Stress: When last were you unplugged?

Stress: When last were you unplugged?

When last were you really, completely unplugged? A few years ago, I experienced it for the first time in a very long time around a campfire in Zimbabwe, the land of my birth. A campfire in a place that is only accessible by boat or plane.  A place where rush hour means the dawn and dusk ritual of animals coming down to the river to feed. What a contrast it was to the traffic I was used to hearing outside my office window. I was truly unplugged!

A place without the internet or a reliable mobile phone connection

It was the first time I’d been unplugged since 1989 when I spent six months backpacking through Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town.  No phone, no web, no social media.  There were weeks at a time when my family back home had no idea who I was travelling with or even which country I was in. In 1989 I took that freedom for granted.  Now I worry about not being able to speak to my kids or check my email for a few days.

Which got me thinking about what being connected and available 24/7 does to me, does to us

“In most organizations the expectations of instantaneous responsiveness pushes everyone into reactive mode, making it difficult to stick to any agenda.  In the race to do more, bigger, faster, what gets sacrificed are boundaries, stopping points, and finish lines. Organizations settle for our continuous partial attention – to their detriment and to ours.” Tony Schwartz ~ “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.”

Being reactive, permanently connected and frequently distracted are sources of stress

The expectation that we should respond instantly and the way that we allow technology to intrude into our lives in a way that causes us to “multi-task” has an effect on us, whether we notice it or not. Failing to notice shapes out thoughts and deeds Tony Schwartz in The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working identifies four energy needs that we need to pay attention to in order to operate at our best:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

He links these energy needs to corresponding needs for:

  • Sustainability
  • Security
  • Self-expression
  • Significance

Schwartz’s findings are supported by the research of Richard Boyatzis, Daniel Goleman and others who have spent the last decade looking at what differentiates great leaders from average ones and how people can remain resilient in the face of continued pressure and challenge. They found that: “even the best leaders can find it difficult to sustain effectiveness over time.  This is, ironically, particularly true for good leaders – people who take their roles and responsibilities seriously…people often lose their capacity for resonance – they get caught in the Sacrifice syndrome.” ~ Becoming a Resonant Leader Schwartz uses a four quadrant model to show how we all move between activity and renewal in each of these areas.

Energy Quadrants - Schwartz

We’re all giving out energy all the time

Maintaining a balance between short fix (empty carbs and caffeine) forms of energy and slow release, renewable energy (mindfulness) builds our capacity to generate more and more value over time. But as Schwartz says: “The problem is that few of us intentionally address each of our four needs on a regular basis and organizations often ignore them altogether.”

Can you recognize your responses to stress in these quadrants?

I’ve been caught in activity and sacrifice.  I started my own business in 2008, just as the financial crisis took hold.  I managed to hang on and grow my business and juggle the responsibility of being a mum to two young boys.

I love what I do, but it’s easy to over-commit and over-work.  It’s easy to get trapped in that sacrifice syndrome. So I made that 5000 mile journey to see if being unplugged could help me re-focus and reconnect – with who I am and who I wanted to be. 

With no distractions I was able to fill in Schwartz’s final quadrant.

Schwartz spiritual energy significance Since then, I have been able to take other leaders on the journey to that campfire – I’ve held Campfire Conversations in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. I’ve been able to help others who wanted to examine how they lead as well as how they live. All the research shows that the key to sustainable performance and a healthy life, is to take moments to reflect, to consider what really matters and to visualize how small changes might make a big difference.

How I can help

Getting away from it all in Africa isn’t possible for everyone, but a facilitated Campfire Conversation in your own country can still provide a unique and powerful opportunity to slow down, fully engage all of our senses and reconnect with what matters to each of us.

I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank

Leadership – how can I be a leader with Emotional Intelligence?

Leadership – how can I be a leader with Emotional Intelligence?

It’s a beautiful spring day in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.  We’ve just got back from our early morning safari drive. We began in the barely-light crisp cold, swaddled in fleece and thick woollen blankets.  We return under clear blue skies, our faces upturned to the emerging heat of the sun, our hearts full of the raw beauty of the landscape and animals we’ve encountered. But what does this have to do with Emotional Intelligence and being a better leader? All will be revealed, please bear with me!

With the smell of lunch in the air and the sound of the crickets starting up in the bush we spot a dozen or more elephants making their way in a graceful line to the waterhole, fifty or so metres away.  The professional photographers in the group, grab lenses and tripods to capture the playful babies and the protective mothers gathering at the water’s edge.

I’ve come armed with only a smartphone, which I’m realising is not at all equipped for long distances.


What do leaders fear the most?

What do leaders fear the most?

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.


Have you been promoted and left hanging?

Have you been promoted and left hanging?

Staff are crying out for emotionally intelligent management.

In simple terms, we can usually divide our careers into two parts.  Before we managed people and after.

The first part of our career is usually spent building and honing our skills.  We may start off as generalists, but gradually as we get recognised and rewarded for what we do well, we focus on our strengths.  Perhaps without realising it, we become an “expert” in a particular area.

After a time, if we do this well enough we usually get given people to manage.

Promotion and progress are linked to managing others

Without knowing it, we’ve arrived at the Promotion Precipice.  It’s a place of great opportunity, but also one of great unknown and potential risk.


Leaders aren’t late: If you can’t manage your time you certainly can’t lead

Leaders aren’t late: If you can’t manage your time you certainly can’t lead

Whenever I run a leadership program, I ask participants to list what they consider to be the essential traits of effective leadership.  Along with “being trusted”, there are always those old clichés of “having vision”, or worse “charisma”. I never hear “time management”.

Don’t get me wrong.  Charisma is a wonderful trait, but it’s what I would term decorative.  It’s a nice to have, alongside a great smile and a welcoming handshake.

Time management is not decorative. Or optional. It is the very foundation of effective leadership.

Time management starts with the commitment to change

Once you commit to action, you can improve your time management through better planning, prioritizing, delegating, improving your self-awareness and identifying what you will change about your habits, routines and attitude.

Time management is like a fitness program for managers who want to build leadership muscle

You’ll need Emotional intelligence

As Daniel Goleman and others have found, this is an area that can be practiced and improved, like any other behavior.

The key elements of EQ are:

  • Self awareness
  • Self regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skill

Hopefully you can see how each of these comes in handy when managing your time.

You need to understand what your de-railers are

You need to identify how, why and when you get distracted.

And then instead of saying “that’s just the way things are” or “that’s the way the company works” you will get yourself motivated to make what will be some tough changes to the way you behave and the way you interact with others.

You will need to self-regulate

Many people who rise to a leadership position possess the Hurry Up Driver.  Which ironically makes you late.  You always think you can fit in one more thing.  I know, I have that driver myself.  Being aware and then controlling that impulse is essential.

You will most definitely need empathy and social skill

Time management requires you to have difficult conversations.  You will need to learn the art of saying “no”.  Sometimes to very senior people.  You will need to diplomatically manage other people’s expectations of you.

These are some steps you can take on Monday to improve your chances of being seen as a leader:

Cut your email umbilical cord

Turn off email notifications and establish a new habit of checking your email at certain times in the day.  This could be when you start work, then just before or after lunch time, then around an hour before normal business closes.

Audit how you really spend your time

Keep a time-log for a week. Just like people who keep a food diary, you will be surprised at how different reality is from your perceptions.

My coaching clients never fail to be amazed at how many interruptions they have to deal with. They are often lucky to get fifteen minutes at a stretch to concentrate.

If that’s you, you need to make changes.

Review what you do against your short-term and long-term goals, and prioritise accordingly

Put preparation and creative thinking time in your diary for the long-term jobs, because they need it. If you don’t plan for the preparation you’ll never do it, and all the work will get left to the last minute.

Short-term urgent tasks will always use up all your time unless you plan to spend it otherwise.

Question, challenge and drive habit change

Be creative in finding and implementing different ways of doing things. Challenge and question your own habits, routines, and the way you defend your time when others try to dictate how you should use it.

Challenge anything that could be wasting time and effort, particularly habitual tasks, meetings and reports where responsibility is inherited or handed down from above.

Remember the other Peter Principle

Not the one about being promoted one level beyond your level of competence but the Peter Drucker mantra:

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” 

Being in control of your time and focusing on the right things is the leadership destination.  The HOW you wrestle control of your time is the leadership journey.

I’d love to know what else has worked for you out there in the real world?

I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank

Motivation: Why carrots and sticks don’t work

Motivation: Why carrots and sticks don’t work

We know what motivates people at work.  We’ve known for a really long time and we’ve got an increasing amount of science to back it up.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this knowledge is rarely passed on at school, not taught on business school programs and only occasionally encouraged and rewarded in companies.

Carrots, sticks and sacred cows

Organisations cling to policies, processes and habits that actively undermine or distort motivation and kill engagement.  Here are just a few: