Boys will be Boys & Girls will be Girls

It’s not new and it comes as no surprise. I first saw the research back in the 1970s and it’s reappeared again. Psychologists Brenda Todd and Sara Amalie O’Toole from City University in London carried out an experiment on 90 infants aged nine months to three years.

What did they find? Surprise, surprise. These young children and babies chose stereotypical toys for their gender. In other words, boys went for the toy cars and girls went for the dolls.

Now some will argue that the childen had already (somehow) been “brainwashed,” while others will conclude that this is a appalling and a “win” (somehow) for the dominant male sex or that this was a slap in the face for the equality or equity movement. There may be other conclusions as well. Some however, will simply say, “so what’s new?” “How come we needed researchers to tell us that?!”

Surely though, the real question is that irrespective of our gender, how can we be the best that we can be? Without trying to prove that one gender is better than another or in contrast, that we are all “equal,” how can we personally use our talents and gifts to the best of our ability? What would it take for us to step up and reach for our potential? We owe it to ourselves to be the best that we can be.

Social Media Bite

It had to happen. It’s also a lesson in life. It’s just that the medium is different.

The newspaper article cited that an Adelaide supermarket supervisor has been sacked after she posted on Facebook a “heat of the moment” comment about another worker.

Perhaps because we’re not face-to-face, we sometimes lose perspective and don’t always stop and think. It’s an age-old lesson though. It comes in various forms such as, “Count to 10 before you answer,” “bite your tongue” and so on.

It doesn’t matter if its email, Facebook, hi5, My Space or Twitter for example or…in a shopping cue or driving on a highway, it’s about stopping before you say something stupid or act the same way.

It’s just that we now have social media as as additional tool to verbalise what we feel and think, but the lesson is the same. Stop and think first….it could cost you your job not to mention irretrievably sabotaging relationships.

Boss’ Beware

At the recent 2nd Australian Positive Psychology & Well-being Conference that I attended in Melbourne, it was stated that 80% of people leave their workplace because of their boss or supervisor. Now it may well be that some of these staff had personal issues anyway that caused them to resign, but irrespective, what we do know is that it can’t be argued that 80% of staff left simply because of their own personal problems!

There is a huge loss to the employment sector not only in terms of intellectual capital walking out the door, but in actual dollars in relation to the cost of re-hiring and training new recruits (15-25% of salary?).

Where are the management and leadership courses? What are industries doing to train the next set of leaders in effective leadership practices? When are we going to get serious about leadership and how it impacts on any team (large or small).

It cannot just be assumed that everyone is a born leader. It’s a skill that needs to be trained — just like any other skill. Failure to do so simply means that we continue to lose money and expertise in an industry — and do you know any industries that can afford to lose both of these major ingredients?

Your Body Remembers Not Just Your Brain

David Waters is a fortunate young man. At 24 years, he had only months to live, but received the heart of a 17 year old teenager Kaden Delaney who died in a car crash. A life-saving gesture of kindness. (Reported in the “Sunday Mail,” Dec 27, page 13.)

However, straight after the transplant, David Waters reported a desire for Burger Rings. “That’s all I seemed to want to eat after my surgery” he said. “I never used to eat them before.”

Six months after the operation, the Delaney family made contact with David who asked if the donor Kaden had ever liked Burger Rings. The response from the family was that Kaden “loved” Burger Rings.

Scientists have long theorised that the brain is not the only organ to store memories or personality traits, and that memory can be stored in other parts of the body such as the heart. This has been termed “cellular memory.”

For the record, David’s craving for Burger Rings lasted about three weeks before slowly disappearing.

But don’t be fooled, you have memory in parts of your body you never dreamed of!

Career Guidance Failure

It was only a small heading in “The Advertiser” and the column that went with it was short, but it came as no surprise to that group of us who are organisational psychologists and career guidance counsellors. The heading read, “Drop out rate shock.” It went on to say that one in three university students considered leaving their course before graduation.

Although the attrition rate is actually somewhere around 20%, this statistic belies the fact that a significant proportion of university students, as well as those in TAFE colleges and vocational or training institutes, are dissatisfied and de-motivated. Maybe they did actually complete their course for a degree, a diploma or a certificate, but they end up just turning up and finishing it for the sake of doing so. What a waste of human potential.

In our so-called “clever” country, we are NOT clever when it comes to providing career guidance to our secondary and tertiary students.

How is it that we are so good at providing courses and educating young people, but so woeful at providing direction for their actual career goals and pathways?

Office Open Plan is Non-Productive

When the “Herald-Sun” from Sydney asked me what I thought about office open plan, it was a request too good to refuse. For years now, I have considered that office open plan that came in about 15 years ago (as I recall) was not in employees’ best interests, but was really about the company both cutting its bottom line (it’s cheaper with less internal infra-structure and we can herd more people into less space) together with an element of being able to “watch” everyone.

Why doesn’t open space work? We get distracted and are more easily interrupted (both visual and auditory) which affects productivity, and we also lack privacy, as well as the fact that we like to have our own space or territory, all of which ultimately affects morale. Doctor John Medina in his brilliant book, “Brain Rules” says quite clearly that our brains are not wired to do multi-tasking ie., paying attention to more than one thing at a time (I know that one radio commentator said to me today that woman are very good at multi-tasking, but for the record, Doctor Medina says that they actually have good working memories capable of paying attention to several inputs at one time.) For most of us though, we have difficulty focusing on more than one thing. That’s why we say when we’ve been interrupted and we need to get back to it, something like, “Now where was I?”

But here’s the kicker re open plan offices. Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50% more errors.

On top of that is the “Hot desk” where staff are not allocated a permanent spot to work and need to take whatever is available. All the issues with open plan are only accentuated with this notion. What on earth are managers thinking?

Still, it is trendy to have open plan offices. Let’s see how long it will take for the wheel to finally turn back to closed offices.

Where are all the Leaders?

What we do know is that by about 2018, half of the current of the current workforce would have disappeared.

The Babyboomers will be retiring in droves (and probably we would have already seen a decided trend in this direction if the Global Financial Crisis had not occurred where the Boomers have now had to remain longer in the workforce to boost their savings and help their retirement funds). Remember that the first Boomers turned 60 in 2006.

Now, as it happens, most of the leadership positions in the public service and in commercial enterprise including small business, are held by the Boomers. To make matters worse, there seems to be a total lack of leadership training within organisations. Once in our nation’s history there used to be a federal government initiative called the “training levy” where organisations were compelled to spend 10% of their budget on training and they frequently did so by grooming young people for leadership. Gone are those days….long gone.

So where are our leaders going to come from? We are undoubtedly going to have a crisis of leadership in the next decade.

I am encouraged by a small minority of companies such as AG Coombs in Melbourne who have recognised the problem and have undertaken a leadership program for 36 of their staff. They need to be congratulated. Heartily so.

The rest of the nation had better wake up. If we really want to be the clever country, we’d better do something about our leadership. And now, before it is too late.

Slide in Family Values

Someone asked me this week, “How is it that there seems to be so much strife in families recently, especially as we’ve seen it played out in the media?”

What they’re referring to is child abuse, child neglect, children who are devoid of social skills and who are not loved or cared for.

There is no one answer, but there is a definite trend that can be observed. There has been, what has been called by some, “social engineering” or “liberalism” where there has been a slow erosion of family values. This has happened slowly over time. It is insidious and often sinister.

Take just a few issues:

  • Poker machines are introduced with the suggestion that because we’re all adults or big people, that we can control our impulses to gamble — just tell that to the the young man who has lost his wife and family as well as the family home through compulsive gambling.
  • Easy access to condoms, the pill and the morning after pill encouraging adolescents to explore and try it out — tell that to young adolescent mothers.
  • With drugs, a philosophy of “harm minimisation” that says something like “as long as they don’t do themselves too much harm” then it’s ok — tell that to the addict who has lost everything.
  • Legalisation of marijuana — it’s safe in small quantities — tell that to the school drop-out who can’t concentrate now, who hallucinates and who is developing a psychosis from substance abuse.

It’s like we’ve said to a small child, “Here’s a box of matches. Go play with them, but be careful and use them wisely.” All this means is that we become desensitised to how to really live life effectively.

We’re heading for a train wreck as a community.

What’s the answer? Seems like there a few places where politicians have finally made a stand and where the government and the family have stood together and built a community on the same sorts of values. Take Singapore. It’s safe and secure. I understand that places like Vancouver are similar.

There are some answers there. But do we have any pollies or leaders willing to stand up?

Leader Alert; Your Team may be your Undoing

I’ve just seen it again. What’s going on here? I talked about it a few months back, and I’m certainly not out there looking for it…

Leaders with whom I have worked closely and admire, leaders who are people of integrity, are well-liked and respected and yet somehow, they make poor decisions, miss vital information, get the dynamics wrong and miss opportunities. Why? What goes wrong?

Simply, the senior or executive team around them is ineffective, but worse still, filters the information, skews the data, manipulates the figures, portrays a particular perspective, protects themselves or others and paints a picture that is not accurate nor honest.

Leaders need not only to do their recruiting well at the senior level, but need to keep their ear to the ground outside of their executive team.

To be so busy as a leader and not keep in touch with the grassroots is folly indeed.

Emotional Intelligence – Why Is It Good For Business?

This topic has captured the imagination of the business world especially over the last decade or so where we are now studying what it takes for people to be able to step up and for a leader to be able to really lead.

So what is Emotional Intelligence (EI)? In a nutshell, it’s about being aware of our thoughts and feelings, managing these, and therefore being able to connect more effectively with those around us. It’s about how we manage our personality if you like.

Interestingly, research shows that our mental intelligence (ie., IQ) predicts no more than 25% of our performance (JE Hunter, “Validity and utility of alternate predictors of job performance,” Psychological Bulletin, 96, 72-98). So, what predicts the other 75%? In the mid 1990s, Daniel Goleman popularized the notion of Emotional Intelligence and indicated that this was the main factor contributing to job performance. “We are being judged by a new yard stick; not just how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also how well we handle ourselves and each other” (Working with EI, 1998).

Further, Goleman (“What Makes a Leader,” Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec. 1998) went on to say that:

“When I compared leaders who were linked to strong performance with average performers, 90% of the difference was attributable to emotional intelligence rather than technical skills”

“My entire education over-developed my IQ skills and nowhere along the line did anyone ever teach me social skills, interpersonal skills – more importantly, emotional skills – which are the centre of developing trust.”

In fact, Goleman went so far as to state that,EI is twice as important as any other factor in predicting outstanding employee performance.”

In Summary, what does this all mean?

  • In recent years, many different aspects of emotions, motives, and personality that help determine interpersonal effectiveness and leadership skill have been placed under one comprehensive label of Emotional Intelligence.
  • These factors are related to success in life
  • Helps us understand why some people do well in life and others struggle or fail
  • Distinct from IQ (cognitive intelligence)
  • Distinct from our personality which is relatively fixed (probably since birth)
  • EI can be developed and changed

The evidence for the effectiveness of EI in the business arena in particular, has been steadily mounting, but there have been those who have purported otherwise:

  • EI is something you are born with

As hinted at above, EI is based on attitudes and habits, neither of which you are born with. The big benefit therefore is that EI can be developed by anyone.

  • EI is just a fad

It certainly was popularized in the 1990s, but it has been used widely in education since the 1980s and different terms have been around for similar concepts since 1920.

  • EI is really just naval gazing

Developing EI certainly demands self-awareness, but it goes beyond that to doing something about your thoughts and feelings and taking action that is observable to others.

  • EI is just soft stuff

As is the way with many things, the soft stuff is really the hard stuff. Having an open and honest conversation with someone, delegating work that is not popular, disagreeing with someone, resolving conflict are all hard for most of us.

  • EI is just soft skills

EI is much more than soft skills. Skills such as assertiveness can support EI, but need to be backed up by deeper attitudes and changes in behaviour.

  • Women are more emotionally intelligent

There is evidence that females are better than males at empathy and relationship skills for example, while for some other factors (eg., achieving and reaching goals) males tend to do better.

  • EI is simply about being nice to others

EI is definitely about having regard for others, but this does not mean that you have to like their behaviour. The difficult part is still valuing a person despite maybe disapproving of their behaviour.

Case Studies:

James came to see me because he worked in a government department, but had now been passed over twice for a promotion. He said he was confused because he put his head down and worked hard. He didn’t take breaks like others might or hang around the photocopier or the watercooler and chat. He got on with his work. He said that he didn’t like to bother his boss and only ever talked to his boss if there was a major problem with his work that he couldn’t fix. He was somewhat shy and didn’t attend any of the functions that the social club organized.

We discussed the importance of EI. James agreed to try some different things since what he had been doing to date certainly hadn’t been working. He had various “homework” tasks to do including, saying hello to people each day, letting his boss know at least once a week what he was working on, visiting the watercooler and making conversation and attending at least one social function over a three month period.

James reported that he was feeling much happier at work, and that people were more friendly towards him. He hadn’t had a chance to apply for any jobs, but he was feeling more confident about the prospect.

Frank on the other hand, had been recommended to receive coaching by the HR Manager in Sydney. Frank was a State Manager who had a reputation for “not suffering fools gladly.” The turn-over in his senior management team was high and he was unsure why this might be so. We instituted a 360 degree feedback for Frank so that he could receive information regarding his personal performance from those above him, his peers, and his direct reports. The results showed his inability to listen and empathise, his poor communication skills and his inability to develop team relationships. Frank was initially offended at the results suggesting that they were all “out to get him,” but later agreed to see if he could change his behaviour. We will institute another 360 survey in about 6-9 months time to see how he has progressed.

Goleman put forward the notion that there were 5 major components associated with EI, namely, Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skill. See attachment to this article titled, “Emotional Intelligence: The 5 Core Components at Work” which outlines those dimensions, but also highlights the “hallmarks” or factors which go to makeup each of these 5 components.

  • How do you rate yourself for each hallmark?
  • If you had to choose one or two of these hallmarks to work on over the next few weeks, what would they be?
  • How would you know that you’d been successful?
  • Who would keep you accountable?

Are you up for this?

“If you want to be something different – you have to do something different.”    Author unknown