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,


Teamwork: An Elephant in the Dark

Elephant oblique

Teamwork? Here’s a poem by Rumi, a 13th Century Persian poet. It says a lot about the difference between a bunch of well meaning individuals and a high performing team.

Some Hindus have an elephant to show.

No-one here has seen an elephant.

They bring it at night to a dark room.

One by one, we go in the dark and come out

saying how we experience the animal.

One of us happens to touch the trunk.

A water-pipe kind of creature.

Another, the ear. A very strong, always moving

back and forth, fan-animal. Another, the leg.

I find it still, like a column on a temple.

Another touches the curved back.

A leathery throne. Another, the cleverest,

feels the tusk. A rounded sword made of porcelain.

He is proud of his description.

Each of us touches one place

and understands the whole that way.

The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark

are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.

If each of us held a candle there, and if we went in together, we could see it.

Drawn from the book I’m currently enjoying, by Elena Aguilar. A brilliant read, sharing her own worst and best experiences of leading teams, and how to build a high performing team. While the organisational setting is education, it’s highly relevant anywhere. Highly recommended. Click the image to get your copy.

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!

Short & Sweet: Confusion


Recently I have met many business people who seem to value certainty and predictability. In other words, they hate feeling confused. And they look down on other people who admit they don’t have an answer.

This kind of locked-in thinking is not always healthy.

When I’m certain I know the best way forward, my mind is closed. And I might miss a better alternative. So embrace confusion when it comes along – it means you’re about to learn something new!

I facilitate a process which by turns clarifies and confuses, but leads to great, original decision making. If you can admit you don’t know the best way forward, this might be for you!

Keep bouncing back,



16 Ideas for High Performing Teams

Tower of people

What works in building great teams? Dragon’s den – style internal pitches, naps, public shout-outs, champions-in-residence, free books & training – and more.

Who says? Inc. magazine asked members of the  Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to share the perks, products, and processes that work best in building high performing teams and a better working culture. To get one-paragraph descriptions of these strategies, go to this link:

Here are their best 16 ideas.

My personal favourite? Public shout-outs at monthly meetings.  “At the end of every monthly team meeting, we put up a slide listing all of our company values. Then, team members have a chance to give shout-outs to each other based on those values and based on each person’s work in the past month. It’s a great way for everyone to publicly recognise each other–and it’s free!”Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh

Which would work best in your company? Or do you have a better idea? 

If you need help in building a positive working culture and highly functional teams, drop me a line!




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 Death of Mission Statements

Mission Statements 04

Great missions inspire, while mission statements tend to kill motivation. Here’s a great article by Eric J McNulty on why this happens, and what to do about it.

The key idea is to write a short, explicit  narrative — the story of how a company (or team, or individual)’s mission is actually achieved. And it can be rough and ready, ideally written by the people who do most to drive the organisation towards the mission.

How? Here’s one of several example frameworks provided by McNulty:

To realise our mission, I do A, B, and C as a team leader to build a group that delivers X, Y, and Z. An example of where we performed at our peak in the past six months is… and an example of where we fell short is… I was most proud of my team when we…

Isn’t that a more meaningful, inspiring statement than the usual platitudes that could be applied to any situation, anywhere? If so, what’s your narrative?

5 Signs of a Toxic Workplace

When your working atmosphere gets toxic, everything else becomes hard or even impossible to achieve. Today I’m re-posting an article by Janie Smith as I’ve come across far too many toxic workplaces like this. And it can sometimes be easier to turn around than we think. The alternative, if we don’t, is too horrible to contemplate.


Janie quotes behavioural scientist Darren Hill, who picks out these 5 signs:

  1. Passive-aggressive communication is the norm
  2. Lack of discretionary effort
  3. Death by committee
  4. Clock Watching
  5. Lack of quality, shared experiences.

Read more here.

All of these symptoms indicate a lack of engagement – mirrored by, and probably caused by, a lack of leadership. How many are you experiencing? Maybe you’re too busy to change things? Or maybe these problems leave you in practice with too much hard work just to keep the business going.

Some suggestions: it’s time to make your purpose crystal clear and to invest energy in communicating that to your team. It’s time to show zero tolerance for undermining, negative attitudes. It’s time to show lots of appreciation for people who put in the extra mile (or inch) so that they know they, and their efforts, are valued – even if they simply come in with a positive attitude.

If you’re in this chicken and egg situation, give me a call and I’ll happily spend a bit of time getting to the heart of how you might make life a lot easier.

Every success, Hugh

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