In Change Management, People Skills

Ruby Wax’s new book* is published next week. Not surprisingly, it promises to be a good read and an entertaining portal to some pretty big ideas – neuroplasticity, for instance.

But neuroplasticity is simply our ability to change our minds and our ideas. Ruby likens our brains to Play-Doh and says they are “so malleable, the sky’s the limit”. I find this immensely heartening, to know that I have this huge potential that’s only waiting for me to make the choice to tap into it… and maybe learn how to use it a bit better. The point is that our genes, hormones and neurons don’t limit us the way we tend to assume that they do.  We can learn new things throughout our lifetime, and even change how we view our experiences. It’s all a matter of choice.

ChangeQuest’s Project Leadership course handbook explains “Beliefs are just thoughts – that’s all, no more than that. So you’re not stuck with them.” So this seems to mean that our ability to be an excellent business leader, or project manager, has as much to do with what we think about ourselves, as it has to do with what we know or our qualifications. I’m wondering then whether we can take this a step further. If we learn to influence our own thinking, does this also help us to influence and communicate better with others? Ruby Wax seems to think it does – she says, “If we can observe our own habits of thinking clearly and without harshness, we can notice the habits of thinking in others and have greater empathy.”

Much in the behavioural aspects of management focuses on empathy – it’s that critical ability to stand in the shoes of others, and see things from their perspective, rather than just your own. I’m also interested in her phrase without harshness. There seems to be no place for harshness in good management practices, and choosing to suspend our natural inclination to judge, both ourselves and others, frees us up to evaluate and move forward.

The Leadership handbook highlights “You are not your feelings or your thoughts. You are able to stand outside and evaluate them. Unless you use this ability, your personal potential and your ability to relate to others will be severely limited.” People often blame one or more of three sources if they are not who they would like to be:

• It’s in my genes. I have a bad temper because my grandfather did (Genetic determinism)

• It’s my upbringing. My childhood experiences determine my responses as an adult (Psychic determinism)

• It’s my manager’s fault– it’s in my environment (Environmental determinism)

If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ve probably all fallen back on one, or all, of these excuses at various times. But thanks to practical insights into areas such as neuroplasticity,  we learn that we can choose who we are.



*Sane New World: How to Tame the Mind, Hodder & Stoughton

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