Captains of industry, leave the cave

THERE are no woolly mammoths hiding behind the photocopier or sabre-toothed tigers in the boardroom, but managers and business people tend to act like cavemen, according to a top leadership consultant.

Heather Campbell, who trains business leaders to be more effective, says instinctive "fight or flight" reflexes that date from prehistoric times can all too easily wreck communication in the modern office.

She has teamed up with Napier University in Edinburgh to create a communication course for business leaders that will teach them to abandon their Neanderthal behaviour and become better at dealing with other people.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She said: "The inner caveman or woman in us is affecting leadership and management styles, resulting in poor communication and resistance to change.

"While we no longer face actual woolly mammoths, our primitive reactions and cave-dwelling origins are activated by 'threatening' situations in the workplace, for example preparing to deliver tough messages perhaps about restructuring or the need for a pay freeze.

"Our default mechanism means we go in ready to fight or run - before the dialogue has even started - adversely affecting the results."

Ms Campbell, of consulting firm Campbell McWilliams, worked with the University's Edinburgh Institute of Leadership & Management Practice to develop the new Post-graduate Certificate and Diploma in Management Practice (Leadership Communication).

Students will create plans for different management situations and learn techniques to help avoid becoming swept up in aggression and fear. Ms Campbell says: "Parts of the human brain developed to help our cave-dwelling ancestors survive in their workplace. One of these parts is the amygdala. We have two of these almond-sized pieces in our brain. They evolved to help us recognise threats from woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers - they are at the heart of the fight, flight or freeze response."

She believes the stress reaction triggered by the amygdala can lead people to become argumentative, judgmental and unresponsive to others. However, by learning to temper the caveman instincts business leaders can become better at communicating and dealing with difficult situations.

"Businesses can be significantly more successful simply by changing the way they interact" she said. "The secret is to change the thinking and the behaviour will follow. We draw from neuroscience, for instance, to demonstrate logically what is happening during conversations and to explain why certain approaches do or do not work."

An Edinburgh Napier spokesman said: "If businesses are to be successful, it is vital that Scotland's leaders and managers possess effective commu- nication skills."As a university we have long-established relationships with industry experts and this new collaboration will equip students with real tools and techniques that ultimately can be used to affect the bottom line in the boardroom."