Tag Archives: amygdala hijack

Under pressure – are you at risk of derailment as a leader?

Pressure pushing down on me

Pressing down on you, no man ask for

Under pressure that burns a building down

Splits a family in two

Puts people on the streets

Queen, Under Pressure

After roughly six years of blogging I am writing today for the first time in seven weeks – so much for writing at least one blog posting per week!

It’s been an intensive period.  I hope it means that our difficult economic climate is picking up a bit.  In my business, this means “delivery” – juggling client assignments, moving from one area of activity to another (coaching, leadership assessment, executive development…), travel (Stockholm, Munich, London…)

I am reminded of the insistent beat that underpins the song by Queen, Under Pressure.  It is powerful precisely because it mimics the heart under pressure, adrenalin-laden, without pause.  It’s a song that has often been in my mind in recent weeks.

Are you feeling the pressure?

If you’re taking time to read this article, you probably aren’t, right now, “under the cosh”.  At the same time, you’re probably all too familiar with feeling under pressure.

You know, too, that when times are tough – demanding or difficult, frantic or frightening, irritating or intense – you’re probably not at your best.  Whilst some people may claim to thrive under pressure, we all face kinds of pressure that we find hard.

You may even be thinking this:  that pressure is a way of life for you rather than a temporary event.  Or perhaps the pressure has been going on for so long that you’ve stopped noticing and you’re just getting on with it.

If it is, if you are, you may well be placing your health, your well-being and your performance (yes, your performance) at work at risk.

Coming off the rails

Morguefile steam train

As it happens, one of the things that has kept me busy in recent weeks has been working with a colleague to help upwards of 60 leaders understand their personal motives, values and behaviours – including the way they behave under pressure – using the Hogan suite of psychometric tests.

The thing is, we all have our own ways of feeling the pressure.

We all have our own ways of responding to the pressures we feel.

One of the reasons Hogan has established such a strong reputation at senior leadership levels is because these tests recognise that, under pressure, some of the behaviours that fuel our success can become strengths overplayed.

Suddenly, we’re at risk of derailment.

This is valuable information for organisations at the point of recruitment.  It’s also valuable for you to know in your role as a leader.  Wouldn’t you want to know if you’re at risk of derailment as a leader?

Have you noticed how, under pressure, you have a particular way of responding?  Have you even wondered why you respond in that way?  (And why others don’t?)

We feel the pressure most when we face situations that are like those we struggled with when we were very young.  And when we do, we are most likely to use strategies, quite unconsciously, that we adopted at a very early stage in our lives.

Arthur, for example, lost his job as a senior manager because he failed to manage his own patterns of behaviour when he followed his old boss to a new organisation.  Arthur respected his boss highly and they had worked well together.  In his new organisation, though, he reported indirectly to his old boss via a new line manager whom he found difficult and for whom he had little respect.  His old boss urged him to treat his line manager with respect and to recognise his long-standing contribution to the organisation and his power – however ill-founded – within it.

Arthur’s resentment started to build.  He quietly gave priority to assignments from his old boss over the tasks delegated to him by his new line manager.  Others, including his line manager, noticed the delays.  One day, without warning, his line manager called him into the office and told him that his services were no longer required.

It didn’t have to be that way for Arthur.  It doesn’t have to be that way for you.

Bringing a mindful approach when you’re under pressure

More than anything else, two things trigger our sense of feeling under pressure.

Firstly, we feel the pressure when something we experience is at odds with our most deeply held values.

Take a moment to think about this.  When was the last time you felt deep, deep emotion – be it anger, or love, irritation, or gratitude?  What happened to trigger the emotion?  What need was met?  Or violated?

Secondly, we feel the pressure when our own underlying confidence or self esteem is such that we worry about our performance.

Notice how you felt when you last made a mistake, for example, or when you feared you might make a mistake.  How did you feel, too, about the possibility, under pressure, that your staff might make mistakes?

How did you respond to your feelings?

It’s easy to buy the story you have in such moments, the thoughts that are triggered when we feel under pressure and all the feelings that come with them.  This is, after all, what Daniel Goleman has called the Amygdala hijack, when the pressure of the situation triggers all sorts of responses in one of the oldest parts of our brain.

It’s harder, much harder, to simply say hello to our thoughts and feelings… to notice what’s kicking off inside us and to give empathy to those parts of ourselves that are triggered and active at a particular moment in time.  To do this, is to begin to develop our emotional intelligence as leaders.

It’s harder still to notice how, in some situations, we are not alone in feeling the pressure.  Two people, feeling the pressure, can both behave from a place of stress rather than from a place of mindfulness.

Paying attention to how you respond when you’re under pressure and noticing what things are most likely to trigger this response opens up the possibility of managing your response, avoiding a derailment and becoming more effective in your role as a leader.

(Oh!  And yes, life becomes less stressful and more enjoyable, too.)

After the storm

Arthur, frustrated by his new line manager, confused the map with the territory.   He thought his view of his new boss was objective and indisputable and maybe he was even right.

What he failed to notice was his own pattern of thinking and his habitual responses.  What he also missed was the opportunity to choose a different – and more effective – response.

As I sit and write, I can feel huge empathy for Arthur.  Most people, at senior level, are at risk of derailment as a leader, though the form this can take varies from person to person.  What’s more, the strategies we develop in childhood, as ineffective as they are, can be hard to spot and harder still to change.

We do, though, get to choose.  Do we want to be aware?  To catch our patterns in action and begin the process of changing them?  Or to we prefer to say “It’s just who I am”?

This, though, opens up a whole new area for exploration…

Bringing care to times of conflict

In recent months I have found myself in the midst of a disagreement – a rather long, drawn out affair which started just when I was recovering from the experience of supporting a friend in crisis.

The experience has reminded me just how hard it can be to navigate conflict in the workplace, so that I’m going to try to talk about conflict today.

It all started with…

Have you ever found yourself, quite unexpectedly, in a situation of conflict at work?

Perhaps you did something, in good faith, which stimulated anxiety or anger in one of your colleagues.  If you’re lucky, the colleague is someone you know or someone who is skilled in handling his or her emotions constructively.  Perhaps, though, your colleague is someone you don’t know, so that you don’t have a track record of mutual respect to fall back on.  Or maybe he or she has a different track record – as someone who is prone to unexpected explosions, to trying to put people “in their place”, to… you get to write the list.

There are any number of things about your colleague’s behaviour that make the situation worse.  Firstly, in the midst of an explosion – maybe a full on amygdala hijack – your colleague absolutely believes his or her own story.  It’s not just that he or she is concerned that something might happen as a result of what you’ve done.  No.  The action you’ve taken is bound to lead to x, y, z…  If you’re not careful you, too, are at risk of getting swept up in a line of thinking which has not yet been closely examined.  Maybe, too, your colleague lacks the sense of perspective, after the fact, to examine his or her own thinking…  the case against you is proven before the facts have been gathered.  He or she may even do his very best to make sure that facts are obscured or kept out of view.

If you’re deeply unlucky, you may find that the person who is treating you in this way has a long history of similar outbursts which have, over time, been unchallenged.  Unless your organisation has a firm anti-bullying policy or a culture which is quick to address these behaviours in general or the behaviour of your particular colleague, they will continue.  What’s more, your colleague’s sense of righteousness will grow and, with it, the post-toddler temper tantrums.  In the mind of your colleague, you deserve to be treated in this way  – he or she is right, after all.

Hey, in really tough cases, your colleague may even be the boss.  Your boss.  Or the ultimate boss – the boss of all bosses, the CEO.

What’s more, whilst your colleague may not be skilled in handling his or her skills constructively, he does have other skills…

…He’s highly skilled in making unilateral decisions with no thought whatsoever for the impact on you…

…She’s hard to pin down.  When you ask a clear question or make a clear request, she has a way of ignoring them as if you had never asked…

…He’s highly selective when it comes to the facts, ignoring some, putting others forward repeatedly and vociferously, withholding some… hey!  Even distorting a few…

…She’s really strong on holding you to account for any mistakes (real or imagined) whilst being, of course, totally blameless…

What makes it hard?  Well, you, too, are human and may struggle with the emotional roller coaster that your conversations or correspondence stimulates in you – from fear to rage, anger to anxiety.  You may, even, have your own sense of self righteousness.  And if your colleague is also the boss, maybe even the ultimate boss, you may fear that your only options are to roll over and take the punches or to leave your job.

Tempting strategies that don’t hit the mark

Reflecting on my own experience in recent weeks, I’ve noticed that it’s tempting to follow certain routes.  They’re tempting – they really are tempting!

Outrage, disbelief and feeling hard done by.  Did that really just happen?!  I can’t believe that anyone would do that!  Don’t get me wrong, you feel what you feel.  The person did what they did.  It may well have been a crazy thing to do… in your map of the world.  However, nothing changes as a result of you feeling the outrage or knowing that every rule in the book has been broken – whether the real book of your organisation’s rules and procedures or the metaphorical book of what people do who are emotionally intelligent and effective in their roles.

Trying to prove you’re right.  When your sense of injustice is strong, the desire to put your case can be strong, as can your yearning to be heard and understood.  There is, though, no guarantee that you will be.  In the midst of panic or blind rage, your colleague is not in possession of the facts.  No, he or she can only relate to his own fears – the inner story of his or her imagination.  After the blind rage is over, he may still stick to the story he created when this whole thing kicked off.  Holding out for a fair hearing?  It may never happen.

Relying on policy or procedure.  You have a procedure in place that covers this kind of thing?  Maybe a grievance procedure or an anti-bullying procedure.  By all means use it and still, it may not work.  Especially if your colleague has a role in carrying out the procedure, there’s a risk that it may not be followed or that it will be followed in ways which simply confirm your colleague’s view of you.

Relying on senior management.  I’m sorry to disappoint you.  It’s possible that bringing the matter to the attention of the very people who ought to be managing your colleague will help.  It’s possible, too, that your colleagues are as ground down as you are in the battle to uphold company policy, dignity (yours, theirs), good sense and whatever else you’re longing for.

Jumping ship.  It’s possible to just walk.  To find another job.  To move.  To say “Fuck you!”  Possible. Tempting.  There is, though, the risk that you are the loser when you choose to walk away.  It was your job – and you lost it.  How unjust was that!

Resorting to anger and hatred.  Don’t get me wrong, this strategy can be as juicy as they come.  You may even find all sorts of people lining up to join in.  Think his behaviour is outrageous?  So do I!  Wonder if she’s got issues from childhood?  What other explanation can there be?!  Think he ought to know better at his level of seniority?  For sure!  But this, though it may give you some relief, will not, ultimately help you to find peace.

Care changes everything

These strategies do not work and yet, in a way, they do… provided you can bring the quality of care to your situation as it unfolds.

In my own experience, I noticed how, from the beginning, I was able to notice my needs… a longing to be heard and understood, a longing for courtesy and consideration, a deep desire for the kind of collaborative approach which might address real concerns whilst leaving everybody’s dignity intact.  What I noticed – what I notice – is how, over time, touching base with my needs has brought a sense of peace, even when they are far from being met.  Even as I write, the very act of naming my needs is bringing a quality of tenderness to my heart.

As much as I have been making a stand for my own needs to be met, I know this is not enough.  At times, throughout this process, I have taken time to put myself in the shoes of everyone else involved.  I may think that my colleague has taken a hammer to crack a nut (and, what’s more, a nut that was already open).  Still, I recognise how much this has added to his or her workload and at a time when he or she is at full stretch.  I may think that a wider group of people should feel uncomfortable and step up in the role each one has taken on and, still, I can see how hard it is to address the very behaviours with which I, too, struggle.

With care, I have found a sense of peace and liberation.  It’s not that things have gone the way I hoped – not at all.  Still, at each point in the process, I have learnt more about the personalities involved.  That step didn’t give me the information I asked for, even though, clearly, I’ve made a legitimate request.  Still, I’ve taken action to care for my needs.  I’ve taken care to acknowledge the needs of others.  Over time, I’ve come to understand the issues.  I’ve come to know what’s mine – and what’s not mine.

And what are friends for?

I could not finish this posting without adding that friends, too, have played an important role.  In the moments when I’ve thought “has this really happened?”and “am I mad?” I have called on an inner circle of supportive friends.  They have brought humour to the situation.  They have confirmed that, yes, this is way off piste.  They have helped me to keep things simple as I work out each step of the way.  Above all, they have brought care.

It is this care that has made things all right, no matter which way things go.


Who’s managing who? Setting clear boundaries with your staff

In the classic way of London buses, I have been enjoying a flurry of clients recently who are grappling with the same issue.  In their relationship with their direct reports, who’s managing who?

Recently, for example, I found myself talking with a young manager about a member of his team.  Much older than him and more experienced in managing others, this particular member of staff would flare up with irritation from time to time.  Her young and inexperienced manager would watch this mini amygdala hijack unfold before his eyes and wonder quite how to respond.  How could he manage her in a way which left her feeling happy and which, at the same time, ensured she got the job done?

The thing is, over time, he realised that he had gone so far out of his way in his attempts to make her feel comfortable that his own needs of her, as a member of his team, were not being met.  His growing concern was this – have I let her become my boss?

When the tail starts wagging the dog

This young manager is not alone.  Maybe you have your own experience of managing someone who is not easily pleased.

Let’s be clear.  You know that you’re responsible for this thing called staff engagement.  Maybe you even have the annual survey to prove it.  You really get the message – your staff have a vital contribution to make to the success of your organisation and the way you choose to manage team members has a significant impact on their well-being and the quality of their contribution.  This is something you whole-heartedly buy into and endorse.

With luck, experience, skill and even the results of a few psychometric tests, you know that different members of your team have different styles and preferences.  You also recognise that each member of your team has a different level of experience in his or her job and maybe different aspirations.  You recognise you need to tailor your approach to get the best out of each member of your team.

Somewhere along the line, though, you’ve lost sight of the boundary between managing members of your team and letting them dictate to you.  Probably it happened slowly, subtly.  You look back and think, when did I agree to a slight change in John’s working hours?  I didn’t.  How did I let Mia define her role and responsibilities in ways which don’t work for me?  I didn’t.  When did I choose to make it my job to save Gina from herself – from the difficult emotions she experiences when she realises that her career didn’t turn out the way she hoped?  I don’t even know.

chez Nesbit

Over the years, I’ve had people live with me – in my flat in Lee High Road and, more recently, here in Albion Way.  First, I bought the flat with my friend Jenny and we lived together as co-owners of the home.  Cousin James lived with me for a while when he first came to London.  Cousin Mat lived with me when she did an internship for a while.  Then Nancy joined me… the list goes on.  Perhaps the briefest of stays was by a lovely German man and his son when they wanted to visit London.  They were introduced to me in the “friend of a friend” way that sometimes happens in life.  The longest stay was by a member of the family who lived with me for almost three and a half years before moving out just recently.  There’s nothing like living together to teach you a bit about boundaries.

I laugh when I think of my time sharing with Jenny as two young women early in our careers.  How could we be less suited?  I say this because Jenny has always had a personal temperature gauge which is permanently on “high” – I have photos of her in Norway in the snow in a summer skirt and with bare legs.  When Jenny moved out, the first thing I did was to install central heating.  Notwithstanding, I remember our time together as easy and comfortable and lots of fun.

Over time, welcoming people into my home has taught me a few things about what matters to me in my home.  It’s also taught me that what matters to me is not always important to others who live in the house.  Want to leave plates around for days on end?  This isn’t the home for you.  Not worried about how clean the bathroom is?  That doesn’t really work for me.

In truth, I’ve had to learn a few things about my own personal quirks – and own that, in my own home, I need to find people who can accommodate them.  Perhaps it is a bit OTT (OCD, even) but it matters to me that the soup spoons and dessert spoons are put away in their separate spaces in the top drawer in the kitchen.  And (please, don’t tell) I often reorganise the contents of the dishwasher in a way which meets my need for order as much as my desire to get as much in as possible.

The fundamental rule of the house

Over time, I’ve developed an agreement which sets out the terms on which lodgers live in the house.  Every time someone leaves I ask myself “what have I learnt that I want to incorporate into the agreement?”  Yes, there are “house rules”.  The most fundamental rule in the house, though, is that living together has to work for everyone.  My agreement says:

Successful sharing of the house will reflect our sensitivity to each others’ needs and our ability to speak openly about our needs and to find ways to meet them which work for every member of the household.  As part of your tenancy agreement, you agree to make time to talk about what’s working and what adjustments might be needed.

Now, I must concede, that in the early days of welcoming visitors, I knew this and yet… I didn’t.  I was like the young manager bending myself in knots trying to meet the needs of people living with me… at the expense of my own.

It’s taken time for me to realise that, as the home owner, I am the one constant in this house.  I need to be clear in my own heart about what does and doesn’t work for me because, ultimately, I need to find people who can feel comfortable living under my house rules so that I, too, can be comfortable.

A leader’s “house rules”

In truth, a leader is not so very different from a landlady.  In your role as a leader, you need to know what your own house rules are – and why.

To work out your own house rules is not so much a “once in a lifetime” thing as an ongoing dance of self enquiry.  Perhaps, for example, you are managing someone who doesn’t like the level of supervision you want to give.  Perhaps, on close examination, you’ll find you are under-estimating his or her experience and capability in the role.  Perhaps you’ll find that your own need for detail is such that you are breathing down the necks of even the most competent of your staff members.  Over time, though, you need to work out what level of information you need from your staff to retain accountability for their work.  This is just one area in which you need to develop your own house rules.

If you’re struggling with boundaries with your staff, why not take a few minutes now to ask yourself what you expect of members of your team – no matter what?  And if you find that you’re struggling to maintain clear boundaries be gentle with yourself.  Just notice what you want to move towards – what rules you want to have in place – and let go of any judgements you may have about the fact that you have allowed something to go on for so long which, so clearly, isn’t working for you or the business.


It can be hard to say to a tenant, “if that’s what you want, this is no longer the house for you.”  It can be just as hard to say to a member of your team, “if this is what you want, you need to start thinking about finding another job.”

But you can’t begin to have the conversation if you don’t have clarity in your own mind about your own house rules.

Struggling with the way things are? Time to notice what is

I’m feeling angry.

Sometimes, life brings us the very lessons we most want to teach others …again and again and again.  It’s the Ground Hog day of the teacher’s own learning.  We get to take the learning with humility or we get to pretend.

Our students always find us out.

So, with timely synchronicity, this week I received the response to an appeal I put forward a few weeks ago as a reminder of just how hard it can be to notice how things are, accept them, and move on from there.  There was nothing in the response to my appeal that gave me any comfort that justice (natural or otherwise) has been done.

The challenge of accepting what is

Maybe you’re familiar with the challenge of accepting what is.

You know your boss has had all sorts of training that suggests that seeing the best in people or working collaboratively (or… or… or…) is more likely to get good results and still, your boss is managing you in ways which leave you feeling your work isn’t appreciated, that you’re liable to be punished for breaching rules you didn’t know existed (or, worse still, for breaching rules that you know don’t exist), that the give is all coming from you and the take is all coming from your boss.  Every time you think about your boss you chafe against an approach which ought to be different.

You think the way your (insert brother, sister, spouse, mother, father, friend, colleague, other) is behaving right now is outrageous.  You can dress up the language (‘ineffective’, ‘unhelpful’, ‘inappropriate’ or whatever) but, fundamentally, you’re finding it heard to accept somebody else’s choices and you think they should be choosing something different.  You feel angry, upset, disappointed, frustrated…

You’re managing a member of staff who, by now, should have mastered a certain skill or who lacks motivation.  Hey!  Worse still, maybe you’re managing a whole team of people who lack the motivation or the polish or the commitment you expect to see in your team.  You can’t believe your team member(s) could be so unprofessional.  Maybe, even, you can’t believe your predecessor in the job could have let things go on so long the way they are.

At home, you’ve asked your son – repeatedly – to tidy up his room and he keeps on saying yes… and doing no.  You can’t believe he’s being so uncooperative and still expecting you to (insert cook meals, pay for his violin classes, drive him from A to B, give out copious amounts of hugs and emotional support, other) as if everything’s working perfectly.

Whatever the reason, you’re struggling to accept something that isn’t the way you’d like it to be – often, with good reason.

Living with Radio 4

Now, I want to take a moment to talk about my life long relationship with BBC Radio Four.

Growing up, the radio was always on in the kitchen at Malt House Farm.  At least, at some stage the “wireless” was always on until it became a radio.  And it was always tuned to BBC Radio Four.  Woman’s Hour, Alistair Cooke’s Letter From America… The Archers was on at 7pm in the evening, again at 2pm the next day and again on Sunday mornings.  I marvel now at how I was able to do my homework to the background noise of BBC Radio Four.

More recently, though, I have had periods of abstinence.  In particular, I have chosen not to wake up to the theme of “who’s to blame?” which seems to prevail on the Today programme.  Does there always need to be someone to blame?

I mention this because it seems to me that the idea that something or someone should be different is culturally sanctioned in my own corner of the world.  So if, like me, you’re chafing right now at something or someone that really isn’t working for you, you’re only doing something that is widely accepted as an okay way to go about your life.

How though, might this play out over time?

In the land of “things ought to be different”

I remember hearing of one company director who was fundamentally opposed to the strategic direction his company was taking and campaigned vociferously to reverse a decision to go in a particular direction.  When his arguments fell on deaf ears, he shouted a little louder and a little louder, without ever stopping to take stock.  You only had to look at the composition of the board to realise that the decision was not going to change.  Meantime, he gained a reputation for being difficult to work with and lost the good will of his peers.

And what about the leader who pursued her childhood dream and achieved it, striving to prove her parents wrong (“Is that really you, dear?”) by working towards and gaining a senior leadership role.  On a leadership course, feedback from her staff suggested that she had a very limited range of leadership styles and that levels of satisfaction amongst her team members were low.  She felt angry and resentful – after all that she’d done for them!  Still, twenty years into her career, she was still trying to prove her parents wrong.

Recently a friend of mine who is a senior employment lawyer pointed to some of the injustices that staff face in the hands of their employers.  The trouble is, she said, even when companies are clearly in breach of the law, it’s hard to bring a case and expect to continue to work in the organisation that has got it wrong.  And there are other costs, too… the emotional toll, the time, the money, the risk to your relationships with loved ones as they worry about you at first and then get irritated with you for what you’ve put them through over time.

Noticing what is

Some of the most effective leaders have an ability to notice what is.

The company director who can survey the board and and get under the rhetoric of his or her colleagues to notice what the Finance Director gets most excited about or to identify the tiny incongruities between what the CEO says and what he or she does in practice, has information that can inform decisions and lead to a more effective approach.  Can’t get the FD on board?  Let me tell him about the impact this will have on profit margins and how… since this is clearly what is most important to him.  Sometimes, too, noticing that you have some fundamental differences with your colleagues is an invitation to notice what’s most important to you and to consider what changes you can make that will lead you towards a life that is aligned to your values.

If you’re unhappy in your job, noticing that you have achieved your childhood dream but that this has not given you the joy and satisfaction you thought it would, or rid you of your concern that your parents might not think well of you, or even given you staff who are happy and fulfilled in their work or performing well… this, too, opens up the opportunity to notice the yearnings of your heart.  What is it you really want?  Your parents’ approval?  And what does that tell you about what, with or without any particular response from your parents, you really want?  Acceptance… understanding… love…?

The person who is considering taking his or her employing organisation to court may indeed have been  wronged by his or her manager, company or organisation.  The law may have been broken.  His or her manager may indeed have broken company rules.  Natural justice may not have been served.  These are, though, things that have happened and cannot be changed.  For this person, too, there some fundamental needs have not been met… for understanding, consideration, respect…  to recognise these needs is, in itself, to honour them.  More than this, taking time to notice these needs and all the emotion that comes with a situation in which they have not been met or have even been violated, can guide an employee in what to look for when making requests of a current manager or seeking to work with a new employer.

Noticing what is is about being curious about other people – how does he tick?  What are her chief concerns?  It’s about noticing the politics of an organisation.  What are the official rules?  The culture?  What happens in practice?  Noticing what is is also about being curious about ourselves.  What thoughts are we having?  What emotions?  What is happening in our body?  Noticing, too, is about being curious about the information that we don’t yet have.  What understanding do team members have of the job they are expected to do?  Do they have clear job descriptions?  When were they last updated?  What about their performance reviews – what did their line manager say?  Each question opens up new avenues of enquiry and takes us from the world of assumption.  We may not like the information that emerges and still, we are more informed.

Sometimes, it starts with the emotion

I wonder if there’s any area in which you find yourself thinking that things ought to be different.  If there is, I invite you to notice…

…What is it that you feel so strongly about?  What do you feel?

…What thoughts are you having about the person or situation you’re struggling with?

…What do you know?  What do you not yet know?

…What can you do?  What is beyond your control or influence?

Yesterday, I tried hard to move quickly beyond the anger I feel about my own experiences in current months… and I did feel angry and upset.

It seemed important to notice what I know and what I don’t know… to find out who chaired the appeal, for example, who was at the meeting… and whether or not due process has been followed.  In the words of one friend –  “Aren’t appeals panels supposed to have discrete (i.e. no overlapping) membership with the original panel?”

Today I am just noticing my response to each new piece of information that comes my way.

I know I don’t want to feel angry for ever and still…

For now, that is how I feel.

Your personal need for integrity

What has this tea pot got to do with integrity?


For me, it all began with a tea pot.

In February of this year, I bought a tea pot in my local Oxfam shop in Blackheath.

Let me tell you, I had no need of a tea pot.  But I loved this one so much – the vibrant colours, the weight and the feel of it – that I decided to buy it, along with six bowls in the same pattern.

It was a chance purchase, which opened up a whole new hobby for me…  I started to look for items to match this tea pot and discovered eBay.  I decided to make my collecting habit self-funding, selling items for which I no longer have a use and beginning to buy and sell items from Greenwich Auction House and the market at Lee Green.

This was a new habit for me, and at the same time, wholly familiar.  I have always been drawn to objects of beauty.

Owning my personal “quirks”

Such is my love of beauty and order that, sometimes, it is the object of some hilarity.

Last week, for example, I was in Germany, running a development programme with a group of colleagues.  My colleagues were quite taken aback when I realised that my outfit for Day 2 was a terrible match for the name badge I was wearing.  I was able to laugh with them at just how much it meant to me… and still, it did mean something to me.

I can’t help but tidy up the displays when I’m looking for books in shops.

If I decide to do something – learn a language, play a game, write a report, sing, whatever – I want to do it well.

In the language of Hogan’s MVPI (motives and values) questionnaire, I have a primary value, which Hogan calls aesthetics.  This is defined as “focusing on innovation, style and appearance”.  Low scorers care about functionality;  high scorers care about creative self-expression and the look and feel of their work.

Knowing this has helped me to make connections between a wide range of activities in my life… it’s the reason, for example, I’ve gravitated towards roles at work which involve quality in some shape or form… a curiosity about what it takes to be effective as a leader, a desire to embody fully my values around communicating in ways which honour everyone’s needs, a desire to help others – especially people in leadership roles – to find greater ease.  I could go on…

It also shows up all over my private life…  it’s the reason I love to take a house in disrepair and turn it into a place of beauty, or prefer to have a statement “sculptural” set of shelves in my kitchen (thank you, Gary) than yet more cupboards… even though I need the storage space.  It’s the reason for my long-standing relationship with the London Symphony Chorus.  It’s the reason why writing a blog-posting is, for me, a pleasure rather than a chore.

Not only has knowing this helped me to make sense of my past, it is also helping me to plan for my future – to move increasingly towards living my life in line with my values.

Your personal need for integrity

Whatever the pros and cons of employing people with integrity in an organisation, you may already be aware of your own deep need for integrity – a need to live your life in line with your own values.

You know when you’re living your life in integrity with your values.

When you are, you feel comfortable and at ease.  You experience moments of deep satisfaction.  Your life is peopled with activities that you enjoy.  If your values are people-based, your life is peopled by people you enjoy.

There are moments when you feel deeply uncomfortable, too.  Perhaps you are finding no joy in the life you are leading.  Maybe you are doing things in your personal and professional life which lack meaning for you, because they have no connection with your values.  Worse still, maybe you are really struggling with aspects of your life, because those aspects – activities, people, job – stand squarely in opposition to everything you hold dear.

What’s more, we do not live in isolation.

Not just a benign force – values and the amygdala hijack

As we came away from our course in Germany, my colleagues and I took time to review the feedback from participants.  One participant’s comments clearly got under the skin of one colleague – why on earth would anyone say that about the principal trainer?  How could it possibly help?

Our principal trainer was unmoved.

My colleague was expressing one of her most important values – yearning for recognition for her colleagues as much as for herself.  It was not, though, a high value for the trainer himself.

I can claim no moral high-ground when it comes to the amygdala hijack.  Only recently, I was shocked to be on the receiving end of an approach which was the antithesis of everything I aspire to in terms of leadership and communication.

Truly shocked.

And I let that person know.

The thing is, I suspect that the same person who was behaving in ways I found so unacceptable was also responding to her own amygdala hijack.  I had trodden on her toes – her values – by mistake.

It wasn’t pretty.

It’s easy to condemn the amygdala hijack.  Daniel Goleman, in his books on emotional intelligence, highlights the primitive part of the brain which is the seat of the amygdala hijack.  When we “act out” in response to such a hijack, we are likely to do things we later regret.

At the same time, the amygdala hijack tells us – loudly – that some value is not being met.  Sometimes, it’s telling us about something immediate, something about the here and now.  Equally, a clash of values can be a long, slow burner which leads us slowly towards major decisions… can you continue to work for a boss or an organisation which does X, Y or Z without thinking of the consequences?  How can you sustain a marriage with someone whose values, you discover, are so different from your own?

Moving towards greater personal integrity

If you want to move towards a life of greater personal integrity, you need to understand what’s important to you.

The Hogan MVPI is one tool I use in my work with clients.  When I first took it myself, I had been through so many psychometric tests I doubted I would learn anything new.

Its effect has been profound.

If you would like to explore options for you or for others in your organisation, please contact me.

You can though, move towards a greater understanding of your own most personal values without investing in coaching or the results of a questionnaire.

Instead, try these questions on for size and see what they tell you:

  • When have you been most happy in your life?  Your moments of greatest satisfaction tell you a lot about what’s important to you.  Take time to reflect on events and experiences that have stimulated the greatest sense of joy, contentment or meaning for you.  Notice what themes there are across these events – what is it that made you happy?  In my work with leaders, for example, I have seen how some love to develop their people and others to knock targets to smithereens.  What is it for you?
  • When have you been most angry in your life?  Say hello to the amygdala hijacks in your life – they have a lot to teach you about what’s important to you.  Notice what themes there are at times when you’ve been most angry.  Notice what themes unite the themes.

Me and my tea pot

I hope that, by now, you understand the relationship between a humble tea pot and personal integrity.  For me, the Denby arabesque tea pot speaks to my love of beauty.  Your values will certainly be different and have different manifestations even if they are the same.  But I tell you this, the more you are living your life in integrity with your values the more you will find pleasure in life.

It’s interesting, too, that when you are living life in integrity with your values you will, increasingly, take pleasure in the tiniest of things.