- Gallup recently estimated that poor manager-employee relations are costing the US economy $360 billion a year in lost productivity
- “Knowing that we work in an organisation that cares for us, for other employees and for the community creates attachments that are surprisingly effective at keeping us engaged & motivated.”
The Gallup estimate and the quote above are both taken from Matthew Lieberman’s recent book “ Social”. He is one of the foremost authorities globally in the study of Social Neuroscience. His book is fascinating and very readable but most interesting from a business perspective is the chapter entitled “ The Business of Social Brains”. Lieberman gives his support to David Rock’s SCARF model which I have previously blogged about but he focuses on the three social components of the model – Status, Relatedness and Fairness.
In relation to status he makes the point that many executives incorrectly assume that employees only seek out status because it’s a sign that more money will follow. However, Lieberman suggests that scientific evidence points to the fact that status is an end in itself. He elaborates by referring to a study undertaken by economist Ian Larkin which demonstrated that 68% of sales staff in a specific enterprise vendor were willing to forego $27,000 ( circa 20% of salary) in sales commissions to become members of an exclusive group. This elite group achieved few tangible / financial benefits but were recognised by the CEO in a communication to all staff and a gold star was put on their business cards and stationery. They also got a trip together to an island resort. Obviously the $27,000 foregone in each case went straight to the bottom line of the company.
With regard to relatedness (which he calls connection) Lieberman makes reference to the fact that organisations often talk about Human Capital but fail to recognise the value of Social Capital. Another economist Arent Greve studied three Italian consulting companies to find out if social capital played a role in optimising performance. He measured the Human Capital and Social Capital of the staff in these companies. In two of the companies Social Capital accounted for all the benefits in productivity. In the third company Human Capital did have an effect but this was augmented to the degree to which the person also had strong Social Capital.
The extent to which employees perceive decisions to be fair in the workplace can account for 20% of the differences in their productivity. Numerous studies have shown that individuals will forego monetary reward rather than accept, what they consider as an unfair offer.
John Zenger, a leadership expert, asked thousands of employees to score the leadership effectiveness of their boss. Zenger found that if employees rated a manager as very high based on “focus on results” there was still only a small (14%) chance that the manager would be rated among the top 10% of leaders overall. However, if in addition the employees rated the same manager’s ability to “ build relationships” very highly then the likelihood of that person being rated as a great leader jumped to 72%. Lieberman makes the point, which I would fully agree with, that social skills improve the value of other competencies because they allow leaders to manage the social and emotional wellbeing of their employees.
In a recent survey conducted by the Management Research Group and the Neuroleadership Institute, the competencies of thousands of employees were examined. More than 50% rated their bosses and peers as having a high degree of “goal focus” but less than 1% were rated high on both “ goal focus” and “interpersonal skills”. It is clear that technical skills and short term results, generated through command and control management structures, are still more highly rated in many organisations than social capital and sustainability.
I finished an tome recently called the The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer. It opens with some disturbing statistics based on a Harris Poll of 2,303 people in the US in 2009, in which they were asked to indicate, for each category whether they believe in it, or not. The table reflects the percentage of believers in the following sample of the categories:
|God 82%||Angels 72%||Evolution 45%||Creationism 40%|
|UFO’s 32%||Ghosts 42%||Devil 60%||Witches 23%|
Why are these figures disturbing ? Well, for example, they indicate that while only 45% of this large sample survey believe that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is true while nearly the same percentage (40%) believe that the earth was only formed just over 6,000 years ago and that humans were created in our current form!
Shermer’s thesis is that our brain has evolved as a ‘belief machine’ and he explains why it was a more effective survival strategy for our ancestors to believe rather than to doubt and be wrong. Our brains are continually looking out to create patterns from our sensory input. Shermer calls this tendency ‘patternicity’. The other tendency which he considers critical to our desire to believe he calls ‘agenticity’. This is our predisposition to infuse these patterns with meaning and intention. He provides a wealth of studies supporting his proposition.
At a neural level he postulates that the neurotransmitter dopamine is most directly related to our tendency to believe. Shermer includes a study by Brugger & Mohr at the University of Bristol that found that individuals with high levels of dopamine are more likely to find significance in coincidences and pick out meaning and patterns where there are none. The theory is that the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is increased by dopamine. That is the amount of signal the brain will detect in background noise as dopamine increases the ability of neurons to transmit signals between one another. In extreme cases this leads to symptoms of psychosis.
The underlying process that is heavily supported by the evidence in Michael Shermer’s book is our tendency is to form a belief first, often for emotional reasons, and then subsequently to rationalise to ourselves and others why such a belief is valid. Interestingly this is a similar process that Dan Ariely explains in his book “ The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty “ where individuals may act in some dishonest way and then develop stories, through reasoning, as to why such action was justified. He says that creative people find better stories to justify their ‘flexible’ morality. This latter point is one that Shermer also makes regarding our belief system and why high intelligent people often have stronger beliefs, even about strange things.
We are, essentially, emotional beings first but who also have the capacity for great intellectual reasoning. Our primary focus, therefore, should be to improve our emotional intelligence. This will then enable us to make better use of our IQ, ie our powers of reasoning.
“In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships.”
–From Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child – John Gottman
Nelson Mandela, 1918 –
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
In my work as an executive coach the fear most expressed by senior executives is the ‘fear of being found out’. The insecurity of having achieved high office and feeling that one is not worthy or capable of living up to the role. However, as Nelson Mandela states in the quote above, perhaps there is an even greater fear that we are capable beyond our wildest dreams.
Lack of Fear
Imagine if you never felt fear, no matter how terrifying the experience. Well, there is, at least, one woman who lives without fear. To protect her identity she is known as SM in scientific circles.
Antonio Damasio, a world renowned neurologist, and others, at the University of Iowa, have been working with SM for over a decade. She is a 44-year old mother-of-three, who suffers from a rare genetic condition called Urbach-Wiethe disease, which has caused parts of her brain to harden and waste away. This creeping damage has completely destroyed her amygdala, a part of the brain involved in processing emotion, particularly fear. Nothing now frightens her. For example, while SM was walking through an urban park at night, a man yelled at her to come over to the bench where he was sitting. Instead of bolting or freezing with fear, as most people would, SM walked over to him. When he then pulled out a knife and held it to her throat, she remained calm. “She didn’t freak out like anyone else would with a knife held to her throat by a drugged-out man,” said Justin Feinstein, a clinical neuropsychologist at The University of Iowa.
However, from an evolutionary perspective, fear has developed for good reason which is to protect us from harm. It has, of course, a significant downside, particularly in our modern world. It is the emotion that underlies stress, and our fears can have a major debilitating effect on how we live our lives. It is the source of all our daily anxieties.
Feel the Fear
In her 1987 classic , “Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway” Susan Jeffers talks about the 3 responses to fear:
Try to avoid anything that may cause Fear
Wait for our Fears to magically disappear
Face our Fears and overcome them
Of course, there is only one meaningful response to fear and that is, to face up to it courageously.
Here are 6 ways to consider in facing up and ‘doing it anyway’ :
- Try to identify the underlying cause
- Fear is an emotion and therefore resides in feelings rather than rational thoughts.
- Accept your Fears
- Admitting our failures helps us to better accept our fears of failing.
- Recognise that fear is the price of personal growth
- We somehow have this crazy idea that we can eventually rid ourselves of fear. If you want to continue to grow and develop, then you will encounter fear the rest of your life. The great news is that each time you ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ your confidence grows and it helps you overcome fear again in the future. There is something particularly exhilarating about confronting a fear head-on and overcoming it.
- Become passionate about succeeding
- Desire propels you to go where you’re fearful and to do what you’re scared to do.
- Focus on what you can control
- Very important to recognise what you have control over. For example, you can control your attitude but often you cannot control the action of others.
- Feed the right emotion and starve the wrong one
- As previously mentioned fear helps keep us from harm but it is also many times a barrier to us progressing. You can weaken its influence on such occasions by starving it. In this way we can strengthen the impulse of courage that resides in all of us.
Let’s end on a relevant and wonderful quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D.Roosevelt, and an inspirational person herself:
“ You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself ‘ I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along. The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
I don’t normally reprint an entire blog from another source to include on the website, however, I came across the following from Dr.Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of Business Psychology at University College London(UCL) (see profile at end) in May’s HBR and I thought it was so relevant I needed to do that. Please enjoy.
“Who wouldn’t want a higher level of emotional intelligence? Studies have shown that a high emotional quotient (or EQ) boosts career success, entrepreneurial potential, leadership talent,health, relationship satisfaction, humor, and happiness. It is also the best antidote to work stress and it matters in every job — because all jobs involve dealing with people, and people with higher EQ are more rewarding to deal with.
Most coaching interventions try to enhance some aspect of EQ, usually under the name of social, interpersonal, or soft skills training. The underlying reasoning is that, whereas IQ is very hard to change, EQ can increase with deliberate practice and training.
But what is the evidence? For example, if you’ve been told you need to keep your temper under control, show more empathy for others, or be a better listener, what are the odds you can really do it? How do you know if your efforts will pay off, and which interventions will be most effective?
Nearly 3,000 scientific articles have been published on EQ since the concept was first introduced in 1990, and there are five key points to consider:
1. Your level of EQ is firm, but not rigid. Our ability to identify and manage our own and others’ emotions is fairly stable over time, influenced by our early childhood experiences and even genetics. That does not mean we cannot change it, but, realistically, long-term improvements will require a great deal of dedication and guidance.
The bottom line is that some people are just naturally more grumpy, shy, self-centered or insecure, while other people are blessed with natural positivity, composure, and people-skills. However, no human behavior is unchangeable. One good piece of news is that EQ tends to increase with age, even without deliberate interventions. That’s the technical way to say that (most people) mature with age.
2. Good coaching programs do work. Good news for all you coaches and your clients; bad news for the skeptics. While no program can get someone from 0 to 100%, a well-designed coaching intervention can easily achieve improvements of 25%. Various meta-analyses (quantitative reviews that synthesize the findings from many published studies) suggest that the most coachable element of EQ is interpersonal skills — with average short-term improvements of 50%. Think of it as teaching negotiation and social etiquette — what the great Dale Carnegie called “how to win friends and influence people.” For stress management programs, the average improvement reported is around 35%. Even empathy can be trained in adults. The most compelling demonstration comes from neuropsychological studies highlighting the “plasticity” of the social brain. These studies suggest that, with adequate training, people can become more pro-social, altruistic, and compassionate.
And there’s a bonus: research also shows that the benefits of EQ-coaching are not just confined to the workplace — they produce higher levels of happiness, mental and physical health, improved social and marital relationships, and decrease levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). Admittedly, the programs studied here may be considerably more sophisticated than the more intuitive and eclectic approach of the average coach, but the point is that EQ can be enhanced with the right program. (And so if your approach isn’t working, maybe it’s time to look for a better one.)
3) But you can only improve if you get accurate feedback. While many ingredients are required for a good coaching program, the most important aspect of effective EQ-coaching is giving people accurate feedback. Most of us are generally unaware of how others see us — and this especially true for managers. As noted , “it is remarkable how many smart, highly motivated, and apparently responsible people rarely pause to contemplate their own behaviors.”
A recent meta-analysis shows that the relationship between self- and other-ratings of EQ is weak (weaker, even, than for IQ). In other words, we may not have a very accurate idea of how smart we are, but our notion of how nice we are is even less accurate. The main reason for this blind spot is wishful thinking or overconfidence: it is a well-documented (but rarely discussed) fact that, in any domain of competence, most people think they are better than they actually are. Thus any intervention focused on increasing EQ must begin by helping people understand what their real strengths and weaknesses are.
Although fewer than 15% organizations evaluate the effectiveness of their coaching initiatives, there is strong evidence that using reliable and valid assessment methods, such as personality tests or360-degree feedback, produces the best outcomes. For example, a controlled experimental study of 1,361 global corporation managers showed that feedback-based coaching increased managers’ propensity to seek advice and improved their performance (as judged by their direct reports) one year later.
4) Some techniques (and coaches) are more competent than others. Although there is little research on the personal characteristics of effective coaches, there is some research on the methods that work the best. Clearly, some interventions to enhance EQ are more effective than others. The most effective coaching techniques fall under the realm of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Attempts to enhance psychological flexibility — the ability to accept and deal with (as opposed to avoid) unpleasant situations — are also effective. The most popular (not necessarily the most effective) methods are relaxation and meditation. Contrary to popular belief, interventions designed to enhance self-esteem or confidence are rarely effective and often counterproductive. But coaching is not pure science; it is also an art. As such, its success depends on the talent of the coach.
5) Some people are more coachable than others. Even the best coach and coaching methods will fail with certain clients (just imagine trying to coach Silvio Berlusconi). This is hardly surprising given that many coaching engagements are arranged by HR for, shall we say, unenthusiastic clients. There is an old joke about how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb. Just one — so long as the light bulb wants to change. On the one hand, EQ may enhance coachabilty — clients with better people skills, more empathy, and greater self-awareness are better equipped to improve. On the other hand, if you are sensitive to criticism, insecure, and worry about failure (all characteristics of people with a lower EQ) you should be more willing to change. Although there is not much research on coachability, a recent study showed that evaluating clients’ coachability levels at the start of the sessions can increase the effectiveness of coaching.
Many employee engagement surveys, such as Gallup’s and Sirota’s, have shown that managers are the major cause of employee disengagement and stress, and disengagement and stress have been shown to be major inhibitors of productivity and retention. In line, the American Institute of Stress reports that stress is the main cause underlying 40% of workplace turnovers and 80% of work-related injuries. Although EQ-coaching will not solve these problems, it may alleviate the symptoms for both managers and employees. So, with or without a coach, working on your EQ does pay off.”
Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing. He is a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL), Vice President of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems, and has previously taught at the London School of Economics and New York University. He is co-founder of metaprofiling.com.
“We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses–one foot is on the horse called “fate,” the other on the horse called “free will.” And the question you have to ask every day is–which horse is which? Which horse do I need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Courtesy of Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution we know now that we are not too far removed from ancestors, who lived in the trees of tropical forests. The triune model of our brain, divided into reptilian, mammalian and neocortex, reflects these origins and our development to hold the special place we do today within the animal kingdom. And though our neocortex is considerably more developed than even our near cousins, the chimpanzees, we are clearly a product of our evolutionary heritage. We know, for example, since the human genome was sequenced over 10 years ago, that there is a remarkable 99% similarity of our DNA to that of a chimp.
We share with our animal cousins a number of basic instincts such as desire to eat, procreate, bond , and reaction to fear (fight or flight). So what makes us ‘human’? This question has been debated over many years and most of the early propositions around tool making, cooperation, learning, ability to love, have been shown to be inadequate, since more recent animal studies have demonstrated that these skills/qualities are not unique to us humans. One of the most important qualities that differentiate us is our ability to be aware of our instinctive actions and to make choices arising from this. Our ‘free will’ may be more limited than once thought but only a few would argue that we are completely without choice in how we act.
Genetics and neuroscience is revealing the many unseen influences on our behaviour and our natural propensities to act in certain ways. What is very clear is that we do not enter this world as blank slates and are not the rational beings that microeconomic theory would traditionally have us believe. In John Coates recent book “The Hour between Dog and Wolf” he gives a very good description of the irrationality of investors during the dotcom boom:
“Most investors I spoke to had difficulty employing anything like linear and disciplined reasoning, the excitement and boundless potential of the markets apparently being enough to validate their harebrained ideas. It was almost impossible to engage them in a reasoned discussion: history was irrelevant, statistics counted for little, and when pressed they shot off starbursts of trendy concepts like ‘ convergence’, the exact meaning of which I never discerned, although I think it had something to do with everything in the world becoming the same – TVs turning into phones, cars into offices, Greek bonds yielding the same as German, and so on.
We experienced the same ‘irrational exuberance’ in Ireland in the early to mid-noughties in the case of property. People look back now and wonder what caused the madness. Unfortunately, despite the many lessons through history going back to the tulip boom & bust which ended in 1637, these irrational economic events will happen again.
Genetics has made us aware of why some people are more likely to employ risk-taking behaviour, which relates to genetic variants in the brain’s dopamine receptors. However, what is also very evident is that the habits we develop through our life impact the development of our brain which may exaggerate our natural propensities or alternatively may counteract these tendencies within us.
We do have choices and how we exercise these can either start virtuous or non-virtuous circles in how we develop as human beings, both in our work and our social lives.
Developing self-awareness is, in my view, the first step in taking real control of our lives. Whether this is achieved though meditation, coaching, meaningful self–reflection or preferably all three, we cannot abdicate our responsibility and blame our poor behaviour on genes or our animal ,instincts.
I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.