced it) and it sums up the concept of leadership nicely.

Peter Drucker conjured up a thousand images on leadership with a very astute observation:Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. The role of Managerand leader are such completely different, although people often use the terms interchangeably. Managers are the facilitators of their team members’ success. Leaders are the ones who take responsibility for making decisions and bringing change. Leaders are the ones who empower people to discover and use their greatest potential. People are the ones to choose their leader.

If you do a standard Google search on the topic of Leadership, the termauthenticity jumps up and is everywhere. Value Leadership and thought leadership gets more attention when researchers want to explain the effectiveness of management. Isn’t authenticity a principle that anyone with clear conviction and focus intuitively operates from? The question arises whether authenticity in the context of leadership should be invisible. As a leader you should always behave in a manner that is consistent with your beliefs. Authentic Leadership does not come from your title or from the size of your bonus or salary. This form of leadership comes from your inner being and the person that you are. Consider the words of Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarre in the Harvard Business Review article:

‘…too many leadership experts still fail to distinguish between the practice of leadership and the exercise of bureaucratic power. In order to engage in a conversation about leadership, you have to assume you have no power — that you aren’t ‘in charge’ of anything and that you can’t sanction those who are unwilling to do your bidding. If, given this starting point, you can mobilise others and accomplish amazing things, then you’re a leader. If you can’t, well then, you’re a bureaucrat.’

The roots of Authentic Leadership come from ancient Greek philosophy that focuses on the development of core, or virtues.. Ancient Greek philosophers stressed authenticity as an important state through an emphasis on being in control of one’s own life and the ubiquitous admonition: know thyself. Authentic leadership as we know it today evolved from the history of these terms. Recently, authentic leadership has garnered more attention among scholars and practitioners because of publications from many Gurus and led by Harvard professor and former Medtronic CEO Bill George. The past decade has seen a surge in publications about authentic leadership, producing new models, definitions, and theories.

The ancient Greek traditions have reminders for those seeking leadership excellence. They spoke of Leadership having 4 pillars:

  • Prudence (fair-mindedness, wisdom, seeing all possible courses of action),
  • Temperance (being emotionally balanced and in control),
  • Justice (being fair in dealings with others), and
  • Fortitude (courage to do the right thing).

In my opinion, the greatest leaders are those who lead primarily by their example. The most effective form of leadership is born out of the sincere desire and proven ability to make a positive contribution. Those who lead best are those for whom leadership itself is not the primary aim. Most leaders want to get the best out of their team. Instead of telling your team members what to do, show it to them by your own example.The greatest leaders are those who lead not only with their words and ideas. They don’t ask others to do what they are unwilling to do themselves. Instead, they lead by example.Lt. Col. Hal Moore is a great example of this. Famously depicted by Mel Gibson in the movie, We Were Soldiers, Lt. Moore told his troops, before leaving for Vietnam,

‘We are going into battle against a tough and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God: that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I’ll be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together, so help me God.’

For leaders to grow they have to know that their followers are following them each and every moment. Practice what you preach, and the results will astonish you. Be an amazing leader every day. When conditions are tough, when chances to give up are very big, you should be the one who faces obstacles with confidence and determination towards success. Be sure, that they will do the same and stand by your side. By showing personal values, moral behaviour and ethics a manager earns trustworthiness for effective interpersonal relationships. These are the foundation for working together within a company and for employees to reach common goals.

My distillation process for all this ancient and modern knowledge is well underway (having taken a lifetime so far); the result is a small drop of wisdom that contains some non-obvious advice about Authentic Leadership. It is my passion to try to live these mantras every day:

  • More Self-Awareness: The knowledge of self allows leaders to lead from their heart. This is a prerequisite for being an authentic leader; know your own strengths, limitations and values. Knowing what you stand for and what you value is critical. Self-awareness is needed in order to develop the other components of Authentic Leadership. Business is about people; leadership is about people. The best leaders wear their hearts on their sleeves and are not afraid to show their vulnerability. They genuinely care about other people and spend their days developing the people around them. Try to exude passion in all your do.
  • More Authenticity: You have to speak your own truth. This involves being honest and straightforward in dealing with others. An Authentic Leader does not play games or have a hidden agenda. You know where you stand with an authentic leader.In business today, we frequently ‘swallow our truth’. We say things to please others and to look good in front of the crowd or play out their own drama. Authentic Leaders are very different. They consistently talk their truth. They would never betray themselves by using words that are not aligned with who they are. Speaking truth is simply about being clear, being honest and being, yes, authentic.
  • More Dreamers: It starts with the courage to dream. Einstein said that, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ So true. When we dream we have to be open. An effective Authentic Leader solicits opposing viewpoints and considers all options before choosing a course of action. But it is from our imaginations that great things are born. Authentic Leaders dare to dream impossible dreams. They see what everyone else sees and then dream up new possibilities. They spend a lot of time with their eyes closed creating blueprints and fantasies that lead to better products, better services, better workplaces and deeper value.
  • More Doing the Right Thing: An Authentic Leader is courageous andhas an ethical core. She or he knows the right thing to do and is driven by a concern for ethics and fairness.It takes a lot of courage to go against the crowd. It takes a lot of courage to be a visionary. It takes a lot of inner strength to do what you think is right even though it may not be easy. We live in a world where so many people walk the path of least resistance. Authentic Leadership is all about taking the road less traveled and doing, not what is easy, but what is right. Try also the path of Mudita and celebrate success in others.


I believe that these patterns of behaviour are associated with the concept of great leadership. But it is not a secret that more talking and less action has nothing to do with effectiveness. What peoplesee and witness affects them significantly more than what they just hear. It is interesting to review other sources on Leadership; a previous post on Mudita (the concept of celebrating success in others) was taken from the values of Buddhism. These are also known as the 8 Paths to overcome suffering and they can apply equally, I believe, to Authentic Leadership:

  • Right, skilful view (right knowledge, understanding mainly your own intentions)
  • Right, skilful thought (free from ill will, cruelty and untruthfulness)
  • Right, skilful speech (no lying, no harsh or abusive language, no idle chatter, no gossip or threatening
  • Right behaviour, skilful actions (no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, and no drinking intoxicants, so self control, not obstructing the law)
  • Right, skilful livelihood (no selling of weapons, liquor, poison, slaves or livestock, no bribery or fraud; in general earning a living that doesn’t create suffering or harm to oneself, others and the environment)
  • Right, skilful efforts (avoiding and overcoming unwholesome states of mind while developing and maintaining wholesome states of mind; in general no greed, hatred and illusions, not wanting too much, no laziness)
  • Right, skilful mindfulness (the unbiased observation of all phenomena in order to perceive them without emotional or intellectual distortions; in general to understand how our mind works)
  • Right, skillful concentration (complete focus on a single object).

Lots of excellent content within this tradition and while the detail and judgemental elements are sometimes frustrating, there is merit in the execution of this form of Authentic Leadership. Becoming an Authentic Leader is not easy and no human being is ever perfect. No leader can ever be the perfect leader. Every single one of us is a work in progress. Authentic leaders commit themselves to Excellence(always) in everything that they do. They are constantly pushing the envelope and raising their standards. They do not seek perfection and have the wisdom to know the difference. It takes a great deal of self-reflection, getting to know oneself and the courage to do the right thing.

Behave consistently. Deeds, not words, best show your authenticity.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Can You Spot Bad Service?

Can You Spot Bad Service?

 

 

Can You Spot Bad Service? Well, can ya, punk? The answer, my friend, is that your customers can. It is so very easy to walk in off the street and notice it immediately. In 7 seconds, from 11 impressions, they know. 
It is an amazing statistic that some 20 million workers are not delivering their full capability or realising their potential at work. Hospitality is a sector driven by young people. Already, 40% of the hospitality work force is under the age of 30and as older generations begin to retire, they will soon become the main part of the workforce. It is estimated that 2 million young people in the UK are not engaged. It is easy to understand why hospitality is so variable in quality and why we need to change what we do, now.

In an era wherein almost most service providers, hotels and restaurants offer the same ideas, the same dull service, the same rates and even the same food and dining menu, a key differentiator should be how you engage with your guests and your employees. Employee engagement is now a must do, not a nice to have. In 2014 employee engagement is seen as a major priority by UK Business Leaders. There is no other industry where this is more true than the hotel and hospitality sector where the customers experience is heavily dependent on how engaged the workforce is, every day.

In 2010 the UK Government commissioned a comprehensive study of the effectiveness of employee engagement in raising performance and productivity across the UK economy. The report is called Engaging for Success, more commonly known as the MacLeod Report (you can read and download the full report here). They were asked to examine in particular whether a wider take up of engagement approaches could impact positively on UK competitiveness and performance, as part of the country’s efforts to come through the current economic difficulties, take maximum advantage of the upturn when it comes, and meet the challenges of increased global competition. Their answer was anunequivocal yes.

The findings deliver a compelling case that employee engagement in a people focused way has a powerful impact on the bottom line. Organisations in the top quartile of engagement scores demonstrated revenue growth of 2.5 times greater than those in the bottom quartile. 94% of the world’s most admired companies believe their employee engagement efforts have created their competitive advantage.

So let us go back to the basics of service and engagement. Your staff should be warmer than everybody else and more accommodating than your competition. But that is not the real secret of a successful hotel or a restaurant. Engagement does not end with guests. It starts with employees.

While employee satisfaction is an important point of focus for hospitality managers, these managers must look beyond ensuring employee satisfaction to fostering employee engagement. Employee engagemenis characterised as a feeling ofcommitment, passion and energy, which translates to high levels of effort, persistence with even the most difficult tasks, exceeding expectations, and taking initiative. The result of engaging employees is profound. From lower turnover rates to higher productivity, the engaged employee is a valuable business asset.

In the coming years, the most successful enterprises in the hospitality industry will have managers who are not only adept at the technical competencies required of them, but have significant capability in people management: more specifically, the ability to foster employee engagement. Employee satisfactionis characterised as a feeling of gratification and contentment. Studies have demonstrated the link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction and profit.

You only have one chance to make a first impression among your guests, which only underscores the importance of having your best and brightest personnel at your front desk as host. This is the first step in building great memories for your guests and your first chance to connect with them emotionally. Having on-going training sessions will help build bonds, boost morale and improve customer service. It is at the heart of the emotional signature of your establishment.

Good hospitality is something that many people and organisations desire, but only a few know how to deliver. It is important that hotel and restaurant staff offer quality hospitality to customers so they can enjoy their stay and want to come back. Encourage your team to listen and respond. Get them to start using (if they re not already) the ‘Be Amazing 3 : 1 Rule’

This isn’t anything new, but it’s worth a reminder and in need of updating. It is a very basic concept or strategy that you may be familiar with. Within (roughly) 3 metres of a customer you should acknowledge them with a facial expression. This starts with eyes, then a smile. Within 1 metre or so of the customer, you should acknowledge them verbally. It may be a simple,

‘Good morning, how are you today?”

 

The idea is to create a small positive interaction between you and your customer. Hospitality is a challenging sector for recruitment, simply because of the high turnover. Now, imagine if everyone you work with greeted you every morning when you came to work. ‘Good morning how are you? Amazing and you?’

Or they smiled at you every time you walked by them. AMAZING. Think of the positive atmosphere this might promote in your company. Think of the energy that would result if everyone was just a little nicer to everyone they encountered, both customers and fellow employees.

Some people won’t be good at this. I see lots of people struggle to be amazing. Some people won’t want to do it. It is just not something they are used to. However, make it part of your culture (dare I say mandatory), and once everyone starts to do it and it becomes a habit, it will be much easier for everyone to do. Keep in mind as you hire new people that you are looking for the personalities that buy into this type of practice. Many young people are made to believe that hospitality is glamorous, and then end up working long shifts in pubs or restaurants all night. But do your staff feel valued?

My empirical real world research suggests there is a huge gulf between the job managers think they are doing and the reality of their management style on the floor. Further research indicates a massive 91% of UK managers believe that they always or sometimes spend time coaching their team, but only 40% of UK employees agree. The problem, say many managers in the hospitality industry, is that since a majority of their employees see their jobs as stepping-stones to more permanent positions, no amount of effort will reduce turnover or fully engage them during their short employment cycle. It is reasonable to ask, therefore, whether fostering employee engagement is a worthwhile effort in an industry known for low paying, often temporary positions.

So do your line managers, floor managers, hosts or general managers notice the things staff have done well and praise them? They should, because one thing that comes up time and time again in organisations where engagement could be improved is how important verbal praise is to people. We all need reassurance and this has such a positive effect on their work environment if a manager is prepared to go out of their way to thank staff for their efforts.

Verbal praise is one of the easiest things to do to demonstrate you value your employees. It is (of course) free and doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Remember to do it often, don’t wait until the annual performance review, do it right away and do it a lot.

One key element to note when you praise, is to be specific. Instead of saying the generic ‘well done’, say something like‘well done on handling that customer complaint just now. It was particularly good that you resolved it quickly and sincerely without there being a scene.’It shows that you’re really attentive, and that you’re not giving praise just for the sake of giving praise.

My experience shows that praise always works best when it is constructive. Add in some feedback in your praise to make your feedback less negative. Employee engagement is a workplace approach to creating the right conditions designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values and motivated to contribute to organisational success and achieving their own potential.

Try and think in terms of changing your customer AND employee engagement in these terms:

  • Excellent Leadership:
 Ensure you are committed to developing strong leaders (floor managers) who are approachable, adaptable and committed to developing and supporting their people. Your leaders should be role models for the guest experience and lead by example. A genuine and sincere open door policy is essential.
  • Excellent Communication
: When we communicate we have to be focused on being excellent, always. Communicate the vision for your customers experience relentlessly, and communicate as much performance data (you have the figures from last night, right? You use the data every day I am sure.) about the your restaurant, hotel and service provider as you can. The more people know, the more engaged they will be and the greater the buy and commitment to your goals.
  • Managed Performance:
 Talk to your people. Every day. Hold regular appraisals, monthly informal coffee chats and give on the spot feedback when you see behaviours you like and those you don’t with all employees. This will create a feedback culture to drive continuous improvement.
  • Positive Recognition
: Praise in public. Go out of your way to recognise great performance immediately. It’s not about rewards, it’s about making the employee feel valued and recognised for their contributions. You could also celebrate staff birthdays (and the bosses).
  • Create a Learning Culture
: Allow employees to learn something new (use the new technology of Smart Phones and amazing eLearning software like World Manager) to improve their knowledge and skills in addition to giving them training to allow them to excel in their role.
  • Educate, Empower and Entertain
: Allow employees, within clear boundaries, to make their own decisions. If they are doing the right thing to make your guests happy without needing to refer this will engage your guests and employees and create guest advocacy and a fantastic reputation.

Lastly, I believe all organisations involved in hospitality, need a dynamic on-boarding process (and also a great mentor). Unlike traditional new employee orientation programs, on-boarding focuses on all of the activities and experiences a new employee is exposed to in the first three to six months of employment. Employees should be introduced to the business strategy on their first day of employment according to most managers are so focused on making sure their new employees understand the tasks they were hired to perform that they forget to teach other important things like how each employee’s role contributes to business success, or what behaviours are in support of the brand promise. By explaining information such as the objectives and priorities of each department, managers can have a positive impact on new employee productivity and morale. So get understanding, from all new employees on:

  • What is the ultimate goal of the organisation? [Mission, purpose, Why?]
  • What does the company deliver? [Product, Knowledge, Brand]
  • How does this company differ from the competition? [The USP and UVP]
  • What is our brand strategy and how can you deliver on the brand promise?
  • What values does the company promote above all others and how are employees expected to embody these core values?
  • How does what you do or fail to do affect our ability to achieve business success?

Efforts by hospitality industry managers to engage their employees are likely to result in measurable improvements to the bottom line. Devoting time and energy to acquaint new employees with the company goals, brand strategy, and the ways in which their role directly affects business success will focus them in a common direction and increase motivation in their daily efforts. Building expert and referent power, by demonstrating integrity and earning the respect of their employees, will create a work environment where employees feel a sense of belonging, and the level of engagement increases.

Employees drive and deliver the customer experience. Without engaged or motivated staff, the guest experience that any hospitality provider will hope to achieve will never be met.

The quality of the internal customer experience determines the guest experience that your guests receive.

Train Your Staff, Then Train Some More…
Be Amazing Every Day.