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…

 

Chimp or Human?

A client recently recommended Steve Peters’ book ‘The Chimp Paradox’ to me, and I’ve been reading it for the last week or so.  Dr Peters is well known as a psychologist in the sports world, working with Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Liverpool FC and many others.

The key idea of the book is to think of our minds as having three essential components – the chimp (a personalisation of the limbic brain) the human (the frontal area of the brain) and the computer (the parietal).  The chimp acts and reacts emotionally, driven by the need to survive and replicate its genes; the human considers and acts logically, looking to achieve fulfilment; the computer simply stores material (both facts and patterns and automatic reactions) which the chimp and human use.

His key distinction is this: if you experience an emotion which you don’t welcome, it is the chimp playing up.  So when we are angry, upset, anxious and so on, we recognise that we are dealing with a primitive drive within us.  But, he says, you yourself are the human – you are the rational being you would like to be.  You are not the chimp.  You are  a human, and it is your job to control the chimp within, much as a dog owner has to control a dog.

Of course, this is just a model – I expect the line between chimp and human is pretty grey in reality. But it is a hugely useful model.  It enables us to create a dialogue within ourselves, and it empowers us to deal with the feelings and behaviours we don’t like.

So – do you want to be a chimp, or a human?

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.

Learned Optimism

Have you ever given up?

What makes a person resilient?  Why does one person buckle under a challenge, and another find the resources within to push through to a successful conclusion?

In his book, Learned Optimism’, Martin Seligman gives us at least part of the answer: it’s down to the way we explain success and failure.  There are two explanatory styles.  The pessimistic style looks at the event – let’s say the failure to hit a particular sales target – and says one of three things –

  • I’ll never be able to do this
  • I’m not good at this sort of thing
  • It’s my fault

In other words, the pessimist assumptions are that a failure is permanent; that it affects a whole larger area of life, and that she (and she alone) is responsible for this failure.  Likewise, when a pessimist succeeds against the odds, he’ll probably end up saying something like:

  • I’ll never be able to do that again
  • That was a fluke
  • I got lucky

These kinds of reaction are common enough – we’ve probably all said at least two or three of these six statements.  But contrast them with the reactions of an optimist to failure:

  • I failed this time – I wonder what this teaches me?
  • I can do lots of similar things- I wonder why not this?
  • There are loads of reasons why: it wasn’t all my fault

And to success:

  • How can I find an opportunity to do this again?
  • I worked for that
  • I know what I did to make this happen

The key thing is the effect that explanatory style has on us.  It doesn’t take a huge leap to realise that the pessimistic style can stop us even trying, and the optimistic one encourages confidence.

Optimism isn’t like extraversion – it’s not inborn, it’s learned.  And we can learn it, no matter how pessimistic our explanatory style.

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?

Ten Top Tips About Time

Ten things we all know about time, but often don’t act on!  And I include myself…
  1. Time is a limited resource, like money.  You need to budget.
  2. The way you spend your time now indicates the priorities you actually have now.
  3. If you don’t know what your priorities are, you can’t budget your time.
  4. A diary is really easy to plan 18 months in advance.
  5. A diary is impossible to plan a day in advance.
  6. Once something important is in the diary, it can be defended.  If it never gets there, it can’t.
  7. You have a choice about whether to spend time on what energises and fulfils you, or on other stuff.
  8. You haven’t put an event in your diary if you haven’t put the preparation (and travel) in as well.
  9. A completely full diary is a failure to plan for immediate needs.
  10. Your failure to plan should not be someone else’s crisis.

 

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.

Affiliation model launched

If you’re a commercial organisation, you can now have access to a whole range of great coaches through perception.

Perception has always been and will probably continue to be just me.  But effective coaching depends on the person being coached establishing a good fit with the coach, and while I believe that I can do a good job with lots of people, I know someone else might be better in some cases.  So offering a choice seemed like a good idea.  But employing people didn’t – too much admin, too many anxieties about other people’s income, too high a cost for the client due to overheads…

However, I know lots of great, highly-qualified, experienced coaches.  And we now have an affiliation model that will work, with 10 coaches including me in the process of signing up to it, and the first client delighted with the choice and quality we’re offering.  So if you’re a commercial organisation looking for coaches in the West of England to work with your top people, get in touch.

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.