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The Art of Complaining

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We all have at least one friend or colleague who habitually loves to wallow. Nothing is ever right.  The world is out to get them, and their glass isn’t even half full, it’s empty (most likely because someone else has drunk it, just to annoy them). Spending time with them is draining. They are so wrapped up in their own issues that they barely notice what is going on with you. They give complaining a bad name.

Whilst there is significant evidence to show that endlessly ruminating on negative events can have a detrimental impact on our mental health and our success, not all complaining is bad for us. In fact, as Dr. Margot Basin, Psychology Professor who studies communication between friends at the Belgian university KU Leuven explains, complaining is a natural part of being human and if we complain in the right way, it can be a very effective way of dealing with stress and anxiety.

Complaining can also have a powerful bonding effect with our colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Finding areas of shared misery can help us realise that it’s not just us who is struggling and that in a way, we are all in it together. Just as we don’t want to spend time with a friend who only complains, we also don’t want to spend time with friends who present a perfect view of their lives and the world. It’s just not real and our unconscious brain will pick up the disparity, making us feel uncomfortable and impacting trust.

The Tyranny of Positive Thinking

World-famous relationships expert Esther Perel draws our attention to the tyranny of positive thinking in her talk on the Joy of Complaining. When we have a culture where complaining is not allowed, a range of feelings will be suppressed or silenced and can end up festering and growing in intensity. If only positivity is allowed, it will be false, and people can easily feel undervalued and insignificant.

Dr. Kowalski professor of psychology at Clemson University points out that the unrealistic expectation that we should always feel happy, can make us feel like a failure when we already feel bad about ourselves – a double whammy.

To enable a balance in our lives, with healthy emotional awareness and expression, there has to be a place for complaining. It’s all about the nature of our complaining, the timing, and how it is responded to.

Why does complaining feel so good?

Complaining is a vital way for us to express how we feel, especially when life throws us challenges or doesn’t live up to our expectations. Putting our feelings into words – known as labeling – is an important stress response and lowers the brain’s threat level.

Even if the only person that we have to complain to is ourselves, just acknowledging the complaint can have a beneficial effect.  A heartfelt ‘that’s been a rubbish (or choose your own description) day’ on the way home from work can help us to move on from it and recover during the evening.

Generally, we feel sad when we feel we have experienced a loss, anger when we feel our territory has been encroached up and anxiety when we feel under threat.

If we are not allowed to acknowledge these feelings, even to our self, it is hard to move onto the solution finding phase. Dr. Kowalski also points out that without acknowledging the difficulty of a situation or our feelings about it, it can be difficult to get to the root of the problem.

Research shows that being able to acknowledge difficult feelings has benefits for our mental health.  Accepting difficult emotions rather than suppressing or avoiding them, improves our ability to deal with stress.

Of course, it is very important to remember the impact that our actions are having on others. We need to be aware of when our complaining is negatively affecting others. Complaining to a loved one, someone you manage or to your child, about their actions can have a negative impact on their mental health, your relationship and will often not lead to the outcome you desire.

Complaining is not a useful tool for changing the behaviour of others. Asking others to complete a positive action “it would be great if you could pick your underwear off the floor” works much better than “why do you always leave your underwear lying on the floor!!”.

6 Features of Constructive Complaining

So how can we complain in the right way so that it doesn’t lead to endless ruminating, whining or blaming?

  1. Label it – Become aware that you are doing it and name the action and crucially the feeling ‘I’m just venting because I feel …’
  2. Limited it – Make it time-limited. Unless we give ourselves a time limit, we might just keep going, gathering other historic injustices as we go along.
  3. Frequency – Notice often you are complaining. Are complaints the only thing that you talk to others about, is if forming part of your identity?
  4. Purpose – Understanding that the purpose of the complaining is to acknowledge feelings so that you can move on to solutions, enables you to stop going around and around in circles.
  5. Don’t Dominate – Allow others a space to complain in conversation, don’t keep bringing it back to yourself, as they will stop listening. Notice how your complaints are impacting others. Ask questions about how they are getting on, acknowledge what they are telling you without jumping to offering solutions. People often just want to feel heard and understood.
  6. Journal it – a highly effective way to get things off your chest is to write about them. The simple act of writing down your feelings about a difficult experience immediately lowers feelings of stress and anxiety. Then allow yourself to let it go.

As with any skill, the more that you become aware of using these steps, the better you will get at them.  You will find that it will take less time to go from complaining to perspective followed by solutions or acceptance.

Happy venting!

Leading Through Uncertainty

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How CALM Leadership is Key to Navigating Uncharted Paths

No-one needs reminded that with the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic, these are unprecedented times. Amidst this, the business world continues to turn very quickly and leaders do not have the luxury of time to devise a sophisticated strategy to help their workforce adapt, manage uncertainty and remain motivated and engaged.

Whilst there many be many questions still to be answered, there are a number of key things that leaders and managers can do that will make a huge difference in leading teams through times of challenge.

I have pulled these elements together into a model called CALM. This article also includes key messages from Leaders and CEOs from around the world published in Real Leaders Magazine on how best to lead teams through these unique times.

Uncertainty and Change

The human brain does not like uncertainty, and these are very uncertain times.

Uncertainty puts the brain into a threat state where we find it hard to think logically, creatively or relax and restore our energy. Coupled with that, the brain also does not like change. Although we all have different tolerance levels to change, even the most adaptive of individuals need to expend extra energy getting used to new environments, conditions or thought patterns.

Workers are currently having to adapt to unprecedented levels of uncertainty and change both in their jobs and their personal lives. Juggling work and home-schooling children, worrying about or responding to the vulnerable in our family networks and society or struggling to keep businesses afloat, the challenges are certainly very real.

Whilst in our modern world, our lives and working conditions are extremely diverse, it is helpful to remember that as humans, we have three universal psychological needs – Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness. We need a sense of control in our own lives, the skills to face challenges and healthy relationships to provide meaning and support.

With the understanding that the workforce may be in a threat state, strong leadership has never been more important. To that end, my CALM model – Communication, Authenticity, Listening and Motivation – will hopefully provide a quick reminder of the key elements of strong and containing leadership.

1. Communication

Probably the most important element of this model, carefully considered communication is vital. In the early days of significant change, more frequent communication is needed.

Being visible is extremely important, especially if your workforce are working remotely.

Chris Hirst Global CEO of Havas Creative explains;

Distance Working can quickly become disorientating, your teams will want to see you and feel regular emotional reassurance and get practical direction.’

Communication about where to find support to learn skills necessary for a new way of working is essential and will meet the core psychological need of competence. I am a firm believer that confidence comes from competence and this is in part why humans find change difficult. When we feel competent, we feel that we have some control in our lives, which takes our brains out of threat state.

Chris Hirst points out the importance of ensuring that, even with remote working and social distancing, employees have the opportunity to socialise. With so much research pointing to the essential bonding role ‘water cooler conversations’ have in high performing cultures, building in opportunities for general chat is very important.

Hirst states;

“Working in an office is about more than sitting in meetings: it’s chatting, socialising, pub-quizzes, Pilates, laughing and making friends. Don’t forget to find ways to do some of this remotely – technology makes it easier than ever.”

Kevin Crawford, Coach and Former Fire Chief, describes how leaders need to use communication that expresses both understanding and confidence

Extraordinary leaders need to be the “Comforter and Chief” to give great hope, and have a steady hand to keep responses appropriate.”

Lastly, communicating gratitude to the team is very important. Feeling recognised for our achievements or efforts creates engagement.

Adrain Gostick CEO of The Culture Works explains;

“In stressful times, we are often not conscious enough of all the many people who are helping us. When we are more aware and more thankful, our teams will be more engaged, focused, and productive.”

2. Authenticity

CEO and author Michael Brody-Waite urges leaders to “practice rigorous authenticity” stating “Be real with your team and go first by sharing what your fears are during this time, instead of pretending you have it all figured out or have all the answers.”

Leaders who understand that being strong means being able to accept that they are human, and who show this human side to the people that they are leading, will strengthen organisational bonds, so important for resilient work cultures. This strength in vulnerability builds relatedness in organisation, giving people permission to voice their own concerns.

Honesty is the cornerstone of Authentic Leadership. Be honest about what you know and what you don’t. People will easily pick up if they believe information is being kept from them, making them feel anxious. Even if it is bad news, be honest.

Debra Benton president of Benton Management Resources explains “Be honest to establish the true reputation of being honest because leaders do well with truthful information flow (virtual or in person).”

Authenticity in leadership means also knowing yourself well and knowing when you need help or to take a break. Although we remain hopeful, the ramifications of COVID-19 are likely to be felt throughout 2020 and beyond. If leaders are to remain resilient over this period, self-care is not a luxury but an essential element of the battle plan. The four pillars of eat, sleep, move and connect have never been more important. Self-care also includes having people around you that you can trust that you can open up to, seek counsel and offload to.

3. Listening

Sachin Gupta CEO of Hacker Earth understands the importance of listening with empathy

Working remotely, combined with the fear of infection can be psychologically draining. It’s super important for leadership to show empathy in times like this.”

All too quickly we can jump to trying to help people find solutions. Apart from the fact that currently some problems cannot be easily solved, it is a much-underrated truth that truly listening to someone is a solution in itself.

Emotionally Intelligent Leaders understand this and in return get support and loyalty from their teams. Even two or three minutes of undivided attention can be all that it takes to help people feel heard.

With large work forces, this is not always easy, however if leaders listen to managers and they listen to those they manage, a positive cascading effect is created. Companies that can create a listening culture with their workforce, will be building autonomy and relatedness.

Listening carefully to the perspectives of the employees could also provide vital pieces of information that add to insight and enhance the overall strategy. Often it is those on the ground, doing the job, that are best able to flag up issues and indeed, see solutions. If a team comes up with solution themselves they far more likely to adapt to change, building autonomy and competence.



4. Motivation 

Keeping teams motivated and productive is the fourth part of the jigsaw. We cannot allow this current situation to impact our ability to remain focused on outcomes. Some people will respond to change or uncertainty by becoming demotivated and feeling hopeless. To keep our moods from taking a dip, we need to focus on what we can achieve, enhancing overall levels of autonomy and competence.

In the midst of uncertainty, leaders who enable their teams to set short term achievable goals, will maintain a vital sense of progress. Small wins, even if they are not the usual wins, provide vital bursts of dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter, keeping people feeling motivated and upbeat. Marking these small wins, even if it is a quick email at the end of the day noting the successes of that day, will have a marked impact on overall mood.

Chris Hirst explains;

“The military know this well – whatever is happening their teams are always active: working, doing, thinking, learning, socialising and innovating. A good leader keeps the team on the move (even if virtually)”.

Karla Jo Helms, CEO of JoTo PR Disruptors also focused on the importance of keeping busy; “We don’t use the crisis to sit back and wait to be told what to do, we use it to proactively take action and keep our people industrious and helping others.” 

Lastly, motivation comes from reminding teams of the ‘why’ of their work. Work imbued with true meaning turns a job into a vocation. Reminding teams that their efforts are integral for the good of others or the survival of the business, can be enough to provide meaning based on our need for relatedness.

Humans are designed to work together in groups to overcome adversity. Although this may be in a different form in the weeks and months ahead, remembering the core psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness, and applying the CALM model will give leaders a map to navigate through these uncertain times.

Catherine McIntosh is the founder of STRIVE & THRIVE CONSULTING.  She is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer on Performance and Resilience for Teams.  Strive & Thrive provide a range of programmes Building Peak Performance and Resilience for Teams.
The Thrive Wellbeing Workshop is specifically designed to be delivered to individuals & teams, teaching easy ways to make lasting changes to health and wellbeing.  Contact us:

Think Yourself Lucky – 4 Steps to Learned Optimism

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There are some people who always look on the bright side of life and because of this, the bright side of life shines on them. People who are optimistic see solutions and opportunities everywhere and are more confident about their ability to be successful. Through optimistic thinking, they create a positive upward spiral, gaining more and more momentum.

But who are these people, are they for real and can anyone learn to be optimistic?

Are We Born Optimistic?

As we learn more about genetics, we have a better understanding of the diversity of the human race in terms of our chemistry and how this impacts our mood and our thinking. Scientists have found that some people are born with naturally higher levels of serotonin – the happiness/contentment chemical – and that these people, termed the ‘Dandelions’ will be more able ‘grow and flourish’ even in harsh environments.

But even dandelions are vulnerable. Certain circumstances, for example working in a high stressed state over prolonged periods of time, without proper recovery, can deplete serotonin levels, leaving the dandelions feeling depressed and burnt out.

Although our brain chemistry can make being optimistic come more naturally to us, the way that we have been taught to think about problems and opportunity is just as crucial.

Chin Up

Does thinking positively make us more optimistic and therefore attract more success?

It’s not really that simple. When we face a challenge, a threat or a disappointment, we will have a natural emotional reaction in our bodies and in our brains. Often people will deal with these by trying to suppress the feeling – inhibition – so that we don’t become unregulated – wailing, sobbing, shouting or fighting, are generally frowned upon in public.

But when we inhibit feelings, they don’t go away, they intensify.

What’s more, our feelings can be unconsciously communicated to those around us – they don’t know what’s wrong but they feel uneasy.

When we ignore or try to tell ourselves that everything will be alright, our brain goes into a threat state as it detects that this is not an accurate appraisal of the situation and we end up feeling worse.

So what do optimistic people do differently when they encounter a bump in the road?

It’s all about how we view ourselves and the world. When they face a challenge or a setback, pessimistic people see the problem as being:

  1. Personal to them – “It’s all my fault” or “there I go again, messing everything up” or “that’s just my luck, things always go wrong for me”.
  2. Permanent – “this problem is going to last forever” or “things are never going to get better”.
  3. Pervasive – “this is going to effect everything else in my life” “I will be a failure in everything I do” “What is the point in trying something else?”

Can we change our thinking and become more optimistic? Luckily the answer is Yes!

1. Name of Feeling

Labelling a difficult emotion – ‘there’s the disappointed feeling’ – immediately brings the brain from a threat state into a logically thinking state, where we can put the issue into perspective.

2. Is Personal?

Optimistic people don’t take failure and setbacks personally and allow them to define their characters. They say to themselves “everyone makes mistakes” and “you tried your best” or “these things happen”. Self talk is a powerful way of shifting thinking.

3. Is it Permanent?

Seeing a setback or difficult event as temporary, is a key feature of optimistic thinking. Reflecting back and understanding that things generally get better or that we generally feel better over time is key in being able move on more quickly.

4. Is it Pervasive?

People who think optimistically, see setbacks as being isolated to one part of their lives. They have good boundaries and do not allow negativity to spread into their other endeavours.

The wonderful thing is, when we are optimistic we feel physically and mentally better. We see good things in our lives as being permanent – will last for a long time, personal – because of our actions and pervasive – have a knock-on positive impact on everything else in our lives.

Just like training our muscles, we can train our brains to be stronger, calmer and more optimistic, priming us to take full advantage of all the wonderful opportunities out there.

Catherine McIntosh is the founder of STRIVE & THRIVE CONSULTING.  She is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer on Performance and Resilience for Teams.  Strive & Thrive provide a range of programmes Building Peak Performance and Resilience for Teams.
The Chemistry of Calm Workshop is specifically designed to be delivered to teams, teaching easy ways to make lasting changes to health and wellbeing.  Contact us:

Reach Your Goals through the Power of the Tribe

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It is estimated that only 3% of the world’s population regularly set goals for their personal development or wellbeing.  Of that 3%, many people struggle to stay motivated over time and fail to reach the goals that would make a real difference to the quality of their lives. It is easy to respond by blaming ourselves – we are weak, we have no willpower, we overestimated our own abilities.

Luckily there is now a huge amount of science behind how to stay motivated and achieve the goals that we set for ourselves.

Behavioural Psychologist Dr Sean Young in his book ‘Stick with It – The Science of Lasting Behaviour’, explains that one of the most fundamental keys to success is the power of a supportive community to help us not only stick to our goals, but achieve things we never thought possible. The power of the group can motivate us, inspire us and even help us tolerate pain and suffering. But how does this work?

Humans are inherently social creatures and being part of a high functioning group has been central to the evolution of our species. In our evolutionary history, we simply would not have survived on our own.  We needed to work as a group for protection, shelter and to hunt and gather. Isolation or expulsion from the group would have been a life-threatening event. In fact, experiments have shown that feeling left out or rejected activates areas of our brain associated with physical pain.

What difference does being part of a high performing group make in helping us achieve our goals?

An experiment carried out by Cohen et al (2010) gives us fascinating insights into the power of the group.  Twelve male athletes from two of the elite Oxford University Rowing Teams completed a series of trials over a two-week period.  The experiment was designed to measure the amount of endorphins produced by individual and group training activities. Endorphins are opioids which are the body’s natural pain killers, often associated with an exercised induced high.

The athletes carried out sessions rowing individually on a rowing machine and rowing as part of a synchronised group.  The results showed a massive increased 50% ability for the athletes to tolerate pain when rowing as a part of a group.

I have experienced this affect first-hand through my running training. In addition to the endorphine release, the impact of serotonin – the happiness chemical and oxytocin – the bonding chemical, can make what would be a gruelling training session on my own, a brilliant experience with my group – one that I want to repeat over and over.

The power of the group does not end there. Synchronised activity, including singing and walking, has been shown to enhance cooperativeness, generosity and a greater willingness to behave altruistically towards others in the group. In addition, the activity generated endorphin release is thought to play a very important part in social bonding.

How to Use the Power of the Group to Reach Goals

  1. Join a group of like minded people who are trying to achieve similar goals
  2. Tell your friends and family what you are trying to achieve and benefit from their understanding and moral support
  3. Find an accountability partner who will keep you motivated and accountable when you feel like giving up
  4. Spend time with other high achievers who will motivate and inspire you.

Whatever goals you have set for yourself, surround yourself with the power of a supportive tribe and you will be amazed what you can achieve!

Catherine McIntosh is the founder of STRIVE & THRIVE CONSULTING.  She is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer on Performance and Resilience for Teams.  Strive & Thrive provide a range of programmes Building Peak Performance and Resilience for Teams.
The Thrive Wellbeing Workshop is specifically designed to be delivered to individuals & teams, teaching easy ways to make lasting changes to health and wellbeing.  Contact us:

The Chemistry of Self Motivation

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It’s that time of year again when we are naturally drawn towards re-evaluating our lives and setting goals for the year ahead. This year is particularly special, with the dawn of a shiny new decade inviting us to step out and step up and achieve great new things.

However, with so many of us giving up on New Years resolution before we even reach the end of January, what can we do differently this year to ensure that we gain, build and maintain progress towards our goals?

Whether you would love to run a marathon, build on the success of your business or gain a sense of peace and order in your life, all change requires motivation to keep you going well past the point when others have faded and lost their way.

Motivation is the fuel to our actions, pushing us forward towards our goals and if we want to build what I call ‘Motivation Momentum’ we need to turn to our basic chemistry to help us along.

The two main systems that are involved in motivation in our brains, are the Reward System and the Threat System and both are equally powerful in helping build and maintain motivation.

To help us develop a recipe for success, we need to understand and harness the power of the neurotransmitters linked to these two systems – Dopamine for reward and Adrenaline for threat.


Dopamine is well known as the reward neurotransmitter. We get a burst of dopamine when we anticipate completing a task, when we complete it and when we reflect back on what we have achieved. It is this good feeling that will make completing things – like going to the gym or making that difficult call – pleasurable. Our brains are designed to be drawn towards reward.

If we are consciously aware of the impact of dopamine, we can use it to our advantage. People who have made exercise habitual have a deep understanding that, even if they don’t feel pleasure at the time, completion of a run or a workout provides a great sense of satisfaction (and a range of endorphins) after.

That is the reward.

Keeping a journal or chart that maps progress is a great way to increase the dopamine in our systems – reflection on what we achieved gives us an addition boost of the feel-good chemical – pushing us to repeat this behaviour again and again.

On the days, when we feel that we have achieved very little, spending a couple of minutes listing what we did manage to do amid the chaos, produces some dopamine, which will in turn improve our mood and our motivation.

Ways to Use Dopamine for Motivation

1.    Remind yourself how good you will feel after the task is completed – see if as a gift to yourself – to get a little ‘anticipation dopamine’.

2.    Break big goals into tiny steps and congratulate yourself once each step is completed – ‘reward dopamine’.

3.    Have chart on the wall or in a journal, monitoring progress, so that you can bask in your achievement – gaining a little ‘reflective dopamine‘.

4.    Keep a visual reminder of what your goal is, so that you are constantly reminding your brain of the major reward that you are heading towards.


Just as we are drawn towards reward, our brains are designed to avoid threat. Adrenaline is triggered in our systems when we feel that a threat is imminent. If we view the behaviour that we need to undertake to reach our goals – completing a workout, cutting out sugar, getting up at 5am to write for an hour – as a threat, our bodies will produce adrenaline and we will be inclined to avoid the behaviour. Adrenaline will convince us to move away from the ‘threat’.

However, if we re-frame the desired behaviour as a ‘gift’ and the behaviour we want to move away from as the ‘threat’ we can use the power of Adrenaline to our advantage.

When starting his own business, my husband focused just as clearly on what he no longer wanted to do to harness the power of Adrenaline. He needed to make the business work so that did not have to go back to his old job – wasting three hours a day in a frustrating commute only to sit in front of a computer crunching numbers. This was wanted he wanted to avoid and so when the going got tough, he reminded himself of this regularly to give him an Adrenaline boost – honing his actions and his thinking – driving him away from the undesirable situation towards his goals.

Adrenaline focuses our thinking and provides us with the energy that we need to move away from something undesirable. Too much fear and we can become avoidant or frozen, so it is important that we get the right amount. Here’s how we can use a little bit of fear to propel us towards our goals.

Ways to Use Adrenaline for Motivation

1.    Think clearly about what you no longer want. Visualise how you will feel if you do not make the changes that you need to make your life better.

2.    Think about the consequences of not taking action. Will no action lead to continued stress, health problems, financial difficulties or negative consequence for those that we care about or are responsible to? What is the cost of no action?

3.    Find an accountability partner – someone that you can trust to not let you off the hook – to help you stay on track when you feel like giving up.

4.    If you’re feeling brave enough, make your goals public. The knowledge that others are watching might be enough to motivate you when you lose sight of the reward.

Like a steam train leaving the station – slow at first and but steadily building speed – with the right amounts, Dopamine and Adrenaline provide powerful fuel that can help you become an unstoppable force.

And remember, if you have a lapse – which of course happens to everyone – and find yourself getting off the motivation steam train, just take a break at the station and jump right on board the next train, using reward and a little dose of fear to propel you towards your goals!

Catherine McIntosh is the founder of STRIVE & THRIVE CONSULTING.  She is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer on Performance and Resilience for Teams.  Strive & Thrive provide a range of programmes Building Peak Performance and Resilience for Teams.
The Thrive Wellbeing Workshop is specifically designed to be delivered to individuals & teams, teaching easy ways to make lasting changes to health and wellbeing.  Contact us:

How High Performing Leaders Motivate Teams

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Imagine the force of a group of highly engaged focused people, working together towards a common goal.  Imagine the innovative possibilities of a deeply creative and collaborative team.  Imagine the powerful outcomes that could be achieved by people driven every day, to work to the best of their abilities, for the common good of the company. 

Sounds like magic doesn’t it?

Businesses have long struggled with how to motivate teams to perform at a consistently high level.  Often the traditional strategies of reward and punishment – ‘the carrot and stick approach’ – are wheeled out to improve performance, ranging from financial incentives at one end of the spectrum to scorecard-type name and shame techniques at the other.

But what really works when it comes to motivating teams?

The worlds of Performance Psychology and Sports Psychology provide powerful insights into what High Performing Leaders do differently to motivate their teams.

1. Use the ‘WHY’ as the Driving Force

Finding a way to bring meaning into the life of the team is the first element of motivation.  Individual and team motivation always starts with the ‘WHY’.  The team leader must be able to clearly outline not only what the goals are, but WHY a team should work hard everyday to achieve these goals.

Often businesses can become very focused on the HOW, missing out on the power that can be generated with a meaningful WHY.

The WHY can be closely aligned to company values.  It should be one short phrase, powerful, meaningful and memorable to individual teams, in businesses of all sizes.

This is easier in some business areas than others.  When teams produce a service or a product which will enhance the lives of the users, the WHY can be straightforward.

For other areas of business, it can be harder to uncover a meaningful WHY, however it is always there if you look hard enough.  If the focus of the team is compliance – the WHY might be ‘We work hard to keep the company safe’. Or ‘We’re proud to produce a high-quality service’.

Although the leader of a team can steer it towards a WHY, ideally it needs to come from the team to ensure ownership.  It cannot be imposed.  Allowing the team space to come to a consensus about their own WHY is very important.

Put it up on the wall.

A visible WHY prompt is a guiding light amid the multitude of micro-tasks that together make up the big picture.  A leader who can passionately communicate to the team that their work is valued because each individual is part of a powerful WHY, truly understands the foundation of motivation.

2. Provide Ownership

Ownership activates very primitive parts of the brain linked to beliefs about our abilities and control over our lives.

Some leaders, out of anxiety or lack of awareness, find themselves holding too much control over projects and decisions.  Team members are much more motivated to work hard and do a good job if they are given autonomy over tasks and goals.  We generally tend to look after things that we own and take pride in their progress.  High Performing Leaders, taking what is described as an ‘Autonomy Support Approach’, strongly communicate confidence in their teams.

 Having control and ownership in work is one of the most powerful motivators.

3. Value all Roles

A well-oiled machine won’t work without all its parts, no matter how small.  Companies who ensure that every member of staff understands that they play a vital role in the path of success, appreciate how to motivate through a shared identity and pride.

I recently spoke to two middle managers who were employed by a global corporate bank.  Whilst on competitive salaries, they were disillusioned, and were looking to move jobs to a smaller business.  They were willing to take a pay cut, attracted by the ‘family feel’ of a smaller team.

‘The company is just too big.  Its hard to see what difference we are making daily’.

Her colleague agreed;

‘I never leave work at the end of the day with the satisfaction that I have produced something of meaning.  I feel like a small cog in a very big wheel’.

High Performing Leaders emphasise the importance of all roles, creating a culture where individuals feel valued and respected and motivated to do their best.

4. Take Time to Build Relationships

Team leaders who spend time getting to know their team get real results in terms of performance. Genuine interest in team members as people, not just employees, forges strong working relationships.

A significant amount of time is spent in work, and it is important that team members feel that they are recognised and valued. Spending a small amount of time regularly talking to people on our teams will pay off tenfold.  Being curious and remembering details about what is important to employees is another key feature of high performing leaders.

Creating a culture where people are encouraged to speak to each other and look out for each other, even if they don’t always agree, is very important.  Add to that a leader who is willing to show their own vulnerability – acknowledging when they don’t know what to do or that they are finding a particular task challenging, and you have a culture where members get behind shared goals.

Personal trust and positive relationships are powerful motivators.  Leaders who ask the opinion of their team members build respect and loyalty.  Leaders who don’t sugar coat the truth, even if it is difficult news, are more likely to be trusted.

When teams trust their leader, they feel safe and they are not defensive.  They are more willing to take risks, give their opinion, listen to the opinion of others and respond more positively to change and constructive criticism.

5. Celebrate Success

Our brains are hard wired to be reward seeking.  Leaders who understand how to harness the powerful effects of Dopamine, really appreciate what fuels motivation.  Dopamine is the feel-good reward chemical that is released when we achieve something that we set out to do.

Breaking large goals into small steps, that can be achieved quickly, is an important strategy behind keeping people motivated.  If we make our steps explicit, every time we achieve one, we get a small dose of Dopamine and feel good. And the brilliant thing is, reflecting on what we have achieved, after the event, will give us another small dose of lovely Dopamine.

High Performing Leaders understand this.  They don’t wait for a yearly review to tell an employee they have done a good job.  Briefly noticing and commenting on effort and achievement on a regular basis, provides the team members with regular small doses of dopamine, fuelling motivation.

The positive difference that a motivating leader can make to the performance of a team is significant.  For some, these approaches come naturally, for others they require a conscious effort, however for all the benefits are worth the effort.

Catherine McIntosh is the founder of STRIVE & THRIVE CONSULTING.  She is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer on Performance and Resilience for Teams.  Strive & Thrive provide a range of programmes Building Peak Performance and Resilience for Teams.
The High Performance Leadership Workshop is specifically designed to be delivered to teams, teaching easy ways to make lasting changes to health and wellbeing.  Contact us:

Why Mindset Matters

By | Blog Posts

Carol Dweck, world expert on Mindset, interviewed workers from America’s top fortune 500 companies.  Through a series of questions, designed to determine Mindset, Dweck found that the feedback from employees were consistent within each company, meaning that they were either a Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset company. 

What’s important is that Dweck discovered that the Growth Mindset Companies, were also the most successful companies.

When she delved deeper, Dweck found that the Growth Mindset Companies scored higher for innovation, creativity, risk-taking and agility. So, what is Mindset and what characterises a Growth Mindset Company?

What is Mindset?

Carol Dweck describes mindset as ‘the self-conceptions (or mindsets) people use to structure the self and guide their behaviour.’  She classifies mindset as being either Fixed or Growth – explaining:

‘In a fixed mindset student believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.

In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

Where a person with a Fixed Mindset might be more likely to be rigid in their thought patterns and give up at the first sign of challenge, a person with a Growth Mindset is motivated by competence, mastery and views failure as an opportunity for learning and growth.

Mindset is linked strongly with motivation – people with a Growth Mindset are motivated to find solutions, try new things and persist in the face of challenge.

What is a Growth Mindset Company?

Growth Mindset companies have a culture of continuous learning and growth for all its employees, not just the chosen few.  Employees are encouraged to take risks and learn from their mistakes.  Failure is viewed as an essential step on the road to innovation.  Hard work, endeavour and perseverance in the face of setbacks are valued over perceived talent or genius. Growth Mindset Managers in Growth Mindset companies see the potential in all and support their employees to continuously progress and improve.

What are the benefits of fostering a growth mindset culture in your company?

  1. Loyalty

Employees have greater trust in the company.  When people trust, they feel safe.  When they feel safe, they perform better.  They rise to challenge, take more (appropriate) risks and respond productively to feedback.  Dweck found that in these environments, employees communicated a strong sense of loyalty to the company meaning that they were willing to work hard for the shared goals and vision.

2. Retention

Growth Mindset Companies also have better staff retention. Employees demonstrate a greater commitment to staying with the company for the long term.  Given the financial and intellectual costs of high staff turnover, developing a Growth Mindset will pay off in retaining a company’s most valuable asset. Growth Mindset Companies are more likely to invest in professional development for staff which is key factor in retention.

3. Commitment

Dweck found that employees in Growth Mindset Companies expressed more commitment to their teams and were more willing to go the extra mile when needed.  Simply put, they work harder for longer because they believe that they play an active part in the success of the business.

4. Innovation and Creativity

Being more ready to take appropriate risks, try out new ideas and think differently, are all linked to having a Growth Mindset.  In cultures where people feel safe – where failure is seen as an essential step towards success – there are higher levels of innovation and creativity.

5. Resilience

Growth Mindset Companies have higher levels of Resilience.  Having a resilient workforce brings three main benefits for companies.  People are more able to bounce back after setbacks, sustain effort during difficult periods and learn from challenges to enhance growth.  Dweck found that in the Growth Mindset Companies, employees were much more able to reflect on challenges, failure and setbacks and extract lessons which enhanced future performance.

6. Collaboration

Another important feature of Growth Mindset Companies is an enhanced level of collaboration between individuals, teams and departments.  In a culture of curiosity and learning, employees are less defensive and more able to see others as a source of support rather than competition. Rather than feeling threatened, employees find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

7. Motivation

Finally, fostering a Growth Mindset in companies, has a positive impact on motivation on all levels.  People feel that they have control over their own learning, development and progress.  A sense of control is an essential condition of motivation.  What’s more, when staff feel their contribution is important and valued, they will be more motivated to work hard for the success of the company.

A Growth Mindset Company has threads of curiosity, openness and a passion for learning through challenge, woven into its very fabric. If truly adopted into a company’s culture and belief system, a growth mindset is a recipe for success.

Catherine McIntosh is the founder of STRIVE & THRIVE CONSULTING.  She is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer on Performance and Resilience for Teams.  Strive & Thrive provide a range of programmes Building Peak Performance and Resilience for Teams.
The Mindset Matters Workshop is specifically designed to be delivered to teams, teaching easy ways to make lasting changes to health and wellbeing.  Contact us:

The Key to Your Success is the Wellbeing of Your Team

By | Blog Posts
Every successful business understands that their most valuable asset is their team.  Focusing on the wellbeing of staff is vital in giving businesses the edge in a competitive world.  To remain at the top of their game, team members need to be able to be present, calm, focused and resilient.  They need to be able to thrive under pressure without becoming overwhelmed.  Having a strong focus on wellbeing can build these core skills for healthier individuals and teams.

Weaving a real commitment to wellbeing into the fabric of a business has numerous benefits:

  1. Boost Productivity

A study published in Science Direct* illustrated that companies who valued wellbeing and productivity equally were more successful. This finding was backed up by the recent ‘Human Capital Trends’ study (2019)** carried out by Deloitte, which evidenced that companies outperformed their competitors because their staff felt valued and supported.

2. Increase Collaboration and Creativity

Collaboration and creativity are key components in an ever-evolving business landscape.  When we are healthier and feeling calm, we work better with others.  Feeling stressed can make us defensive and entrenched in old ideas, seeking refuge in the familiar.  If we feel less defensive, it is easier to see someone else’s point of view. With improved health, we have more energy for new ideas and find it easier look at problems from different angles.

change and transitions are much easier to manage when we are experiencing increased levels of Optimism and Vitality – natural products of wellbeing


3. Attract the Right People

Whilst important, it turns out that salary isn’t always the top priority for employees. Having a positive working culture, a focus on opportunities for professional development and flexibility of working conditions, all rate highly when potential employees are making choices of what businesses to join.  Employees are now more conscious of the value of having a good quality of life. A company that can evidence a real working commitment to staff Wellbeing, will be more likely to attract the right people.

4. Retain the Right People

Making a real commitment to the Wellbeing of staff is no longer an optional extra.  It plays a significant part in what businesses can offer their employees.  There is no doubt that when individuals feel valued, they are more engaged and willing to go that extra mile for their teams.  Feeling valued and having control over day to day tasks are directly linked with motivation and retention.

placing the wellbeing of staff high on their list of priorities, gives businesses the competitive edge in retaining quality people


5. Healthy Responses to Stress and Pressure

Work and life in general can be stressful and busy, and it’s not showing any sign of slowing down.  It comes as no surprise that, according to the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (2017), people who feel stressed in their jobs are less likely to stay.  To make matters worse, the study also indicates that people who are stressed are more likely to make choices that do not benefit their health and wellbeing – poor eating habits and less exercise.  In addition, stressed employees report poorer sleep habits with only half of highly-stressed employees (50 per cent) enjoying a healthy seven hours’ sleep a night compared with 80 per cent of less stressed colleagues.  These factors, over time, will have a negative impact on performance.

The irony is that we need a certain amount of stress and pressure to succeed. It is how we view and respond to stress that make the difference.   Learning about stress, how it impacts us, how we can respond in a healthy way and how we can protect our long-term health and wellbeing, are powerful tools for businesses to integrate into their strategies.

when it comes to stress

Knowledge is Power


6. Reduce Absenteeism

The cost of health or stress related employee absence is becoming a growing drain for businesses of all sizes.  The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) Absence Management Survey 2016 found that the average number of working days lost to sickness per employee, per year sits at 6.3.  For some high-pressure roles, this is much higher. The knock-on effect on colleagues from filling the gap and taking on extra work and of employing cover for long term absences can be a further drain. Not to mention the impact on client relationships and the reputational damage of delivery drift.

improved physical and mental wellbeing has a positive impact on levels of staff presenteeism


Most businesses now have a Wellbeing Promise as part of their staff offer, however for it to really have the positive impact required, it must be practical and meaningful.  Improving the Wellbeing of staff is easier said than done.  Providing better work environments, encouraging healthy eating, regular exercise and permission for flexible working arrangements, can go a long way.

However, to make a real difference, hearts and minds need to be changed.  Building on small incremental changes, individuals and teams can achieve powerful momentum in their health and wellbeing.

Wellbeing programmes need to work with the employee from where they are, to ensure meaningful engagement. Ranging from something as simple as helping staff to understand the performance enhancing benefits of a good night’s sleep, to using up to date learning about Physical Intelligence to help individuals perform in high stress situations.

Seeds need to be planted in the right way for sustainable change so that the commitment to Wellbeing runs far deeper than a surface level.  Building on small incremental changes, individuals and teams can achieve powerful momentum in their health and wellbeing, creating a recipe for success for thriving businesses.

Catherine McIntosh is the founder of STRIVE & THRIVE CONSULTING.  She is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer on Performance and Resilience for Teams.  Strive & Thrive provide a range of programmes Building Peak Performance and Resilience for Teams.
The Thrive Wellbeing Workshop is specifically designed to be delivered to teams, teaching easy ways to make lasting changes to health and wellbeing.  Contact us:

When it Comes to Stress, Knowledge is Power

By | Blog Posts

There is no doubt that modern life can be stressful.  Pressure can come at us from all quarters.  Increasing demands from work and home can make us feel that we are constantly at bursting point.  Add to that the impact of technology – the risk that we are always online, plugged in and available – and we can be left feeling that stress is controlling us rather than the other way around.

We put significant resources into developing our careers, but we don’t spend enough time learning how to keep ourselves healthy and performing mentally and physically at a high level.

Luckily, we now have a much greater understanding of how stress works, how we can alleviate its impact and how we can actually use stress to thrive.

Impact of Stress

Not all stress is negative.  We need a little stress at the right level to help us perform, achieve and act when needed.  However, if the stress that we are experiencing is too high, constant, and with no recovery in between episodes, it can have a negative impact on all areas of our lives.

Stress clouds our brain, making it hard to recall information and make rational decisions.  It raises our heart rate, making us feel on edge and anxious.  Some people eat more when they are stressed, others don’t eat enough.  Stress impacts our sleep and our ability to respond in an attuned way to those around us.

Left unchecked, longer-term chronic stress can have a much more serious impact on our lives.  Chronic stress is linked to a series of health problems including weight gain, digestive problems, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke.

Bad for Business

Stress also has a big impact on business, negatively impacting productivity, staff retention, collaboration and creativity.  The HSE Labour Force Survey 2017*, found that 49% of all working days lost were reported to be linked to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, with this figure rising year on year from 2009.

The 2018 UK Workplace Stress Survey** reported 59% of adults surveyed said they were experiencing work-related stress, with 32% reporting that it made them less productive at work.

If not addressed stress causes teams to lose direction and conflictual team politics can develop, hampering progress.

The Benefits of Being Stress Savvy

So why should we take a proactive approach to Stress?

It will make us feel better – it’s as simple as that.  We will feel calmer, healthier, happier and more able to cope.  Who doesn’t want that?

Learning how to recognise stress and prevent its negative effects will help us to feel more in control.

Our performance at work will improve, we will be more focused and able to sustain effort for longer.  We will be smarter too; our memories will be better, and we will be able to think more logically about complex matters. Learning to thrive under pressure will help us to deal with challenging situations, remaining calm and in control.  Less defensive, we will be more open to new ideas, collaborating with our colleagues towards common goals.

And the good news doesn’t end there, the positive impact will spread to our relationships and our home life.  We will be better able to relax, laugh and feel joy.  Our bodies will benefit from better sleep and we will be less inclined to reach for one, or all, of the much-used trio – junk food, alcohol or medication – to help us cope.  Our waist lines will thank us too and we will feel that we will have more energy and space in our lives for the activities that bring us pleasure and personal growth.

Persistent stress is the silent universal modern-day condition that is currently having devastating impacts on health, performance and the quality of life of so many.  It doesn’t have to be that way. Learning how to recognise, respond to and recover from stress is the key to thriving in today’s world.

Catherine McIntosh is the founder of STRIVE & THRIVE CONSULTING.  She is a Consultant, Trainer and Writer on Performance and Resilience for Teams.  Strive & Thrive provide a range of programmes Building Peak Performance and Resilience for Teams.
The Chemistry of Calm Workshop is specifically designed to be delivered to teams, teaching easy ways to make lasting changes to health and wellbeing.  Contact us: