Why we should focus more on our habits.

In the workplace and in life, we are little more than the sum of our habits. Who we are and what we achieve depends largely on a set of routines and behaviours that we carry out with little to no thought whatsoever.

Habits, rather than conscious decision-making, can shape as many as 45% of the choices we make every day.

Habits are the brain’s way of ensuring maximum productivity with minimal energy. Constantly striving for more efficiency, the brain quickly transforms as many tasks and behaviours as possible into habits so that we can do them without thinking, thus freeing up more brainpower to tackle new challenges.

In general, this process leads to incredible benefits but it can make it seem nearly impossible to consciously break bad habits—or integrate new ones.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg does a deep dive into the science of habits to explain how they work and how we can change them. It’s a fascinating read that crisply breaks down the habit-formation process, and—perhaps more importantly—the habit-changing process.

How Habits Get Formed.

When we begin a new task, our brains are working hard—processing tons of new information as we find our way. As soon as we understand how a task works, the behaviour starts becoming automatic and the mental activity required to do the task decreases considerably.

How Habit Loops Work.

Habits consist of a simple, but extremely powerful, three-step loop. Duhigg says “First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop… becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges”.

How to Change a Habit.

The first rule of habit-changing is that you have to play by the rules. There’s no escaping the three-step loop (e.g. cue, routine, reward) because it’s hard-wired into our brains.

If you want to get rid of a bad habit, you have to find out how to implement a healthier routine to yield the same reward. When you’re trying to get the new routine integrated into your life, don’t be afraid to dwell on the rewards.

Of course, it’s not simple. As we all know, forming new habits is hard. Just because you’re telling your brain that there’s a reward, doesn’t meant the habit will stick. It only really sinks in when—through enough repetition—your brain comes to crave the reward. Countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, are not enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward—craving the high or sense of accomplishment-—will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.

How to Maintain a New Habit.

But that’s still not everything. We’ve all managed to implement new habits for a month or two, only to have them compromised when we’re under extreme stress. If we truly want to avoid backsliding into our old ways, there’s a final key ingredient: Belief. “For a habit to stay changed, people must believe that change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group,” says Duhigg.

Groups create accountability and belief—key ingredients in helping us stick with new habits. Thus, if you want to write more, consider joining a writing group. If you want to run more, consider joining a running club. The more positive reinforcement you can surround yourself with, the easier it will be to make difficult changes.


Why communication skills are the most important driver of organisational culture.

Culture and communication skills are important in any workplace, to ensure you and your team can build meaningful interpersonal relationships, as well as develop a truly effective and positive business and yet we often treat communication as if it were a discrete act, a matter of performance or lack thereof.

A crucial, but often overlooked, function of leadership is creating a culture in which effective communication can flourish.

Establishing yourself and your organisation as leaders in communication and culture requires passion, dedication, effort and a clear vision of what that communication culture looks like. The Google method of attacking problems in this Harvard Business Review article might not work in all organisations but gives a great insight into how an effective culture can function.

What are culture and communication skills?

If you or your company relies on strong relationships between team members, customers and other stakeholders, communication will be a vital consideration.

The ability to listen and build a rapport while sharing ideas, opinions and information is crucial for establishing a working relationship. This is where your interpersonal skills come into play.

Culture and communication skills help you to develop positive rapport and create personal bonds to benefit you and your organisation. Having employees who are comfortable talking to each other is important for any business. Communication skills are crucial when talking to clients, customers, managers and other stakeholders.

People matter, so culture and communication strategies need to focus on the kind of skills that can help promote more positive relationships and interactions with everyone.

Why are culture and communication skills important in the workplace?

There are many ways that culture and communications can be used to improve the workplace. Creating positive personal bonds can help you relate to customers, colleagues, managers and many other stakeholders.

This is also crucial when welcoming new staff into your business, as open and strong communication skills will ensure that onboarding is a breeze, and new workers are able to gel with the company culture with minimal effort.

Communications and culture training and coaching can deliver many benefits for companies and individuals. Professional development in this area helps you to establish a workplace that fosters excellence and develops future leaders.

For individuals and team members, skills in communications and interpersonal relationships can give you to the courage you need to develop as a sales or service star.

Communication skills are the greatest driver of positive workplace culture, as the ability to talk to one another and engage in constructive discussions is essential to ensuring all views are heard and considered. As part of that communication, company goals must be clearly outlined so that there is complete understanding across the board about what those goals and how employees are a part of meeting those goals.

This ultimately means the business can make the best decisions to accommodate everyone’s views and promote a culture of inclusion and positivity.

Fran Berry, Founder of Alive & Kicking Solutions, says that ‘one instance of ineffective communication can begin to shift and change a culture’. MORE HERE


What does it mean to be an ‘Authentic leader’?

The books and blogs available on how to be an effective leader are numerous and plentiful. Titles and content include themes such as Build trust! Don’t transact – transform. Just do it. Influence, empower, include, collaborate, be human, be a visionary, inspire, believe in your people, role model, coach, mentor, be trustworthy, have integrity, assert yourself, fake it til you make it. So many do’s and don’ts. It can be overwhelming…… Where do we begin?

While the entire list above is part of great leadership – the beginning of the journey is really about you – who you are, and who you choose to be on a daily basis.

When you think about the leaders that have truly inspired you, people that you have connected to, committed to and truly believed in, feel loyalty and respect for and would truly work your heart out for (and I hope there is or has been such a person in your life) what are the things that they have in common? We would such a call such a leader ‘Authentic.’

When we, at Alive & Kicking, asked ourselves what it means to be an ‘Authentic Leader’ – here’s what we discovered:

Authentic Leaders:

  1. Know who they are– they are self-aware. They are genuine. They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and work on developing themselves continuously. They are reflective and willing to look inward to find their faults and embrace them, honour them and develop them. Authentic leaders know that the relationship they need to nurture the most is the relationship that they have with themselves.
  2. Know what they stand for – Authentic leaders are truly connected deeply to their core values. They are congruent because their actions match their words. They are ethical and have integrity. There is a charismatic strength of character that emanates from the deep alignment and acceptance of who they are.
  3. Are willing to share their journey – they know where they have come from. They are happy to tell the stories about the awful embarrassing job they used to have, or the moments they wanted the ground to open up beneath them and swallow them whole. They recognise that those moments have shaped and moulded the person that they are now and they are stronger and more experienced because of it.
  4. Are connected through their head, heart and gut– authentic leaders are aligned through their core of being. They are ok with who they are and are willing to be vulnerable, admit to errors, make mistakes and BE human and fallible with all who are connected to them.
  5. Focus on people – Authentic leaders know that the best minutes they spend are the minutes they spend on and with their people project management tools. The communities, relationships and connections that they create are where the real work gets done. People are engaged and connected in workplaces that foster real and meaningful relationships. This is modelled by authentic leadership.
  6. Are fearless – It takes fortitude, resilience and deep inner strength to stand up for what they believe in. Leading people towards a vision takes courage. It takes a willingness to go against the grain and do what is right – even when it may not be easy.

The journey towards being an authentic leader begins with accepting the light and the dark of who we are, the strengths and weaknesses, the soft and hard, the vulnerability and the imperviousness, the fierceness and the gentleness – and we know that all of this lives in all of us…. Don’t we?

5 reasons Emotional Intelligence is vital for leaders

Imagine this scenario. A manager in a senior role who is kind and friendly, but when stressed becomes really unapproachable. Since her role is to mentor and guide, it creates a space where her direct reports are uncomfortable approaching her. Her aggressive tone and body language puts them off. She has beautiful intentions and is so well meaning but the way she manages her emotions makes her difficult to work with. She knows she needs to put the stress to one side and be there for her team but she doesn’t know how. Sometimes the ‘not knowing how’ can compound the feelings of stress and frustration and becomes a loop of negativity adding to the stress.

What do we look for in our leaders?

Charisma, purpose, determination – a few of the traits typically used to define a leader. Many great leaders though, have a single quality in common. What distinguishes the best leaders from the majority is their level of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage our emotions and respond effectively to the emotions of those around us. This quality gives individuals the skills to manage relationships, navigate social networks, influence and inspire others. We each possess different levels, but to become effective leaders, we need a high level of emotional intelligence. In today’s workplace, it is the key skill for success, influencing productivity, efficiency and team collaboration.

Important reasons why leaders should cultivate their emotional intelligence:

1. Self-Awareness

Leaders with higher emotional intelligence are self-aware and able to recognise emotions as they happen. This is a vital skill, as it gives them a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses without any obstruction. In addition, great leaders are able to perceive emotions as they arise in response to an action or situation. As a result, they are able better able to address problems and avoid future complications.

2. Emotional Management

Leaders with high emotional intelligence have command of techniques to regulate themselves and stay in control. These individuals are unlikely to rush headlong into hasty decisions or let their anger take over their behaviour. It is vital that individuals in managerial positions keep their emotions in check, as it will help them maintain a proper perspective on a situation.

3. Effective Communication

What is the benefit of emotional awareness and management if you are unable to clearly express your thoughts? Recognising the importance of developing effective communications skills demonstrates high emotional intelligence. Individuals with emotional intelligence often have the skill of effective communication. They are able to clearly convey directions and know what to say in order to inspire and motivate others. An important skill for leaders, communication can be a deciding factor in whether the team listens or not.

4. Social Awareness

Leaders with great emotional intelligence are well tuned to the emotions of others and are able to pick up on what is going on around them. They are able to empathise with others by putting themselves in the employee’s shoes and giving helpful feedback. This is a critical skill for leaders, who work closely to inspire and motivate a team. An inspired and motivate team is a high performing team project management process.

5. Conflict Resolution

In the workplace, emerging conflicts can threaten efficiency and productivity and impact on employee connections. However, leaders with emotional intelligence are well equipped to handle difficult situations and provide resolution. With this skill, leaders have the perspective to manage disagreements that arise between employees, customers, and other parties.

Leaders use their emotional intelligence to develop a more effective, harmonious and productive workplace.


What is resilience and how can you develop a more resilient workforce?

Resilient people keep proper perspective and persist with coping efforts long after less resilient types become demoralised and give up.

Resilience is not something that you’re either born with or you’re not. Resilience develops as people grow up and gain better thinking and self-management skills and more knowledge. Resilience also comes from supportive relationships with parents, peers and others, as well as cultural beliefs and traditions that help people cope with the inevitable bumps in life. Resilience is found in a variety of behaviours, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span.

Specifically, emotionally resilient people tend to:

  • Have realistic and attainable expectations and goals.
  • Show good judgment and problem-solving skills.
  • Be persistent and determined.
  • Be responsible and thoughtful rather than impulsive.
  • Be effective communicators with good people skills.
  • Learn from past experience so as to not repeat mistakes.
  • Be empathetic toward other people (caring how others around them are feeling).
  • Have a social conscience, (caring about the welfare of others).
  • Feel good about themselves as a person.
  • Feel like they are in control of their lives.
  • Be optimistic rather than pessimistic.

These special beliefs characteristic of resilient people help them to keep proper perspective, and to persist with coping efforts long after less resilient types become demoralised and give up. When not-so-resilient people face difficulties all of their emotions turn negative. If things are good, they feel good, but if things are bad, they feel horrid.

In order to become a more resilient person, it is necessary to work on cultivating positive beliefs and attitudes.

Alive & Kicking Solutions has been working to build people’s emotional intelligence and emotional resilience for the last 15 years.

Our workshops help people to take full responsibility of their situations and emotions that impact their ability to respond or react in given situations. Now that resilience is receiving so much attention businesses are recognising the need to build individual capability to be effective in the face of ever-increasing change. Our expertise and experience has been brought to hundreds of workshops and to thousands of people who have learned to be ‘above the line’ and take 100% responsibility for the results they get, in good times and in challenging ones.

Resilience training provides essential skills to employees to support and assist them to adapt to change, innovation and new ways of thinking.

How we help build people’s skills to become more resilient

To build up the resilience in employees, we begin with an understanding of what resilience is – it is an individual’s ability to remain ‘in balance’, that is, healthy and effective, when things are going well and when faced with change and disruptions that life or the workplace has in store for us. These disruptions can be single events that occur throughout our lives (redeployment and redundancy) or they can be an accumulation of smaller discomforts (challenging projects, conflict amongst colleagues, organisational politics, criticism in their job, change of process, learning new systems, uncertainty about the future) that when they reach a breaking point the person finds they are well out of balance, and may experience symptoms of stress, sadness or depression, not eating well, not sleeping well, and the like.

Studies have shown that when people understand there are different ways they can react to these disruptions and they can be shown to develop skills to make meaning of the disruptions, they are far more likely to thrive from the disruptions rather than be adversely affected by them, and thereby not fully reintegrated back in to their normal functions and abilities.

The Alive & Kicking Resilience Program

This is what our Resilience Program addresses – the definition of what it means to be resilient, exploring ways to build up one’s personal resilience by using very effective and practical methods, and developing skills to manage change and other disruptions to achieve a positive impact in all areas of their life, personal and professional.

Some of the latest work on resilience building emphasises the importance of increasing people’s ability to experience positive emotions – as opposed to just trying to minimise stress and other negative emotions. Our program is designed to build skills of resilience and to develop a more positive outlook in one’s approach to their work and personal life.

Benefits of resilience training:

  • Resilience to change
  • The ability to manage their own mindset
  • The ability to create a positive working culture
  • The ability to move forward, and overcome fear
    • Fear of the unknown
    • Fear of new things
    • Fear of restructure
  • The ability to fully participate fully and be engaged in all new initiatives
  • Understand and list the benefits of resilience training

The organisation will benefit as participants will be more open to change, more willing to accept new ways and become more responsible for their own performance and improvement.

Resilience training has far reaching benefits to health, family, career success and overall wellbeing.

As Harvard Business School’s Rosabeth Moss Kantor says resilient workers are “fast, friendly, flexible, and focused.” A resilient workforce is healthy, energetic and enthusiastic and finally, a resilient workforce is a productive workforce.

Contact us to find out how we can help you build a culture of highly engaged, highly motivated, high performing people.

How to be the leader your team want AND the leader your business needs

Most people, when asked what kind of boss they prefer, have a similar answer. They want us to be responsive to their needs, wants and aspirations, to give them the freedom to do the tasks they want to do, and to support them when they have problems. A warm and generous manager who trusts and promotes them and is sensitive to their personal needs. We’ll call him Mr Nice Guy!

Mr Nice Guy has his peoples’ well being at heart and believes that feelings and attitudes are of utmost importance. He does all the great leadership stuff; walking the floor, holding productive and encouraging meetings and one-to-ones, he is considerate and friendly, trusts his team and allows them to make decisions. There are regular social events within his team, he is truly liked by the team and during a 360 review he receives very high scores from his subordinates.

There is only one spoiler to this picture, by leading in a way that promotes camaraderie and friendship,Mr Nice guy unintentionally de-emphasises productivity. In short, this team doesn’t actually get much done.

Let’s consider another leadership style. Organisations are established to reach the goals of the owners, founders and senior leaders who want their managers to be driven towards task achievement. They want us to focus on decision making and problem solving. We must contribute to the organisational effectiveness by controlling projects, budgets and resources to meet set goals and reach our performance agreements. A power and project focused manager who utilises resources successfully and always has his/her eye on the end game. We can call her The Hard Task Master.

The Hard Task Master is naturally task focused. She makes plans and oversees projects. She is interested in milestones reached. People need to be on task and able to update her at any time on a project status. She believes that the work place should be an emotion free zone – ‘leave that stuff at home’ is her favourite saying. She incites competition between team members to encourage performance and will not hold back sharing disappointment in a team member very publicly. Her team are known to get things done. She heard that some of them go for a post project drink but she doesn’t have time for that, even if they asked her.

One thing does bother the Hard Task Master though. She has a high turnover of team members and sickness within her team. She doesn’t understand why the team doesn’t seem to be as excited as she is when a project is completed on time and on budget and, in a recent 360 feedback review, she received some very concerning feedback about her managerial style.

When it comes 360 reviews and the relationship between leader behaviour and performance ratings, given by supervisors, leaders themselves and the subordinates research shows that often the results do not tally. It depends who provides the ratings and what they are measuring.

This example of Mr Nice Guy and the Hard task Master is extreme, but it highlights the dichotomy between how leaders and managers are encouraged to perform by superiors and subordinates. Of course, it is necessary to maintain both a task and a people focus in our leadership style to meet all of the needs of an organisation and its people.

An invaluable leadership skill is the ability to adjust our focus according to the need of the moment and to be aware of the influence others may be applying. Effective leaders learn that as they drive for results, it is equally important that they build, maintain, and enhance positive relationships.


Jon Aarun Andersen, European Business review, 2009 – Your favourite manager is an organisational disaster.

Contact us to find out how we can help you build a culture of highly engaged, highly motivated, high performing people.