Tilting the Axis of Good and Evil

Tilting the Axis of Good and Evil

Empathy, Candour, Altruism, Deceit and Trickery

Five words define the crucible of civilization and the battle between conflict and progress. This is true in our relationships, communities, businesses and nations.

Whether it is Brexit, the current US election, climate threat, rich getting richer, or data security, we decide based on our judgement of these five factors. British leadership tried with empathy and candour to secure the trust of the nation to vote “Bremain”. Voters suspected deceit and trickery. To everyone’s surprise, Britain is now exiting a process purposed to integrate Europe with empathy, candour and altruism.

The US election is ripping the world’s great democracy into vitriolic deceit, trickery, and self-interest. The consequence is a collapse of trust in government. The window to be good custodians of our planet is closing due to self-interest and a failure of trust.

Voters no longer trust governments, corporates and the rich. Whilst Mark Zuckerberg can wing his way to show empathy for earthquake victims in Italy and the super-wealthy can give away billions, the vast majority of us are hunkered down in survival mode – powerless and suspicious. We feel deceived and tricked.

On the other side, research including Google[1] and MIT[2], shows that empathy is the key competence (skill) to liberate performance in teams. The psychological safety (trust) experienced in a team, liberates constructive interaction and work. This trust is not some secret ingredient. It is actively constructed from specific behaviours. First, high performing teams communicate face-to-face (candour). Second, they communicate in concise bursts of straight feedback (candour). Third, they include all participants equally in the dialogue (altruism).

Empathy is the fulcrum of this crucible. Empathy allows us to read others and decide between deceit and candour (see: http://www.paulekman.com/blog/want-president-cant-wont-lie). Empathy with candour triggers altruism and the amazing collaboration witnessed in advanced social groupings. Empathy with deceit leads to a failure of trust, self-interest and further deceit, which we witness in modern politics, wars, gangs and prisons.

This tipping point between collaborative power and deceitful destruction is embedded in evolution and well validated in studies of corvids (crows and jays), dolphins, whales, elephants, and most primates[3]. The evolutionary source of the solution is clearly visible in chimps and bonobos where the role of leadership demands empathy and altruism to secure the survival of the group.

We might be wise to remember that deceit and trickery are equally well developed in the species above. Homo sapiens is only different in the degree to which we exploit and realise the extremes good and evil.

When we choose empathy, candour and altruism we are capable of exponential goodness. When we default to deceit and trickery we light the fuse of massive destruction.

Be a force for good

  1. Be crystal clear on your language
  • Empathy is the ability, deeply embedded in our species and wide open to learning, to accurately read and understand others. It is a passive competence requiring attention, non verbal cues, analysis and intuition
  • Candour is the intention to express yourself as honestly as possible. Candour requires self-awareness, courage and skill. It takes time to know yourself well and even longer to express yourself honestly with sensitivity and clarity. Candour is active and effortful.
  • Altruism is the intention to help others with skill. It is active. Altruism requires the combination of deep empathy (really understanding what action will help others rather than relieve your guilt or anxiety) and skilful means. At first, altruism presents as a cost and therefore risky. However, the practice of altruism leads to multi-party benefit – particularly your own[4].
  • Deceit can be an act of omission (hiding something) or commission (fabricating an untrue statement). It is the opposite of candour.
  • Trickery is exploiting trust. We attempt to appear as x whilst actually doing y. Here lies the failure of trust in many political systems and relationships.
  1. Define clearly your values and purpose

Being clear on what matters to you, builds a platform to tip the axis to good. Short term self interest or self-gratification leads to deceit and trickery. Our own research shows the critical role of developing a clear set of values and meaningful purpose. We must actively choose between self and others, now and later, candour or deceit and altruism versus trickery.

  1. Press for total candour

Accept that expressing candour skilfully takes time and practice. Be intentional about telling the whole truth. Ask yourself if you have left anything out. Give people an opportunity to ask questions. Help others be candid with you.

  1. Practice your empathy skills

Empathy requires practice. We have addressed this in many papers.

  1. Random acts of kindness

Be good by doing good should guide each day. Even for those on the wrong side of the axis, spending time helping others has an extraordinary benefit to self, others and the system in which you live. Be generous and skilful.

  1. Be gentle and forgiving

Tipping the axis takes time, demands experiment and failure. Reconciliation is built deep into our evolutionary roots. Be patient and kind to yourself and others. It will accelerate the journey to be a true force for good.

[1] Smarter, Faster, Better, Charles Duhigg, 2016

[2] Humans are Underrated, Geoff Colvin, 2015

[3] Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are, Frans de Waal, 2016

[4] Altruism, Matthieu Ricard, 2015

Grateful and Present

Grateful and Present

The sun is shining, it is warm and people are out having fun. We forget the long winter and are soaked in a feeling of goodness. Life is good. It is wonderful to be alive. Gratitude is the core of this experience. If you can pause, soak up that gratitude and generate clear associated thoughts, this experience will blossom and glow.

Last week I joined 180 senior women of influence and stayed to share in the panel discussions and presentations. The topic was Resilience and its relationship to influence. The event was excellent. The speakers shared inspiring insights and stories of women engaging creatively with leadership and applying resilience to secure influence.

While more time was spent looking at the heartening development of women in influence and the opportunities to grow both resilience and influence, some were captured by resentment. It was tangible how fast the mood could swing from enthusiasm, hope and success to one of resentment.

Nearly 100 years ago Ambrose Bierce said “the present is that part of eternity dividing the domain of disappointment from the realm of hope”. While our bodies can only exist in the present, our minds can time travel. The way our thoughts gravitate into the future or the past, trigger a flood of related emotion. We barely stop to consider this consequence of thinking. The price is suffering.

Suffering can be drastically reduced through a few simple insights:

  1. The future is the realm of hope or fear

When we cast our minds into the future we depart reality for fantasy. When we feel confident and inspired, the future is indeed full of hope. We imagine opportunities and solutions. We are filled with excitement and enthusiasm. We can envision a better way. We are inspired. We draw people into our vision and muster the energy and commitment to execute. Execution has to happen in the present.

The skilled leader holds the vision in mind and heart while staying furiously focused on executing in the present. If we spend too much energy in the future we are ineffective dreamers. Too much energy in the present and we can lose the purpose.

The human mind, when directed to the future, has a tendency to scan for risks. We ask what can go wrong. Before we know it we are encased in a flood of worries about what might happen or what could go wrong. While distracted by these worries, fear floods into the body, triggering heightened threat processing and floods of anxiety. Altered threat processing is the foundation of anxiety disorders and much mental illness.

Leadership skill demands clarity on this insight. Leaders must force their thinking into the future, cultivating optimism and hope. If worry emerges, take action right now. Worry and fear will destroy your effectiveness and feed anxiety into your people.

2.  The past is the domain of disappointment, anger or gratitude

When we cast our minds into the past once again we depart reality for what we think we have remembered. When confident, loved and secure about our actions, the remembered past is likely to be a zone of contentment, gratitude and serenity. We know it is past, has contributed to where we are right now but cannot be changed.

Skillful leaders understand how to tell good stories. They can go into the past and create a story of learning, growth and success. They are quick to say thank you and to celebrate what has been. With gratitude and acceptance of the past, we can liberate our energy to return to the present with renewed focus. This is the power of gratitude. Each time you remember with gratitude, your memory is updated to a more positive spin on the past.

Once again, the human mind is wired to ruminate on things that might not have gone well. One comment or one error by self or other can rapidly become a focus of rumination. Think of rumination as a process of bringing up past experience and thinking it over and over like a cow chewing cud. The target of rumination is almost always disappointment in our actions or anger at others. These are very dangerous traps for leadership and life.

If we focus our rumination on something we have done bad, we become self critical. Disappointment, sadness and regret pour into our emotional body. Depression can be described as the repeated expression of “everything bad always happens to me” in dozens of variations. Rumination on our past misfortune sucks away energy and leaves one spinning in these self destructive loops.

On the flip side, the mind can switch to the actions of others. We become critical and place blame on another. Anger, resentment and frustration flood into our bodies and we seek redress, revenge and grievances. This was the “switch” that infected the conference. One moment the energy was hopeful and creative. The next we were caught up in expressing the frustration and anger that women have been “held back.”

While we ruminate on the awful actions of others we are unaware of how our voice and face change to become bitter and hard. Not only have we disabled ourselves, but we have a toxic effect on those we are trying to lead.

If leaders can see the mental switching that allows gratitude to crumble down the slippery slope of disappointment and anger, they can hold the high road. Take the best of the past and park it with gratitude. Then come back to execution in the present.

3. The present is the source of influence, joy and wellbeing

Influence is sourced in resilience. When we are calm, focused and connected with the activity and people in the present moment we are at our best. When in flow, brain scanning shows the thinking mind is quiet. To enter this state we have to generate a calm, relaxed state. We must balance delicately between gratitude for the previous moment and hope for the next. We engage positively and focus on the flow of now.

Flow is a very high energy experience. There is no value in wasting thoughts or emotions about what is past or what might come. All resources are needed right now. This is the moment in which excellence, influence and power arise.

To achieve this, we have to train like an athlete, learning to master our body and physical energy, to guide and learn from emotion, and to hear and direct our thoughts.

The more you can function in the present, the more successful you will be and the more gratitude will flow naturally into your life.

Thank you.

Chief Resilience Officer

Chief Resilience Officer

Board and CEO take note. Resilience is a foundation for an organisation to survive and thrive. Organisational development in the last 25 years has focused on optimisation, speed and safety. The result is fragility. A fragile organisation suffers painful distress and malfunction in times of disruption.

Optimisation removes the redundancy necessary to bounce back from adversity. People are working at full pace when they are tired, distracted and overloaded. Speed removes reflection and innovation. People are racing through tasks and rarely stopping to reflect. Safety reduces risk and removes alertness and flexibility.

Our business environment has driven into disruptive change. Hundred year events strike every couple of years. Digitalisation is removing jobs and traditional skill-sets at breakneck speed. Competition is coming in from every angle. International conflict and migration are throwing communities into new orbits.

The mantras of optimisation, speed and safety are focused on control and stability. We must now adapt to radical disruption and turbulence. Resilience is the integrating solution. Resilience is far more than bounce back from adversity. It must include the ability to adapt with courage, to innovate and transform, and to retain and nurture strong connection and cooperation between people.

Preparing human capital and business process to meet the onslaught of disruptive turbulence requires a higher level of governance and executive action. This is the role of the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) who must report directly to the CEO and the board. Leading institutes in the practice of Resilience are very clear about the primary call for a CRO. The Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities has recently advocated this role for every city preparing to negotiate the future.

What the CRO must do:

  1. Understand how Resilience works in the complex system of organisational life
  2. Seek out and define the strategic scenarios or risk and opportunity
  3. Document and prepare for the likely disruptions and transformations required
  4. Design and coach organisational functions to be ready and resilient
  5. Relentlessly support and coach resilience building behaviours
  6. Guide the board and coach the CEO to ensure Resilience is a priority

Practically, we understand how a military commander or sports team coach is specifically tasked with the responsibility of developing capability, connection and readiness for the campaigns ahead. This is a good template for an organisation. The CRO is the organisational coach accountable to ensure the organisation is capable, connected and ready for the future.

What the CRO skill-set looks like:

  1. Deep thinker: resilience is multidisciplinary and complex and takes time to master
  2. Integrative leader: resilience has to work across silos and systems skilfully
  3. Coach and collaborator: execution requires hands-on engagement with teams
  4. Visionary: being resilient requires a long-term view presented with energy
  5. Powerful communicator: deep knowledge, clear thought and powerful messaging
  6. Effective coach and instructor in physical, emotional and cognitive resilience.

How to secure the Chief Resilience Officer:

The CRO role requires knowledge, maturity and experience. They must have good business knowledge and a capability to influence hard-nosed short-term cost and profit focus. They will also have to have a deep understanding of human, environmental, financial, and operational systems. Many of these skills will be within the organisation or can be provided by expert advisors but the CRO must be able to understand and connect these systems and perspectives.

Much of the skill-set exists in safety, human resources, technology and finance but these are too narrow and compliance based. The CRO must be a visionary, risk-taker and collaborator. This will be the hardest element to secure and manage. To find a clear thinker who is both entrepreneurial and deeply collaborative is a rare mix.

In time, disruptive turbulence will force the emergence of this role. Boards must begin the conversation immediately. CEO’s must begin to research and understand what resilience means to their organisation. Executive teams might begin with a handpicked team to bring together the required skills. Executive teams must seek out advice and industry-specific insights from multiple experts.

Smart universities will begin to bring this role into environmental, engineering, business and health education. In the meantime we might be able to borrow the skills of successful coaches and military commanders. This is a great opportunity for young aspiring business leaders to work towards. It is also a great opportunity for the older executives and consultants with a broad depth of experience.

We look forward to being a part of this conversation.