Sunday, 7 July 2013

Forget CBT, What’s the Story Morning Glory?


I was going to write this week’s blog around Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I have been questioning the absolute mainstream support for the power of CBT in all its forms to resolve all our mental health problems. I have always argued that it has its place, but the almost panacea status afforded it could not be right. But I am afraid that if you want to find out why I was going to write about CBT, you will have to attend my teaching session on the 19th July at 14.00  - but what I can say is that is sometimes great to be right! It was sitting in the sunshine on Friday evening playing catch up with my week’s emails that changed my mind.

A noticed a number of re-occurring themes in many of the emails. They were often being sent by people in the University that I simply did not know, and yet these people all felt empowered to tell me that ‘I had do this or that’, and ‘I had do this or that’ by ‘such and such’ a time. Although often there was not an ‘or else’ concluding statement, the tone of many of these emails conveyed that what was being asked of me was not up for negotiation. 

Perhaps the authors of these emails are the aspiring managers of the future. I know not. I do know that my first ‘managerial’ position was in 1972, as a management trainee for JS Sainsbury. I was 17 years old and of course knew it all, in fact I knew everything there was to know. Of course, the ensuing 40 years have shaped my approach to working with others. I long ago realised that organisational position didn't count for much. Yes you can tell people to do things and they will because you hold a higher position in the organisational hierarchy than they do. But this approach often does not result in effectiveness. I am more interested in how people do things and what I can do to enable ensuring we get the best from others.

Last week, I came across a wonderful paper in the Harvard Business Review, by Amy Cuddy, Mathew Kohut and John Neffinger entitled Connect then Lead. It’s a paper I strongly recommend is worth reading. They explore the notion our old friend Machiavelli possibly had it right, OK, partly right when he said we judge others, in particular our leaders, by first looking at 2 characteristics: how loveable they are (their warmth, communication or trustworthiness) and how fearsome they are (their strength, agency or competence). Of course we can argue about how such traits are best described, but I like the notion of warmth.

And why are these traits important you may well ask? Well in many organisational situations they answer 2 fairly critical questions: ‘what are this persons intentions toward me?’ and ‘are they capable of acting on those intentions?’ – I think that together, these questions underlie our emotional and behavioural reactions to other people groups and organisations. For me, warmth will always trump fear.

Fear can be psychologically constraining, and how we respond to a fearful challenge can be equally constraining. Unfortunately, we often don’t realise this and can be seduced by other elements. I was reminded of this yesterday morning when out walking with Cello. I came across an absolutely stunningly beautiful example of a Convolvulus arvensis or in layman’s terms ‘bindweed’. This is a species of bindweed in the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae) which although producing very attractive flowers, is a most unwelcome inhabitant of our gardens.

Bindweed competes with others for sunlight, moisture, and nutrients. It chokes out grasses and those plants we love to cultivate in our herbaceous borders. It is one of the most serious weeds of our agricultural fields, and food supply. Wearing my public health hat, a good healthy food supply is essential in ensuring a healthy community. I don’t do analogies, so reader, please don’t read anything untoward into my morning story of bindweed...