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Reduce - Box in the chimp

Picture the movie scene. The President of the USA is gathered around the large table with all his key advisers there. The president outlines the situation and each adviser raises concerns or addresses the issue that they have. The president encourages each expert to help him address the worries to discover a way forward and when all the risks have been minimised, action is taken.

It’s only a movie, but at decision time everyone in the room, and all the viewers, are confident in the decision.

Box in the chimp

Steve Peters, in his book Chimp Paradox, explains that the emotional part of our brain is like a chimp, highly agitated and on the lookout for danger. It is its primary function to protect the individual from danger. This can be helpful to keep us safe, but when overworking can also be very frustrating as the chimp sees danger everywhere. Steve Peters explains that there are some key things that you can do to reassure and ‘box in’ your emotional chimp when it is seeing danger everywhere.

  • Acknowledge the emotions

  • Remind the chimp of a time when it was ok

  • Address the worries

As a coach, I help people explore this. “Ok, what are you actually worried about?” Naming the worry helps take its power away and it also helps as you can put things in place to reduce the risk of the danger happening or work out what to do if it does happen.

Box in the risk

This month, we are looking at what we can learn from working with anxiety in leadership. The approach of boxing in the chimp can be helpful as we look at strategic planning or working out what to do in a tricky moment in leadership.

  • Acknowledge our emotions

  • Remind ourselves of when we have led well in a circumstance like the one we are facing

  • Address the issues and worries that may come up

When we acknowledge our emotions as a leader, we can remove some of their power. When we remind ourselves of moments that we have dealt with a challenge then we generate thankfulness, which in turn releases the hormone DHEA in us. This counteracts the stress hormone Cortisol which in turn releases cortisol from the thinking part of the brain.

When considering strategic issues consider

  • What could happen?

  • What is a risk to success? What might sabotage this?

  • What things could reduce the risk of that happening?

  • Who is on board to help and what would I ask them to do?

Creating a simple grid to address each of the steps can reassure you and all of those who gather around your table.

If we are in a situation that requires a prompt response, we can consider those same questions. You may also like to consider

  • If the worst does happen, what will I think, say and do in response to manage this well?

Just knowing how you can respond can calm you and also bring calm to your table.

If you would like help to visualise potential issues and plan a situation, contact us at Everyday Leader. We can empower you to gain clarity with some simple questions and maybe a bit of grid work. Give us a call at 01449 710438 or email if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.


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