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The achilles heel of Leadership

I’ve been reading a lot over the Christmas period and reflecting on 2013 and the various opportunities I’ve had when in coaching situations with leadership teams, the reading has helped consolidate my own reflections about what causes a team to become dysfunctional and more importantly how to create a high performing team and a sustainable winning culture.

Most organisations lose a lot of energy finger pointing, the senior team pointing at the middle managers and  the middle managers in turn pointing their finger at the rest of the staff within their team. It reminds me of the upper, middle and lower class sketch done with the 2 Ronnies and John Cleese some years ago and is played out on a daily basis within a lot of the blue chip companies I’ve had the privilege to work with over the past 14 years as a consultant/coach.

There’s a view that it’s someone else’s problem!  The senior leaders thinking that if it wasn’t for the middle managers and then in turn the same thought occurs with the middle managers thinking that if it wasn’t for their team, all would work smoothly. And then of course you have a majority of the lower levels of staff thinking that the middle managers and senior leaders don’t seem to have a clue as to what’s going on or how they should run the business!

The amount of lost hours given over to a lack of clarity around what is the most important thing to be focusing on and having a coherent message across all divisions of the company causes much of the chaos within most organisations. This is often referred to as the gun pointing inwards as opposed to them pointing out towards the enemy!

In Patrick Lencioni’s latest book “The Advantage” he talks about the 4 steps that you need to take to build and maintain a competitive edge, oddly enough we’ve been taking a very similar approach when working with our clients.

Step 1

Build a Cohesive Senior Team.

Sounds fairly simple! One of the key blockers to already having a cohesive team is the lack of trust, by far trust is the foundation where everything is built. When there is a lack of trust, you usually see team members defending their silo/division within the business. If another team member cannot trust a colleague, they cannot engage in healthy conflict enabling them to state their view of the world and know they’ve been listened to and heard properly.

A lack of conflict will impact on individual commitment and, in turn, will lead to a lack of accountability which finally, will have an impact on the result/goal you are pursuing.

Quick check

One of the most effective ways to check if a team is dysfunctional or not is to see whether there is clarity across all of the divisions within the organisation; is one team saying one thing and another the opposite?

A high performing team will usually have complete clarity around the direction of where the company is going and how they are going to get there, they also have an understanding of who is responsible for what and give each other feedback on any behaviours that are not in line with the core values of the business.

Steps 2,3 & 4 are all around creating a clear communication strategy and then repeating that consistently to ensure everyone in the organisation is hearing the same message or put another way, singing from the same hymn sheet.

The Corporate Buffalo

I’ve been meaning to write about this rare breed of leader for some time and now seems to be the right time to share my thoughts about “The Corporate Buffalo”.

Here’s a little about the Buffalo:-

Even in ranch environments, buffalo have retained their natural instincts for survival. They can weather storms and help their newborn calves survive in blizzards that would kill entire herds of cattle. Buffalo stand face first into the winter winds as the wind blows their hair down. They don’t turn their hindquarters into the wind, nor do they move with it. Their heavy winter coats provide all the protection they need from the bitter cold.

In the past 10 years I have been lucky enough to work with / coach 1,000’s of leaders and in all that time I have only come across a couple of leaders that I believe have similar strengths to the buffalo.

These individuals are senior leaders in the organisations they work in and have a deep sense of values that drive their decision making and are the sort of leader you would want to follow and go the extra mile for, because you know they are authentic.

The corporate buffalo values their team and has the ability to face the sometimes harsh storms that show up when there is a conflict of interest, when the old style of leadership attempts to get more from the business with fear and the big stick approach. The tools the corporate buffalo use are their powers to inspire & motivate individuals to take action because they have an ability to connect their teams to something bigger than just a job/salary. Their key is that they engage people emotionally, they demonstrate that they care and their team see this by the leaders actions when under pressure.

When the cold wind blows, most people naturally turn away and go with the flow but not the corporate buffalo, they stand and face the wind head on. This takes immense courage and is a key aspect to what inspires others around them, as they see their leader standing for something more than just the bottom line.

They have balance in the 3 core aspects of their lives, Self – Family & Work which is very rare nowadays!

Self 1st

This rare breed of leader is present and highly aware of the importance of taking care of themselves 1st, this is counter intuitive and might seem selfish, yet it’s the most important aspect of Emotional Intelligence (EI). Being comfortable in your own skin as a human and being OK with yourself warts and all, allows a solid base for you to develop the other aspect of EI which is being OK with others. So to be Emotionally Intelligent requires having a high Self Regard & a high Regard for Others, in transactional analysis terms it’s the      I’m OK, You’re OK stuff.

The corporate buffalo is someone who takes care of themselves and is aware of the importance of their health and wellbeing, these individuals look in the mirror and ask themselves the difficult questions about what role they are playing to create whatever is showing up in every aspect of their lives. They look at the results that are showing up personally and professionally and take 100% responsibility for it all, as they know that there is deep learning in taking this approach.


Regarding their family lives, once again they have the presence of mind to be available when they are with their loved ones, too often, we forget that it’s the most important gift to be 100% available to our partners and children when we get home. The pace of corporate life has become so fast, that to stay ahead we fall into the trap of doing more hours at the cost of our own health and wellbeing and on top of that, our families suffer.

Once again, the corporate buffalo lives by their strong sense of values and makes certain that they attend the school plays or the important rugby match or netball game to cheer their children on. That stuff counts on so many levels and nourishes your soul knowing that you’ve made yourself available, with your phone switched off of course!


At work they are so aware of the impact they have on everyone around them, not just their immediate team but everyone they interact with during their working day. They are acutely aware of subtle things like using their Blackberry whilst in a meeting and how that can switch others off if they are not fully present. They use their intuition and check for understanding if they sense people aren’t on board or engaged.

Their biggest strength is that they don’t buckle under pressure and change direction just to please their boss, they have the courage to say no when something doesn’t match their values or at least they will strongly challenge and come up with other options to find a better solution.

I look forward to your comments and hope you enjoy the video clip from the Rocky Balboa film which is a summary of how these people view life.


The Nocebo Effect

I’ve always been interested in the power of having a positive mindset and we have all seen some amazing examples of people overcoming, sometimes insurmountable odds. I’ve been aware of the down side to not being able to think positively and how this can cause us to spiral out of control.

Most people know about the placebo effect and my guess is that there is a fairly low awareness around the powerful effects from nocebo.

Here’s an article from the New Scientist which helps us see just how much of an impact can have on our WellBeing.

When western anthropologists first heard reports of witch doctors who could issue deadly curses, they quickly found rational explanations. The families of the cursed often felt there was no point wasting food on the “walking dead”, for example. That’s why many of the cursed would die: simple starvation.

However, other case histories have come to light that defy attempts to explain them. In the 1970s, for example, doctors diagnosed a man with end-stage liver cancer, and told him he had just a few months to live. Though the patient died in the predicted time, an autopsy showed the doctors had been mistaken. There was a tiny tumour, but it had not spread. It seemed the doctors’ prognosis had been a death curse.

Though the mechanism remains a mystery, but at least now this kind of phenomenon has a name. The “nocebo effect” is the lesser-known opposite number of the placebo effect, and describes any case where putting someone in a negative frame of mind has an adverse effect on their health or well-being. Tell people a medical procedure will be extremely painful, for example, and they will experience more pain than if you had kept the bad news to yourself. Similarly, experiences of side effects within the placebo groups of drug trials have shown that a doctor’s warning about the possible side effects of a medicine makes it much more likely that the patient will report experiencing those effects.

This is not just in the mind: it is also about physical effects. The stress created by the nocebo effect can have a long-lasting impact on the heart, for example – perhaps serious enough to cause fatal damage.

The race is on to understand the precise mechanisms behind nocebo. Medical researchers are hoping that such an understanding will help to make the world a less stressful place. “It is a good way to understand anxiety, and to find methods to prevent it,” says Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin, Italy.

This article backs up all of the work that was shared in the powerful docu-film “What the Bleep do we Know” Showing us what happens when we have a thought and the chemical cascade that occurs and the long term effects it can have on our bodies.

If you’ve not had the chance to see this clip from the Fast Show it shows us just how quickly we can fall into this Nocebo thinking. It puts a little fun into this post.