Work life balance – what is the future

Work life balance – what is the future

Are you available 24/7?  Are you expected to be? Should you be?

At a recent networking event we were asked two questions:-

  1. Would you get an implant that enabled you to work without needing to sleep….ever?
  2. What if your peer got one?

Wow, that caused us all to rethink work life balance!

Where is this all heading?

Is there something here that we need to be aware of?

Will Corporations soon take control of our lives, our freedom, our choices?

Have they already?

I can’t speak for anyone else but I am glad that I am not entering the workforce at this moment in time.  Whilst I am confident that as humans we will work it out, there is a huge pressure being placed on individuals, particularly professionals and leaders, to be available to their employers anytime and anywhere.   Work life balance is fast becoming a figment of imagination.

Think globalisation and managing remotely being part of teams or organisations located throughout the world. Think technology and the possibilities that will be opened up that we don’t yet know about.

I know a manager who was promoted to manage not only his department in Australia, but also businesses in China, Brazil, and the USA.  He now reports to two different Directors, both who are located in Europe.  Most days he starts his day at 7am and works a normal 10 hour day here in Australia.  He then has between 2-4 teleconferences most week nights, sometimes not finishing until midnight.

Should we push back or is this the new normal?

I really don’t know.

If people started using implants to boost their productivity how would that change the expectations of an employee?

Should we still be demanding work life balance or have we gone past this now?

Sorry no tips or techniques with this post, just sharing something on my mind and lots of unanswered questions.

What are your thoughts?  How do you see the world of work evolving?

How to Engineer Conversations that Deliver

Did you know that up to 70% of your conversations fail to deliver the message or the outcome you expect.


What could this be saying about the way you lead, collaborate, and work?


Conversation is the foundation of what it is to be human.  Together with a few birds and whales, we are the only species to have the FOXP2 gene that enables us to use language to communicate.  We have been given a great gift.


So why is our communication so poor?  Let me show you.


Science is now providing rich evidence on how conversation impacts us at a neurochemical level and explains why we so often transmit the wrong messages.


Whilst the science is complex, the explanation isn’t.


Join me on my next webinar as I show you the impact of conversation on the brain and teach you how to structure your conversation to get great outcomes.  You will be able to change the way you communicate immediately after the webinar is over.


The 90 minute webinar will be held on Friday March 10 commencing 9.30am WST.  Please click here for the registration page and webinar link.

Self Awareness is not a dirty word.

I was talking to a friend yesterday.  I hadn’t spoken to her in a little while and so I asked her how her company was going with the downturn in the mining sector.  The company she works for supplies to the sector.


The good news was that she felt her company had sufficient alternative markets that they can focus on these until the local market improves.  The bad news was that the need to move quickly to secure markets elsewhere has negatively impacted the culture of the organisation.  She said that there is a lot of blaming and conflict between teams and it is getting worse.  The GM’s persona has changed considerably, so too the behaviour of the leadership team. She said that over the past 18 months motivation and enthusiasm across the organisation has plummeted.


So what has happened here?


Much of our behaviour, thoughts, and feelings are the result of unconscious processes in our brains.  Think about it.  You spend most of your day doing and saying things that you don’t consciously think much about.  From your habitual morning routines of breakfast, exercise, and getting to work, to how you do the tasks you do at work and how you react to others.  Pretty much all of this uses stuff we already have stored in the brain.  We rely heavily on our past experience, knowledge and skills to do the activities we do and we act and behave as a result of what we have stored. Our brains allow these processes to occur knowing that they will not harm us and generally will be safe.


This is a good thing for our brain because the amount of processing of incoming sensory information from our eyes, ears, skin etc that it would otherwise have to do in order to interpret our world moment to moment, would surely cause the brain to explode.


Imagine waking up every morning and having to decide your next move based on what you saw/heard/tasted/felt.  You would certainly feel that everything and everyone was a potential threat.  Your anxiety levels would be high and you would be on edge all the time.  This could not be good for your heart!!


When we come across a new or different situation, this is exactly what happens.  In my friend’s workplace the down turn in the mining industry has meant that the reliable and trusted ways of working no longer apply and this has put significant strain on the business and people.  Everyone’s brains are reacting to the situation in their most primitive way: Fight or Flight.  This is a normal reaction but it causes so many problems in an organisation when this is not recognised.


Research has shown that the brain prepares us for the threat by releasing cortisol and testosterone to ready the body for high intensity activity (either fighting or running away). This is our fight or flight reaction.  It is our default response to anything new or threatening.  Interestingly, the brain does not differentiate between real or perceived threat so both result in the same reaction.


The cortisol shuts down the higher order thinking and executive parts of the brain and thus the brain relies solely on memory and past experience to remove the threat.  This makes sense because you already know how to escape or how to fight given you’ve survived previous threatening situations.  You really don’t want to be using you higher level brain to develop a new skill or decide on potential options for survival in the face of the threat.  You want to react right now.


The level of actual threat in our day to day lives is significantly lower than it was in primitive times however our brain responds just the same. Our brains do not know the difference between life and death situation and the minor threats we encounter day to day so our reactions are similar internally.


Going back now to my friend’s company, the GM and the leadership team will have responded to the situation as any brain will have done ie defaulted to primitive responses.  Their brains will have perceived a threat and triggered the release of cortisol and that will have closed down their executive and thinking brains.  The changes in their behaviour indicate that they are now trying to protect and defend rather than seeking out solutions to the problems.


A big problem is that this primitive system is self sustaining until the threat is removed.  As a cave man/woman, you would have fought or fled the threat and either lived or died.  The threat would normally be short lived.


In today’s business world unfortunately, a threat can last months or years depending on the situation and the person’s mindset.  During this time the brain is constantly releasing cortisol and therefore shutting down the parts of the brain that would be most helpful for removing the threat.  Responding in a defensive protective manner becomes your normal persona.


Whilst our response to threat is normal, it is what happens next that defines the leadership team.


A leadership team with high self awareness will know what they are feeling and why.  They would consciously work on decreasing the cortisol in their brains and increasing the use of their executive and thinking brains.  They would be building trust in others and involving them in finding ways to improve the situation.  Where threats release cortisol, trust releases oxytocin, a hormone that, amongst other things, promotes creativity, strategic thinking and good decision making.


Leadership teams with low self awareness spend little time reflecting on what they are thinking or feeling.  They lose their ability to listen and share instead becoming opinionated and addicted to being right.  This is why disagreements and communication breakdowns occur.  Leaders can suffer amygdala hijacking causing outbursts and poor decision making.  As the situation continues their anxiety causes them to be sensitive to the nuances of others or their surroundings, both real and perceived.  Leaders become distrustful of other and begin to micromanage.  Many conversations that should be had, remain unsaid.


Most leaders have attended leadership development programs and self awareness is an important topic in such programs.  Yet I see and hear time and again of senior leaders and CEO’s behaving without much self awareness.  The situation where my friend works is not unusual.  I do believe that leaders and CEO’s have the best intention however without self awareness they have no understanding of the impact they have.


It is clear that training courses alone don’t prepare leaders well enough to deal effectively with stressful situations.  Self awareness is a journey of discovery that occurs best when you have a trusted advisor.  Someone who can help navigate and keep you heading in the right direction.  Mentors and coaches are ideal because they have nothing other than your best interests at heart.


When you are next confronted by a situation that threatens you or makes you fearful, how will you respond?  Remember that to feel threatened and feel fear is normal, it is what you do next that defines you.


Want to understand more about your brain and how to manage it effectively?  Call or email me to arrange a time for a chat.

Empathy and the need for Compassion

In our leadership training and development we are taught that a good leader uses empathy as a way to connect and communicate with others to build relationships.  Many vision statements across a wide range of organisations also call for the use of empathy in how they do business.  A common definition for empathy is your ability to step into another person’s shoes and understand what they are feeling or experiencing.


Using empathy still remains a core skill requirement for leaders.


But the science has now caught up with our practices and theories and empathy is not a skill we should be developing in our leaders.  Leaders need to develop their ability for compassion.


For a very long time empathy and compassion have been assumed to be closely related and in some instances, interchangeable.  If you use empathy you show compassion.  If you are compassionate you are showing empathy towards the other person.


Recent neuroscientific research has now shown that empathy and compassion light up very different areas of the brain.  This means that there is less of a connection than we have always assumed.  Let me explain.


There are many careers in our society that can be characterised as the caring professions.  These can include social work, counselling, psychotherapy, massage, life coaching etc.  All these are focused on looking after the client’s wellbeing and attempting to help them achieve a better outcome in their life/relationships etc.   The clients can often share significant and sometimes horrendous stories or experiences with the practitioner.  What research found was that some practitioners could finish their day with a strong sense of wellbeing whilst others may finish feeling anxious, and/or a sense of despair.  What causes this to occur?  Why can they experience the same levels of difficult conversation yet have a different outlook?


It was found that when the practitioner practiced compassion they were far more optimistic than when they practiced empathy. Even more remarkable was that brain studies showed that empathy and compassion trigger very different parts of the brain.


The science has found that when someone feels empathy towards another person this triggers activity in the pain areas of the brain.  The reasons for this is that when we empathise with another person we identify with their pain and suffering.  Often this is because the stories of the other person trigger strong emotions in us.  We stop listening to the other person and start listening to our own story.  The conversation keeps us in the moment.  We have effectively taken on the suffering of the other person and personalised it. This causes us to feel emotional and despairing.


However when we show compassion, we don’t take on the pain and suffering of the other person, instead we simply feel for that person.  We can become aware of our feelings however we remain present and focused on the other person.  It turns out that where empathy lights up the pain areas of the brain, compassion lights up the areas of the brain associated with love.  Instead of triggering emotions of threat, fear and anxiety, compassion energises us to support the other person in moving to action rather than inaction.


Another reaction is that we may also try to avoid using empathy altogether.  This happens when we believe the story is too close to our hearts that we cannot bear to listen.  Instead we shut down our emotions completely and effectively leave the other person stranded.  We stop listening and can become cold in our response.  We choose to protect our own being rather than be in a position to help others.  I have seen this in many leaders.


This is why I advocate that leaders learn to use compassion rather than empathy.  Compassion allows us to listen and support without becoming emotionally involved.  It means that leaders can be active in helping their employee because they are not triggering the pain areas in their own brain.  So how do you learn compassion?


To practice compassion is to practice presence.  If you find you are speaking to a team member or peer and they are sharing something that is painful, I suggest that you become aware of how you are feeling.  Are you starting to mirror the same emotions?  What are you saying?  Are you trying to change the focus to your own experiences?


By practicing remaining present with the person and actively listening to understand their problem you become more compassionate.  You do not become involved emotionally and so you are able to help the person to move forward.  You could ask them what they should do now, or who should they talk to.  These questions give the person a chance to explore possibilities to resolve their issue.  It may take more than one conversation but you will be helping them to get beyond the problem.  By using compassion rather than empathy you have more control in helping find the resolution of the problem.


A leaders’ role is to find solutions for problems.  Helping others find solutions to problems elevates you to being a great leader.

Career development – why visualisation is so important

Many of us who have been promoted to a leadership role feel infinitely attached to the title.  To be a offered a leadership role is the culmination of your career to date.  You’ve worked hard to get where you wanted to be.  It is a significant reward for your effort.


Likewise you may have been promoted with no conscious effort on your part.  You just come to work and do your job well.  The company believes that you have enough experience, knowledge and skills to be a leader and so they promote you.


And then you plateau.


You say that you’re not interested in a higher level leadership role.  Unfortunately you are now one of the most common type of leader in businesses today.  You have risen to the level of what you want to know and to the level of what you believe about yourself.  You have stopped becoming the best you can be.  In short you have become average.


As humans we are capable of continually growing, learning and developing.  It is how we have evolved and created what we have today.  There is so much untapped scope in our brains that gives us the capacity to move beyond what is known and towards what is possible.  So what makes us decide to be average?


It is well known that fear is what limits us.  It is also known that what we choose to do with the fear defines us.  Being average is the result of fear defining us.


How do great leaders move beyond the fear?  What is it that catapulted them into being exceptional?


Don’t accept that you are what you are.  Only accept that you are what you choose.


Many leaders continue to down play the importance of visualisation in setting goals and strategy development.   However our brains have highly developed visual systems that can help  us move beyond fear and our limiting beliefs.


Examples of our visual system include

  • being able to literally “see” past experiences as though we are right there.
  • having vivid images triggered from just a scent or a tune.
  • our ability to create a “movie” in our minds just by reading a story.


We seem to work best when we use the visual structures of our brain.  We use it when we are innovating and creating and it is brilliant for strategy development.  Remember that drawing was the way our ancestors communicated before they developed language.


It is sad that we continue to discredit a part of our brain that is so powerful and useful.  Why do elite athletes use visualisation before they compete?  Why do they imagine their plan, their moves, their strategy?  The beauty of using visualisation is that your brain does not know the difference between a real image and one that you have created in your mind.  It is all the same to the brain.   It means that it treats the created images like memories and just repeats it.


So if fear is stopping you growing in your leadership role, why not create a different story?  The world of neuroscience is discovering so much about the brain and its functionality.  It has been found that visions and goals create neural pathways and networks in your brain and that these are strengthened by regular thinking and acting.  By building these new networks you will weaken the beliefs and fears you previously held about yourself and your role.  Here are six ways to help you become an exceptional leader using visualisation and a planned approach.


  • Learn – about yourself, about your brain functioning, about your team.  But whilst it is good to learn a lot, make sure you balance this by putting much of it into action.
  • Create a vision – it doesn’t matter whether you draw or create a vision board to create your compelling vision.  Don’t allow your career to completely define you.  Make sure you take a holistic approach to your vision by including family, your values, holidays, health & wellbeing etc.
  • Write it down – from visualisation comes aspiration for what you want to achieve in your career.  Aspirations can be long, medium or short term.  It might be to complete some studies or work for a particular company.  Make sure your aspiration is clear, measurable and has a time frame attached.
  • Don’t do it alone – all the great leaders in the world had great help.  They have mentors, leadership coaches, role models, favourite authors.  It may be your personal journey however it is best shared.
  • Have a plan – treat your career like a business that you must work on rather than in.  Building a career is not just about the work you do, it is how you achieve your strategies in a timely manner that makes the difference.  Who do you need to know, what do you need to know, when and how, are all questions that you need to answer along your career path.
  • Mistakes will happen – you learn and challenge your capabilities most when you make a mistake.  Don’t choose inaction and procrastination over risk or change.  The only bad decisions are those made without appropriate consideration.  If a decision doesn’t work out then it becomes a fantastic opportunity to reflect, learn and decide on what needs to be done differently next time.  Growth doesn’t happen in the safe zone.


Most companies offer a career development plan for employees and leaders however very few will result in significant change.   These are often transactional rather than transformational in their design.  Many plans are only looked at once a year and often consist of the promise of training, a  project, or acting opportunity.  They certainly do not encourage visualisation and aspiration. The biggest problem is that no one is really accountable for the results.


If you are keen to develop and move up the career ladder you may need to take responsibility of your own journey.  If you don’t know how or where to start call me to discuss.  I offer free advice and guidance to get you on the right road for where you want to go.  Dont delay!!  Send me an email at

Your Leadership Profile and five ways to improve it.

Are you aware of your leadership profile?  Are you a leader that has earned the trust and respect of others?  If you are then you are to be congratulated.  The truth is that having the title of leader does not mean that you are one.  People may respect the role of leader but not you personally.  They may have allegiance to the person at the helm of the organisation but have little faith in what they say.


Your leadership profile is about how you present.  Its not about what you say as much as who you are.  Its a judgement made by others and it goes deep into your beliefs and values.  How you present on the outside is about what goes on unconsciously in your mind.  People can read this through your actions and your words.  if there is congruence between what they see and hear and what they feel they are likely to trust you and be open to you.  Likewise if your leadership profile is incongruent then you present a threat and you are not to be trusted.  This all happens at the unconscious level in both people.


Great leaders have a congruent leadership profile but to develop this would have been a long and sometimes tough ride. Research still confirms today that it takes about 10,000 hours of development to create a good leader.  That’s about 5 years of full time effort.  What conscious and planned development have you embarked on to be the best lead?


The business world today is a very different place then when you thinking about becoming a leader.  Leadership used to be about knowledge, experience and clear strategic direction.  It was about power, direction and a planned strategic path.  Today there are no right answers.  Your past experience and knowledge may not assist in resolving an issue. Leadership today is more about collaborating with others to find solutions that haven’t existed before, experimenting and taking calculated risks, being prepared to fail.  Employees today expect to be developed, challenged and provide input.  Leadership is less about power and presence and more about adapting and developing the team to deal with the changes.


Leader behaviours can limit their ability to perform effectively in times of high pressure and change.  Our natural response is to revert back to what we know and how we acted before.  They say that our true colours show under pressure.  How do you react under pressure?  Do you need to develop a better way to respond that is not impulsive?  Below are a five ways for leaders to take on board and focus on in order to improve their leadership profile from the inside out.


1 – Take a look in the cupboard

Are you comfortable to trust others to work as well as you?  Do you need perfection?  Do you avoid conflict?

Knowing what is holding you back or making you act is imperative to becoming better.  Deep beliefs and habits are enormously difficult to overcome but you must find ways to overcome these especially when they impact your effectiveness or that of others in your team.  You cannot hold onto beliefs that cause frustration.  I know of a manager who is well aware of the impact his need to be 110% perfect has on himself and others.  Unfortunately he is not yet ready to change and so he will continue to work crazy hours and suffer high turnover in his team.  When he speaks of his high need for perfection he seems proud to wear this badge. Crazy stuff


2 – What is your movie?

Have you ever suffered a brain fade, a blow up, or an out of character response?  Do you sometimes wish you could just curl up in a ball and hide?  Have you reached a point where you just want to give up?   When we are highly stressed it is likely that our responses are going to be impulsive rather than considered.  Our memories and our fears drive our behaviours.  Its like watching a movie in our head and we know the ending before we’ve even got half way through.


Real or perceived threats cause the release cortisol and adrenaline  which fires up our amygdala and our fight/ flight/ freeze/ appease reaction.  We lose our ability to be rational and open to new ideas.  Instead our negative self talk and our memories (always bad!!) take over.


A better response is to control our urge to trigger the amygdala through conscious awareness of what is going on.  Through reflection of your emotions and feelings at various times of the day and during various situations you become aware of the signs and can put in place mitigating actions that stop the movie starting.


Great leaders suffer the same reactions as the rest of us.  The difference is that they have learnt what their triggers are and have trained themselves to react in a certain way to ward off the impulsive response.  They have learnt to breathe, to pause, and to seek to understand more,  They also come into a situation as prepared as they can be. If they know that there is a chance the conversation is going to go bad, they prepare by thinking up effective responses before they have the conversation.  All these actions can help you become more measured and relaxed in a tough situation.  It takes awareness, insight and practice to change and become better.  What would the impact be if you changed your responses?


3 – How’s your ego?

The ego gets a fair bit of bad press.  Some of it is deserved.  We have all had the experience of a leader with an ego the size of Mac Truck.  You spend so much of your time stroking the ego becoming a servant to this master.  If you don’t what your ego to get the better of you, you need to understand how you are perceived by others.  Gaining honest feedback is the best way to assess how big your ego is and what impact it is having on you and others.  You would not have gotten to where you are today without your ego so it does have a lot of benefit.  The problem is when your ego becomes bigger than you.


What feedback is worthwhile?  Finding out how you are perceived by your direct reports, your peers and your manager through skillful questioning.  For example are you perceived as someone who takes the credit for other people’s work?  Do you spend a lot of time in self promoting conversations?  Are you someone who interrupts and takes over the conversation?  Do you become sensitive to challenges to your opinions and seek to defend them?


An ego is a healthy part of us however you need to ensure that it isn’t turning you into a poor leader with a poor leadership profile. It is fine to enjoy the benefits of your role providing that you get a great sense of satisfaction from your achievements that better other people and the organisation.  You can be proud of your achievements providing you are devoted to developing and recognising the efforts of others.  If your ego is balanced with a passion for others you are worthy of recognition of your achievement.


4 – Learn and keep learning.

A few years back I spoke to the individual members of the leadership team at an organisation I once worked at.  I was developing a leadership program and asked about their learning & development needs.  To my surprise all these leaders felt that they had learnt all they needed to know about leadership and didn’t need any further opportunities to develop in this area.  Unfortunately the people who worked for the company were very concerned about the disconnect between the leadership team and the realities in the organisation.  They wanted the leaders to change and help the organisation progress and were frustrated by the reluctance to do so.


The rate of change in the business world is unprecedented.  The levels of complexity will only continue to challenge even the brightest and most visionary.  Leaders cannot accept that the learning and development that got them where they are today is going to enough to be effective into the future.    Closing your mind and believing you know enough is the equivalent of closing your organisation down.   Never stop learning.


5 – What is at your core?

What are your core values and how do you demonstrate these in your day to day work?  Living and acting as close to your values is the best way to show up authentically in all situations.  People are able to trust you because they understand the limits or boundaries of your operating style.  Your ability to mentor others and create a vision rests on how deeply your hold your values. We all have heard that people are the organisations’ best asset.  How many of us actually believe that this is the case where we work.  If we don’t hold a core value about people being an asset then all you are doing is spruiking an empty saying and people quickly see through this.  Your leadership profile will hold little substance.


Research has shown that people pass judgement on another person in less than 1 second.  That is not a lot of time to speak so our judgments are based on other things that show up before we open our mouths.  This is our profile and it is what we project for others to see and feel.  When we are aware of our presence and its impact we can ensure that in that one second a person perceives us as a leader instead of a person who has a title of a leader.  Which one are you?




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