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Learning from Psychopaths

Are you serious? We can learn something from psychopaths?

Well according to Kevin Dutton a Oxford University Research Psychologist we can!

When we use the term psychopath we are not talking about the Hannibal Lector  serial killer cliche .  In fact the typical traits of a psychopath as recognised by Clinical Psychologists are rather interestingly  : charm, focus, mental toughness, ruthlessness, mindfulness and action orientation.  Psychopathy is apparently  better described as a continuum rather than a simple you are one or not the difficulties arise if you are high on all the named traits.

In moderation I think you can see how they could  be helpful in a business context.

Take living in the moment and not worrying about tomorrow or mindfulness as we might call it a  common trait in people with psychopathic tendencies. Well this can be an amazingly effective  strategy to reduce mental rumination, anxiety and boost resilience.  It is not unreasonable to assume that an  appropriate mix of charm, focus and a smidgeon of ruthlessness could predispose someone for long-term life success.

So what about the prevalence in Business?

The British Psychopath Survey is the first survey to designed to assess the prevalence of psychopaths in the entire workforce. Participants completed an online Levenson Self report Psychopathy scale  and then received their score.  The sample size was 5400 and it was grouped into 50 individual professions and then these were ranked against each other.

So the top 10 least and most psychopathic professions in the UK were… drum roll please

Most Psychopathic Professions     Least Psychopathic Professions  
CEO Care Worker
Lawyer Nurse
Media TV and Radio Therapist
Salesperson Craftsperson
Surgeon Beautician
Journalist Charity Worker
Police Officer Teacher
Cleric Creative Artist
Chef Doctor
Civil Servant Accountant









We can only speculate about how similar or different New Zealand’s results might be however there is a stronger prevalence in so called “high achievers” .

You can find out more at the authors rather” racy website” here   and even take the test yourself if you are interested.

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Should Our First Impressions Count So Much?

Just as a slight aside Graham went to the Auckland Neuroleadership Institute Group meeting earlier this week where recent  neuroscientific findings where discussed. Being highly interested in how leaders influence others here is something that piqued our interest on what is actually going on in our brains when we meet strangers.

Neuroscientists have actually started to map the sequence of 5 events that occur in our brains when we meet someone for the first time.    All of these activities are happening in a fraction of a second but they also happen in  a repeatable sequence they are

1. Visual Cue (Is this a person?)

2. Threat (Is this a threat to me)

3. Categorise (What sort of person is this , gender, ethnicity etc..)

4. Characterise ( What are these sorts of people generally like?)

5. Matching ( What   do I currently think about these sorts of people?)

Note the prioritisation of the potential threat and the simplifying that is going on in the characterise and matching stages. Clearly this is where our existing hard wired biases can come in and influence our perception of the situation. This process appears to be built into our brain physiology and is beyond our conscious control. I wonder if that is in any way related to strongly decisive leaders making extrapolated judgements on their people based upon very limited contact?

However if we understand a little bit about how our brains operate we do have the power to  use our pre-frontal cortex part of our brain  and test and challenge any first impressions we might have. After all isn’t that what happens when we start to get to know someone and find out that some or all of our first impressions weren’t  that accurate?

Why not give  us a call to set a complimentary coffee and white board session with one of our Leadership consultants. You set the agenda (and supply the coffee) and we’ll bring some good collegial discussion and an idea or two why not contact us right now?

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Getting Serious About Continuous Improvement

Just read a couple of papers on learning and development evaluation:  a  2010 article from McKinsey that started only 8% of organizations actually evaluate the value of their learning and development programmes and  the recent CIPD  2012 learning reviews that indicated theta evaluation was the number 1 priority for learning  and development professionals in the UK.  I must admit I got a ere are 3 main reasons why this is a hot topic issue for me.
Firstly it has been a source of exasperation for many years that the data that L&D collect is usually low level and not particularly influential for key stakeholders. Smiley sheets (heavily dependent on feeding the trainees well) never has and never will  cut the mustard by itself. Why do we use it so much well there is a benefit to collecting some initial  reaction and learning feedback but if we are honest we do it because it is easy and our stakeholders are not asking for anything else at the moment.

Coming to my second point 2 and what is worse is that all too often there has been little thought on designing in evaluation at the front end. This can have a huge positive effect on the overall design. Questions like how will we encourage and measure learning application? are great questions to consider at the design stage. Come to that, understanding what impact you hope the initiative to have before you design it is pretty useful too.

My last point is about continuous improvement and evidence based change. If you evaluate effective a programme you empower yourself to improve it. We have a working rule of thumb that the minimum improvement you should expect in year2 of a programme is a 20 % improvement.

The reality is that even with the most successful programmes the potential upside on improvement is often significantly larger  than that.  Designing in evaluation allows your programmes to evolve and improve over time isn’t  that better than throwing away the programme every 3 or 4 years and starting again or maintaining it as a “sacred cow” that has less impact each year?

Evaluation is a practical and systematic way of adopting and executing a solutions orientation.  If we are not doing that we are simply scattering seeds in a field ( paid for by someone else)  and and hoping some of them will grow. You might perhaps call that a “Spray and pray strategy”

Why not give us a call to set a complimentary coffee and white board session with one of our Leadership consultants. You set the agenda (and supply the coffee) and we’ll bring some good collegial discussion and an idea or two why not contact us right now?

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Newly Published Enhancing Productivity Article

enhancing productivityJust a quick heads up (sorry poor pun) on our latest article: Enhancing Productivity from our “What Science Knows and Business Does Series”  Where we discuss how we can work with our brain biology instead of against it and as a result be more productive happier and healthier.

Excerpt: You could probably fill Eden Park with leaders who had completed time management courses but still struggled to get things done. When you ask managers for time management and productivity tips, most people can reel off a list of handy strategies, many of them just common sense.  We like a definition of common sense from Harriet Beecher Stowe:

“Common sense is seeing things as they are; and doing things as they ought to be.”

Perhaps it isn’t so easy to do in today’s frenetic and somewhat volatile working environments where the challenge is to see the wood for the trees. When we say productivity we don’t mean just efficiency (work output/time). We mean the broader definition of being productive,which involves getting more of the right things done. Neuroscience is beginning to identify more effective ways we can be working. . We now have the possibility of not having to push, push, push to achieve outcomes at a cost to our health. We can work brain-smarter to get more done and remain mentally healthy at the same time.

In the full article we talk about the 2 memory systems in the brain and how they impact on our decision making, prioritisation and activity. We also outline some top tips to make your thinking and actions more productive and share the “Healthy Mind Platter”  a recipe for 7 different mental activities to develop an healthy mind.

A parting thought for you it could well be that we may have to start to think about about exercising and training our brains in the same way we do ourbodies if we want high levels of productivity. Being brain smarter means getting more done and remaining mentally fit and healthy and on top of your game.

You can read and download the whole Enhancing Productivity article here.  Why not check out some of our other articles at the same time as well?

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leadership and management skills

Investing in Leadership and Management Skills

We know how important Leadership and Management are to sustainable growth don’t we?  So why aren’t we listening and doing something about it?

Not for the first time, we are reporting on research, this time from the UK, that supports our belief in the huge impact effective leaders and managers have on the success of any organisation.

Get our free 22 page E Book: Leadership Strategy Demystified here

A new evidence paper for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) highlights why good leadership and management is so important to organisational performance and productivity.  The paper Leadership and Management in the UK:  The key to sustainable Growth brings together a significant body of evidence to emphasise the business benefits of investing in leadership and management skills and capability, but the reality of what is actually happening in the UK makes pretty depressing reading, for example:

  • Employees waste 2 hours a day through inefficient management which is costing the UK about $19 billion a year – no wonder they are in trouble!
  • A poll by insolvency experts found that bad management or incompetence of company directors causes 56% of corporate failures

Another report mentioned in the same paper, the Learning and Talent Development Survey, published by the CIPD this year made just as depressing reading in light of what the evidence is suggesting:

  • Nearly three quarters of organisations in the UK identify a deficit of leadership and management skills
  • About two thirds of respondents reported that senior managers lack leadership and management skills, while 85% identified line managers as lacking these skills

One of the key problems in addressing leadership and management skills deficit which we also encounter with our own Australasian organisations is that most Managers think they are better at managing than they actually are.  The CIPD’s 2012 Employee Outlook Survey found that 8 out of 10 Managers think that their staff are satisfied or very satisfied with them as a Manager, whereas just 58% of employees report this as the case.

This ‘reality gap’ was borne out in the recent findings by a Right Management survey which compared engagement levels in Australasian organisations between 2008 and 2012.  One of the key findings was that there is a very clear link between employees who say that they are satisfied or very satisfied with their Manager and those that are engaged – that is , willing to go the extra mile.  This ‘reality gap’ had increased over the period, where Managers had a much higher expectation of engagement of staff which did not exist.

So when are we going to wake up?  How many more surveys and research papers will it take to persuade organisational leaders that building the capability of their leaders and managers is not a ‘nice to do’; but is essential to sustainable growth.  In a subsequent article, we will take a look at what all of this recent research is suggesting in terms of the key levers of leadership and management in order to build sustainable growth and what that means for leadership capability.

If you would like help in making sure that your Leadership and management skills are being developed and are helping you to Shape the ‘right’ Future for your business, why not download our free ‘Leadership Strategy de-mystified’ book by clicking here

or give us a call to set a complimentary coffee and white board session with one of our Leadership consultants. You set the agenda (and supply the coffee) and we’ll bring some good collegial discussion and an idea or two why not contact us right now?

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Forget about training— let’s motivate learning!

motivate learningCheck out our feature article (co-written with Ruth Donde from The NeuroLeadership Group) in this months Training and Development Magazine.. It is entitled “Forget about training -let’s motivate learning “

It is another one of our “What science knows and what business does.” series and this time we discus what science knows about  the impact of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards on our brains.  Here is a little extract to whet your appetite.

We can access most of what we now need online by condensing the wisdom of the world’s best brains from their latest business books. So how come we aren’t all gurus in negotiation, leading others, conducting appraisals, strategic thinking etc? And come to that, why do we often fail to put into practice all the things we learn during training?

Well in the article we believe that one of the reasons is an outdated paradigm on workplace motivation and a failure by training designers to tap into the real  motivators that support learning transfer.

The jury has been out for a long time on the impact of performance pay and bonuses on workplace priorities and productivity, but neuroscience is suggesting there is another negative impact of these extrinsic conditional rewards, in that they often destroy creativity and broad problem solving, and  have a negative impact on motivation and learning transfer.

Get our free 22 page E Book: Leadership Strategy Demystified here

The secret to high motivation and learning transfer performance isn’t through external rewards and punishments, but by tapping into that unseen intrinsic driver—the drive to do things for their own sake and to get the approval of others in our tribe. It is about the drive to do things because they have meaning, and matter to us.

Training is not happening in a vacuum and trainees are generally busy juggling competing priorities. If we really want to get out of this economic mess, and if we really want higher performance and better learning agility on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things such as enticing people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a smarter motivational approach hardwired into our learning interventions and a greater attention to learning transfer.

Read the article in full right here

Could your organisation could do with an increase in leadership impact? Does your leadership team needs help in working more effectively together to deliver on stakeholder expectations? We are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your thinking.You set the agenda (and supply the coffee) and we’ll bring some good collegial discussion and an idea or two why not contact us right here?

Some Thoughts on The Refining NZ Leadership Story

So what do the top companies do differently in the leadership space?

Following up on our recent article asking how our Australasian companies stack up against Global Best People Practice, we are delighted to share with you that in one of the most critical areas that impact on people, we have a world leader!

We recently attended a fantastic session hosted by the Human Resource Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) that told the story of Refining NZ, who have recently been awarded an Asia Pacific top 20 spot in the 2011 Aon Hewitt ‘Top companies for Leadership’ study.  Having fought it out with 500 of the world’s best companies to even get the opportunity, the proudly Kiwi company sits amongst some of the icons and gurus of the Leadership space, such as IBM & GE.

Get our free 22 page E Book: Leadership Strategy Demystified here

So what do top companies like Refining NZ do differently to become the cream of the crop in an area that the majority keep searching for the key to?  Well, the survey identified 5 key things that made the top stand out:

  • Building a Leadership brand to attract and retain top talent – too often we see organisations who haven’t given enough thought to ‘who do we want our leaders to be and what do we want them to do?’
  • An unrelenting focus on talent assessment – there is much talk about talent management systems, but again in our experience, there is often too much focus on the process rather than what it is trying to achieve – who are our leaders of the future?
  • Customised learning opportunities for leaders – we at Leadership by Design would wholeheartedly agree that leadership development happens one person at a time.  Many of our articles have reflected this belief and much of the current research shows that leaders having a focused development plan is the No 1 tool to support their growth
  • Taking top talent out of their comfort zone – I heard a great quote the other day – “The best things happen at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.”    Any leadership development initiative worth its salt should encourage this
  • Focus on a variety of thought and thinking – challenging people to think and then think differently is at the heart of change.  The latest neuroscience findings are increasingly playing a part in understanding what makes great leaders ‘tick’

BUT the one main differentiator that underpinned the success of all of the top companies was ’an almost maniacal approach to execution’ of strategy.

Getting the strategy right is a great start but too many companies we meet start with a hiss and a roar but for a whole raft of reasons, seem to lose the momentum over a 2-3 year period.  Leadership development cannot be a one – off; as was clearly demonstrated by the survey, getting clear about who and how you want your leaders to be and then finding the ‘right’ opportunities and development for them needs to become how your organisation ‘is’ rather than implementing one-off development opportunities

Excellence is worth reflecting upon and we intend to do another article on our perception of the senior leadership capabilities being demonstrated at Refining NZ.
If your Leadership team needs help in working more effectively together to deliver on stakeholder expectations, we are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your thinking.You set the agenda (and supply the coffee) and we’ll bring some good collegial discussion and an idea or two contact us here

Aligning Leadership Development and Talent Programmes

leadership development prgramme and talent According to Bersin and Associates 2012 leadership programme is fully integrated with other talent processes. The impact of that is the same as any other strategy;  the dots are not joined up and the leadership development business impact is diluted or non-existent.  Just a reminder by business impact we mean key business outcomes  and dollars.

When designing leadership development strategies and programmes it means identifying your talent processes and factoring them into your leadership development programme design.


 For our purposes here by talent processes  we simply mean 4 main things:

  1. Recruitment and selection
  2. Performance management,
  3. Succession planning and
  4. Individual leader development

Yes recruitment and selection is most certainly a talent identification and acquiring  process. Organisations need to understand and balance the specific job needs with the wider organisations talent needs. Recruiters need to be aligned  and supported with how to identify and select the right talent

Get our free 22 page E Book: Leadership Strategy Demystified here

Performance management has to be more than keeping score and providing indigestible feedback. It has to be about creating some sort of constructive change. For us that means making it more developmental for the participants. The resulting developmental plans provide great input for the organisations leadership needs assessment and provide useful data at the individual and group level on where to best invest.   

Succession Planning has to be more than performance potential grids that display data but fail to inspire new developmental activities. Identifying the high potentials is a high value activity as they often create a disproportionate amount of value as leaders. But it has to be backed up with the developmental learning and business opportunities required to engage and grow the high potential leaders.

Individual leadership development is tapping into the reality that learning is largely self-directed. A much more individualised approach is required to help leaders clarify their career  and developmental interests.  Often people are unclear on future directions and organisations could be offering more support to help leaders get motivated and tactical about their own development.

Common sense I hear you cry! Well I suppose it is for the 7% of those organisations that  do join the dots on their leadership development programmes and strategies.

If your Leadership team needs help in working more effectively together to deliver on stakeholder expectations. We are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your thinking.  contact us here


Staying Cool Under Pressure

Welcome just thought we would whet your appetite with an excerpt from a new article Graham co-wrote with Ruth Donde from the Neuroleadership Group for Employment Today .

We wrote it with leaders in mind for a couple of reasons. Firstly resilience is a critical trait for leaders  and secondly leaders are well positioned to support others in fostering their own resilience.

It is entitled “Staying Cool Under Pressure “

Consider the common descriptions of doing business today: massive change, unpredictability, uncertainty, volatile, chaotic, adversity, disasters, disruption, restructure, reorganising. Does ‘business as usual’ exist anymore? In the UK, the estimated annual cost to business of stress-related mental health problems is a staggering $56 billion. In the US, this is estimated at more than US$300 billion per year.

Expose two or three people to a similar situation and it is likely they will ascribe different positive or negative meanings to the
situation. A “motivating challenge” for one might be a “source of anxiety” for another. So a big component of our feelings of stress
and anxiety lie within us, not outside us. It all comes down to the meaning we add to events. These individualised differences in thinking styles have been highlighted as key in influencing our resilience and reactions to pressure.

Key learning for many leaders our brains are different and people create different meanings to their experience. This means we have to check in more with others rather assuming they “get it. “
In his recent book Your Brain at Work, David Rock summarised breakthrough findings emerging from neuroscience about how we
experience the world moment to moment. It turns out that we have two distinct ways of experiencing the world. There is a ‘narrative’
circuitry and a ‘direct experience’ circuitry For most people, the narrative circuit is active far more of the time. This is our default network—when we are not actively doing something our mind wanders to what has happened in the past and what we need to do in the future. We ruminate, daydream and plan.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the narrative circuitry unless it becomes skewed towards the negative. In this case, we can be persistently undermining and disempowering ourselves with negative self-talk leading to
feelings of sensitivity and anxiety. This is the classic example of how our thinking affects our mood, and unfortunately the
impact doesn’t stop there.

When people feel threatened or anxious, then the limbic system of the brain is triggered in an intense way. A strong negative limbic
response is also known as ‘amygdala hijack’, or the fight/flight threat response. In this response, our motor functioning increases. This
means that anything that requires strength or speed (like running or defending ourselves) we can do better under a threat response.
That’s the good news.

The bad news is that when we experience a threat response, the following happens:
• Our field of view reduces;
• Our cognitive capacity drops as resources are pumped away
from the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) and into the motor function;
• We have significantly fewer insights; and
• We err on the side of pessimism and are more likely to treat
other people as threats.
So you can see that a strong negative limbic response is good for  physical tasks and not good for thinking.

Leadership insight: When people are under pressure they find it hard to think straight leaders need to try and influence peoples emotional state in order to have influence with them

So whats the answer I hear you ask?

Check out Employment Today for the full article of course

Alternatively you can find a full link to the article on our resources page.

What’s the Return on Investing In People?

 investors in people So how are our Australasian large companies stacking up against Global Best Practice in terms of putting people at the heart of their business?  That was the question that we put to one of our strategic partners, Stuart Burgess, the MD of Investors in People NZ & Australia.

One of our key principles at Leadership by Design is to keep abreast of latest thinking and research that helps us to challenge our clients to be world class from a leadership, learning and change perspective.  We all know that the research over recent years has highlighted the payoff for any organisation of investing in its people and developing leaders attributes  but how many are listening?  A recent survey  released by Right Management in Australasia identified that less employees are engaged with their organisation than were 4 years ago and there is a distinct difference in engagement scores between Managers and the members of their teams, so what’s happening out there?

Stuart has the unique opportunity to check that out every day through benchmarking organisations against an International Standard of best people practice, Investors in People – check out what the Standard looks at in detail & who is involved through this link

At its heart, it’s about making sure that people are aligned to the vision and goals of the organisation; that they have effective leaders and managers to support them to get there and that they have the skills, knowledge and motivation to achieve success.  Stuart doesn’t survey staff; he interviews a cross-section of the organisation and gets to the heart of what’s really going on.  So what is he finding?

Q. Stuart, you have been interviewing staff in organisations over the last 6 or 7 years at IIPNZ.  You must have noticed some key trends over that time and I am sure there is some great practice out there.  Where do you think organisations have improved over the last few years?

“Absolutely; everyone seems to focus on the bad news, but I am definitely seeing the benefits of the focus on Vision and Values over the last 2-3 years. The organisations we work with are much clearer about where they want to be in 5 years time and how they want to be in delivering on the vision.  That has been a key improvement

One of the other things I have come across a lot over recent years is many more organisations being involved in getting feedback from their teams on engagement levels and culture.  This is a great principle, however, it would be fair to say that when I actually talk to people, many of them say that they are not sure anyone is listening to them/doing anything with the information before they get another survey!  This highlights the key leadership attributes related to fostering engagement. Leaders need to  looking to get people involved in improving things, and part of that is feeding back some tangible outcomes”

Q.  Great point; I am sure lack of focus and communication on what’s happening at the strategic level will be actively disengaging people in that situation.  Interestingly in terms of your point around Vision & Values,  one of the things we find and that global research suggests is that Leaders still find it hard to translate that vision for the rest of the organisation – what would you say to that?

“Absolutely. Whilst organisations have done a much better job of setting the vision, I still find every day that staff have little understanding either of the vision, as it has often changed so often, but more importantly what it actually means for them on a day-to-day basis.  The only vision that’s worth its salt is a shared one.  That doesn’t mean people have to be involved in setting the overall direction, but they must be able to translate it in a meaningful way.”

Q.  You have talked quite a lot already about the Leaders & the ‘top table’.  There is an abundance of research around what Leadership attributes are critical in order to be effective and how they should be doing it.  We believe that Leaders have to be themselves but they need guidance and support to develop at each level in their career.  What are people looking for from their Leaders based on your discussions?

“I am delighted to say that there are some great examples of individual leaders and managers doing a great job. This is however still inconsistent and expectations are not always being clearly defined or made accountable. One of the biggest issues I have to feedback to Leadership teams is that there is not enough discussion amongst them about what their organisation needs its leaders and managers to be able to do or how they are going to support them to do it.  Too often it is left to HR or Learning & Development as a functional task, rather than understanding that having a Leadership strategy and a clarity on important leadership attributes to prioritise will support engagement and successful change”

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Q.  So what about the Leadership team Stuart?  There is a huge body of research that suggests that too much time is spent on working with the individuals in a Leadership team rather than focusing on getting clear on what the team is there to do and how they could be doing that more effectively as a group.  Would you agree with that?

“ Definitely.  It is amazing how many times I actually ask the members of a senior team what they believe they are actually there to do and they just can’t answer the question!  If they aren’t clear about their sense of purpose, what chance have they of really working together to drive the business forward.  I find there is still too much focus on defending areas of responsibility rather than thinking about what’s best for the whole organisation”

Q.  Almost finally Stuart, we are seeing very low levels of satisfaction reported in learning programmes in a number of global surveys – is that your experience?

“ It amazes me that in these tough economic times, I still have conversations with senior people who don’t know how much they are spending on Learning & Development, why they are spending it and what difference any of it is making!  At the core of the Investors in People Standard is the principle that learning and development is aligned with the overall objectives of the organisation; that its impact can be measured and is!  This is a huge gap in most organisations and I still find a lack of strategic thinking around “what do we need the people in our organisation to be able to do for us and them to be successful”

Q.  And finally, I am sure we have some organisations that are right up there in terms of global best practice.  Are you able to share a success story with us?

“Delighted to.  Why wouldn’t any organisation be proud of making that particular grade?

We all know TNT – we see their courier vans every day, but did you know that they are the first organisation in the world to have every site around the world meet this global standard of best people practice.  What do they do well? – here’s one example:

  • They have a fantastic strategy called No 1.  To be No 1 is the overall vision but what No 1 means to all of the areas of the business is defined by them.  This has really brought clarity to everyone in the business and they understand where they fit in the big picture
  • Each part of the business defines No 1 in terms of a set of behaviours and people are rewarded based on demonstrating them.
  • Staff feel involved, engaged and ‘valued’ in every sense of the word in delivering the vision for TNT”

Thanks so much to Stuart for sharing his insights with us – great to hear it from the ‘horse’s mouth’.

In summary, how often do we hear the phrase ‘our people are our greatest asset’ or ‘we believe in Investing in Our People’.  There are clearly some organisations out there who ‘get it’ and a future post will focus on looking at a Kiwi organisation which has just won a global award for its Leadership & people practices.

If your Leadership team needs help in working more effectively together to deliver on stakeholder expectations. We are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your thinking. Click here to contact us