The Simple Presence of a Leader

Meditating in the morning“Your true home is in the here and the now.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen teacher

What an intriguing quote to use to promote leadership, when we are bombarded by advice to become more strategic and future-oriented.  None of that advice is improper.  But leaders often under-estimate the importance of exhibiting ‘presence’. Continue reading

The Taboo of Anger

angry and furious announcement - businessman spitting fireAnger is one of the most powerful emotions in the human repertoire.  It drives people to collective action, as in the civil rights movement and the recent election, and also in sports – have you seen the New Zealand rugby team the All Blacks perform their ritual haka before each game?  But anger can be destructive as well.  It can generate hurt feelings, damaged relationships, divisiveness, anxiety, inaction or outsized reactions, and in extreme situations, irreparable ruin of people or property.  That potential for damage and conflict makes it a feared emotion. Continue reading

Back to the Playground: Building Your Social Skills

Kids having fun“For all the jobs that machines can now do — whether performing surgery, driving cars or serving food — they still lack one distinctly human trait. They have no social skills.  Yet skills like cooperation, empathy and flexibility have become increasingly vital in modern-day work. Occupations that require strong social skills have grown much more than others since 1980, according to new research. And the only occupations that have shown consistent wage growth since 2000 require both cognitive and social skills.” Continue reading

In the Flow, or in the Frazzle? Hitting Your Stride with Stress

Stress.  Stress!  Stress@*&#!  It is an ever-increasing part of our discourse, and the very word has begun to be the lexicological equivalent of such other negatively super-charged words as ‘cancer’ and ‘politician’.  Yet we all recognize that some degree of stress can be energizing.  The problem is that for many leaders, stress has become too intrusive, too consistent, and too disorienting to be energizing.

A little science helps to understand what happens to our responses as stress increases.  Way back in 1908 scientists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson experimented with the impact of introducing varying intensities and frequencies of stress on performance of tasks.  What became known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law demonstrated that increased stimulation (stressors) can improve performance – up to a certain point.  A certain level of stress releases the brain chemicals adrenaline and cortisol that enhance motivation and focus on the task at hand, and even some, like dopamine, that actually enhance brain function and feelings of satisfaction.  After that point, however, the concentration of stress hormones in the system creates negative effects.  Continue reading

“I’ll Never Get Better at….” – Science Kills Off an Old Excuse

One of our clients, Rich, let out a mournful cry when he saw his 360 feedback results indicating he was viewed as argumentative and not collaborative by his executive peers.  “I know this is true.  I’ve heard this feedback for 15 years.  Even my wife gives me this feedback.  I’ve tried, but I’ll never get better at being a warm, helpful guy!”

Not so fast, Rich.  Today’s science isn’t buying that old “I’ve-tried-but-I-can’t-get-better” excuse.  Daniel Goleman, the emotional intelligence guru, cites compelling scientific evidence that brain cells don’t just reach a peak in our youth and then start dying off.  In fact, they regenerate and create new circuitry at the rate of 10,000 new neural connections in a matter of four months.  The evidence also shows that most often, this ‘neurogenesis’ is directed toward learning new things. Continue reading