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Leadership Today

Author: Andrew Beveridge

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Weekly research-based tips and advice to tackle today's biggest leadership challenges, all in under eight minutes. Hosted by leadership development specialist and psychologist Andrew Beveridge. Go to for more information.
77 Episodes
Summary Being grateful has a host of benefits for individuals and teams. In this episode we explore three practical ways to build gratitude at work. Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 63 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we explore the power of gratitude for ourselves and for those we lead. As human beings we have a natural tendency to become caught up with the negatives and challenges in life. Researchers Gilovich and Davidai describe this as the headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry - what they characterise as a tendency to focus far more on barriers than on blessings. This can lead to a sense of unfairness - a perception that we have it harder than most other people. It also leads us to underestimate the benefits we have received that have contributed to positive outcomes in our lives. This tendency runs counter to a sense of gratitude. It’s very difficult to feel grateful at the same time as feeling like you’ve had it tougher than most people. But that’s exactly why gratitude can be so helpful - we can use gratitude to rebalance the asymmetry. But first, what is gratitude? It’s a commonly used word, but can be hard to define. Researchers categorise gratitude as a both a trait and an emotion or state. We all experience the emotion of gratitude at different points during our day, but fewer of us have an ongoing grateful outlook on life as a trait. There is even an ongoing debate as to whether gratitude should be considered a personality trait. What we do know is that gratitude has both a genetic and environmental component - it appears to be wired into us and emerges quite early in our lives. And research also demonstrates that we can increase our gratitude, both in our daily mood, and also ongoing. For the individual the benefits of gratitude range from improved physical and mental health, elevated mood and happiness, increased life satisfaction, and reduced burnout. By way of example, patients recovering from heart failure who completed a gratitude journal had reduced signs of inflammation after an 8 week period. Other research showed people reported better and longer sleep, and better overall physical health by increasing their practice of gratitude. For groups and organisations, research has demonstrated that gratitude can increase generosity and kindness, while helping to build stronger relationships and improving work climate. Gratitude is like the glue for society that binds people together. If someone does something nice for you, you’re likely to feel grateful and, in turn, do something nice back. Here are three ways to increase gratitude at work: 1. Gratitude journal. A common version of this involves writing down three new things each day for which you’re grateful. One experiment showed those asked to journal 5 things to be grateful for on a weekly basis for 10 weeks exercised significantly more and had fewer physical complaints than another group assigned to journal 5 hassles per week over the same time frame. Interestingly, similar studies over 2 week periods didn’t demonstrate significant differences between the two groups. So the research suggests journalling needs to be sustained. You could build this practice of gratitude into individual and team meetings by taking some time for people to share what they are grateful for. 2. Gratitude letters. This typically involves writing letters of appreciation to people you haven’t properly thanked. At work though it could be as simple as expressing gratitude to your people, and encouraging others to do the same. 3. Demonstrating genuine kindness. Why not commit to undertaking one additional kind act per day. It might be helping someone with their work, or grabbing an extra coffee for a colleague back at the office, or even being the person that empties the dishwasher. Importantly, each of these three ideas need to be genuine. One study found writing a gratitude journal once a week was more effective than three times a week - the theory being that people put more effort into it and it was more genuine when done just once a week. Similarly other research showed the positive impacts are much greater for genuine kindness than what the researchers called “strategic kindness” (or doing something nice in order to gain a personal benefit). Hopefully that’s prompted you to boost your gratitude, particularly at this busy time of the year. I have provided a link to a comprehensive review of the research on gratitude from Summer Allen at the University of California Berkeley, where the bulk of the research cited in this podcast was drawn. There’s also a link to Davidai and Gilovich’s research on headwinds and tailwinds, and a further article about the science of kindness. And given today’s topic, I want to express my gratitude to those who have so wonderfully supported the podcast over the last year. Thanks for helping to get the word out and for sending through encouraging messages about how the content has helped in developing your leadership. Your ratings and reviews have also been extremely helpful - I read every review and appreciate the time people take to promote the podcast in that way. There are several ways to stay up to date with the podcast. The best way is to subscribe to the podcast wherever you’re listening to it now. You can also connect via the website to be notified about new podcasts, receive our monthly email newsletter, and to connect with me on LinkedIn or via our Facebook group page. As it is heading into summer holidays in the lower half of our amazing planet, over the next seven weeks we will be featuring replays of some of our most popular episodes from 2018 and early 2019. I will be back with brand new episodes in February 2020. I look forward to speaking with you again then. References Davidai, S., & Gilovich, T. (2016). The headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(6), 835–851. Summer Allen. 2018. The Science of Gratitude. Whitepaper. Greater Good Science Center at US Berkeley. The chemistry and psychology of kindness. ABC Life / By Sophie Kesteven
Summary Our workplaces can easily move towards what researchers call incivility. So what are the benefits of being nice to one another, and what can we do as leaders to get there? Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 62 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we explore why being nice to one another is so important for business performance. I was working with a client recently and discussing their culture. He said “as a psychologist you have the opportunity to work with lots of different organisations - I bet you walk in and get a pretty quick sense of the mood and culture”. It’s true - I find it easy to gain a quick read on the mood and culture of an organisation. Compare these two workplaces I recently visited. In one organisation I noticed people frowning, staring at screens, no conversation or laughter, and lots of sighs. In another the atmosphere was bordering on joyful - people warmly greeting one other, big smiles, people saying “hello” to me as I walked past even though they had no idea who I was. It was hard in the first organisation not to be dragged down, and it was equally hard in the second organisation not to be lifted up. But it’s not like being able to read the mood and culture of a workplace is some special power granted only to psychologists and consultants. It’s a special power we all have that comes with being human. We all read a room quickly at a subconscious level. However we become familiar and used to the rooms where we spend the most time. The cultural quirks that hit us on day one at a new organisation fade by month three. We rapidly soak up the standards we see around us. We quickly understand what’s tolerated and what isn’t. If the culture is great, then that’s fantastic - we absorb it and maybe even become a better person. But if the culture is toxic, even the best of us will either lower our standards to fit in, or exit stage right to another organisation. In some workplaces people aren’t very nice to each other. It might be that most people are 5 to 10 minutes late to meetings, setup their laptops and just continue their work. They interrupt others, they talk to the person next to them while someone else is presenting. They make demands of their colleagues in other departments. They gossip and spread rumours. Before you know it, the place quickly becomes toxic. This is so common that some researchers specialise in looking at what they call incivility. Perhaps the best known researcher in the field is Christine Porath. Her TED talk “Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business” has racked up over 2.5 million views. As people rightly note in the comments below her video, do we really need a TED talk to convince people to be nice to each other? Apparently we do. Her research demonstrates that incivility lead to 66% of people cutting back their efforts, 80% of people being distracted from their work, and 12% of people leaving their job. In a laboratory study where people witnessed a fellow participant, who was actually setup, being berated for being late, there was a 25% reduction in performance, and 45% fewer ideas generated by the group. Christine argues that incivility is like a virus that we can catch and transmit. As a result people operate out of fear and try to remain invisible. Innovation plummets - after all, why would you risk sharing a new idea when people aren’t being nice to each other? So why do people end up being mean, unthoughtful, rude, aggressive or passive aggressive towards each other? Here are some reasons that I’ve observed: 1. It works - taking on an aggressive, belittling style may, in the short term, help people to get things done, particularly where there is a lack of clarity and standards. 2. Feedback free environment - people may not actually recognise what they’re doing, or at least the impact that it is having on others. 3. Excessive stress - people are unlikely to be on their best behaviour where they are experiencing high levels of stress. 4. Role models - in some organisations, taking on an aggressive style is modelled and rewarded by more senior leaders. We can change this. An example Christine shares is a health organisation where they introduced what they called the 10-5 way. The guidance they gave to staff was to make eye contact and smile when they were within 10 feet of another person, and to say ‘hello’ when they were within 5 feet of another person. That sounds incredibly prescriptive and it’s hard to believe it worked, but they saw both patient satisfaction and referrals increase. As we raise our kindness towards others, we’re more likely to be seen as leaders, and we’re more likely to produce better results. This aligns with a wealth of research that shows people are much more effective when they’re in a positive mood, versus being neutral or negative in their mood. As a leader I suggest the following: 1. Role model being nice towards others. Civility is contagious. You see it when a positive team member enters the room - they lift the mood, people start smiling and laughing, there’s a sense of energy. It really doesn’t take many people to change the culture, and leaders are the ones people look towards to set the emotional tone. 2. Connect with others. Take the time to understand the day to day work and experiences of those within your organisation. You might be surprised at some of the frustrations and obstacles they face, and how easy it may be for you in a position of leadership to remove these. 3. Help others to connect. It’s really difficult to bully people that you know, like and respect. It’s also really hard to bully someone that has strong connections with their colleagues - the weight of numbers makes the bully the odd one out. 4. Look after yourself, and help others to do the same. Think about activities you can encourage that focus on the classic wellbeing areas of exercise, diet and sleep. So let’s think this week about ways we can encourage others and lift them up. The relatively small acts that we take as leaders on a daily basis can have a huge impact on those we lead and the cultures we create. I have included links to Christine Porath’s TED talk and book in the show notes - make sure you check them out. And for those listening in the United States, a big Thanksgiving holiday greeting for the week that has just passed. I trust it has been a great time to connect with family and friends to reflect on all the great things we have in our lives that we so easily take for granted. Have a great week. References Christine Porath’s TED Talk - Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business. Christine Porath (2016) Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace
Summary Values can be a powerful driver of business culture, both for good and bad. This week we look at when values go bad and what to do about it. Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 61 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at when values go bad and what to do about it. I met with a Head of Human Resources a number of years ago shortly before the public listing of their business. He was particularly excited about a new set of values that had been developed by the executive team and were about to be rolled out to employees in the coming weeks. He was then kind enough to give me a preview of the five new values, all nicely printed on cards. They were numbered one to five and went something like this: Deliver for Shareholders - as a business about to be publicly listed, the executive team were keen to focus people around the importance of delivering on the promises made to those about to invest in the business. Delight Customers - this seemed pretty sensible and was focused around providing a great experience for customers every time and responding to customer feedback. Operational Efficiency - streamlining processes to improve efficiency and provide greater consistency across their various locations. I honestly don't remember what the fourth value was, which is probably because of the fifth value. People First.  At that point of the conversation I had the same reaction you're probably having now. Before I could fully think it through, I found myself saying "Do you think you should change that last one to 'people fifth'?". At that point he understood the irony of their fifth value. In this instance the executive team had actually constructed what they saw as the most important values for the business in order of importance, and for them the reality was that people came fifth. However, being accustomed as we all are to saying "people are our most important asset", the "people first" tag line seemed like the right name at the time. You may not be surprised to learn that following the public listing of the business, they closed their doors for the last time within a few years. Perhaps putting "people fifth" was part of the problem.  It’s easy to be cynical about values - we’ve all seen examples of them done poorly. Enron famously had Integrity as one of its four values. However I've seen some great examples of organisational values. When done well, a set of values can provide an invaluable framework for employees throughout the organisation to make decisions in the 'grey space' between black and white rules and procedures. One senior leadership team I was a member of would often refer back to the organisation's values when making tough decisions while navigating the global financial crisis. In the absence of precedents and guidelines, the values allowed us to choose between options based on their alignment with the values of the organisation. The values also helped us to explain these decisions to those affected in the context of the organisation's strategy. Furthermore, it provided a consistent framework for doing business across diverse cultures around the world. When I met with my equivalents from overseas, I was always pleasantly surprised at how consistently they modelled the organisation’s values. However values can sometimes be poorly developed and inauthentic. 'People fifth' is one example. In some organisations values are developed from the ground up - a sort of democratic discernment of what's important through seemingly endless focus groups, interviews and surveys. This approach almost always produces a bland set of values that are more about avoiding offending anyone than they are about guiding decision making. The best values are developed at 'the top' and then refined through conversation across the business. In our earlier example, some refinement of the proposed values with employees would have highlighted the 'people fifth' dilemma, and possibly enabled a better end result. However too often executive teams are presented a set of values emerging from an overly consultative process and, as a result, they don't match the strategy of the organisation. The executive team haven't bought into the values before they are printed on a fancy sign that starts off behind the reception desk, and is gradually relegated into a store room to gather dust.  An organisation's values need to be authentic and matched with the strategic direction of the business. As a leader you need to hold yourself and others accountable to these values. If you're going to do this, you will want to make sure you're 100% comfortable with the values yourself. Patrick Lencioni helpfully breaks values into four categories: Core values - these are the two or three unique aspects that differentiate the organisation. Lencioni calls them “cultural cornerstones”. Aspirational values - these reflect what the organisation aspires to be like to succeed in the future. Perhaps the organisation aspires to be efficient, but isn’t there yet. Identifying efficiency as an aspirational value helps people to understand that we’re not there yet, but that this is important for us to focus on. Permission-to-play values - these are the minimum standard required to operate in your industry. For example, being ethical if you’re a law firm is a permission-to-play value. Every law firm should be ethical - it’s a legal, business and community expectation. It’s unlikely that your firm is markedly more ethical than the next firm. Accidental values - these are the spontaneous values people see and experience that haven’t consciously been chosen. An organisation I worked with that had innovation as a stated value, but the accidental value was to never make a mistake. This fear of making mistakes held them back from being innovative - it stopped people from taking action or trying new things. In summary, authentic values can be a valuable tool to aid decision making in uncertain times. They can be used to hold leaders and employees to account, not just around what results they achieve, but also how they achieve results. A process that starts with the senior team considering the values they believe are required to achieve their strategy is a great start, and needs to be coupled with a refinement or 'testing' process that involves groups of employees. Clearly defined values can provide that all important compass that people need when navigating uncharted waters.  What has been your experiences of values? How have they helped and hindered? Reference Patrick Lencioni - Make Your Values Mean Something. Harvard Business Review, July 2002.
Summary Great teams manage task, process and relationships. They ask key questions to ensure clarity is built and conflict is addressed in all three areas. This week we look at some key questions you can use to audit your teams and build their effectiveness.   Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 60 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. Episode 60 is quite the milestone, so a big thanks to everyone who has shared the podcast with others. I love reading your reviews and hearing stories about how the content has been helpful. This week we’re exploring how great teams manage task, process and relationships. Research demonstrates that there are three main things teams need to manage - the task (what outcome needs to be achieved), the process (how we’re going to achieve the outcome), and the people (how we’re going to work together as human beings). Failing to manage each of these three elements almost inevitably leads to conflict and reduced performance. There are three common traps that teams fall into: 1. The most common trap is a tendency to focus immediately on the task, neglecting the process and relationships. This results in a flurry of activity but it may well be the wrong activity. We fail to think about the relationships between the people in the room which can result in interpersonal issues and complaints. I often see this trap during leadership programs. You can teach all the theory and techniques in the world, but it all goes out the window once there’s a time-sensitive task to complete. People move straight to the task and ignore process and relationships. 2. The second most common trap is to become caught up with interpersonal issues, and lose sight of the task and process. People end up avoiding the team, progress stalls, and the team often falls apart as people question what the purpose is of meeting in the first place. 3. The third common trap is to focus so much on the process that we neglect the task and relationships. I see this regularly in projects where there’s a huge amount of upfront consultation with little consideration of how to make decisions or deal with differing perspectives. We gather lots of data but don’t know what to do with it. The impact of conflict in task, process and relationships in teams has varied between different theories, with some frameworks encouraging conflict in these areas. However research into over 6000 teams suggests that task conflict, process conflict and relationship conflict all negatively impact on team performance. The only exception is for decision-making teams, where task conflict can sometimes have a small positive impact. Contrary to earlier theories, none of the three types of conflict reliably lead to innovation. I’ve previously shared research about the team stages model by Tuckman. In the model he outlined teams get together and are polite during the Forming stage. We descend into disagreements and conflict during the Storming stage as people seek clarity that isn’t there yet. By agreeing standards and ways of working we reach Norming. And that as we combine the strengths of individuals with the strengths of process and relationships we reach Performing. Teams do indeed seem to follow these stages of development, except that storming can occur more frequently and at any point as the team is impacted by outside forces. Conflict about task, process and relationships doesn’t get solved in one neat stage, but rather needs to be continuously monitored and managed. So the research suggests we need to actively recognise, manage and reduce task, process and relationship conflict. We can’t afford to ignore it or to leave it unmanaged. Conflict is effectively a symptom that something needs to be addressed in one of these three. Here are some questions that might help for both new and established teams: - Task - What is our purpose as a team? What is the task we’ve been asked to achieve? What’s the problem we’re needing to solve? What can we uniquely contribute to the organisation? - Process - How are we going to get there? What’s the plan and order of activity? What’s the division of workload and responsibilities? How are we going to make decisions? How are we going to measure our performance? How will we hold each other accountable? How are we going to monitor and respond to changing needs and circumstances? - Relationships - What does each person bring to the team? What are the individual strengths and weaknesses? What experiences have we had that might be helpful? What commitments are we making to each other? How will we provide feedback to each other? How will we manage disagreements? Actively managing task, process and relationships is a key part of any team’s success. Why not undertake a quick audit of all three with the teams you lead? Reference Thomas A. O'Neill , Natalie J. Allen & Stephanie E. Hastings (2013) Examining the “Pros” and “Cons” of Team Conflict: A Team-Level Meta-Analysis of Task, Relationship, and Process Conflict, Human Performance, 26:3, 236-260, DOI: 10.1080/08959285.2013.795573
Summary A big part of our role as leaders is setting the emotional tone and culture for our teams. Whether consciously or not, we communicate our own bias towards the upside potential and action, or the bias towards risk and fear. This week we’re looking at approach and avoidance motivation, and what we can do to foster a more positive mindset for ourselves and others.   Transcript Hey there. Welcome to episode 59 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at approach and avoidance motivation, and what we can do to foster a more positive mindset for ourselves and others. Motivation can be divided into two main categories - avoidance and approach. This isn’t a new idea. In fact, Greek philosophers spoke about these two forms of motivation as far back as 400 BC. But research has demonstrated that our preference for one type of motivation over another may come down to our personality. Avoidance motivation, as the name suggests, is about trying to avoid a negative outcome. Avoidance goals relating to health might include not eating unhealthy food or giving up smoking. These avoidance actions may indeed make me less unhealthy, but they probably won’t make me healthy. As numerous people have expressed it, the absence of disease is not health. In contrast, approach motivation is about pursuing something positive - working towards a positive outcome or possibility. Approach goals relating to health could include adding healthy foods to our diet or undertaking regular exercise. These goals don’t just move us away from being unhealthy, but actively increase our health. The primary function of our brain is to keep us alive - to survive. That makes avoidance motivation pretty attractive as a default position for most people. It aligns with the base level need to avoid things that have potentially negative consequences for our survival. But our brains are also about reward. We seek out opportunities to experience pleasure and positive outcomes. Researchers have found that the balance between avoidance and approach motivation can be linked to our personality - that some people have an approach temperament while others have an avoidance temperament - that we either lean towards self-protection or towards self-enhancement. Those with an approach temperament tend to be more extraverted, have positive emotionality, and a bias towards action. In contrast, those with an avoidance temperament tend to be less emotionally stable, experience negative emotionality, and have a bias towards restraint (or not acting). This bias flows through to the types of goals we set. Those with an approach temperament tend to set mastery goals. For example, “I want to master the material in this class”. A mastery goal is about me - I’m the benchmark of success and progress. In contrast, those with an avoidance temperament tend to set goals related to others. For example, “I just want to avoid doing badly in this class” or “I just want to do as well as most people”. A big part of our role as leaders is setting the emotional tone and culture for our teams. Whether consciously or not, we communicate our own bias towards the upside potential and action, or the bias towards risk and fear. Like almost every aspect of leadership, it starts with the way we think, feel and act. And we can always change the way we think, feel and act, even if it takes some effort. Here are four ideas to move you towards an approach temperament: 1. Connect with people. Meeting our basic human need for connection to others helps to build a more positive mindset. 2. Note down experiences that provide you with positive emotions and build these experiences into your routine. Going for a run each morning makes me feel positive, so I’ve built that into my daily routine. 3. Anthropomorphise negative emotions. What the heck is this one about. You might be familiar with the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out. In the movie the various emotions the young girl experienced were represented by characters inside her head. Researchers have found there may be some benefits to thinking about negative emotions in this way. For example, they found conceptualising sadness as a person, for example as a girl walking slowly with her head down, helped people to feel more detached from their sadness and actually made them feel less sad. It sounds bizarre, but give it a go. I now have Barry, who is my go to character when I’m feeling discouraged. Importantly, you want to only use this approach with negative emotions. The researchers found that thinking of happiness as a person also made people feel less happy. 4. Run your own race and stop comparing. Aim to become better at things that matter to you and track your progress against yourself, instead of comparing your capability to others. This week I encourage you to focus on approach goals and building a positive bias for action in your team. As always, if you’re interested in the research check out the show notes at the website. I look forward to speaking with you again next week.   References Andrew J. Elliot and Todd M. Thrash. Approach–Avoidance Motivation in Personality: Approach and Avoidance Temperaments and Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 82, No. 5, 804–818 Fangyuan Chen, Rocky Peng Chen, Li Yang. When Sadness Comes Alive, Will It Be Less Painful? The Effects of Anthropomorphic Thinking on Sadness Regulation and Consumption. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2019;
Summary Curiosity is rarely encouraged at work. In fact, leaders and organisations often actively discourage being inquisitive. This week we explore the benefits of curiosity, and four ways to encourage it in your team. Transcript Welcome to episode 58 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at the benefits of curiosity, and how to encourage it in your team. The word “curiosity” often conjures up negative connotations. If I asked you to tell me a popular saying about curiosity, it would most likely be “curiosity killed the cat”. This fear of being inquisitive translates into our organisations. Surely if people become curious at work they’re going to neglect their day jobs and start venturing into distraction. And won’t this lead to conflict, reduced productivity and a lack of clarity? However, research on curiosity demonstrates that these concerns are unfounded, and that curiosity provides a range of benefits for individuals and organisations. Here’s just a sample of what the research tells us about the benefits of curiosity: Curiosity helps us to become more accurate in our decision making. When we are curious, we seek out more alternatives. This helps us to avoid stereotyping people and selectively choosing information that supports our viewpoint. When people are encouraged to be curious, they share information with others more readily and listen more attentively to their perspectives. This helps us to build empathy and insight. Curiosity actually reduces conflict. It encourages people to consider alternative perspectives and what it would be like to be in the other person’s shoes. For a great summary of the research, check out the Why Curiosity Matters spotlight series in Harvard Business Review. I’ve provided a link in the show notes - It appears we’re hardwired as humans to be curious, but our education systems and organisations often don’t reward this natural and helpful drive to explore and discover. However, as leaders, there are simple steps we can take to encourage curiosity amongst our people. Here are four ideas to start with: Encourage questions. I’ve worked with organisations where asking a question is equated with being negative and stepping beyond your role. It was debilitating for the organisation and for the people, taking away initiative and discretionary effort. Make it safe to ask questions. Role model the inquisitive use of questions with your team. Build alternatives. Always go beyond the first and most obvious option to explore other alternatives. So often we stop at option one, when the best idea might be a combination of option two and option three. Provide time for exploration. Curiosity takes time, and that time needs to be pressure-free and self-directed. This podcast is driven by the questions I ask myself, combined with the time to explore the answers. When I was working in management consulting there was very little time to be curious which, ironically, was often what clients valued the most. Pursue learning. Ongoing learning builds the capability of the individual and the capacity of the organisation. Encourage and fund your people to undertake additional learning they’re interested in, even if it isn’t obviously linked to the work. Sometimes the connections people can draw between what they’ve learned and the organisation’s needs will surprise you. So this week I encourage you to invest time in being curious, and allow the same for your people as well. You might be surprised at the benefits that result.
Welcome to Midweek Motivate. The middle of the week can be challenging for leaders. The goal of midweek motivate is to give you one practical idea that you can try for yourself or with your team right away. This week we’re looking at positive relationships and self-esteem.   Researchers recently looked at 52 studies from around the world to clarify the relationship between self-esteem and the quality of relationships.   Their analysis found that having close relationships helps to boost our self-esteem. That is, our friendships can help us to feel better about ourselves and more confident. But they also found that the connection runs the other way as well. Having a strong sense of self-esteem enhances the quality of our friendships.   So what does that all mean for me as a leader? A key role of any leader is to help build connections, both within the team that you manage, and also across the organisation. Becoming a broker of relationships and connections will help your people to feel better about themselves and boost their confidence. And the effect is contagious - those positive relationships also help those outside your team to feel more confident and positive at work.   So this week, think about some people in your network that you can connect with people in your team. It could be someone to take on an informal mentoring role, or just an opportunity to learn more about another aspect of the organisation. Setup an introduction and then leave them to connect.   And why not use this midweek motivate as a prompt to reconnect with someone. The connections we have had in the past can sometimes fade with time, but take a deep breath and give them a call. It will help you and it will help them as well.   I hope you’re finding these midweek motivates helpful. Drop me an email to if you have any areas you would like covered. And checkout the website for a full archive of all of our Leadership Today podcast episodes. Have a great week.   Michelle A. Harris and Ulrich Orth. The Link Between Self-Esteem and Social Relationships: A Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2019 DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000265
Summary Chances are that you will suffer from impostor syndrome at some point in your life. In this episode we explore what impostor syndrome is, why it occurs, and nine ways we can avoid feeling like a fraud.   Transcript Welcome to episode 57 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at impostor syndrome - what it is, why it occurs, and nine ways we can avoid feeling like a fraud.   What is impostor syndrome? Put simply, impostor syndrome is the fear of being exposed as a fraud - that we lack the capability necessary for the challenges we face, and are only avoiding being found out through hard work and luck. Bryan Stewart says “The root of impostorism is thinking that people don't see you as you really are. We think people like us for something that isn't real and that they won't like us if they find out who we really are." We’ll look at Stewart’s research later. Importantly, it’s not a disorder. No psychologist is ever going to give you a mental diagnosis of impostor syndrome. Rather it’s a reaction or response that falls in the normal range of human experience. Studies vary, however impostor syndrome is thought to impact 70% of people across their life. That is, the majority of people at some point feel like a fraud. In Stewart’s study 20% of university students felt very strong feelings of impostorism at any one point in time.   How does impostor syndrome work? The researcher Clance outlines what she calls an impostor cycle. The cycle starts with an achievement-based task. It might be a project, assignment or new responsibility. This is followed by feelings of anxiety, worry and doubt. The individual with impostor syndrome then typically takes one of two possible paths. The first is the ‘hard work’ path - this is a period of over-preparation and frantic work. The second potential path is a period of procrastination and avoidance. There’s a sense of relief once the challenge is completed. Those who took the hard work path will then put any positive outcome down to over-preparation rather than ability. Those who took the procrastination path will put any positive outcome is down to luck. In both cases, even a positive outcome and feedback is seen as further evidence of a lack of personal ability, and so the cycle continues.   What’s the impact on the person and performance of impostor syndrome? Well, there’s the anxiety, fear and self-doubt that accompany new challenges and opportunities. And there’s often a reluctance to put your hand up for even greater challenges and opportunities. After all, those challenges heighten the risk of being discovered as a fraud.   So what can you do to avoid impostor syndrome? Here are 9 ideas: Reframe challenges as opportunities to learn and grow rather than as chances to be tested and ‘found out’. Bringing a growth mindset to challenges will help reduce anxiety and increase motivation. Establish an appropriate standard for your work. Perfectionism and impostor syndrome often co-exist. If your work is never good enough in your own eyes, then no wonder you feel like a fraud. Reach outside of the group where you feel a fraud. Research by Bryan Stewart and colleagues has demonstrated that seeking support from within the group where you feel like a fraud is generally negative and reinforces the sense of being a fraud, while reaching outside the group to family, friends and others is generally positive. Reaching outside where you feel like a fraud recalibrates your abilities. Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s tempting to select people at the top of their game as comparison points. Look to them as inspiration rather than as a benchmark of where you should be. After all, everyone’s journey is different, and you will have your own strengths that even your idols lack. Keep a note of all the positive feedback you receive. When you receive positive feedback just say ‘thank you’. Don’t question it, just transfer it to a note or folder where you can review it when you face a future challenge. Name it to tame it. Most people have impostor syndrome at some point. It’s a normal part of human experience, and it’s harmful not helpful. Calling it out for what it is can help you to be proactive in reframing your thoughts and approach. Seek feedback on your approach and performance. Find some trusted people who can give you balanced feedback on your performance. We all need a cheer squad in life, but it needs to be a cheer squad that we trust to provide both positive and constructive feedback. Be kind to yourself. There’s a classic piece of research that demonstrated people are more compliant when administering medication to their dogs than they are at being compliant with their own medication. We’re often not kind and compassionate to ourselves. Give yourself a bit of a break and treat yourself the way you would treat a friend. Celebrate development and progress. We often don’t take the chance to reflect on just how far we’ve come. Ask yourself “What can I do now that I couldn’t do a year ago?”. Write out a list of strengths and achievements from the past year.   Is impostor syndrome something you’ve struggled with? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Contact me via the website, and use the connect link.   References Clance, P.R. (1985). The impostor phenomenon: Overcoming the fear that haunts your success (p. 25). Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers. Richard G. Gardner, Jeffrey S. Bednar, Bryan W. Stewart, James B. Oldroyd, Joseph Moore. “I must have slipped through the cracks somehow”: An examination of coping with perceived impostorism and the role of social support. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 2019; 115: 103337 DOI: 10.1016/j.jvb.2019.103337
This week's podcast is a replay of our 2nd December 2018 episode on Optimism and Resilience. We will be back next week with a brand new episode.   Summary This week we explore the links between optimism and resilience, using the example of a terrifying real life hang gliding experience.   Transcript Welcome to episode 21 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we address some of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are looking at optimism and resilience. Have you ever had a travel experience that didn’t quite go to plan. Chris Gursky certainly has. Chris recently travelled from his home in Florida to Switzerland. He was particularly keen to have a tandem hang gliding experience over the picturesque Swiss countryside, so he booked that in for the first day of his holiday. The YouTube video of his first flight ( shows an excited Chris and his pilot running towards their take off from high on a mountainside. As soon as they took off though Chris and the pilot realise something has gone horribly wrong - the harness Chris is wearing is not actually clipped on to the hang glider, leaving Chris to hang on for dear life. Chris has one hand on the steering bar and one hand on the pilot for most of the flight, not sure of how long he could hold on. The pilot tries for an early landing, but is unable to control the steering while also trying to hold on to Chris, leaving the hang glider to travel over an even greater drop - some 4,000 feet from the ground. After an excruciating two minutes, the hang glider finally nears the ground travelling around 45 miles per hour, with Chris letting go just before it lands. Chris walked away with a broken wrist from the landing and a torn bicep muscle from holding on so hard. Amazingly, despite the ordeal, Chris said “I will go hang gliding again as I did not get to enjoy my first flight.”   Chris’ story demonstrates the two main elements of resilience - holding on and bouncing back. On the one hand, resilience is about your ability to withstand difficult circumstances - to hold on despite the odds - which Chris literally demonstrated during his hang gliding experience. And resilience is also about your ability to quickly bounce back from setbacks - much like Chris’ desire to go hang gliding again, despite his near death experience.   So much of our experience of life is shaped by the lens through which we view events, rather than the events themselves. Shawn Achor in his book “The Happiness Advantage” says that if researchers knew everything about your situation, they can only predict 10% of your happiness levels. Around 50% of our happiness is determined by a so-called genetic set point, with the remaining 40% being determined by our thoughts and actions which, of course, we can alter.   Our resilience links closely to our level of optimism. Martin Seligman describes this in his book “Learned Optimism”. As the title suggests, Seligman has long argued that optimism can be learned, just as early behavioural experiments with animals demonstrated that helplessness and pessimism can also be learned. Seligman outlines three ways in which optimists and pessimists differ when seeking to explain the causes and impacts of events - personalisation, permanence and pervasiveness - the three P’s.   Let’s look at these three P’s using an example of a setback. Alan is reversing his car into a tight spot in the city when he hears breaking glass and the hiss of a tyre going flat. It turns out he has backed over a glass bottle, badly puncturing a tyre on his car.   Consider the three P’s if Alan took a pessimistic view of this situation: Personalisation - Alan immediately blames himself - he should have noticed the bottle and been more careful while parking the car - it’s all his fault. Permanence - these kinds of things always happen to him - this flat tyre is going to take ages to change and then repair - it’s ruined his whole week. Pervasiveness - now he’s going to be late for the show tonight, which means his girlfriend is going to be unhappy with him - he’ll be grumpy at work all week, and he just can’t be bothered going to the gym in the morning now. What about if Alan took an optimistic view of the same situation: Personalisation - this could have happened to anyone, and whoever left the bottle there was pretty careless - it’s not really Alan’s fault at all Permanence - Alan will be able to change the tyre quickly after the show - it’s a 15 minute job at the most, and doesn’t really impact his evening or week Pervasiveness - it’s just a flat tyre - things in his relationship and at work are going well and the rest of his life is pretty positive - it’s no big deal   You can see how an optimistic mindset would make Alan more resilient, both in the moment with the punctured tyre, but also in bouncing back from a potentially negative situation.    Interestingly, when positive things happen, the thinking styles are reversed. The optimist will be more likely to take credit for the positive outcome, to see it as another sign of things to be grateful for, and will let the positive experience flow into other areas of their life. The pessimist, in contrast, will tend to put the positive outcome down to luck or the efforts of others, limit its impact in time, and see it as a small and contained part of their life.    You can learn to be more optimistic in the moment. Just understanding these differences in thinking styles will make you more aware of your own thought patterns in both positive and negative situations. You can then treat your initial thoughts as opinions rather than facts. For example, if something goes wrong, you might tell yourself “you’re an idiot - you can never get anything right”. Instead of just accepting this negative thought, treat it as an opinion which can be challenged. Is it really your fault? Do you always get things wrong, or are there examples of things you do well? What are some other explanations or ways of viewing the situation? Train yourself to look at alternative explanations rather than just accepting the first negative thought that comes into your head.   There’s also the ‘boring but important’ aspects of a healthy life that help to build resilience and optimism, namely diet, sleep and exercise. Connections with friends and family also matter. As does taking the time to slow down and be grateful for all the positive things in our lives - noting down three new things each day to be grateful for is a simple and effective practice that helps us to focus on the positives in life.   This week, think of Chris Gursky and his terrifying hang gliding flight. By holding on and then quickly deciding to give hang gliding another try, Chris provides a powerful demonstration of resilience in action.   References Martin Seligman - Learned Optimism Shawn Achor - The Happiness Advantage      
This week's podcast is a replay of our 14th October 2018 episode on Leadership First Impressions   Research demonstrates that 90% of the initial impression we form about people is based on two factors - warmth and competence. It also turns out these two factors are difficult to combine. So how do we demonstrate both warmth and competence as leaders?    TRANSCRIPT Welcome to episode fourteen of the Leadership Today podcast. Each week we provide practical advice to address some of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are looking at leadership first impressions. It turns out that 90% of the initial impression we form about a person is around two things - their warmth and their competence. In other words - do I connect with you, and do you know what you’re doing? It’s important to note that warmth isn’t primarily about being liked - it’s about making a real connection. That you are a real human being that people can relate to on an emotional level. Competence is about knowing what you’re doing. That you are a leader who is skilled and capable - someone others can respect. These factors produce two stereotypes of leaders that perhaps you can identify with: The first is the competent but cold leader - they’re all business, great at what they do, but they just seem to struggle to connect with people. People respect them, but they may not put in an extra effort for them. Then there’s the warm and friendly but not-so-competent leader - they are great at bringing people around them, but those people gradually drift away when they figure out the leader isn’t up to the task. These stereotypes assume that competence and warmth sit at opposite ends of a spectrum. That a leader can only be all about results, or all about people, but not both. And many leaders assume that this is indeed the case. So if they’re forced to choose between the two, it’s perhaps not surprising that many leaders go for the “respected but not connected” version of competence without warmth. That flows into how they communicate and interact with people. Indeed, they have to guard their image of competence, so letting people into who they are as a human being is a risk - and a risk they see as not worth taking. How does that come across to others? People who take on this competent but cold combination often try to present themselves as an expert. And there’s no shortage of experts - LinkedIn has nearly 6 million people who list themselves as experts in various fields. In fact, LinkedIn lists so many people with “keynote speaker” in their title, that to give each of them just five gigs a year would require there to be over 3,000 keynote speeches every single day. Some people really latch on to the need to lead with their expertise. The good news is that you can combine the two - it is possible to be seen as both warm and competent. The research suggests that it is tricky, but also possible. And the research also suggests that you should lead with warmth. That making a connection with people matters, and provides a foundation to then demonstrate your competence. I worked alongside a leader who embodied exactly this combination. He was a lovely guy to work with, but also filled you with confidence that he knew exactly what he was doing. He was incredibly calm in a crisis - his body language and tone of voice even made him seem relaxed. Even when things were going horribly wrong, he was interested in others’ views, and keen to resolve the issue. He didn’t just remain calm himself, but he helped others to calm down. This allowed people to focus on the problem and work towards a positive outcome. They weren’t worried about the leader and his response - they trusted him, they felt connected to him, and they knew he valued maintaining and building connections with his team, even when they made a mistake. As Amy Cuddy and her fellow researchers put it - “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.” So here are some ideas of how you can combine both warmth and competence in the way that you present. Be yourself. Be a real human being that turns up to work with strengths, weaknesses, interests and concerns. Don’t try to be perfect, but do try to become better. Be interested in others. Take the time to understand where they are coming from - their interests, even their hopes and dreams. Let people into your head. Share your thoughts and emotions. Sometimes the calm person can appear as if they don’t care enough. Sometimes trying to be friendly can appear flighty. Don’t let people have to guess where you’re coming from and what’s driving your behaviour - let them into your head. Be prepared to present your capabilities with confidence. Try to capture in one or two sentences what you bring and what makes you unique. Then think about how you present that authentic image of you to others. And lastly - get feedback. Ask people about how approachable you are, and what you might do to improve this. Ask for feedback about what makes you appear more and less competent. I hope you find these ideas helpful as you continue to improve the way you lead. As always, if you’re interested in the research, the references are listed in the transcript at our website - And thanks again for those who have taken the time to rate, review and share the podcast with others. It’s great to hear your feedback and to see the hundreds of people who are downloading the podcast each week. We’ll see you next week.   Research used for this episode: A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Fiske, Susan T; Cuddy, Amy J C; Glick, Peter; Xu, Jun.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; Washington Vol. 82, Iss. 6,  (Jun 2002): 878-902. Connect, Then Lead. To exert influence, you must balance competence with warmth. by Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffing. Harvard Business Review July–August 2013.      
Welcome to Midweek Motivate. The middle of the week can be tough for leaders. The goal of midweek motivate is to give you one practical idea that you can try for yourself or with your team right away. And this week we’re looking at making the first day at a new job great. The first day in a new job can feel quite overwhelming, but there are some simple things we can do as leaders to make the first day great. Here are some quick tips to try with new people joining your organisation: Make contact before the first day. Give the person a call the week before they start to let them know how excited you are that they are joining. Buddy new people up. Introduce the new person to someone within the organisation before they start. This allows them to ask the ‘stupid’ questions - what people tend to wear, what time people typically turn up - all of those questions can be answered before they start. Have everything ready. Technology, stationery, and any other resources they may need. I once started a new job and arrive to find an assortment of random boxes on my desk and no computer. I was told there were some delays with the technology and I would get a laptop the next week. I spent a whole week working on a Blackberry. Having everything ready communicates that you really care. Build connections. Set up some meetings to help the person get to know the organisation and key people. Be there. As a leader, show up. Make sure you’re physically there on their first day. This makes a real difference. Leave a small gift on their desk. Think about something you learned about the person during the selection process and give them a small gift that reflects that interest. That’s what people talk about with their friends. What are your tips for making the first day great? Send them to
Summary Entrance interviews beat exit interviews any day of the week. In this Leadership Today podcast we cover some questions to draw on the experiences and observations of new starters to improve our organisations.   Transcript Welcome to episode 56 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at the power of entrance interviews - drawing on the experiences and observations of new starters to improve our organisations. Last week we explored ways to improve exit interviews. However, it’s important not just to focus on those leaving our organisation - after all, they’ve already decided to move on. We need to also capitalise on those who are newer to our organisation and the fresh perspectives they bring. Think back to the last time you joined a new organisation. In those first few weeks you were hyper aware of what was different or unusual about the organisation - the positives, the negatives, and the just plain weird. The security access seems really tight, but people hold the door open for others all the time. People make an effort to introduce themselves and make others feel welcome. Meetings always start 10 minutes late. Most people setup their laptop and work on emails during meetings. There’s a buzz of excitement around the office. Or, it’s like a dentist waiting room in here - all I can hear is typing. Wouldn’t it be great to capitalise on these unique perspectives as people join your organisation? Like exit interviews, entrance interviews are a great opportunity to learn. But they’re even better than exit interviews because you can still course correct. You might even pick up some frustrations and reduce unwanted staff turnover along the way. I suggest undertaking entrance interviews at two points in time - 30 days and 90 days after joining. 30 days gives enough time to process what’s unique about the organisation before becoming fully entrenched. And 90 days provides additional time to experience some things for the first time. I think the two-up manager, the leader two levels above the person, is in a great position to undertake these interviews. It helps that leader to remain close to the experience of new people, while also building relationships and connections. They’re also a step further away from the day-to-day which may bring a different perspective to the discussion. The person’s direct manager could also be well suited to undertake the entrance interview. It’s important to frame the entrance interview as not being a test. You’re not putting the individual on trial here, and there aren’t right or wrong answers. This is genuinely an exercise to learn from their experiences and fresh perspective, and to make the organisation an even better place to work. Here are some questions I suggest for the entrance interview: What is unusual about this organisation? Here we’re trying to get at the unique attributes, both positive and negative. What’s exciting about working here? These are the aspects that could motivate and engage our people. What’s frustrating about working here? This allows us to identify potential impediments to performance. What surprised you about the role? Surprises aren’t always bad, so we want to draw out both the positive and the negative. How would you describe the culture? What does it feel like to work here? Listen carefully to the words used and the extent to which they align with your desired culture. What does it take to succeed here? What is rewarded? You might be surprised at what people see. You might think hard work is rewarded, but the new person sees friendships and connections as the way to get ahead. I think entrance interviews are a fantastic learning opportunity for leaders and organisations. They signal your interest in listening and improvement. Why not trial an entrance interview this week and let me know how you go. As a reminder, I’ve recently launched my three week Boost Your Assertiveness course. I’m offering the course to podcast listeners for 30% off. Check the show notes for the link -
Welcome to our fourth Midweek Motivate. The middle of the week can be tough for leaders. The goal of midweek motivate is to give you one practical idea that you can try for yourself or with your team right away. And this week we’re looking at doing less with less, but more of the right things. It’s a common expression - we need to do more with less. But I think it’s time to challenge that. Instead of doing more with less, maybe we need to do less with less, but more of the right things. The focus then shifts from activity and productivity, to importance and impact. Here are some things you can try this week: Look at your purpose. What really matters for you and for your role? And then apply that importance lens over the work you do. If there’s work that’s not important, then challenge whether you need to keep doing it. Be prepared to say ‘no’, or at least ‘let me think about it’. A key to doing less with less is to carefully consider any additional work being passed your way. For every new initiative, kill off an old initiative. The same goes for meetings. That’s a great way of testing just how important the new initiative or meeting is in the context of what you’re already committed to. Trial some new artificial constraints. How would we do this with fewer people? How would we do this in half the time? Innovation often requires constraints. Having all the time and resources in the world can actually reduce innovation. So this week, focus on doing less with less, but more of the right things. Look at your purpose, be prepared to say no, be prepared to kill off old initiatives, and trial some artificial constraints. Let me know how you go, and you can get in contact via the Leadership Today website - just go to the connect page - or you can email me directly Let me know how you go and have a great week.
Summary Exit interviews often stink. They end up being overly positive or overly negative. This week we explore seven ways to radically improve your exit interviews.   Transcript Welcome to episode 55 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at seven ways to radically improve exit interviews. Exit interviews are one of those things that vary in popularity and application. Some organisations use them every time someone leaves. Other organisations may have been burned in the past or not seen the value. The idea is great - let’s find out from people who are leaving the organisation why they’re leaving and what we can do to make the place better for the people who still work here. We can do that using a structured interview just before they depart to whatever exciting opportunity comes next in their career. In application though, the interviews tend to either be really positive or really negative. As a colleague of mine once wisely noted, you’re never more popular or better at your job than on your last day. We tend, rightly, to celebrate those who have contributed to our organisations on the day they are finishing up. We bring together a summary of their achievements, list all the great things we love about them, and talk about how much they will be missed. Friends come to the person and question how the place will ever be the same without them. All of that primes the person to say positive things in their exit interview. It turns into a “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation. The exit interview may well highlight lots of positives about the organisation, but probably understates the challenges and areas for improvement. On the other hand you have people leaving the organisation where something has gone wrong. They may be angry or frustrated. The exit interview for them is a way to be heard. In those exit interviews the tone is more “it’s not me, it’s you - and, by the way, I’ve set the stationery room alight”. Those exit interviews end up highlighting a shopping list of problems and complaints, often more about that person than the organisation. Whichever way the exit interview goes, there’s a risk that what we are hearing is not accurate. It seems like a missed opportunity to improve. If only we could source more honest feedback. Well, help has arrived. Here are seven tips for dramatically improving your exit interviews. 1. Never on the last day. It’s best to conduct your exit interview as close to the time when the person tells you that they are leaving. At that point their thinking is usually clear. They will be ready to provide honest answers about why they’ve chosen to move on. 2. Split the conversation into two. During the first discussion you can focus on the reasons for leaving. It’s helpful to schedule a second conversation that’s focused on improvements. That provides the person with more time to think about suggestions for improvement rather than putting them on the spot. 3. Balance the discussion. We can tend to dive into the negatives or try to pull out too many positives. Balance the conversations with questions such as: * What aspects of the role have you enjoyed the most? * What aspects of the role have you enjoyed the least? 4. Focus improvements on the role. This focus on the role helps people to be more open about improvements without feeling like they’re being overly critical about their experiences. You could ask: * What could be improved about the role for the next person to fill the position? 5. Explore missed opportunities. Discuss the areas where the organisation failed to draw the best out of the person: * Are there particular skills or abilities you have that could have been used more effectively? * How long did you intend to stay versus what you actually stayed for? * What will be different in the next role that your present position hasn’t been able to provide? 6. Perform a clarity check. Clarity of purpose and role is critical to success, and the following questions can help with that: * What was your experience of the role and its responsibilities? Was it what you expected? * How clear were the goals and accountabilities associated with your role? * Was the induction and training provided sufficient for you to perform the role? How could it be improved? 7. Keep the door open. If the person’s departure is genuinely a loss to the organisation, why not leave open the opportunity of them returning one day. You might ask: * Would you work for us again in the future? Why or why not? Applying these tips will help you to get the best out your exit interviews, while also making the process more positive for you and the person leaving. Keeping all of that in mind, wouldn’t it be great if we could gain some of the benefits of an exit interview earlier in the process? Next week we’re exploring entrance interviews - drawing on the experiences and observations of those who are newer to our organisations. As you might know I’ve recently launched my three week Boost Your Assertiveness course. I’m offering the course to podcast listeners for 30% off, taking the course cost down from $149 US to the weirdly precise $104.30 . Check the show notes for the link - Have a great week.
Welcome to our third Midweek Motivate. The middle of the week can be tough for leaders. The goal of midweek motivate is to give you one practical idea that you can try for yourself or with your team right away. And this week we’re looking at two ways that inserting a gap can help you as a leader.   Do you find you’re getting overloaded by the volume of requests coming to you? Do you find it hard to say ‘no’ in the moment? This can be pretty common for leaders. Saying ‘yes’ to requests early in our career can help us to advance. We’re seen as the go-to person who is keen to tackle anything. But, as we progress, effective leadership is often about what we say ‘no’ to.   One practical thing to try this week is to insert a gap between any requests made of you and your response. Even if they’re simple requests, ask for some time to think about it and get back to the person. If someone asks you “Can you run that report for me today?” you might say “Let me check what I have scheduled and I’ll get straight back to you”. That provides you with some time to think about the request and your capacity to complete it.   The second way inserting a gap can help is when we find ourselves having a strong emotional response at work. Rather than just speaking our mind in the moment, it can be helpful to take a quick walk around the block. And rather than firing off an email when we’re frustrated, we might save it as a draft to review the next day. Many a career has been saved by that simple tip.   So over the next few days think about inserting a gap to grab back control over your time and your emotions. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes.   Well hopefully you’re finding the midweek motivate helpful in boosting your motivation in that little midweek slump that we all tend to hit. If there’s any particular tips that you’ve found helpful why don’t you email them through to me. You can contact me at or you can go to the website and connect with me via the connect page. There are options to follow me on LinkedIn, join our Leadership Today facebook page, or send us a message. Have a great week and we’ll speak with you again next week.
Summary How are your listening skills? This week we’re looking at five tips to level up your listening.   Transcript Welcome to episode 54 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at five tips to level up your listening. Have you ever had that experience of talking to someone, only to notice that they’re not really paying attention? How are your listening skills? What’s the balance like between your speaking and listening? Listening is an essential part of effective leadership. Listening underpins core skills such as influencing and assertiveness. If we want to influence someone we need to know where we are influencing them from, not just where we want to influence them to. To do that effectively, we need to really listen to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. We need to listen to the content and also the emotion. So, rather than just give you some tips about listening, I’m going to test your listening skills through this podcast. During the podcast I’m going to ask you to complete a pretty simple addition of some numbers. Just keep track of the total as the podcast continues. And keep the number in your head - you’re not allowed to take notes. Okay, so we’re going to start with 1,000. It’s helpful to think about the common levels of listening. The first level is ignoring. To be fair, you could argue that this isn't really a level of listening. It's almost like actively not listening. Smart phones are great for this - if you've ever tried to have a conversation with someone while they play with their phone, you'll know exactly what I mean. +10. So you should have a total of 1,010, and that’s my last hint. The next level of listening is pretending. Here I'm trying to give the impression that I'm listening while I'm really not listening. I might nod my head occasionally, say 'mmm-hmmm', but people pick up really quickly when we're just pretending to listen. +1000 The next level up is selective listening. This is better than the previous two levels of listening, but still isn't great. Here we're listening to the other person, but just to elements of what they're saying. Maybe we're just hearing the parts we agree with, or we're listening out for things to disagree with. Either way, there's a whole lot of other information that we're missing out on when we listen selectively. +30 The fourth level of listening is listening to respond. Here my listening is attuned to opportunities to turn the conversation back to my interests. Or I'm listening to argue back, so am only really hearing part of what you're saying. I'm not asking questions unless they will help me to respond. +1000 The fifth and final level is listening to understand. Here my objective is to really understand your perspective. I'm asking open questions and confirming my understanding. I'm not worrying so much about the next question, but am making sure I'm concentrating on what you're saying. I'm listening not just to the words, but for the emotions behind the words. I'm keeping the conversation focused on you. +50 So we want to move our listening up these levels in order to have assertive and influential conversations. Our attention spans can often work against this. If you've ever listened to a podcast or audio book on double speed you will know exactly what I mean. +1000. Our brains can comfortably process verbal information coming at us at double speed. Which means, when someone is talking normal speed, it's tempting for us to try to divert some of our attention to other things. What should I have for dinner tonight? What meeting do I have coming up next? But we are actually not great at multi-tasking, and anything else we're thinking about will take us away from the task of listening to understand. +10 Okay - that’s all the numbers. What total did you end up with? Did you get 4,500? If so, unfortunately that’s not the correct answer. The correct answer is 4,100, but lots of people end up with 4,500 as their brains try to simplify the task and round up to the nearest 500. If you chose to perform the calculation through this podcast, you probably didn’t end up listening very well or calculating very well. It’s exactly the same when we’re distracted during every day conversations. Trying to think about something else while you’re also trying to listen means you’re probably not doing either very well. It’s far better to have a 10 minute conversation where you’re 100% listening than a 20 minute conversation where you’re 50% listening. Here are five simple tips to try out this week: 1. Paraphrase what you’ve heard back to the person. That demonstrates you’re really listening and also quickly uncovers any misunderstandings. 2. If you’re in a meeting, take notes. Note taking is a great way to maintain focus and summarise themes. 3. Don’t just listen to the facts, but also listen for emotion. How do you think the person is feeling? 4. Don’t worry about what’s next. Be comfortable formulating your next question once they’ve finished what they’re saying, rather than part way through. 5. Watch your body language. Make sure you’re facing the person and making eye contact. Nod occasionally to demonstrate your interest. Hopefully today’s podcast encourages you to pay attention to your listening in the coming week. If you liked today’s content, the levels of listening were drawn from my new Boost Your Assertiveness online course. You can find a link to the course via the website or in the show notes. I hope you found the content helpful and I look forward to speaking with you next week.
Midweek Motivate - Looper

Midweek Motivate - Looper


Welcome to our second Midweek Motivate. The middle of the week can be tough for leaders. The goal of midweek motivate is to give you one practical idea that you can try for yourself or with your team right away. Our workplaces are full of so many distractions. Loud conversations, noisy equipment and other background noise can distract us. People try to counteract this in lots of ways, and headphones are right up there as the distraction-reducing weapon of choice. I even saw someone once who had a large pair of over-ear headphones on with the cable dangling down to the ground - they didn’t even plug the headphones in, but used them as some kind of open plan hearing protection. So you have some deep focused work to get done and you’ve reached for the headphones. What next? The key here is to not replace one distraction with another. We humans are hopeless at multitasking, particularly when it comes to perception and concentration. It might be tempting to put on an audiobook or podcast but, despite my clearly vested interest in telling you otherwise, neither is a great idea. Our brains will be trying to decode the voices coming into our ears, and that will continue to distract us from our work. Okay - so if audiobooks and podcasts are out, what about music? Music is likely to be a better option, but not all music is created equal when it comes to concentration. Music with lots of lyrics, particularly unfamiliar music, again is likely to distract us. So a better option is to go for familiar music that doesn’t have lyrics. But that potentially sounds kind of boring. Another trick is to loop one song on repeat. Just pick a song you like to match the mood you want to be in while undertaking the deep work, and put it on single-track repeat. You will find that your brain quickly tunes out the music while it also buffers you from other distractions. Give it a try today and let me know how you go and let another colleague know about the podcast as well. Have a great week.
Summary In today’s episode, we outline the ten best podcasts for leaders in 2019.   Transcript Welcome to episode 53 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. As leaders, podcasts offer a tempting solution to continuing our professional development and keeping in touch with broader trends. We can simply pull on the headphones and learn about almost anything. But with over 700,000 active podcasts, it can be hard for a leader to know where to start. Fortunately I’ve done the heavy lifting for you, with today’s episode outlining the ten best podcasts for leaders in 2019. It’s important to note that these are the ten best podcasts for leaders - they’re not the ten best podcasts about leadership. Instead, they provide a broad range of perspectives, topics and approaches. You’re unlikely to love them all - there’s clearly an element of preferences around style and content. But if you pick up one or two new podcasts then hopefully this episode has served its purpose. And, for the pedantic, I’m actually going to list 14 podcasts - there were a few ties along the way. I have links to all of the podcasts in the show notes. So, for dramatic effect, I’m going to start at number 10 and work my way up. As leaders it’s important to challenge our perspectives and broaden our thinking, which brings me to number 10. 10 - Akimbo by Seth Godin Seth Godin is one of the most popular and successful authors and bloggers of our time, producing content at a frenetic pace. It’s a little hard to tie his Akimbo podcast down, but he’s bound to challenge your thinking and bring new perspectives to the way you lead. There’s a solid 15% of what he says that I tend to either disagree with or think he has gotten completely wrong. And there’s a solid 15% that makes me think about the world in a completely new way, so that seems like a fair trade off. Episodes vary dramatically in length from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. Teamwork, engagement and culture are rich topics to explore and it’s helpful to have a seasoned expert to guide the way. And who better to that than Patrick Lencioni at number 9. 9 - At The Table with Patrick Lencioni Patrick is a well known author of books including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The podcast is setup as a chat between Pat and a few of his work colleagues. The format is pretty casual and relatively new, so they’re still bedding down the style a little bit. Episodes are around 30 to 40 minutes. People are diverse and difficult to understand, but having deep insight into what motivates and drives others is a key part of leadership. That’s where podcast number 8 comes in handy. 8 - Hidden Brain from NPR. Hosted by Shankar Vedantam, this podcast is a gem which combines science and storytelling to uncover the often subtle forces that drive our behaviour. Always thought provoking and really well produced. Episodes range from 25 minutes up to an hour. Setting up workplaces that are engaging and motivating is what leaders do to achieve results, and that’s the focus of podcast number 7. 7 - WorkLife with Adam Grant from TED. As an organisational psychologist, Adam’s podcast focuses on motivation and meaning at work. He’s a university professor and the author of several books, including cowriting the excellent Option B with Sheryl Sandberg. Get your thumb ready to skip past the adverts, but otherwise it’s well worth adding to your list. Episodes are released in seasons and are around 30 to 45 minutes. We operate within a broader economic and historical landscape, and our number 6 podcast combines both. 6 - 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy - BBC World Service To be honest, history and economics were two subjects I wasn’t great at, but Tim Harford combines the two brilliantly. Each week he explores an aspect of our modern economy by focusing on an invention or discovery that changed the path of business and human life. Episodes come in around 10 minutes. How do you get the best out of your day? That’s where number 5 comes in. 5 - How I Work - Amantha Imber If you enjoy listening to me each week, then why not add another Australian psychologist to your podcast playlist. Amantha’s podcast is typically interview based, with some shorter tip-based episodes. The focus is on personal productivity - how successful people from a range of backgrounds get the most out of their day. That ranges from musicians to entrepreneurs and even a magician. Interview episodes are around 50 minutes and come out weekly. Economics doesn’t have to be boring, as the two podcasts at number 4 demonstrate. 4 - Planet Money - NPR AND Freakonomics Planet Money is one of the podcasts I enjoy the most. A really interesting take on economics presented in an engaging way. The show has fantastic hosts and a great format. Freakonomics builds off the success of the book by the same name. Again, an interesting take on economics. It can be a bit hit and miss, so it’s worth working through the enormous back catalogue to pick out topics of interest. Either are great ways to build your confidence as a leader around economic trends. Planet Money is around 20 minutes, and Freakonomics is around 40 minutes to an hour. Maybe you need some practical leadership tips. Our two podcasts that tied at number 3 can help you there. 3 - Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast AND Lead to Win with Michael Hyatt Craig Groeschel is a prominent leadership speaker who is also the founder of a large multi-site church in the US. He presents really practical content that’s equally applicable in business and not for profit settings. If you’re after practical leadership advice, the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast is hard to beat. Another one to check out is Lead to Win. Again, some great practical content, although a little heavy on the self-promotion at times. Both are around 25 minutes. Keeping up to date with the latest news can be hard, particularly if you want to take a broader view. The two podcasts at number 2 are designed to do exactly that. 2 - The Inquiry - BBC World Service AND Economist Radio - Economist When it comes to taking a global perspective, it’s hard to beat the BBC and the Economist. The Inquiry is topical and comes out weekly, whereas Economist Radio comes out on weekdays and covers several stories. As leaders it’s challenging to step out of our own organisations and take a truly global context. Either podcast will help you to do that. It’s fantastic to learn from the experiences of people who have grown successful organisations, which brings us to number one - which is, again, a tie. 1 - How I Built This with Guy Raz AND Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman You should give both of these podcasts a go. How I Built This provides fascinating background to entrepreneurs and their journeys to build successful businesses. The episode with James Dyson is a great place to start. My only complaint is that they do throw in quite a few reruns into your podcast feed without marking them up as reruns. Masters of Scale is incredibly well produced, drawing together interesting guests into well formulated stories around a theme. Episodes range from about 40 minutes to an hour. So, as you’re likely to hear on each of the podcasts I’ve recommended, why not help others to find this podcast by providing a rating and review. It does help us to creep up the charts which in turn helps others to find us. And finally, a couple of pieces of news from Leadership Today. We have just launched the Midweek Motivate. If you already subscribe to the Leadership Today podcast it’s a bonus episode that will turn up in your feed every Wednesday. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, why not just click on the subscribe button now. The goal is to provide one practical tip that you can apply right away to help get over that midweek leadership slump. And our Boost Your Assertiveness three week online course is live. Go to to check out a free preview of the first two days of content.
Welcome to our first Midweek Motivate. As the name suggests, these episodes come out in the middle of the week - right at the point where your enthusiasm as a leader may be starting to dip. The goal of midweek motivate is to give you one practical idea you can try for yourself or with your team right away.  Our main Leadership Today episodes that come out on Saturdays are short - coming in at under 8 minutes each. But midweek motivate is even shorter, so let’s get into today’s topic - removing frustrations. Even the most engaged employee can become undone by frustrations. Those annoying obstacles that get in between our motivation and our performance. It might be the computer that needs rebooting, a clunky process that takes way too long, or a colleague who seems to be working against us rather than with us. Tools, processes and people - so many opportunities for frustrations. But your most engaged team members probably don’t want to speak to you about their frustrations. They don’t want to be seen as negative or complaining. So they take all these small frustrations and put up with them for as long as they can, until it all explodes. I had a team member whose computer keyboard had an unreliable letter T. If they typed a word with the letter T in it, sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn’t work. How frustrating is that? They had gone to IT but they didn’t have any spare keyboards. So they just put up with it - day after day after day. That is until we had our monthly meeting, and I asked one simple question. “Is there anything that’s frustrating or getting in your way at the moment?”. 30 minutes later I was back from the local stationery store with a new keyboard. But what if I hadn’t asked the question? So this midweek motivate challenge is to ask that very question of one of your colleagues or team members - “Is there anything that’s frustrating or getting in your way at the moment?”. Then listen, provide suggestions, or just help them to get it out of their way. Give it a try and let me know how you go.
SUMMARY This week we’re looking at research that demonstrates faking extraversion as a way to boost well-being. Seriously - what’s all that about? And what might it mean for leaders?   TRANSCRIPT Welcome to episode 52 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at research that demonstrates faking extraversion as a way to boost well-being. There is a well established link between the personality trait of extraversion and positive affect. That is, the more extraverted someone is, the greater their positive feelings and broader well-being. Now, I’ll just pause there to allow time for our introverted half of the audience click on unsubscribe. But as the cigarette company funded Hans Eysenck demonstrated, extraverts are more likely to smoke and over eat, so it’s not all smooth sailing on the other side of the fence. I’ll pause there to allow time for the remainder of my audience to also click on unsubscribe. Okay - so our personality preferences all come with benefits and draw backs. But exploring the potential benefits of acting more extraverted on well-being is a legitimate area of study. Well, as of August 2019, the initial results are in. The researchers from the University of California proposed that behaving in an extraverted way should provide a short-term boost in well-being. How did they get people to act more introverted and extraverted? Well, they actually had each person do both. Participants were split into two groups, with half instructed to behave like an extravert for a week, then as an introvert for a week, with the other half doing the opposite. The participants completed various assessments along the way. In the extraverted week participants were asked to act as talkative, assertive and spontaneous as they could. In the introverted week they were asked to act as deliberate, quiet and reserved as they could. During the extraverted week, people saw a significant increase in well-being. This included higher ratings of positive affect, connectedness and flow. The researchers also found that asking people to behave in an introverted way decreased well-being. These findings are similar to other research quoted in the study where people commuting to work on trains and buses were asked to either speak with a stranger or remain silent. Those who spoke with strangers saw a boost to their positive feelings, while those who remained silent didn’t. But what makes the difference? Was it being talkative, being assertive, or being spontaneous? And do I really need to act outside my personality preference to get the well-being benefits linked to extraversion? After reading the study, I think these behavioural changes are all possible without working outside of our personality preference. You can be more assertive while still being introverted. It’s a behaviour. You can make a greater effort to connect with other people while still being introverted. Again, it’s a behaviour. And you can choose to be more spontaneous and adventurous while still being introverted. I believe it’s better to think of these as generally beneficial activities and ways of interacting, rather than attempts to change our personalities. I think one of the key takeaways from this research for leaders is the importance of building connections with others. That, independent of our personality preference for introversion or extraversion, we all need other people and we all want to belong. One of the leadership styles I explore with groups is what I call Connecting. This isn’t just about connecting directly with individuals you lead, it’s also about helping those you lead to make connections with others across the organisation. This helps to provide support while also boosting a sense of belonging, just like those people on the bus or train taking the time to talk with a stranger. As leaders, we can boost well-being and performance by using a Connecting leadership style. The other key takeaway is helping people to boost their assertiveness - being able to explore other’s perspectives while also presenting my own views and opinions clearly and confidently. If you want to learn more about that, you can check out episode 6 on Assertiveness, and you can also keep an eye out for my online Boost Your Assertiveness course which I’m currently trialing prior to a September launch. But as a leader, I can encourage people to share their views, and also take the time to listen to alternative views. We can boost the assertiveness in our organisations, not just in our people. If you’re interested in exploring the benefits of introversion, I recommend Susan Cain’s excellent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. She also has a great TED talk which I’ve linked to in the show notes. There are benefits from talking less and listening more. I think it’s entirely possible to work on our listening at the same time as we work on building connections and assertiveness. Unlike extraversion and introversion, they’re not opposite ends of a scale. Now, I came across the research on extraversion and well-being via the excellent British Psychological Society Research Digest. I highly recommend checking that out and I’ve provided a link in the show notes.   REFERENCES Susan Cain TED talk - The Power of Introverts. Susan Cain - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. British Psychological Society Research Digest - Margolis, S., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2019, August 1). Experimental Manipulation of Extraverted and Introverted Behavior and Its Effects on Well-Being. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication.
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