Posts Tagged ‘High IQ’

Managing Turbulence

Monday, October 1st, 2012





The event feedback alerted me to the issue, particularly the comment that the participant would have liked more discussion about the emotions of the management dilemma being discussed.  However, the individual had enjoyed the discussion as it had been ‘an ideas session’ which ‘had played to my strengths’.  S/he also commented that there had only been 3 contributors to the discussion. 

 This report did not tally with my recollection of the event.  The video tape, (oh, the joys of psychological practices!), showed that much of the discussion had been about staff emotions and that all 5 people in the room had participated.

 What was going on?  What we see and understand is filtered by our life experience and knowledge.  We would, for example, anticipate that an expert would see more in a particular conversation than a novice.  But this was an intelligent senior manager with years of experience.  Could this filter have been a blind spot?  Blind spots serve a protective purpose in maintaining the status quo – particularly an individual’s world view and sense of self.  In change and turbulence a blind spot is more likely to come into play when the individual’s working world has changed and with it the ‘rules’ of winning.  This impacts both personal identity and professional life – the more senior the individual, the greater the risks associated with the change.    

 For the individual in this situation confusion, anxiety and frustration are the order of the day, which may just encourage a more determined repetition of the inappropriate behaviour.  Added management pressure to deliver the numbers merely ramps up the pressure and anxiety.  In this very common situation, when dealing with an otherwise high functioning and valued employee, the management  challenge is to help the individual recognise and stop this reactive and destructive cycle, and then to address those blind spots effectively (and acceptably).  All this must be done whilst keeping the manager functioning. What will your organisation achieve when managers perform without being fettered?

Talk to us today to ensure your senior staff are able to deliver even in turbulence.  

Enterprise Risk and Psychopathic Employees

Saturday, October 1st, 2011


Star employee or Psychopath?

Star employee or Psychopath?




A  German[1] study has highlighted similarities in brain function between convicted and certified psychopaths, and traders.   Interestingly the traders were more concerned with reward and, “spent a lot of energy trying to damage their opponents”, compared to the prisoners.  Whilst the study was relatively small (27 traders and 24 psychopaths),[2] it would seem to be backed up by anecdotal evidence from, and recent events in, the banking sector.[1] 

We understand the attraction of trading to those who may show psychopathic tendencies.  It is an impersonal activity – a matter of spread sheets and automatic execution into anonymous markets.  It offers all the excitement of gambling and computer gaming, with the real risks of the gamble being taken by the employer and apparently mediated by risk management software.   It doesn’t require EQ skills.

However, we don’t agree that every trader fits this profile[3].  People who are extremely numerate may not have good EQ.  Corporate cultures may reward and encourage what could be described as selfish behaviour[4].  Similarly the effort that went into destroying internal competitors may be the consequence of a failure of performance management.  The real risk management issue is not purely individuals (or trading teams).  It is both how the organisation assesses and manages performance, and the impact of the prevailing organisational culture on the development and display of these traits.   

Psychopathic behaviour damages organisations.   Sabotaging colleagues destroys team working, creating a hostile environment with an internal rather than market focus.  The consequences include increased churn, with the real talent leaving.  Once the realities of working in the organisation are known, attracting good candidates for employment becomes difficult.   Promoted into management the damage is worse.  Productivity of other teams will plummet as internal competition ‘hots up’, more talent will leave and actions for bullying and harassment will eventually surface.  The inevitable resulting internal focus compromises competitive advantage and the organisation’s future.   

Fortunately, the psychopath’s ability to blag and charm does not stand scrutiny from effective performance review.  A key part of this is the review and feedback process itself. Ironically those who are best qualified to deal with the technical competencies in this population are unlikely to have the interpersonal skill sets to do so, and will feel most challenged by it.  Given the risks, it is important that your managers are competent in their interpersonal performance management skills.  Talk to us now about how to ensure your managers have the essential interpersonal skill sets to thrive at this challenging task.


[1] University of St Gallen: authors Pascal Scherrer and Thomas Noll

[2]The brain chemistry/mechanism that could be at play has been evidenced by  research published by the University of Vanderbilt

[3] Psychopathic tendencies do not automatically mean that an individual becomes a psychopath.  The difficulty is semantic, the association with criminality.  As we have noted elsewhere, psychology and neurobiology are useful sciences to inform our interaction in the real world which is where organisations operate. 

[4] See our ‘Hard Wired to Fail?’ May 2011

Change Lessons from Psychopathic Toddlers?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Proto-psychopath or normally developing brain?Two leading criminologists (see below) at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington have presented studies that they suggest show that violent tendencies may have a biological basis. They believe brain scans on children as young as 3 could identify the future violent and criminal.

What a marvellous idea – that through the marvels of science (rather than messy interaction and assessment), we may identify those who do not conform to our community norms and that we may do so when they are still small enough not to be really dangerous. Even better and very comfortingly, if behaviour is an inevitable result of biology (rather than nurture or environment), then surely nothing may be done to change it. The attraction of the thesis is obvious.

Of course, there is one glaringly obvious flaw. Ask any parent; small kids daily demonstrate psychopathic and anti social tendencies in their almost complete disregard for the wishes and concerns of others. Then they grow up.

Caution is always needed with these discourses – remember phrenology, eugenics and genetic predetermination? They pander to our understandable reluctance to manage difference. Perhaps relevant for a governmental department which is able to make people do things, and a prison service that acts as a final destination storage facility for those who will not or cannot conform. They are particularly damaging when it comes to creating and changing high performing organisations. Building an organisation of ‘People Like Us’ (homogeneity), is not great for success in the fast moving complex markets of the global economy.

The comfort in sameness is understandable. Managing people from very different backgrounds is difficult as it requires the manager to stay adult. It usually challenges the manager’s assumptions about behaviour which will have been built up since childhood – be it how stress (emotion) should be expressed, how women should behave, or the place of people of different sexuality. For high IQ managers, who have often had the personal advantage of a relatively stable upbringing and education, it may be particularly onerous.

With change destroying networks, fracturing teams and making new demands upon existing staff, (never mind the incomers), even once apparently staid ‘people like us’ can suddenly become fractious and difficult. With the pressures of revenue and profit delivery, it is easier to not even try – just buy the myth, the software that promises automated work processes and oust those who complain. Yet the rewards for just a little effort are immense; re-invigorated individuals, engaged and high performing teams, continuity of knowledge and external relationships.

The challenge for senior teams and CEOs is to find of way of helping their managers improve their skills without it feeling too personally risky and distracting from business.

Talk to us, in confidence and without obligation about helping your managers develop the competence and confidence to manage effectively. Solutions that engage, motivate and fit around the business

Supernova – when your Star explodes

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Managing Performance Key Success Factor

The Pain of Performance

After much professional struggle and personal pain, you are a Star in your industry. But life is not going so well, using alcohol and maybe some other substances to dull the pain, you lose control in public and are arrested for racist and anti-Semitic defamation. The instantly recognisable face of a global retail brand, the outburst filmed by a bystander goes viral on Then you are fired as your employer attempts to avoid brand contamination. Sober, and publicly shamed, you apologise profusely. But the damage is done.

John Galliano’s very public meltdown caught our attention as managing staff performance – however senior or much of a Star they are – is a key indicator of organisational success. UK organisations have a duty of care towards employees that includes the stress from their employment. Failure will, as Dior are finding out, damage your market and employer reputation, may further damage (and thus increase the risk of your being sued) your failing employee and will certainly waste the monies that you have spent developing and hiring him or her. For Dior to un-mesh their corporate identity with that of the Galliano ‘brand’ is a further cost.

High value services and products require teams to deliver into globalised market places. Leading teams of different generational, functional and cultural backgrounds is a daily reality for most managers. You are part of the team you lead and work alongside them every day, and you may even like them. With current market turmoil, the possibility of reducing stress by average scoring and giving the standard pay rise has gone. No wonder it is difficult to persuade managers to engage with this personal and interpersonal challenge.

No surprise then that the banks and IT developers are talking about developing software that will de-risk the 1:1 of leadership – Cyber or Android Manager to take the pain away?

We beg to differ. The solution starts with the senior team acknowledging the significant risks and costs involved with poor execution of these skills. Performance management belongs to line management rather than HR, as it is in those thousands of ‘moments of truth’ as teams interact that performance is managed. Giving managers the competence that leads to expert and confident delivery requires an accessible, engaging, individually low risk programme that fits around demands of running a business.

Talk to us today, in confidence and without obligation, to ensure your managers produce stellar performance from the whole team

NB: Dig a little deeper into the Galliano story and it transpires that the individual who managed the interface between Galliano and his employer, (Steven Robinson), died four years ago. Perhaps this exposed the designer to the stresses of managing his own relations with a corporate culture, and removed an important reality check. Whilst Galliano will no doubt recover from the shock, it is a shame for both the organisation and the individual concerned that the realisation that there was a problem came only after such public and shaming exposure.

Avoidable risk continues for Beeb

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

‘Being told what to do is not the same as understanding what you should be doing…..Understanding what you should do is not the same as being confident and competent in doing it.

The BBC’s official statement[1] following the tribunal verdict against them on ageism and harassment is interesting for the questions it raises. The Beeb admit they were at fault and then promise more ‘training’ for responsible executives and ‘new guidance on fair selection for presenter appointments’. It goes on, ‘These findings also raise questions that need to be addressed by the whole industry.’

We have identified 3 particularly interesting points in the statement.

‘Being told’ or understanding?

Offering yet more training may not solve the problem. Being told what to do is not the same as understanding what you should be doing – albeit it gives HR proof of attending training for the Disciplinary. Understanding what you should do is not the same as being confident and competent in doing it. Setting limits and challenging behaviour is what managers do whatever the group or work team that the manager may be part of thinks. This, after all, is why managers are paid more than others.

Selection Criteria and Competence?

In the tribunal it was apparent that the BBC did not have clear criteria for presenter competence. Given the relatively recent changes to employment law on harassment and bullying, the risks should have been evident. Has the BBC confused the encouragement of an entrepreneurial/creative culture with giving rein to the whims and fancies of ‘Kings and Princes’[2]? Is this much vaunted people business unable to manage people?

Sector leader or follower?

The BBC has significant State guaranteed income. It is hugely economically, culturally and politically powerful. Thus it is difficult to understand why it should be overly concerned about ‘industry practice’. Sector ‘leaders’ do not usually follow the practices of sector ‘followers’ – especially when it comes to talent, a key differentiator of performance.

The Beeb itself now has more than an external PR problem. The BBC generally does better than many large employers at hiring, promoting and retaining female staff, not just presenters. It is this group who must really be wondering about the value of the organisation’s much vaunted statements of equal opportunity. When tested by tribunal process, policy was found not to be practice.

Yet it doesn’t need to be like this. Correctly engaged and motivated even your highest IQ and most creative or technical managers can become super competent in those difficult soft skills they usually avoid. Talk to us, in confidence and without obligation about helping your managers develop the competence and confidence to manage effectively.  Solutions that engage, motivate and fit around, rather than disrupt the business.


[2] Weber

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