Dr Alan Beggs
(with contributions from Nicholas Brice)
Dr Alan Beggs spent 15 years working as a pioneering Sport Psychologist with Olympic and other elite performers at a time when TEAM GB’s medal total reached new heights.
In our discussions Alan has often said that while the word humanity is easy to say, it’s not necessarily so easy to understand. Nevertheless, that is precisely what we believe is a fundamental characteristic of a soul corporation: a place that creates deeper, stronger connections with human minds, emotion and the human spirit. Alan nailed it when he suggested that a team or business with soul, through its business practices:
“A soul corporation seeks to inspire the best from people: their passion, integrity, honest endeavour, dynamic energy, and willingness to co-operate with others.“Dr Alan Beggs
I think we can also add that an organisation with soul exists to create value for all the organisation’s stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers, community, and investors – as well as our planet.
Clearly, leadership is key. For example, in my keynotes, I sometimes tell the story of a company I worked with that hired a new CEO to improve results. Four months in, he decided he knew exactly what the ‘problem’ was and what needed to be done. He concluded that the sales team needed to be out on the road more. And so, without any warning or consultation, over a weekend, all the sales team’s desks were moved across to the other side of an office. Some of the desks were completely removed, and the remaining ones now became shared ‘hot desks.’ The team’s possessions and files were moved to an area where they could retrieve them.
Predictably, this clumsy initiative had a disastrous and permanent impact on the morale of the team and its performance – and some of their best people left within weeks. The CEO was shocked at how oversensitive people were being.
Contrast this unfortunate individual with another CEO I worked with who learnt how to memorise the names of new leaders who joined the organisation using a memorising technique he learnt on one of the Putting People First programme I was delivering at the time. One new middle management recruit in his first week, met him coming in the opposite direction in a corridor in the Head Office. He made eye contact, smiled, held out his hand and said: Good morning Roger. How are you doing? My name is Colin. Welcome to our team. How are things going with your relocation? To use his words, Roger felt like he would ‘walk through walls’ for that CEO from that day forward. His new CEO had addressed him as a proper human being. A human being that mattered.
Unfortunately, in many workplaces, as we become ever more distanced and digital, intimacy like this that drives loyalty and deeper engagement is in diminishing supply.
So, let’s explore what it really means.
I’ve asked my good friend, Dr Alan Beggs, an eminent sport and business psychologist, to add some of his considerable know-how to our thinking on soul. We’ve been working together on a some of the ideas for my forthcoming book The Business of Soul.
Alan spent 15 years working as a pioneering Sport Psychologist with Olympic and other elite performers, amongst them sailors, skiers, squash players, weightlifters and many others. So you may wonder what exactly can he add to the conversation about business?
Alan explains to us that the very practice of coaching itself came from sport, and along with the pioneers Sir John Whitmore and David Hemery, and Alan helped migrate it to the workplace. Sport is just one thing that people do which demands lots of expertise and effort – the parallels with the workplace are obvious when you think about it. But – back to sport.
He tells us that quite soon he became aware that the absolute best performers had what he called a ‘glowing inner core’ which seemed to lie behind their outstanding performances. It became clear to him that these performers were in touch with what we can only call their soul.
Back when Alan started working as a sport psychologist, coaches tended to help people at a technical level – hold it like this, put your feet here, and so on. Nowadays, many of them have moved on having seen what happens when individuals and teams are treated very differently.
In the late 1980’s, he started working with our dinghy sailors. Individual sailors occasionally did well on the international stage – or ocean. For example, one of them, sailing a little single-handed boat called a Laser came third in the world championships. The farsighted coach, Trevor, was unhappy, and asked him to work with his squad, which he did, helping everyone deal better with whatever their issues may have been. And crucially, he also worked with Trevor himself, helping him to learn how important coaching skills were.
After about a couple of years, the team went off to Canada, to compete in another international competition. When they got back, Alan was very keen to hear how they had got on – no emails, no mobile phones back then! When eventually he got to speak with Trevor, he told him they had all come in the first fourteen places.
The other sailing coaches sat up and took notice. Alan worked alongside them and their many different squads of sailors in a similar way. The outcome was that in the 2000 Olympics, instead of the usual outcome of one British sailor getting a medal, no less than twenty-eight came home with some silverware. That was 25% of all the medals in every sport that the GB team had entered that year.
So, what was this revolution down to? Basically, he had worked with performers and their coaches to help to create a culture where each sailor was treated as a complete human being, with body, heart, mind and soul. Our various British Olympic Sailing Teams were what we might now call soul corporations.
Below, Alan shares some insights into the different elements that constitute a human being working in the modern hybrid-digital workplace.
As a professional psychologist, I struggle with defining what this mysterious ‘soul’ might be. The truth is that the science of psychology has addressed almost all the simple stuff, leaving the tough stuff like soul and consciousness to the next generation! So, what exactly do we know about people’s psychological makeup?
Our complex self
Every human being across the planet is fundamentally the same. Our bodies are made up of similar parts and although we all come in different shapes, sizes and colours, there is a basic, underlying similarity between us. The same is true at the psychological level. A model of the complex self helps us to understand what makes you a complete human being. The model below reflects the fundamental reality is that each of our ‘selves’ is connected to every one of the others. This interconnectivity gives us the ability to take advantage of whatever the world throws our way, to navigate our way through life as we find it and carve out our own niche in the world.
This is what makes you a unique and special human being, in sport and in business.
So, let’s take a look at each part of the complex self, and consider how well management has understood and dealt with the complex human beings who worked for them over the years.
The physical self
This where we keep our strengths and skills, which for many early organisations was all they wanted from their people. Let’s look at some history.
Way back in time, the very first organisations set up various industrial processes which needed people to operate machinery, whether that be aimed at producing clothing or iron and steel products, digging up coal or driving steam trains. Men and women from an agricultural background were easily persuaded to give up their traditional jobs and become skilful at these kinds of processes; in those far-off early days, they were not required to use any of the other parts of their complex self, and management simply ignored the complexity of the people they had hired. They simply told them what to do and paid them for doing it.
Over the years, however, the very nature of businesses has changed. Organisations have increasingly become aware of how important the other parts of their people are for the performance of their people and teams. Below, we will explore the other psychological parts of ourselves, and touch on what management has learned about them.
The thinking self
This part of the human dimension is about two things. First, and most obviously, it’s about the ways we think; second, it is also concerned with our ability to focus on what really matters.
Several years ago, researchers Katherine Benziger and Ned Herman independently identified what they believed were four thinking preferences.
A. Expert: Logical, analytical, mathematical, technical and quantitative thinking.
B. Organiser: Structured thinking with a capacity for organizing and planning in detail.
C. Communicator: Emotionally tuned with a facility for interpersonal communication.
D. Strategist: Visual and innovative, thinking in a more conceptual, synthetic and creative way.
All of these preferences represent very valuable thinking capabilities. Their studies found that the majority of people – 60% – can only use two of the types in their day-to-day working and living. 30% of subjects had the ability to switch between three types. Only 3% have the luxury of access to all four.
They considered that these thinking preferences determine the way people process information, make sense of their world and interact with it. Clearly, ‘thinking’ is not a simple concept.
For many of us, certain ways of thinking are difficult. It seems that some people stay stuck, overusing only some kind(s) of thinking. You may have met someone who is a detail person, obsessed with logic, analysis, facts and figures. A quite different person may be ‘big picture’ thinker, able to effortlessly develop strategy and think creatively.
Interestingly, it is this diversity in thinking which can be so important for team working. When managers understand, recognise, and value their people’s thinking differences and use them to the full to tackle challenges at work it can be very advantageous. For example, a creative and energetic person who cooperates with someone with a very analytical and organised approach to problems can form a highly effective team.
While Benziger and Herman were onto something – it wasn’t the whole story. In fact, it seems we have two separate thinking systems. The one we all know about is our remarkable ability to work out problems. We can feel it in operation, it takes its time, and it is hard work. We educate it, we fill it with facts and understanding in a very logical and orderly way. Interestingly, because it is something you are aware of, most people will regard it as part of ‘me’. As Descartes said it – “I think, therefore I am”.
These days, many organisations rely on exploiting their people’s thinking skills and ability, and of course, management has understood this. However, what we suspect is that they have little understanding of the importance of a second powerful set of thinking processes that operate beneath our conscious awareness.
These processes, lurking in what is called the “adaptive unconscious,” are intimately involved in how we size up our world, perceive danger, initiate action, and set our goals. Fascinatingly, this ‘unconscious thinking’ appears to be purpose-made to ensure our survival in a confusing and dangerous world. The only psychologist to win a Nobel Prize, Daniel Kahneman, along with others, has emphasised how much we rely on this automatic, unconscious thinking, only bothering to engage our slow, effortful thinking abilities when necessary.
The feeling self
What exactly is emotion? A deceptively simple question, but with no simple answer. People have been attempting to understand emotions for thousands of years, and the debate is likely to last for a few more.
However, it is now generally agreed that emotions entwine three components: a physical one, a cognitive element and the subjective emotional experience. For example, our heart might pound, our breathing speed up; we may feel fear – or sexual desire; and we may think “I must get out of here”, or “I must get a room”.
Darwin argued that emotions served a purpose for humans, in communication and also in aiding their survival. They are thought to have become biologically hard-wired because they provided good solutions to recurring survival problems that faced our ancestors.
But what about emotions in the real world? It came as a surprise to me that some of the people I met in the world of work, particularly men, perhaps working in a detailed and analytical way, seemed to have lost conscious touch with their feelings. For them to describe what it is like to feel even strong emotions like frustration or anger is difficult; feelings do not seem to form a great part of their conscious lives.
Dealing with such a person can sometimes be difficult, as they are literally unaware of their feelings; this seems to be a typical characteristic of introverted people. Benjamin Zander is an English conductor, who is currently the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. He runs popular masterclasses focused on developing talent and creativity for businesspeople which often include live music. In one of his classes we experienced, after a brilliant rendition of a dance piece by a cellist, he turned to some of the businesspeople there. He looked at them all, smiled and said: If you enjoyed that, please could you ask your brain to let your face know? He went on to talk about the challenge of getting the best out of people when leaders are just managers who try to lead from the neck up.
The good news is that we are making some progress in our understanding of the importance of human emotion in the workplace. When in the mid-nineties, Daniel Goleman published his ground-breaking books on Emotional Intelligence at work, suddenly, the importance of emotions at work was in focus. The reality was, sadly, that many managers still fail to understand the impact they have at an emotional level. Goleman’s research included a conclusion that out of the two – IQ (Intellectual Intelligence) and EQ (Emotional Intelligence), it’s EQ that is a more powerful predictor of success in a professional career.
The social self
The social self is all about the way we connect with other people. Partly, it is about our ability to create shared meanings with them, so that we understand each other. But it is much more than this – it is also about inspiring others, understanding them, and being able to control the impact we have on them. Some of this concerns mindsets towards others, some of it concerns empathy, and some of it is about communication skills.
Mindsets towards others
A mindset is a collection of learned thoughts, attitudes and beliefs that shape your interpretations and responses to events, circumstances, situations – and people. In fact, mindsets are useful. Once established, they make your life much easier – they simplify things for us so that we’re not overwhelmed with information and continuously having to puzzle out what to do. Simply put, they enable us to categorise our world and put things in boxes.
Previous organisations – and indeed some of today’s – had a very ‘inhuman’ mindset about their people; They were often thought of as ‘assets’ or even worse ‘costs’. In today’s world this can no longer be tolerated. Now that we are in the 21st century, we are increasingly reminded of the unconscious biases we hold towards others of different race, gender, or sexual preferences. At their core, these biases mean that we do not think of others being humans like us – but they are. We need to watch out for the temptation to dehumanise people with simplistic labels that don’t take into account real diversity.
The truth is that we all must be able to deal with people as we find them and being aware of a prejudicial mindset that you may hold is a first step towards better relationships with others. We hope our work with organisations will help change this so that the dominant mindset towards employees is one which recognises their individuality and humanity. The good news is that in the right circumstances, mindsets can quickly change, with remarkable consequences for our dealings with other people.
Empathy is about being able to ‘put yourself in the shoes’ of another person – to feel what they feel, in other words. As a result, empathic people can get behind the words and understand the personal meaning and emotional background to what is being said.
Much of this is down to being aware of the subtle, and quite involuntary cues that each of us sends out about the emotions we are experiencing. Here, we are talking about body language, facial expression and especially the fleeting cues that flit across our faces in a fraction of a second as we experience emotion. Try as you might, you cannot stop this happening.
You may be surprised to learn that we are all hard-wired to be empathic. Have you ever found yourself yawning when someone else does so? This obvious facial cue about their internal state is easily picked up, and as a result, we feel what they feel. When we see people who really ‘get’ each other together, they often subtly copy each other’s body language: posture, facial expressions for example. They will speak in a similar tone, intonation pattern, length of sentences, even subtly mirror each other’s accents. They have rapport, connection, which is of course at the heart of developing a positive and dynamic working culture as well as great customer experiences.
The familiar phrase ‘good communicator’ is probably one of the most unwieldy expressions in the English language. What does it all mean? It means being able to get people to understand you, it means being able to understand them. It also means being able to engage them in your ideas and pet projects, and to make them feel good as they do so.
Some people seem to have an effortless ability to connect with other people. They always seem to have time to talk, and they do so as an equal. They listen, they ask questions. They demonstrate respect.
Others may bully, may manipulate, and may in the process create angry, disengaged people, with no allegiance to them or the organisation. It has been said that people do not leave bad organisations, they leave bad managers. It is a good bet that the people they leave are largely unaware of the toxic effect their communication style has on others.
Back in the early eighties, a revolution in business began to take off. And Alan has certainly had a big hand in it. That revolution was coaching, a communication technique – and mindset shift – which had first been developed in the very different world of sport. Nowadays it is firmly embedded in the business world, and when it is understood and used well, it can have a striking impact on performance, engagement, and the atmosphere at work.
The deep self
This part of our psychological makeup is called the deep self because it lies deep within us. It is easiest to think of it as the Windows operating system on a computer, ticking away in the background. Until it goes wrong, we can safely ignore it. Yet without it, our human computer would simply not work.
In fact, much of the time our deep self never surfaces into consciousness. When however, we experience peace and the beauty of nature, we sometimes start to access a deeper sense of ‘me’. We sense our deeper self. We can practice a deeper sense of connection with ourselves and others in the present moment, but we need to create some stillness. Nicholas knows of a successful senior executive who shuts himself a way for 30 minutes in the middle of the day every day to practice mindful meditation. There are many research programmes that support the hypotheses that practicing in this way can have a transformative approach in how we experience life, deal with stress, and enhance our general wellbeing – mentally and physically.
Nicholas also uses a good metaphor for this deeper self in thinking of an ocean in a storm. On the surface, in our shallow self, the water is churning and frothing with the power of the force of the winds, whereas deep, deep, down below, the water remains still and calm. In many stressful and challenging situations, our deeper self remains calm and centred. The challenge, however, is we are not spending time with paying attention to this level of our consciousness. This can take specific practice and self-discipline to access on a daily basis.
There are three important constituent parts of the deep self. Each of these has a profound impact on how we understand and operate in our world.
Each of us depends on a whole raft of beliefs about ourselves, about others and the world we live in. In fact, some psychologists argue that these beliefs are what see as ‘reality’. Most importantly, we all hold beliefs about ourselves, many of which are disempowering. How often have you said to yourself “I could never…”? “I am no good at…”? And just like beliefs about the world, we seldom challenge these. We are happier to say, “that is just the way I am”. Well, that’s just not the case. You are what you believe yourself to be, and you just might not be entirely accurate.
The Scottish poet and thinker Rabbie Burns got it right when he said “O, wad some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us.” OK – it’s a bit archaic, and it’s certainly Scottish, but the meaning is clear – our own beliefs about ourselves are seldom accurate.
For many people, values are especially important and personal, and living life according to their values is fundamentally important to them. And yet, values are often difficult to understand, let alone talk about.
When we ask groups of people what values are important to them, they easily generate a list that usually includes words like trust, openness, honesty, integrity, respect, fairness, and so on. All very admirable. But when we ask the group to identify the behaviours that are associated with each value, it turns out that these words have a slightly different meaning for each person. Take honesty; what does this refer to? Is it simply about not taking other peoples’ property or could it also be about admitting a mistake or even telling someone what you really think of them? Are there perhaps times when honesty is not the best policy?
One useful starting point is to think of values as simply a set of behaviour codes which tell us how to behave in our dealings with people and the world we live and work in. Recently, I came across a set of letters which were displayed on posters throughout a car manufacturing company – IDWISIWD. Apparently meaningless at first glance – but what they stand for is ‘I do what I say I will do’. Here is example of a behaviour illustrating several ‘value’ words such as respect, trust, honesty, and integrity. This is something people can agree to do, and by keeping to that rule, change the climate in which they work. By bringing values to life like this, their workplace was becoming truly ‘values-driven’.
For years psychologists have struggled to understand what drives us to behave as we do. Hierarchies of needs have been created and lists of motivators have been identified but the reality is that none of this has really taken us much further forward. Some of the drivers that have been identified include the needs for power, security, and freedom; being part of a community, self-expression, or personal growth.
There has been recent research on the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic human motivation. Our ‘old school’ ways of treating motivation as being about carrot and stick – or extrinsic motivation – may simply not support the creation of the kind of empowered digital-hybrid work culture populated by diverse people we are building as we move forward. We will need highly conscious, engaged, purposeful and effective people who can work successfully in a building or at home through their own digital networks. Extrinsic rewards are the traditional methods for driving behaviour and rely on a person doing something in return for something from outside: a prize, money, loyalty discounts, promotion, material possessions etc. Daniel Pink has collected a body of research in his great book, Drive, that help us see that intrinsic motivators are much more effective and sustainable in creating high levels of drive such as autonomy, mastery and of course, a sense of purpose. Well worth a read if you want to learn more.
Pink also cites evidence that favouring extrinsic rewards as the primary motivator may even extinguish our intrinsic motivation and even crush our creativity, encourage shortcuts and even cheating and foster short-term thinking at the expense of longer-term considerations.
This is further evidence that as leaders we need to be connecting with the Deeper Self in people if we are to inspire them to be their best selves.
Reading Alan’s take on how humans are put together with our explanations and illustrations of the different aspects of the self leads us to an important conclusion.
Over the years, leaders have begun to learn something about their people and how to work with them. The practice of team building, cultivating emotional intelligence and the value of an open, growth-oriented mindset so well explored by American psychologist, Carol Dweck , coupled with the use of great coaching skills working at a deeper level of their humanity, or the heart and soul. In a modern digital world, this will get much better results than simply telling people what to do and rewarding them for doing it. Performing seals does come to mind.
However, there is still a real need for leaders to understand and work constructively with all their employees’ selves. This is in essence what driving a business with soul is all about and it simply requires a shift in where we focus our attention on as we begin this important journey.
Nicholas Brice is a Keynote Speaker/Facilitator (online and F2F), theatre maker (Bite-Size Plays®), coach and also CEO of Soul Corporations®. He has worked with international brand-culture programmes with brands such as American Express, British Airways, Unipart, Toyota, Sun International and Tottenham Hotspur FC and more.
He is co-author of the marketing text Brand Alchemy and author of The Mindful Communicator and The Business of Soul (to be published later in 2022/23).
Brand Alchemy: Developing Successful Brands from the Inside Out by Susanna Mitterer and Nicholas Brice (Blackhall Publishing Ltd, 2007) ISBN-10:1842181157; ISBN-13:978-1842181157