Halloween Special: 3 Signs That You’re a Scary Boss


We’ve all heard horror stories about scary bosses and the fallout from their behaviour. The old adage that people don’t leave organisations they leave bad managers is true – it’s the number one reason why people move on to new pastures. When leadership is toxic it demotivates employees, costing business time, money and an exodus of talent. But how do you know if you’re a scary boss? Here are three signs that you might be causing your staff nightmares this halloween.

1. Lack of Engagement

The latest Gallup research suggests that approximately 70% of employees are disengaged. That’s a chilling figure if you’re the one leading them. Bekker, Demerouti, & Sanz-Vergel, 2014, experts in employee burnout define engagement as ‘a positive, fulfilling work-related state of mind that is characterised as vigor, dedication and absorption. The kind of state that you’d expect to see employees in if they were in ‘flow’ or working at optimum performance. That’s what we’re all aiming for but it’s hard to get into flow or any other state of engagement with someone breathing down your neck. The old command and control style of leadership is widely recognised as defunct and out of date, it’s not something you need to resurrect, not even at Halloween. It’s worth investing in engagement by;

  • Allowing your staff to use their strengths
  • Increasing their level of autonomy and decision making
  • Listening to their ideas – and allowing them to implement some of them

Still not convinced? Even if you’re old school when it comes to leadership and believe in the stick rather than the carrot, it’s worth remembering this. The higher an employees level of engagement, the higher their financial returns (Bakker, 2011).

2. Zero Trust

If your people can’t trust you, you’re on a hiding to nowhere. If your staff don’t trust you and they’re frightened of how you’ll react you’ll stunt innovation creating a dysfunctional culture of blame instead. If you recognise a lack of openness or unwillingness of people to come to you with issues or ideas, building trust should be number one on your Halloween ‘To Do’ list. Gretchen Pisano states that trust is founded on these four traits.

  1. Common ground. This is about similar values and objectives. They know what you stand for and believe in the same vision.
  2. Predictability. They know that you mean what you say and will behave in a way that they predict. You have consistency and can be relied on to to the right thing and do things right as Warren Bennis famously espoused as a trait of decent leaders we want to follow.
  3. Consideration. You will think about them, their needs, their role and position in the company before you act. In short, you’ve got their back.
  4. Forewarning. You will tell them if something is going to happen that will affect them – positively or negatively.

Remember, trust is important and key as a leader. Nobody likes things that suddenly go ‘bump!’ in the night…..

3. You Blame your Employees for Failing

Let’s be honest, nobody enjoys failing, but the truth is, we all make mistakes. When you operate a blame culture as a leader it’s hard for your employees to learn from failure (they’re always too busy looking for someone else to pin it on). You’re not alone if you find it tough to tolerate mistakes, it’s a rare organisation that truly embraces failure as a way of learning, but it’s the only way to improve future performance. Failure isn’t always a bad thing, sometimes it improves systems, teams and overall performance. How can you shift your organisational culture to one that examines and learns from errors?

  • Make it safe to admit (and report) failure
  • Think about creating a checklist to identify causes and solutions. Atul Gawande’s ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ is a thorough guide to the ‘checklist’ and details how it has been embraced successfully by the World Health Organisation (WHO) significantly reducing the rate of error during surgery.
  • Think like Toyota. The Toyota Production System harnesses continual learning by learning from small mistakes and building that learning into their production processes and systems. Toyota even have a rope for employees to pull when they spot a mistake, initiating a process of diagnostics and problem solving.
  • Build a culture of learning. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman’s research recognises that individuals and organisations learn by failure. Some of them even build it into induction procedures, allowing new employees to fail (in a safe way) as part of their learning. Failure builds resilience and resilient employees are more engaged which takes us right back to where we started on our spooky journey.

So if you recognise yourself as something of a spooky boss make a committment to incorporate some of these techniques into your leadership style. Surprise your employees this Halloween by putting these strategies into practice, placing your broomstick to one side and watching as you strengthen your team and their performance.

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Mindful Nation: The new All-Party Parliamentary Report on Mindfulness is Out!


It’s official, Britain is set to become a ‘Mindful Nation’. The much awaited Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAAPG) has now been launched and sets out how it sees the future of mindfulness within the UK. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s forward even goes as far to suggest that the report could be “an inspiration and model for other nations and governments” in considering the role of mindfulness within society. It’s testimony to how far things have come on the mindfulness front that mindfulness has now entered the realm of UK politics and policy makers.

Mindfulness and Politics?

So, why is the government looking at mindfulness? A growing number of recent reports, including the report of the Wellbeing Economics APPG published last year, prompted the government to initiate the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, hosted by Public Health England. It is increasingly recognised that wellbeing and prosperity are fundamentally linked. the government’s Foresight Report talked about ‘mental capital’ the cognitive and emotional resources that ensure flexibility and resilience. But how to build it? Enter Mindfulness and a plethora of research alongside anecdotal evidence.

The first of its kind, the report is a culmination of over a year of research and inquiry and examines mental health in the areas of education, health, the workplace and the criminal justice system through the application of mindfulness interventions. Basing it’s recommendations on sound evidence from experienced mindfulness practitioners, the report urges policymakers to invest resources in further research and increase public access to qualified teachers aiming to position the uK as a forerunner in the mindfulness stakes.

The report recommends the following;

In health, the the number of people who have access to mindfulness programmes should be increased, making it available to 580,000 adults each year who will be at risk of recurrent depression. That funding for the training of teachers to provide these courses. There was also a recommendation that NICE review the evidence for Mindfulness Based Interventions (MBIs) in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, cancer and chronic pain when revising their treatment guidelines.

For education, the report recommends that schools be identified as pioneers to develop mindfulness training for teachers and for students. A ‘Challenge Fund’ was suggested of £1 million a year to which schools could bid for the costs of training teachers in mindfulness.

At work, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) was singled out as the body to demonstrate leadership in working with employers to champion mindfulness and develop models of good practice. The government was also encouraged to set a precedence and train local and national government employees, encouraging best practice and research in this currently underfunded sector.

In the criminal justice system, the report suggests that mindfulness programmes be offered to offenders with depression. More research into Mindfulness based Interventions (MBIs) is also suggested within offender populations.

The report aims to widen interest in mindfulness innovation and ‘deepen understanding of it’s relevance and potential’ across a range of sectors. It seems then, that mindfulness is here to stay. Building on a groundswell of public interest in the understanding and building of human flourishing mindfulness is now very firmly on the agenda. To read the full report go to http://www.themindfulnessinitiative.org.uk

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How to say ‘No’ at work (and still win friends and influence people)

We all know what it’s like, you’re trying to make it to the next level on the career ladder and the temptation to say ‘Yes’ to everything can seem overwhelming.

Do you find yourself;

Burning the candle at both ends?

Wearing the long hours that you work like a badge of honour in the hope that somebody somewhere will notice?

Giving up your weekend to get that report completed?

If you answered yes, it’s a dilemma that resonates with us all.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the ‘Yes’ default. We know from research in the field of neuroscience that when we encounter stress we can experience what Dan Goleman refers to as an ‘amygdala hijack’ a fight, flight or freeze scenario where the not so smart part of your brain takes over. It’s easy to panic and go straight to ‘Yes’ out of the fear that we’ll miss out if we don’t. However, there are only so many hours in the day when you’re already attempting the herculean feat of maintaining a precarious work life balance.

So how do you override an amygdala hijack and respond with a considered ‘No’ whilst remaining a contender for the next promotion? Saying no requires a balance of emotional intelligence, mindfulness and strategic career judgment, but what does that look like in real life?

Elad Levinson, Organisational Effectiveness Consultant calls this a ‘Mindful Quandary’ – the act of recognizing the tension between sacrificing health and happiness to achieve a strategic career trajectory. Levinson offers the following four questions as a checklist for whether to say ‘yea or nay’ to a request at work.

  1. Does saying ‘Yes’ to an assignment relate to the team/department/organisation’s goal? If it doesn’t this is the cue for dialogue with your manager about how saying ‘Yes’ can contribute to the overall goal of your team.
  1. Will my efforts have an impact towards something important in the future? This applies to your own future as much as the organisation’s. When you find yourself saying ‘Yes’ to everyone else’s’ requests stop for a moment and make sure that you are completing at least one task everyday that moves you towards one of your personal goals. We know this is one of the key differentiators for people who achieve personal success – they break goals down and move towards what they want every day.
  1. Will saying ‘Yes’ satisfy key people whom are important to your success? This isn’t about people pleasing or sucking up to your boss, but about building strategic alliances. When you say ‘Yes’ just to keep everyone else happy you’ll find that your own workload suffers and your motivation takes a nosedive as you become increasingly stressed. Work out how to say ‘No’ or ‘Yes, but not today’ on the basis of the strategic alliances you want and need to forge.
  1. Will saying ‘Yes’ showcase your talents? If it’s an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths then go for it. When you’re using your strengths and natural talents you are in ‘flow’, optimizing your performance. Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson in their work on the VIA Strengths Assessment (www.authentichappiness.org) demonstrate how identifying and working with your strengths can increase your efficacy by up to 38% giving you a bump in performance that will get you noticed for the right reasons and give you maximum return on investment for your ‘Yes’ efforts.

So the next time someone asks you for a favour, harness that mindful quandary to say no (or yes) and still win friends and influence those around you.

Gill Thackray, Director of Koru Development (www.korudevelopment.co.uk) is a business Psychologist, Writer, Consultant and trainer specializing in neuroscience, mindfulness, performance and wellbeing.

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Mindfulness: Living in the Here and Now?


Mindfulness. Everybody is doing it from Google to Price Waterhouse Coopers to Deutsche Bank but what is it and why are they bothering?

Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts describes Mindfulness as ‘The first step on the adventure involved in coming to our senses on any and every level…the cultivation of a particular kind of awareness known as mindfulness’. Put simply, mindfulness is being fully present in the moment, living life in the now instead of in yesterday or in tomorrow or worrying about what might happen, one day.

So how do you know if you’re experiencing Mindfulness? Ask yourself a few simple questions;

Do you compulsively faff with your Blackberry, iPhone or android, constantly responding to emails or compulsively checking to see what’s going on with Facebook?

Have you found yourself driving or taking the tube, arriving at your destination with no recollection of how you got there?

Do you frequently realise that your mind has wandered off during a conversation with a colleague or a loved one and you have no idea what has been said but still nod enthusiastically wondering what happened to those huge chunks of conversation?

Are you increasingly recognising that you ‘zone out’ on a regular basis missing out on huge chunks of your life?

Guilty as charged? If you recognise yourself in these scenarios then you’re probably not practising Mindfulness in your day to day living. We all zone out from time to time to varying degrees, it’s part of who we are as human beings and to some extent we couldn’t live without our autopilot. The downside of flying your life on autopilot is that mindlessness can also become a trap preventing us from truly experiencing and enjoying life. Mindfulness offers us as alternative. And it doesn’t stop at preventing you from zoning out.

Research shows that regular Mindfulness practice for as little as ten minutes a day can improve performance, increase focus, improve neuroplasticity, reduce stress and anxiety as well as increasing overall levels of happiness. For ten minutes a day that’s not a bad return. Want to know more? Click on the purple link at the top to hear Jon Kabat-Zin talking about the benefits of Mindfulness and how life is right now….

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Cooperation, neurotransmitters & the Ecuadorian wren

Are we stronger and more effective when we cooperate or do we perform better when we work towards our own interests? It’s a question that you’ll probably find elicits an illuminating response one way or another.

Research in this months Science Journal produces evidence for cooperation from an unlikely source, the Plain Tailed Ecuadorian Wren, or to afford him his proper title, Pheugopedius Euophrys to his friends. This particular little wren has the entertaining karaoke style party trick of performing a duet whenever it gets the opportunity. Male and female wrens cooperate during the duet by singing alternate syllables whilst rocking out. Researchers measured the wren’s neural mechanisms throughout the performance and found that neurons within the brain reacted more strongly to the duet than to the wrens own individual sections of the song. The sensory information from each wren was used to coordinate singing between individuals producing cooperative behaviour and a virtuoso performance by the wrens.

The conclusion by Fortune et al the papers authors? As the wrens possess similar neurotransmitter systems to other vertabrate animals, our brains are organised in a similar way, potentially yielding similar results when cooperating. So whether its karaoke your trying out or you’re wondering how to improve performance, it could well be worth considering how cooperation could help you.

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Why taking 40 winks will improve your learning (probably)

Does the prospect of taking quick a nap fill you with guilt at the thought of all the other, seemingly more pressing, productive things that you could be doing? Fear the afternoon nap no more, new research from UC Berkley suggests that the time spent napping outside of the REM phase of sleep may just improve your learning.

Researchers at the University College of Berkley, California, studied the non–REM phase of sleep in the learning process on a group of 44 volunteers, by subjecting them to rigorous tasks aimed at the hippocampus & memorisation. During the non-REM phase of sleep (where there is no rapid eye movement or REM), sharp spikes of electrical activity called sleep spindles were recorded from the hippocampal region. Normally, these spikes occur about a 1000 times per night, and are thought to be associated with the process of leaving the hippocampus free of short-term memory traces, helping further short-term memory at accumulation once we wake up. The study found, half of the subjects were allowed to have a 90 minutes nap in between two learning sessions in the afternoon and in the evening. These sleep spindles were noted in the above group, and they typically demonstrated better learning in the evening session, compared to the other half who were not allowed to sleep.

One of the important implications of the study is that non-REM sleep serves an important purpose than previously thought — recharging the brain for learning. Concomitantly performed electroencephalogram (EEG) studies mapping the brainwaves of the participants showed a correlation between the amount of sleep spindles and the quality of learning soon afterwards. These spikes where seen selectively in the hippocampus, also looping to the prefrontal cortex, the two parts of the brain that are thought to be the key areas involved in learning. Walker, the lead researcher of this study published in a recent edition of Current Biology, stated that sleep selectively restores critical learning functions of the brain. In their opinion, non-REM sleep deprivation typically seen in the older population may account for the reduced memorisation capacity during learning.

So the next time you feel like a quick 40 winks give yourself a break, it might just improve your performance.

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All Heart. Can Happiness Protect Your Heart?

It’s well known that stress, depression and generally being none too happy with your lot in life has a huge impact on your health, but what about opposite states? Could the act of happiness and contentment help you to live longer?

New research published in the European Heart Journal this month examines data from a long term study of 8000 UK civil servants. The researchers examined levels of happiness amongst participants in an attempt to see if happiness brings with it above average cardiac health

Typical questions asked of participants were: “All things considered, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you” with each of the following: your job, leisure time, standard of living, health, sex life, “marital or love relationship,” and “yourself as a person.” The findings were published online July 4 in the European Heart Journal.

People who reported having the highest overall levels of satisfaction (ranked on a numerical scale) were about 26 percent less likely than the unsatisfied to have preliminary manifestations of coronary heart disease, such as chest pains—also known as definite angina. Moderately satisfied workers were about 20 percent less likely than the lowest-raters to have these heart problems.

The most important categories for heart health were job, family life, sex life and one’s self esteem —high satisfaction in each accounted for about a 12 percent dip in a person’s risk for moderate cardiac issues.

Participants were not significantly protected against heart attack or coronary disease but, as the researchers pointed out, “angina is a strong predictor of future cardiovascular events.” And as the participants were only, on average, about 50 years old, the less frequent chest pains in the especially satisfied might indicate that they will have healthier hearts down the road.

Despite the fact that the research group work in an increasingly underfunded and demotivated environment which has experienced sweeping and far reaching changes over the past few years, the results show promise.

So the next time you’re sweating it out down at the gym or resisting the temptation of something naughty but nice spare a thought for your levels of happiness and contentment they might prove to be just as important as a healthy diet and lifestyle.

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