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The Power of Optimism

Optimism 400x265Are you an optimist or pessimist?

The optimist / pessimist contrast is usually the only contact many of us have had with the concept of optimism.  Optimism by itself, is a fascinating concept and there is a growing body of research showing that this is largely genetic and then shaped further by early experiences and upbringing – so we’re optimists or pessimists from a young age.

Yet there is a difference between being an optimist and thinking optimistically – and we can all benefit greatly from choosing to think more optimistically, some of the time.

Martin Seligman is world famous for his work on depression, happiness, wellbeing and optimism.  He points out as a result of thousands of examples from therapy and experimentation that regardless of our natural style (more or less optimistic), we can develop our thinking.  And that change in thinking leads to both lower chances of getting depressed and faster recovery time if we do feel depressed.

So what can we do?  It all comes down to how we explain to ourselves and others “good” and “bad” events.  Life happens – it’s how we think about those events that makes the difference to our wellbeing.

When good, great, pleasing things happen, it is better for our health and wellbeing to explain those things as personal, permanent and pervasive.  This is optimistic thinking.  An example would be:

“That workshop went so well because I did a great job.  And I always do a great job so tomorrow will be just as good.  And I’m not just good at this, I’m good at other things too – my strengths apply across situations.”

As opposed to: “it was a fluke the workshop went well, the group were just really nice.  I won’t be that lucky tomorrow.  And just because that workshop went well, that doesn’t make up for the fact that I’m useless at most other things.”

Totem Gummi Bears

When sad, upsetting, bad things happen, it is better for our health and wellbeing to do the opposite.  Let’s explain those things as impersonal, temporary and specific.  This is optimistic thinking.  An example would be:

“My marriage is not going well because of current circumstances, I don’t think it’s all down to me.  This is just a bad time, things will get better.  And just because the marriage isn’t so great right now, I’m still able to do great at my work, hobbies and relationships with other people.”

As opposed to: “It’s all my fault, I’m ruining my marriage.  This is permanent, it’s never going to get any better.  How can I do anything else well, I am a failure at everything.”

So the research shows it, more optimistic thinking is better for our health, wellbeing and overall success.  It’s not about thinking positive all the time – how would we get on if we had no risk management specialists planning for the worst?!  This is about us having a choice in each situation, and choosing at times to think more optimistically for our wellbeing and happiness.

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The Importance of Feeling Earnest

s040163 400x265Why bother with Emotional Intelligence?

Who do you think of when asked about great leaders from the past?  Nelson?  Churchill?  These leaders were bold, brave and tough.  They showed a great sense of purpose and resolve.  There was no messing with them!  But I imagine that they were quite difficult to get along with.

Today the qualities required of leaders are very different.  They are required to lead a workforce that expects to be empowered and consulted.  They must provide opportunities for growth, challenge and development.  All the while, leaders must be ready to take full responsibility when things go wrong.

Clearly success requires more than traditional skills & intelligence (IQ).  This is true of leaders, managers and every member of the workforce.  Each person needs to deal with the emotions related to their work, both their own and others.

“The greatest ability in business is to get along with others & influence their actions.” – John Hancock

This is where the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) comes in.  Originally coined by two American psychologists, John Mayer & Peter Salovey, they defined Emotional Intelligence as:

The ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.

According to Daniel Goleman, competency research in over 200 companies and organizations worldwide suggests that about one third of the difference in job performance is due to technical skill and cognitive ability while the remaining two thirds is due to emotional competence.  In top leadership positions, over four fifths of the difference is due to emotional competence.

There are 4 main elements of Emotional Intelligence:

  • Perceiving emotions – the ability to perceive emotions in oneself & others as well as in objects, art & events.
  • Using emotions – the ability to generate, use and feel emotion to communicate feelings or employ them in thinking or creating.
  • Understanding emotions – the ability to understand emotional information, how emotions combine and progress and to reason about such emotional meanings.
  • Managing emotions – the ability to regulate emotions in oneself and others so as to promote personal understanding and growth.

The key thing is that each of these elements can be developed.  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses now enables you to decide which areas need further work.  You have the ability to improve your EQ.

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Why Perfectionism Isn’t Perfect

Peas 400x265Why Being Mr. (or Mrs.) Perfect may not be so perfect after all.

Perfectionism is one of those wonderful character traits that we all aspire too, but can often lead to drastically negative behaviour.  It continually points to our failures, no matter how small and undermines our achievements.

Culturally, we prize perfectionism; Steve Jobs is frequently held as an ideal for insisting on perfection.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, adaptability is a key ingredient in resilient people.  And resilient people are the ones who will come back time and again to face a challenge.  The irony of perfectionism is that eventually, the perfectionist will give up.  And whatever challenge they faced will be left un-conquered.  Was Steve Jobs a perfectionist?  Or was he able to adapt his ideas to the modern marketplace?  That debate still rages on in our office today.

But research now shows us that perfectionism is an acquired trait, we’re certainly not born with it.  How perfect were your idle doodles as a 4 year old?  Could they have been better?

One interesting shift in modern society is the pressure we place on our children to succeed.  Without the requisite social skills in place, children often perceive this pressure as criticism.  And it’s this perceived criticism that works its way into the psyche and develops as a trait.

One side effect to perfectionism is a focus on control; it encourages rigid thinking and behaviour.  That’s precisely the opposite of what is required from individuals across organisations in the modern context, where we want to see innovation and flexibility.

According to Psychology Today:

“Perfectionism reduces playfulness and the assimilation of knowledge; if you’re always focused on your own performance and on defending yourself, you can’t focus on learning a task. Here’s the cosmic thigh-slapper: Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation—exactly what’s not adaptive in the global marketplace.”

“Yet, it does more. It is a steady source of negative emotions; rather than reaching toward something positive, those in its grip are focused on the very thing they most want to avoid—negative evaluation. Perfectionism, then, is an endless report card; it keeps people completely self-absorbed, engaged in perpetual self-evaluation—reaping relentless frustration and doomed to anxiety and depression.”

Totem Gummi Bears

Below we list some of the personality traits exhibited by perfectionists.

Concern over mistakes: Perfectionists tend to interpret mistakes as equivalent to failure and to believe they will lose the respect of others following failure.

High personal standards: Perfectionists don’t just set very high standards but place excessive importance on those standards for self-evaluation.

Parental expectations: Perfectionists tend to believe their parents set very high goals for them.

Parental criticism: Perfectionists perceive that their parents are (or were) overly critical.

Doubting actions: Perfectionists doubt their ability to accomplish tasks.

Organisation: Perfectionists tend to emphasise order.

In a team environment we’ve experienced first-hand that the rigidity of perfectionism is difficult to work with.  The drive for the perfect answer doesn’t make space for the weird and wonderful world of collaboration.

What can you do to overcome the drawbacks to perfectionism?  As a starting point, we can take a leaf from Taibi Kahler’s book on drivers.  He identified ‘Be Perfect’ as an inherent driver type and offered these suggestions:

  • Encourage playfulness in your thinking process
  • Cultivate mindfulness when dealing with others
  • Practise accepting imperfection from others as well as yourself
  • Acknowledge the effort that’s put into meeting challenges
  • Invite feedback and embrace it

Perfectionism can be problematic because it can lead to obsessiveness, which in turn leads to a whole host of issues around attendance, performance, and morale.  For example; you’ll often see a perfectionist procrastinate because they’re afraid of failing before they start.

Or even worse, they may position themselves as a martyr. Certainly in a business context, the employees we regard as heroes, the ones who come in early, stay late, and solve every problem can actually mask inherent business issues.  The simple fact that heroic measures are required means at least some things are not working right.  So whether we call a person hero or martyr – we need to ask the question, what is really going on and what can we learn from that?

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Where Has All The Trust Gone?

Trust 400x265As we spend time working on engagement and talent management, we might do well to look at trust within our business.

Research on levels of trust reveals that we have far deeper issues than developing the right talent.  If we do not trust our managers and business leaders, then any talent we do bring in or develop is going to be lost in the “valley of mistrust.”

The findings of the study by Cass Business School showed stronger levels of trust in immediate line managers than in senior leaders – as we might expect given the usual tendency to blame “them” for decisions that we disagree with.

So what makes up our decision on whether to trust a leader or not?  The research identified four drivers listed here in priority order:

  • Benevolence – are leaders self-serving or displaying interest in others?
  • Integrity – do we see honesty and a moral code we can identify with?
  • Ability – are leaders capable of running the business?
  • Predictability – is there consistency in the way leaders behave?


It strikes us that the traditional view that managers must have all the right answers and never be seen as weak, is more damaging now than ever before.

We want an engaged team of talented people to lead us forward to great success, and so we need their trust.  A great place to start is in trusting our own teams.  How can we expect people to trust us if we are not willing to trust them first?  By showing interest in others and owning up to mistakes, we may just start to plug the gap in the vast valley of mistrust.


  • Trust is a critical component to building engagement – and it’s severely lacking
  • Where trust levels are low, the greatest improvements are seen when leaders trust their teams, admit mistakes and apologise
  • As Veronica Hope Hailey of Cass Business School put it:  “People don’t want cheer leading, they want leaders who create trust”

Further Reading

We’ve found this book by Robert Hurley to be particularly useful.  Hurley reveals amongst other things, a proven Decision to Trust Model (DTM) of ten factors that establish whether or not one party will trust the other.  It’s fascinating stuff!

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Managing Change Webinar

The fabulous Helen Frewin walks us through Managing Change across organisations using these top tips!

We’ve also put together some supporting notes and questions to help fully explore this topic.


As always, if you need a little more information on this or any of the topics we cover on our site simply pick up the phone or send us an email.  Talking is free!

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Mindfulness Download

Businessman - head in the black cloudsWhat does mindfulness really mean and how can we use it to our advantage?

We never or very rarely have completely empty moments – our brains are almost always full of ideas, thoughts, criticisms, judgements and concerns.

Mindfulness is a state of awareness, of focusing and being able to return to that focus.  Meditation is a practice that helps train the brain to be more mindful.  We’ve put together this awesome little download as an introduction to mindfulness and it’s benefits.



Our leadership team are currently practising mindfulness with this amazing app if you’d like to learn about how we’re finding it useful follow me!


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improve-hero1 400x265Noticing the traffic without getting stuck in it!

Mindfulness and meditation are becoming more common in our conversations and buzz words for developing effective relationships in work.  I’ve loved the concepts for some time and could see loads of benefits but I wasn’t actually doing it.

To be honest, I didn’t know how.  That was until I found a handy app – Headspace – which provides guided meditation.  All of a sudden I started to realise the benefits and found myself much more mindful in my interactions.

How has it helped me – well the YouTube clip above is probably the best way to explain it!  Up until I started Headspace and training my mind, I was allowing my emotions to drive me.  That can be quite powerful sometimes but when you don’t have control over when the emotions take charge, it can sometimes mean others get a bit of a shock by your reaction.

Having just completed the Headspace trial I was recently in a meeting and I think my colleagues had a bit of a shock by my calm reaction!  Something was said that would usually ignite a strident debate but instead I just noticed the emotion.  Noticing it and not letting it drive me meant that I could ask more questions and really get to the bottom of the matter without a heated debate.

Give it a go yourself.  I wouldn’t recommend it without a completely free trial option… to help you experience it for yourself before you make any commitment.  How it works is in the clip below.

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