Leadership Tag

Decision-making: can you trust your instincts?

We hardwire instincts in our brain

Day-to-day living requires us to process huge amounts of intricate information.  Just to cross a busy road, for example, we need to work out how far away the next car is, how fast it’s travelling, how wide the road is, and how long it will take us to cross. We do this in milliseconds and yet we don’t even know we’re doing it.

The ability to cross a road is so complex that it takes the first 10 years of our life to develop the necessary brain circuitry. We call this hardwiring – it’s automatic and it’s non-conscious.

People we consider exceptionally talented – musicians, university professors, sports-people – similarly hardwire their skills: a tennis pro knows where a 120mph serve will bounce because they pick up their opponent’s micro signals, muscle movements etc. and process them almost instantly so they are in the correct position to return the serve. Years of practice have created the hardwiring to make such abilities seem instinctive.

How often have we heard the expression “they’re a natural”?  The truth however isn’t so glamorous – as Michelangelo said “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, they would not call it genius at all.”

The plastic brain

The brain’s ability to reorganise and restructure itself is called neuroplasticity, and it gives human beings a unique survival advantage. For instance, we are able to inhabit any part of the planet because our brain can wire itself to survive under different conditions. We also learn and hardwire complicated tasks such as driving, writing, using a smartphone etc.

While neuroplasticity allows us to go through life hardwiring new brain structures it also brings its own problems. Take driving to work –we often can’t remember the journey we’ve just taken because we’re on autopilot: all well and good until one day we find ourselves driving to the office when we should be heading to the airport!

If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, they would not call it genius at all.


It’s easy to trick your brain

Our brain also has a tendency to make sense of partial information and jump to conclusions, sometimes perceiving things that aren’t actually there which neuroscientists believe is a survival instinct from our hunter-gatherer days. For example, if we see an orange flash in the jungle, our brain is hardwired to fill in the missing information to keep us safe – we perceive it as a tiger and prepare for action – even if it then turns out to be something innocuous.

This survival imperative has drawbacks – our brain often fills in the missing information based on hunches and draws the wrong conclusions.  In the Kanizsa Triangle (below), our brain pieces together a complete picture from separate fragments to give the impression of a bright white triangle, and a black-outlined triangle.

We see whatever our brain thinks we should!

Look at the chessboard below.  Unbelievably squares A and B are the same colour but B appears lighter once the chessboard is complete. This shows in a dramatic way that we only see what we expect, not what’s really there – even when we know that A and B are the same colour, our brain overrides this knowledge.  Incredibly 90% of what we see is generated from within the brain (the occipital cortex) and only 10% arrives through our eyes and optic nerve. Ultimately, we see whatever our brains think we should!

Confirmation bias

In the same way that the brain tricks us with optical illusions, it can also misinform us with labeling and stereotyping errors (thinking illusions). For example, when companies identify ‘high flyers’ or ‘under-performers’, the danger is that those labels will stick. Categorisation is so convenient for the brain that we don’t look for any evidence to challenge our perceptions, so if a ‘low’ performer does good work we may not see it, and if a ‘top’ performer falters we may fail to notice.

Confirmation bias is selective thinking, where we tend to notice things that confirm our beliefs, and ignore, or undervalue evidence that contradicts them: hence the phrase ‘give a dog a bad name’. Powerful as our instinct is, it can lead us to the wrong decisions! All the research shows that we can’t rid ourselves of cognitive biases, but knowing we have them helps us to make more balanced decisions.

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The neuroscience of conflict and emotional regulation

I recently got into an argument with a family member and with Christmas coming up it reminded me that this is often a time for conflict. Understanding its scientific roots might help reduce its impact.

The part of the brain that is responsible for detecting threats is called the amygdala. In our hunter/gatherer days a threat would have been a large predator so this was critical for our survival.

Today physical threats are rare, however our brain hasn’t evolved at the same pace as our environment so our threat-detection circuitry is still highly attuned. Threats today are more likely to be to social threats, and the brain treats these in exactly the same way as physical threats.

Status threats

A particularly powerful threat is what David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute refers to as a status threat, where we feel someone is belittling us or trying to get one over on us.

We are particularly sensitive to status threats because in our hunter/gatherer days, being further up the hierarchy, meant more food and mating opportunities. Being lower down the pecking order meant less food and sex!

When somebody upsets us, this triggers a threat, and instantly engages our non-conscious brain in a freeze, fight, flight response.

A fight response will mean we argue back, verbally attacking them to re-assert our status. We must win the argument. We must be right!  We are hijacked by our emotions. Our non-conscious brain is doing what it is designed to do.

However once we’ve calmed down we may regret our hasty reaction. But by then it’s often too late – the damage has been done. The old adage ‘words said in anger are hard to take back’ bears much wisdom. As does the advice from my grandmother, ‘count to 10 dearest’.

If the perceived ‘attack’ is from our boss, fighting back might be detrimental to our career prospects! In this case our non-conscious brain might choose a freeze or flight response. This will mean we disengage, bear a grudge or harbour resentment – often ruminating for days about what we’d like to have said.

Whether at home or at work, managing social interactions is a fundamental necessity. It is one thing to do it when things are going well, but to do it in the face of conflict and adversity is the sign of real mastery

The brain is a social organ

According to neuroscientist, Matt Liebermann, rehearsing social interactions in our imagination is evolution’s way for us to get more skilled in being social. Our brain is a social organ and our human competitive advantage comes from collaboration with others.

So how do you best manage conflict? Firstly recognise that your brain is designed to react to emotional triggers. These are your survival instincts and, whether you like it or not, you will respond on autopilot with a fight, flight or freeze response.

The trick is to interrupt these automatic non-conscious responses by engaging the conscious brain. One technique for doing this is called labelling. This literally means trying to label the emotion we are feeling. In my case the emotion was humiliation. By forcing our conscious brain to identify our emotional state, this diverts attention and blood-flow away from our non-conscious brain.


Once I did this, I was able to actually feel empathy towards my antagonist and the poignant sting I’d felt greatly receded. This short-cuts pointless battling, entrenched opinions and the risk of escalation.

Whether at home or at work, managing social interactions is a fundamental necessity. It is one thing to do it when things are going well, but to do it in the face of conflict and adversity is the sign of real mastery.


Performance review – love it or hate it?

The perfect opportunity to engage your people and boost performance?

Sadly, performance reviews are all too often the source of grief for employees and managers alike, focusing on missed targets and shortcomings.

If an employee anticipates an adversarial review, they’re going to waste a disproportionate amount of time preparing their defence and gathering supporting evidence. Stress and negativity trigger the freeze, fight, flight response, releasing cortisol and adrenaline which shuts down our ability to think clearly and relate positively to others.

If the review does go badly a demoralised employee can spend days recovering from the negative effects – clearly undesirable in any workplace, putting the brakes on organisational growth and learning.

Friend not foe

There is another way. A strengths-based approach to performance reviews focuses on successes, learnings and things to do differently next time. This triggers the brains reward circuitry, unleashing insight, innovation and interpersonal ability. Businesses that adopt this approach are generally fulfilling places to work where individuals grow and the organisation prospers.

The naysayers amongst you may be wondering ‘what if the employee has under performed and needs to be pulled up’. The truth is that we are all our own worst critics and your criticism will only rub salt into the wound.  Recent research by the Neuroleadership Institute shows that 17 times out of 20, negative feedback (even when positively intentioned) does more harm than good as employees attempt to justify themselves, make excuses and blame others.  All this causes resentment on both sides and undermines performance still further.

Focus on what's been achieved and the potential of the employee (rather than criticising their current performance)

Solutions not problems

Focusing on problems and underachievement only embeds the behaviours you are trying to change, thereby having the opposite effect than you intend. In contrast, a solution-focused approach looks at what has been achieved and focuses on the potential of the employee (rather than criticising their current performance). It is progressive and forward looking, which is energising for all involved and is important for developing new brain networks that encourage personal insight and change, and feed the brain’s reward circuits.

Create a culture where your people’s brains can function at their best.


Leadership mindset – are you a mulitplier or diminisher?

So who IS the smartest person in the room?

There is an excellent leadership lesson from the Victorian era, the story of when Winston Churchill’s Mother (Jennie Jerome) dined with rival British Prime Ministers, Gladstone and Disraeli, a week before the election. She compared them thus:

“When I dined with Mr. Gladstone, I felt as though he was the smartest man in England. But when I dined with Mr. Disraeli, I felt as though I was the smartest woman in England”.

These two leaders went down in history, but as Jennie summarised with very contrasting personalities.

During their dinner Disraeli wanted to know everything about Jennie, steering the conversation toward her, asking her questions and listening intently to her responses. Naturally, she talked – we always feel good talking about ourselves!

Not surprisingly, Disraeli, the person who mastered the art of making other people feel important, won the election.

Research has established that leaders with a growth mindset (like Disraeli), or ‘multipliers’, get double the productivity out of their people compared with leaders with a fixed mindset (‘diminishers’), such as Gladstone.

Why is this?

In essence, multipliers foster an environment that shines the spotlight on their people, whereas diminishers prefer to shine the spotlight on themselves. A multiplier sees his or her job as developing the capability and intelligence of others, whereas a diminisher has to be seen as the smartest person in the room and their job is to control, manage and organise others.

Diminishers see intelligence as something fundamental about a person that can’t change much, which is consistent with psychologist Carol Dweck’s concept of fixed mindset. The diminisher’s logic is ‘if they don’t get it now, they never will so I’ll need to keep doing the thinking for everyone’. In a diminisher’s world there are very few people worth listening to!

‘Make ‘I don’t know’ a strategic part of your leadership. Uncertainty is here to stay. Acknowledging it is a show of strength.’

Tom Peters

So what are the lessons for business leaders?

Researcher Liz Wiseman summarises it succinctly:

‘Most diminishers have grown up praised for their personal intelligence and have moved up the management ranks. When they become ‘the boss’ they assume it’s their job to be the smartest and to manage a set of ‘subordinates’.’

Three behaviours Liz identifies that distinguish multipliers from diminishers are:

A multiplier removes fear and creates a safe environment: multipliers invite debate and encourage people to do their best thinking. Multipliers demand people’s best effort; and they get it!

Diminishers create a judgemental environment that has an inhibiting effect on people’s willingness to contribute to debate, resulting in sloppy thinking, poor decision-making and debased productivity. Diminishers demand people’s best effort, but they don’t get it.

A multiplier creates opportunity and sets challenges, encouraging individuals and teams to achieve stretch-targets. They generate confidence and self-belief in others and a desire to succeed, to push their boundaries. A multiplier does not have to have all the answers. In the words of management guru Tom Peters, ‘Make ‘I don’t know’ a strategic part of your leadership. Uncertainty is here to stay. Acknowledging it is a show of strength.’

By contrast, a diminisher has all the answers, is highly vocal about their opinions, gives directives and loves to showcase their knowledge and intelligence.

A multiplier is an investor. A multiplier will coach their people and hold them accountable to deliver the goods, allowing them to fail and learn their lessons on the way.

A diminisher micromanages their staff, whimsically jumping in and out of the detail and punishing failure. The diminisher delivers results through their own personal involvement, whereas the multiplier gives others ownership for results and invests in and celebrates their success.

Diminisher organisation case study

Enron, the infamous American energy company, was a classic diminisher organisation: it created a culture that worshipped, and paid money for, big talent, making their ‘stars’ constantly feel the need to prove their greatness. They were more concerned about maintaining their image than addressing problems and poor decisions and ultimately, decided it was better to lie and cover up than admit they were wrong. When Enron went bankrupt in December 2001, many of its executives were indicted and imprisoned, including CEO Jeff Skilling.

Much of the cause of the most recent financial meltdown can be attributed to a diminisher- and fixed mindset organisational culture. Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker spells out the problem with the fixed mindset: ‘When people live in an environment that esteems them for their innate talent, they have grave difficulty when their image is threatened. They will not take the remedial course’.

In practice, there is a continuum between a multiplier and a diminisher

Where would you position your leadership on that scale? What practices could you undertake to make yourself more of a multiplier?


Stop your whining and take ownership!

Are you a victim of circumstance or do you take ownership when something goes wrong?

The most frequent complaint I hear from organisations is that staff don’t take ownership, accountability or responsibility. But what does this actually mean? Let’s take a simple example. If we’re late for a meeting, we will often trot out an excuse, like “the traffic was awful” or “my last meeting overran”.

This is an everyday example of not taking responsibility for our actions and blaming external interference. It’s as if we have no control over our destiny – we are just victims of circumstance. Co-author of The Oz Principle, Tom Smith labels this ‘being below the line’- blaming others or circumstances, making excuses, or denying any short-comings.

So what would an ‘above the line’ response be? Simple, “I didn’t leave early enough!”

Taking another example, imagine you are managing a project and a supplier lets you down which results in the overall project being delayed, and you have an unhappy boss to face. A below the line response would be “the supplier let me down” [Blame].

Being above the line requires a ‘buck stops with me’ mentality (taking ownership, accountability and responsibility). This requires us to examine what we could do in future to avoid a similar incident, for example: Could we have used a better method of selecting a supplier? Did we have a robust contingency plan? How about better communications with the supplier to flag up any issues earlier?

As leaders, we create more of a learning organisation with an ‘above the line’ mentality. To encourage such behaviours requires us to lay off the blame game when mistakes are made, and allow staff to come to their own conclusions about what they can do better next time. Perhaps the real definition of that over-used word ‘empowerment’ is promoting a culture of ownership, accountability and responsibility – above the line behaviours.

As leaders, we create more of a learning organisation with an 'above the line' mentality.

Circumstances count for 10% … how you deal with them counts for 90%

So where do we start? Simple: lead by example! Next time you are late for a meeting, how about saying “sorry, I didn’t leave early enough” rather than “sorry, awful traffic”? Unnerving, perhaps, but what message would this send to your staff about taking responsibility for their actions rather than making trite excuses or blaming others?

There is an extraordinary young lady called Jessica Cox, who, although she was born with no arms, has a black belt in two martial arts and a private pilot’s licence! Jessica says: “Circumstances count for 10% … how you deal with them counts for 90%”.

This certainly stops me in my tracks when I am tempted to blame circumstances for something I didn’t achieve.

Imagine you run a sales team and you haven’t hit your targets, what are some typical excuses?

My manager sets unrealistic targets…

The economy is terrible…

My salespeople don’t have the right experience…

People don’t use the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system properly…

Excuses are natural but unhelpful behaviours. Excuses don’t move us forward. They can be thought of as ‘victim’ or ‘below the line’ thinking. The good news is that for each of these excuses there is an alternative above the line response, one where we take ownership, accountability and responsibility for our results:

My manager sets unrealistic targets becomes – I don’t negotiate effectively with my manager over targets

The economy is terrible – the economy is the same for everyone – I am failing to differentiate my product

My salespeople don’t have the right experience becomes – I don’t train my staff adequately, or I recruit poorly

People don’t use the CRM system properly becomes – I haven’t created proper CRM processes that people adhere to

So next time you’re tempted to complain about something, think of Jessica – what would she say?


Wired to criticise – the neuroscience of self preservation

Are YOU guilty of dishing out more criticism than praise?

Every day I’m reminded to pay someone a compliment. I started this habit after much research into how people respond better to positive strokes and praise rather than criticism. This may seem blatantly obvious – but in reality it’s not so easy to practice.

This is because our default setting is to constantly scan for threats – up to five times a second in fact. This state of high-alert helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors survive against predators. In a modern society we don’t need to maintain such paranoia but unfortunately it takes more than 50,000 years to evolve – so for now at least, we’re stuck with our hunter-gatherer brains!

Don’t do what comes naturally!

Our brain is geared for survival – not happiness – therefore we have to learn to counter the constant vigilance for negativity and threat. My phone prompts me to do this every day – reminding me to offset my natural, inherent state and focus on the positive.

As a rule of thumb we should offer at least three praises to one criticism. Research shows that the highest performing teams thrive on nearly six positive comments to every negative one! Teams with lower ratios do not perform so well.

Praise and recognition for a job well done is extremely powerful but the positive effects can only be sustained if offered on a regular basis. Research indicates that employees who report inadequate recognition are three times more likely to say they will leave the following year.

Employees who report inadequate recognition are three times more likely to say they will leave the following year.

Won’t I sound fake?

Sceptical people often ask me whether praising people so often will sound fake, and my reply is always the same: it’s strange that a criticism never feels fake, but a compliment does! This is just more evidence of how our brains are geared to focus on the negative and gloss over the good stuff.  We take criticism to heart, but our frequent response to praise is to shrug it off.

At first, this level of praise may feel contrived, but like any new skill – the more you practice, the more natural it becomes. For praise to have maximum impact, it needs to be delivered effectively – the key is to be specific and genuine.  Generic appreciation such as ‘good work’ won’t reap the same benefits as ‘your persistence and hard work really paid off in winning this new account – well done

Positivity is contagious and good employee engagement programmes institutionalise best practice and positive thinking in the workplace. Praise and recognition cost nothing and studies from The Japanese National Institute for Psychological Sciences indicate they can even be as effective as giving a financial reward. Being praised triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and pleasure centres of the brain. As well as making us feel good, dopamine also contributes to innovative thinking and creative problem-solving.

So praising people makes good business sense!


Is fear of failure your barrier to success?

It may seem counter intuitive, but by giving your employees permission to fail, you could increase their success!

As business leaders we need to constantly be stepping outside of our comfort zone. In my profession public speaking is an absolute must, but I wasn’t always as confident about it as I am now.

A few years ago I volunteered to do a three-minute stand-up comedy routine in front of a considerable audience. I was stepping way outside my comfort zone into the toughest environment in which to hone my skills. If I could do this, then I would have nothing to fear from any professional audience.

For this challenge, I had to adopt a growth mindset: I might make a mess of it, I might be a complete flop, but trying, failing, and learning from mistakes is the way to ultimate success.  So I had to remind myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” No one would laugh. I’d look stupid. I’d be so embarrassed that I would want the ground to swallow me up? Was I prepared to suffer those consequences? Yes I was!

Alright on the night …

I stood up in front of the audience and lights burned brightly in my eyes. I could see the dark silhouettes of the audience stretching right to the back of the room. This was it, I was on. I started well, got the laughs I expected. I have to admit the later jokes got a few groans, but all the while I felt the audience was on my side.

If I had adopted a fixed mindset I would have put huge pressure on myself to be an instant success, labeling myself a failure if it had gone badly. I would be a “nobody” rather than a “somebody”. A fixed mindset would have me believe that I’ve either got what it takes to be funny or I don’t, rather than thinking of it as a skill I can develop.

Trying, failing, and learning from mistakes is the way to ultimate success

Let them fail … but provide a safety net

It’s critical for business leaders to encourage a growth mindset in their people if they want to inspire and generate a culture of innovation and growth. What can you do to allow your people to fail safely – and learn from the experience?

Google is no stranger to this. It allows employees to take time out of their working schedule to come up with new ideas. Many of these ideas may well fail, but it only takes a few successful ideas to make Google millions. Taking on new challenges and being prepared to fail is the only way to grow.

As Sir Winston Churchill said “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.


Bend it like Beckham… or net it like Neymar?

World Cup winning teams show that practice really does make perfect!

Brazil is considered to be among the best of football nations in the world. This is often incorrectly attributed to aspiring youngsters honing their skills on Copacabana beach, but the Brazilians have a very different trick up their sleeves – Futsal.

Futsal (Portuguese for indoor football) evolved from the slums or favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where there was no place for lush soccer pitches, just small patches of barren ground. During a game of Futsal, players come into contact with the ball six times more frequently than soccer, which effectively means six times more practice. Because Futsal is played with a smaller, heavier ball, players need to be more skilful in passing and ball handling.  It’s not until the age of 14 that young Brazilians graduate from Futsal to football.

Last year, the FA kick-started a futsal revolution to create England players of the future.  Michael Skubala, head futsal coach of the England team says “Until we start doing futsal properly, we probably aren’t going to win a football World Cup like Spain and Brazil.”

Purposeful practice

Futsal is renowned for developing the skills that make turbo-charged decision-makers on a football pitch – the sort of abilities England’s elite footballers are often accused of lacking with every passing tournament debacle.

The Futsal story is a perfect example of purposeful practice, demonstrating that skill levels are directly related to the amount of practice.  Not any old practice, but deliberate, conscious practice.

But what about natural talent?

All the research shows that the overriding factor in any skill acquisition is purposeful practice, not natural talent.  The first research study to discover this was undertaken at the prestigious Berlin Academy of Music, where researchers wanted to discover what made a virtuoso violinist rather than just a good one.  After collecting and analysing mountains of information including psychographics, demographics and family background data, the research findings were as follows: virtuoso soloist violinists practiced 6 hours per day, good violinists practiced 4 hours per day, and average violinists practiced 2 hour per day.

The researchers were so astonished by these results, that they (and others) replicated the experiment in different fields such as sports, chess etc.  Every time the results painted the same picture.  Skill in any field is directly proportional to the amount of purposeful practice.  More recent research has shown that for certain sports physical characteristics are also critical, for example elite baseball players have better visual acuity than average – so laser eye surgery is now prevalent amongst top players!

Business leaders should consider what mechanisms they are putting in place to develop their own teams and raise skill levels, to give their organisations a real competitive edge.

How does this translate to the workplace?

Say an employee needs to develop a particular skill, for instance, sales skills. An environment of “purposeful practice” would accept that the first attempts will be far from perfect, but through practice, learning from mistakes, role-play and feedback, the employee will develop and improve over time. This requires a certain organisational tolerance of failure, and a genuine investment in people to ensure staff are both encouraged and challenged in equal measures. This requires both an individual and organisational growth mindset.

Just as Brazil has built a reputation for focused team development, business leaders should consider what mechanisms they are putting in place to develop their own teams and raise skill levels, to give their organisations a real competitive edge.

Coaching has one of the highest returns on investment – some studies report 800% – so it’s not surprising that once your managers adopt a coaching approach, you can expect breakthrough results for your entire organisation.


Want to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix – is it nature or nurture?

Is it natural talent, or could you too play guitar like Jimi Hendrix?

As far back as I can remember, I fancied myself as a rock star! So when I turned 13, I persuaded my reluctant parents to buy me an electric guitar. I was convinced I’d be the next Jimi Hendrix; I thought I’d be a natural. I wouldn’t need to practice much – in fact, if I had to work at it, that would mean that I wasn’t naturally talented.

As you can probably guess, I never became a rock legend. I gave up the guitar, dismayed at my lack of progress. My rock and roll dreams were consigned to the dustbin of history!

Nature or nurture?

Most of us have been brought up to believe that talent is innate, for example Mozart was born musical, Tiger Woods was born a golfer, Einstein a physicist, etc. We believe that our abilities are governed by our genes – our DNA is our destiny! Prof Carol Dweck of Stanford University labels this type of thinking a fixed mindset – either you’ve got talent or you haven’t.  In my case, I clearly fell short when it came to the guitar, so there was no point trying to improve as I’d never make the grade.

By contrast, a growth mindset understands that talent and ability grow with practice, and innate ability is overrated. Research shows that a growth mindset goes hand-in-hand with high performance and happier, healthier individuals.

Managers with a growth mindset get double the productivity from their staff compared with fixed mindset managers

Dweck’s research is backed up by neuroscience findings that show that the brain actually grows and changes structure as we learn new skills. This was first discovered in 1999 at University College, London, where MRI brain scans of London taxi drivers showed that their hippocampus (the part of the brain used for spatial navigation) was much larger than in ordinary people.  The longer they’d been taxi drivers, the larger their hippocampus.

There are also many well documented cases of stroke victims who have made almost complete recoveries because the brain rewires itself to reallocate the processing from the ‘dead’ part of the brain.

In the workplace, it’s been estimated that managers with a growth mindset get double the productivity from their staff compared with fixed mindset managers.

As for me, I decided to give the guitar a second chance at the age of 40. This time my mindset was definitely growth. Armed with a good teacher, the right kind of practice and mental attitude, I managed to achieve a very competent standard.  Okay, I’m no Jimi Hendrix, but I am now achieving my rock and roll ambitions… and loving every minute I’m performing with my band on stage.

A word of caution – there is a continuum between a fixed and growth mindset.  People can also have a growth mindset in general, but a fixed mindset in specific areas.

Is your fixed mindset affecting your ability to lead? We can help!


Cognitive biases that prevent delegation and growth

I don’t have time to delegate!

When my children were young, as well as running a demanding business, I was a single parent.

One of the things that really got to me was that my kids couldn’t even load the dishwasher properly.  Surely that was the least they could do after I’d cooked the dinner!

They’d put the plates in the wrong section, the cutlery the wrong way round and the glasses upside down.  I’d get increasingly irritated as I re-stacked everything.   Why bother trying to get them to do it.  It was quicker for me to do it myself – at least it would get done properly!  Sounds familiar?

After several months of frustration it dawned on me that if I wanted them to stack the dishwasher properly, I’d needed to invest some time training them.

The problem was that I felt I didn’t have any spare time to carry out the training.  It was a leap of faith for me to realise that the future reward would compensate for the time invested in training today.

The cost of failing to delegate

We see this type of thinking in the workplace – the time and effort to develop staff is an investment, and the payoff will only occur in the dim and distant future. Too often staff are set up to fail – for example when a high performing technician is promoted to a manager without any training for the new role.

What’s at play here is a cognitive bias called temporal discounting, where we attach a disproportionate value on the here-and-now compared with the future. The future seems vague and distant, whereas now is vivid and Technicolor!

In financial terms, our brain views £70 today as more appealing than £118 in 3 months time. We also see this type of thinking in the board-room where short-term dividends often trump longer-term investment.

So next time you catch yourself thinking “it’s quicker to do the job myself than get someone else to do it –then correct their mistakes”, STOP.  Think.  What is the cost of failing to delegate?

  • Depriving your staff of learning and development opportunities
  • Chaining yourself to operational detail rather than strategic initiatives
  • Keeping yourself and your staff in their comfort zone
  • In short – preventing organisational growth

Harvard Business Review cites that most leadership teams spend just three hours per month making strategic decisions – in fact they dedicate more time choosing the company Christmas card!

Don't fall victim to temporal discounting. Doing everything yourself is not a strategy for growth.

Effective delegation

  • Don’t fall victim to temporal discounting.  Doing everything yourself is not a strategy for growth
  • Spend your precious time on issues that exert the greatest impact on your company’s long-term value
  • Seek every possible opportunity to delegate, develop others and grow!
Do you have the necessary skills to delegate effectively?