How Technology can Elevate our Humanity

Michael Avery chats to Marc Rogatschnig, (Clinical psychologist and leadership development expert, behaviour change specialists at Tidal) chat about how The future of work is more human than it has ever been on the Innovation feature.

Listen to this short radio interview b elow


I choose courage, not fear!

To be honest, I am pretty tired of focusing on what keeps toppling over in society. Intolerance has crept into our beds like cold night air, and fear is throttling our hopes for the future.

I have floundered as I wait for someone else to take a bold stand and ‘shut the noise the f%&k up’. I have waited and waited and all the while my anxiety keeps rising.

Thankfully wisdom cuts through in many shapes, not always in the elderly, silver haired guise we expect. A few weeks ago I was watching football, with a friend and his friends. I was the obvious outsider, supported the wrong team and didn’t really know the others. We couldn’t only enjoy the game, the TV spectatorship invited a menu of topics to the fore. Many were light and flippant, but invariable the state of the world and our country sneaked in. Fear galloped through the room, and everyone was trying to beat the other with their story of gloom. It felt good to not be all alone. One of the crew wasn’t competing for a gap, he waited for the rant and doom fest to be done.

‘Stay with fear, and you will be trapped, if you focus on options you might be free’ he stated with confidence; ‘everything you see looks dangerous when we are in fear, why not look at all we have with appreciation and find the contentment we enjoy every day. Then make sure you have options.’

‘Um, exactly what we are talking about dude, facing the bleak reality here and talking about options’ barked another off the couch.

‘No, not those options. You only need to know what the options are when you have to face real danger, not when you are worrying about possible danger’

In a moment, he woke me up.

What he meant was best captured by the analogy of going to a movie house and spending the entire movie worried that the power might go off, or that someone might disrupt the viewing or that the person next to you might eat their popcorn too loudly. What he suggested was, when you arrive, do you know where the exit sign is, and once located, rather live in the moment and enjoy the movie to its fullest. If true danger emerges, which it rarely does, at least you know how to get away.

It had a profound impact on my emotional state. Everything in life feels a lot lighter since.

The fact is, we can be most courageous in the face of fear, but we can also choose to be better equipped when feelings of fear emerge. So when the world is filled with powerful men in children’s minds who are trying desperately to feel worthy, and along the way sowing seeds of fear and doubt, here are a few thoughts:

1. Be authentic. Say out loud what needs to be said and constantly find your truth. Have the tough conversations and be the voice that counters the rabid flow of fear.

2. Always seek to transform yourself. When it feels like the world will not conform to the reality you would like it to be, then develop and grow yourself to an even better version you desire.

3. Be reliable, and a source of security and stability to you and those around you. Be an oasis of calm and presence that others can trust in because trust is in low supply, and essential to all healthy relationships.

4. Have a dream and be aware of just what you desire. Aim high and be better today than you were yesterday. Don’t worry about others, just keep noting and celebrating all the ways in which you are growing.

In short, cultivate and nurture your own sense of self-worth. Build your personal acceptance and be a role model to others as an alternative to competing, controlling, approval seeking and dependence.  As Stephen and Mara Klemich of Heartstyles have often shared, find courage through humility.

I meet people every day who are hyper vigilant to signals in their environment that danger is on the way. They become consumed and hopeless. I encourage you all to speak up, with humility and courage, and to focus more on the parts of the world that you can change today, right now.

Don’t be driven by fear, but by the desire to maximise our enjoyment of these precious lives we have. They whizz by faster than we realise.

That evening, after a jolting shift in my perspective, I savoured a game of football like never before and felt more curious about these strangers and their stories too. That is a life I want to live.

Wounded leaders are our choice!

In my last post I pondered the state of leadership behaviour in the world, and how interesting it has been to see people tussling with what it all means. In most cases very little understanding emerges.

We could pull at a hundred years of psychological theory and evidence, but in the end, there is a simpler formula and language that can help. I wish I could claim it as my own, but it is the visionary and determined work of Stephen and Mara Klemich (the founders of Heartstyles – who have developed a framework that is so compelling it has changed the way I understand my own and others behaviours. As with most genius, it seems simple, but the deeper you dive into the heart of it, the more it awakens awareness and meaningful, transformative insight.

To understand our behaviour we need to first acknowledge that it often starts with persistent, nagging questions that we may ask all our lives – Am I ok? Do I belong? and Am I worthy?

The world responds inconsistently to this question. The answers are often laden with conditions and paradox. Sometimes we are ok, then at other times we are not. To ensure our acceptance we decide to try harder, be better and do all we can to be noticed and praised. We don’t say no when we should, we work late and try to please everyone (and become stressed, and tired and sick), but despite our immense effort to stand out, it’s never quiet enough. We still don’t get the answer we crave and can eventually become exasperated at the lack of approval. Our defensiveness against any signs of rejection, negative feedback or disapproval rises and people are no longer honest with us. We are too plain touchy. And all we wanted was to be accepted and liked.

So we try harder, with a new strategy, to ensure we control as much as we can in our lives. If we can manipulate it all, then we can determine what others think of us. But the more we control, the more we invariably disempower others and they begin to resent and judge us. But we keep at it and tell ourselves that maybe if we can be the very best, by winning, and others losing, then we will be accepted, and we will have to be noticed. So we battle away, trying to get ahead and we might genuinely succeed or cut corners, damage relationships, maybe cheat and steal. Still it seems enough is never enough and the world doesn’t flood us with acceptance and approval. And so finally, after having expended so much energy, we tend to give up, become disengaged, cynical and dependent on just doing what it takes to fit in. We lose heart and confidence in ourselves and spiral into meaninglessness and emptiness. We become bitter and start to blame others for our discontent and eventually we become victims (and create victims).

When last did you spiral into disengagement and cynicism, and might that have been because those around you didn’t answer your request to feel like you belong? Does this help you understand your incessent need for more material things? For more accolades and triumphs?

So what happened to some of our most erratic world leaders? It’s hard to know exactly, but it’s pretty clear that at the core of all their bluster and self-promotion is a simple question they, and many millions, if not billions like them, are asking the world – are we worthy? All these wounded people vote for the wounded leader and the more the media and public rejects and criticizes them, the more defensive they become. The more they seek to win, to control and prove they are worthy … and the sad cycle continues over and over again.

I believe there are millions in the world who feel the same pain of low self-esteem and then hitch their self-worth to people in power who are like them.  When those people are arguably the most powerful people in the world, that becomes an impossible influence and threat to ignore. So is it the leaders who are at fault and must change? or do we as human beings need to elevate our sense of worth beyond those we have chosen as our leaders?

Is there a way to change that cycle of destructive, and ineffective behaviours? and how do we do it, one person at a time, you and me right now? The answer lies in the question.

Donald Trump may be your neighbour

There was a time when at social functions, I dodged having to tell people what I did for a living. I had early experiences in my career when the hush, pause and gulp at the dinner table was too awkward to bare. However these days, I feel quite cavalier with it all – I am a Clinical and Consulting Psychologist I state with a rising smile and glint in my eye. The response to my newfound confidence has also changed. In the past the question was usually ‘so have you analysed me yet?’ (accompanied with a rising blush and wince), but more recently the questions have been ‘So do you think Trump is a Psychopath?’ (Or something similarly pop psychology-ish – and it was usually spiced with a reference to Jacob Zuma too).  It’s a fascinating question, and usually people ask it with disdain, and a metaphorical spit and mumble of disapproval. My response now causes a familiar hush, pause and gulp.

You see, there are Trump’s all around us, in our offices, homes, among our sports and pop culture idols, and communities. They have made it to the top, they have raised our kids and been generally rewarded and praised by society. They often think like the real Trump, they have a worldview of the real Trump, and suffer from similar inadequacies and challenges as the man himself. Their only saving grace is that they haven’t ascended to the highest echelons of power, been subjected to 24 hour a day scrutiny and pressure and been offered a global platform to liberally share their conservative positions. In my view, a large number of people have thick strains of Trump DNA within them and although they would struggle to admit it, they feel secretly emboldened by him (even those that ask me that question).

In my analysis, Trump’s sense of judgement is a window into his character. We get to see his moral and ethical orientation, and constantly assess his integrity and trustworthiness (to which he lashes out and attempts to discredit the honesty of all and sundry – oh how Psychologists are falling over themselves to name that trait). Depending on the level to which an observer can manage their own emotional reactions to him, we have the opportunity to explore why he may do the things he does. With more time and observations, we could predict exactly how he may behave under a wide range of circumstances (I have got quite close). We would also don a lens with which to look at many other people around us. We may discover a Trump living next door, a Trump as a boss or colleague, or even a half annoying friend. It’s as if the US president’s technicolor reality has exposed a millions-deep community of people who have bullied, trounced and at times discriminated their way to the top with regular bouts of petulance, ignorance, shouting and populist rhetoric (and that goes beyond just politics – think of the last ra ra business event you attended).

Beneath their behaviour – and their displayed and dubious character- is a psychology reality that is utterly intriguing. In my next blog, I will paint a picture of the psychology story that triggers the very public behaviour we see. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, let me know what you think is going on in that mind of the man, and who else in your life might be the Trump next door?

How a Crisis Reveals your True Character

When I was a teenager, I moved from a small, community oriented school to a large, bullring of boys. It was a leap into the big, real and rough world. I was joined by a mixed crew of newcomers. There was the worldly expatriate, the Korean, the first black pupils and the religious seminary graduate. There was also Richard, a quirky, gangly kid who tried a little too hard to shock and ingratiate himself to us through his wacky humour.  He was a joker, and no one took him too seriously.

Six weeks into the school year, while he was attending church, an unspeakably cruel gang of political activists attacked his small, suburban congregation at dusk. In a split moment, Richard became a hero.  He must have registered the source of danger quicker than most, and instead of collapsing to the floor between the pews, he lay his torso over the person next to him, and took the full hail of grenade shrapnel. In that final moment of his life his truest self stepped forward and changed a person’s life forever.   His character shone through and I think of him often for that.

It seems that a crisis presents the most likely test of our characters and could be the taps threatening to run dry in Cape Town, or a marital breakdown, or the fear of failure and financial ruin.  In such crises, I have observed the best and worst of people’s character.

 In essence, our character is the combination of our ethical/moral compass, our integrity and judgement. A person with an inherently good and gracious character thinks of the greater good, and how their judgement and decisions influences that common good. Mostly, character is about what we do when no one is watching, that is the true measure of our integrity, and combined with a sense of a greater moral good, we can demonstrate our moral and ethical guidance through the way we act and behave.

So when I hear of people defending their right to splash and waste their expensively drilled bore hole water, I wonder whether they have considered the greater good. I hope they realise that with with each litre removed from our groundwater, we need more rain to fill that below ground reservoir so that river run off at surface level can actually carry water to our dams. Throughout the water crisis there have been skirmishes at water points, blame games at political level, and selfishness, but there have also been people who have stockpiled water for their indigent neighbours, shared their bore hole access and filtration, and are doing all they can to save every drop they use in their homes. It’s a telling time to reveal the character of ourselves, our families, our communities and cities. And we have yet to reach a true crisis point.

Based on your responses to a crisis, or pressure and overwhelming fear, what have you learnt about your true self? And whose life have you been able to positively shift in these trying times, other than your own?

I believe our future towards health  and prosperity will rely on our collective ability to access the best of our character every day.

The Leadership Blind Spot

The phrase of my week is ‘Impression Management’. Oh and I love it, for how aptly it describes much of the superficiality in our society. It immediately reminded me of a story shared by an accounting executive who was rebuked for nestling his second hand, seven year old car in the Partners dedicated parking. The message to him ‘either upgrade your car, or downgrade your parking booth’. Impression management!

I was digging through some academic articles from the late 1990’s and discovered that in North America over 50% of all externally hired executives either failed or were fired within their first 12 months.  To my surprise tasks, skills and capabilities were not the primary cause of their demise – those were all expertly vetted in rounds of psychometric assessments and panel interviews (we seem to have overloaded our approach to finding the best people with even more of that). What had in fact stalled their integration and rise within the c-suite, was their inability to sustain their ‘Impression Management.’ In other words, they revealed their true selves and exposed the inherent nature of who they were. What the organisation saw was unpleasant and incongruent, and consequently they had to go. It seems that when the chips were down, and the stress was rising, those who had glossy, manicured images designed to seduce and be essentially likable and impressive (impression – impressive, see the link?), couldn’t sustain their charade.

More interesting to me, is what was it that they were trying to hide? And what was revealed? What were their intentions? and what was the impact of the dramatically changing impression they left with others?

In all cases, what emerged under pressure was the extent to which they could (or couldn’t) manage their impulses, emotional reactions, feelings and drives. Those that managed these poorly, were perceived to be low in judgement, and over time, their integrity (built on their reliability, consistency and honesty) was eroded too. They might have tried to bully with positional power for a while but then completely lose their ability to take others along with them. They become desperate.

It then dawned on me; Judgement and Integrity are two fundamental components of character. Character is shaped, developed or stunted by all the experiences of a person’s life. In short, those with weaker character have less self-awareness and poorly regulate their impulses and emotions under pressure. They exposed their aggression, flight or fight tendencies, immaturity, self destructive behaviours and selfishness, and damaged the relationships around them (a current US president offers a daily showcase of what that actually looks like, and scarily there is a lot of Trump in many of the people around us). Those with strong character tend to think as much about others and themselves when under pressure, and expertly manage the rising distraction and power of their inner selves.

I have spent the past 10 years designing and delivering leadership development programs, really good ones, which have filled many heads and hearts with skills and awareness, but never, not once, have we considered (or even named) the critical importance of understanding, defining, measuring and developing character.  Maybe that is why so many managers and leaders with reams of certificates and course attendance notes, still fail to inspire confidence through their judgement and integrity. It is my next crusade, to put character at the forefront of the way we think and appreciate the leaders and colleagues around us. To peer into the Leadership Blind Spot!

The two most important questions you must answer!

I love change. I am tickled by technology and the audacious dreams humanity keeps bringing to life. Everything we want to do, seems possible – and likely. I get all gawky geek-like when I imagine a world where mundane and repetitive tasks are performed by a wide brethren of digital proxies.  In other ways, I am also proudly old school. I adhere firmly to common courtesy and still use a paper diary. I appreciate the slow, weathered pace of wisdom in old age, and relationships with real people, in a brick and mortar bank, or shop can truly delight me.

As 2018 begins, and the swish of pages in my diary accelerates with new work and booked dates, I reflect on a common theme that emerged in the people and organisations around me in 2017. My life was brimming with opportunity and pace. I was full and at times drowning. It felt as if technology and the pace of progress was throttling me. I wasn’t alone, others were feeling the same. Stress was soaring, health was faltering and meaning in life seemed to be battered and confused. It was unsurprising that as the year came to an end, many of us were pensively asking ‘What is all of this busyness really for? Is this the life I really want to live? Is there another way? What price will I pay if I don’t change soon?’

In early January 2018 a mail arrived from the Center of Applied Jungian Studies.  It eased my mind and heart, and at the same time jolted me to perspective. I share excerpts of that post below:

We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air, and in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs too;

  • We need to feel we belong.
  • We need to feel valued.
  • We need to feel we’re good at something.
  • We need to feel we have a secure future.
  • And there is growing evidence that our culture isn’t meeting those psychological needs for many – perhaps most – people.

We have become disconnected from things we really need, and this deep disconnection is driving an epidemic of depression and anxiety all around us. Finding an “anti-depressant” that actually deals with the root issue rather than the suppression of the symptoms means finding a way to solve the problem that is causing the depression in the first place. If you sincerely want to make a meaningful change in your life, you first need to answer two fundamental questions;

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I really want?

That’s it – old school poignant! In my professional observation, most adults in the workplace feel disconnected, undervalued and generally don’t believe they are worthy. Many then convert that overall insecurity into self-serving behaviours that further denigrates relationships and fuels anxiety in the people around them. Blaming  others usually follows, and trust dives. It becomes a toxic contagion that we become disturbingly accustomed to.

These two questions remind us that the route to fulfillment, meaning and purpose is always through the self, and the honest conversations with your inner truth, and towards the heart of who you are and what you want to offer the life you have been given.

I wish for all of you, and myself, a deeply introspective year towards answering those two questions and becoming more whole people, leaders, parents, spouses, siblings and citizens.

The future is More Human than Ever!

This will be my final post of the year – my 21st of 2017.

To start, I have completed my dissertation proposal and will be diving full steam into research mode from 2018 onwards. My topic focuses on the impact of Leadership Character and Stage of Adult Development on perceived levels of integrity and team culture. It’s the best intersection of all my professional passions and I am so excited at the prospect of what I will learn (and share with you all).

This year has been a remarkable journey. Possibly the best year yet!

I had the opportunity to deliver my first professional speaking gig and captured the essence of all I believe about the future and our relevance as human beings into a short, 20-min, TED-style delivery.

I therefore end this year’s journey with more than my written voice. Please follow the link below and let me know what you think.

Wishing you a well-deserved rest and reboot for another year of demonstrated care and kindness.

Rituals and what they tell us about your culture

I often hear this question – ‘How do I make my culture better to keep up with theirs, like that company over there (usually a tech giant that they read about in a glitzy magazine)?’

The more nutritious question (and one I rarely hear) however is; ‘How can I define, see and capitalize on the uniqueness of my organization’s culture?’

Question one is a common trap, and that pit is filled with many consultants, leaders and HR professionals. Answering question two is more likely to ensure cultural relevance and alignment. It will make it easier for leaders to keep their best people, attract the right talent and supports the organisation’s cultural capital (a more interesting phrase than Employee Value Proposition). To answer that question, we first need to find and define the unique ingredients of an organisation’s culture which are most visible through its rituals.

Rituals are best defined as the ‘patterns of behaviour that transmit values, a brand image and inspire norms’. Once these rituals settle into repeated patterns across many people and contexts they become organisational habits.  These rituals then support the unwritten rules of engagement within an organisation and have very specific common characteristics including:

  1. Elements of repetition (in content, form, or occasion). Most rites are repeated at predetermined times to ensure persistence of the message, reminders of the values and an activation of the brand image.
  2. Verbal and non-verbal input. The complete mix of behavioural and nonverbal visible elements are broadcast in rituals to enhance identification, belongingness and association for example logos banners, clothing etc.
  3. Planned rather than spontaneous actions. They are a highly organized sequence of actions with apparently chaotic elements carefully arranged.
  4. Highly codified language – each organization has its own “language”.
  5. Ordinary behaviours enacted in special ways;
  6. Highly symbolic in nature that seeks to be in alignment with the greater societal identity.
  7. Evocative presentation to draw and hold attention;
  8. Always meant for collective consumption

Whilst rituals transfer a behavioural code, they also encourage social cohesion and can capture collective values and beliefs. The ceremonies associated with these rituals help bolster trust in the organisational values and binds colleagues together towards a common sense of identity, togetherness and commonness.

  • So what rituals does your team and organisation deploy?
  • To what extent do you believe that the rituals strengthen and reignite your unique culture and relevance?
  • Which parts of your organisation are seemingly on mute? And which leaders are OK with that?
  • Are there conflicting rituals, and what needs to change to align them?

Rituals capture the observation that where communication flows culture grows, and to review how that happens in your organisation is a smart place to start.

You should know this about Organisational Culture!

There are two primary perspectives on culture, on the one hand there is a view that a culture can be broken down into its different components, and as a result can be built quite deliberately with a plan and focused execution. The other view is that it is a complex idea, and has no specific constituent parts, but is more of an evolving and dynamic phenomenon (much like the human beings that create it).

I subscribe to the latter perspective, but many in business don’t. Hence the question that many CEO’s and HR professionals ask me – how can we create the culture that we need for the future? My response is invariably a polite ‘well, you can’t!’

At this point they mutter and protest, and begin to wonder whether I am the right partner on such a pursuit. What they don’t realise is that to misunderstand their role in culture evolution could potentially cost them their job. Yes, they may be planting the seed of a culture implosion and resistance.

There may be just two questions to ask:

  1. What can I do as a leader to amplify aspects of our current culture that serve us?
  2. And how can I diminish aspects of our current culture that undermine us?

You see, organisational culture may ‘just be’ – it is what it is – and it responds to small flexes and shifts, but generally is embedded and persistent (and quite unshakable).

Culture is also not as universal as you might think. In every organisation there is a primary culture, much like the trunk of a tree, and then numerous sub cultures, much like the branches of that tree. Wherever there are influential leaders across the organisation and geographical spread, we expect to experience variations of the primary culture. It seems that team leaders decide how to interpret and role model the primary culture and naturally amplify and diminish aspects of the primary culture to suit their ends. Again, I have known the odd CEO to gasp in disagreement; ‘More than one culture? We only have one single culture, I would know, I am the leader here!’ they again protest.

Oh boy!

Yet again, leaders are unaware of just to what extent that attitude could shatter their dreams of executive glory. The existence of sub cultures is in itself not problematic, provided they aren’t brazenly oppositional and counter culture.  If they are however simply variants of the primary culture (they still share more in common than not) research suggests that the more the dominant culture distances itself and indeed bullies the sub culture, the more likely people will disengage and leave. However, organisations that embrace the sub cultures and utilise them as innovation hubs for the evolution of their primary culture seem to have capitalised on the value of the differences. It’s a case of primary AND sub cultures existing together.

It takes a mature leader to embrace this quintessentially complex human phenomenon of culture and work within the grey areas. To what extent do your leaders (or you the leader) thrive in those grey areas?