January 16, 2018

Being principled – are you a softer target or a tougher one?

Mother on phone and childWe might worry that operating in a principled and compassionate way makes us vulnerable—vulnerable to those who are happy to trample others in their quest for success; individuals who don’t care what happens to the people they encounter along the way.

My experience is the opposite…

Living principles of fairness makes us highly sensitized to unfeeling and uncaring behavior in others, to the point where it’s very hard to suppress our reaction to a breach. The strength of our unconscious response seems to keep us safe from exploitation. The challenge is actually to channel the energy of our reaction enough to influence the unenlightened individual intelligently. Arguably, being truly authentic requires us to express our reaction and not just let it go.

What’s your experience? As a principled person, are you more or less resistant to others cutting across what you value?

Are you stronger or weaker?

How unconscious is your leadership?

Two doctors talkingWe tend to think of leadership as something we do consciously. In fact, it’s not really like that at all.

After all…

As ground-breaking doctor and hypno-therapist, Milton Erickson said “what you don’t realise is your life is mostly unconsciously determined,” meaning we live much of our lives on autopilot. Research says about 90% of what we do, we do unconsciously. If that applies to life in general, then it must apply to us when we are in a leadership role too, and not just to us but to those we lead as well.

You could also say, for that reason, your people will do as you do, rather than what you say, or even, they will be as you are. In other words, the predominant leadership effect is people unconsciously modelling themselves on your unconsciously expressed values and behaviors. That’s if they pay attention at all, of course.


If ever there was an argument for the authenticity of walking the talk, perhaps that’s it. The only way to ensure we lead unconsciously in the way we intend is to be thoroughly authentic.

What a shocker: Trader acts in accordance with what he values

City traderAs do we all.

Did you hear the surprise?

If the world wide web could gasp, you would have heard it from mid-ocean. A city trader said candidly that he hoped for another recession because he could make a lot of money from one.

Various commentators then rather missed the point and started discussing whether the “man in the street” could make money from a recession, which of course they mostly can’t.

This episode brought into sharp focus a vital principle: Individuals always, always, always act in accordance with what matters to them – not what matters to us, and not what matters to that averaged expectation we call the “public interest.” Expect anything else and we will be disappointed. And what’s worse: Pretend that this isn’t so and we make our thinking and our dialogue worse than useless.

And yet…

It’s extraordinary how often we hear policy makers, commentators and others talking as if we can expect individuals to behave in the common interest – traders to always want economic prosperity. Now they might, but only in so far as they personally value the “public interest,” and they may well be under-delivering for their employer in doing so.

Please forgive me if all this is obvious to you.

(Whether international policy makers and regulators should allow large markets in financial instruments that contribute nothing to public good is another subject.)

Here are some everyday takeaways…

If people behave in ways that surprise us, it means we don’t properly understand what’s driving them. So what are we missing?

If we want people to behave in a different way, we need to change what they see as important somehow.

The most deep-seated drivers of behavior are usually unconscious ones, long since programmed in, probably around age 10. As Milton Erickson said “most of your life is unconsciously determined.”

You probably see lots of examples of people not understanding the drivers in a situation, or even not realizing that they need to. What tales have you to tell?

North Korean leadership – irrational or just not understood?

North Korean leadership – irrational or just not understood? And a suggested takeaway (no, not a Korean carry out (!) – an idea to use).

North Korea’s leadership is frequently referred to as “irrational”, but maybe it only seems irrational because we don’t understand its way of looking at the world – a very different viewpoint and values. Would the Chinese call the North Korean leadership irrational? Probably not. Being that bit closer, they may see how North Korea’s actions make sense in Kim Jong Il’s “map of the world”, frustrating though they may be for the Chinese, and dangerous for everyone.

At a slightly less dramatic level – only slightly, mind – somebody recently called “irrational” another party in a dispute. Same applies. Unless a person is mentally ill (perhaps Kim Jong Il is), there’s really no such thing as “irrational”. If somebody’s decisions don’t seem to make sense, it just means we don’t understand their perspective, and instead are trying to evaluate using our map.

Here’s the takeaway I suggest…

If you think you’re dealing with irrationality, accept instead you don’t understand the other’s perspective, and look for the explanation – it’ll be there. You don’t have to agree with it, just accept their right to have their own perspective. Then you’ll stand more chance of figuring out what to do to solve the problem.

And the underlying principle…

“The map is not the territory” – so said Alfred Korzybski in 1931, with echoes by NLPers since. Our model of the world is a pale shadow of the world itself. Mine is different from yours and neither are the same as the world itself. You have as much right to your model as I have to mine, and we both know much and yet also very little.