Some of our subscribers have not had any updates from Rob and I for some time. If you are not in this group then feel free to ignore this post.
We weren’t excluding you on purpose, it was all due to a tricky IT problem. But all is now sorted. Thanks to some top IT support from my son, Patrick. (Thanks Pat!).
So what did you miss?
The most popular post in the last few months was this one:
Successful People Feel Bad Too – It is about how we all pretend that we have got it together even when we are feeling sad and overwhelmed.
Some readers seemed to also enjoy this post on what my chickens taught me about conflict resolution.
We started a Working With ACT Facebook page – if you are so moved you can now ‘like’ us!
You may notice that I (Rachel) have been dominating the blog somewhat in the last few months as Rob has been fiendishly busy with his other projects. But he assures me that he will be back delivering his own quirky style of writing soon.
So, ‘Hello Again’, we hope you are pleased that we are back.
I recently heard of a leadership programme where it is expected that half way through the programme participants will contact the CEO of their large organisation to complain. They are doubtful about the usefulness of the programme and feel overwhelmed, stressed and angry. The CEO apparently responds by telling them to ‘suck it up’. Why does he tell them this? Because he sees that, in the long run, the programme works – the majority of participants do become better leaders after the programme. They are wiser, more courageous and demonstrate more integrity.
Although the programme apparently ‘works’ it sounds to me like it is causing unnecessary suffering to participants. Let me explain what I mean.
When I was a junior doctor, all gall bladder operations involved a long incision, a 2 hour operation, 5 days in hospital and 4-6 weeks recovery time. Fast forward 15 years and most gall bladder operations are now done laparoscopically, via small incisions in the abdomen. The patient only needs to stay in hospital overnight and returns to normal activities within a week.
I think that some leadership trainers are doing the equivalent of an open cholecystectomy. They are inflicting unnecessary trauma on participants in order to achieve the required changes when they could be using newer, more effective and less damaging behaviour change technology.
Contextual behavioural science has the clues to these more effective and less traumatic ways of achieving the same important outcomes.
Contextual behavioural science (CBS) aims to ‘predict and influence behavior, with precision, scope, and depth.’ What this means is that CBS is using scientific inquiry to work out exactly what works in helping human beings to develop and grow.
So what does a leadership course based on these principles look like?
- It understands that most of us become inflexible when we feel threatened. If the learning environment is safe, secure and playful we are more likely to learn new behaviours that we will then apply in the real world.
- At the start of the programme participants choose the values they want to express through their work. What they want to stand for. How they want others to experience them. This is important as this links the leadership programme to their own internal motivation (‘What is important to me’) which is much more powerful than external motivation ( e.g.’My CEO says I have to suck it up’).
- A combination of 360 feedback and reflection (supported by coaching) helps participants to identify the behaviours that they need to Keep, Start and Stop doing. Participants learn research findings about which leadership behaviours are effective in which settings; so that they can make wise choices about what behaviours to focus on.
- Participants explore the function of any behaviours that they find both problematic and resistant to change. They then use this information to develop a plan for change. This is because behaviours that look the same can actually have completely different underlying aims. If the plan for change doesn’t take this into account it is likely to be ineffective. For example: participants who complain to the CEO could either be trying to avoid something difficult or they could be asking for a more effective leadership programme. In the first case, some work around becoming better at handling uncomfortable emotions might be warranted, whereas in the second, it might be helpful to learn how to manage upwards more skilfully.
- Facilitators in a programme based on contextual behavioural science understand that problematic thoughts and feelings are often what hold people back from expressing courageous, caring and inspiring behaviours. The programme therefore includes evidence based methods to handle painful thoughts and feelings more effectively.
- Participants learn to become more mindful. They become good at observing their own behaviour and it’s impact. Noticing when their behaviour aligns with their own deeply held values and when they are off course…and then self correcting.
- Relational Frame Theory is used to improve the design of activities and metaphors. Why relational frame theory? Because it is a theory of language, cognition and learning that has more than 60 studies to support it.
- During workshops, the behaviours that participants have identified as needing to change are likely to occur. These events are seen as opportunities for authentic and thoughtful conversations where the effects of these behaviours on both the particular participant and on other participants is explored. The outcomes of the behaviour in the session are then linked to their possible outcomes in the ‘real’ world.
- Facilitators and other participants also look for and encourage positive changes in behaviour. Participants make plans for how to try out these new behaviours in their work and then observe the effect.
- Participant’s managers are seen as an important part of the programme. It is much easier to change when people around you are supportive of the change.
A leadership course run this way would still be challenging for participants but it would be less likely to overwhelm them. Even better, early research is suggesting it might even be more effective than standard leadership training. (Professor Frank Bond has some research in press showing just this).
Recently I was a bit upset. I was feeling sad, anxious and angry about a challenging situation in my life.
I am not good with anger. My natural tendency is to fight it. I try to fix the feeling. My mind grinds over and over whatever seems to have triggered the anger. Part of me believes that if I can just figure out how to solve the problem then I won’t have this bad feeling.
How does that work for me? Not real well!
So I caught myself in my old pattern. Ruminating on the problem in a doomed attempt to get rid of the anger. And then I made a different choice. I decided to observe the feelings with curiosity. To notice exactly where I could feel the emotions in my body and what they felt like?
Then I realised the extent of my foolishness. The feeling was actually only one part anger, the other three parts were probably illness. I was sore across my shoulders, the glands in my neck were aching, I had a headache. I wasn’t so much angry as sick!
When toddlers get irritable we ask them:
- Are you thirsty?
- Are you hungry?
- Do you need a rest?
And in Derbyshire, the response to a particularly crabby and inconsolable child is often, ‘She is probably sickening for something‘ (which means ‘She is probably suffering the prodromal symptoms of a viral illness‘).
So next time a difficult emotion comes up, don’t make my mistake. View the feelings with a bit more curiosity and see if you need to show yourself some kindness…or perhaps just have a little rest.