Your Brain is Amazing

So is mine, actually, if I can say so without seeming arrogant.  And this is partly because it can do two things almost at once.

I’m reading the best book ever (well, my latest ‘best book ever’ I suppose): it’s called ‘The Master and His Emissary’ by Iain McGilchrist.  Subtitle: ‘The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’ – so, an ambitious tome.  But ambition is great if you can back it up – and boy, can McGilchrist back it up!  This is a book which connects neuroscience with philosophy with physics with literature with music with emotional intelligence with evolution with… you get the picture.

For those of us who are right-handed, the basic brain stuff goes like this (lefties: you probably – but not definitely – need to reverse left and right in the paragraphs below).

The right hemisphere of your brain is open to the world: it attends to everything that’s going on.  In a way it’s like a vast satellite dish, receiving signals all the time.  And it picks things up whole, connected, in context with one another.  (You can see this if you get wired up to a monitor which picks up the electrical and chemical activity in your brain.)

What does it do with all that overwhelming data?  It sends it to be ‘processed’ in the left brain: there it gets broken down and focussed and manipulated to make it useful to us.  the left brain will narrow down on what it thinks we need to know, and package it up in a more or less logical way for us – in words for example (for most of us the left brain is most involved in language).

All that happens in a nanosecond; and then the packaged information is whizzed back to the right brain to feed in alongside all the new data it’s picking up.  Stuff ‘reverberates’ from one side of our brain to the other all the time.

I find all this stuff mind-blowing – ironically.  But one of the many great things about it is – it totally fits with Jung’s notion of paired, complementary mental functions (as picked up in MBTI and other Jungian Type instruments).  Right brain – intuition (big picture, context, vision, connection).  Left brain – sensing (data, focus, analysis).  And it fits with Daniel Kahnemann’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ (fast – right brain; slow – left brain).

The question is – how do we get ourselves to attend to both sides of the brain appropriately?  If you’re a leader, this is especially important, of course – but we all need to do it.

You could start by reading the book…

 

Leading in schools and business

Actually, this entry is mainly just a link to an article on the Guardian website where I get a mention as a leadership coach.  Read all about it here.

Matt’s right, in that leaders in all sectors are isolated: it comes with the territory.  And one way of dealing with that is to have someone with some skills ‘offline’ to reflect with.  One reason coaching works is because of the professional boundary: when I’m meeting with a client, my only agenda is his or her development: it’s not what s/he thinks of me, or if s/he’s happy.

Sell Your Self

We are all in selling now.

‘Always Be Closing’ – as Dan Pink explains in his thought-provoking book ‘To Sell is Human’, a generation of salesmen and women were taught this mantra.  Always Be Closing – in other words, everything you do and say in a conversation with a customer or client should be pushing towards the Close, the clinching of the sale, when the money changes hands.  That is the defining moment of the sales person’s life and work.  After that, the salesman can walk away in the knowledge of a job well done, with an assurance that his commission has been earned.

No wonder selling has had such a bad press.  As Pink points out, such a model of selling could only succeed in an age when the saleswoman could occupy the place of expert – only she had the product, or information about it, and selling was therefore a challenge to show the customer the necessity of parting with her cash to purchase this product (and this one only).  But we’re in a new age, when we can google the details of most products and services, and we can all be experts.  What has become of the salesman?

Pink shows that the salesperson hasn’t gone away.  In fact we are all salesmen and women.  ‘Selling’ in the traditional sense of persuading a person to part with hard-earned income for a product you or your company has created, has now been replaced with the much bigger and all-pervasive need to ‘move’ other people to make decisions.

The teacher has to move the recalcitrant student to complete his Film Studies coursework; the doctor must move the patient to change her lifestyle; the minister must move that nice man on the PCC to become  churchwarden; and yes, the marketing manager or the salesman must move his clients to give his company’s product a try.  We are all in selling in this sense – even in families, when we long to move our children to tidy their rooms or empty the dishwasher.

So in place of Always Be Closing, Pink offers us a new ABC – attunement, buoyancy and clarity.  Attunement: we make a relationship with the person, understand what will move her; we are so attuned, in fact, that we won’t sell her what is actually wrong for her.  Buoyancy: we develop resilience, so that when we fail to move someone we are not destroyed by the experience; we learn to value ourselves and whatever it is we are offering sufficiently, independent of our success in moving others.  Clarity: we ask questions to discover what it is that the person we are talking to actually does want, and how we (or someone else) may be able to meet his needs.

What are you selling?  A vision of the future of your firm, to your staff?  The need to keep on top of school work, to a student?  A product or service you provide?  A new way of looking at your marriage, to your partner?  A great new interest you have discovered, to a friend?  The value of reading a particular book, to a client, or reader?

We are all in selling, and it’s not about the Close, it’s about the relationship and the process.  How can you focus on those this week?

A Loss of Perspective

Have you ever lost it?

I’ve just been to Stratford to see Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale – a great treat for an English graduate!  It’s a weird play, and almost completely unbelievable… but still…

King Leontes runs a pretty loose ship of a kingdom: lots of wine and ‘informal’ relationships.  He has a lovely wife whom he idolises; but then he starts to think she’s having an affair with his best friend.  It was a chance remark and a glimpse of contact – really, there was nothing to it.  But he fixes on it; and jealousy and rage turn him inwards.  He lashes out at his wife; her unborn child; his best friend; his chief counsellor, his kingdom… in the current setting at Stratford, he ends the first part of the play alone on top of a huge physical tower of jealousy, fear and grief, where no-one can reach him.

It’s what pressure can do to leaders.  It can be just one thing that goes wrong; but we lose perspective, and focus on that alone, and the world gets warped and twisted and remote; and the people around us stop trusting us, we turn inwards, become remote…

Of course, I think he could have done with a leadership coach.  Maybe if he’d thought a bit more about how he was leading when times were good, he’d have had a better perspective.

First Manage Yourself

I recently had a really interesting meeting with a hugely talented woman who works for herself.  She does the most wonderful work.  But she’s struggling to stay motivated and to hit targets, to manage her clients and develop her business.

In our discussion, I asked if she needed a business mentor or a coach.  She was clear: this is about managing herself.  She knows the business inside out; she knows better than almost anyone how to do what she does.  But she needs to manage herself better.

Often we assume that management is about how we get what we need out of other people.  It’s not.  It’s always about how we manage ourselves.  And no-one else can do that.

In the end, the only resource I have to offer the world, or my family, or my business, or my friends is myself.  Am I learning to develop and use that resource?

Getting the right people in the room

I’m just back from a brilliant three day course on coach supervision.  It was a real privilege to work with Peter Hawkins and Nick Smith of the Bath Consultancy, who are real thought-leaders in this area.

There was so much to learn, and one of the things I reflected on was how you should always learn from and with the best people you can, because you soak up not only their knowledge and wisdom, but also their skills and presence and energy.  Having the right people in the room with you makes a huge difference.

But the real thing I’ve come back with is the challenge to get the right people in the room when I’m coaching and supervising.  That may sound foolish: surely I’m there and the client is there?  Well, yes, but that is almost never the full cast.  What about the client’s boss?  What about the business leader’s key customers?  What about the team leader’s team?

If they all had to be there physically, it would be a crowded room.  But they don’t: the challenge is to make sure that the client is engaging with the real challenges that these people put before them, in the way that they talk and act and react and pound the table or yawn or whatever it is that they do in a meeting with my client.

Unless we spend real time making sure these people are there, too, we won’t make any progress on the issues.  Because it’s these people who will oppose or support my client, and these people who will work with him or her to help them succeed.

We need the right people in the room.

Open plan offices

If you’re expected to lead, you must take time to think.

I recently met a couple of senior leaders who work in huge open-plan offices. They both mentioned that they are expected to take responsibility for developing and overseeing teams, and to lead through taking new initiatives in their areas of work.  But both reported that it is impossible to get time to work through a leadership issue at their place of work.  They are surrounded by desks, by conversations, by demands – bosses walk over and ask something; helpful direct reports pitch up in the middle of a train of thought.  However tidy their desks may be, their minds are cluttered; both of them reported not having the space to do the really important stuff they needed to do.

Open-plan offices are designed to encourage togetherness, shared responsibility, team spirit.  But if they stop leaders leading, they are counterproductive.  This is not about being introvert or extravert; it’s about space to think.  If you haven’t got that space, you need to make it – get permission to work from home, or to book a room away from the crowd for a couple of hours, or get a free room designated a ‘quiet zone’ that can be booked and used solely for leadership thinking.  Otherwise you’ll end up doing all the things that don’t really matter, and none of the things that do.

Of course, maybe you prefer doing the things that don’t matter, in which case, leave things as they are…