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It’s that time of year again - a new year, a new you. No doubt your social media feeds have been filled with advice on how you can unleash your inner Richard Branson and be more productive in 2017. Rather than talk about working, I’m going to focus on the other side of the coin – rest and recovery. You see we’re not the machines that we try to be – in fact, much of our performance can be attributed to how well we rest and recover when we’re not working.

Let’s start with sleep…

As a workforce we’re tired. During the week most of us don’t get enough sleep – and when we’re busy it’s often the first thing that we sacrifice. An estimated 1/3 workers get less than 6 hours sleep a night1. But sleep matters. Decades of research tells us that the quality and quantity of sleep we get has a profound influence on our memory, attention, our ability to process information and capacity to manage our emotions. While the amount of sleep we each need varies with age and from person to person, if you’re currently getting less than 7 hours a night, forming a new habit where you go to bed earlier could have a dramatic impact on how you experience your work.

Recovery during your down time

During our working day, we’re constantly responding to various pressures and demands, drawing on our own physical, psychological and emotional resources to be able to respond effectively. However these resources are finite – and recovery is a physiological need that we all have. The quality of the rest we get during our evenings and weekends can have a profound effect on our performance back at work.

Rest is important – for example, one study found that individuals who returned to work feeling well rested were more productive, showed greater personal initiative, engaged in more organisational citizenship behaviours (voluntarily going beyond what is expected in your role, such as helping out a colleague), and reported that their work felt easier to complete2. But feeling rested is not simply a function of how long we stay away from the office – but rather what we do with the time. In particular, engaging in activities that draw on different resources to the ones we use at work, or that replenish those we have lost during the day can support our recovery. Three types of activity have been associated with greater recovery:

● Psychological detachment
Mentally ‘switching off’ from work – thinking about something else, rather than continuing to ruminate on what happened during the day. Research shows that this can improve mood, reduce negative emotions experienced during leisure time and increase performance once back at work2. But detaching from work can be difficult – very rarely do we end the day with everything neatly tied off. However, simple changes to how you structure your time – such focusing on bigger tasks in the morning, and tackling the smaller tasks towards the end of the day can make a difference. When you do run out of time, writing down where, when and how you will finish any incomplete tasks before you leave work can help you switch off3.

● Relaxation
Any activity that does not place any further demands on you and that allows you to feel calm. This can include activities such as mindfulness meditation, yoga or listening to music, all of which you can do during the working day or at lunchtime. A study in Germany found that individuals who engaged in Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) during their lunchtime experienced a significant reduction in their levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, both in and outside of work, compared to their colleagues4.

● Mastery experiences
These are any activities that give a sense of achievement or personal development. This can include activities such as learning a new language or instrument. Or exercise - for example going for a run, or resistance training. It could even include successfully assembling some flat-pack furniture! Essentially any tasks that give a sense of accomplishment or progression can count as mastery experiences. Research shows that these even simple tasks can be critical for maintaining self-esteem and self-efficacy – particularly when encountering setbacks at work2.

We’re not designed to work continuously – we need regular recovery to perform at our best. By giving some thought now to how you spend your downtime, and by resting smarter, you’ll notice a big difference this year.

1 Luckhaupt, S. E., Tak, S., & Calvert, G. M. (2010). The prevalence of short sleep duration by industry and occupation in the National Health Interview Survey. Sleep, 33, 149–159.

2 Binnewies, C., Sonnentag, S., and Mojza, E. (2010). Recovery during the weekend and fluctuations in weekly job performance: A week-level study examining intra-individual relationships. Journal of Occuptational and Organizational Psychology, 83, 419-441.

3 Smit, B. (2016). Successfully leaving work at work: The self-regulatory underpinnings of psychological detachment. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 493-514.

4 Krajewski, J., Sauerland, M., Wieland, R. (2011). Relaxation-induced cortisol changes within lunch breaks – an experimental longitudinal worksite field study. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 84, 382-394.

To read more of Jonathan Taylor's blogs on business psychology topics, click here.

The old adage: “no news is good news” means that if we hear nothing then nothing is wrong. In other words silence is good. There is a deep assumption that people only share with others the details of events that conflict with their expectations: where something has failed, disappointed; broken; shocked or at the very least surprised them. If things are going as expected or hoped then there is, it is assumed, nothing to report that would interest anyone else.

The idea that only negative stories are of interest has led our news media to be heavily skewed towards tales of doom and gloom and it has been argued, in fact, that “good news is no news”. In spite of the world being happier, healthier and more prosperous than ever before, we are bombarded with the stories of war, disease and criminality gathered from around the globe to fill up our TV News schedule. Good news stories are too often relegated to “The One Show” or other light entertainment programmes: they are treated as less important.

This bias is no surprise. Humans are programmed to attend to threats; this helps us either avoid or deal with the threat and keep ourselves safe. We are also hard wired to attend to whatever is new. From babies we notice when a new toy is introduced, or a new sound is heard and our attention is re-awakened. This helps guide our learning through exploration of our environment. New things are not necessarily bad; but they are those things that surprise us as different to the norm.

The problem is, our preference to treat good news as less worthy of attention results in a fundamental weakness to how we manage people’s performance. “Giving feedback” is usually seen as synonymous with giving negative feedback. After all, if the person is doing well or doing what you expect them to do then what is there you can actually say that would be of any interest.

The difficulty here is that if feedback is either not given at all, or only given when there is something negative then the overall impact, for the receiver, is to feel demoralised, discouraged and to lose trust with the feedback giver. With children, we can see disruptive behaviours increasing if these are the only behaviours that are noticed and rewarded with the parent’s attention. More generally, through a process of “learned helplessness”, people stop exploring and trying to learn or improve if their efforts only result in further negative responses; in other words they become depressed.

Within the workplace, managers must turn this core bias on its head. The truth is that “no news is most definitely bad news” for people if you want them to feel motivated and to grow. Performance management feedback cannot simply consist of the main dramatic headlines: the things that have gone wrong. Feedback must principally focus on developing a person’s sense of worth and their self-efficacy – their belief that they can do well. And this means constantly reinforcing good performance by noticing, discussing and planning how to repeat and extend the successful behaviours. It is assumed that when someone does something right they will know this and understand why and therefore do this again. However, through a combined lack of self-awareness and recognition from others; it is just as likely that good behaviours will ultimately be abandoned. Furthermore, when the manager really does need to deliver some bad news; the receiver is more likely to fixate on this and potentially experience a deterioration in performance and motivation.

When sharing feedback, make it:

● Regular

● Principally focussed on what went right and how to do this again

● Only offer negative feedback as an additional way to build on past success.

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

The City of London Police announced they will be launching an investigation into corruption in football. This was in response to the Daily Telegraph’s claim of Premier League managers (current or former) having taken bribes while buying and selling players.
To many fans the allegations held against those honoured with managing the teams they love are surprising. However, with an understanding of the psychology of behavioural ethics, it shouldn't be a great surprise as these individuals operate in an environment consisting of many of the factors understood to promote the growth of unethical behaviour. So what are these factors that can be hypothesised to account for the turn to corruption, not just for football managers but for the individuals of any organisation and how can we reduce their effect?

  1. The root of all evil
    With Paul Pogba returning to Manchester United for a fee of £89.3m, while Premier League spending reached £1.165bn the same summer, it is evident that English football now increasingly exists in a culture of which money is ever salient.
    It therefore comes as little surprise that we can place money atop of the list of factors influencing unethical behaviour. This theory is supported in research conducted by Kouchaki, Smith-Crowe, Brief & Sousa (2013). They demonstrated that the mere-presence of money as an environmental cue leads to motivate the objectification of others, with self-interest pursued over the interests that are not in line with our own.
    Kouchaki et al. (2013) proposes that a lesson must be taken from their research: “that organisations be aware of the potential of environmental cues (such as money) influencing employees’ unconscious ethical behaviour”. Therefore, rather than assuming employees’ awareness of the ethical reality of their decisions, leaders should highlight what are the potential moral obstacles related to their organisation functioning as a business e.g. for a football manger, taking bungs.

  2. Stress
    It is easy to entertain the idea that there are few jobs more stressful than to manage a failing football club. This can be seen to arise though the pressure to perform applied by fans, board members, and media, while your peers are sacked (their reputation in tatters) around you.
    Research by Kouchaki & Desai (2015) demonstrated a mechanism connecting anxiety to unethical behaviour. In this experiment it was shown that anxiety leads to cognitive resources to be temporarily diverted to our own basic needs and self-interests (e.g. money). Therefore, we are less mindful of principles that guide ethical behaviour, thus, increasing the likelihood of such behaviour occurring.
    The need to reduce the anxiety levels of employees is already a practice for many organisations. This is seen in the introduction of flexi-hours, playful furniture, sponsoring gym-memberships and realistic expectations etc. The adoption of such anxiety-reducing practices may indirectly reduce unethical behaviour in organisations.

  3. Justification though upward social comparisons
    According to the Daily Express, in the English top flight, the highest paid manager (Pep Guardiola) is on £15,000,000 for his services while the lowest (Aitor Karanka) is on £355,000. There is therefore an apparent and large pay gap.
    The potential relationship between this inequality and corruption was highlighted by John, Loewenstein & Rick (2013). They demonstrated that by increasing the attention paid to upward social comparisons (in relation to pay rates) they would also observe an increase in unethical behaviour in those “looking up”. This is believed to occur as the perceived inequality allows the individual to rationalise their own wrong-doings as required to close the gap. This observation can be seen to support the notion of fair and equal wages within all organisations as the effects of inequality of pay can have unexpected and costly consequences.
    This blog is not seeking to relinquish accountability against those who are found to be guilty of corruption,rather, it aims to highlight that the problems do not just lie with the accused. Instead we can observe that there are a number of psychological influences (of which three are mentioned here) which can be seen to have developed as a result of the way an organisation is run. Once understood, the effects of such psychological phenomena can be mitigated and managed. If done this can lead to a reduction in unethical behaviour not just for English football but for other at risk organisations.

  4. References:
    John, K. L., Loewenstein, G., Rick, S. I. (2014) Cheating more for less: Upward social comparisons motivate the poorly compensated to cheat. Organizational behaviour and human decision processes, 123, 101–109.

    Kouchaki, M., Desai, S. D. (2015). Anxious, threatened, and also unethical: How anxiety makes individuals feel threatened and commit unethical acts. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100, 360–375.

    Kouchaki, M., Smith-Crowe, K., Brief, A. P., Sousa, C. (2013). Seeing green: Mere exposure to money triggers a business decision frame and unethical outcomes. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 121, 53–61.

    To read more of Harry Verner's blogs on business psychology topics, click here.

As we approach the end of the calendar year, and perhaps, the business year, there is for many a sense of dread as we contemplate the prospect of annual performance appraisals. As an integral part of an organisation’s performance management system, the appraisal has been a key tool used to motivate people. However, if anything it often achieves the opposite.
Performance Management (PM) has had an increasingly negative press over recent years. This is a pity as we genuinely need it: people want to feel they are progressing in a positive direction and that they are doing the right things to stay on track in their careers; and companies want to attract, keep and develop their talent to achieve their vision. Aon Hewitt tell us the companies with the highest levels of employee engagement are also those with the most effective PM processes, and that PM is a direct driver of engagement.

Twenty years ago I was part of a mini-industry designing complex PM processes with annual timetables anchored to the business planning cycle and decisions about pay. A central goal was to ensure a structured and standardised approach that would enable people to be rewarded fairly. The assumption was that people would be motivated to develop in order to achieve these rewards. As an add-on feature, PM processes gave support in how to achieve this development through ongoing feedback and coaching.

However, our faith in such processes is falling away. The link between pay and motivation is not nearly as strong as we had assumed. It seems it’s not the financial reward that matters but the quality ongoing support and involvement of a line manager in helping someone improve that really counts. This is what drives loyalty and motivation and which underpins the development of personal performance. Sadly, linking PM to pay, only serves to undermine the more important benefits.

As a result many large organisations are shifting their focus; cutting loose the decisions about reward and using PM first and foremost as a vehicle to help people develop. Obviously people still need a sense that their salary is competitive and calculated in a fair and transparent way. However, there are other ways to deliver that without linking it directly to the achievement of annual performance objectives.

There are major problems in using PM for reward:

1) It creates mind-numbing bureaucracy. Deloitte estimated that 2 million hours were spent per annum largely by their managers trying to agree ratings. HR can become pre-occupied with processes that prove how ratings and reward decisions were derived rather than focusing on what will actually make the greatest difference to performance and motivation.

2) It focuses on the past. There is a demand for evidence of what people have DONE to justify reward decisions. Therefore PM looks backward with a view to analysing and assessing the value of past performance. This does not encourage open and honest conversation about what and how to improve.

3) It comes too late. Due to the above two points, PM activities become loaded towards the end of the year. By this time the objectives established the year before are often irrelevant as the organisational world has moved on. The more useful performance conversations will need to have taken place in the moment, throughout the year, to keep pace with change.

4) It encourages the wrong behaviours. Offering financial reward based on an individual’s performance, encourages self-serving behaviours, rather than doing what is best for the long term success of the team. It also encourages people to focus on the activities they can measure and prove rather than those that genuinely add value.

By decoupling decisions about pay, organisations can unleash the true potential of Performance Management. In practice this means ensuring that PM is no longer associated with the dreaded Annual Appraisal. Rather it is all about what happens along the way. This means:

● Building trust through regular positive and informal interaction

● Learning from successes in order to develop confidence

● Quality coaching conversations with managers to find ways to improve

● Real-time feedback after key events and as a day-to-day norm

● Honest interpretation of multiple and diverse feedback

● A focus on what is needed today and tomorrow rather than what has been done before

● Embracing a team ethos and seeing success as a joint endeavour Less Inclusive?

This comes with risks. By truly focusing on managers’ conversations with their team members rather than a bureaucratic process we are forced to acknowledge the reality that success is dependent on management skill and motivation. Unfortunately, managers, like all of us, are subject to bias. In fact, the more informal the process, the greater the risk of bias with the result that Performance Management becomes less inclusive over time. We know that managers will naturally have more frequent interactions with those people they feel more comfortable with and whom they identify with due to homophily. This immediately creates more frequent and possibly richer opportunities for certain team members to gain developmental support and can become a relative barrier for others. As this type of bias is largely unconscious, new style performance management needs to work hard to give managers strategies to ensure the same opportunities to learn and grow are extended to everyone and that everyone feels engaged and enabled.

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

At its most basic level, Performance Management is about establishing a goal and setting people off in the direction of that goal. Like a paper aeroplane, we might launch it in a particular direction to reach a desired destination. However, once launched there is nothing further we can do to influence its course. We must simply sit back and wait to see if it succeeds or fails.

This is what old style Performance Management was like. We would set people off with the best of intentions but then sit back and watch events unfold. Like digging up the black box flight recorder after the plane had crashed, we would wait until the end of the year to see if they had succeeded or failed and evaluate this through the annual review. However, it was too late to stop the plane crashing in the first place with costly consequences.

Of course, what the pilot really needs to ensure a successful flight is live information and this comes in the form of the cockpit flight instruments. The pilot needs to know:

• Are we on the right track?

• Are we doing the right things to stay on track?

• Are there any changes we need to take account of that might interfere?

They need constant feedback to guide and support them in order to get the best result no matter what they encounter en route. The pilot cannot rely on their own senses; in bad weather important visual cues are missing and the pilot can misinterpret other physical sensations. As a result they can emerge from a cloud and unexpectedly find themselves flying upside down. The pilot needs independent reliable information to help them and they must learn to trust what these instruments are telling them.

Importantly, the cockpit instruments are designed to make important information readily available, but feedback isn’t forced on the pilot unless there is a genuine emergency. Care is taken not to distract the pilot with too many threatening messages. The information provided is mostly positive or at least neutral in nature, reassuring the pilot there are doing OK or at least enabling the pilot to make minor adjustments before things go badly off course.

In spite of all the technology, the pilot is in charge of their own plane. The computers and instruments can only facilitate and support. It is crucial that the pilot is fully engaged in the flight and able to assume control the moment something complex or unexpected arises.

Having said that a good pilot will be encouraged to question and cross check their assumptions and decisions by consulting a range of information. Like all people, pilots can be blinded by bias, e.g. taking an overly optimistic view of the risks they face; being influenced by preconceptions of a situation. However, each piece of data on its own might be misleading; an holistic view is required.

Taking these lessons on board, successful Performance Management needs to:

Put the pilot in control: We know that the greater the level of involvement from employees the more positive the outcome from feedback discussions. They should believe they are in charge of their own plane and are taking the lead in terms of soliciting and interpreting feedback.

Frequent and informal: In work we know that more frequent contact creates a stronger relationship of trust. Just as the pilot must trust their instruments in order to gain the greatest benefit, so does the employee need to trust their manager. Research shows that the better the relationship, the greater the trust and the more positive the outcomes regardless of whether feedback is favourable or critical.

Real-time: Line managers can help individuals identify immediate opportunities for feedback. Particularly after key testing events; the sooner the feedback the better. The line manager should also create opportunities to review and consider this feedback as frequently as possible so that constant adjustments can be made.

Reliable holistic view: The manager should assist the employee in gathering feedback from a number of sources in order to compare perspectives, and assist the employee in interpreting these perspectives, bearing in mind the bias any one source of feedback may have been subject to.

Positive focus: Too often, line managers remain silent until there is a serious problem at which point what the employee hears are threatening sirens and alarms meaning the information is seen as a negative experience. Feedback should, first and foremost, be about what went right, building a belief in the ability to do well and helping the employee to make use of their strengths.

Warns when appropriate: The above point doesn’t mean being soft. The manager will need to vigorously help the employee build on their successes. In addition, when something is genuinely of concern; it should be clearly and confidently shared so that the employee can take action. It is much easier to deliver negative feedback if this is done within the context of constant positive dialogue.

Manages risks around Inclusion: The cockpit has no favourites. The data is equally available to all who choose to consult it. In work managers must work hard to overcome any natural bias towards certain people. We know that manager will have more frequent positive interaction with people they most identify with. To be inclusive they must be alert to how this differentiates the quality of the development support they give to particular individuals. However, more than this, they must proactively build trust with those individuals who might not assume to come looking for their input.

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, it was the second time that the glass ceiling at the top of British politics had been shattered. However, politicians and business leaders alike should beware the ‘glass cliff’ during times of crisis. So what is the glass cliff, and what are the implications for leadership?

The Glass Cliff

Whilst the glass ceiling means that women are still less likely than men to progress into senior leadership positions, researchers have found that, in times of crisis, women are more likely to be appointed to leadership positions. This is known as the ‘glass cliff’ as it carries an increased risk of failure and criticism.

For example, researchers examined the share price performance of FTSE 100 companies immediately before and after the appointment of a male or female board member. They found that when companies appointed men to their boards of directors, share price performance was relatively stable before the appointment. However, companies that appointed a woman had experienced consistently poor performance in the months preceding the appointment. In essence, men and women were being appointed to directorships under very different circumstances, with different likelihoods of success.

“Cleaning up the mess”

Why does this happen? In part, glass cliff appointments reflect gender stereotypes - that women are peculiarly suited to crisis management. This is clear from recent commentary regarding women politicians. Bloomberg recently ran an article titled ‘Women Are Cleaning Up Britain’s Brexit Mess’, whilst Baroness Jenkin of Kennington was quoted by The Guardian discussing the Conservative Party leadership contest: “I think they [the country] feel that at a time of turmoil, a woman will be more practical and a bit less testosterone [driven] in their approach. More collaborative, more willing to listen to voices around the table, less likely to have an instantly aggressive approach to things.”

Consistent with these views, researchers have found that in times of success, stereotypically male attributes are seen as being most important for the selection of a future leader; yet in times of crisis, stereotypically female attributes matter most for leader selection.

When opportunity knocks…

A second driver of the glass cliff effect is that crisis situations are seen as providing women (but not men) with good leadership opportunities. They are more likely to be construed by decision makers as ‘golden opportunities’ than as ‘poisoned chalices’. This is exacerbated by the relative lack of leadership opportunities for women - while men who are invited to take-up a leadership role in a crisis may feel able to decline the invitation and ‘wait for something better to come along’, women may have no such luxury and be encouraged to ‘take whatever they can get’.

The result is that when women do take-up senior leadership roles, they are more likely than men to have to deal with crisis situations, with a greater chance of failure. In addition, a psychological effect called the ‘fundamental attribution error’ means that in seeking to explain the reasons for failure, people tend to focus on individual characteristics of the leader, rather than the situational and contextual challenges that affect the organisation. As such, compared to men, women who assume leadership positions can be more exposed to criticism.

Data driven talent

A key take-away is that the glass cliff effect is most likely to occur when stereotypes influence appointment decisions. Talent moves, especially for senior leadership roles, need to be driven by objective, rich and relevant data. This provides a platform for talent and resourcing specialists to make a real impact – by ensuring long-term succession plans are in place, by systematically collating performance data, by putting in place a strong due diligence processes to inform appointments, and by ensuring that HR has the insights and the influence to shape decisions at the top table.

To read more of James Meachin's blogs on assessment, recruitment and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

Leading a team successfully is not necessarily about having the knowledge, or even the experience in your chosen field. From a psychological perspective, leading and inspiring a team is more about the way in which you engage your team, than technical knowledge. Many businesses underestimate the impact of this, and they promote people to management positions based on the knowledge they have developed – and not on their ability to lead. The following tips can help you to positively manage your team, and inspire them to work more effectively.

Flexible working

With the development of technology and globalised business, home working is becoming more common. Employees no longer have to be in a fixed space at all times, and research has shown that both employees and businesses can benefit. How does this affect people’s ability to lead their teams, if they are not psychically together?

Firstly, it’s important to note that this is a different working environment. People are not used to working from separate physical locations, and emails can give rise to conflict due to miscommunication.

The best approach is to adapt your home working leadership skills for different staff members. For example, our research has found that outgoing and extrovert employees are more likely to be successful working from home. Personality is really important and home working won’t necessarily suit everyone. Using this insight can help dictate how you manage, for example, more introverted staff who are working from home; might they need a little more support and regular check-ins?

At Pearn Kandola, we have developed the iLEAD toolkit to support leaders developing the most effective teams. It provides them with ideas and practical advice on how to handle a wide range of work challenges, including how to motivate others, how to develop greater resilience, and how to generate a compelling vision.

Secondly, the technology used to enable home working varies. Many depend upon phone calls or tele-conferencing, but the best method is video-conferencing. Our research has shown that video-conferencing is a much more successful means of communication and it is the closest to face to face contact. It leads to less conflict amongst staff and enhances the ability to get the best from a team, whilst heightening employee productivity.


Inspirational leadership always includes empathy. Research has shown that leaders who display empathy through their everyday behaviour are rated more highly in their leadership abilities. People with high levels of empathy are perceived to be interested in other people and they express concern and support for their welfare. Having a high level of empathy for employees can help leaders understand what best motivates them to change their behaviour and develop themselves as individuals.

Keep it simple with coaching

Meet with your employees regularly to coach and discuss their goals, but keep it simple. It’s best not to try and achieve too much in any one discussion, as having a long to-do list of personal development can often mean that nothing gets done at all. Set regular SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) mini-goals that can be achieved over a number of weeks or months, and check in on progress. Always close the session with clear next steps that your employees are bought into. Asking questions to check on motivation can help achieve this.

Helping your team reach solutions

When issues crop up in the workplace, your employees are likely to come to you with challenges and questions. Although it might be quickest to give them ‘the answer’ to their questions, the best way you can approach this is to help them come to their own conclusions. You can help them get there by asking question about their view of the options, or the best way forward. Try, where possible, to help them come to the final solution themselves. This will help them feel confident about how to move forward, and in time your employees will develop the confidence to solve difficult issues on their own.

To read more of Louise Weston's blogs on teams, leadership and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

Following Laura’s recent blog (29 June) on how we respond to significant change, I wanted to share a number of practical insights into how leaders can help themselves, and their teams, to handle uncertainty.

There are many different ways to reflect on the challenges that will emerge from our decision to leave the EU. There are threats of the economy weakening and of years of uncertainty. Equally, there are opportunities for greater freedom and wider trading options. But for everyone, there is a strong sense of uncertainty about the future. And one thing is for sure: now, more than ever, people will feel the need for leadership.

A lot of Pearn Kandola's work in leadership development involves testing and challenging leaders in unfamiliar situations. We can gain a great deal of insight into a leader’s behaviour, mindset and decision making style when they are stretched and taken outside of the usual zones of familiarity. This is because intense pressure causes people to revert to a range of personal strategies that will either increase or reduce leadership effectiveness.

Many studies have made strong links between the ability to cope with uncertainty and our personality, while other studies have linked the use of positive affect and reframing (the capacity to see situations from a wide range of perspectives) as being critical to handling uncertainty. From years of observing leadership in action, however, there are a number of very important and practical strategies, some of which may seem counter-intuitive, that lead to greater effectiveness in leading others. These are:

Be aware

The strongest leaders have the ability to reflect on what they are thinking and feeling (it’s called meta-cognition) in a way that gives them more choices in their response and enables the leader to adapt and learn more quickly than their peers.

Zoom out

One of the hardest transitions for any leader is moving from being the expert to being responsible for experts. A strong temptation for many under pressure is to resort to seeking details and clinging to facts, in order to prove worth to others. Instead, this gets in the way of focusing on what people really need – greater vision, strategic plans and support.

Ease off

Some leaders, under pressure, feel an overwhelming need to take greater control. While clarity and direction from leaders can of course be important in handling uncertainty, taking control from others simply undermines the self-belief of followers at a time when they need opportunities to build and sustain personal confidence.

Be open

The temptation for many is to shoulder fears and concerns about the future. Again, nobody appreciates ranting or screaming in pressured situations, but being open about fears and seeking opinions and ideas from others enhances, rather than diminishes effectiveness as a leader.


The final point is the need for communication. Effective leaders know that followers need to hear and know what is going on. Bluffing, covering up or giving half-truths are obvious ways to destroy trust in teams – the only option is to communicate openly, honestly and frequently.

It is during times of turbulence, such as the collapse of the banking and finance system in 2008 and this latest decision to leave the EU, that organisations learn about the qualities of leadership. In the past, ‘charismatic’ and ‘inspirational’ leadership models were held to describe the essence of leadership, based on the notion that having certain (often male) characteristics was essential to leading others. In recent times, however, responsible, ethical and moral leadership have taken centre stage. Perhaps from here, in the constantly changing and uncertain times ahead, we will see an increasing focus on connected and inclusive leadership?

To read more of Stuart Duff's blogs on leadership and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

It is unlikely that many of us, whichever way we voted, really expected the ‘leave’ camp to come out ahead. There was a sense of disbelief amongst everyone, whichever side of the fence they fell. The unexpected result has suddenly imposed a significant change on us all.

In the face of this unprecedented change, we will experience a range of emotions before we are able to accept the new world and move forward positively. The triggers for these emotions are basic: they are essentially a physiological reaction to threat. The fear or anger we feel is a direct result of increased brain activity, and will be felt through increased blood pressure, a higher pulse rate or a desire to punch the desk. It is the body’s way of coping with threats and a fear of failure. We fear not being able to cope with the new world and we react defensively.

It is important to bear in mind that we will all react in different ways to the changes ahead and we will all find personal strategies to deal with what is happening. If you want to know how people are feeling about the change, just listen to their words…

• “This is ridiculous. It can’t be happening…”

We will all feel some kind of shock… even those who voted to leave. It is normal to go through a period of disbelief or confusion. A fear of the unknown will make it harder to think clearly and we could find ourselves pre-occupied and unable to focus on everyday life. At this stage, we will need time to adjust, and simple, clear information to help us to grasp what is actually happening.

• “This is wrong. There must be a mistake…”

In response we shift towards denial and refuse to accept the reality of the change. For the referendum this might mean challenging the legality of the outcome or proposing options for over-turning the decision. Many of us will now be thinking that the decision will be reversed, but according to senior government figures, it won’t. It is natural for us to search for angles that take the pain away before we are able to accept and deal with the reality of a change.

• “How did the government allow this to happen?”

We need reasons why this has happened. When it becomes increasingly clear that change is a reality, we may become preoccupied with thoughts of “if only….” revisiting and refining our understanding of how it happened. It can be tempting to lay blame on others and find scapegoats. It is important to recognise that there is a collective responsibility both positive and negative that may have led to the outcome. And that, indeed, some factors may have been outside our control and some choices only clarified by hindsight.

• “It is what it is. We need to make the best of the situation…”

No-one will want to stay in a state of uncertainty and conflict for ever. When ready we will begin to explore new possibilities and a vision of how the future could be optimised; new relationships with Europe; new ways for politicians to connect with their own people. We will become impatient for the pain to be over and shift towards looking to the future.

• “It’s a great opportunity. Let’s get on with it…”

Ultimately people will focus on making the new situation a reality and will absorb or embrace it as the new “normal”. Revisiting resentment and blame will feel counterproductive and, as we become more familiar with the new situation, there will be far less uncertainty and anxiety driving our responses. Ultimately, the whole experience will give greater context to other major changes – such as a new prime minister or new ways of working.

Whether it is weeks from now, months or perhaps longer, we should all look forward to the point where the future has become the past. Once there we will no doubt find the reality to be far less frightening than it currently seems. Right now, we might still be reeling from the shock of unexpected change and fearful of the unknown, but we will adapt. The world is dynamic and no outcome would have resulted in a perpetual status quo. We react, learn and evolve.

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

Warning!! This article explores how the psychology behind cognitive bias can help us weigh up the rights and wrongs of the Referendum arguments. The result may be more confusion and uncertainty. I apologise for that. Once you start to unravel the murky processes by which we make sense of the world you come to realise what emotional irrational beings we truly are.

However, fear not! The less confident you are of your ability to be objective, the chances are the more objective your decisions will actually be. Uncertainty prompts us to re-examine our assumptions and be open to new evidence. Perversely it is the people who are still undecided that we should probably have most faith in; assuming they are eventually able to make up their minds!

In this week’s Telegraph Daniel Kahneman warns of the risk in allowing ‘heart’ to rule over ‘head’ in the upcoming EU Referendum. Kahneman sees the Brexit campaign as being particularly at risk of emotionally biased judgments that might prove costly. However, I respectfully challenge Kahneman’s assessment and explore the world of cognitive bias to reveal how none of us, whether Remain or Brexit, can be certain we are right.

In the EU referendum we are tasked with making a crucially important decision that carries significant potential risks. We are asked to do so even though few of us understand macroeconomics, have little understanding of the true structure and processes of the EU and cannot fully predict the pressures and priorities of the future. To decide we have to listen to the views of experts, friends and family, and the community at large and weigh up what is authentic and important to us as individuals. Emotion and bias are an inevitable part of what we decide to vote for.

Indeed being biased is part of being human. Our decision making, our beliefs, our motivations and emotions are all intertwined. Emotional reactions are fast and subconscious. Our logical brain has to play catch-up. But as Kahneman explains, our logical brain is lazy. Rather than running objective scientific analysis, it is too prone to look for logical reasons that justify the emotional reaction that is already there. As a result the decisions we make can often ignore the facts and information put before us i.e. they show cognitive bias.

Wikepedia lists over 170 different sources of cognitive bias. I have identified 5 general groups that could impact our referendum decisions.

Need for Clarity

First and foremost humans don’t like to feel confused. We are programmed to feel anxious if things don’t make sense and this motivates us to find clarity and answers where reality might be more ambiguous. As a consequence:

● we artificially exaggerate the difference between alternative options in order to create more distinction between them. Each side tries to paint themselves as all good and the alternative all bad although most of us recognize that either outcome brings costs and benefits. This leads the groups to become polarized.

● we don’t favour options where we sense the outcome is unknown or ambiguous. We tend to assume that the status quo is better. This preference works against Brexit which, to many, seems like a shot in the dark. However, we are also reminded of the risk that the EU could go in directions we can’t anticipate.

Need to be Right

We feel much happier if we believe our views are true and correct. It helps us feel good about ourselves if we can trust in our own logic and view of the world. This creates an unhelpful impetus to prove that we are indeed right:

● we actively look for and pay special attention to evidence that proves our initial theories but neglect to explore alternatives to the same degree. Modern media feeds this by allowing us to be selective of the news and commentary we read.

● however, even where new evidence is presented we maintain our views and fail to sufficiently revise them. To do otherwise would be to let chaos back in and admit that we were wrong before. How many of us are guilty of tuning out when someone starts to challenge our established beliefs.

● whatever the final outcome, we tend to assert that we always knew it would end that way; if the outcome is a positive one then whatever we did in the first place must have been the right thing to do; if the outcome is negative then it’s obvious that someone else was to blame. So don’t worry; everyone’s a winner! Your brain will make sure of that.

Need to Belong

We are by nature tribal animals and strongly driven by a need to feel accepted within a group that is distinct from other groups. But loyalties, identity and pressures of consensus are powerful forces that can bend our logic.

● we start to perceive things differently in tune with others in the group we choose. When a consensus builds it is hard for individuals to go against the tide. Group members not only feel pressure to openly agree with one another they actually do start to think the same way which strengthens their belief that they must be right.

● in spite of this, you will view your group as more rational and capable of considering a point from all sides; whereas you will see the alternative group as sharing the exact same faulty thinking as each other and being woefully subject to bias. The press in particular seems to expect that a political group share uniform views and they home in on any dissent as a sign of weakness. However, dissent is a sign of healthy thinking.

● we also want to be on the side of our friends and not of our perceived opponents. The EU referendum cuts across party politics and yet there is unease at sharing a platform with an individual you dislike or a party you normally try to dissociate yourself from; even though you might want similar outcomes. It takes a brave Corbynite to stand alongside Nigel Farage.

● critically we are being challenged to define which group we do belong to: cosy middle England; the diverse legacy of a British Commonwealth; or a trans-European melting pot. The reality might be all 3 but forces pull our loyalties in particular directions that are then embodied in preferential trade agreements or deals on free movement. Your own group identity will undoubtedly shape your attitudes to the debate.

Reward versus Risk

When choosing between options, we must make complex judgments between the probability of reward against the potential risk of losses. Our ability to weigh up the significance of these is often flawed and leads us to make decisions that do not deliver the best utility in the long term.

● we have a much stronger preference for options that will make life better now rather than ones that will help us further down the line; it is hard for us to imagine the future and the benefits of long term options can feel too abstract and remote to take a gamble on. Brexit has a tough job convincing people that change will be worth the short-term pain for something better in long term.

● if we have already invested a lot in an idea or project, we are more inclined to carry on investing in it regardless of how successful that investment is. We find it hard to abandon our earlier investment and walk away. The EU has been an enormous investment which our friends and neighbours across the continent have put their life savings into too. How hard would it be for us to sell out now even if that was the right thing to do?

● if we consider the possible outcomes to be relatively positive we will act in a way that is risk averse. However, if we perceive the possible outcomes to be relatively negative we will act more boldly and take a greater risk in order to avoid those negative consequences. If this is true perhaps the Remain camp should be emphasizing a generally positive picture of the future to lure people into preserving the status quo, and allowing Brexit to focus on prophecies of doom.

Limits in Attention and Memory

Even if we try to control all these biases, our brains have limited ability to perceive, process and remember information. We have therefore evolved to pay attention to and remember whatever information is deemed to be most important.

● Negative information that signals risks will be regarded as more important than good news and you will give it more salience in your decision making. There is a reason why everyone is trying to scare us (and ignoring the last point above).

● We can get so focussed on one issue that we regard as important that we lose sight of a multitude of other issues that collectively carry as much weight. This issue might well be one that you have anchored your opinions to from the outset. The central issue for you might be financial wealth; or democratic control. We don’t like it when people confuse us by talking about farming subsidies or the NHS or mobile phone tarrifs. So more likely than not we tune those messages out and hang on to the one thing that stood out from the start.

● if we hear something often enough we start to believe it as fact. There is an illusion of truth simply because it sounds familiar. Politicians need not worry too much about proving their statistics. They just need to keep repeating them.

Managing Bias

One thing is for certain; the more you know about how you think, the less you think you know about anything.

We have a huge blind spot to our own biases. In spite of all the evidence of the flaws in our decision-making, we continue to fool ourselves that it is only other people who are subjective. In fact, the more you pride yourself on your track record of making morally balanced judgments, the greater the risk of you being biased in the future. You should always continue to question your own thinking.

Of course, you might be wise to the ways that others try to influence you and attempt to maintain a cynical attitude to their arguments. Sadly, again, this could put you at greater risk of bias. Sensing that others are trying to control or coerce you may provoke a subconscious reaction to do the direct opposite and exercise your sense of freedom.

Whilst you teeter on the fence a little longer, gathering views and opinions, a key challenge is which experts to trust. We have good reason to question the motives of business leaders and politicians. However, if we discount everyone’s views then what are we left with?

Anyone want to flip a coin?

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

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