Learming Hub
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Organisations are feeling the pressure to hold on to cost savings achieved over the last number of years whilst simultaneously increasing service impact or profit in a challenging economic environment. “You need to do more with less” is the mantra commonly used by executives to encourage people to go the extra mile and exert additional discretionary effort.


Source: www.julianstodd.com

Having implemented lean, re-structuring, right-sizing and other cost saving and business performance enhancing initiatives, executives are starting to run out of ideas on how to continue delivering a lift in business / financial performance and shareholder returns. An option available to them but, in my personal view, often ignored is the “proactive” creation of a high performance culture. A culture that is developed and continuously improved in a very structured and pragmatic rather than organic manner. There is a large body of evidence to conclude that an organisation’s culture can either hinder or significantly improve an organisation’s performance levels and financial growth. Yet, many executives find great difficulty in placing culture in the context of high performance /  business because they tend to believe that culture is a phenomenon too ambiguous and complex to be fully understood. The reason for this misguided assumption is often that most definitions of culture are too theoretical or impractical to be of any real use in real life situations.

Few would argue that people at the top of an organisation, because of their power positions, have a major impact on the people they manage.

It is useful and practical therefore to define culture as a pattern of: 1. Beliefs 2. Values 3. Learning experiences jack welch These tend to be inspired by leaders and permeate throughout the whole organisation shaping the behaviour of its members. Jack Welch is a well-known example of a leader whose personality clearly shaped General Electric’s Culture. The main conclusion that can be derived from this definition is that any effort to create a high performance culture should start and be led from the top. Not just by the HR Director but by the whole leadership team within the organisation.

Culture needs to become a strategic business priority (like sales, profit, etc.) and not just a HR priority.

Pedro Angulo is the new Programme Director of the IMI Diploma in Strategic HR Management and contributes on the IMI Diploma in Executive Coaching. Pedro is an Organisational Effectiveness Business Partner in AIB and Chairperson of the Irish EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council). He is a motivational speaker and regular presenter at HR, coaching, change and business conferences / events. [post_title] => Building High Performance Cultures [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => building-high-performance-cultures [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 20:29:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 20:29:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.imi.ie/?p=12549 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 15724 [post_author] => 66 [post_date] => 2016-10-07 10:03:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-10-07 10:03:20 [post_content] =>

Almost half of Irish business leaders would be willing to engage in potentially unethical actions to meet financial targets, according to a recent survey by EY. This startling statistic is consistent with another, perhaps less surprising, finding from a survey last year that business leaders are among the professionals least trusted by the general public to tell the truth. It may also help explain why we have witnessed a decade or more of corporate malfeasance not just in Ireland, but globally, and at some of the world’s most esteemed enterprises.

64_Ethics   Source: www.accountancyireland.ie It begs the question: why and how do leaders lose their way and what, if anything, can be done about it? Some subscribe to the ‘bad apple’ theory: managers are good or bad; organisations are powerless to change this fact, and unethical behaviour can be blamed on those few renegades of poor character. Indeed, some alarming research suggested that the psychopathic personality type in particular is three times more prevalent in the corporate world than the general population. Others believe that managers may start out valuing fair compensation for hard work but that over time, the rewards – such as bonuses, share options, power, perks and press coverage – fuel a focus on extrinsic gratification to the detriment of inner satisfaction. So-called ‘careerism’ ultimately leads to a state of emotional detachment that corrodes personal integrity. This ‘dark side’ of leadership may account for some of the more egregious cases of corporate wrongdoing. However, for every psychopathic executive or megalomaniac manager, there are many more well intentioned leaders (at least half, according to EY) who try to do their best but fall short from time to time and lose their way. The reasons are manifold, but can more or less be categorised as follows:
  • Groupthink;
  • Blind spots;
  • Delegated misbehaviour;
  • Wilful neglect;
  • Ill-conceived goals; and
  • Flawed rationalisation.


Have you ever thought about speaking up at a meeting but decided against it because you didn’t want to seem contrary or unsupportive of the team’s efforts? If so, you may have been a victim of groupthink. The phenomenon occurs when a group’s desire for conformity results in irrational or dysfunctional decisions due to a lack of constructive challenge and independent judgement. Organisations by their very nature are highly susceptible to groupthink – their boardrooms especially so. When further facilitated by a general breakdown in governance, the results can be truly catastrophic – Anglo Irish Bank being a prime example.

Blind spots

We all have blind spots and often do not see the full picture. These natural biases can blur the obvious so that, at best, we miss information contradictory to our expectations or, at worst, become so wedded to certain perspectives that our judgement becomes clouded and our decisions compromised. In the workplace, when minor lapses in judgement due to these biases are accepted, incremental transgressions are also likely to be tolerated until – seemingly, all of a sudden – blatant disregard for ethical protocol has become ‘the way things are done around here’.

Delegated misbehaviour

For most executives, the idea of intentionally engaging in corrupt acts is unconscionable. However, sometimes a job has to get done ‘one way or the other’ so, in theory at least, delegating it to someone else might be a highly convenient option. This enables the manager and the company to maintain a veneer of respectability while outsourcing the most unsavoury elements of a business transaction to a third party. The ongoing bribery scandal at Walmart in Mexico is a good example and shows how badly this strategy can backfire.

Wilful neglect

Similarly, executives – while not explicitly ordering their subordinates to commit unethical business practices – may, on occasion, turn a blind eye to how certain results are achieved. This tacit acquiescence seems to have been at the heart of the current troubles at Volkswagen, which were compounded by a secondary shortcoming of ethical governance at the carmaker: nobody felt they could speak up about the illegal practices.

Ill-conceived goals

Managers often work by the mantra: ‘what gets measured gets done’. When such ‘measurable’ goals and their associated rewards are fundamentally ill-conceived, in that they fail to properly consider how they will drive employee behaviour, bad outcomes often follow. We don’t have to look much further than the recent financial crisis to see how this panned out for the banking sector.

Flawed rationalisation

This is a catch-all category and is best explained with typical statements that may accompany some of the techniques involved:
  • Devaluing the victims of the wrongdoing: “He got what was coming to him. I had to put manners on him”;
  • Diffusion of responsibility: “Everybody does it. You have to if you want to survive in this game”;
  • Advantageous comparisons: “Sure I kept 5% for myself. Small beer compared to what my boss skimmed off ”;
  • Justifying the cause: “I know we may have broken a few rules, but it was in the company’s best interests”; and
  • Improbability of being caught: “I may as well. Who is going to find out?”

The solution

So what can we learn from these examples of corporate ethical failure and their contributory factors? Is there something about the pursuit of profit that inevitably drives certain people to cross the line? Can the epidemic of enterprise-wide moral flabbiness be cured? The requisite response is twofold and involves the combination of embedded structural ‘antidotes’ in the organisation and behavioural accountability on the part of the organisation’s leadership. In other words: an ethical organisation, guided by an ethical leader. To forge a culture of integrity, organisations must implement policies, procedures and programmes that translate the organisation’s core values into established patterns of behaviour. They need to establish a robust ethical decision-making framework at all levels. They must invest in training and continuous communication to ensure the message is conveyed and understood. And add to this a supportive and effective board. It is not for the faint-hearted, as the process will often require a cultural change that goes to the very heart of the business. It will almost certainly fail unless senior executives, especially the CEO and the board, ‘walk the talk’ and model those appropriate behaviours. As a former ethics lead at a large US corporation once remarked: “We could have had all the ethics workshops in the world. We could have even had Jesus, Moses, Mohammed and Buddha come and speak at them. But if, after all that, someone in a leadership position behaved in a way contrary to our standard, that instance would teach more than all the experts combined.” Therein lies the problem. By the time someone has achieved a position of leadership, they are likely to have received much instruction along the way, but its main focus is likely to have been on the ‘hard’ tasks or mechanics of running an enterprise – determining strategy, assessing opportunities, managing dispersed teams and so forth. Business ethics, if taught at all, is often treated as an arcane subject and related instruction couched in theoretical, even theological, terms. Or worse, it is delivered as part of a ‘tick-the-box’ compliance exercise. Either way, it is too far removed from the day-to- day business of leadership to have any compelling interest or lasting impact. As a result, leaders tasked with steering the enterprise in the right direction may find themselves largely on their own, bereft of practical guidelines and without useful frameworks, tools and skills.

The leader’s challenge

The challenge for leaders is to equip themselves with the understanding and tools necessary to articulate an authentic governance style. This will enable them to set the tone for their organisation and, with the right building blocks in place, embed a culture of integrity. This demands reflection on the part of the leader and a genuine commitment to assess their personal leadership style and competencies as follows:
  • Clear core values: what drives me?;
  • Emotional intelligence: how do I relate to others?; and
  • Authenticity: what makes me unique?
When a leader understands the principles that guide his or her behaviour, has developed a high degree of emotional intelligence and can articulate the qualities that define their authentic leadership style, they can then begin to inspire others to follow their vision. They will also remain sure-footed, even in the face of moral adversity, and will instinctively know the right thing to do. More importantly, they will motivate others to do likewise. This is leading with integrity.
Ros O’Shea is the Programme Director of the IMI Diploma in the Management of Governance and Compliance   Ros lectures on the topic of ethical leadership and governance on a wide range of IMI programmes. She is also an independent director and a partner in Acorn Governance Services.  _____________________________________   [post_title] => Why leaders lose their way [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => leaders-lose-way [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 19:50:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 19:50:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.imi.ie/?p=15724 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 14735 [post_author] => 80 [post_date] => 2016-04-21 17:43:37 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-04-21 17:43:37 [post_content] =>

Businesses are dealing with increasingly complex and challenging environments at a time when both recruiting and engaging talent seems to be a major problem.

EI 2

Source: www.morganmckinley.co.uk

In addressing this challenge it is important that any advice is made as simple as possible, but not simpler. While effective strategies for winning in business with emotional intelligence are cognitively simple, they are behaviourally complex – simple does not mean easy!


1. Use anger wisely

All emotions are useful in some way and I think anger has gotten an undeserved bad reputation. Anger, if used intelligently, has two very useful properties. Firstly it causes us to focus on a target and secondly it increases our confidence in our solution. Therefore, once you have developed a decent plan, you can use anger to get people focused on implementing the plan. Getting your team a little riled up is a perfect way to stop the paralysis by analysis that slows down many organisations. While anger may not be very helpful in creating plans, it is very helpful in getting them done.  

2. Leverage your pessimists

Organisations tend to overly value positive employees, the ones who are ‘agile’ and readily accepting of change. The people who point out problems and issues tend not to be welcomed and, in extreme cases, can be ostracised by the group: “We all agree with John’s plan, what’s your problem?” However, pessimists are the ones who are most sensitised to risk and error. They may be the ones who are saving you from making a major mistake. If you can find a way to tap into their insights you will risk assure your plans. Remember, an optimist invented the aeroplane, but it was a pessimist who invented the parachute.  

3. Avoid terminal politeness

Sometimes cultures develop in organisations where the challenging or difficult conversations are avoided, at least explicitly. If we think a colleague has presented a terrible idea we will say nothing in the meeting, but strongly criticise the idea afterwards to our ‘allies’. We can do this to avoid getting into conflict, to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or simply because we feel we won’t be listened to anyway. Developing an ability to have the challenging conversations in the moment and in public will enhance both the effectiveness and efficiency of your interactions.  

4. Decide, for goodness sake!

When we are faced with ambiguous, high stakes decisions the safest thing to do often seems to be not to make a decision. We can avoid accountability by kicking the can down the road, e.g. by looking for more research, data or analysis. Another ‘great’ tactic is to look for consensus. But bear in mind that leadership is not a democratic act. If you are in a leadership position you have to take decisions where there are many good options and when there are none. You need your team to be clear that you are taking a decision, but you don’t necessarily need them all to agree with it.  

5. Create emotional safety

The higher up you go in an organisation, the more likely it is that the people around you are ensuring that you get a particular perspective on what is going on. The information you receive will be filtered through the impression management motives of the people providing it to you. With this type of data integrity problem you may become the most dangerous person in the organisation. It is important that you make it safe for people to bring you bad news, so that you increase the likelihood of you getting the unvarnished truth in time to do something with it.  
Dr. Colm Foster is director of Executive Education at the Irish Management Institute. Colm has over 20 years’ experience with Ernst & Young in Ireland and Australia and Diageo. He has operated as a leadership development consultant to organisations in the US, Asia and Ireland – specialising in emotional intelligence, while lecturing in a number of business schools in Ireland and Singapore. Colm Foster along with Ros O'Shea will lead our IMI CPD For Managers session on 'A Practical Guide to Ethical Leadership' on December 6th 2016. _____________________________________         This article was also featured on Business and Finance. [post_title] => Top five tips for winning in business with emotional intelligence [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => top-five-tips-winning-business-emotional-intelligence [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 20:10:12 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 20:10:12 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.imi.ie/?p=14735 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )
Susan Cain

Susan Cain

15th Feb 2022

Susan Cain is a renowned speaker and author of the award-winning books Quiet Power, Quiet Journal, and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

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Susan Cain: Untapped Leadership Potential is All Around Us

Draw on your own natural strengths

Recounting her time as a coach teaching negotiation skills, Susan told the story of her first client, an introverted and shy corporate lawyer. Faced with an unexpected situation in the firm when a senior attorney was called away on business, this young lawyer was tasked with taking on an important client meeting the next morning. While she spent a lot of time preparing and rehearsing her responses, when she was in the ‘arena’ of the crowded boardroom, she found it was not the hours of practice that she drew inspiration from. Rather, Susan explained, it was the lawyer’s own natural strengths that came to the fore. 

Far from being the commanding voice in the room, the introverted lawyer spoke calmly to bring the two parties on opposite sides of the table to an agreement. Shortly after the meeting, she found a message from one of the clients in the meeting, thanking her for a job well done. The next day, the opposing counsel reached out to her to congratulate her and indicate their interest in working with her in the future.  

Susan emphasised that so many introverts are made to feel ‘less than’ or that they are not up to the task. When they draw on their natural strengths, however, they ‘prevail and succeed’ in ways that are different, but equally valuable.  

“This idea of this ‘internal battery’ that we all have is an incredibly useful metaphor for thinking not only about yourselves, but those around you. We are all wired completely differently.”  

Speak up early

Susan emphasised that although it would be neater to create a one-size-fits-all work environment that catered to the needs of both introverts and extroverts, such an environment simply does not exist. Drawing on the everyday example of video calls and meetings, she called out the statistic that, in a typical meeting, three people do 70% of the talking. This dynamic, she cautioned, is a ‘dangerous’ one as it can lead to bad ideas being followed when perhaps there was a better, unspoken path all along.  

While she noted that many elements apart from introversion and extroversion define this, she advised introverts to speak up early in meetings. By going into the meeting with a specific point to raise or question to ask, the more withdrawn team members can exert their influence earlier. She cited research that said the early points raised in a meeting are often the ‘anchoring’ ones and shape the discussion. By pushing themselves, she added, introverts can begin to change the narrative and make their voice heard. She advised extroverts to ‘curb their enthusiasm’ a little bit, speaking up less frequently at meetings when possible. 

Ideas can thrive if we think, pair and share

Introverts, Susan explained, tend to prefer thinking about their ideas in private before sharing them with a group. By contrast, extroverts are more comfortable speaking out and making their thoughts known on a subject. She cited the ‘Think, Pair, Share’ method as a way for leaders to bring their teams’ ideas together.

The method involves inviting people to think about a task or problem individually, after which they are paired to share their ideas. This one-on-one safe space, she said, results in greater participation across the board in teams.  

Leaders can try a variety of other techniques to increase idea generation in teams, she said, including inviting one person to play devil’s advocate and act as the dissenting voice and brainwriting, whereby ideas are written down individually before being shared out by the facilitator.  

The pain of independence

One of the major challenges facing the more reserved personality types, Susan said, is the conformity problem. Studies on the brain have demonstrated that when we position ourselves as the voice of dissension on a topic in a group setting, our fear centre is activated. Rather than stick to our guns, there is a natural human tendency to go along with the crowd.  

She called this common phenomenon the ‘pain of independence’ and pointed to it as a trend that can be counterproductive for leaders and their teams. Regardless of where people lie on the introversion-extroversion spectrum, she said, this pain of independence can be detrimental to innovation and creative collaborations. 

Hidden leaders are all around us

The more introverted among us, Susan said, tend to ascend to leadership positions through different channels compared to their extroverted counterparts. Introverts tend to get deeply invested in a handful of areas of their lives, ‘servicing their passions’, building networks and inspiring others. She advised leaders to look for the ‘unlikely’ leader in your ranks, someone whose passion, dedication and talent shine through consistently. On the surface, these people may not jump out as the prototypical ‘natural leader’, but many are more than capable of assuming that role.  

She recommended that leaders make an appointment with these ‘unlikely’ managers and try to get a sense of what drives them, what their five- and ten-year plans look like and how they could be helped or inspired to move forward.

It is only by taking this step, she said, that organisations can harness the ‘untapped leadership potential’ that already exists. She noted that leadership comes in many different forms and we should pay attention to the subtleties that reveal themselves in the day to day.  

Growth happens outside your comfort zone

Susan called out that while we must honour and be true to ourselves and our temperaments, at times the only way to progress is to step outside of that comfort zone. That happens at a different pace for everyone, she said, but it is the best approach to advance the goals that matter to us. She advised introverted leaders to assess the ‘core personal projects’ that matter most to them and decide which of them is worth stepping outside the comfort zone for.

Citing the example of public speaking as something that many people struggle with, she recommended facing that fear by allowing yourself to be exposed to it in ‘small doses’. She emphasised that people should consciously reward themselves after making this effort and ‘honour their downtime’, building time to recharge their batteries into their calendar.

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