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Month: June 2010

Leadership and the monkey business illusion

12 by wang_zqhhh via FlickrWhere has all the leadership gone?

Leadership is a funny thing.  We want to break it up into lots of small parts and promised ourselves that if we do more of something, or if someone else does more of something, then we will have more leadership.

When I put the  analytical process in those terms, it sounds ridiculous.  Leadership isn’t something that is made up of lots of things.  But sometimes it is there and sometimes it isn’t.  And when it isn’t, we not only miss it, we get angry.  Why isn’t there leadership?

The monkey business illusion

Well maybe we are looking for leadership in all the wrong places.  The monkey business illusi0n explains the point.

Oh, yes, I know you’ve seen this.  But not this version, watch it.

We see what we want to see.  When we see no leadership, maybe, just maybe, we didn’t see it.

Maybe we spent our time looking at non-leadership so we screened out leadership?

Why do we feel there is no leadership?

Why do we see non-leadership instead of leadership?

Simply because that’s what we were looking for.

When we start by looking for leadership and honouring it when we see it, then it is there.  When we ignore it, it’s not.  It’s as simple as that.

When we do a test of leadership and we say leadership wasn’t there, we are jumping our logical tracks.  We can say we didn’t see leadership; that’s all.

That’s why democracy is important.  It is not that the voters recognize leaders.  It is what they recognize is leadership.

Leadership exists when we say it does.

Find it. Honor it.


Anton Wilhem Amo – First African thesis in psychology

Vuvuzela Up close and personal by voltageek via FlickrCan you guess the date of the first African thesis in psychology?

I’ll tell you that it is really early – well before Wundt.

Have your written down the date?

Now you can download (from the files below) the Life and Times of Anton Wilhem Amo who wrote the first known thesis in psychology by an African.  It’s a 2 page Word document.

I guarantee you will be surprised.


Download resources from WordPress with a download manager

Download Manager

UPDATE:  It turned out that this plugin was difficult to manage as were both “Download Monitors” and “Drain Hole”.  I am now using Downloads Manager (with an s).  It works like a dream but there is one thing I am not sure about. Files are stored within the plug-in directory.  That may be a security hole – I need to check that out.  So if you take this route to get going, back up well!

Old version:

I discovered an excelleChristmas Gift Wrap byL'Amour Olivia via Flickrnt WordPress plugin that allows readers to easily download resources from a WordPress blog.

It’s easy to download and install.  There’s just one trick – to add  “download_page” at the end of the post.  But change the ” ”  to [].  I couldn’t put the square brackets here or the download page would come in the middle of the post.

Signature Manager

Instead, I also downloaded the plugin called FT Signature Manager and I’ve added the link to the download manager in my signature so I don’t have to remember reach time I write a post.

Pdf downloads

And while I was at it, I downloaded a plugin to allow people to convert a post to pdf.   I am not a pdf fan, but pdf is better than the long messy printouts that comes with printing from a browser.

I hope you find the plugins useful.  Any comments and feedback will be useful as I learn to make my blog more functional.

The first document that I added is a 6 stop ‘itinerary for exploring the vistas of appreciative inquiry and positive psychology for people who want to explore the opportunities and challenges of this paradigm.

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How do we recognize a ‘desire-image’ at the center of our being?

The Heart Aroused

Excuse my dancing while you eat by MiikaS via Flickr

I am reading David Whyte’s The Heart Aroused about our relationship with contemporary work and the desperate need that most of us have to do something more nourishing, more soulful and more vital.

It’s a profound book – meaning there is a lot for me to take in and I suspect a lot that I will find worthwhile re-reading and integrating into what I think already.


The last few pages Whyte has been talking about our “private desire- images”, “creative pirouettes”, “creative possibilities”, what Keats calls “the truth of the imagination”.

I know these exist.  I know they really do cause “unaccountable leaps in the body”.  I know because I see the light in people’s eyes when they talk about something they find deeply engaging.

That is a quite different look from the gleam caused by avarice or spite.  An observer watching can clearly tell the difference.

I can also tell the difference on the telephone.  I find it harder though, if not impossible, to use voice as an indicator when I am in the same physical range as another person.  I don’t know if this is because eyes are so  much a better indicator; or, because when we are standing close to another person, we also have our own physical reactions to contend with and filter.


I know these “desire-images” exist and we go into a “flow”-like state when we are close to them.

I know they are different from less attractive, even repulsive, emotional states, such as avarice and spite,  when we feel we can have something without any engagement or consequence – disrespectful states, in other words, that have little to do with who we are or really want to be.

How can we distinguish our desire-images from less desirous emotional states?

In the throes of reading, a cognitively-demanding book that leaves me little time to think through side-tracks, I’ve wondered cursorily how we safely distinguish ‘desire-images’ from emotional mind-fields that capture or attention but our at best unpleasant diversions from where we really want to be.

@jackiecameron1 brought wisdom from Scotland to my Twitter stream this morining.

“Thought for this week RT @RobynMcMaster: When you let love and laughter flow in your day it changes everything!”

Rather than head directly towards slippery, elusive and sometimes mirage-like “desire-images”, welcome love and laughter, act with love and joy.  We’ll create an emotional environment were our “desire-images” flourish safely.

Amidst friends who see our eyes light up when we approach our “desire-images”, we will find our “desire-images” more often and feel safer with them.

Good friends will also chide us gently when the light goes out of our eyes and is replaced with an evil gleam of avarice or spite running riot.

Love and laughter will bring us  back to “truth of the imagination”.

Am I on the right track, do you think?

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SIR COPE – Leading when everything has fallen apart around us

Chalk by Menage a Moi via FlickrLeading during a disaster

Karl E Weick is one of the most profound psychological writers of all time but is a tough read.  An expert on dangerous work environments, he wrote out advice for leaders after 9/11.  His advice is relevant today and I’ve tried to render it below in simpler language and a more straightforward order.

Tragedy that leaves us confused and speechless

Karl E Weick writes about massive accidents where it is not quite clear what happened or whether it should have happened at all.  The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an example.  The financial crash of 2008 is another.  Though hardly having the same consequences, England’s dismal performance at the 2010 World Cup is in the same class of bewilderment.  Let me try to explain.

We hate what we cannot explain

When the unexpected happens, we are at a loss to explain, and we hate that.  We like to be able to explain.  After a disaster, somewhat illogically, we have a strong impetus to explain.  Explaining won’t help us clean up but it will help us feel in control again.

Leading during mass bewilderment

In these cases of mass bewilderment, a leader has a double task – sorting out the mess, which is task enough, and helping us get a grip on what has happened and stop panicking.

This is Weick’s advice for leaders when we are startled by tragedies and the unthinkable.

Our three tasks following a disaster

  • Accept that you are startled too and that you have three tasks:
    • to do the practical things that need to get done
    • to console those who are hurt and hurting and
    • to help people start to make sense even though little makes sense to you either.

Watch for the fight/flight response

  • Also accept that our initial reaction is to rely on what we know.   We will use yesterday’s explanations and when those don’t make sense, we’ll use very simple ideas to feel in control.  Basically we will run (flight) or we will blame (fight).  We will take on the mantle of blamer or victim.

Once we start to think, we’ll over complicate solutions

  • As soon as we collectively realize that the problem is not going away, or that the people we blame cannot solve the problem anyway, we will start thinking.  At this point, we are likely to swing from the oversimplified (blame or be a victim) to the other extreme and over-complicate the solution.  Importantly, you need to remember that you are a member of your group and will share their ideas and its ways of thinking.   So, you too  will make this radical swing from fight/flight to overcomplicated!  None of us are thinking clearly but over-complication is a good sign because we have moved away from “just wanting the problem to go away”.

Think aloud to model how to involve everyone in finding a way forward that we all support

  • Your role now as leader is to think aloud.  I remember seeing a manual advising young officers in the Army not to think aloud.  Weick says we should think aloud for two reasons.  The rest of the group will think more clearly when they feel that we are all in this together and don’t have to worry if “it is just me”.  We’ll realize that there are no experts, no answers, and no guarantees.  And so we may as well pool our ideas, make a joint decision about what to do, take responsibility for collective actions.

As people start to grapple with understanding what happened, feed in resources for collective decision making

  • Once we begin working together to figure out what we are going to do and the price that we will pay collectively to solve our problems, the leader has the next task of feeding resources, not necessarily to solve the problem, but to help us figure out how to solve the problem.

Remember your role is to help the group think things out together

  • Above all else, the leader’s role is
    • to avoid personal paralysis
    • to ‘hold’ the confusions of others and let them know it is both OK
    • to reassure us that they we will come through this together and
    • to provide resources to keep the recovery moving.


Weick gives us a useful 7 point acronym to think about leadership in bad times and good.  It’s rather aptly named SIR COPE

Sense is social

Sense isn’t there for the finding.  We create sense.  By talking to and with each other, we find out what meanings are possible and come to both shared understandings and agreements.  We aren’t wasting time when we are chatting.  We are working things out.

A wise leader encourage us to talk to each other.

Identity is remodeled

      Our first reaction when we are shocked and confused is to run or fight – to be a “victim” or “fighter”.

      When we mishandle our reactions to bad events, we can be locked into to these simple flight or fight reactions.  We have a lot more to us, though. We are sounding boards, witnesses, source of support and resilience, information hubs, story-tellers, companions, care-givers and historians.

      As we tell our stories from slighly different perspectives and for slightly different purposes, we move away from the simple roles of victim and fighter and develop an understanding of context that aids the explanations and understanding that allow us to move forward wisely and considerately.

      We, and all the leaders in the group, will be helping people have these multi-level, yet slightly confused conversations that are essential to move forward to the essential state of overcomplicated confusion that we need before we can move on.

      Retrospect provides a path to resilience

      One of the oddest features of human thought is that we don’t know what we think until we hear what we say.

      We begin to understand ourselves,when we hear what we say, when we hear the reactions of others, and when we hear the words they use when they are repeating our views.

      Leaders help people talk their way into resilience by listening to the words people are saying and helping them find other words that connect with human strengths rather than with darkness and evil.

      We repeat what they are saying so that they can see and hear themselves finding purpose and connection in an otherwise distressing situation.

      Cues need to be considered and incorporated

      We understand situations by creating a story from a handful of cues. And we look for cues that confirm our analysis.

      Sadly, we ignore a great deal.

      As a leader, we can help people incorporate more salient cues their stories and support them in those early moments when our stories get more complicated and more confusing.

      By considering the facts and alternative explanations more fully, we will find a better solution and way forward than if we jump prematurely to an early conclusion.

      Ongoing work on plausible stories aids recovery

      Even once we have a reasonable sense of what has happened and what we are going to do together to move on, we will still have to check, update and even revise our sense of events as we take collective action.

      As a leader, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels or allow other to languish in a half-finished story and the feeling, “Now we have it figured out.”

      Recovery is about workable, plausible stories of what we face and what we can do.  As we  act, the situation will change again and we should take into account new inputs and new opportunities and new setbacks.

      Part of the leader’s job is to keep summarizing how far we have come, what has happened, where we are at, how we feel now and the distance we have yet to travel.

      Plausibility about what happened and what will happen is our goal

      When the world appears to fall apart, we are desperate for an account of what happened.  We are less interested in what is accurate than feeling a gaping void of meaning. We want a plausible account quickly.

      That plausible account is not the end story though. It is only the first point from which we work to build the fuller story like a grain of sand in the oyster becomes a pearl.

      A leaders helps people get that first story and then helps them revise it, enrich it, replace it.

      Enactment allows us to think

      Most of all, in inexplicable times, we have to keep moving.

      Recovery lies not in thinking then doing, but in thinking while doing and in thinking by doing.

      None of us has the answer. Instead, all we have going for us is the tactic of stumbling into explanations that work, and talking with others to see whether what we have stumbled into is in fact part of an answer.

      As a leader, we help people keep moving and pay attention to everyone around them.

      When people are animated, their actions are small experiments that help make sense of perilous times.

      Wise leaders protect those constant little experiments that help us find wisdow in our dismaying situation.

      Weick made clearer?

      This is still a complicated rendition but Weick’s ideas are worth thinking through because frequently, it seems, we are in the middle of groups who’ve had the proverbial rug pulled out beneath them.

      Obama seems to be a master of the group recovery process.  I couldn’t help run Radio 5 commentary about our World Cup performance through this list.  They make the Social level but don’t seem to go much further.  We emote but don’t go very much further in developing a clear idea of what WE will do next.  There is no call to action even and no demand for us to be out there supporting the team next time.  No sense of action follows the phone-in periods.

      I think we could still make a simpler acronym without closing what Weick is trying to say.  Want to have a go?

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        A big research question?

        Crowd by Genista via FlickrWhich way will sterling move?

        Today I asked a client: shall we pay this bill in USD today?  Or should we wait for the budget?  Do we expect the pound to gain (or to lose) when people hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has in store for us?  (What a fab job title!)

        So there we were trying to anticipate what the Chancellor would say and what the markets would think?  And so was everyone else.

        Anticipating the collective mind

        Anticipating collective reactions is an interesting business.  We can take a poll and work out an average but that is relatively dull.

        Let’s take the general election as an example.  People wanted to discipline the politicians and were keen on a ‘hung’ parliament.  When we achieved that, some people were furious. “I voted ‘Lib Dem'”, one tweeter said.

        Yes, indeed.  We all had our preferences and as we voted tactically, some of us could actually vote for the party we wanted.

        The genius of the outcome is that we had to judge what everyone else would do while they were judging what we would do.   The pollsters did work out averages but you and I made a more complicated judgment.

        Anticipating the market is a little bit simpler because we aren’t trying to achieve a collective outcome.  Maybe we should be, but most of us are only trying to position ourselves advantageously.

        So we watch the graphs of forex prices and we listen to the chatter (or in this case lack of chatter) and make the best call we can.

        What models can we use to understand the collective mind?

        What research has been done on the collective mind?  Do you know?  Do you know of any models?


        Courage and mindfulness

        Fragilite by alibaba0 via FlickrToday, Paolo Coelho, as ever, said something both wise and challenging.

        “Creativity is a courageous act.  Avoid opinions.”

        It was certainly challenging to me.  I use this blog as a filing cabinet to keep my notes as I think out the connections between the things I am reading, thinking and doing.

        It is a rag bag, yet it has worked out well. A few loyal readers make it sociable too.

        But I’ve begun to tire of having opinions partly because I live and work in worlds where opinions are ten a penny (and that is saying something as it is very difficult to buy any thing in UK for less than very many pennies).  Like a toddler grabbing at an animal, we voice our opinions for the pleasure of feeling powerful and with reckless disregard of any damage we might do to anyone else or ourselves.

        Courage comes from anticipating consequences.  Courage comes from understanding that to do right we might also do wrong, at least in some parts of our lives and the lives of others.  Courage comes from seeing through whatever we start and working through what we start to its natural end.  And sometimes courage leads us not to start at all, not out of cowardice, but because it is clear our act is just a worthless opinion and as self-indulgent as  a a small child handling an animal roughly.

        It’s perhaps a feature of ‘mindfulness’ to be aware of the impact we have on the world and to act connectedly, and sometimes not to act because we realize our act is disconnected and minimally noise and potentially destructive.

        Mindfulness and courage.  Do they go together?


        Happiness is how we live, not what we get out of living


        Who does this belong to?  Please tell me and I will add a link here or any purchase information or remove it if you prefer?

        And to everyone else, remember happiness is how we choose to live our life.  It’s the way we make our choices not what we hope to gain from our choices.

        We only have to ask: what is the happy way to do this?

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        4 rules of thumb to design communities of any sort

        Hispanic Day Parade by PaulS via FlickrGetting collective life right

        There are so many models around for designing games, communities, and work.  Yet we rarely use them.  I could ponder why.  But here is another that has a useful acronym, CASH.  I’ve lost its source, so if you know its provenance, please let me know.  All I remember is that is was used to design youth clubs.


        Connection (Integration)

        Who comes here and what do they like each other, do together, and want to do together?

        Autonomy (Choice, role, responsibility)

        What freedoms do we each have to choose how we will participated in our community?

        Skills (Capacity in the place)

        What are the many ways we each contribute to this place?

        Healthy Norms

        What is ‘good, true, better and possible’ about our life together and what do want to do more of?

        Comparing CASH with ARC

        Pundits will have immediately noticed that CASH is similar to the Autonomy-Relationships-Competency triad of Ryan and Deci and differs from game-designer, Jane McGonigal who uses ARC + belonging to something bigger than ourselves.

        Perhaps we can add wider meaning by saying CASH UP?

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        12 useful coaching questions based on the FIRO-B

        Checkers Dessert Menu on Vinyl 3 by FredMikeRuby via FlickrPersonality questionnaires then and now

        Almost a century ago, In the early flurrie of personality testing, it seems we were drawn to models that sorted us into types and then subdivided types with a secondary, intuitively appealing question such as what do we do under pressure, or what do we show and what do we want.

        These days, we tend to describe personality along 5 lines.  We are regarded as having more-or-less extraversion, emotionality, openess, conscientiousness and agreeability.   We simply measure you on each and draw a ‘profile’ which we then reconstruct into a story you can understand.

        Here is a version of the ‘Big Five’ from You Just Get Me.  As ever, long to fill out but with a cool interface.

        Old Tests and Corporate Coaching

        The older tests might be a lot clumsier in their formulation, and almost impossible to use in scientific models and investigations, but they are a lot easier for lay people to grasp and intuit.  We are also slow to change our ways and they are found in training rooms across the corporate world.

        One very popular test is the Firo B.  We are measured on the extent to which we ask for or demand inclusion, control and affection and the extent to which we secretly want the same.  Some people, for example, will be inclusive to others but don’t  want a lot of inclusion themselves.  Others are the opposite.  They don’t include anyone but want to be included.  And so it is with control and affection too.

        12 Coaching Questions

        As a coaching tool, the FIRO-B leads to some good coaching questions that people find useful in understanding their style and preferences and how other people might experience them.

        Preferences about inclusivity

        If they are very including, they  can ask themselves whether they give others enough space?

        If they are not including in their style and mannerism, do they ensure that everyone gets an equal chance to participate?

        If they like to be included, they can ask themselves whether they expect others to seek their input unprompted and whether they take the trouble to ask for the input of others?

        If they  don’t like to be included, do they meet with their team often enough to satisfy their needs?

        Preferences for control

        If I talk a lot about having everything organized and under control, do I also talk a lot about my ideas at the expense of the ideas of others?

        If I am dismissive or disinterested in order and control, can I let people who like to be organized have their heads and set priorties?

        If I have a strong need to be organized, do I regularly test whether it matters if a plan or arrangement is flexible or ambiguous?

        I f I have a deep dislike for any order or organization, is it simply a personal need for independence or is there a real problem that should concern every one else too?

        Preference for affection

        If I am generally a very affectionate and expressive person, could I intrude less on others?

        If I generally don’t welcome displays of affection and emotion, would it be possible to support and encourage others more

        If I have a strong need for attention and interaction with others, am I too dependent on feedback on my work?

        If I have little need for attention and interaction with others, does my emotional distance prevent me from being seen as supportive?

        Use these questions at home!

        Yes, do.  But don’t over-reflect.  The idea in coaching is to find something you can do that will bring greated comfort and effectiveness for both you and your colleagues.