“It’s Not Prejudice, But …” Oh Wow.

Prejudice is a blindness. Here’s a perfect example, reported by Coco Liu in the South China Morning Post [SCMP] recently. (I’ve written about some great things – for example this – happening in the business world in China, but not today).

Luo Mingxiong is a venture capitalist. Please show some sympathy, as he is like a blind man who has decided that he also needs to insert ear plugs in case his senses happen to pick up any information that doesn’t fit with his pre-set ideas.

In January 2017 he made a presentation in Beijing, stating that “we usually don’t invest in female chief executive officers”, listing that factor as one of his top 10 reasons not to invest in a company, along with negative attributes like dishonesty and the inability to learn. He went further, declining in general to invest in companies with women on the Board even if the CEO is male. 


“It’s not because of any kind of prejudice” he said. “But […] What do women do better than men, except giving birth?” And “Because it shows that the entrepreneur can’t recruit equally excellent and ambitious male executives.” SCMP “This Week in Asia” 22-18th January 2017.


In which universe is that NOT screaming the word PREJUDICE? Blind & deaf, he’s leaving the field to much more discerning and intelligent investors. He’s been able to conveniently overlook the stream of statistical evidence that has emerged over recent years to show that companies do better with a balanced, diverse leadership. Here’s one major example. Oh, and here’s how this could add $12 trillion USD to global growth. 

My question to you, dear reader, is this: how can we respond when faced with this kind of wilfully blind prejudice? 

Do we sweep it under the carpet and pretend it has nothing to do with us? Do we prompt competing investors to grab the opportunities and demonstrate success? Do we actively seek such people out and attempt to challenge their world view? 

One powerful response is for those close to the individual – family, friends, colleagues, peers, even courageous direct reports – to express their own alternative view. Stand up, draw a line in the sand and refuse to allow such ‘alternative facts’ to go unquestioned. The earlier the better. 

Being wealthy or famous doesn’t make people right, or wise. 

Kung Hei Fat Choi.

Your Coach, Hugh 


The Neuroscience of Trust in Organisations

Would you like significantly more energised, engaged, productive, loyal, happy, aligned, healthy, higher earning employees who rave about how great it is to be working for you? Here’s how, backed by reliable research. Discover the 8 leader behaviours that will pay off, big time. Spoiler alert: it’s about TRUST.

Paul Zak is a ground breaking researcher in this field and his work has massive implications for the way to lead organisations for higher productivity …  with less stress!

8 Key Points

If you don’t have time to read this HBR article in full, here are the 8 key points. If you want help making them happen, give me a call! 

  1. Recognise excellence. It amazes me how rarely we acknowledge this. 
  2. Set stretching but achievable goals. This helps people to get out of their comfort zones, seek help and build teamwork. 
  3. Give freedom to choose. Great people work best when given discretion and autonomy to choose the best way to deliver results.
  4. Let them design their jobs. Going one step further, why not let people focus on the work that they care most about? 
  5. Share your flight plan. Clarify purpose, goals, strategies and tactics – openness leads to buy-in. Being left out of the loop just kills trust. 
  6. Intentionally build relationships. When people care about each other, they help each other out – and, funnily enough, their own performance goes up. 
  7. Invest in whole person growth. Help people fulfil their aspirations and potential. It’s great that they might need to look beyond their current job with you, not a sign of disloyalty! Never again receive a shock, last minute resignation.
  8. Show vulnerability. Asking for help when you need it makes you appear wise and part of the team. Failing to ask for help just makes you seem like a know-it-all jerk. 

Which of these do you most need to work on, starting today? 

Your coach,


The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese … Food For Thought?

Food For Thought indeed. And yes, the pun is intended!

One thing that separates top leaders and entrepreneurs from the herd is the ability to see things that others can’t. Avoid the strategies that just don’t work, see the bigger picture, and find new solutions. Unlike the first mouse.

Last week I ran a session for entrepreneurs and business mentors at Metta, aimed at helping them recognise blind spots. Once seen and recognised we can develop real skills and habits in thinking differently. Next week I’m going to follow up with a session on provoking new ideas and thinking, but for now let’s focus on those blind spots.

Here’s one of my favourite challenges. It looks simple but be aware – it’s not! Have a look at the pictures here, grab a sheet of paper and a pair of scissors (you don’t need tape, glue or anything else) and knock yourself out trying to re-create just the purple part of the image. That little ‘chimney’ at the top is tricky. Disclosure: The pics show both sides of the structure, and I made this with one single sheet of A4 card and one pair of scissors. The yellow sheet is not relevant, it’s just a place holder. That’s all.

IMG_1131 IMG_1132

This is one of the problems I use to illustrate four ways that we develop blind spots and fail to see solutions that are available to us.

  1. Consistency. We value consistency and it certainly has its uses! But it also narrows our thinking by causing us to see things in only one way – the way that seemed to work for us in the past – and because we tend to use one single thinking language. What I mean by that is that if I’m a highly trained engineer I’ll see things my way, not in the same way that an HR director, or an accountant, or a three year old would see things. Is the problem expressed in words, numbers, pictures? How would we explain it to that three year old? One example – here’s a possible headline: “Woman Throws Herself Through 15th Storey Window and Lives!”. Can you see at least two ways to look at this?
  2. Commitment. Something else we value! We get committed to patterns of thinking, which actually get wired into our brains. Stereotyping is a classic example. Once we perceive something as ‘true’, our tendency is to look for evidence to support that belief and in doing so we ignore other facts that support a different truth. For example, have you ever known someone who was taught early on that they were stupid? I know several people who are affected by dyslexia, for instance, who were treated like this but are in fact very bright and intelligent people. It took a long time for them to believe this themselves, as they were committed to the notion that they were not. Mentors and coaches: please take note. What worked for us in the past won’t necessarily be what gets our clients to where they want to get in the future.
  3. Compression. Sometimes we’re overloaded with information – sadly more and more in this social media age – and sometimes we don’t know enough to be able to solve a problem, it’s in fact too compressed. So managing and organising the flow of information, categorising, avoiding multi-tasking and focusing totally on the right thing are essential. I had fun with the group on this one, asking a question in a way that nobody could even remember their own name …
  4. Complacency. Perhaps the biggest sin on my list – we are biased against thinking. Seriously. Have you ever passed by someone gazing out of the window when they should have been working, and thought it was high time they got on with something productive? Yet thinking and solving problems is perhaps the best way professionals can add value. And if our staff keep asking us why we do things in a particular way, do we regard that as helpful – or as undermining? It’s time to rediscover our natural curiosity and our willingness to challenge the way things are. We had these skills when we were 5 years old, so why not now?

Still stuck with the problem I set at the start? Hmm. I don’t want to solve it for you. It’s a great example of consistency, seeing things in only one way.

How about this – after you reach a point of total frustration,  imagine picking the structure up and flipping it over, looking at it flat or upside down. That might help. Or come to one of my workshops!

@metta, @hughtodd


Challenge Upwards. It’s a Must.


It’s a very tough ask, expecting employees at any level to challenge upwards, even when there are important ethical problems to be resolved. Plenty of companies talk the talk, but the reality is that it rarely happens. Think of Enron, NASA before the Columbia shuttle disaster, or Andersen’s and you’ll realise that saying and doing are vastly different. The reality is that massive consequences can happen further down the track.

What happens when you or a team member notice something that’s wrong and you try to point it out? Do you even get as far as raising it with those upstairs?

What are you doing to safeguard the integrity of your organisation? What’s your company doing?

If you’re not sure how to tackle these questions, here’s the best advice I’ve ever found. Click this link:

Over to you, Marshall Goldsmith! 



Lead Like the Great Conductors

conductor 02

“Lead”? Conductors? Surely conductors are authoritarian, egotistical prima donnas, with complete command and control over their orchestra? Not so.

Imagine leading with complete authority, yet without making a sound. And sometimes without even moving your baton, as we will see. Your job is to create the environment in which people can be great, where they understand when to start and what to do, even when you leave it up to them. You are there to empower and bring out their full talent. They are engaged with each other as much as with you. In turn, you are fully engaged both with the team and with the task in hand. And the resulting performance affects others, sometimes profoundly.

How? And how can people with otherwise great technical skill fail utterly to achieve this kind of leadership? One skilled conductor was asked by every member of his orchestra to resign, in spite of his ability.

Put aside 20 minutes to watch this classic, entertaining TED talk by Itay Talgam. It will be the best investment of  time that you make all day. If you’re short of time, start 10 minutes in. If you’re REALLY short of time, just watch Leonard Bernstein’s leadership power (without baton!) at the very end.

Is Your Iceberg Melting?

Is your company like this iceberg, seemingly sound but in reality heading for potentially catastrophic failure? Do you want to learn how to shift from complacently sailing towards an inevitable doom, to finding a far more capable, inspiring and sustainable future?

Here’s a great read. John Kotter’s story about a colony of penguins that needs to make big changes can be read in half an hour or so. It includes all the classic challenges – fear of raising the problem, disbelief, resistance, cynicism, and more, balanced by the different kinds of leadership and solutions that can work.

What a great way for true leaders to pick up ideas and inspiration when trying to save or change your organisation! Read it, grab some inspiration and get to work …

Click the image to get your own copy.

Thanks to Jacques-Olivier Perche, Head of Professional Development for the ESF in Hong Kong for suggesting this one!

Business in China: The Haier Case Study

Zhang Ruimin 01Photo by Wang Jun Qd


In 1984 Zhang Ruimin stepped up and took over the leadership of the then state-owned appliance maker. Haier was close to bankruptcy. At one stage he had to borrow money to pay his staff. Now it is the world’s largest manufacturer of white goods, with revenue in 2013 of HK$224 billion (roughly AU$37 billion, or GBP19 billion).

Assumptions? China is a one-party communist state, and it has a reputation for discouraging people from thinking ‘out of the box’. Empowerment must be a dirty word. And leadership equates to authoritarian dictatorship.

So … how has Zhang achieved all this?

Let’s take one example, shared by Benjamin Robertson in the South China Morning Post. In 2014 the CEO and chairman warned his staff that 10,000 of its 70,000 strong workforce would lose their jobs. However, outgoing staff would be welcome back if they had a credible business plan. This is part of his long term strategy to turn the company into an ‘entrepreneurial platform’, which reminds me of Ricardo Semler’s radical strategies with Semco in Brazil (‘Maverick!‘ and ‘The Seven Day Weekend‘).

Employees, including senior executives, are expected to be part of product development teams, and pitch ideas to a committee which has the power to allocate start-up capital and resources. And former Haier staff can get company backing, using the Haier platform, while working for themselves. Zhang himself puts it this way: “We now have a lot of entrepreneurs at Haier who don’t work inside the company. Some aren’t interested in joining, preferring to stay outside in society, partner with the company, and use our platform for pioneering work. Those inside the company are also free to leave at any time, and still use the Haier platform for their work, though they would no longer actually work for the company. In the long run, there won’t be any company employees to speak of—only the Haier platform.” [strategy+business, Nov 2014]

Zhang also has a strong focus on quality. Staff still talk about how he handed out sledgehammers so that 76 faulty fridges could be pulped. 

Prof Bill Fischer of IMD Business School in Switzerland  wrote ‘Reinventing Giants‘, an analysis of Haier’s growth. He reports that “The thing we learned from Haier is that if you don’t have strong self-confident leaders at the top, you can never unleash the voices from below, because an unconfident leader is suspicious, threatened by people from below”.

So empowerment, engagement and entrepreneurship are clearly all core values in the company.

Fortune magazine ranks Zhang 22nd in its global list of people for energising their followers and making the world better. Meanwhile he is flattening this huge company to eliminate unnecessary chains of management and to speed up decision making. Decentralisation has gone to the extent that there are now 2,800 “counties”, each with 7 employees or less.

Art Kleiner, editor-in-chief of strategy+business magazine: “Every part of the organization has its own P&L, makes autonomous decisions (including which other parts of Haier to work with), and can reach out independently to customers, potential employees, and collaborators. R&D projects now often reach beyond Haier’s walls to include academics, independent designers, and even competitors. Zhang sees this as a natural evolution for all major companies, particularly those focused on business innovation in the Internet age.” And Haier aims to lead the world in making all of this work.

Zhang Ruimin has built a company without borders, a company without internal or external barriers, where change is now normal.

End users, other companies and even competitors are brought into the product development process. Haier’s expertise is openly shared: Alibaba spent HK$2.8 billion getting Haier to help build out its logistics network.

Where there used to be complete secrecy pending patents, now there is a greater value placed on collaboration to mutual benefit. Haier has a slogan “Forever honest” which means that there is now a culture of transparency.

Zhang again: “Those inside Haier, especially managers, understand that it’s crucial that we adapt to the evolving needs of users and the changing market environment. A few people who have gone from Haier to work for other companies have written to me telling me that the biggest difference between Haier and their new company is Haier’s transparent interpersonal relations. They say that this is unheard of at other companies”.

I contend that resilience is THE competitive advantage for the future, and Haier is a prime example. If you want help with building a resilient organisation staffed by resilient people, get in touch!

Every success,


The Progress Principle! Catalysts, Inhibitors, Nourishers and Toxins

Small wins 01

I have come across a fascinating piece of research in Harvard Business Review from May 2011, by Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer [“The Power of Small Wins”]. Based on 12,000 daily diary responses, they show with crystal clarity how performance and progress are closely tied to the level of engagement people feel on a day to day basis.

“This is the progress principle made visible: If a person is motivated and happy at the end of the workday, it’s a good bet that he or she made some progress”. I would add that team leaders need to actively help people to recognise that progress. How often do you go home, having worked your butt off, yet feel that you haven’t made any real progress? Wouldn’t it be great to have a boss who took a few minutes to help us to see the importance of what we were doing?

Catalysts are ‘actions that directly support work, including help from a person or group’ such as ‘setting clear goals, allowing autonomy, providing sufficient resources and time, helping with the work, openly learning from problems and successes, and allowing a free exchange of ideas’.

Nourishers are ‘ acts of interpersonal support, such as respect and recognition, encouragement, emotional comfort, and opportunities for affiliation’.

Each has an opposite: Inhibitors, ‘actions that fail to support or actively hinder work’, and  toxins, ‘discouraging or undermining events’ such as disrespect, discouragement, disregard for emotions, and interpersonal conflict.

toxic   Whereas catalysts and inhibitors are directed at the project, nourishers and toxins are directed at the person. Like setbacks, inhibiting and toxic events are rare on days when people feel great and report making progress.

Even otherwise excellent managers can slip into becoming toxic and inhibiting, notably when overwhelmed by pressure or situations when they may take it out on subordinates. It can take a long, long time to recover the lost ground.

Instead, we need to develop behaviours, systems and routines that build catalysts and nourishment, while eliminating inhibitors and toxins.

One key message is that we need to recognise the significance of minor milestones and achievements. Even solving a minor problem should be a source of satisfaction, motivation and energy. On the other hand, minor setbacks can be even more dispiriting, so they need to be minimised or turned around – overcoming them is itself an opportunity to reinforce the sense of progress.

In this way people develop a greater sense of being involved in meaningful work on a day to day basis, which in turn reinforces the whole progress cycle.

Your Challenge: At the end of each workday, take a few minutes to list any catalysts, inhibitors, nourishers and toxins that have occurred during the day. Then decide on at least one action you will take the next day to eliminate the negatives and/or build the positives. Now go home with a sense of satisfaction, looking forward to making an even better impact as a leader tomorrow.

The Danger of Sham Empowerment

How often have you been given a job to do – then got frustrated because the organisation just won’t let you do it the way you know would work best?

Typically, when we delegate a task to someone (or a team), we simply give them responsibility for getting it done. It feels to them that they are being trusted to represent you and your organisation. However, we don’t give them any real clout or authority to shift resources, so that they can make it happen whatever happens. They discover this when they try to use strategies that you wouldn’t use, or when the resources simply aren’t coming through and they can’t do anything about that. Then the ‘power’ turns out to be an illusion.

Instead, we need to do the reverse: give them real authority, but retain responsibility for success or failure. This rarely happens in practice. Too often we give a tokenistic, superficial, false level of empowerment which allows us to stay in control but which achieves nothing.

If I’m still responsible for your performance, I’m going to be motivated to keep in touch with how you’re doing, and will coach and mentor you (not instruct you) so that you do a great job. After all, I’m accountable to my client/boss for this, not you. And you have authority to act, so I don’t need to step in and direct or do things to make it happen.

When people feel empowered and that turns out to be a sham, typically they react by doing one or more of these things:

  • They Get Out 
  • They Get Safe 
  • They Get Even.

If you don’t intend to give real authority to your people, the message is clear: Don’t Pretend That You Are Empowering Them. It’s better to be honest and authentic as people then know where they stand, even if they don’t like it much. If you effectively lie about this, sooner or later you will break their trust and the results will probably be highly damaging, and lasting.

Trust is an essential feature of resilient, sustainable organisations. It takes a lot to build trust, and it can be destroyed in a heartbeat.

Empowerment? Don’t do it if you don’t mean it. Check out my previous post on the 5 features of empowering delegation

Every success, Hugh

Spending $8 Million to Successfully Solve a $20 Problem

This is a great illustration of something I’ve seen all too often. We have people with practical intelligence and great problem solving abilities right under our noses. But we underestimate them, fail to give them opportunities to engage with and solve problems, and waste the talent at our disposal. To our cost. In this case, nearly $8 Million.

Read the story “There Is A Moral To This Story That Only Engineers Will Fully Understand” here:


Found at http://buff.ly/VxgkdN


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