October 2009

The developmental digest for emerging leader/managers devoted to growth and excellence


Section 1 - Topical Topics

The Decisive Leader

Is it possible for leaders to make infallible decisions?

This is all too frequently expected and, if we are to be guided by popular opinion and the Press, it’s a sine qua non for all leaders in the public domain. But is it realistic?

Whether it is or not, we encounter insistent demands from the watchdogs of public morality. The standards are impeccable and rigorously enforced and it is this certain knowledge that appears to dissuade many would-be leaders from stepping up to the plate of public service.

There are those who would argue, with some reasonable justification, that it is not the decision competence of the individual that determines rectitude but rather the fickle forces of the political game. You could be, they assert, the most ethical and effective decision maker known to history and yet fall victim to the snapping dogs of political whim.

Be that as it may, it is still a key responsibility of the individual leader to ensure that any and all decisions taken are founded on proper emotional and rational processes – that is, regardless of the outcome or ‘perceived outcome’, the way in which the decisions were made is beyond reproach.

In the two previous issues we’ve looked at how the mind works from a neuro-physiological view and how a very small part of this process is within our control. We’ve noted that the more powerful elements are so far out-of-reach for our conscious wills that we could properly be held almost blameless. Let’s take a look at what the hapless leader can do to employ that prodigious mental miracle we call our ‘Mind’ in the most responsible manner.

The Challenge . . .
The significant roles for the leader are to focus and to facilitate. This means that the leader must first assimilate and then assess information relating to the desires and intentions of others. Then, having accomplished this faultlessly, the leader is required to direct action towards the realization of these disparate hopes and dreams in such a way that those being led remain firmly ensconced in the driver’s seat – completely accountable!

In the last issue we considered the special challenges to be found in moral situations, where the interests of others is the central factor, perhaps even paramount. The same mechanics are at work for general decision making but they have wider and more pervasive impact.

At the root is the dopamine cycle, beginning in the Nuclear Accumbens, located in the diencephalon or midbrain, the ‘anteroom’ to the rational mind and beyond our direct control. The neurotransmitter, dopamine, is transferred by means of elongated ‘spindle’ cells to the telencephalon – the prefrontal cortex – believed to be the seat of the rational mind, and well within our direct control.

This generates very pleasurable sensations which are quite capable of becoming addictive. We are not necessarily aware of the origin but we become acutely aware of the context and consequences. After several related experiences we can anticipate the associated pleasure and we’ll respond even before the stimulative conditions exist – this is very powerful indeed especially as it happens before we are fully conscious of what is happening.

However, there’s a complication when the realization of the experience on any occasion fails to measure up to the expectation and we are frustrated. At this point the Anterior Cingulate Cortex overrides the reinforcement process and effectively modifies the process at source, sending an altered signal to the Nuclear Accumbens which restricts future dopamine releases. The quality of our conscious life is adversely affected.

Thus we learn at a visceral level and our future decisions are modified accordingly – and we aren’t entirely conscious that it is even happening.

But we believe we need to assert control over our mind in order to make the best decisions; we‘ve long been taught of the virtues of the trained mind. It is evident though that many, if not most, of our decisions are made at a level that’s well outside our control. So how is such control possible?

What could we do? . . .
The effective leader doesn’t need a disciplined mind so much as a balanced one; the need is more for a lawyer than for a scientist. The mind has its own mechanisms for achieving superior outcomes and the rational mind is intricately involved. Since it is ‘newer’ in evolutionary terms than the part which actually generates the decisions it generally operates in the realms of our conscious awareness.

There are, however, the seeds of illusion here. Because the rational mind is within our conscious experience, while our emotional mind is not, we tend to believe that it alone has full control. The best analogy is that of the mahout who sits astride the neck of the elephant and seeks to control the powerful animal by means of a pointed stick behind the ear. Most times the elephant responds as predicted; occasionally it will run amok.

Consider that the emotional mind works with between ten and twelve million bits of information per second while the rational mind can handle forty bits at best. There’s no contest!

Is the relatively puny mahout really in charge of the beast? He would certainly like to think he is, but this isn’t reality.
The emotional mind, like the elephant, can overwhelm, ignore and even destroy its director if circumstances are not acceptable.

Given sufficient time though, the rational mind will influence, mollify and moderate the more powerful emotional mind. The issues may have to be broken down into bite-sized pieces and there may well have to be extensive dialogue for this to occur. In addition, there are some types of situations where the rational mind has to recognize that it’s at a clear disadvantage; in certain other situations the emotional mind should defer.

The bottom line is that we need to know our own mind(s) and to be capable of working within the respective strengths and weaknesses – in short we have to learn to manage our mind.

Getting Started . . .
Let’s begin by noting that our rational / conscious minds operate within definite parameters, namely:

  • Awareness and conscious control using singular focus, goals and standards
  • Adoption of a longer term view and conduct of post-facto checks and balances
  • Effort levels can be directed with flexible purpose, but it’s painfully slow overall, and
  • It is very sensitive to and heavily influenced by positive, pleasurable experiences.

So we tend to use this mind to construct our self identity, that which differentiates us from all others, in our minds at least. We tell our selves stories about our selves but may be less than diligent with the truth. It’s the workshop that creates our hopes and dreams, our intentions and aspirations and it directs our deliberate intrinsic motivations. Finally, on occasion, it is the Great Deceiver.

The emotional mind / adaptive unconscious operates quite differently; consider:

  • It is focused on pattern detection and is ready to alert us to any aberration in a threatening world
  • It is, subsequently, the center for learned experiences and decision taking
  • Its processes are lightning fast, effortless, spontaneous, simultaneous and they follow their own logics
  • Its processes are also deeply rooted, inaccessible and can be rigid, intolerant and unforgiving
  • It is sensitive to negative information and very slow to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

This is where we know who we really are, in our ‘heart-of-hearts’; our ideal self that we constantly strive to make reality. Our moods (affects) and emotional expressions have their origins here as well, as do our values-in-action and perspectives – the judgments we make regarding our experiences. It’s worth stressing that all events are neutral – it is we who attach values to them.

Now we have to acknowledge that these two different minds work at different speeds, involve vastly different amounts of information in their processes and develop at different rates. It’s a miracle that they ever are able to come together to create a balanced impression – but they do just that!

Sanity lies here . . .
Successful mind management is based on the acceptance that each mind is best suited to certain types of decisions. We should use our emotional mind for those decisions which are complex with multiple variables, where previous experience has helped us to formulate seasoned judgments over time and where a very rapid decision has definite benefits.

Examples of such decisions could include buying a home, a car, investing in the stock market, placing bets at the racetrack and even in choosing a life partner. No amount of rational thought is likely to improve the quality of our decision process because it cannot keep up with the sheer volume of relevant information. Similarly, if we have to make an immediate decision, like to whom we pass/hand off the ball before we are sacked by the defensive tackle, our rational mind isn’t nearly fast enough.

On the other hand, our rational mind is extremely good where there are limited (5-7) variables, where we have no prior experiences of the same type to guide us, or where we need to sell the outcome to other rational minds – that is where the power is in the presentation.

Such decisions would naturally include situations which are highly factual in content, relate to tangible evidence, can be readily measured or enumerated. Typical examples include which computer to buy, where to invest our time and effort for the next few hours or how to manage our personal budget. We often need our rational minds to keep us from emotional hijacks such as using our credit card in situations where we’d never expend the cash, lashing out at a real or imagined attack on our integrity where we might incur a serious loss, or in those situations where we’re absolutely convinced we are 110 percent right!

In these cases we need to use our rational mind to protect us from the convincing power of our emotional minds, but we also must accept that our rational minds can, and will, lie to us – we can believe whatever we want to believe! The best possible outcomes are achieved by allowing the two minds to come together naturally – but this takes time and freedom from distraction, often a luxury we do not enjoy.

The Bottom Line . . .
Leaders must focus the emotional desires of others in many situations where others may not even know of their needs; this can be achieved by both rational dialog and also by emotional appeal – and most effectively by a combination of the two strategies applied with full appreciation of the precise circumstances.

Leaders are also required to harness the actions of others to generate effortful and perhaps risky behaviours; this requires a constantly shifting approach where content and process remain highly volatile and malleable. The differences are realized through separating the root decisions from the implementation strategies and by allowing and/or encouraging others to make their own decisions under guidance.

The leader’s job is not to make the right decisions but to ensure that sound decisions are made. It is a distinct benefit to assist others with their decision processes from a position of objectivity. The leader who understands how (s)he makes decisions can assist others to become increasingly self-aware and this is the greatest benefit of all.

Clarity of thought is like fine gold – no matter how valuable it is now, it can always be further refined.

I'd welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. We can all learn through dialogue and your experiences will undoubtedly gain more value when shared. Please contact me at david@andros.org.

A Note to our Readers . . .

Previous series of articles on the topics of

  • Tomorrow’s Leaders – a model for SME organizations
  • The Leadership Crucible the ‘making’ of leaders
  • Leadership Characteristics a comprehensive catalogue of leader qualities
  • Succession Planning the strategic argument, principles and strategies, and
  • Managing Change – every person’s guide to painless processes

have been summarized as discussion guides for those who lead and manage through mentoring and coaching. If you would like to secure a copy for your own use, please contact us.

It is a pleasure to share ideas with you and we’d welcome your questions, suggestions and comments. They’ll assist us refine and expand the essential value of these initiatives. Thanks in anticipation for your participation.

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Timely Insights

Focus On Bad Business Writing...

Writing has always been a key mode of business communication and e-mail has made the written word more important than ever. But writing skills are in serious decline. The results are reduced productivity and lost opportunities, which no one can afford in a slow economy.

In a recent episode of the Business Coach podcast, host and PROFIT editor, Ian Portsmouth speaks with written communications specialist Sandra Folk about how this problem can be remedied — short of sending businesspeople back to high school.

Don’t miss this episode and many others at http://www.profitguide.com/business-coach-podcast.

PROFIT-Xtra invites you to listen in here: http://www.canadianbusiness.com/

Boldly Go were few have Gone Before...

Do you have a thirst for adventure?

Would you like to respond to something that no living person has seen before?

Would you like to be part of an exciting space exploration project from the comfort of your office or home?

Join other intrepid souls who, even as you read this, are out there exploring the far reaches of the universe. They are processing the millions of photos of distant galaxies as an assist to professional astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope project.

You could be the very first person to see and identify amazing phenomena that exist in deep space awaiting the practiced eye of a professional team but inaccessible until you’ve provided the essential step of classification.

Go to http://www.galaxyzoo.org/ for more detail and then join us by registering on line to ‘do your bit’.

Quotable Quotes...

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." -- Carl Jung

"One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand men on the battlefield” -- Buddha – The Dhammapada

"The problem in my life and other people's lives is not the absence of knowing what to do, but the absence of doing it." -- Peter Drucker

"Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you will help them become what they are capable of becoming." -- J.W Von Goethe

"The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes." -- William James

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,
I’ve just been invited to take on a new role as department head. There are eight members of staff – all good, productive people save for one. In this case there’s a long and troubled history with outright rudeness, a lack of respect and collaboration and even politically motivated behaviours.

How do I deal with this when her behaviour has been tolerated and ignored for several years?

One thing is certain – it would be highly imprudent to go in with the intent of putting her in her place with heavy warnings and dire threats at the outset. This would cement the problem and make it very difficult to influence in the future. You will need to be completely open, friendly and accessible to all from day one.

Your initial move is to communicate your expectations and preferred leadership style to the group as a whole. Begin with your principles and broad strategies and then spell out your explicit expectations of all members of the team. Use several specific examples of the behaviours you will be encouraging and rewarding even before you detail specific roles and responsibilities.

Emphasize the cardinal rules for the team’s operation so that everyone is totally aware of your success criteria and before there’s any reference to past behaviours or incidents. Encourage discussion and clarification so everyone is absolutely clear about what has to be accomplished and how this will best be done. This way everyone has the same rules within which to operate.

Use this new understanding as a frame of reference for catching people doing things right over the next days and weeks. Watch diligently for every possible occasion to identify and reinforce the expected behaviours especially from the suspect member of staff. Be very precise in relating the observed behaviour to the principles you’re promoting.

You might say "JoAnne, I noticed that when John asked for suggestions relating to his challenge in yesterday’s staff meeting that you had two good ideas that you put forward. This is a great example of what I identified as building collaboration within the team. Well done!”

If it had gone the other way and you’d observed unproductive behaviour you will need to confront this too. First describe what actually happened versus what was expected and then ask for an explanation. You could say "JoAnne, I noticed that when Alan presented his proposal at the meeting this morning you stated that it was an idiotic idea which ignored professional standards. One of our key principles is mutual respect and your comment was clearly disrespectful. Tell me why you said what you did.”

If her response is that she didn’t consider her response to be disrespectful, then you need to define more clearly what you mean by this value. Should she deflect and say it was no big deal and she really wasn’t serious then address the consequences to the point that she appreciates the impact of her statements.

If her response is that it just slipped out before she could check it, then you will need to coach her through a deeper understanding of her inherent assumptions about other people – she needs to master the stories she is telling herself about others with whom she works.

In each case ask for a specific commitment to action that will address the issue; who will do what by when, and be prepared to follow through on that commitment. Offer your continuing help in coping with the changed behaviours and reinforce every related success whenever you can.

It will require patience and persistence and you may need to repeat the fundamental principles you outlined at the start several times before they are assimilated. If there’s no sign of steady and sustainable change towards the expressed value and/or standard you may need to point out very clearly that subscribing to your expressed principles is not optional but a mandatory part of performance.

Beyond this point you may have to deal with the deeper issue of deliberate non compliance. If the employee chooses not to adhere to the teams adopted values and standards then there have to be disciplinary consequences. The productivity and wellbeing of the team cannot be compromised by any individual and the consequences of voluntary non compliance must be dealt with in accordance with your established disciplinary procedures.

This is now past the point of coaching (which assumes that improved performance is mutually desired) and there will be adverse outcomes in your relationship as supervisor. Sometimes you need to bite the bullet.

Note however that the recommended process moves through the following steps:

  • First, create a level playing field where every person has the option to be successful
  • Next, define and demonstrate the principles you’ve selected so that there’s no ambiguity
  • Then monitor actual behaviours accentuating the positives and confronting the negatives
  • Explore the consequences of actual, observed behaviours in the context of your expectations
  • Offer support but insist on definitive corrective action if needed; follow through to ensure it
  • Move to a disciplinary approach if there is deliberate resistance to the established team norms.

This is a sound and proven approach to shaping desired behaviours within a group; it will work for the majority of situations even where there are no problems

I hope this helps.

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Commentary - Having Energy To Lead

by Jeff Haltrecht

It’s 1:55pm and you have 5 minutes before a meeting with a key employee / client / supplier. It’s Thursday afternoon, a long week – and month – is coming to an end. You’re tired because of the late nights and many projects on the go. The business is doing well, but for some reason for every two steps forward it feels like one goes backward. Now you’re feeling sluggish - right when you need to be energized.

Most of us have experienced this feeling and it’s not fun. Recently a colleague and I were joking about how we ‘rent’ energy from the foods and drinks we consume to get us through the critical moment. Think about it: - coffee, cola, energy bars, chocolate, etc…

With over 25% of Canadians and 35% of Americans obese, we have either forgotten how to have a lifestyle that gives us the energy we need to perform at our best or we choose to ignore it because the alternatives are too convenient. We need a sensible, sustainable solution.

Here are 5 food and supplement choices you can make right now. Combine these with an exercise program and adequate levels of sleep, and you will be on your way to that energetic feeling.

1. Switch your choice of beverage
Coffee to peppermint tea – Coffee can dehydrate the body while peppermint tea can nourish it; plus peppermint tea has been known to help with digestion.
Soft drinks to water – The caffeine gives a short-term burst of energy, but it’s the sugar and calories that will lead to long-term sluggishness. Water hydrates the body and helps us stay focussed.
Beer to wine - There are more documented health benefits of drinking red wine, derived from the polyphenols and antioxidants. Cheers!

2. Reduce your intake of foods high in sugar and sodium.
Sugar gives you a short term energy boost followed by a quick and deep energy fall-off; excess consumption can lead to diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay. High sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure.

3. Eat whole foods, not processed foods.
Whole foods are eaten as close to the source as possible, thus limiting the amount of processing and refinement. In doing so, we reduce the intake of sugars, sodium, and incremental fats, while increasing the intake of healthy proteins, fibres, and vitamin nutrients. For example, a pork chop is considered a whole food, while a hot dog is processed. Look for meat, breads, vegetables, and dairy that have not been altered through a manufacturing process

4. Change when you eat
Eat 3 meals and 2 healthy snacks per day – It provides for a sustained fullness and will keep us from snacking on chips, while giving constant energy to the body.
Limit excess carbohydrate intake after 2pm. – Because our body burns carbohydrates before it burns fat, it will leave the latter to be stored in the stomach, which in turn leads to obesity and sluggishness

5. Supplement with vitamins
Vitamins provide important nutrients that our body is lacking, partially driven by our North American lifestyle. When taken in conjunction with the right food and exercise program, they help contribute to a healthier and more energetic body. Here are 4 daily vitamins & supplements to ask your health care professional about.

  1. Multi-Vitamin with 50mg/mcg of all "B” vitamins. B vitamins help metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. They are needed for proper functioning of the cell and it’s energy metabolism
  2. Omega-3 500mg helps keep the heart strong and provides for mental clarity
  3. Vitamin C up to 1000mg helps with bones, cartilage, teeth, and gums
  4. Vitamin D up to 1000mg can help prevent certain cancers

Maximizing our personal performance is more than having an engaging leadership style. It’s also taking care of ourselves through the foods we eat. Making a few key changes in our diets can help our bodies remain energized and have the mental clarity needed to remain focused all day, whether it’s sitting at our desk or meeting with a key person at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon.

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Point Of View - Desires And Expectations Of Others

This section is a guest column. Those with different and interesting viewpoints are invited to state a case on a related topic. Articles of 250 to 500 words are most welcome.

Desires and Expectations of Others – by Sheila Ellerton

The lead article this month is extremely pertinent to a situation taking place in the condo where I live. Our Condo Board of Directors was recently depleted when one Director moved, one resigned and the President was stripped of his position and as a consequence of that action, he resigned. Subsequently, the two remaining Directors appointed three interim Directors to serve until the AGM in early December.

As a result of these actions, it feels like sides have been drawn. There are a lot of rumours and tension floating around these days. The newly appointed President of the Board held two coffee mornings to, in his words, clear up the confusion. This is where the emotional part of the brain takes over – I, for one, was not confused; I was upset and concerned. That meeting did nothing to allay my concerns so I met with the board privately and expressed my concerns about the process and application of their decision to oust the current president so close to an election. At this point there were three Directors, two elected and one appointed. They muttered something about fiduciary obligations and secrecy inherent with their Board position which was a deflection in my estimation. I did not need to know the details but rather was concerned that why, after serving on the board with this man for two years and re-electing him President twice, it was suddenly imperative to remove him. And even more important was the question of ethics and treating others with dignity and respect. They, by their words and actions, ruled this man guilty by insinuation. I never did get an answer as to how they arrived at their decision and how they implemented it.

It seems to be going from bad to worse. The new Board has blocked this man and his wife from serving on committees at every opportunity. So badly have they been treated that they are now selling their unit and moving elsewhere.

In fairness to this new Board, they are working hard at trying to establish new committees and allay people’s concerns by speaking to them privately if requested. They do have some good ideas. But I also feel that we are being micro-managed in how we can/should operate our lives.

My point to this interim Board is that actions speak louder than words. We are being inundated with newsletters and notices of coffee hours to address our concerns. But when questions are asked that might put the board in an uncomfortable spot, they are deflected. The Board formed new committees but not everyone who put their name down for a committee was accepted or informed of their non-acceptance. They were just ignored. This was totally unnecessary as each of the new committees is very short of members.

So is it the root decision to blame or the implementation strategy? Perhaps it is both. We may never know but one thing for sure, the AGM will be an interesting episode in management.

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

The Positive Workplace - The Power Of Intentions

All told, last week was a great week. Or should I say - I had a great week.

It’s been a while since I’ve had that feeling. And frankly, I want to do all that I can to replicate the experience! Which begs the question, what makes for ‘a great week’ and, more specifically, what is it that ‘makes for a really great week at work’?

What helps us have a week where one’s been focused and productive? Where there’s been time and occasion to have a laugh or two, notwithstanding the challenges and conflicts. A week where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole - where one walks away feeling good about oneself – and those around us, especially those with whom we’ve collaborated in the week’s events.

I have to say, the week didn’t start off particularly well. I’d expected challenges and was duly rewarded with the same! Angst met angst, resulting in even greater feelings of fear and anxiety - likely on both sides! My energy drained. I knew I’d need to re-set my ‘intentions’ – both in terms of what I wanted to achieve and how I wanted ‘to be’ in the world in order to pull myself out of the funk I now found myself in.

I spent the rest of the week working with a client ‘team’ who were dealing with the challenges of being over committed and under-funded – in what might be considered life and death situations – while they themselves were at odds with one another.

Our session did not start off that well, I have to say. Battle lines had long since been drawn, posturing abounded and positions were being taken just as ‘play’ was due to begin. Yet ‘play’ we did. Not so much with each others beliefs, values, thoughts and feelings as with ideas, opportunities and possibilities. We had a ball!

We know that there is much to be said for having the opportunity to be creative, engage one’s strengths, contribute, find purpose and meaning in one’s work. Yet, is that enough? Would that make for a great week for you? I know it doesn’t for me.

So what was it that made this event and the week as a whole such a great one?

Was it that that we ‘played’ together, laughed a little, looked for what might be (rather than what was)? Was it that we were respectful with one another? That we listened, encouraged, acknowledged and appreciated the uniqueness of perspective and talent? Or was it that each person gave up the need to be right in the interest of developing greater understanding, increasing the common ground and building trust so as to ensure a more secure future.

It was likely all of that and more. More specifically, it likely had to do with the intentions we set for ourselves at the outset of our time together. Our intentions for what we needed to achieve, what we wanted to achieve and, more specifically, how we wanted to be with one another, and for one another.

How well intentioned are you? And no, I’m not questioning the quality of your intentions.

Rather, I’m asking whether establishing intentions for what you want to achieve and, more specifically, how you want to show up in the world at any particular point in time might help you come closer to having the time of your life in the time you’re living – making this a better place for you, and for those around you.

I know they make the difference in mine. How about you?

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