How to be a good manager & the qualities of a good leader

The Brain, Self Sabotage and Leadership


I was listening to a CEO the other day relaying some behavioural problems from one of his directors, which was causing a down turn in productivity. Not good, but why on earth would someone begin to sabotage themselves and their position within a company?

Perhaps the answer comes from Jeff Hawkins who suggests that the brain is a pattern recognition machine through his memory-prediction framework theory. It would appear that the brain, according to the researcher, is a “future predicting state machine, similar in principle to feed-forward error-correcting state machines.”


So, what has this got to do with self-sabotaging behaviour in the work place?


Well, the CEO has some big plans for the future of the organisation and he hasn’t shared this with anyone else, yet. The brain of his director maybe picking up on this pattern breach, at a below conscious level, subsequently creating a lack of certainty within the director. This could lead to performance problems, as the brain is a state dependant machine, which Hawkins suggests governs the behaviour of an organism.  Brains require moment-to-moment updates of patterns that are predictable and therefore the system is able to perform effectively with less stress.

The answer to self sabotage, therefore, lies with the CEO clarifying where the company is going, which will allow all employees and stake holders to build patterns of certainty about their immediate futures. Without the ability to predict the future the brain has to expend more resources, in order to survive the on going situation. If this uncertainty persists a person’s behaviour could be impacted as the brain raises an error response, which Hedden, Garbrielli (2006) propose will cause one to concentrate on the error response instead of focusing on one’s goals.


How to overcome self-sabotage?


So, the simplest way to overcome self-sabotage in this instance is to share your strategy. Allow your people to know where you are heading and what that means for them too.

And the CEO has reported back to me that, after sharing his thoughts with the management team, they were all able to open up and pool ideas, together. The tensions that had been within the team, evaporated and the ‘troublesome’ director actually had some valid points that were incorporated into future plans.



Hawkins, J. & Blakeslee, S. (2004). On Intelligence.Times Books.
Hedden, T., & Gabrieli, J. D. e. (2006). The ebb and flow of attention in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, 9,863-865.


Work Life Balance May be Easier Than You Think

Many philosophers have written about the nature of ‘reality’ Carl Jung theorised that you must maintain a relationship between the conscious and unconscious processes of the mind, in order that your psyche may be enriched. Jung believed that without this communication, unconscious processes cold become weak and even threaten the personality, from his map of the world, Jung realised that the reality you perceived equalled the reality that you projected.  In other words life is what you make it.

DeLoache (2004) established Dual Representational Theory, which shows that a person has the ‘ability to attribute characteristics and meanings to things that don’t actually possess them’ in other words by imagining ones own reality, you can make anything ‘real’

Morgan (2006) who had created a detailed number of metaphoric viewpoints of an organisation, which if you were to implement within your own organisation, you might glean more information about organisational change and how it effects people. Morgan’s methodology being the way you think about your organisation will define how you act within it. Morgan believed that the tacit knowledge of top performing leaders and managers came from their ‘subconscious’ ability to create metaphors of the organisation and act accordingly in line with this mental map

So, your perceived metaphor of your organisation might be supporting you and encouraging you to succeed but what if isn’t?

What if it’s like ‘a battlefield’

‘a fight’

‘a war zone’

Can you see how that ‘reality’ might be impacting upon your unconscious processes?


When the world-renowned leadership and change guru at Harvard Business School John Kotter (2006) wrote  ‘Eight Steps to effective organisational change’, he plainly and simply, captured the complexities of organisational change and laid out a process for any leader or organisation to follow. He simplified the process in his metaphorical published piece, “Our Iceberg Is Melting” a fable about penguins. Perhaps by utilising the metaphor Kotter was better able to get his fundamental change process message out to millions of people around the planet.

Morgan (2006) has created a detailed number of metaphoric viewpoints of an organisation which when you apply them to your organisation, may help your own internal landscape to shift. Morgan’s methodology being the way you think about your organisation will define how you act within it. He believed that the tacit knowledge of top performing leaders and managers came from their ‘subconscious’ ability to create metaphors of the organisation and act accordingly in line with this mental map.

So, are your current metaphors helping you at work or in life?

What are you waiting for?

Your perception is all that there is and all that there ever will be…



DeLoache, JD (2004). Becoming symbol-minded Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8(2): pp. 66-70

Kotter, J.P (2006). Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions . Harvard: Macmillan.

Morgan, G (1986). Images of Organization. 2nd ed. London: Sage Publications. pp.3,337

Personality and Personal Growth (6th ed.)
Frager, R., & Fadiman, J. (2005). New York: Pearson
Prentice Hall pg. 56:


Self Sabotage – Do You Self Sabotage Your Own Success

“Procrastination is the fear of success.”

 Denis Waitley

What are you prepared to lose?

For you, success means fulfillment, contentment, happiness and pride. But for your unconscious mind, success means that one area it’s charged with avoiding at all times and at all costs: change!

So, how does The Fear of Success work? Well, in order for you to self sabotage your own success, your inner saboteur will scare the “bejesus” out of you, it will run a series of movies inside your mind showing you many examples of how you will fail to retain your success once you have achieved it.

It’s a little like playing “king of the hill.” According to the Saboteur Within, the minute you get to the top, someone – maybe even yourself – or something will find a way to knock you back down the hill again. Hence it will flood your mind with images of how you will fail to handle the extra responsibility or additional attention that accompanies your success.

Just as your success motivated you to reach the top, the fear of staying there will become a preoccupation; thanks to the unconscious mind. In order that you may remain “safe” in your carefully constructed world, your Saboteur may convince you so strongly of your inability to handle success that you don’t even try to attain your goal in the first place. Whether it’s a new relationship, a job, losing weight, deciding to study and get a better education, or whatever your definition of success might be, thanks to the Fear of Success you might be too afraid to reach for your own dreams.

 Self Sabotage Your Own Success

The inevitable result is that, sadly, the Fear of Success can force you to let these wonderful chances slip through your fingers. If you succumb to the Fear of Success, you will lead an unfulfilled existence, as your Saboteur convinces you that under-achieving is the safe, comfortable and stress free way to be, why put yourself to all of that trouble and worry when you are unlikely to succeed, you won’t be able to handle it, or people will think you have got above yourself.  These are the type of messages and internal arguments your Saboteur will use against your conscious mind to keep you within the safe and predictable confines of your comfort zone.

 You never notice Self Sabotage until it’s to late

When Susan came to my office that day in January, she was desperate to resolve her “sabotaging ways,” as she put it. Susan’s presenting problem was that she had had several careers during her working life, none of which had made her wealthy, stating that she “always had enough, but never more than enough” and all of her careers had systematically ended when she was offered promotions and much greater financial rewards. In other words, whenever she was given the opportunity to be successful, she would screw it up!

Now, here she was at age fifty-five, divorced, and determined that she could make good. Susan’s urgency for the session was because she had been offered a “get rich quick” scam – I mean, scheme (honest!) – she had found it on the internet and the promise that was being made by their sales pitch was that this scheme would deliver abundance and ultimately, “More than enough.” The problem was, as she saw it, “her Saboteur was talking her out of this plan she had to become successful.”

This seemed the most opportune time for her, as her company was offering her another promotion with all the usual trappings. Susan had been there many times before and she wasn’t about to screw up yet another promotion. This time she wanted to break loose of the vicious circle she believed that she was trapped inside, take a risk and reap the rewards promised by the scheme/scam. There was no way that Susan was going to prevent herself from having financial abundance and happiness this time!

“Now to fund the scheme,” Susan explained. “Rather than accept the promotion that is on offer, I can take voluntary redundancy from my job, and that will give me the cash lump sum I need to buy into the scheme. I don’t mind leaving as I am being pressured into taking this promotion and I’m really reluctant to do that, because I will be required to study for an additional qualification, which will mean putting my life on hold for six months while I take the exams that are necessary, and I want everything now!”

I pieced together Susan’s life beginning with her family. She was the youngest of six children; she had passed her “11-plus,” which allowed her free entry to private education, where in her final year she flunked out of school. I will get deeper into the unconscious patterns another time, but for now let’s simply say that Susan was afraid of being successful because she thought that she would be an outside, to the rest of her family, the odd one out with the spotlight clearly shining on her, and highlighting the fact that she was ‘different’.

You see, when Susan flunked out of school, it was because being one of six kids, and suddenly propelled out of her home environment, she never felt that her family was behind her. Yes, when she first got her scholarship it was exciting and everybody talked about it when it was news, but now, four years on, Susan was fast becoming a “cuckoo” in not only her school, but also her family’s nest. It seemed that she didn’t feel at home in either place.

Her Saboteur mounted a double-pronged attack. In order that Susan could remain within the status quo of her family, where nobody had excelled academically in the past, her personal Saboteur Within filled her mind full of thoughts, like, “Who do you think you are?”, “Nobody likes a clever clogs!”, “You talk too posh”, “You’re not one of us anymore!” and on and on, making Susan feel out of place in her own home. Whilst at school the posh, fee-paying students made fun of her less than posh accent and made cruel remarks about the part of town that she lived in. Eventually, Susan cracked under the pressure of feeling like a cuckoo in her family’s nest and she quit the school, as success meant that she would remain an outcast.

“So Susan here we are,” I finally said to her. “Forty years on, only six months, and one exam to allow you to be successful and have financial freedom.” Susan nodded uncertainly before I added, “Or, we work on what you’ve asked me and I encourage you to throw it all away and gamble your hard earned savings and your redundancy payment on a scheme that, if it fails, leaves you jobless and broke! It sounds to me like your Saboteur has brought you here to continue an old pattern.” Susan’s face was crestfallen; she’d never heard it put in such blunt terms before! “Let’s examine the two scenarios in front of you,” I said calmly. “In the first one you gain financial freedom and status, which will allow you extra cash to put into schemes, yes?” Susan nodded. “And the second will have your whole family talking about you and worrying as they have done many times before, hmmm! It sounds like there is a Saboteur at work somewhere,” I smiled.

Susan took a deep breath and admitted, “The truth is, I’ve taken that exam three times and failed every time! I don’t know what it is! I can do the job standing on my head. All of the other exams to get me to this level I got straight A’s but this one… I just go blank when I sit down to take it.”

After her confession, Susan sighed heavily. I told Susan about Jonathon Livingstone Seagull, how even as a seagull he had ambition and how his flock was very uncomfortable with his dreams and aspirations. In order to achieve his goals and fulfill his true potential, he had to overcome the worries and concerns that his friends and family raised, not only in an effort to keep him safe from, but also trying to ensure he didn’t show them up to be lacking in courage and imagination. Jonathon Livingston Seagull is a terrific book by Richard Bach. It is packed full of wisdom and will only take you a couple of hours to read.

An Explanation of Self Sabotage

Then, in laymen’s terms, I explained that the Saboteur was preventing Susan from getting what she wanted because it would mean that she was successful. The status that went with it would change this duckling into a swan and her Saboteur had filled her mind full of thoughts that boiled down to, “You’re not worthy!”

Tears welled in Susan’s eyes as she stared off into space, running through all of her past examples, where the finishing line was within her grasp and she failed to take the final steps.

Susan was a smart woman and she sat there open mouthed as the realisation of how her Saboteur had been playing her, her whole life long, but not this day. Her lips came together with a resolute pout and a solid determination concretised her as she said, “Today is the day that I turn my life around!”

As we worked through the coming months, with her fear of success long gone, Susan effortlessly passed her exam and was very comfortable with her new company director status.