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Posts tagged ‘Creativity’

From: The Ideal Studio – An interview with Eugene Hughes

Eugene Hughes is the founder an chief executive of People Brands which advises on organisational strategy and leadership coaching. He has worked with clients like adidas, the US Navy, Microsoft and the BBC and he specializes in unlocking creative potential in the workplace and developing collaborative workplace culture.

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Lead Like a River: Five Essential Elements of Purposeful Leadership

Instead of leading like generals that rally the troops, what if we lead like rivers that nourish and contribute to the lands we move through.

We stand at a very exciting time in the history of humanity

I believe we stand on the edge of a paradigm shift in how we drive our human development forward. Signs of this can be witnessed in the types of leaders we need to lead the organisations we work within. Certain styles of leadership are becoming less and less influential and new types of leaders are being called upon. A recent article by HBR summarises how ‘command and control’ styles of leadership are being overtaken by more creative and collaborative leadership styles. This means that leaders don’t necessarily need to sit on top of a pyramid of people but can be an interconnected part of the organisational system. Within this system, leadership is no longer about followership, leadership is about contribution.


Why are we witnessing this shift?

Part of this of course is that as technologies become more advanced, our world becomes more interconnected and organisational structures become more interconnected, latticed systems – in a way, more organic. But also, as we develop, so do our needs. Think of Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs – as we have more choice about how and where we work, the organisations that we work within become more than just a source of security and safety and we look to these environments to meet our higher levels human need for fulfilment.

Turning back to nature

Although we might imagine that our own leadership patterns are more sophisticated than those of the natural world, there are profound lessons to be learnt from taking a closer look at nature. It is my belief that nature can be our guide. It gives you insights into what’s important, what needs to change, and it offers the tools to move you forward on a path that is deeply fulfilling. The landscape outside can mirror the landscape within and nature provides a powerful catalyst to uncover the deeply hidden traits, abilities, and personal values that become your unique contribution as a leader. Immersing ourselves in the outer natural world allows for the discovery and reflexion of our own inner, natural world. In other words, the external natural world teaches us about, and helps us understand, our personal, inner nature. By accessing the power of the grand metaphors offered up by nature, each one of us has the potential to uncover our contribution and how this can become the source of our true potential.


There are Five Essential Elements to a more Purposeful Leadership. These exist within the mind, body and spirit of every person who wants to do. Purposeful Leaders know their inner gift and how that can support the betterment of people and our planet. They understand that their contribution is a gift to the world. Purposeful Leadership is a state of being that informs our doing – where the leader allows the reason why they lead to influence how they lead and not the other way around. The river can serve us well as the grand metaphor for Purposeful Leadership.

Lead Like a River: Five Essential Elements of Purposeful Leadership


Think of a river’s intuitive sense of direction, guiding it through different terrains. Even as it winds its way down the mountain, starting as a trickle and splitting into smaller streams, a river may branch out in many different pathways only to find it growing in strength later and following in a unified direction. When, on the surface your direction is unclear, search deep to find the answer. Carl Jung said: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”[1]



A river has powerful resilience, strength and determination. It is unyielding in following the direction it has chosen, yet shy and effortless in covering distance, trickling over pebbles and mighty rocks alike. A river is forceful yet humble in its approach, delicately gathering strength from its source and determinedly making its way toward its chosen destination.

Image du phototeque du Still Images sarl

Unlike motivation that’s gained from external sources, determination comes from deep inside. For the leader it entails diving into your own self-awareness and knowing what’s of fundamental importance to you, knowing what you stand for, where you need to go and why you want to go there.


Imagine a river’s flow, sometimes slow and steady, sometimes rapid and with great force. Rivers possess an unknown, mysterious energy that allows them to move gracefully and unfailingly toward their destination. A river flows steadily and consistently, regardless of whether it is part of a slow trickle or a roaring waterfall.


How does your energy flow through you? Learning to know when to go with the flow and when to branch out onto different pathways can take courage – the courage to listen deep and trust your instinct.


Picture how a river collaborates with its environment, adapting and creating new pathways. When the storms come and the river breaks its banks, it can destroy the environment it flows though. When the river is at its most supportive and productive, it works with its surroundings, negotiating, adapting and making creative adjustments to its course.


Visualise the river’s essential contribution to the environments it passes through, nurturing, enabling growth and productivity. It is the element of contribution that transforms a leader from good to great, to lead on purpose and make a significant contribution to the lives of people and the planet.

Screen Shot 2012-12-10 at 15.02.29

Contribution is the essential element of leadership. It answers the question, why do I lead? The purpose of leadership is to contribute to people’s lives and the planet we live on. As a leader, knowing your contribution – actual and potential – is both the source of your power and your inspiration. The more aware you become of your contribution to this world, the greater your capacity to contribute becomes.

Conclusion: What if you could lead like a river?

These five elements exist within a wider universe influenced by the natural rhythm of this world we live in. As Carl Jung wrote, two different energies of introversion and extroversion. Another way to consider this is through the metaphors of the moon as reflection and the sun as creation. Reflection and creation are integral parts to a more Purposeful Leadership and it is these two forces working hand in hand that enable the five earthly elements to flow.

“Your influence begins with you and
ripples outward. So be sure that your
influence is both potent and wholesome.”
– The Tao of Leadership

That’s why Trebbe Johnson and I created Lead Like a River, the eight-day leadership program that combines contemporary leadership practice with ancient nature based techniques. It’s an inward journey for individuals looking for a transformational shift in their lives, for individuals who are aware they are capable of more; aware of their potential but do not know where and how to apply it yet. It takes courage to engage with our purposeful self and to make a commitment to use this as the source of our potency and power in the world. Lead Like a River is the opportunity to answer this call to adventure.

Lead Like A River

What is Lead like a River?

Lead Like a River provides the ideal opportunity to reflect on your path, gain strength through connecting with nature, and listen to what is important and meaningful to you.


The journey will take place in the Atlas Mountains, just south of Marrakech, Morocco, and offers the perfect setting for an exploration into your deeper, broader, more purposeful leadership. Our program draws upon the mountains, valleys and rivers that surround us in our mountain retreat as powerful metaphors for your leadership.

Climbing and walking in the High Atlas requires an open mind, and this programme is for men and women who are unafraid to explore new frontiers, both inner and outer.

What does it mean to Lead like a River?

It means embodying your own singular energy, directness, and ability to improvise as you constantly fine-tune the path you’re creating.

It means seeing deeply and acting quickly to maintain the vision and respond to challenges of the moment.

It means knowing exactly how to negotiate the obstacles you encounter.

And it means knowing how to mobilize a trickle of inspiration so it steadily gathers force as it moves forth.


Benefits and features of Lead like a River:

Aside from experiencing the magnificent power of nature, Lead like a River will equip you with:

  • The essence of your leadership: What is calling you forth, who and what inspire you, and what may have been holding you back.
  • A renewed and clarified sense of vision and purpose.
  • A sense of bold confidence to embody what you really want to do.
  • Freedom from any old habits and attitudes that have held you back in the past.
  • A more precise understanding of the inner qualities you want to set in motion.
  • Commitment to the first steps of your journey into a more purposeful leadership.

Image du phototeque du Still Images sarl

Lead like a River will take place from August 10th -17th 2013 – a truly extraordinary 8-day adventure that combines ancient nature based practices with contemporary leadership techniques.

To register for further details please contact:

Sadia Barichella, Personal Assistant to Eugene Hughes

People Brands Ltd.

T: +44 (0) 207 785 7257


Are we missing the purpose of Leadership?

Recently I joined a group of academics, psychologists and leadership coaches in a discussion on the psychology of leadership and was struck by how much we focused on the mechanics of leadership. The more I explored this idea, the more I questioned whether contemporary leadership development theories and practices are over-emphasising how to lead – underscoring the importance of influence, alignment, coordination and more recently collaboration skills – as opposed to why we lead. Leadership is a highly complex phenomenon and the history of humanity has proven our need and desire for it. But what exactly is the purpose of leadership? In our thinking about leadership are we focusing too much on the how to lead without sufficient emphasise on why we lead? In this article I question whether we are neglecting the inner most kernel of leadership – the purpose of leadership – and the impact this has on how we educate and develop leaders.

Buddha and the Native Americans

To create a wider perspective on the purpose of leadership, I’d like to refer to two stories from our past. The first is the story of the 7th Century Indian King, Siddhartha. When Siddhartha saw his people’s pain and suffering it made him question the true quality of his comfortable life. He experienced what we might nowadays call a mid-life crisis – or what turned out to be his mid-life awakening. The once content King left his palace on a quest for meaning. After a long journey of suffering he seated himself under a sacred fig tree and vowed never to arise until he found the truth. After 49 days of meditation, Siddhartha finally reached Enlightenment and was from that time known as Buddha. Buddha’s newfound wisdom gave him the agency to spend the rest of his life travelling and teaching the path to enlightenment.[1]

The second story comes from the nature based tribes of America. When young warriors returned home from fasting in the wilderness, as a part of their rite of passage from boy to man, the elders ask them three questions:

–       Who went out?

–       Who has come back?

–       What gift do you bring back to your people?

It’s this third question that speaks to the inner most kernel of leadership – to its purpose. Fundamentally leadership is about the betterment of our people and our planet. The young warrior’s gift was discovered by going on a journey that facilitated a deeper, inner journey – a journey of self-discovery. By going out into the wilderness, the individual went on an inward journey and their vision began to expand. Their newly discovered gift became the source for the young warrior’s actions. On their return, the experience transformed from a state of being to a state of doing which shaped the warrior’s actions in the world.

Contemporary Leadership

The reason I reference stories from a pre-industrial age is to highlight where our contemporary leadership theories and practices may fall short. The psychologist Van Vugt defines leadership “broadly [as] a process of influence to achieve coordination between individuals for the pursuit of mutual goals”.[2] For me, this definition captures a common position that is used in contemporary leadership education and development. It is a definition that promotes the mechanics of leadership, the ‘how to lead’ and fails to acknowledge the inner most kernel of leadership – it’s purpose.

It is my belief that leadership is more than coordination; leadership is about betterment – to create betterment for people and our planet. Yes, coordination skills can be very important to learn, but should they be the primary focus for educating and developing our emerging leaders? Should our leaders just be asking themselves “how do I coordinate people towards a goal?” Or should our leaders also be asking “what gift do I bring to people and our planet?” Of course both questions are important. However, I believe the purpose question must be primary and the coordination question, secondary.

Contemporary Terminology

Even the terms Collaborative Leadership[3] and Transformational Leadership,[4] that have emerged recently are descriptive of the mechanics of leadership as opposed to the deeper purpose of leadership. Although they speak to the being as opposed to the doing of leadership, I also struggle with morally charged terms like true or authentic leadership,[5] as they do not capture the essence of leadership by avoiding describing it’s purpose. It is not enough for the leader to be good, or true or authentic. Leadership is a state of being and doing that requires the leader to not just know their gift, but how this actively supports the betterment of people and our planet.

Is contemporary leadership terminology addressing the essence of leadership?

Purposeful Leadership

In the spirit of exploring the idea of emphasising the essence of leadership, a term I offer to discussion is Purposeful Leadership. By Purposeful Leadership, I refer to a state of being – in mind, body and spirit – that creates the agency for our doing – our actions. Purposeful Leaders know their gift and how that supports the betterment of people and our planet. Purposeful Leadership goes beyond the notion that leadership is a position that must sit at the top of an organisation or at certain points in its structure. Purposeful Leadership can exist across the whole organisation, beyond the traditional boundary of a leader-follower dynamic. Purposeful Leadership can exist within the mind, body and spirit of every person who wants to do so. It is a state of being that informs the doing – where the leader allows the reason why they lead to influence how they lead and not the other way around.


If we are to emphasise purpose and purposefulness, this represents a new paradigm in how we approach leadership education and development. As the ancient Tao of Leadership advises us “your influence begins with you and ripples outward. So be sure that your influence is both potent and wholesome.” A contemporary interpretation of this in the context of Purposeful Leadership would take into consideration the psychological state of the leader. Does the Leader possess the psychological readiness, as well as the necessary skills and competencies to lead? This psychological readiness runs deeply beyond cognitive psychology to a level where important questions of our personal and collective existence and evolution must be considered. The Purposeful Leader must journey inward to the inner most kernel of his or her own psyche to find their elixir, their gift, to pass on in the betterment of the people and our planet.


– Bass, Bernard M. & Ronald E. Riggo, Transformational Leadership. Taylor & Francis. New Jersey. 2008.

– Goffee, Rob & Gareth Jones. “Be Yourself–More–with Skill: How to Be a More Effective Leader”, Why Should Anyone be Led by You? Harvard Business School Press. 2006.

– Gyatso, Geshe Kelsan. Introduction to Buddhism – An Explanation of the Buddhist Way of Life. Tharpa. New York, 2007.

– Porter, Michael E.  & Mark R. Kramer. “Creating Shared Value – How to reinvent capitalism – and unleash a wave of innovation and growth.” Harvard Business Review. Jan.-Feb 2011.

– Van Vugt, Mark. “The Nature in Leadership: Evolutionary, Biological, and Social Neuroscience Perspectives”. Draft chapter for Day and Antonakis’ Nature of Leadership. Sage Publishing. 2010.

[1] Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Introduction to Buddhism – An Explanation of the Buddhist Way of Life, Tharpa, New York, 2007, pp. 8-9

[2] Mark van Vugt, “The Nature in Leadership: Evolutionary, Biological, and Social Neuroscience Perspectives”, draft chapter for Day and Antonakis’ Nature of Leadership, Sage Publishing, 2010, p. 4

[3] Michael E. Porter & Mark R. Kramer, “Creating Shared Value – How to reinvent capitalism – and unleash a wave of innovation and growth” in Harvard Business Review, Jan.-Feb 2011, pp. 4-7

[4] Bernard M. Bass & Ronald E. Riggo, Transformational Leadership, Taylor & Francis, New Jersey, 2008, pp. 3-11

[5] Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, “Be Yourself–More–with Skill: How to Be a More Effective Leader” in Why Should Anyone be Led by You?, Harvard Business School Press, 2006, pp. 15-16

The Unconscious at Work.


How to create high performing teams through understanding collective unconscious processes.

Returning from coaching a group of international leaders in India last week I reflected on how powerful and sometimes overwhelming group dynamics within a group can be and the impact this can have on a groups performance and potential. Of course there is a vast difference between a group of talented individuals who simply work together, and an efficient, high performing team. I have often experienced a group of talented, committed individuals working together where their overarching team personality is highly defensive, blocking their ability to learn and grow. Identifying what is blocking a group from becoming a high performing team where the overarching team personality is collaborative can be very challenging. When all the tangible elements of creating a team are in place, yet performance is low, we have to look beyond the conscious processes to what lies beneath. In this blog I outline the tools and techniques I use to help unearth the unconscious at work.

How deep is the unconscious at work?

In leadership teams I often observe how limiting patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours develop that can undermine the common good. These patterns dramatically inhibit a team’s performance without the members even realising that performance is being inhibited. In fact, teams can often operate believing that they are working efficiently, blind to their full potential. The unconscious is always at work in teams; therefore the question to consider is, to what degree unconscious processes are stimulating inhibiting patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours? As with individual development, working with teams, raising levels of consciousness is key. The most successful teams are capable of developing awareness and insight into their collective behaviour above and beyond simply assessing their activity in terms of pure business results.


When working with teams there are three frames of reference that act as my navigational compasses to the unconscious. Based on the work of Bruce Tuckman and Wilfred Bion, they have proven invaluable to me in assessing a team’s level of defensiveness and highlighting the specific aspects of a team’s dynamic that require attention to help them transform into a collaborative high performing team.

Frame of Reference 1: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

Bruce Tuckman

Tuckman’s field of study entails observations of the life cycles of groups and the different stages groups go through – namely forming (creating connections), storming (asserting difference), norming (creating cohesion) and performing (true collaboration). According to Tuckman, these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to face up to challenges and grow, to tackle problems, find solutions together and most importantly to deliver results. The first question I ask myself when working with a group is ‘what stage is this team going through?’ What is important to note is that teams can go though mini-cycles within a larger macro-cycle. For example, a team that has worked together for a number of months or years can go through a micro-cycle of forming, storming, norming and performing during the course of a one-day workshop. So the second question to consider is, ‘how effective is this team at each of the stages: forming, storming, norming and performing?’ During a storming phase, you may observe that different ideas or difficult feelings don’t get expressed. This might indicate that the team has not learnt how to effectively ‘storm’ together.[1] For example, I was working with a leadership team recently that was struggling to lead their organisation through significant change. They appeared on the surface to be a cohesive team, but I observed that they always made an inappropriate amount of jokes when a team member tried to express their emotions around the difficulties they were experiencing. It felt as if the team could not tolerate it. This sarcastic way of communicating together had been normalised. The team had unconsciously created a pattern of communicating together that avoided difficult conversations. In order to effectively lead the change in their organisation, the team needed to re-learn how to storm – how to express their differences as well as the difficult feelings around the change that was happening.[2] The next two frames of reference I use to navigate the unconscious at work come from the studies of the brilliant psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. According to Bion, much of the ineffective, irrational and sometimes chaotic behaviour we see in teams can be viewed as springing from unconscious ‘basic assumptions’ that members of the team make up. These basic assumptions arise as a defence against underlying fears and anxieties. Bion observed three different basic assumptions that play out in teams. In my experience working with large commercial organisations, two of these three are particularly relevant.[3]

Frame of Reference 2: Dependency Dynamic

Unconscious defensiveness in teams can easily trigger a dependency dynamic, where team members act out of a basic assumption that the leader will solve everything. This dynamic is often reflected on a larger scale in politics for example. Within organisations, a leader might not understand why team members are not effectively focusing on priorities, and team members behave as if the leader is taking care of everything important. In my example above, this dependency dynamic played out with team members assuming they didn’t need to voice their opinion and feelings about the change they were going through. The team leader unknowingly enforced this dynamic by never explicitly asking team members to express their opinion or feelings about the change when they were in team meetings, only focusing on asking members to report on their transactional activities.[4] To lessen a dependency dynamic, teams must gain the ability to reflect together, develop their metacognitive skills and focus on creating a genuine interdependency when working on tasks. For the team to reach its optimum performance potential it must make the transformation from a defensive stance to a collaborative stance by shifting the dependency dynamic from the leader to every member of the team is critical.

Frame of Reference 3: Fight or Flight

Wilfred Bion

The third frame of reference I use to unearth the unconscious in teams is Bion’s basic assumption called ‘Fight or Flight’, where team members act as if they were confronted with a common enemy or threat. For example, a leadership team may spend most of its time in meetings worrying about rumours of a buy-out or change instead of considering how best to organise and work together. Whilst this may provide a sense of togetherness, it also serves to avoid facing the difficulties of work. Sometimes when a team leader brings me in to work with his or her team, I experience team members acting as if I were a threat. For example, team members might avoid contact with me (flight) or demonstrate antagonistic behaviour or language (fight). Recognising these patterns is key, and understanding that they are only in defence against underlying fears and anxieties.[5] Therefore, part of my role in coaching the team is to help team members’ work through these feelings by communicating openly and honestly together. I was coaching a team recently who spent the majority of their time discussing the intentions of their investors. Soon the team reached a point of paranoia that became a major block to performance. Energy and focus was being wasted on this perceived threat. Underlying this was of course a genuine fear of change. Once recognised, the team focused on how to create effective channels of communication with their investors.

Conclusion: Unearthing the unconscious at work

The performance of every team depends on its psychological growth and health. The key question is, “why do teams need to raise their levels of consciousness?” Carl G. Jung claimed that “without the reflecting consciousness of man the world is a gigantic meaningless machine.” Yes, we can carry on with a twentieth century mechanistic metaphorical reference for organisations, where the deep psychological processes are ignored, or we can acknowledge the organisations we work with as living systems of interdependency.[6] The business driver for organisations to enhance performance by transforming defensive team cultures into collaborative team cultures is increasing. More and more, it is my experience that unearthing the unconscious  at work is critical to this transformation.


– Barrett, Sheila. Communication, Relationships and Care: A Reader, London: Routledge. 2004

– Dirkx, John M. ‘Transformative Learning and the Journey of Individuation’. Eric Digest – Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. No. 223, 2000.

– Hut, P.M. The Five Stages of Project Development:, last accessed 04.09.2012.

– Jacoby, Mario. Individuation and Narcissism – The Psychology of Self in Jung and Kohut. Routledge: East Sussex. 2008.

– Maples, Mary F. ‘Group development: Extending Tuckman’s Theory’. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, Vol. 13, Issue 1, 1988.

[1] P.M. Hut, The Five Stages of Project Development:, last accessed 04.09.2012.
[2] Mary F. Maples,  ‘Group development: Extending Tuckman’s Theory’ in The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, Vol. 13, Issue 1, 1988.
[3] Wilfred Bion, “The unconscious at Work in Groups and Teams: Contributions from the Work of Wilfred Bion” in Sheila Barrett, Communication, Relationships and Care: A Reader, Routledge, London, 2004.
[4] Wilfred Bion, “The unconscious at Work in Groups and Teams: Contributions from the Work of Wilfred Bion” in Sheila Barrett, Communication, Relationships and Care: A Reader, Routledge, London, 2004.
[5] Wilfred Bion “The unconscious at Work in Groups and Teams: Contributions From The Work of Wilfred Bion” in Sheila Barrett, Communication, Relationships and Care: A Reader, London, Routledge, 2004.
[6] Mario Jacoby, Individuation & Narcissism – The Psychology of Self in Jung and Kohut, Routledge: East Sussex, 2008, p. 108.

Are Leaders putting their whole Brains to work?

Addressing the divided self in contemporary leadership and its impact on organisational performance.

Flying back from a business trip a few weeks ago I overheard two travellers discussing difficult and significant organisational decisions they had to make in their corporation. What struck me was that the decision making process of these senior business leaders was completely reliant on left brain processing; data-driven, analytical and highly reductive. Their arguments were extremely convincing but I was left wondering at the immeasurable potential that was being ignored. The whole conversation felt like two blind folded people directing each other through a maze. It is not an uncommon conversation but how have we reached such an imbalanced state, where our left brain has bullied our right brain into submission? And what impact does this have on the performance and potential of the organisations we work in?

Left-brain vs. Right-brain thinking

Left-brain and right-brain thinking: a dynamic that is most effective when in balance.


It’s a common misconception that the right hemisphere is solely responsible for our creative output and the left hemisphere for our logical output; both halves manage a diversity of tasks together.  Neuroscientists have studied the division of the brain, specifically the division of tasks and responsibilities between the left and right hemispheres, for decades and, in general, it can be said that the right brain’s features are intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, and subjective, focusing on the big picture, whilst the left brain is logical, sequential, analytical, rational, and objective, with a focus on smaller parts of the bigger picture.[1] The right hemisphere processes implicit meaning, metaphors, body language and emotional expression and has a disposition for the living rather than just the mechanical. The left hemisphere gives narrow and sharply focused attention to detail and yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, static, decontextualised and isolated in nature.[2] However, to function fully as human beings, we need both hemispheres. The brain can only work at maximum capacity by integrating the abilities of both divisions. So why is it we do not bring our whole brains to work?


The acclaimed psychiatrist, Iain McGilchrist suggests that the history of western culture – going back as far as sixth century B.C. – started off with a sublime balancing of both hemispheres. However, as times have changed the left hemisphere’s point of view has gradually taken over.[3] What McGilchrist claims not only applies to society and nations but also to modern corporate cultures. Left brain thinking has dominated corporate cultures; a sequential, analytical, rational, objectively orientated mindset based solely on logic and on only smaller parts of the bigger picture.

Take Microsoft’s reported demise for example. In the early 1970s, Microsoft entered the tech industry, brimming with creative ideas, risk takers and innovators. Within two years of its inception the company was setting industry standards for microprocessor programming and started doubling and tripling in size every year. In the mid-90s Microsoft reached the pinnacle of success, releasing what would be its largest-selling operating system: Windows 95. Nonetheless, since 2000 – as Apple, Google, Facebook and other corporate giants have taken the reigns – Microsoft has failed in almost every aspiration it set itself. Why?

Does Microsoft’s new logo still reflect left-brain dominance?

Some suggest the answer lies in Microsoft’s corporate culture and how it has evolved over the years. What started as a lean, well oiled and carefully taken-care-of machine led by young visionaries, creatives and innovators of unparalleled talent, gradually mutated into a bloated, brutish beast, weighed down by bureaucracy and internal politics as well as a flawed reward system that strangled risk-taking and genuine employee commitment to the company. I base this on various reports I have read, and employees I have spoken to, as well as my own personal experience of working with the organisation at the turn of the millennium.

A question the leaders of Microsoft have to ask themselves is, what was their role in gradually crippling the giant from the inside? Where once the strategy for success was built on the thrill of creating innovations, financial success could increasingly only be achieved by way of promotions; instead of people trying to make a big contribution to the firm, they began to try to move up the ladder. An imbalance within the corporate culture between left-brain and right-brain belief systems and behaviours took root. Under the left-brain dominant system, the managers at the top of the Microsoft hierarchy created a culture wherein employees began to compete with one another instead of the real competitors. Teamwork, team projects and team performance were also neglected.[4] Whilst management alone cannot be blamed for Microsoft’s destructive corporate climate, the quality of strategic decision-making, as was the case with my fellow travellers, can determine the longevity and fate of an organisation.[5]


Of course, the solution to an organisation dominated by left brain thinking is not to completely eradicate it and replace it with right brain thinking. Just like an individual who sustains damage to one part of the brain suffers, so would an organisation. Right brain dominated organisations tend to grow inconsistent and chaotic, failing to produce coherent offerings that make sense to the marketplace.[6]  The sports goods producer Puma could be an example of this. It’s all about balance and opening the door to both sides, the left as well as the right. What has been seriously overlooked in the education of leaders is that it is their role and responsibility to readdress this imbalance, to hold the dynamic tension between the two, and seek integration.

There is one more aspect of the right brain that cannot be overlooked when we talk about leadership. The right brain holds a very special functional capability without which leaders and the organisations they work for would suffer the adverse affects. The right brain channels our capacity for empathy and interconnectedness. These vital functions enable us to not just understand others but to also put everything we experience in context. Our capacity for empathy and comprehending interconnectedness is the essence of every leadership role. If we consider the actions of leaders within the banking sector in a neurological context for example, we must ask ourselves: was part of the failure in banking due to a failure in human right brain functioning?


The tragedy is, as Ken Robinson so brilliantly claims, our education systems do not help;[7] in fact they may even inhibit right-brain growth. The contemporary leader is left alone to look towards their own integration of left and right brain. In my experience, specific interventions like training courses, reading and arts-based activities all help.

Sir Ken Robinson, Educationalist

And constantly seeking feedback and being in open communication with colleagues is key. This is where a great coaching or mentoring relationship can really make a difference. But ultimately this type of integration is an on-going process of self-awareness, insight and development that the leader self-directs.

There are no guarantees – but one of the aims of this process of personal development towards whole brain thinking is to increase the possibility to achieve the extraordinary. In fact I would go as far as to say that it’s the moral responsibility of all leaders – especially those who make significant decisions that affect the lives of others – to be a whole brain thinker.


McGilchrist, Iain, (2009) The Master and his Emissary – The divided Brain and the making of the Western World. USA: Yale University Press.

Articles, Documents and Digital Media:

Author unknown, ‘Are you left or right brained?’, Mind Motivations brain-test, accessed 08/08/2012.

Eichenwald, Kurt, (August 2012) Microsoft’s lost Decade, Vanity Fair,, accessed 08/08/2012.

McGilchrist, Iain, (2011) The Divided Brain, RSA Animate,, accessed 13/08/2012.

Robinson, Sir Ken, (May 2011) An interview with Sir Ken Robinson, Michael Hyatt – International Leadership,, accessed 08/08/2012.

Thompson, Prof. Dora. Prof.Manish Tongo, Prof.Mamta Chhabriya, (May 2012) The Role of ‘Thinking Styles’ and ‘Creativity’ in bringing about Organisational Change, International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications.Vol. 2, Issue 5.

[1] Author unknown, ‘Are you left or right brained?’, on Mind Motivations, last accessed 08/08/2012: brain-test

[2] Iain McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary – The divided Brain and the making of the Western World, Yale University Press, USA, 2009

[3] Iain McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary – The divided Brain and the making of the Western World, Yale University Press, USA, 2009

[4] Kurt Eichenwald, ‘Microsoft’s lost Decade’, Vanity Fair, August 2012, last accessed 08/08/2012:

[5] Prof. Dora Thompson et al., ‘The Role of ‘Thinking Styles’ and ‘Creativity’ in bringing about Organisational Change’, in International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Vol. 2, Issue 5, May 2012

[6] Prof. Dora Thompson et al., ‘The Role of ‘Thinking Styles’ and ‘Creativity’ in bringing about Organisational Change’, in International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Vol. 2, Issue 5, May 2012

[7] Sir Ken Robinson, ‘An interview with Sir Ken Robinson’, Michael Hyatt – International Leadership, May 2011, last accessed 08/08/2012:

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