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4D Leadership

4D Leadership – Competitive Advantage Through Vertical Leadership Development

Twenty years ago the accumulation of skills, knowledge and experience (‘horizontal development’) was sufficient for business success. Today, it’s not. 4D Leadership – Competitive Advantage Through Vertical Leadership Development, offers a new approach of ‘vertical development’.

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Why Wellbeing Initiatives Fail … And What You Can Do About It

Insights from business leaders and wellbeing experts

Organisational spend on wellbeing continues to rise1, but despite pouring more cash into the issue and a massive increase in the profile of mental health in particular, the problem if anything appears to be worse2. For example, according to a CIPD study, the number of people who experience anxiety, stress and depression at work has risen from a quarter to a third over the past five years3. So, despite the dream combination of greater awareness and more spend we are going backwards. Recently, Complete Coherence convened a roundtable of 30 corporations to explore the problem and start to provide some answers …

Much of the morbidity has been presented as ‘mental health’ and this has attracted royal sponsorship, for obvious reason. The stats on mental health make sobering reading. In 2017, female suicide rates were at their highest in decades4 and a quarter of young men said they had intentionally harmed themselves5. Clearly, mental health is not just a work issue, but organisations have both a moral and a legal responsibility to protect employees from stress6. Not only that, but mentally healthy employees perform better at work and have fewer days off sick7.

The financial impact of poor health and low levels of wellbeing as well as the moral and legal implications mean that wellbeing is now an organisational imperative.


Move From Doing To Being

Fortunately, most organisations now accept wellbeing is a commercial imperative. Certainly, the organisations at our round table could not be accused of a lack of effort, with 34 separate wellbeing initiatives going on. However, the research very clearly shows that despite their best intentions and this multitude of activity very few, if any, are making a real difference to the wellbeing of their employees. So, the question remains – why not?

To answer this question, we asked our participants to categorise their wellbeing initiatives into one of four quadrants (see Figure 1): upper left was the area of individual action, upper right was organisational actions. Lower right captured effort that was being made on relationships and cultural change and lower left was for inner personal change. In short, the upper quadrants captured observable activity in the dimension of “IT” or “doing”, lower right was the “WE” dimension or “relating” and lower left was the “I” dimension or “being”.


Figure 1. Categorisation of wellbeing initiatives

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It was immediately clear when we mapped the current wellbeing initiatives that one quadrant was receiving hardly any attention. Almost everyone was completely blind to individual interior change.

The incredible irony and shock of this was not lost on the roundtable participants. Wellbeing is ultimately about how people feel and think, which is essentially a lower left quadrant activity. This completely landed the point about why so little impact has been made – we have simply ignored the key area that we should have been focused on. Wellbeing is all about our interior landscape.

The problem became even more obvious when we started to explore the links between the various quadrants and the implications for some existing wellbeing initiatives. Take the idea of putting a gym into the office as one example. That would seem like a very worthwhile thing to do. And often it is. But virtually no organisations ever bother to ask how their employees feel about that gym?

Say you have 100 employees at that office or site and only 10 use the gym. The other 90 just don’t have time and, worse than that, they feel guilty for not going to the gym. For a few who use the gym, it’s probably beneficial, for the rest it’s potentially a health disaster as they painfully watch a few colleagues wandering round in gym kit. This serves as a daily reminder of how unfit they are, how ill-disciplined they are and how obese, stressed, overwhelmed (insert your favourite ‘beat myself up’ thought here) they are that they can’t take an hour out to use the gym that the company has spent all the money on providing.

This means that the ROI of a gym may actually be negative. The consequence of the gym, albeit unintended, is a deterioration in the health of the majority and maybe the improved health of a minority. Overall the average wellbeing may decline, guilt rockets and the health data get worse – which is exactly what we are seeing.

Unfortunately, this pattern is repeated for many organisational initiatives. Gyms, the provision of water coolers, fresh fruit, yoga classes, a massage at your desk, an EAP scheme; these are not bad ideas in themselves, but if they haven’t moved the dial on wellbeing for the vast majority of employees in your organisation, something needs to change.

If we are really serious about improving wellbeing then it is high time that we admit to ourselves that despite all our efforts health outcomes are not improving. That doesn’t mean that our existing “IT” initiatives should be abandoned. But let’s not pretend that such activity is delivering an ROI without at the very least measuring their actual impact on wellbeing in a robust and meaningful way, i.e. have our efforts actually changed health outcomes, and changed whether people cope better or are more resilient – biologically?

The roundtable attendees concluded that organisations do need to overhaul their approach to wellbeing. They agreed that organisations must think again because it’s not about what is done, it’s how what is done makes employees feel. We must change health inside out. If we don’t we will continue to see escalating levels of ill-health at work.


Being In Control Of Our Inner Wellbeing

Tackling health from the inside out is not as simple as installing water coolers, but it’s perfectly possible and it’s the only way we’re ever going to move the dial on the growing challenges of mental health in our society. Here’s where to start:

  1. Acknowledge explicitly that wellbeing is driven by how people feel on the inside
  2. Measure people’s inner state by objectively quantifying the energy levels of employees (this can be done relatively easily using heart rate variability (HRV) technology) plus measuring the emotional literacy and emotional set point of the workforce
  3. Develop your employee’s ability to self-regulate their inner state

Once the round table attendees were prepared to acknowledge that wellbeing was an inside out issue we moved onto how to measure people’s emotional literacy. We started by asking the room of 30 senior executives to identify what emotions they had felt in the last week (see Figure 2). The attendees identified 84 emotions, but many were duplicates and in fact there was only 37 separate emotions identified by the 30 people. The commonest emotion was “frustration” which was twice as common as “happy”.

Figure 2. Emotions identified by executives

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Given that it is possible to experience 34,000 separate emotions and we identified only 37 (less than 0.001% of the total) it become clear that the room was emotionally illiterate!

We have done this exercise many times over the years and most people struggle to identify more than a tiny number of possible emotional states that are available to them. Most people can’t accurately identify how they feel and are very poor at distinguishing between two different emotions (when you ask people “how are you?” they are guessing -they don’t really know). Being able to differentiate emotional states is not just some fluffy HR nicety. It is commercially critical. After all, if you don’t know the difference between feeling anxious or exhilarated, you won’t know whether you’re in the right emotional state for your next meeting. And if you are not in the right state, your meeting may go disastrously wrong and could even cost you millions.

Given that we pay so little attention to our internal state and we have such incredibly low levels of emotional literacy it really shouldn’t be surprising that mental and emotional ill health is getting worse. Unfortunately, despite years of well-intentioned efforts, we haven’t moved the dial on employee wellbeing.

Being able to measure our energy levels and our emotional state is critical to developing the ability to regulate our emotional state and finally changing the data on wellbeing.

Apps like our Universe of Emotions can help you increase your emotional literacy. It can help you quickly recognise when you’re feeling frustrated allowing you to then take steps to move to a different emotional state like delighted or whatever will benefit your next meeting. The ability to change how you feel is a skill that we all need to develop and with diligent practice we can develop the ability to completely control our inner world.

Achieving an emotional shift in the heat of the moment starts with changing your energy. This can be done with music, simply moving around, chatting with a friend, getting some fresh air, or focusing on something else. But the important thing about all these options is you ensure that your energy shifts positively as a result. Going for a walk could be counter-productive if you step in a puddle for example. Ultimately, with consistent practice, you don’t need any of these ‘external stimuli’ at all you can change how you feel anytime anyplace anywhere – literally, in the middle of a meeting.


Organisational Support For Inner Wellbeing

Some organisations have started to realise that wellbeing is an inside out game and are now putting in place what it takes to change the outcomes for the first time ever.

At our roundtable event, a chief risk officer shared his experiences of just such a programme created and delivered by Complete Coherence for and with Royal London Insurance. He told the room the results have been incredibly impressive. Engagement scores have massively improved. Even people, who were initially incredibly sceptical that this different focus on internal states would help, have reported feeling much more productive and energetic. In general, attendees on this programme have moved from a victim state to owning how they feel and not blaming their boss, colleagues, customers, markets or anyone else. In other words, through controlling their energy and emotions they are now able to choose how they respond in a meeting. They have become response-able human beings.

Twenty years of bowls of fruit in the office or EAP schemes have not made a difference to our mental and emotional health and our wellbeing at work. In fact, things have got worse. Now is the time to change the outcome. We need to focus on the two things that will make all the difference: ENERGY AND EMOTIONS.


For more on how Complete Coherence could support your organisation’s wellbeing initiatives and improve the mental health of your workers, contact:



2 Deloitte (2017) At a tipping point? Workplace mental health and wellbeing. Available at:





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