Going Limbic

Years ago I worked for a business which fairly dramatically went from a period of great prosperity into sharp decline of revenues.  The leadership of the business, who had been used to leading growth had little experience of what to do in such a crisis.  All of a sudden leaders who had been visionary and inspiring became indecisive and autocratic at the same time.

A highly insightful colleague described the leadership as having “Gone Limbic”.  Meaning that instead of applying their usually cerebral thinking approach to the problem, they were, in effect, panicking.

I am sure most of us have had the experience of “going limbic” at some time.  Something highly stressful triggers an emotional reaction which makes it hard or impossible to think. Tasks or evaluations that we would normally take in our stride become challenging or impossible and our decision making is seriously impaired.

If we are sufficiently self aware when such an experience occurs we may be able to calm ourselves down and get a better grip on the situation.  If we have had similar experiences before we may even have some techniques we can use.

In a business situation where an extreme reversal takes place and the whole management team are pitched into a steep change curve that they had not anticipated, the whole team can “go limbic.”  When this occurs in a group it is very difficult for any individual to simply calm things down and create the opportunity for rational thought.

If the team do “go limbic”  they will be highly susceptible to the first thing that comes along to ease their fear or stress.  So when someone suggests cutting 10% of headcount unilaterally, and the first pass of the numbers seem to back up the idea, a measure like this can be accepted quickly without ever being rationally considered in terms of the implications for the brand, the culture or the long term.

The antidote to precipitated action is preparation.  A management team that know each other well and trust each other deeply will be far less susceptible to going limbic and will be far better equipped to regain self control if they do.  If you can add in deep self knowledge, so that each individual knows themselves, their own responses to stress and how to deal with it, the “group think” element can also be diminished.

In a team building project I will usually use some personality profiling tools to help build knowledge of self and each other.  I will also help each individual  articulate their purpose, vision and values using the exercise based on the process in this e-book.  We will then develop a purpose, vision and set of values for the team, by integrating those of each individual. (In a larger organisation this will be complimentary to the purpose, vision and values of the whole).

When each individual in the management team, and indeed the whole organisation, can see the organisation as a platform for achieving their own vision and values in alignment with the business purpose, motivation and commitment shifts to a whole new level.  For the team, understanding each others’ purpose, vision and values is an important part of knowing each other and building trust.

Typically we also do some work to understand the nature of leadership and teamwork and how they interact with one another.   Shifting from a hierarchical world view to one where leadership is seen as something dynamic that moves around the team to where it is relevant in the moment, depending on skills, relationships, state of mind or whatever might be appropriate to a situation.

We also build the understanding that the role of leadership is situational. A leader has absolute responsibility for ensuring that the vision, strategy, team membership, roles and responsibilities and ways of working are articulated and understood, without having to be the author of any of them.  Once these strategic elements are in place the role of the leader is both to be the clearest living embodiment of the vision and the values and to get out of the way – unless and until there is a real need for their support with a specific challenge.

Such an intervention might take two days of management time and as well as dramatically improving team effectiveness it significantly reduces the risk of the team going limbic when things go wrong.

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Neil Crofts
authentic business
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http://www.neilcrofts.com

Posted in coaching and training, Leadership | Tagged | 1 Comment

What did we learn from Nelson Mandela?

Typically when we are dissatisfied with a particular strategy or outcome in business or politics our first call is to change (or seek to change) the leader.

Too often when we are successful in this process the replacement leader is little better than the previous one.

Unusually this was not the case with Nelson Mandela.

What set Mandela apart from the majority of leaders is that he was humble, empathetic and authentic.  Most of the leaders that we select, elect and promote are not this.  Far more typically they are self serving and narccisistic.

It is a fundamental flaw of our democratic system that the people most likely to step up and say “vote for me” are also those most likely to be self serving and narcissistic.  In other words they are unlikely to be the sort of leader who is committed to serving the community.

Few of our businesses are democratic, they operate in a far more feudal model with a “King” at the top and fawning courtiers around them.  The whole culture of leadership in these “Totalitarian Plutocracies” (To quote my friend Roger Steare) is one of self service.  This works to an extent because the interests of the CEO and courtiers and the interests of the Board and  Chairman who appoint the CEO are quite closely aligned with each other.  And often quite poorly aligned with those of staff, customers and the general population.

In business this model only changes when the corporation does something so catastrophically wrong that regulation, shareholders and the board insist on a long term rather than short term approach for long enough to make a difference.

In politics it very rarely changes.  Even when an authentic leaders is elected (think Barak Obama), they cannot resist the inherent corruption of the system, in spite of their sincere and substantial efforts.

In my work, I often come across talented, humble and authentic leaders.  They rise to a certain level and then stop.  The reason they stop is precisely because of their humility, they don’t have the arrogance to believe that their business or organisation needs them as a leader.  They see others, more arrogant and aggressive, stepping up first.  They see that all of their role models for leadership are aggressive and arrogant and that is not how they are or want to be.

If we want to be sustainable as a society.  It we want a political system and business system that serves the society rather than itself we need to learn to elect, select and promote only the humble and authentic.

They won’t be obvious and they may well be reluctant.  We must learn not to choose the anyone as a leader who wants to be one.

The other side of this coin is that if you don’t want to lead in business or politics that may be precisely why you should consider it.  If you don’t have a vision for the future, but would be prepared to work with people to articulate it.  If you don’t believe that you know all of the answers, but would be willing to trust the judgement of others, If you would be willing to be vulnerable in pursuit of a vision and for what you believe in ; you may be precisely the kind of leader that we need.

Mandela ended up leading not because he wanted to, but because he had to.  Do you need to wait for things to get worse before you allow yourself to lead?

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Neil Crofts
authentic business
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http://www.neilcrofts.com

 

Posted in Leadership | 2 Comments

From binary to unity

We live in a world defined by the binary, Where decisions about what to do and how to do it are based on a simple good vs bad equation. In business too many decisions are binary. For example does it make more money = yes and does it cost more money = no.

Food, holidays, clothes and many other things are sold to us on the same binary basis. We are somehow infected with the belief that a meal that costs us less money is preferable than one that costs more. This assumes that we have something more satisfying to do with that money than feed and clothe ourselves.

The low cost of some products comes at a high price. Through a process called “externalisation” many business seek to place the burden of their expenses outside the business, so that they can sell cheap products to us. It is externalisation that leads to the expense being born by the environment, by impoverished workers and by society as a whole.

When a business allows a factory to pollute a river or the air rather than spend money on clean processes and filters it externalises the cost to society.

Binaryism imagines that there is an outside. That there is a place or a time or a people that are separate form here, now and us. This is a fiction.

Unity is about accepting the oneness and wholeness. We are all part of the same whole in space and time. There is no outside. What we take for ourselves is taken from another person or time or place.

If we operate within unity we can see our role as a contributor. The way we contribute is with our minds and our hearts, with love and compassion. The way we receive is by being open to the love and the compassion of others.

It is not so much about what we do, but how and why.

The creativity of our minds, the care of our hearts and the energy of the Sun are abundant resources, for our purposes they are infinite. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a choice have a responsibility to harness these infinite resources for the health and wellness of the whole.

As W Edwards Demming said – “Survival is not mandatory”, if we prove ourselves unworthy of our level of responsibility for life on earth the responsibility will pass to others who are more responsible.

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Neil Crofts
authentic business
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http://www.neilcrofts.com

Posted in Leadership, society, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A revolution in leadership

Here is the thesis

As I mentioned in my last blog, I am thinking of a new book. I want to share the thesis of this now book because I want to find interesting case studies and examples and I would love your help in identifying them.

Essentially the idea is that the reason we so often end up with narcissists as leaders is partly because as a society we are addicted to heroes. You can see it as far back as ancient Greece, Rome and Norse gods, who were essentially the heroes who would come and save us.

Most religions, including the monotheistic ones, build on this with the idea of a saviour and today fiction, especially children’s fiction, is packed with heroes who will come and save us.

The implication of allowing heroes to take responsibility for saving us is that we don’t have to do it ourselves.

The other part of this that narcissists will nearly always step up to lead before a more authentic and humble leader, because they have an inflated and often unrealistic idea of their own capabilities. Narcissists as leaders are exciting, they can get a great deal done, they take responsibility away from others and they are ultimately flawed, because their agenda is essentially themselves and they are unable to admit their mistakes and therefore to learn.

More humble and potentially far better leaders, frequently actively step back to allow a narcissist to lead and most frustratingly of all, when a humble leader does step up, they are often treated like narcissists anyway and risk buying in to the narcissistic/hero leadership stereotype.

The consequences of our addiction to narcissist/hero leaders surround us and include virtually all of the main challenges we face as a society.

The solution is a seismic shift in our ideas of leadership and an acceptance of our own responsibility and leadership. Specifically the way that we select, elect and promote leaders in business, politics and other institutions of our society needs to move away from choosing based on those who believe that they can do the job. Our democratic process is almost designed to favour thick skinned, self promoting narcissists with unrealistic self belief over the humble and enquiring who want to build and empower a truly effective team to do the job.

We need to begin teaching great leadership skills to kids at school and at university. So that young people learn to self knowledge and how to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of others, how to assemble an effective and appropriate team, how to coach and empower team mates and how to inspire and align their colleagues around a project, a set of values and an ethos.

The difficulty with finding the case studies is precisely that humble leaders are humble and therefore they don’t often stand out and are much harder to identify as being revolutionary. Therefore, I am asking for your help in identifying leaders and cultures that are humble, authentic and revolutionary. I am interested in any organisational culture, so it could be business or sports or in the public sector. If you know of such an organisation or a piece of research please share it with me and I will do my best to do justice to this important message.

Thank you so much.

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Neil Crofts
authentic business
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Posted in Leadership | 6 Comments

Magic Monday

I am sorry that my postings have become quite irregular of late, let me explain.

In 2001 I started this adventure in Authentic Business and leadership with a vision that one day I would bring authenticity to the top level of a globally significant corporation.  I feel incredibly fortunate and privileged to be able to say that I am now doing that and have been since about May.

Not only has this work taken up a great deal of my time, especially on Mondays somehow, but it has also made writing my blog seem less relevant, somehow.

There have been a couple of side effects to these things:

Firstly, achieving a vision can be a risky thing for any business, it can lead to a loss of direction.  To avoid this I have had to work on a new vision.  My new vision is to be able to work as a non-exec director in a globally significant business with a specific remit around culture and leadership.  I don’t even know if such roles exist yet, but the nature of a vision is that we don’t know how to achieve it, if we knew how to achieve it, it would be an objective.

Secondly, writing my blog every week has absorbed all of my creative needs and meant that I didn’t feel any need to wrote another book.  Since my pause in blogging, I have started to think about another book.  Equally, I don’t know how (or if) I will achieve it, but this one will be about our societies habit of promoting, electing and selecting narcissists as leaders and exploring the benefits of choosing more humble and inclusive people to lead us.

I will continue to keep the blog open, but it will be less regular in future.

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Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
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Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Who would you “sacrifice” for?

This last weekend has been a huge weekend for cycling in London and Surrey.  A city criterium on Saturday followed by a mass participation ride (16,000) and a pro race on Sunday.  Cycling has come a long, long way since I used to ride the same roads 15 to 20 years ago.  In those days we were a brave band of eccentrics willing to do our own counter cultural thing.  These days it feels very much that cycling is “the new golf”.  We even went to a birthday party on Friday night where most of the guests were participating in the Sunday ride.  I didn’t officially, I was too late to enter, although I did join in for  few miles close to where we live – it was a pretty crowded.

Later, I watched the pro race and I was struck (again) by the work of what are known as “domestiques”, the riders who, in cycling parlance, sacrifice their own chances for their team leader.  These riders will ride in the wind for long periods, tiring themselves out if the team has a rider they believe could win.

Those leaders work hard to build credibility with their team mates, because their willingness to sacrifice is closely related to their belief in their leader and their leaders ability to win the race.  It is a strictly enforced tradition in cycling that the leader shares the prize money with their team mates and does their best to share the glory in post race interviews as well.

The point of all this cyclobabble is the analogy with business leadership.  Who would you “sacrifice” for?  What kind of leader would it take to put in a level of discretionary effort that cost you in some way?  And are you that kind of leader yourself?  Do you generate that kind of loyalty in your colleagues?

To be a leader we need, not only to treat people well, communicate excellently and provide clarity of direction, we also need to inspire people with our ability to succeed for the team in a way that is meaningful for the team.  In cycling it is obvious enough that succeeding means winning races, but what is meaningful success in business?

In the ’80s and 90′s profit, growth, revenue and beating the competition appeared to work for many people.  Today we seem to need a far more nuanced version of success – for example the CEO of VW specifies that their target to be the words number one car maker by 2018 includes being number one in employee satisfaction.

Embodying the vision is a key part of leadership – whether the vision is to win the Tour de France or a cultural shift in a business.  Leaders do not need to be the author of the vision, but they do need to be the fullest expression of it’s possibility.  And, as I have said before, leaders need to initiate and to have followers.  If you can do all of those things you maybe on the way to creating something amazing.  Equally if you can see someone doing those things are you inspired to follow?  Are you inspired to sacrifice?  If you are, you may also be on the way to creating something amazing.

If you think this is helpful – please share it as widely as you can. A world with great leaders would be a better place.

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Neil Crofts
authentic business
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Posted in Leadership | Tagged | Leave a comment

Lessons in leadership

The last few weeks have been very busy working on a huge cultural transformation project for a major global business, (and a weeks holiday) so apologies if you missed a few posts.  Inevitably the nexus of cultural transformation rests on leadership.  Leadership defines culture.

Whether this is done through conscious choices about the desired culture and the style of leadership required to achieve it, or through taking unconscious choices and just ending up with a culture, the culture is still defined by leadership.

Who are the leaders?  How do they behave?  What behaviour is tolerated?  What behaviour is encouraged?  How are people motivated?  Who is recruited?  Who is retained?  Who is disciplined?  Who leaves and why?  These are just some of the choices that leaders make that define the culture of an organisation.

Like the Costa Concordia sinking a few years ago, the Spanish railways are seeking to place the blame for a disastrous accident on an individual.  It is entirely impossible that this individual was fully responsible for the accident.  Who hired them?  Who trained them?  Who set the reward structure?  Who set and communicated the rules and the sanctions?  Just as it is nearly impossible to claim all of the credit for anything it is equally impossible to apportion all of the blame to an individual.

Unless leadership are able to see their complicity in failures as well as successes, they will not be able to learn and will always be vulnerable to the next failure as well as finding it difficult to repeat success.

Recently I was very struck by a TED talk by Eric Li.  In the talk Eric challenges our assumptions about the advantages and disadvantages of the Chinese and democratic political systems.  In order to be a leader at the top of the Chinese political system, the aspirant has to have started at the bottom.  They have to have proved themselves at multiple levels, starting at the community or village level and working their way slowly through the ranks, the numbers being filtered and reduced on merit at each promotion.  Those who get to the top of the system are highly experienced and skilled administrators and leaders.

By contrast in a democratic system, the most important skill in getting to the top is electability – not leadership or administration.  In the UK at least there is almost complete separation between local government and national government, serving on a local council is not a required step on the way to high office.  Imagine if it were – if aspiring MPs had to serve 5 years in local government before they were allowed to stand for national government.

What we suffer in business and in government are not failures of the system – capitalism or democracy, but failures of leadership.  I remember that there used to be a debate about whether leadership could be taught, or whether it was innate.    My view today is that it has to be taught.  What we think of as innate leaders, far to often are narcissists, who are always willing to put themselves forward and make decisions, because that is what narcissists do, and the rest of us let them.

Leadership, especially great leadership, is a skill.  It requires deep self knowledge and the humility to care for, empower, follow and recognise others.  It also requires considerable drive, courage and an ability to listen and communicate well.  It can be learnt and it should be taught at all levels of our society.  Leadership is not a skill for an elite few, but an essential, core skill for anyone willing to embrace it.    We all make the choice to lead or not in a number of different situations every day, imagine the difference if we felt confident to decide to lead in more of those situations.

If you think this is helpful – please share it as widely as you can. A world with great leaders would be a better place.

Please share your ideas, comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

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Neil Crofts
authentic business
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Posted in Leadership, society | 4 Comments