Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dealing with Resistance to Change

Do your employees like change?

When I ask this question of participants in my change leadership workshops, the answer is almost overwhelmingly no.

But when I ask part two of the question: do YOU like change – the answer is usually overwhelmingly yes!

Isn’t that curious? What happens when you become the boss? Do you go through some magic door and change your mindset about change?

I think the answer is often yes.  And if we think about why this happens, it may give us some clues to getting our people on board not just in the short term but for the long haul so change is part of ‘business as usual’.

And change is ‘business as usual’, so why does it still consume vast amounts of our time? Why do managers still find themselves dealing with pockets of resistance and negative attitudes?

Let’s look at a couple of things about your role as a leader of change:

- your own mindset

- you as a role model

Your Mindset

What is the difference in your mindset when you are a driver of change and when you are a recipient of change?

For example: think about a time when you decided to move home. You might have been offered a promotion or opportunity that involves relocation.

On the other hand, you might have lost your job and need to find work elsewhere. You might want to move closer to (or further from!) other family members. You might just want a change of scenery or lifestyle – it could be for a myriad of reasons.

By the time you have reached your decision, you have thought about all the reasons why it’s a good thing to move as well as all the reasons why not. You have mulled over the consequences of doing it and the consequences of not. You have thought about the financial, physical and emotional costs.

You have worked out how all these changes may affect you. You have been excited by the best possible outcomes of the move and faced up to or at least given some thought to the worst possible outcomes. You’re ready. You know what you’re going to do and how to deal with whatever will, crop up.

Many of these thoughts will be conscious and deliberate (logical and reasoned) but some will also be just feelings and intuition (an emotional or intuitive response).

After what’s gone on in your mind, you’re now in the driver’s seat. You’re in control. It’s your decision.

Of course, there is that small issue of your partner’s objections – they love your existing home. It’s peaceful, all established. Everything in its place. The neighbours are great – they will even look after the mail and the cat and keep an eye out for intruders if you go away. A routine exists – and given how much is going on in your lives, at least your partner felt secure knowing something was stable, home.

Then there are the kids. Why should they have to change schools? They “couldn’t live without their friends”, “you are so cruel” – you know what I mean.

Spot the difference?

It’s obvious isn’t it? As the initiator of the decision to move you’ve completed a three-step process – the RIV approach.

1. Reasons: We know and understand the reason for the change

2. Implications: We’ve have thought about the implications and consequences – personal, social, financial, environmental etc. We’ve faced and answered the ‘what if’s’ and our fears. We’ve looks at the positives as well as the negatives. i.e. we’ve dealt with The Almond Effect®.

3. Values: We’re comfortable that the decision fits in with our values, the way we want to live our lives.

Contrast your partner and kids – they may be able to tick off step 1 but if they aren’t jumping up and down with excitement then they certainly aren’t yet fully across steps two and three.  In fact you might be facing overt and covert or passive resistance.

Unless you help them deal with steps 2 and 3, your move may be more trouble than its worth if you want to keep your relationships in tact.

Emotions not logic

The logical component of change is clearly in RIV step 1, knowing and understanding the reasons for the change. There’s a mixture of logic and emotion in step 2. It’s pretty well all emotion in step 3.

And we know which is the most powerful and the hardest. Dealing with emotional responses – a consequence of how our brains function.

How does this appy at work to facilitate change?

Interestingly, many organizations think they do step 1 (explaining the Reasons) very well. And many do. However, it is worth questioning this: if you are experiencing resistance, ask your people to share their understanding of:

  • Why the changes in systems, processes, procedures, behaviour etc are necessary? 
  • What’s driving the need for change?
  • What will be better because of the changes? 
  • What will be worse if things don't change?
  • How does this fit into the big picture, the overall plan or framework? 
  • Their "WIFM" (what's in it for me?) of the changes compared to the previous way of doing things? 

In fact, could you, as the manager/supervisor sum up the compelling need for change in plain language in 25 words or less?

I am surprised how often organizations think they have completed step 1 yet the feedback shows there are still gaps in understanding why, the reasons for change.

If it's not logical, it's emotional

If your resistors can tell you the reasons for the change, then obviously the logic is OK but there is still something holding them back. It can only be their emotional responses.

Some they might share with you. Others they might not either because they don’t want to (and that’s a big area for discussion in itself) or perhaps even more frustrating, they can’t even articulate them themselves.

Changing your own attitude to change

Usually, when you become the driver of change or at least the implementer as a supervisor, team leader or manager, you have had the benefit and experience of looking at change from a business level. You may have been involved in identifying the problems or challenges and coming up with the solutions.

As part of this process, you will have worked through the logic and had the opportunity to work through your emotional reactions as well.

e.g. what will this change mean for me and the company? How will it improve the way we do things around here and my workload? My bonus is riding on getting this done and that means a holiday for the family or maybe a new car. My boss will see that I have done a good job and so promotion or a raise may be an outcome.

So before you have to get others to change, you and most managers in change scenarios, have completed the 3 step RIV process – you understand the reasons, have looked at the implications and how it fits with your values. So you’re there, the change makes sense and you want to be part of it.

But your people (or your family!) may be lagging well behind you in the process. The RIV approach explains why you just want to get on with it - because you have already dealt with your logical and emotional reactions (consciously or unconsciously) – but if others haven't completed that process, don't be surprised that they don't share your enthusiasm yet

Different mindsets about change

So I think there often is a difference in mindset about change between managers and staff – usually because of the timing and opportunity to go through the 3 RIV step model.

The implication of this is that if your projects are off track, blowing out budgets, timeframes or requiring more resources – check how you are tracking on the RIV model with the people who are impacted, directly and indirectly, by the change. What assumptions have you made where your employees are in the RIV process? How can you find out and/or measure this? Where there are gaps, what are you doing to assist them through? It’s time consuming in the short-term but vastly more effective overall.

Would you like some more information and assistance with working this through with your people? 

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you would like some more in depth application, facilitation and tools for this process. It's amazing what a small intervention can do to get your business change on track.

Future Blog Post

One critical component to getting others to change is you – you as a role model.

In a future post we’ll look at your impact as a role model of change – do you unconsciously sabotage your own efforts?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's coming - direct information download into your brain - hook me up now!

Want to learn to fly a helicopter in a few minutes? Learn a new language in seconds? Shakespeare's works before you go to the theatre?

According to Nicholas Negroponte - this is not just science fiction. It's almost here:

Watch now

Monday, December 15, 2014

When will this shopping game changer get to Sydney?

Shopping while you're waiting for a train (it's delivered once you get home!), is an example of what Dominic Thurbon describes as digital disruption:  

"... digital disruption means that schools, supermarkets and banks are not just ‘places’ anymore, and so it is the same with ‘work’.
Digital disruption means that work is not a place. It’s put beautifully in the World of Work report from Randstad: work is changing from a being place that you go, into a collaborative process."

So if work is not a place, then:

"Some of the obvious effects of this are already clear – flexible working arrangements, remote teams, virtualisation are becoming de facto norms in many organisations. Although it is also worth noting that there is growing evidence that management capability is not keeping pace with the changes in work style (many managers, for example, are used to managing teams by presence and visibility, which obviously doesn’t work when your team is remote, and must be managed by productivity and output!)"

Game changer indeed - requiring masterful change leadership. Is your organisation up to this kind of challenge?

reshaping the world of work for hiring managers & HR professionals

White paper by Dominic Thurbon

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Do you have anxious and scary situations at work?

Alone at the station

 8.15pm - alone on a long empty platform waiting for the 8.30pm train from London Paddington to Heathrow. Another person appeared. He had the entire platform to choose a spot to wait but he came and stood next to me. My heart started to race.

‘Stop it’ I said to my amygdala.

‘Calm down’ I said to my hypothalamus but it continued to flood my body with adrenaline.

All my amygdalae could see was a “young man of middle eastern appearance with a backpack.”

My pre-frontal cortex was appalled and embarrassed at my limbic system response. My cortex had no idea whether the young man was from the Middle East or not – and even if he was, so what?

I used the STAR model:

  • I Stopped. I took deep breaths. 
  • I Thought. I kept telling myself that my reaction was irrational and that my body should calm down.
  • I Acted - I stayed put but was consciously reframing my ridiculous thoughts for what they were - limbic mania over rational awareness.

Eventually the 8.30pm train arrived. I stepped on, sat down and my heart rate slowed.

Deep in the ocean

Two months later, off the Neptune Islands in South Australia I was in a cage heading towards the ocean floor hoping to get up close and personal with some Great White Sharks.

One came soon enough - ‘Cheeky Girl’ – 4.2 metres and 1000 kg. She was BIG! And I saw her many teeth as she passed several times within a metre of me while she attempted to snatch the bait hanging off the back of the boat!

The 30 minutes in the cage passed in a flash.

Did my life flash before my eyes?

Back on board I realised that my heart rate had hardly increased when I came face to face with this enormous predator. All I felt was awe and wonder as I watched one of the most amazing animals I have ever seen.

So what was the difference?

Why did I experience the fight/flight response so fully on a London train platform but not at all when within touching distance of a Great White Shark?

How much can you can prepare for scary situations?

The answer lies in preparation and learning (Rewiring) from experience.

Some of you will recall from a previous post that I searched for GWS once before. But even with 3 days of turning the ocean red with burly including tuna heads, blood and guts – no shark appeared on that trip. So much for ‘blood in the water attracts sharks!’

However what we did do on that ‘no show’ trip was to talk a lot about GWS with experts, practice descents in the cage, watch videos, look at GWS photos and listen to research – all of which prepared us for the recent trip – and took away the fear.

In contrast, the man on the platform was a complete surprise. It was the end of a fabulous trip to the UK; I had just been shopping in Oxford Street and was looking forward to returning to Sydney.

I simply wasn’t focussed on what was happening on the platform or that any risks or dangers could be lurking there.

So I was unprepared for the possibility that a man could appear on the platform and trigger an ANT (automatic negative thought) that cracked my almonds (amygdalae) with a sledgehammer!

And I had no previous experience from which to train my amygdala not to react to a racist stereotype automatically stored in my brain’s ‘database of nasty things’ after September 11, 2001.

Face the fear and defuse your amygdala

At work, ‘the man on the platform’ might turn up as a surprise outburst from the boss; an urgent deadline abruptly imposed; a retrenchment to be made, a dramatic fall in share price or an unanticipated cut in funding.

But ‘Cheeky Girl’ could show up when you anticipate the performance appraisal next week, a future presentation to the Board, an interview for a promotion, the switch over to a new system.

In other words, there will be some sudden and unexpected events that will catch us off guard. At those times, it is likely that we’ll experience The Almond Effect® - the fight/flight response in a pyschologically not physically threatening situation- even though our lives are not at risk.

When that happens, use the STAR technique – and focus especially on Rewiring afterwards – what can you learn from the experience? The more times you experience something confronting, the less confronting it becomes. Your amygdala learns that it is nothing to be overly concerned about.

But do not beat yourself up for reacting even though your pre-frontal cortex knows you should not have. We are hard wired for survival and our amygdalae do not know the difference between physical and psychological threats.

However when you know that a ‘scary’ situation is coming up (Cheeky Girl) – do everything you can to minimise the impact of The Almond Effect® by preparing as much as possible. Show your amygdala that there are no potentially fatal consequences to what you are about to do.

Then perhaps you’ll even enjoy coming face to face with your Great White Shark!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sleep off your toxic memories

Would you like to simply sleep off toxic memories?

This may be possible one day due to the work of John O'Keefe the first neuroscientist to win a Nobel Prize.

Some french scientists have inserted a new memory into a mouse when sleeping.

And you thought that it was still a sci-fi notion .......

Check out the short news item here

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Are you a totally predictable boss?

The power of patterns

The Almond Effect® is when our amygdala recognises a pattern in its most rudimentary form, instantly assesses that it could be a threat to our ‘survival' and triggers us to react inappropriately to the ‘danger'.

Of course, everyday our brain relies on non-thinking patterns that don't trigger The Almond Effect so we can get on with our lives. That's why we are ‘creatures of habit'. We get into 'safe' ways of behaving, patterns, because then we don't have to think about it, we just ‘do'. It's less stressful and takes up less brain energy.

Change, even good change, is demanding

Yet anyone who has ever tried to change their diet or give up cigarettes, move to a new city, take on a new work role, learn a new language, work with different software, study a new subject, improve a long used swimming style (or your golf swing!) and a myriad of other examples - you know how demanding and tiring making those changes can be. Your brain finds it draining.

Even good changes, eg getting a great new boss or work colleague, buying a new phone or tablet, these can be difficult as your brain has already laid down patterns of behaviour attached to working with the previous person or device. 

And that's why it's hard to get people to change at work and indeed, at home.

We prefer the status quo

Unless we are highly motivated and determinedly ‘think' our way to persist and be resilient during the challenges of laying down new patterns, our brain will always prefer to rely on existing patterns rather than have to learn and lay down new ones.

That's why if we don't maintain the determination to keep trying, we (and our people) just slip back into the old ways. It's simply easier - and, automatic!

Patterns are our default

For example, we lay down multiple new brain patterns when we are learning to drive, but once we have mastered the skills, it's easy and becomes almost a ‘non active thinking' skill. 

How many times have you driven somewhere and didn't even notice the journey as your mind was pre-occupied with something else. Scary at times! But if you were driving in another country where they drive on the other side of the road, I suspect you'd be concentrating on every moment - until your brain had ‘got' the new pattern!

Same thing happens at work - we get into ways of working and behaviours that make work life easier for us and then rarely think about them - especially if the patterns deliver results.

Shrieking Sharapova

One of many great sporting examples of this is Maria Sharapova. She, like many other tennis players and other sportspeople, have a pattern that they repeat before every shot. And I mean every one.

Between each shot, she walks to the back of the court. Then, if serving she selects the tennis ball she is going to use to serve and approaches the base line. She takes a breath, looks at the part of the court she is serving to, slowly bounces the ball on the court twice, and then serves.

Every time! It is fascinating. Clearly she uses this pattern to get focussed, get her nerves and adrenaline under control and make winning shots. Though even when she is losing, she never breaks the routine.

This is a conscious use of a brain pattern that she knows usually works, even when it isn't actually delivering the results, to make sure that she doesn't lose her cool, fall prey to The Almond Effect® and do something rash, impulsive, without thinking and contrary to her years of training.

Manager's patterns aren't always helpful

The challenge with patterns is that because they happen without thinking, sometimes we don't realise the impact of our behaviours (patterns) on others.

For example, the manager who never looks up when someone comes into their office - what message does that pattern send to the staff member? The CEO who never makes any announcements that have any good news - what signal does that pattern send to staff? What do you think is their state of mind, their expectation, whenever the CEO indicates their intention to make an announcement or visit?

Other examples:
Managers who don't work with their team to formulate new organisational strategies because "what's the point, the CEO will do it his way anyway." And he does. Why would you be surprised when these managers complain that the CEO is an autocrat and he complains that they don't co-operate. Both parties are set in their own patterns of behaviour, both reinforcing each other's.

What about trying to improve safety by changing uniforms in a manufacturing environment? What if the employees are used to uniforms with long sleeves and you want them to wear short sleeves. Or vice versa? Seems on the face of it like a small thing. Yet because of the change required in mental patterns (try listing them from the employees' point of view), such a request can present real challenges for managers implementing change.

We have unhelpful patterns we're not even conscious of

And outside work. Have you ever said something like: I don't like sour cream on potatoes - but in fact have never tasted it? Or "I've always vote Liberal" or "Labor" as the case may be - why? Because your parents always did.

Where do those choices/patterns come from and what makes us stop, or not stop, and review them? You know you have a pattern that you've never reviewed when you say or think to yourself: "I've never really thought about it". Or someone says to you: 'you are so predictable' and you're staggered that you are!

So how predictable are you?

In fact, have you ever thought or said to someone else: "you're so predictable". How often has anyone ever said that to you? Do you just ‘know' how someone is going to react to a certain situation, what they are going to say? Would they say the same about you?

It's hard work to lay down new patterns especially if the old ones seem to have worked well enough so far. The first step to overcoming the negative and stressful impacts of The Almond Effect is to stop and reflect on what's going on for you at that moment. It's about developing self-awareness. It's about looking at what automatic behaviours you engage in, or what automatic assumptions you make, without thinking, just on reflex.

Try this

Ask a trusted work colleague if they can predict how you would react (behave) if:
- a new IT system was introduced
- a new manager was hired from outside over internal competition
- your boss got a new expensive car
- you were asked to stay - back late for the third night in a row

You get the kind of examples I'm thinking of.

And what about at home: what's predictable? About you? About someone you share your home with?
Not that there is anything wrong with predictability. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, patterns help us live our lives less stressfully, usually.

Good leaders try to discover and reflect on their patterns

In order to change and to build leadership skills, we must develop and hone the ability to reflect on our patterns, good and bad, and assess their impact on others and how much they contribute towards our goals.

Sometimes understanding this can be the most important step we can take towards becoming a great manager.

Please feel free to forward this to a colleague

Monday, December 01, 2014

Do you work for a disrespectful boss ? So do over 10,000 others

A study of  20,000 employees around the world shows that being treated with respect is more important than recognition, appreciation, an inspiring vision, useful feedback or opportunities for learning growth and development.

Yet over half said they were not treated with respect leading to less engagement, more turnover, less focus, greater health costs. Any surprises here?

To try and figure out why through a separate smaller survey by the same author, 60% of that group said they were uncivil because they are overloaded and have no time to be nice.  

When my mother was teaching me how to communicate with people, she never explained that being respectful took extra time. She always told me that it was a matter of choice and that if I chose respect I would reap the benefits.

Mum - over 10,000 others say you were right!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What to do when you boss doesn't motivate you

We've all had them.  Bosses who don't inspire us to do anything let alone work more than we have to. So what can we do when leaving isn't a choice?

Here are some useful tips about how to deal with that.

Click here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The high cost of gutlessness

Is Courage missing in your organisation?

Have you stopped to assess the cost of lack of courage in your organisation?

For example: have you costed the failure to manage poor performers? Or the cost of lost productivity when team dynamics go awry and no-one has the courage to deal with the situation because "I don't want to upset them".

What about the cost to an organisation where GroupThink prevails at the very top?

Is your CEO is surrounded by ‘yes' people who, often due to a heightened sense of self-preservation and a fear of rocking the boat, fail to challenge the CEO about the strategic direction of the company or some other decision or direction where the CEO has got it wrong or is in danger of making a big mistake?

The origins of courage

Here's what Charles A. Smith has to say:

"Courage is persevering despite fear. It is gumption, grit, and the capacity to get up after a setback, with one's heart on fire..

The word comes from the French 'curage' for "putting one's heart into action." Courage is an essential virtue, a source of strength that contributes to all significant human endeavors. Every great accomplishment requires courage. 

Courage simply is "making the decision to do what you know is right."
A day comes in every person's life when there is a choice between acting out of fear or doing the right thing. 

Courage finds its roots in two fundamental skills learned during early childhood: persevering despite adversity and remaining mindful despite fear.

This wariness and self-protection are critical skills. 

The problem with fear, though, is that its arousal can trigger mind-numbing panic. The natural push of fear to flight makes self-control challenging. Courage, like all growth, requires taking risks.

Remaining mindful despite fear means acting with grace under pressure. It means learning to link the thinking part of our brains (the cortex) with the emotional arousal in the center of our brains (the limbic system)."

Charles A. Smith, PhD, parent educator and extension specialist in the School of Family Studies and Human and Human Services at Kansas State University in Manhattan Smith, C.A. 2005. First steps to mighty hearts: The origins of courage.

Three recent examples where courage was missing - and yes, these are true

Example one: A manager devised a 360 degree performance feedback scheme for himself and his team with a rating of 1 to 5 where five was ‘above and well beyond expectations' and one was essentially abysmal. When he received the feedback forms from his team (who acted very courageously), he received mostly ones and twos. He simply told his team that they would re-do the assessment in 6 months time and promptly filed the feedback in a bin.

Example two: at a major retail outlet in Sydney, the system for queuing and paying was so disorganised and customers were getting irritated about the length of the wait for service. When the store manager was told the system was not working, she responded: "well it's been alright up to now" and walked away. So clearly the customers were the problem!!

Another customer followed up with: ‘We are trying to give you some helpful feedback", to which she replied: "there's nothing wrong with the system". Then the store started to lose big money as angry customers put down their intended purchases and simply walked out. Finally after further interchanges, the manager said: "Look I only do what I'm told. It's nothing to do with me" and walked away.

I was astonished to have witnessed this and became even more so when another staff member was saying under her breath: "Let her have it!"

Example three: prior to an off-site managers' workshop to discuss how to move the organisation forward, the staff had given extensive confidential feedback to the facilitator about the financial results/mood dependent chief executive and how that led to a lack of trust in the promises that the CEO made. Poor results would usually mean the CEO would do a back flip on previous promises. This in turn led to nervousness on the part of the staff to take risks or a long term approach to the business.

When finally one person had the courage to raise this during the workshop, he was not supported by the other members of staff; nor did the CEO accept what was being said. The trust issue remained unresolved and needless to say, no real progress made on the issue of how to move the company forward.

Do you surround yourself with courageous people? 

 You should - it's an employee retention strategy.

It's a courageous act to surround yourself with courageous people and what an extraordinary place it would be to work. People would be challenged to grow and contribute, listen, be listened to, think outside the square and feel valued and supported. This is what employees tell us they want so see it as part of your employee retention strategy.

Your customers would also benefit as the culture of being courageous would extend to the way staff dealt with customers, listening carefully to their feedback and ideas for improvement. What a low cost way to do research that would improve your performance in the market place.

So why do we hold back? 

What can we do about it? What holds us back from being as courageous as we could be? The Almond Effect ® - our fear based on past experiences. Let me share the first step in overcoming The Almond Effect with an extract from my e-book: "Where Did That Come From?"

What can we do about it?

"Start by identifying the physical sensations you experience prior to, or during, an episode of The Almond Effect ®. Think back to times when you ‘lost it'. What were you feeling, physically? Tick the ones that apply to you on this list.

  • Increased heart rate     
  • Sweaty palms and/or underarms     
  • Trembling or shaking     
  • Blushing     
  • Butterflies in the stomach     
  • Nausea        
  • Tight neck and shoulders        
  • Foot tapping or finger drumming        
  • Teeth grinding     
  • Increased, erratic or shallow breathing     
  • Add your own:        

When you did notice the sensation - was it already too late to do anything about it?

What could you have done if you'd gone into reaction management mode straight away, as soon as you noticed the sensation?

What could you try to do differently when you feel these things in the future?
Make some notes about your answers to these questions somewhere where you can look at them often, especially your answer to question three.

Start training yourself to become body aware so that when you notice any of these physical reactions begin to develop, so you can take steps to get yourself back in control. Whatever you do, don't forget to breathe!"

Change Leader Programs

Anne Riches offers 1/2 day, 1 to 2 days, and longitudinal programs that develop managers into better change leaders who deliver growth and productivity for their business. 

However acquiring the mindset and capability to deliver through successful leadership competencies doesn't happen as a quick fix.

The more you put in, the more you get out.

The focus is on leading the people side of change as an effective, inspirational and motivational leader - it's not simply or only about processes and models. It's about holding a mirror up and discovering whether you see a genuine change leader. 

if you do, we'll build on it. if you don't, we work to make you the best leader you can be.

For more information, contact Anne at

And see her website for testimonials from businesses that have benefited from Anne's interventions:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Want to see inside the brain of a psychopath?

Great little news clip describing MRI scanning of 3500 inmates brains. They found their amygdala are smaller.

Click here to watch it.

So I wonder what this means for the prisoner and the non-prisoner population in the future?

Many have written that psychopaths roam company corridors in the guise of CEOs and Executives.

Maybe we should install MRI scanners at the door of every meeting to determine who comes in?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What sets leaders (and losers) apart?

 Each year Boss magazine publishes a list of Young Executives of the Year.

Particularly interesting is a list I saw a year or so back of the tendencies of those who don't have what it takes to be on the list:

  • Have good ideas but lack the ability to execute them
  • Have closed discussions and make assumptions
  • Derail frequently and let the dark side of their personality affect their work and relationships at work
  • Be arrogant rather than inclusive
  • Miss opportunities to use empathy
  • Micro-manage instead of delegate
  • Be impulsive rather than evidence based in decision
  • Lack perception about how others are feeling
  • Get confused about managing who they are as people and what's required in the role
Almost everything on the list stems from inadequate insights about themselves, what makes them who they are and their affect on others - in other words self-leadership.

A huge component of that involves The Almond Effect® - understanding how the stressors and challenges of everyday life trigger our primitive survival (flight/fight/flock/freeze) instincts.

The best leaders know that each one of us is the sum of our experiences and that, unless we monitor our behaviors and actions, our brains are hardwired will take us by shortest, most well trodden route to action. This is fine if the action is appropriate but not fine if we end up reacting in ways that are inappropriate either for others or for ourselves.

The change organ

Our brains can and do change - it's called neuro-plasticity. However, it takes courage to deeply examine what makes us tick and triggers our immediate non-thinking behaviors.

Changing embedded patterns of behavior can be hard without determination and practice.

We can change our brains by changing our minds. But you have to stay on track. Understanding The Almond Effect® and mastering STAR helps you do that.

Change Leader Programs

Anne Riches offers 1/2 day, 1 to 2 days, and longitudinal programs that develop managers into better change leaders who deliver growth and productivity for their business. 

However acquiring the mindset and capability to deliver through successful leadership competencies doesn't happen as a quick fix.

The more you put in, the more you get out.

The focus is on leading the people side of change as an effective, inspirational and motivational leader - it's not simply or only about processes and models. It's about holding a mirror up and discovering whether you see a genuine change leader. 

if you do, we'll build on it. if you don't, we work to make you the best leader you can be.

For more information, contact Anne at

And see her website for testimonials from businesses that have benefited from Anne's interventions:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Give your money away - it will make you happier! Try this test.

Imagine that every morning someone gives you an envelope with either $5 or $20. You never know which. And each day you are asked to either spend it on a treat for yourself, or spend it on a gift for someone else. Then that same person calls you at 5pm to ask how your day went. How do you feel?

Click here to find out how you might feel.....

Friday, November 14, 2014

Build a change platform, not a change program

Terrific article from McKinseys on re-imagining change.

Build a change platform, not a change program

The authors suggest that many executives still see change as an interruption that has to be managed instead of continuous experience. But that's what most organisations are set up for.

I especially agree with their suggestion that the role of an executive should be change enable in chief not change agent in chief. Well said!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I wish I hadn't pressed 'send'

‘I wish I hadn't sent that': Gmail uses STAR

The whole point of learning STAR, the antidote to The Almond Effect®, is to stop ourselves acting impulsively, in the wrong way, at the wrong time, for the wrong reason, when something stirs us up or catches us off-guard.

In the Gmail Labs, there is a fabulous tool that is doing just that.

It gives us a second chance to Stop and Think before we send an email we will regret.

Turn on the ‘Undo Send' feature in Gmail by going to Settings then Labs. Then when you hit ‘send', Gmail will pause for 5 seconds before actually sending the email.

If you realize in that time (and we usually know in an instant when we have done something and wish we hadn't), you press simply ‘Undo' and Gmail redirects the email to your draft box. Email not sent - no harm done!

It's STAR in action

If you're looking for an example of (assisted!) STAR in action, this is it: Stop, Think, Act, Rewire.

Gmail delays (STOPS) the sending for you, giving you time to THINK about what you've just done and what your real intention and the consequences might be.

It gives you 5 seconds to ACT and press ‘undo' if necessary. And if you press ‘undo' it pops it back into your Drafts box so you can REWIRE i.e. review and rewrite the email until it's ready for you to send.

Now all we want is have an ‘undo send' mechanism for our mouths, facial expressions and our body language!

The change organ

Our brains can and do change - it's called neuroplasticity. However, it takes courage to deeply examine what makes us tick and triggers our immediate non-thinking behaviours.

Changing embedded patterns of behaviour can be hard without determination and practice.

We can change our brains by changing our minds. But you have to stay on track. Understanding The Almond Effect® and mastering STAR helps you do that.

Change Leader Programs

Anne Riches offers 1/2 day, 1 to 2 days, and longitudinal programs that develop managers into better change leaders who deliver growth and productivity for their business. 

However acquiring the mindset and capability to deliver through successful leadership competencies doesn't happen as a quick fix.

The more you put in, the more you get out.

The focus is on leading the people side of change as an effective, inspirational and motivational leader - it's not simply or only about processes and models. It's about holding a mirror up and discovering whether you see a genuine change leader. 

if you do, we'll build on it. if you don't, we work to make you the best leader you can be.

For more information, contact Anne at

And see her website for testimonials from businesses that have benefited from Anne's interventions:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Still hate public speaking?

And your greatest fear is...?

The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment you're born and never stops - until you get up to speak in public.

There are moments in our lives where we feel as though we have mastered our emotions. In these moments we feel we can accomplish anything, face any challenge and rise above all obstacles. OK, so these moments may be few and far between but they don't have to be.

In a previous blog posts, we talked about how the brain has triggers in the form of emotional memories or, in some cases, we could call them emotional scars. When we face an event that triggers these memories, our amygdala steps in. That's when we have an emotional outburst, are paralyzed by fear or even act violently; this is what I call The Almond Effect®.

So our experiences of the perfect moment can be overwhelmed by the experiences we would prefer to forget. Like the time you got up in front of your peers to give a speech and the words just disappeared from your brain.

Where did the words go?

Well they didn't just vanish from your mind they merely got caught up in the neural static transmitting from your limbic region to the frontal lobe (neo cortex). You were paralyzed by fear.

A fear of public speaking is common. Some people say they fear it more than death itself - big call :) But it is the case that many people become anxious; their heart rate quickens, they perspire and find the words hard to come by. It is our brain reacting to a perceived threat - most likely the fear of humiliation from speaking in public and not being perfect.

What are your early memories of speaking in public?

Now the reason your brain perceives a threat is mostly to do with those emotional scars you are carrying. You may have been humiliated when speaking in front of friends as a child or you may have forgotten your lines in the school play and had to endure everyone laughing at you. You may have been told to keep quiet as your opinions didn't count. However minor these may seem the emotional impact was enough to leave imprints on your brain.

Try these five steps

Here are five steps for overcoming fear of public speaking:

    Take it in - Don't try to ignore what's happening to you. Allow yourself to feel your emotions as they come and try to understand your reactions. Look at the situations that trigger your fears and figure out what may be the underlying causes. In other words, think about your fears. Work out whether your fears really justify the physical and mental harm that you are doing to yourself and your personal and work relationships by letting them get to you.

    Action - Be proactive in overcoming your fears, challenge yourself to face them. If you fall off the wave then get right back on. If you're anxious about trying something again, ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen to you if you fell off again - and constructively work out what you would do about it. Then try again.

    Discipline - Once you have rationalized your fears, set yourself some goals and a plan to achieve them. Commit to the plan and hold yourself accountable to take small steps to reach your final destination. Remember the journey is just as important as what is waiting for you at the end.

    Expression - Do not be afraid to express your feelings, bottling them up will not make them go away. It is OK to be afraid of speaking in front of others and you are not the first or last person to be derailed by your fears.

    Remind yourself that people will not remember what you say but rather the way you say it and the effect it has on them.

Check this out for yourself. Think about a recent presentation you attended that you thought was great. What do you remember most? The words or the manner in which the presenter said them? For the overwhelming majority of people, it's the way in which things were said, not the words, that people remember. So exude confidence even if you're shaking in your shoes!

And to overcome your fear of speaking in public

    Join the National Speakers Association in your country e.g. in Australia log on to NSAA. In the USA, look up NSA. You can find links to other countries' Speakers Associations there. Or join Toastmasters or indeed any speaking organization where you can learn to overcome your fear of speaking and find your voice in a ‘safe' environment.

    Join a committee or a board or project team and speak up. Be the spokesperson. If necessary, write a ‘script' and practice it. Again, ask yourself ‘what is the worst thing that can happen to me if I botch this up?'

    Attend a presentation skills seminar or take a course in public speaking offered by your local community college or other continuing education provider

An essential work skill

Overcoming a fear of speaking in public is not only important for social occasions such as when you're called on to speak at a wedding or give a eulogy. It is also an essential skill for leaders at any level.

How many good ideas have fallen to the ground because of an inability to persuade others to take them on? How many organizational changes have floundered because management couldn't sell the changes to staff and get their buy-in? How many opportunities have you missed out on because you couldn't promote yourself well enough?

Leadership for Change Management Programs

Anne Riches offers 1/2 day, 1 to 2 days, and longitudinal programs that develop managers into better change leaders who deliver growth and productivity for their business. 

However acquiring the mindset and capability to deliver through successful leadership competencies doesn't happen as a quick fix.

The more you put in, the more you get out.

The focus is on leading the people side of change as an effective, inspirational and motivational leader - it's not simply or only about processes and models. it's about holding a mirror up and discovering whether you see a genuine change leader. if you do, we'll build on it. if you don't, we work to make you the best leader you can be.

For more information, contact Anne at

And see her website for testimonials from businesses that have benefited from Anne's interventions:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

7 + 4 steps to get your M&A to succeed

40 to 80% of mergers fail to meet objectives.  This reported study of 94 mergers between 2004 - 2008 confirms what most of us see in failed change attempts. Leadership is the key.

There are 3 key findings:

(1) Leadership capabilities in both acquirers and targets predict success and are equally important

(2) 7 specific leadership competences for acquirers and 4 for targets predict success.

(3) Senior leadership capabilities in acquirers and middle management leadership in targets have the greatest effect on success.

Acquirer Leaders:
  1. Motivate others
  2. Influence others
  3. Build relationships
  4. Develop others
  5. Act with integrity
  6. Show adaptability
  7. Focus on customer needs

Target Leaders:
  1. Motivate others
  2. Influence others
  3. Build relationships
  4. Provide direction

In the positively performing deals, based on financial returns, companies with all 7 competences outperformed their country index by 8.4% and their industry index by 10.4%.

Key takeaways:
  • Do your due diligence on leadership capabilities - they predict success
  •  Assess collective leadership capabilities of acquirer and target as part of your due diligence, and integration planning.
  • Consider also beneficial contracts to retain middle managers in targets

The Leaders Who Make M&A Work
By J. Keith Dunbar

Harvard Business Review Sept 2014 p28


Change Leader Programs

Anne Riches offers 1/2 day, 1 to 2 days, and longitudinal programs that develop managers into better change leaders who deliver growth and productivity for their business. 

However acquiring the mindset and capability to deliver through successful leadership competencies doesn't happen as a quick fix.

The more you put in, the more you get out.

The focus is on leading the people side of change as an effective, inspirational and motivational leader - it's not simply or only about processes and models. it's about holding a mirror up and discovering whether you see a genuine change leader. if you do, we'll build on it. if you don't, we work to make you the best leader you can be.

For more information, contact Anne at

And see her website for testimonials from businesses that have benefited from Anne's interventions:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A great video on why performance rankings don't work

Most performance management systems are set up on entirely the wrong premise - if you follow the neuroscientific research.

Well worth watching.

Why Your Brain Responds to Performance Ratings

Monday, August 25, 2014

"On average, managers are worse at developing their employees than at anything else they do"

 'Fight or flight' or just a helpful feedback session?

How useful, really, is your performance management system? Does it produce demonstrable improvements in performance and employee motivation? Or is it the bi-annual meeting everyone dreads?

In this article in strategy+business, David Rock and others explore why most performance management systems are based on principles which run counter to what the neuroscience tells us - and yet organisations persist with PM systems that may even harm performance not improve it.

Are you willing to rock the boat and challenge the utility of yours?

Kill your performance ratings

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ever panic, find it hard to focus, get fidgety?

Watch it now
A wonderful clip from Dan Harris ("a fidgety and skeptical news anchor") on the power of meditation to help you focus on what's happening right now. After having a panic attack on live TV, he went looking for answers.

As he says:
"In the 1940s if you told people that you went running they would say, who’s chasing you. Right now if you tell people you meditate – and I have a lot of experience with telling people this, they’re going to look at you like you’re a little weird most of the time. That’s going to change."

"The neuroscience is where it really gets sci-fi. There was a study out of Harvard that shows that short daily doses of meditation can literally grow the gray matter in key areas of your brain having to do with self-awareness and compassion and shrink the gray matter in the area associated with stress."

Read or watch it now

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Secrets of successful change implementers

According to the results of a survey reported this month by Mckinsey's, good change leader have seven core capabilities.

Their description of what 'ownership and commitment to change' means is particularly interesting. It includes being a role model who shows the way by demonstrating the difficult challenge of changing personal behaviors.

I totally agree. Do you do that?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Change leader pain - why what others have done poorly in the past impacts what you are trying to do now

'History repeats itself' - as the saying goes. 

Likewise 'once burnt, twice shy'.

And that's a real nuisance if you weren't responsible for the previous bad experience that someone had, that's now it's getting in the way of what you want to do.

What's going on here?

One of the most powerful ways we learn is from others, the experiences and challenges they had and how they dealt with them.

It's why we love stories about what happened to our friends, bosses, co-workers, colleagues, role models, coaches, mentors, even strangers. It is why cultures are built on stories. It is one of the reasons we watch reality TV eg The Block, Biggest Loser, Grand Designs etc, films about real events, real people and why we read biographies.

From real life examples, especially if they have high emotional content, we learn what to do and what not to do, faster than any text book can ever teach us.

And this should strike a note of great concern to those of you who are implementing change.

‘Jaws' and other bad news for sharks

When I am speaking at conferences or running workshops I sometimes include a story about a pretty scary scuba diving experience that I had.

I tell it to make the point that in a life threatening situation, when your amygdala is trying to dictate your actions to ‘save' you, it sometimes gets it wrong. (Fortunately you can learn to over-ride it - I share a tool to teach this)

It's one of those situations when, if you do what your amygdala wants you to do, you could do yourself more harm - the very opposite of the self-protection the amygdala is there to trigger.

In work or other non-life threatening situations, I call this The Almond Effect® - those moments when we act on our amygdala's immediate urge to ‘protect' us from a wrongly perceived threat instead of stopping and thinking about what's logically best to do in the situation.

Oops I hit the send button too soon 

Some examples are - the instant email reply we send and then regret: the blog post we 'enter' before finishing the spell check; dissing a job applicant because they look like someone we don't like: ‘snapping' at a co-worker or even worse, your boss; believing we know what someone is going to say before they even open their mouth!

You'll have to come to one of my sessions to know what the story is (it's better told than written) but one of the occasional unintended consequences is that someone in my audience gets frightened of sharks or of scuba diving or has their trepidations reinforced - the last thing I want to do.

Psst! - Pass it on

So why does this happen? How can a person in the audience become afraid when it is *my* experience that I'm telling. The audience member may never have even snorkelled let alone scuba dived.

Well, an article in an issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience throws some light on a phenomenon that we've probably noticed many times, even perhaps experienced ourselves - that we can become frightened and fearful of something that happened to someone else even though it hasn't happened to us. I still don't like plastic shower curtains because of the film Psycho.

The authors of the study carried out an experiment and concluded that the amygdala responds not only when fear is learned first-hand through our own personal experiences but is also triggered when we see someone else afraid. In other words we can also learn fear second-hand by seeing someone else's fear.

Why isn't this baby afraid of the snake?

Think about it yourself. Is there anything that you are afraid of that you have not directly experienced? For example I know one woman who is afraid of birds simply because her mother was.

Have a look at this picture from

Now this baby isn't scared of snakes. The baby isn't old enough to have seen someone else be frightened of snakes, to witness someone else's fear. So as it is not being hurt itself, it is not afraid.

But what will happen when the baby grows up? Even if the person is never ever harmed by a snake, will it learn to fear snakes from others? A high probability I suspect.

On the other hand think about animal lover and zoo owner, Bindi Irwin, daughter of the famous Steve Irwin who was killed by a stingray barb. She ‘learned' from her father not to be afraid of dealing with dangerous animals.

It will be interesting when the neuroscientists discover how we can learn not to be afraid without using drugs or having brain surgery.

Implications for implementing change

How is this relevant at work?

One of the key reasons that change initiatives fail is because of the history of change in the organisation. If change, or an element of it, has been poorly implemented previously - and even though you didn't do it and/or you may not even have been there at the time - people who had that poor experience remember it and tell others. This will make life difficult for you if you have responsibility for implementing change.

As we know, people are not usually reluctant to share their fears and concerns with colleagues as soon as they become aware of, or even sense rightly or wrongly, that a change is on the way. The rumor machine is very powerful.

This sharing too is natural - a way of protecting the ‘tribe' or group to which you belong. Think again of the opposite - when people do not share potentially dangerous or damaging information with someone because they are not one of ‘us'. Or worse because they are not one of 'us', we are happy to let them fall in harm's way.

Addressing emotions is critical

The study I mentioned earlier suggests that indirectly attained fears may be as powerful as fears originating from direct experiences.

In my work I find that most people are reluctant to voice their fears directly with their managers. But just because they don't raise them doesn't mean to say they are not there.

Nor does it prevent people from sharing and spreading their fears with their colleagues, in fact they are more likely to. If the fears are not addressed then in next to no time you have overt or covert resistance to your change effort.

You have to spend time on their fears even if you don't want to

Spending time reviewing the fears of employees based on their past experiences of change, is a critical element in eliminating one of the factors that cause resistance. Even the fears based on previous experiences  which were not their own.

This study reinforces what we already know - that for successful change we need to focus on emotional reactions especially fear. Yet how many communications about change still focus on the logic of the change? The rational arguments?

How many managers still don't take time to find out what fears their employees may have about an impending change and really address them?

The next time someone says to you that there isn't time to spend time attending to people's fear of things that will or may never happen, or were in the past, tell them about this study.

Remind them that people will share their fears and that without intervention, one person's fears may quickly become the real fears and the cause of resistance of many.


If you want to develop your managers' skills to lead people in difficult and challenging times, please email me about the demonstrable upskilling we achieve through the workshops we offer.

Or if you are planning a conference and looking for a speaker, email me at to find out my availability as I would love to work with you.


Tel: +61 412 509289

Friday, August 15, 2014

'Signals from a strip mall trigger augmented reality in my artificial eye. it displays a spam message. I delete it, with an annoyed blink'

That was one of the 16 amazing very short stories  Neurotech Light and Dark, a sci fi collection  about neuroscience and technology, by S. Kay @blueberrio

Do they represent our future?

Monday, August 11, 2014

How to lead change without inciting a mutiny

Excellent tips on how to manage change - told through the prism of how one project went awry!

How to lead strategic change without inciting a mutiny

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Everyone thinks of changing the world but no-one thinks of changing himself

If you forgive Tolstoy's assumption about change agents being male, this statement remains one of the most powerful provocations about leadership today.

Although it's been around for a while, this McKinsey article, Change Leader, Change Thyself?  is one of the best.

You might not like and certainly don't need to use their model,  but the principles of deep self-awareness and active self-management are fundamental for change leaders.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Silence is not golden. Tell them early, tell them often.

 Communicating during change

 This is what not to do:


For lots of good reasons why you should communicate early and tell them often during change, see Kevin Dwyer's post here.

Useful references to recent research as well as his personal experience.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Your brain is hooked on being right

How many times have you seen someone keep on pushing their point of view even though you, and they, know it's simply wrong?

We love being right and hate backing down from the position we take.

In this post on the HBR Blog, Judith Glaser explores why this happens and offers some tips to manage the situation.

Your brain is hooked on being right

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Are you worried about money?

It's tough out there.


Feeling stressed and under pressure? If so, this is the time to be emotionally strong and mentally tough, to control your amygdala rather than the other way around.

In most organizations we are under continual pressure to cut costs, reduce budgets, remain competitive, deal with your employees' uncertainty and stress as well as your own and still manage your team's performance for strong results.

And what about at home? Are you facing pressures and difficult actions and decisions there too?

Don't succumb to The Almond Effect®


It would be easy to give in to fear and alarm. That's what your amygdala wants you to do. That's what The Almond Effect® is all about. It's the  dominant emotional response - it's automatic but being calm and optimistic requires a deliberate choice.

Remember it is The Almond Effect® that causes people to react to events way out of proportion to the threat that exists.

For example I strongly hold the view that the GFS was the result of uncontrolled panic and fear reactions to perceived threats that in many cases were not real - but our reactions have now given those fears substance and reality.

I want him piloting my plane


In stark contrast think about the way Captain Sullenberger landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 18 2009 saving the lives of all 155 people on board.

Because of his training and experience, the pilot showed complete mastery over the potentially fatal consequences of The Almond Effect®. Using his pre-frontal cortex (PFC) he over-rode his amygdala - and focused on acting calmly and logically to get the best possible outcome to the crisis.

I am sure that the passengers and crew were also very happy that he also glided planes for a hobby!

Yes we can


The saving of Flight 1549 was an example of self-control in a life threatening situation. You too can do this and rule your amygdala - especially in challenging but not truly life-threatening situations such as the ones our bosses and the economy is creating right now.

Lack of confidence, fear about the future - you can teach yourself to think rationally and with hope about what this really means for you. Learn to ‘Flick the Switch'.

Flick the Switch


Here is an introduction to one of the tools we use when teaching the STAR method for mastery over The Almond Effect®. It is a simple process that we can use to respond thoughtfully rather than react emotionally.

I created the tool based on research from neuroscientists showing that a conscious act such as naming our emotions produces a decrease in amygdalic activity and an opportunity for the PFC to assert control. It is a clear example of STAR in action Stop - Think - Act - Rewire.

You'll learn to do this quickly in your head but do it on paper the first time and at any time when you want to really take the time to think through what's worrying you.

Create it as a flow chart for optimum visual impact.

What's worrying me most at the moment?

Can I control it?

If Yes, then ask yourself:
  • Best outcome?
  • How can I work towards this?
  • Physical actions? Now/future?
  • State of mind needed? Now/future?
  • What does the change and outcome look like?
  • Activate feeling or behavior!

If No, then ask yourself:
  • What can I do to manage my stress?
  • Physical actions? Now/future?
  • State of mind needed? Now/future?
  • What does the change and outcome look like?
  • Activate feeling or behavior!

Triggers/techniques to Flick the Switch!
  • Worst outcome?
  • How can I work to minimize this?
  • Physical actions? Now/future?
  • State of mind needed? Now/future?
  • What does the change and outcome look like?
  • Activate feeling or behavior!
  • Triggers/techniques to Flick the Switch!

We expand, explore and practice these steps in our workshops. If you want more information on our workshops and tools, let me know.

Stop reacting, start responding at work


A major concern I have about the resurgent increase in redundancies and sackings is the message it sends not just about the organization's lack of loyalty and compassion but its lack of leadership insight, courage, tenacity and strategic thinking. Not just to the retrenched but to all staff and customers.

We've been through it before in the 80's, 90's and the 00's. Mass redundancies and layoffs in a panic situation resulting in lowered engagement, innovation, teamwork and performance - everything that today's organizations are invested in.

So will organizational history repeat itself? In the past, these actions brought about the very things they thought they would avoid including increased costs, poor retention, low engagement and re-hiring on a more expensive basis.

Clever organizations and thoughtful leaders will react strategically at this time. They will not be frightened. They will see it as an opportunity to review, change and revisit the existing way of doing things. They will make hard but wise decisions with a view to the future as well as the short-term. They will respond not react.

And most importantly of all, they will stay the course back to prosperity and success. That will take intestinal fortitude on their part and yours.

Stop reacting, start responding at home

It's a similar message for home. If you apply the same thinking you'll insert a pause before acting, you'll consciously take time to reflect and plan your responses, you won't panic, fret and stress.

STAR tools can help you achieve that ability- based on neuroscientific research that is unlocking doors into the reasons why people behave the way they do - and what to do about it.


If you want to develop your managers' skills to lead people in difficult and challenging times, please email me about the demonstrable upskilling we achieve through the workshops we offer.

Or if you are planning a conference and looking for a speaker, email me at to find out my availability as I would love to work with you.


Tel: +61 412 509289

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Do you bite back if someone barks at you? Or do you just cop it sweet?

Why is it that sometimes, people who are in the wrong or caught out doing something they shouldn't be, act really aggressively  back instead of just copping it sweet?

For example, someone does something foolish on the road eg is on their phone. You stare at them and tell them to stop using it. Next thing you do, you're being verbally abused or even worse.

What's going on here?

What's your earliest memory?

Mine is being smacked across the bottom by my father. I think I must have been about three years old. I have a clear picture in my head of walking with my parents along Cantilupe Road in Ross on Wye in the UK - past the school which would become my primary school - on the way to see my adored nana and grandad.

I remember asking my parents if we could cross the road so we could get to nana's house. "Can we cross over now?" "Please can we cross over now?" "When can we cross over?" "Why can't we cross over now?"

No response came from my mother or father. So, as any self-respecting three year old would do, I took control of the situation. I let go of my mother's hand and ran out into the road to cross it.

Clearly I wasn't killed but when my father caught up with me, I got smacked because he told me I could have been! That smacking didn't make a whole load of sense to me when I was three and still doesn't now - a pretty confused message isn't it? ‘We don't want you to get hurt but let me hurt you with a smack for trying!!'

What was really happening in my parents' heads?

The real truth of the moment lay in some other words I remember dad said: "you scared your mother to death".

And of course, as we know from The Almond Effect®, even though mum herself wasn't at risk, seeing me run into the road and place myself in apparent danger, was enough to trigger her amygdala.

And it is probably true that I could have frightened her ‘to death'. Her body would have reacted as if she was the one about to die. Adrenaline surged through her and she froze on the spot. Fortunately she didn't have weak heart! But I can remember her face when she caught up to me - just staring with her eyes wide open and tears running down the sides of her pointy nose.

Do you respond to fear with fear?

What do you do when people do something that gives you a fright? e.g. they take a risk; grumble and threaten to leave; don't do as they are asked; breach company policies; don't meet their deadlines; don't turn up for training; miss teleconferences etc etc.

Do you respond in kind by doing something to scare them - just like my dad did to me? Do you get angry? Do you ignore it completely? Do you make sarcastic or aggressive remarks?

Or do you face your fears, deal with them and produce an appropriate and effective response?

The impact

Here's the challenge. If you or any of your team members, experience fear at work - you may not be functioning at the optimum level. You may not be performing both individually and as part of a team, to ensure that all of you reach your goals and objectives

Of course, fear and apprehension can act as a wonderful motivator. People convert their ‘nerves' into the spark, energy and commitment that brings out the very best in themselves and others.

Why elite sportspeople 'lose it'

However reflect on what happens for example, when elite sportspeople, the best in their game, respond to their nerves (fear) during competition by letting nervousness take control rather than controlling it.

Naturally competitors feel anxious that they might not win. All their hard work, dedication and training is focused on winning.

But their competitive edge is in the mind game. Often it is their mind training that fails when they are in a winning position but lose. The loss is usually because they let their guard down too early (i.e. let their amygdala off the hook too soon).

Or they realized they were so close to their dream and then got scared that they could still lose even when that close - that's even scarier. Focus is lost as is the ability to perform at the level they clearly can.

You see this at work all the time. One of the clearest illustrations is in interviews and presentations or at press conferences. Enough has been said and nothing more should be said, the goal is achieved. But something (fear) in the silence or pause drives us to just add a bit more.....

The leader's role

Basically memory and imagination use the same neurological circuits and potentially have the same impact. So our amygdala doesn't ‘know' the difference whether fears at work (or anywhere) are based on previous experience or imagined.

Nor does it know whether these fears are justified or not. That's the job of the pre-frontal cortex (PFC). Our challenge is to ensure the PFC is given the opportunity to take control of the situation.

As leaders and team members, we have to accept, even though we may not understand the reason why, that we work with people who have fears, real and imagined. Sometimes it's impossible to know where they come from, how they are generated, why they stay with us, when, where and how they'll show up.

Controlling responses to fear

So what we must do is learn tools to control our fears and our responses to them. We also need to provide our people with these skills to ensure they are not in a state of fear when they are working alone, as part of a team, interacting with customers.

Your job is to build a relationship with your team so that you can understand where peoples' concerns may be coming from. Develop the trust between you so that your team members will share their concerns with you. I know plenty of examples where team members do not trust their managers or supervisors well enough to share their concerns for fear there may be retribution.

And teaching them STAR skills is a great way to start the conversation. Let me know if I can help you and your team develop and leverage the leadership skills to Stop-Think-Act-Rewire.

The impact of The Almond Effect, ANTs and STARs is enormous. The teams now have a common language to support each other and support our customer interactions." Michelle Bevan, General Manager, Customer Service Division, ICAA

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Do you find it easy to talk to your CEO?

Can you talk comfortably with your CEO and senior management?

Can you relate to this?

One of this Blog's readers, let's call her 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 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, 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.


Some of you have attended my workshops where we talk about not only what The Almond Effect® is but also how to manage it. In essence you need to be a STAR:

= S: = When you catch yourself getting worked up or feel an unhelpful emotion coming on, like fear, anger, frustration, STOP. Stop yourself from immediately reacting. Take a deep breath. Count to 10 - whatever it takes.

= T: = Then THINK about what is really going on. What are the consequences/ outcomes you really want to come from this situation?

= A: = Then ACT - do whatever you have decided is the best thing to do for the outcomes you would want outside the heat of the moment.

= R: = Finally reflect and review what went on. Where did the reaction come from? What caused it? How can you learn to manage that reaction in future? In other words, how can you REWIRE your amygdala?

Stop - Think - Act - Rewire.

Sue will be a STAR in future I'm sure.