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Fear

Leaders : Being controlling won’t stop you crashing

Leaders : Being controlling won’t stop you crashing

by Moyra Mackie on April 17, 2016

It’s a bitterly cold day and it finally begins to snow.  I’m due to take my four-year-old son to an assessment afternoon at what I hope will be his new school, which is ten miles away and in the middle of the countryside. I phone to see if the event is still on and an officious sounding school secretary declares it’s not snowing over there.

As far as the school is concerned it’s this day or no day

I strap my son into his car seat.  Once off the main road and onto the twisting country lanes, snow covers the road and is getting thicker all the time.  I try to balance the anxiety of getting there on time with the need to crawl along in second gear.  I try to keep my mood calm and light for the sake of the little blonde boy in the back seat, whose trusting face I can see in the rear view mirror.

At every twist in the road the car wheels lose grip and it takes successively longer to regain control.  Then there’s a corner where the road dips away sharply and I have no choice but to brake.  That’s when the car starts sliding.

It’s true what they say about scary events happening in slow motion, as I’ve got plenty of time to register the steep bank on one side of the road and a row of trees on the other.

When we’re fearful and in a hostile environment our instinct is to control

Somehow I resist the urge to brake.  Instead I let the engine stall and the car continues to glide, turning around and coming to a halt facing the way we had come. We’ve avoided hitting anything and I eventually get us to the school by over-riding any instinct to brake.

I was learning and adapting quickly.

Many times survival is about controlling our response to, rather than seeking to control, the environment

Neuroscience shows us that fear makes us irrational; our amygdala takes charge and short-circuits our capacity to reason and think clearly.

fearful controlling leadersControlling our fear, shortening the amount of time our amygdala is in charge, is the only way we can respond effectively to the environment.

Companies are acting as if they never got the fear memo 

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Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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Senior executives have never been so well rewarded.  In the UK it now takes the average CEO only three days to “earn” what the average employee takes home in a year.  On top of this, lottery-sized exit packages and gold-plated pensions give those at the top unprecedented material security.

And yet… Not everything feels secure

According to The Economist, the average life expectancy of public companies shrank from 65 years in the 1920s, to less than ten in the 1990s. Public scrutiny is increasing and innovation is a source of both creativity and disruption. Whilst a golden parachute might break the fall, life in the C-suite is becoming ever more precarious. In just ten years the average CEO tenure has fallen from 8.1 to 6.3 years and is getting shorter all the time.

In an uncertain climate, good leadership matters more than ever

McKinsey has published numerous papers linking organisational health with profitability, innovation and shareholder return.  So every year the spend on leadership and management development training and change and culture consultancy increases.

And yet…  Lack of good leadership is costly

Dissatisfaction with the results of all this training and development is on the rise.  Employee engagement numbers remain stubbornly low and, depending on the survey you read, between 50 and 60% of staff would fire their managers if they could. According to Deloitte Shift Index American companies are 75% LESS productive than in 1965.

What should leadership achieve?

Erik de Haan in his book The Leadership Shadow summarises decades of research:

“Leadership is the function devoted to harnessing the organisation’s effectiveness”

This speaks to the fact that everyone in an organisation has a leadership role in order to harness that effectiveness.

However, many studies point to the crucial role of senior management teams:

“The prize for building effective top teams is clear: they develop better strategies, perform more consistently, and increase the confidence of stakeholders.  They get positive results and make the work itself  a more positive experience both for the team’s members and for the people they lead”   – McKinsey,  “Teamwork at the Top”

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Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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Vulnerability AND strength: The walls we build

Vulnerability AND strength: The walls we build

by Moyra Mackie on March 21, 2016

I’ve been thinking a lot about defensiveness this week. About how and why we build the walls we do and what the impact of this is on ourselves and our relationships at home and at work.

We build walls because they protect us

The town I live in has a castle dating back to the 11th century and spending some time there yesterday it struck me that groups of people have been building metaphorical and actual walls for centuries.

Before I continue, you might be expecting a castle like this:

Vulnerability, the walls we build

When Berkhamsted Castle actually now looks like this:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berkhamsted_Castle_Jan_2007.jpg

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons. Attribution: Winstainforth at the English language Wikipedia

Its current state belies a muscular history that began when the victorious French king, William the Conqueror, accepted the English surrender after the Battle of Hastings.

We build walls out of a desire to both control and protect

Yesterday, as I stood against the rough flint exterior, I noticed the cold in the shadow of the high stone wall, eclipsing the view of the sky above. These walls, together with the moat and the other earthwork defences were designed to keep people safe at a time of great doubt and insecurity.  And it must have been formidably difficult to attempt to attack this place.

The trouble is your protection can become your prison

Which is what happened in Berkhamsted in 1216 when the castle came under siege for two weeks and eventually the occupants had to surrender.

As I sat on the hill overlooking what is now a rather benign scene I remembered a client – who I will call Daniel – who came to my office for coaching.

Change and insecurity trigger defensiveness 

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Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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Beth had signed up for coaching because she was leading a transformation project fraught with politics and big egos.  Despite her experience and the faith that had been placed in her, she was concerned that she would “drop some of these moving pieces.”

Like a lot of my clients she was afraid she might fail

Today that fear seemed close to the surface. When I asked her what she would like to think through in our session, she seemed startled.

“Well,” she said. “I guess I just want to talk it out loud…if that doesn’t seem too self-indulgent?”

The value of just talking to someone who is really listening without judgement is often a way clients begin to make sense of their jumble of thoughts and feelings.

But clients also bring their inner critics with them

I could hear her inner critic loud and clear.

“Self-indulgent?”

Beth told me that she felt that she should just get on with it.  She was a master of planning; used to this stage…..etc….etc.  And then she was off into the detail of the project.

She really did need to talk this one through.

And it was helpful for me to listen less to the deep content of what she was saying and more to the emotions that lay beneath the words. A pattern began to emerge:

“If I don’t….”

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Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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Calling all leaders: how warm is your water?

Calling all leaders: how warm is your water?

by Moyra Mackie on August 24, 2015

“If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.”

~ Daniel Quinn, The Story of B

Whilst German scientists in the 1880s found it was indeed possible to very gradually heat water until the poor amphibians expired, I think it’s a warning and challenge to all leaders who want to stay successful.

How warm is the water in your organisation?

According to The Economist, the average life expectancy of public companies shrank from 65 years in the 1920s, to less than ten in the 1990s. Whilst a golden parachute might break the fall, life in the C-suite is becoming ever more precarious. In just ten years the average CEO tenure has fallen from 8.1 to 6.3 years and is getting shorter all the time.

Managers at all levels are expected to do more with fewer resources in a lot less time

If they’re successful, next year they will be bench-marked against that success – if they’re lucky. If they’re not so lucky, they might be given a “stretch goal”.

In addition, technology has led to an expectation that they should be available 24/7. Reacting quickly is rewarded.

Everything is measured, all the time

I’m old enough to remember a workplace where we had five year goals. (And no, that was not Soviet Russia.)

Now we have staff on monthly goals, managers anxiously watching weekly targets and lots of people paying attention to the end of every quarter. Not to mention that we have pipelines and magnets for talent and nine boxes for all our human capital.

We even measure happiness – or engagement – and we find that’s the one thing going down.

Has your water heated up and you just haven’t noticed?

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Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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