Some tools to help understand yourself as a leader

We face challenges every day, each one taking their toll on energy levels and the ability to respond and react positively. Dr Alan Watkins argues that “what we feel has a far bigger impact on what we do than thinking does.” We simply don’t understand what’s influencing performance in the first place. Watkins says it’s time to set the record straight. And do you know what? It’s been said before, but no one has been listening, or at least very few

Latest scientific discoveries

He explores a number of scientific discoveries from all the levels of the human system, including the fields of medicine, cardiology, neurophysiology, evolutionary biology, quantum physics, signal processing and systems theory as well as organizational performance, sports psychology and emotional intelligence.

We’ve been here before

Watson has pulled it all together in a convincing and articulate way that can’t be ignored or shouldn’t at least. A lot of it makes sense. Psychology and psychiatry, for example, are almost exclusively focused on dysfunction, studying it and treating it respectively. In fact, for decades, it was widely considered ‘a career-limiting move’ or academically inappropriate to research happiness or elevated performance from an emotional perspective. Thankfully ‘positive psychology’ has gathered pace over the last 30 years and we now realize that we can actively alter our emotional outlook, which in turn can enhance our immune system and increase our protection and resilience against disease and illness.

Some things that may startle you

  • Your heart does more physical work than any muscle during your lifetime. Grab a tennis ball and squeeze it tightly: that’s how hard your heart is working every time it beats.
  • The first sign of heart disease in 60% of men is death.
  • Heart disease and cancer collectively account for almost 70% of all premature deaths! And negative emotion has been proven to drive both.
    Depression was identified as the most common mental health condition, responsible for 79% of all time lost at work – significantly more costly to the employer than a physical disease.
    In fact, hopelessness in middle-aged men is as detrimental to cardiovascular health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

The difficulty that this poses for business is that the current treatments don’t address the root cause of depression, which is mismanaged emotion. Watson argues that “We simply don’t understand what’s really influencing performance in the first place.”

How long have you left as a CEO?

How much of your potential are you using 85% 65%? Fifty years of neuroscience say only 9%. According to McKinsey and Co the average corporate life expectancy of a modern CEO is just six years, down from 10 in 1995 and, depending on results, as low as 4.5 years. Other sources state that 72% of Fortune 500 Company CEOs survive less than five years with the median tenure just three years.


Dr Atkins says “We live in a VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – and it’s changing the face of business forever. Problems today cannot be solved with yesterday’s level of thinking. Taking a leaf from Einstein he goes on to describe coherent leadership as learning to control all levels of the human system and not just the surface behaviours. Watson shows how emotion is significantly more important to health and happiness than exercise or what you eat and how “mismanaged emotion is the superhighway to disease and distress.” This book brings together “the critical business-related insights of the last 20 years so that we can finally appreciate the ‘mystery’ of performance once and for all. And the first of those critical insights says Watson, is that our brilliance all starts with the quality of our physiology.”

What can you do?

Here are a couple of routines that both Ron and I have tried and with some very surprising results. Remember all of this stuff has been around for ages but has mainly been consigned to the “self-development” bookshelf at your favourite bookshop or airport. Specifically, Watson suggests you do three things – and don’t worry about the language so much as the concept.

  1. Keep an E-diary -it enhances emotional intelligence or awareness and
  2. Mastery develops greater emotional literacy, while
  3. PEP Positive Energy Practice and Landscaping facilitate emotional self-management.

Each of these skills builds upon the last. Emotional intelligence builds on physical management, and that is why breathing is such an important platform on which to build complete coherence.

Positive Energy Practice

The idea behind PEP is to identify the rituals that we already engage in and enhance them with Positive Energy Practice (P-E-P).

Emotion diary and mastery

Emotion is what drives us all and to be better able to understand it we have to become more aware. That said, even with our ingrained awareness of the negative Watkins says that “ most executives will still only recognize around 12 emotions that they feel. That’s the equivalent of being able to tell red wine from coffee. There are at least 34,000 distinguishable feelings With an impoverished emotional palette, we simply don’t have the emotional vocabulary to describe most of the emotions we feel, and we don’t appreciate the important nuances between similar emotional states.

We don’t have a clue

The simple truth is that most of us don’t have a clue how we are really feeling at any moment and even if we do we are unable to accurately tell the difference between those emotions – especially those that are similar to each other. If we can’t distinguish between emotions then we have no emotional literacy and our health, happiness and performance will suffer as a result. Mastery allows us to build up a database of the emotions we experience the most, work out the distinctions between similar emotions, and consciously build up a repertoire of positive emotions we would like to feel more often.

The mastery process

  • Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe.
  • Simply notice what emotion exists in your body right now.
  • If you are not feeling a distinct emotion, try triggering an emotion through the use of music, a memory or a picture/vision.
  • Once you have identified the emotion, give it a label or word that you think best captures it. Write that word down. It doesn’t matter if the label you choose to describe what you feel is accurate or not at this stage. What matters is that you familiarize yourself with that emotion. Explore the features of the emotion within your body.
  • How does the energy feel?
  • What is the location of the emotion in your body?
  • What is the size of the emotion?
  • What colour is the emotion?
  • What sound does the emotion make?
  • What is the emotion’s temperature?
  • What is its intensity?
  • Moving on to the movement features, take a moment to describe how the emotion moves through your body. Does it stop at your skin or does it radiate off your body?
  • Does the emotion have any special features?


In business or in sport it’s all about results. Results are the yardstick of success and business leaders are all after the same goal – better results, greater growth, more success and increased shareholder value. The obvious place to look if we want to understand and improve our results is behaviour. What are we doing?
What are the key people in our team doing? What milestones are being met, what gains are being made? And it is behaviour that is most commonly addressed by the variety of ‘business solutions’ put forward by consultants and coaches.

Look inside

The answer to elevated performance does not lie in behaviour alone. If we really want to improve performance and crank out our A-game every single day then we need to look deeper into what is happening on the ‘inside’ and not just focus on the ‘outside’ surface behaviours.”



sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
× How can I help you?