Friday, April 19, 2013

Jealousy - a nasty example of The Almond Effect®

You can control your amygdala with practice

I was once a jealous person. My father was an extremely jealous man, and used to wrongly accuse my mother of infidelity. He made vicious attacks on my mother, both physical and verbal. 

Though I swore I would never be like my father, I found that I did get jealous easily, and without justification.

One frightening day, many years ago, an outburst of jealousy nearly cost me the most precious relationship in my life. That was the turning point, the crisis that made me realise that I had to manage my fear of rejection, which was what my jealousy was really all about. 

My amygdala was reacting to a perceived, and absolutely baseless, threat that I might be left for another woman.

However, I realised that if I could learn to stall my brain's instant emotional reaction (The Almond Effect), that would give the thinking part of my brain, the pre-frontal cortex, time to click in. 

I would remember then that there was nothing to be jealous about, that my reaction was totally inappropriate, and hopefully I would be able to keep my act together.

Easier said than done

Easier said than done of course, but I was determined. 

I started to really notice the situations when jealousy tugged at my heart. When this happened, I concentrated on saying to myself: ‘You have nothing to be afraid of.'

It was a long road. It took more than six months of hard work to learn not to react. I still feel a twinge of jealousy occasionally, but it no longer controls me. I'm in control of that feeling now and it no longer threatens my relationship.

I'm telling you this because it may take time for you to be able to learn to control your Almond Effect®, however it shows up in your life. Don't be hard on yourself if you find it hard to change your ‘usual' reaction.

Just keep on practising, and ask yourself what else you could do to manage The Almond Effect®? Give yourself a pat on the back for even trying, and a huge reward when you succeed.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why should I change if the boss doesn't?

A colleague of mine works for a training company that offers time management solutions. I wrote about her several years ago and, even though she's risen up the ranks, I can't believe it but she still has the same problem - this time with her CEO.

My colleague's company offers software solutions and trains employees to manage their time more effectively to improve productivity and performance. It's amazing how popular these courses are even though they've been around for decades.

So, can you imagine how my colleague felt when her boss, now the CEO, said he just didn't have time to meet with her to go through her performance review and career development plan! She felt like she was in a time warp!

Common reasons for failure

Our conversation set me thinking about why so many change efforts still stall or lose momentum. One of the most common reasons remains congruency or consistency (or lack of it) by the so called leaders.

For example, let's say you decide that to increase your competitiveness in a cut-throat market, your organization's culture is holding you back.

Despite the kick in the guts created by the global financial crisis, the culture remains inward looking and process driven.

To survive, the company must become outward looking and customer focused across all its operations and not just at the customer interface.

So the company embarks on the change process. It restructures; it retrains staff and starts on a culture change program.

Yet despite the clear reasons why the culture must change and past behaviors and responses examined, many members of senior management continue to resort to short term expediency of cutting costs rather spending time on a careful well conceived approach to obtain and deliver the necessary strategic outcomes. 

They haven't learned to manage The Almond Effect® yet!

So the company starts a cost cutting exercise. Senior management even visits the front line to drive the cost-cutting message in person.

What's the result?

However staff are confused by the mixed messages; the company remains inward looking, there is still no focus on the customer. Nothing seems to have changed over a decade.

Leaders should set the pace

During times of change and pressure, people always look to their leaders to set the pace and show the way.

Psychologically we are designed to respond positively or at least neutrally, to consistency. When things don't turn out the way we expect based on our brain's hard-wired patterns, that's when The Almond Effect® can happen.

Comedians play on this and make us laugh by delivering a line we can't predict. You can't see it coming. But in a comic situation, you know it's safe and not a threat.

Inconsistency is acceptable in some situations but what most people want in the workplace is to know what's coming next and to be able to rely on their leaders. People believe what they see, not what is said. They want leaders they can trust.

I have never met an employee yet who says, "I love the way I don't know how the boss is going to react. It's great that it is never the same."

If you can remember back many years, just consider your reaction and the reaction of the American people to the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky debacle. It's still talked about.

Most people did not care too much about the fact that the then President had an affair. What started to shift opinions were his inconsistent statements. That inconsistency, not the affair, almost cost him the Presidency and most certainly impacted on the level of trust in him by the American people.

Beware the silent saboteur

If leaders "don't practice what they preach" or "walk their talk", their people don't trust them. When that happens, people become cynical, unresponsive to change and at worst become 'silent saboteurs'.

We know there is a problem and the change isn't going according to plan but we just can't seem to put our finger on it.

A major challenge for leaders of change is they must have the resilience, tenacity and clarity of vision to shake off the old and focus on the new. In complex and difficult change situations, it's easy to fall back into the old ways of doing things when the going gets tough.

What can management do?

So what does a CEO and the management team need to do to change the culture and bring about any changes in attitude or behaviors to a new way of doing business?

Try this list for to start with:

Get out there and communicate:

  • The business reasons for change - why change is necessary. This is one of the top reasons why people don't get on board - they have no convincing answer to the question: Why should I change
  • Create urgency- show the extreme pressure to change coming from outside the organization 
  • Validate the way the organization has been to date and their role in it
  • Describe the new vision and scope - what will it be like after change - define it from perspective of the listener
  • Identify what is not changing
  • Explain the change process - the initiatives and timelines
  • Let them know what changes can be expected and when
  • Describe the problems they might experience
  • Explain the impact of not changing
  • Don't blame the past or people
  • Answer the WIFM question and "How will this affect me? ‘What am I expected to do?'

And ensure that all your influencers at whatever level act consistently and congruently with all the change messages that are being sent. If they do not, move them out of your company or to a position of no influence, direct or indirect.

Can you step up?

This is a big job, not for the feint hearted. But for leaders who realise that this is the most important role of the leader, your reward will be to join the small and exclusive list of leaders who have successfully taken their organizations to the next level.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Managing upwards

Can you talk comfortably with your CEO and senior management?

Can you relate to this?

Sue recently wrote to me:

"I wonder why we sometimes avoid speaking with people our senior at work? 

When I changed positions and organisations I vowed that I would be more open to people my senior in the workplace. This was for two reasons: first to be more approachable and second to further my career by being 'top of mind' so to speak. But again this hasn't happened very easily. I still avoid speaking with the CEO, so is it to do with a fear of rejection of some sort?

In one position I had held for a long time I had no fear of the CEO and ended up doing an interview with them for an assignment I was doing about leadership styles. I felt very comfortable in that organisation and had a good depth of knowledge so was very much an 'expert in my field'.

But I would like to be able to join an organisation and feel comfortable speaking with seniors even without a so called 'expert' hat on.

I wondered if you could shed some light on this, or whether other people may have approached you with the same issue."

How's your EQ?

As I read through Sue's email, a number of thoughts were running through my mind. My first response is ‘well done Sue' for recognising that her ‘fear' and discomfort may not only make some work relationships uncomfortable but also could be career limiting.

There is no doubt in my mind that success and indeed strong leadership at work is built on good relationships and the capacity to have them. This depends on the ability to communicate well with people at all levels of the organisation up, down and laterally.

To make the journey up the career ladder, expertise and skill are essential but are, in my view, simply the platform from which other much more important capabilities must spring or develop.

I am, of course, talking about emotional intelligence. Most readers will know that the core skills of EQ are:

  • the ability to recognise what emotions we are experiencing and when;
  • how they impact us and others, and to manage both those impacts;
  • to recognise what emotions others are experiencing;
  • to understand how that might be affecting them; and then
  • to take all that information into account in whatever decisions are made and/or actions carried out.

EQ also involves resilience, motivation and persistence. I think that a heap of courage is also involved particularly in situations like Sue's.

Check out your amygdala

Sue is certainly sufficiently self-aware to know that an emotion, probably fear but there could be others, is impacting her ability to develop rapport with people her senior at work. Her next step is to see where that is coming from and then to manage it.

Sue says she has had both successful and not so successful experiences with CEOs before. When it was successful, Sue said she had no fear and "was very much an 'expert in my field'". So is it fear of not being seen as having expertise that is holding Sue back?

We know that The Almond Effect® can cause us to react inappropriately or retreat from an invalidly perceived threat.

So Sue should be looking into the emotions she is experiencing and asking ‘Where did that come from?' In fact to assist her, I'm going to send Sue a copy of my e-book Where Did That Come From? How To Stay In Control In Any Situation. Proven Tips To Manage The Almond Effect®

Of course, I would encourage Sue to continue to build her expertise.

See them as a person first

In addition my advice to Sue would be to stop thinking about the title or level that someone has in the organisation. Instead train yourself to see them first and foremost as people with jobs to do.

When Sue meets these people, she should take a genuine interest in what they are doing; ask or say something about that and think of/suggest ways in which she can help them achieve their goals. Sue can talk about what work she is doing that is contributing to the overall goals of the organisation.


If Sue feels uncomfortable initially about that, she should at least find out what else interests the CEO and other senior people so that she can make a comment about that.

A key component about the ability to build relationships and to influence others, is 'likeability', i.e. that we like and respond to people who are like ourselves. That makes sense from an evolutionary perspective - we are not threatened by members of our own ‘tribe'.

I think Sue should also actively confront her ‘fear' and seek out the opportunity to work directly with the senior people. When this happens Sue needs to get information from the senior people about how they like to be worked with!

If Sue does this, she will immediately improve the quality of her dealings with senior people - she is giving them what they want and in the way that they want it. It will also diminish her fears as she has removed uncertainty about whether she is doing the right thing.

I have a small presentation on Managing Upwards if you want to this information. Email me if you would like a copy.