Posts Tagged ‘emotional intelligence’

The Resilient Leader

January 31, 2014

Developing a strong and healthy mindset for today’s business challenges.

Have we been doing leadership training to death? Are we management modelled-out with regard to the bewildering array of personality profile questionnaires, ‘How Tos’ and books on the issue?

Well actually… probably not: leadership skills are something that we can and should continue to develop throughout our careers.

However, we’re increasingly finding in our learning and development work that something else is creeping into the mix. The world we live in is changing and the way we do business is changing. Increasingly, it means that leaders must be able to deal with the flux and ambiguity that change can create. They need to be able to develop the PERSONAL strength to succeed even in the face of increasing competition and to bounce back from the challenges and barriers they may face.

Low levels of employee engagement and productivity were identified as the biggest HR challenge in 2013 (research from talent and career management company Right Management 2013) and 59% of adults say they are more stressed now than they were 5 years ago (research from the Mental Health Foundation 2013).

In short, today’s business environment requires a different type of leader – one who remains strong and focused in the face of the rigorous and relentless challenges of today’s world.

The question is, how do we build that mindset amongst leaders? More importantly, how do we build a HEALTHY leadership mindset that capitalises on strengths without leading to burnout, and which maintains core values to boost performance and productivity?


1) Recognise how resilient (or otherwise) you are

Recognising how resilient you are – and being brutally honest about that – is a key factor in building a strong and healthy mindset to handle the rigours of day to day business (and personal) challenges. By resilience, I don’t just mean and ‘I’m still standing in the face of the onslaught’ approach, we mean a mindset that enables you to perform well whatever the circumstances around you.

Your levels of resilience are going to involve a number of factors, among them how in control or autonomous you feel about your current situation (and how you feel about your levels of autonomy): your ‘feedback focus’ – do you have a healthy balance between your self-perception / self confidence and other people’s perception of you: how do you respond to challenges, how quickly do you recover from a setback or disagreement and so on.

How aware are you of your OWN levels of resilience?


2) Recognise what triggers you to ‘de-rail’

Last year I wrote a short paper on ‘Leadership in Crisis’ based on research I’d done on leadership behaviours in the emergency services. (The paper, by the way, is a free download at Never Mind the Buzzwords, at

One of the themes to emerge from that research was that leaders in extreme situations recognise when their stress levels are becoming a problem, and they do something about it. They DO NOT soldier on regardless, as to do so could mean endangering their own lives and the lives of others.

The ability to recognise both emotional and physical signals that might build up and throw you off balance is clearly crucial – and yet most of us are too busy or pre-occupied most of the time to recognise what our own bodies and minds are trying to tell us in any given situation.

Recognising what triggers you necessitates the ability to pause from time to time and focus on NOW before charging forward.

PAUSE now – stop reading this for a minute and register what physical / emotional / psychological signals your own body is giving you now.


3) Acknowledge….and move forward

Obviously, it’s not enough merely to recognise what your body and mind are telling you: it’s a question of acknowledging these physical, psychological and emotional signals (they are what they are, after all) and then consciously deciding what to do.

Developing strategies for building resilience are inevitably determined by the individual in question: changing thought patterns, learning to focus, changing behavioural responses, re-discovering core strengths and values to be leveraged in times of challenge – all will be highly personal.

Building resilience requires conscious awareness and action, but its benefits are pretty obvious: more self awareness, better focus, better quality thinking, more productivity.

And those are benefits not just for your organisation but for you too.

 For more information on our ‘Resilient Leader’ programme, combining the latest research on neuroscience, wellbeing and personal resilience with business best practice and experiential learning, please contact or




Who or what are you judging … and what does it say about YOU?

April 17, 2012

Let’s face it – it’s difficult NOT to pass judgement on people, situation, things … all manner of scenarios. Sometimes it’s entirely appropriate that we should do so. And sometimes, our judging someone or something actually says more about US than about the thing or person we’re judging ….


1) What THINGS are you judging?

I’ve been having a fascinating series of conversations with a friend recently, about art and various artists. I used to work in a music and drama academy, surrounded by gifted performers and academics.

The arts are VERY subjective: I tend to hang pictures on my walls that I like to look at and that make me think, and listen to music that sounds nice to me. Fairly pedestrian considerations, I know.

I’m aware, though, that my artist friend’s judgement on paintings, and my musician colleagues’ judgement is far more well informed than my own.

My point is this: if you’re forming a judgement on something – is it on the basis of knowledge and understanding … or on a gut reaction? Which does it actually need to be … and could a hasty judgement be revealing your lack of knowledge? And might you, yourself, be judged on the basis of that?


2) What SITUATIONS are you judging ?

Strange, isn’t it, how two people can tell you about a single situation and the two versions will be completely different.

I was delivering a training programme recently, and one participant in particular seemed to be reluctant to take any of the learning on board, providing every reason under the sun why the techniques and skills wouldn’t work for her: “in MY department …” “… with MY boss …” “… with MY colleagues …”

Rather than underlining the impossible challenges of her workplace, and the unreasonable attitude of her boss and her colleagues, she was actually revealing more about her own accepted status as a victim, and her unwillingness to even make an attempt at rectifying her situation.

When you judge a situation, what does it actually reveal about your own attitude, mindset and approach? Are you positive and proactive … or negative and ready to throw in the towel? And how might others be judging YOU on those attitudes?


3) WHO are you judging?

Who are you judging… and more to the point, on the basis of what? I’ve fallen into the trap many, many times of judging people on the basis of what they tell me about themselves, rather than on the basis of what they actually DO … and then been badly let down.

Alternatively, I’ve met people who have judged me on the basis of my apparent position.

One of my first jobs after graduating from university was as ‘Hospitality Co-ordinator’ on a live daytime TV show, greeting guests, showing them to their dressing rooms and so on.

I was privileged to meet some of the biggest show business names of the day. Some of them: Sir Tom Jones (plain old ‘Tom Jones’ as he was then), Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka, were absolutely charming and polite to everyone – from me to the floor crew to the girls in make-up: everyone. David Hasselhoff arrived in a vibrant purple suit, and was absolutely great. Sir Cliff Richard signed autographs for fans outside the front door in the rain.

Others (who will remain nameless) didn’t even look our way, and those who didn’t have minions to cater for their whims only spoke to issue commands.

You know what? Their intent might have been to impress everyone with their personal status. They might have judged that by treating those whom they perceived as inferior with disdain they were enhancing their own position. Far from it. They absolutely failed to impress.

So who are you judging, on the basis of what, and with what intent? And by the same token … what does that tell the world about YOU?


So go ahead and make a considered judgement by all means. But bear in mind that it might be more to the point to look  in the mirror first.

Feelings are just a signal. It’s what you DO with them that counts.

April 2, 2012

I’ve re-learned a big life lesson this week – what it has done is shown me that although we think we know certain things … it’s all too easy to fall back into traps of habit, and into unproductive thoughts and practices that can hold us back.

The scenario? Well, it’s one that I’m sure many will be familiar with – feeling dissatisfied with a specific situation, and giving way to having a good old moan about it.

Here’s the thing. Those feelings of dissatisfaction are just the start: it’s how you think and what you do about them (and the situation) that makes the difference.


Emotions are the signal

Studies into human behaviour and emotional intelligence indicate quite clearly that people will respond to situations and other factors instinctively first, emotionally second … and logically only after that.

A few years ago, I had just finished delivering a training session at a shipyard in Glasgow one winter’s day, and, as I walked back to my car, a lad on the other side of the road threw a snowball at me. My initial reaction was instinctive – to put up my hands to protect my face from the incoming missile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite quick enough, and the snowball caught me squarely on the face. My second reaction was an emotional one – I shouted angrily and in none-too-flattering terms at the culprit across the road. It was only several minutes later that I thought rationally about the scenario – the lad had probably been dared by his friends to throw the snowball at me, and hadn’t expected to hit me at all, let alone right in the face. In the circumstances, it was actually a remarkably good shot.

So what does any of this mean in day-to-day life? To my mind, it’s this. Feelings and emotions (in this case, I’m considering negative feelings in particular, but the same is true of any) are merely a signal. They’re a little warning light that something isn’t quite right.

It’s too easy to get stuck in the ‘feelings’ of a situation, and not to move on – but this will lead to feelings of being a victim, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of blame and so on. Focusing entirely and solely on negative feelings themselves will lead to a downward spiral of moaning and self pity. That’s not useful to anyone. And I’m talking to myself here, as much as to anyone.


Think about it

At some point, it really does become necessary to get a grip and to try to think rationally about the situation.
I’m not talking about stifling your feelings or ignoring them – I’m taking about acknowledging them … which may mean admitting to yourself that you have the feelings at all … and then thinking through them.

Key questions to ask yourself might be:

  • When did this situation start?
  • When did I first notice it … and what did I do about it at that stage?
  • Why am I unhappy with it?
  • Have I contributed to the situation? Have I let this happen?
  • And crucially, whether or not I’ve contributed to the situation … WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?


Do something

It’s just a casual observation, but I think an accurate one, that some people are happier grumbling about a given situation than actually taking steps to do anything about it.

I used to work in an organisation where almost everyone complained about the management culture … and yet no one was prepared to even stand up as a group do anything at all to challenge it. Perhaps people enjoyed blaming senior management and positioning themselves as the helpless victims – misery loves company, after all.

There’s almost always SOMETHING you can do to impact your situation. If you can’t change it, then you may need to move out of it altogether, or to develop coping strategies.


Whichever approach is best for you, look to develop a plan of action of some sort that will have you stepping up to address your own issues … rather than wallowing in negative emotions and dragging yourself and everyone around you down.

Whilst it can be a personal challenge, DO SOMETHING to bring about change. At the very least, you will feel empowered and in some control of your own destiny. At best, you’ll change your situation for the better, and develop yourself in the process.

Playground behaviour in the office – do we really grow up?

November 7, 2011

Alongside my corporate work I’ve undertaken many projects in the education sector. It never ceases to amaze me how the same behaviours that first appear in the classroom and the playground manifest themselves again years later in the office and the boardroom …

I used to work in a place where I could quite literally look around the table at a committee meeting and think to myself, “You were the one puffing away on a cigarette behind the bike sheds … you were the class creep who always brought an apple for teacher, and then slagged her off behind her back … you were the vacant one who’d be watching clouds out of the window and didn’t have a clue what was going on in the room …”.  I’d almost be prepared to wager that if any of my former colleagues are reading this, they’ll know EXACTLY who I mean!

Throughout my training career I’ve come across examples of behaviour which at first seem a little out of place … until you consider their parallels in the classroom.  Clearly, if a behavioural tactic proved successful for someone at an early stage of their life, that behaviour is likely to be repeated – whether or not it’s appropriate at work or not – until it is caught and corrected.

By way of example, I was astonished at a participant on an in-house training programme I was delivering a wee while ago, who took every possible opportunity to convey (both verbally and non-verbally) to the trainers and his fellow participants how senior he was, and how far beneath him the programme content was (and de facto his colleagues in the room).

By contrast, another senior level individual in the room took a much more active role in the proceedings, and generously shared his considerable expertise and experience with his colleagues.

I’m taking a wild guess here that the first participant thought that he was cutting an impressive figure, and cementing his senior status in the pecking order of the group. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if when he was at school, he’d see a classmate tussling with a tricky maths equation and say, “This is so easy! I finished it ages ago! I’m bored now! I should be in the advanced maths class, you know.”

At some point, exhibiting these behaviours has probably successfully intimidated other people into behaving towards this individual in a deferential way which fed his ego. And so, inappropriate though it is as a leadership behaviour, it continues today. It will continue to do so until he receives feedback that prompts him to reflect on his behaviour, and change it.

Another example was a young woman I worked with a few years ago. I was working with her one-to-one on her personal presentation skills, and the issue she wanted to overcome was that older male contacts and colleagues (she felt) were not taking her as seriously as they should.  Now, her voice was very high pitched, she spoke very fast, and she had a distracting habit of winding her hair around her fingers as she spoke.

Here’s the thing. We DID manage to address this issue in part. However, an underlying factor was that when she was a little girl, this lady had been very ‘sweet’, with her high breathy voice, fast manner of speaking, and coy fiddling with her hair. And it was difficult for her to let go of some of that, in pursuance of a more grounded, measured way of communicating at work.

I don’t have to look too far for my third example. I have a tendency to ‘ask for forgiveness rather than permission’, which is often not appropriate. My school environment in particular was one where conforming and conservative behaviour was encouraged, and asking permission to do something out of the ordinary was met with a resounding “no”. Best not to ask and just get on with it then. It’s a pattern I still have to watch out for 30 years later.

Take a close look at some of your colleagues – what would they have been like at school? What ‘child’ behaviours and tactics do they bring to work?

Have a look at yourself. What do you do that you learned in your childhood … your actions, responses, attitudes and communication style … and how helpful (or not) is it?

As the poet William Wordsworth said – “the child is father of the man”.  And sometimes we all need to grow up a bit.