This personal extension of Descartes’ moment of illumination has begun to be more apparent to me as the years go by.

(Make yourself a coffee – this is going to be a long one)

Over the last decade, I have become more acutely aware that we are being conditioned to think less and less or at least, to avoid thinking critically and this enables all manner of injustice to be perpetuated with little outcry.

Case in point: At present in my state, the government has begun a ‘war on motorcycle gangs’ and has banned many such organisations from gathering together. Mind you, they don’t have to be gathering to commit a crime, just getting together.

This, according to some media, has widespread support in the community and clearly the government has ‘shown leadership’ by taking action to curb a crime wave initiated by these individuals.

As my personal motto is ‘Question everything’ I decided to explore for myself, what surely must be some significant justification for the government to pre-emptively remove the rights of some of its citizens. Surely the widespread fear of these rampaging violent criminals so frequently reported in the media, must validate all possible methods to keep us safe?

Unfortunately, it didn’t take very long to realise that this appears to be another case of A war on….(insert distraction of the month here)’  Yep – another ‘war on terror’ which turned out to be a tragic farce built on falsehoods which made the world a much less safe place.

Bur please don’t believe me, according to the state police’s own statistics[1] these ‘gang members’ account for .04% of the crime in the state.[2]

So let’s do a little thought experiment and use these numbers to look at an activity that these ‘violent criminals’ are most likely to be involved in.

According to official statistics, there were 5338 reported ‘violent acts’ (not convictions mind you) in 2011-12. Now applying the governments percentage of crimes carried out by ‘outlaw motorcycle gangs’ we can deduce that these individuals could accused of – wait for it – 2 violent acts’. That’s right 2.

Now of course this is a statistical average and a portion of total crime but even if we allowed 10 times this rate there would still only be 20. If we multiplied this rate by 100 there would still only be 200 alleged violent acts and even police admit that this is usually amongst clubs, not with the public. 

Even if this 100 times multiple was true, it would still be 200 alleged acts in a state population of 4.5 million. Yet the current government has cleverly manufactured a climate of fear where a citizen’s right to freedom of association can be removed based on who their friends are… Fear is a powerful logic anaesthetic.

Crime wave? It’s not even a ripple but someone wants you to believe it is… Why is that?

Was P.T Barnum right? Are suckers really born every minute? Unfortunately yes…

Why? Because as humans, we react much more quickly and with much more vigour to our emotions than to logic. It is part of our survival mechanism that evolved over aeons but in the 21st century should our emotions still be leading us by the nose, even subconsciously?

What’s the harm? I mean really – logic is such a party pooper, a spoiler, a wet blanket. It is the person who sits behind you in the theatre and whispers “Vader is Luke’s father” or “The kid sees dead people so Bruce Willis must be dead” or “Red John is….” (just kidding).

What’s wrong with reacting emotionally? Well nothing – if it is for entertainment or fun or love or kindness or any other of the wonderful experiences that allow us to fully experience the richness of life but what about when weighing up truth or falsehood? Or seeing though media hype (If it bleeds it leads) to realise that what is happening is wrong? What about when administering justice or ensuring fairness?

That’s when we have to take a cold shower – even more so when we hold leadership positions. Leaders have the leverage and opportunity to promote a personal agenda or demonstrate our dislike of someone if we choose. This is because employees are vulnerable and not all leaders are objective.

As an employee, when we go to work for a company we exchange certain freedoms for a salary. This is a normal contractual type of arrangement and of course is voluntary. If we don’t like it we can leave. However, the unseen leverage begins the moment we become reliant on the financial security that a job often provides. This ‘security’ quietly permeates all areas of our lives and relationships and over time, particularly if we have children or do not have a partner earning enough to support the whole family, begins to open a door through which all kinds of nasty things can enter.

If we didn’t ‘need’ our jobs, bullying would be almost non-existent. We could invoke the vernacular cry ‘take your job and shove it’ and walk out.

In the real world however, this is often not an option. Unscrupulous, immature or low EQ[3] leaders can use all kinds of methods to ‘control’ their employees, to their satisfaction. For example, if the leader prefers quiet, they can insist that all the team whisper or pass notes in order to communicate. Sound ridiculous? I know someone to whom this happened. Team morale plummets and work becomes like a prison. You hate it but you can’t escape.

If there is one who stands up or protests, the same leader/s can describe this person unfavourably to other leaders and generally poison the well. Pretty soon an environment is created that is emotionally hostile to this person and because a number of others now share this opinion (not based on experience but hearsay) it makes the environment intolerable and what would ordinarily be an outstanding employee leaves or becomes ill with stress.

That is why we leaders we have both a practical and moral duty to think critically and clearly about everything we hear and see, in order to remain objective.  We must remain, (as I have said for many years in Naked Leadership sessions) The Coach and the Umpire’ – in this case the Umpire function being critical.

If we are told unfavourable stories about an employee we are inheriting, it is tempting to accept these as ‘real’ experiences from another leader’s perspective and treat them as accurate because as humans we are wired to enjoy a gritty story or scandal otherwise those Kardashians would be unemployed!

As the great 20th century philosopher Henley once observed: “This year notoriety got all confused with fame” and this is because gossip strongly appeals to our emotions and feels ‘real’.

In reality though, I have found that the people spoken most unfavourably of by their former manager, inevitably turned out to be my best most productive team members when give a fair chance.

People described as ‘adversarial’ ‘unprofessional’ or ‘difficult’ usually turn out to be the thinkers who can add real value to the organisation by exposing the ‘dumb stuff’ or at the least prompting a fresh look at what we are doing and how. As I relay in Naked Leadership®, whether I am consulting to or working within an organisation, I will go to the ‘whiners/whingers/complainers’ first and ask them to tell me all of their issues.

Often they are the only ones with the courage or relative freedom (they don’t need the job) to do so.

I can confidently say that in the vast majority of my experiences over the last decade and a half, it has turned out to be the leader, not the employee that is the problem

So how to deal with this and other issues where things that appear to be ‘facts’ are nothing more than distortions, myths, fabrications or simply lies?

Well personally, I rely on the cornerstone of the Naked philosophy which I nakedly adapted from Socrates. Ask questions then shut up and listen.

When someone uses a non-specific term like ‘adversarial’ ask them specifically how the employee demonstrates this. If the term ‘difficult’ or the like is used, again ask for a specific list of actions and situations so you can understand what is actually occurring.

Keep going until you have asked for detailed descriptions of every alleged behaviour. It will usually become clear after one or two questions that the leader is the problem and often they will suddenly have other things to do rather than stay and ply you with tales of miscreant employees.

Our world has changed. News has changed from reliable information into ‘infotainment’, the Internet both provides information for critical analysis and a platform for loonies and these days a whole range of media outlets can be owned by one person or corporation who decides to which viewpoint the journalists conform.

So do we give up or become hermits?

No. But rather than ranting at the perpetrators, when we feel our emotions being engaged unproductively we can snap out of it and ask ourselves:

”Why am I watching/listening to/accepting this crap?” Change the channel, stop reading that paper and practice being thoughtful about everything that is important.

Humans should have embedded in our DNA somewhere the impulse to question everything until we are comfortable that we have looked at all points of view, discerned what is accurate and what is not and made an informed judgement. (That’s why I don’t let my university students use Wiki as a reference!) Then keep an open mind and seek things that challenge your beliefs, so you examine them often.

A word of warning though; many people are comfortable living in denial or blissful/wilful ignorance or being complicit in injustice by ‘keeping their heads down’ and those leaders who use manipulation and oppression to rule, do not want you peeking behind the curtain to see the truth.

If you seek objectivity, honesty and fairness, you may have trouble finding a company you want to stay with.

Perhaps that is why most thought-leaders, philosopher/authors and creative champions (people like Godin, Pink, Gladwell, Ronson and others) work for themselves or only with other likeminded people and consult to companies in the hope that some of what they say may stir change for the better.

I am very grateful I have a beautiful and intelligent partner who seeks to understand people and their actions from a critical and objective viewpoint and also seeks to right wrongs.

Until I met her, I thought therefore I was lonely…


A long time ago, someone (almost certainly not Edmund Burke) said words to the effect that “All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”

While this sentiment has probably been used to justify all kinds of horrors (as it is dependent on the definition of ‘evil’ in the minds of the initiators), there is much to be said for a thoughtful approach to this concept.

How many leaders have failed to challenge the clearly inappropriate behaviour of a more senior person due to fear about their own job security?

How many times have we rationalised away this obligation with a ‘nothing will change’ mental salve?

To be an effective leader you must embrace a certain amount of risk to yourself in order to ensure a safe and fair working environment for your team. It takes courage and a healthy dose of persistence but despite a degree of risk, it is almost always worth the effort.

As another another saying of uncertain parentage puts it; “Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you” but this should not stop us from trying to right a wrong or stop harmful behaviour. You can climb a tree or hide in a hole to avoid the bear but it will be uncomfortable, you can’t do it forever and it’s a bit hard to maintain the moral authority of a leader from the bottom of a pit.

I mention numerous times in NAKED LEADERSHIP®, the essential truth that as a leader, your job is not about you – it is about your team. If you won’t stand up to improper treatment of your people, who will?

This however, can be a personal and professional challenge because it requires us to be objective in an often emotional circumstance and that can take some doing… It is for this reason (and perhaps it is fitting as I write this on Remembrance Day) that we also consider how easy it is to portray people unfairly. Leaders and employees can demonise each other and often battle lines will be drawn, giving the grievance a life of its own. Work can become like trench warfare with each side dug in and mentally hardened to any thought of compromise.

This is why war is for the most part, predicated upon convincing the public at large that ‘those people over there’ are evil or ‘not like us’, so let’s get rid of them. The mob mentality must be energised and people’s thinking brought into line for our own internal ‘moral compass’ to be overcome.

Facts and reason must be avoided at all cost.

Yet conflict, whether in a relationship, at work or in world politics is often engineered to hide our own inadequacies, to divert attention from more important issues and deflect responsibility. A manager who is insecure, fearful or inept can lash out and look for ‘victims’ upon whom they can unload the blame for their own failings. They can quite deliberately set the conditions for failure in order to ‘get rid’ of someone they dislike. Often this person may be more skilled and capable than themselves. They can exaggerate the ‘threat’ posed by the employee in order to engage others’ emotions and give weight to their claims.

As thoughtful humans, Naked Leaders need sometimes to say: “This far and no further.” If we are not willing to take some heat to protect our people then we are not leading – we are merely administering resources.

Importantly however, there is no point ‘hurling yourself against the wire’ you will only remove from yourself, the ability to help your people. Over the years, I have learned (at some cost) to first, disengage my emotions and carefully and quietly gather and examine the evidence. Reportable incidents need to be verifiable or at least credible. (No sane person would go to war on the basis of dodgy information. Would they?)

You may be angry about what is occurring but to be effective, you cannot let this cloud your judgement. You MUST Disconnect because make no mistake: It takes planning, thoughtfulness and patience to defeat destructive people.

After verifying the evidence, my preference is always to approach the ‘offending person’ and ask a series of careful questions that will reveal their motivation and if appropriate, manoeuvre them into realising that what they are doing is having a negative impact on people and importantly, that it will stop them getting the results they need. In effect, I try to engage their ‘self-interest’ gene. If I receive a negative reaction and they don’t alter their behaviour, it’s time to move on to Plan B.

The key is to use the system effectively to escalate the concerns without appearing to be on a ‘mission’. You may be surprised how often things can be solved when a more senior person is informed. If this doesn’t work, at least more people know about the problem. Keep going up the line. If you do not follow the procedures, this can come back to bite you as you will be seen as unnecessarily adversarial.

If you persist, something will usually be done to correct the behaviour because it becomes too widely known for senior leaders to do nothing. They will appear weak if they sit on their hands.

Fixing problems most often can be achieved by using the system effectively. I have had some experience in winning HR battles on behalf of clients or friends by taking this route. In fact, we won-every time and a big part of it was doing the homework and knowing the rules/policies (often better than the HR people).

You can put the company in a position where they either act on their proclaimed values, policies or procedures or they don’t. If they don’t they can expose themselves to legal action, and they know this. It’s a bit like a game of chess. It takes patience and persistence but you and your people will most often be the victors without going to war…

And isn’t that a better way?

Well it looks like it is safe to blog again.

The Australian election is over and the US has managed to kick the can down the road again with the debt ceiling and budget.

In watching the spectacle facing our cousins in the U.S., it struck me how challenging is can be for a leader dealing with intransigence.

U.S. President Barack Obama, having convincingly defeated his opposition in the last election was faced with a far-right faction that had taken control of the Republican Party.

Republicans, seemingly hostage to its ‘Tea Party’ members whose spokespeople such as Congresswoman Michelle Bachman have perfected the non-sequitur, the logical fallacy and just plain bizarre behaviour (witness her patronising comments during a visit to Egypt) apparently sought to re-run the election they lost by imitating a 6 year old.

“I’m going to hold my breath until you say I won!” (and repeal Obamacare!)

Most moderate Republicans were aghast at this behaviour but seem to be able to do little about it.

In some ways, (ironically given their position on the political spectrum) this seemed to mirror the rabid Union organisations in 1970’s Britain who seemed to have a strike every other week because they could and never mind the damage.

As someone who lived and worked in the US for nearly a decade, I am somewhat familiar with the US political system but for most outsiders this behaviour was simply incomprehensible.

Despite some of the silliness in our own recent election, Australia really does have a benign system – mainly because it is compulsory to vote. In having this law, we basically marginalise the fringe elements while still allowing them a voice. It is simply not possible for an extreme faction like the Tea Party to function in our system in the same way as they do in the US. They would be drowned out by the majority of us who live more or less in the middle of the political scale.

So how is this leadership issue?

Well it was fascinating to me to watch President Obama stay out of this fight. Rather than giving the extremists legitimacy he basically ignored them and through his intermediaries, called their bluff.

Gutsy but it worked… After all he had a mandate from the electorate and more specifically, a mandate for the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) which was front and centre during the election campaign.

The subsequent Government shutdown with all its consequences forced moderate Republicans to face their extreme elements and force a surrender to common sense. While in disarray, they now have a chance to rebuild the party as one that can work with the government to actually get things done.

As anyone who has read Naked Leadership knows, I advocate actively seeking common ground, parking your ego and working with people but sometimes after hard negotiation or solution seeking, and having come to a decision for your organisation, you have to stay the course.

Winston Churchill, a very conservative (and often wrong-headed) leader who did many things right in the crucial moments, once declared:

“Never give in, never give in; never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in –  Except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

Sometimes people forget that last bit.­

When faced with unreasonable intransigence, a Naked Leader will make an assessment as to the value of further negotiation, consider the overall good of the organisation, regardless of the personal or political cost – and do the right thing.

Doing the right thing can be the hardest course and can cost a leader much stress, anxiety and even their job – but it is always the right course.

We can attempt to rationalise away selling out to extremists but the damage we do to ourselves and the long term health of our organisation and its people is immense.

Sometime No means No and you must stand firm and hang on for the ride…

It is why you’re a leader…


A look at most companies’ values or customer service statements will usually reveal words describing their commitment to excellence, passion for their industry and the enthusiasm of their employees.

The thing is, for many organisations this is just aspirational fluff.

In fact, it has been my experience both in observation and immersion that despite these lofty goals, many managers are threatened by passionate and enthusiastic employees. Rather than seeking these people out and nurturing them, they are instead seen as a threat, someone to be kept in line. Exuberant, creatively offbeat people are squeezed into boxes in which they wither.

Yet some of the world’s most successful companies, such as Google, Apple, Zappos and Southwest Airlines do the opposite and encourage their people to be unorthodox in their thinking and to express themselves in creative ways. Zappos the world’s biggest online shoe retailer only started in 1999 and now sells over a billion dollars of products every year. They keep their creative edge with off-beat activities where “Employees often lead spontaneous office parades, occasionally accompanied with cowbells and managers are required to spend 10–20% of their working hours “goofing off” with employees outside of the office.[1]

Apple’s Steve Jobs was a brilliant creative thinker and marketing genius but also from all reports a tyrant when it came to mediocrity. He could not stand half-hearted attempts at anything. His encouragement or more accurately his demand for innovation created one of the world’s greatest companies and a cultural icon but it was not done by stifling passion

While we don’t have to go to the extremes of creative geniuses like Jobs or rush out and buy cowbells to emulate Zappos, we can nevertheless take lessons from their achievements and adapt them to fit our environment. You never know where the next key advantage will come from, so why not engage your team?

No…Better not. Why? Because it’s scary. You might not be able to control where the ideas go or to keep your workplace a quiet as a tomb.

I have never understood this mentality. If you have the courage to carefully nurture the creative and social side of your people, team collaboration and motivation becomes a self- sustaining reality. If you create an environment of tolerance and trust and demonstrate your own passion for what you do, you will reap amazing rewards but again, for many managers this is far too scary.

After all, you will have to allow your team to disagree with you. You will need an open mind in order to explore their ideas no matter how unusual. You will have to be more skilful at keeping them within the focus area and you will have to accept scrutiny of your own performance by your team and who would want to do that? It takes emotional maturity and confidence to steer the ship while allowing the kind of course deviations that may get you to your destination earlier or allow you to find treasure in an unexpected place.

No…Better to shut it down. It is too unpredictable. And that is what happens in many cases. The passion and enthusiasm is squeezed out of the team like juice from an orange. The ‘believers’ as I like to call your best assets are dispirited and leave. Typically the perpetrators of this misguided conservatism are middle management. Senior leaders usually understand the need for this creativity and passion but often do not communicate directly with the ‘doers’ nor do they scrutinise the actions of unimaginative middle managers who lack vision and wish only to control their fiefdom.

Tragically this is where the organisation or parts of it atrophy and the most valuable people leave to wander the employment wasteland in search of a home – somewhere they can offer their unbridled passion and enthusiasm for their craft.

You will find creative, passionate people in all areas of your business, even the seemingly mundane ones and they can sometimes be tricky to handle but if you make the effort that will give you more than any five other people and in today’s incredibly competitive world, isn’t that worth the effort?

Leaders like anyone else, are prone to mistakes, missteps, emotional decisions and other foibles.

We are human but we are also in a position to have a degree of power or influence over others’ lives. As Spiderman was told after discovering his super powers-“With great power comes great responsibility.” Now before you think I am going ‘Sheldon-esque’ on you, our arachnophile was given wise counsel.

It is a relatively common failing of leaders to let their emotions dictate their actions or at least influence them. This is very dangerous. As leaders we must remain above the fray. We have to be seen (and act) as impartial, fair and objective. If we fail in these things we will seriously undermine our workplace relationships and thereby our reputation and credibility.

When we feel our emotions beginning to influence us, it is time to dis-connect.[1] You cannot make an objective assessment while angry or upset or even extremely happy. It simply doesn’t work. We have probably all made a decision (in a moment of giddy optimism) that we came to regret. Worse is making decisions or acting while angry with someone-particularly if those people report to us. NEVER-NEVER-NEVER ‘go after someone’. It will be obvious to all and will sooner or later be your undoing

The reality is that it is rare for people to do things with ill intent. Really… 99.9999999% of people in the world are generally honest, hardworking and ethical, so if they have made an error it is usually an honest one. That is – one borne from misunderstanding, misinterpretation, lack of training or some other human factor.

If we treat mistakes this way and seek to correct the causal factors rather than – in some form- punishing the person, much better results will be had because they will be inclined to ‘own’ their mistake rather than denying or defending it out of fear. (This is a lesson learned at great cost and now enshrined in aviation safety.)

This pro-active behaviour is never more important to exhibit than when WE make a mistake. When a leader makes a mistake it is essential that we stand up and own it. This does not make us appear foolish or flawed but rather honest and ethical. If we expect others to follow us it is critical that they see us correcting ourselves and acknowledging missteps.

In this way we can build a culture where people self-report, so that future mistakes can be avoided rather than made and then hidden.

[1] For how to Dis-connect see Chapter 6 in NAKED LEADERSHIP

Any organisation is a collection of people with different backgrounds, education, life experiences and of course, personalities and this brings with it both challenges and capability.

In order to succeed and grow, a company has to have a clear direction and a corporate philosophy to underpin its approach to business and must then recruit people who are aligned with that philosophy and educate those who are already in place, most notably the leaders.

This corporate philosophy is often expressed as ‘company values’ but for some commercial and non-commercial entities, these are little more than lip service paid to corporate responsibility. Why is this so?

Because in these organisations, values are introduced with great fanfare and initial training sessions filled with earnest words but over time they become little more than forgotten aspirations – simply because it takes work, persistence and consistency to embed them in the collective consciousness.

Values can fail to resonate because they are too vague, because senior management is not fully engaged with the intent or because mid-level; leaders are not held to them.

However, if an organisation establishes simple clear expectations and then works consistently to embed and reinforce them, the rewards can be enormous.

When people at all levels can believe in the values and see them acted upon, it builds a kind of comfort and security that leads to loyalty, increased performance, better customer service, creativity and a willingness to engage that is not found in other organisations. People contribute because they want to rather than ‘having to’.

Now this does not mean that you have to build a warm and fuzzy, beanbag-sitting ashram in your corporate space. You can hold people to high standards as long as you do what you say, act on your values and ‘right wrongs’. People like consistency. Just look at the outcry at sporting events when an umpire gets it wrong.

Similarly, when leaders are allowed to act in a way that is against the corporate values while enforcing the same upon their team, real damage can be caused. Most people will play by the rules as long as they are rules for all. However, if leaders are allowed to go astray without firm correction, the credibility that underpins belief in the values will be lost and that can lead to low morale, poor service and staff turnover – all of which are extremely damaging to a brand and an organisation and no one except the competition benefits from that.

So the next time you think about your organisation’s values – look around and reflect upon whether they are being ‘lived’ by everyone where you work… Are you value-able?

Working with many organisations over the years, I have seen both effective and not so effective communication cultures.

This can stem from a number of causes.  Leaders will often take silence as a sign that everything is okay, rather than actively engaging their team in discussions.

On the other side, team members may not feel that they can be honest with their boss because there may be repercussions for them or that ‘nothing will ever change.’

This may has been sufficient in the past when many companies were monolithic and just ground along while employees stayed ‘for life’ but in the 21st century and in an incredibly competitive world, we cannot afford to have our best assets, (our people) communicating poorly with us or each-other.

These days change is a part of life but most humans don’t like it. It unsettles us and creates fear and if we do not have an open communication culture we will not see the problems before they occur.

So if we want to get the best willingly from our people, we need to ensure that we are supporting a culture of openness and that in turn will ensure that we are always aware of the health of our organisation.

Openness does not mean communication chaos or wishy-washy ‘mission statements’ but rather communication accountability.

As I relate in NAKED LEADERSHIP, while I was working in the US at Continental Airlines, the new CEO – apart from updating everyone in the company by voice mail once a week – announced that anyone could make an appointment to see him to speak honestly about how things were going, regardless of their role from baggage handler to senior manager. The same went for the VPs and Directors down the line and their team members. This in a company of over 50,000!

Once people realised that he was serious, it basically lowered the power gradient to zero and was one of the key factors in bringing the company from bankruptcy to consistent profitability while others struggled.

Of course I have heard the protest “But I would spend all day hearing people complain about trivia!” Actually that didn’t happen.

Because people knew they could see the CEO or VP directly it made them feel more comfortable in being honest with their manager and where necessary bringing up problems at that level. For the reluctant manager he or she knew that if they didn’t listen and if their behaviour didn’t align with our values, it could go all the way to the top very easily.

When you tie this in with a strong set of values – one of which is listening to feedback (NAKED LEADERSHIP – Naked Clue #2 Ask Questions and Shut Up and Listen”) it is amazing how culture can transform and cope with most things.

With a workforce, we have a dynamic organism that can be deeply affected by misunderstandings, rumours, superficial disappointments and this leads to poor relationships.  In order to be able to anticipate or overcome problems within our organisations we need to be constantly asking questions and listening carefully to the answers.

From time to time I have assisted companies during negotiations with union representatives and quite often, the initial mood is of defensiveness on both sides. After listening to what appear to be the issues, I begin asking simple questions such as “What do you really need?” or “What is the real problem here?”“What are people really upset about?” – Drilling down it often turns out to be nothing to do with the stated issues. They are symptoms of a sense of ‘injustice done’ for both parties. The relationship had broken down through poor communication.

Had there been a lot more questioning and listening going on in the first place, the issue may not have arisen at all.

Of course to make this a success, leaders need to be able to take feedback without getting defensive and that takes practice. Lots of practice…

(See NAKED LEADERSHIP – the 7 Naked Clues for how to do this)

After listening and questioning, we must also remember that what we say to a team member carries with it the weight of our position. What we think may be a straightforward comment can have very negative consequences when interpreted from ‘below’. Having the emotional maturity to be mindful of the effect of our words by keeping the receiver in mind is critical to a successful relationship of any kind. This doesn’t mean apologising for feedback (or trying ‘good-bad-good’ which doesn’t work) because as a leader you are their coach but simply avoiding unintended gaffes.

If we begin to create an atmosphere (within or team and our company) where employees feel able to speak honestly without fear of censure, problems can be detected much earlier, ideas can be sought and a strong values-based culture can be built and that is a real competitive advantage. It will make change much easier to endure and the workforce more engaged in the process.

Finally, in order to underpin the sense of trust we want to build with our people so they will communicate and work with us willingly, we, as leaders, need to have the courage to speak up when we see things that are inappropriate, inequitable or unjust.

Having the courage to question inaccuracies, inequity, misrepresentations or unfair comment or action is a key element of good leadership. Part of our job is to ‘protect and serve’ our team members, so that they perform at their peak.

It can be uncomfortable for us questioning our boss or peers behaviour in order to right a wrong but it comes with the territory. Either you are a leader or you are not.

How you do it (Naked Clue # 6) is important but our career progress must never happen at the expense of justice. The value of integrity cannot be overstated. If you are consistently honest and fair, your reputation will follow you – as it will if you are not.

A diversified and interdependent world brings with it many challenges – not so much with technology or medicine or engineering or food production but rather of ‘thought inertia’ or even active resistance.

As different cultures and beliefs encounter each-other there is inevitable friction. Fortunately these days it does not usually erupt into war but it can lead to a similar type of mental digging in.

This for me has also illustrated an interesting phenomenon. It seems for some people the more we understand about our condition, our biology, psychology and other elements of our make-up the more they want to retreat into the past or into belief systems that comfort them. This can lead to them singling out a group or organisation and claiming that they are somehow responsible for all manner of ills. (Gay marriage and ‘boat people’ seem to be the ‘threats du jour’ for these folks at present.)

The incredible achievements of humanity both in technological and sociological terms,  seems to threaten their view of the world and to be open minded or flexible in our thinking must somehow be branded as wrong, evil or even elitist! . For these people, scientific knowledge and evidence-based reasoning has ‘stolen their magic’.

They believe that everyone should think as they do and that they shouldn’t have to justify their beliefs-just holding them is good enough to demand action from the rest of us.

Of course we have seen this in the past when information was elusive, expensive and guarded.

Control was exercised by a small ruling minority, clan, religious or political group and they could direct their followers by controlling their beliefs.  This still happens today in some places (we call it talk radio) but for the most part, modern communication has rent the veil forever.

The young people of today are no longer satisfied with ‘…because I said so!” Politicians are held to much higher scrutiny that in the past and on a larger scale, despots can no longer hide behind borders; mobile phones with video have seen to that. (The Syrian regime is learning this at present.)

The democratisation of knowledge has created a powerful force and is something that begs us to question everything. In the 21st century, assertions need to be supported by evidence.

The development of critical thinking in children usually starts with Santa and the Easter Bunny. As children grow and learn, the concept of a ‘magic bunny that no-one can see’ or an old man who can visit every house in the world in 24hrs becomes a bit threadbare. Eventually reality intrudes and they either decide for themselves or put us on the spot with the big question… Beliefs like these are generally harmless and self-terminating on an individual level but others are not.

When our daughter comes home and relates a controversial assertion by a school mate or even teacher, we discuss how she could deal with it. Most often her response is to ask “How do you know” or “Can you prove what you say?”  Many times this is sufficient to prevent a reoccurrence but some people can’t let go or are unwilling to examine why they believe something.

Perhaps it is because from the time we are born, we are immersed in the culture of our immediate and extended family. As we grow up, our exposure to more and more outside sources of experience and information  means that we gradually develop our own view of the world, however, some people never escape. They continue believing the same things, voting the same way or following the same religion.

Even when we discover that what we thought was true is not or is no longer appropriate, we can struggle with feelings of guilt about changing. After all, how could those that raised and loved us be wrong? It can be traumatic.

In severe cases. the sense of loss when they realise that progress (knowledge, technology or science) has ‘stolen the magic’ is so great, they seek to reinvent it in another form. They seek a belief system or a ‘thought community’ that can give them certainty again-someone they can get guidance and confidence from but in order to join, they have to suspend critical judgement and this can lead to to some unhealthy outcomes. Cults thrive on these kinds of ‘lost’ individuals.

For many people, tightly adhering to a particular point of view can offer comfort by removing uncertainty and as diversity is welcomed in most places-what could be wrong with that?

In fact it is common to hear that  ‘You have to respect a person’s beliefs’. It seems that ‘belief or faith’ has been reinvented as a legitimate challenge to knowledge based on facts or best evidence.

To this I say; nonsense… We do not have to respect beliefs – some cultures hold that it is fine for a husband to beat his wife or for girls to be prevented from going to school – clearly things that in modern society are wrong and harmful. Beliefs are not sacred – however, in a democracy, we need to respect an individual’s right to hold them  provided that exercising them does not cause harm.  Suppressing a belief is not the way to educate people. When we do so, people can become convinced that something is wrong and we as leaders are not telling them the truth for some dark reason. In the absence of reason, odd beliefs can take hold because nature abhors a vacuum. Erroneous beliefs can only be countered by unfettered access to the facts, by purposeful questioning and by the passage of time.

As leaders in the workplace,  people look to us for guidance; they expect us to know what we are talking about and to be a steadying influence. That is why we must be active in honestly informing our people about our organisation and our industry and be open to questions and feedback, so that rumours and conspiracy theories don’t take hold-particularly in the tough times. Regular open honest communication can be a kind of vaccine for all manner of workplace ills because rumours and distortions can affect morale, share price, customer satisfaction and even the profitability of the organisation and once embedded can be very hard to eradicate because again – people love a good story.  On a macro scale we can see it regularly in the news media and it only gets worse when spread on the internet, if not actively exposed.

As Adolf Hitler noted in Mein Kampf, “…the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. “

Cases in point: the anti-vaccine movement that sprang up several years ago is an example of an evangelical fervour based on a falsehood and despite being thoroughly debunked and the perpetrator prosecuted; it still thrives on the Internet and in the minds of too many people. This is a case where a false ‘belief’ repeated often, has caused actual harm to our communities by allowing virtually eradicated diseases to re-emerge and threaten the lives of our children.

On a less serious note, the moon hoax believers have been convinced for years that NASA faked the moon landings. When confronted with irrefutable evidence they go on about conspiracies. When a lunar probe photographed the landing sites a few years ago even that didn’t convince them. Even the fact that since 1969, scientists from all over the world have been bouncing lasers of a special reflector left by Apollo 11 to measure the distance between earth and the moon doesn’t hold any sway with them. Perhaps NASA FEDEXed it there…

People are free to believe what they wish but it is when this turns into action that affects others we must have the courage to challenge them.

Too often we can be seduced by over simplistic thinking and by screaming headlines that engage the emotions but not our cerebral cortex. ‘Public outrage’ us usually based on incomplete information and that this succeeds so often is surprising when we have more sources of data at our fingertips than ever before.

As I tell my 3rd year University students- find at least 3 credible sources before you quote something that purports to be true. Otherwise you can fall victim to people with an agenda that may not be helpful.

As we have seen, humans are often easily swayed by a good story. Emotions can be roused to overwhelm rational thought. While this may be good at the movies-it is much more of a challenge in our workplace.

If you are not communicating honestly and often with your people, someone else will fill the vacuum…

An essential requirement for a leaders (or any thinking person really) is the ability to have our minds changed by new experiences. A recent blog I read referred to this as being ‘Interested’  (  I believe that too many people are only interested in what is immediately in front of them. This is understandable to a degree, as we all have busy lives. Between work, children, friends and household tasks there seems little time for other outside world. However, if we find ourselves immersed in the immediate to the exclusion of all else, we lose the opportunity to explore context.  We live in a big world and there is much going on. We (and more importantly our children) have information available to us of which previous generations could only have dreamed. The internet can bring us to any part of the world in seconds. In an ever more interconnected and multi-cultural world we can access information and perspectives that were only previously available to the very wealthy and well-travelled. Where once we were isolated nations in a big world we are now a global village and we will only become more interconnected as time moves on. That is why expanding our sphere of interest can be not only exciting but life changing. Whether you are travelling via aircraft, cyber-space, international TV news or documentary, exploring other countries, regions, cultures and languages can be extraordinarily rewarding. This is also crucially important for the generation following us. We need to expose our children to as great a variety of experiences as possible in order to bring up thoughtful adults and probably the best way to do that is by travel. Openness to a different point of view, even one that challenges us or makes us slightly uncomfortable is a very healthy thing and of course the best way to experience this is by immersion. Over the years, I have observed that the most bigoted, critical and ‘one-eyed’ of people – those who are willing to see the worst rather than the best in other people,  cultures, countries and traditions, are usually those who have not travelled. Travelling allows us to be out of our comfort zone, in someone else’s environment, perhaps not understanding the language or the culture and to have to survive and get by. It is positively mind expanding. The layers of colour, texture, emotions (including fear, uncertainty and wonder) can fundamentally change our view of the world and ourselves.  I have been fortunate to experience visiting and living in other countries and it has changed me in significant ways.  When in another country I have taken pains to be ‘interested in as much as I can absorb. Whether on horseback in the amazing rift-valley city of Petra in Jordan or being escorted by armed guards through the teeming cities of Pakistan, stuck in a Paris traffic jam or wandering in a Malaysian market, I have endeavoured to make sure that I take in the detail, the faces and the background with which I am confronted and to ask myself what would it be like to be at home here? What are they thinking? What is their world really like? How do they see us? The other amazing part of travelling is the kindness with which I have been met. The one lesson I have taken away is that the world is an amazing colourful and intriguing place populated by people who want the same things as we do. So the next time you hear aggressive accusation, generalisations, bias or bigotry or less obviously the subtle misrepresentations in some of our news media, remember two things- the real story is always in the background and – you can change the channel. As John Kennedy famously said after the Cuban Missile crisis… ”in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Perhaps the simplest way to start expanding your perspective is to look around you as you walk or drive around the city or your suburb. Take time to observe  people, listen to random conversations and pay attention to the world of your fellow humans. There are, as they say, 7 billion stories.

Are you interested?

In many cultures complaining (whingeing or whining) seems to be looked on in a negative way and if it is without real reason or substance that is understandable. No-one wants someone raining on their parade (or their day). In the workplace however, it is often treated even more harshly in the belief that complaining will bring down morale. Most leaders will attempt to get the complainer to stop and some may even ‘performance manage’ them if they continue but I believe that this is counterproductive. If we look at this on a macro scale we can see that what is happening in Syria at the moment is a result of unaddressed grievances and approach is to try and crush the dissent. In reality, history has shown that all this leads to is better recruiting for the dissenters. Whether on a macro or micro scale, human behaviour is pretty consistent. In a relationship, if one partner doesn’t feel listened to or understood, the relationship will often break down. This is a very similar dynamic to the workplace.  Many years ago I tried a little experiment with an employee representative from an operation that I has been assigned to run. This person had a reputation for being very difficult and vocally negative towards managers and her reputation reached me even before I had assumed the leadership role. Rather than avoid her or confront her in an adversarial way, I invited her to meet with me and asked her to tell me her story and the history of the operation. This took her by surprise. As she recounted the history, she included many of the grievances that had arisen over time and interestingly, to me at least, many seemed to be justified. Importantly I did not try to make excuses for the organisation-I simply used Naked Clue #2  (Ask Questions and Shut up and Listen) and let her have her say. When she had finished I asked her if she would like to help me solve the problems she had raised. Again she was surprised but agreed. Now I must say that the supervisors that worked for me were also surprised as they saw this woman as a thorn in their side and not someone worthy of engaging with and so were somewhat disbelieving of my approach. However the relationship slowly got off the ground and as time passed I had the employee rep involved in all the major changes that affected the employees and things went pretty smoothly. On occasion she was able to sell the changes to the employees on my behalf and it turned out to be much more effective than simply ramming them through. Since then when I meet whingers (or am coaching managers dealing with them) the approach is to given them the time to air their grievances in an non adversarial environment and to thank them for doing so. Whingers are often the tip of the iceberg and perhaps the only ones honest enough to speak out about issues affecting the team. While their approach may be less than ideal it is important to look for the kernel of what they are saying and see if it has any value. Often listening (without offering excuses or justification) is enough and you can always ask them for solutions to the issues which in the end turns them from an annoyance into an asset and isn’t that much better?