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We are a specialist consultancy providing support in executive selection, professional development and leadership skills to HR professionals and senior managers across Europe and the Middle East. Our highly qualified and experienced consultants employ the most advanced and trusted psychometric assessments currently available to assist in senior selection processes and the development of key individuals in small and medium organisations across all sectors. Contact us now to learn how we can help you make the right choice, every time.

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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Can you see what I see?

When people ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them that I am a business psychologist, it is not unusual for me to hear “Gosh, we could really do with a psychologist at work.” Colourful stories concerning people, events and relationships usually follow, almost always describing how someone (a colleague, a boss, a team even) is responsible for making working life impossible.

Since I love talking about work and relationships, I usually start asking questions regarding the issue at hand in order to understand what was communicated before, during and after difficult interactions and ineffective exchanges with others.

What often surprises me is not what is generally exchanged between the parties involved, but rather how much of this exchange is assumed and not communicated. The guy from finance assumes that we have read an important email because it was sent as urgent, a client assumes that we will meet that deadline because we have not said “no,” a colleague assumes that a remark made by a team member at the meeting was intended as hurtful, and a boss assumes that you must be happy with your current salary because you have not asked for a pay rise in years. Considering these examples, the consequences of assumptions at work are often disastrous. People don’t show up at meetings when expected, feelings are bruised, relationships damaged and projects not completed on time; when this happens, disappointment rules everywhere.

The dictionary defines assumption as “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.” I consider them as safety nets designed to shut down alarm bells that are triggered by uncertain and ambiguous circumstances. Very often, an assumption is just a guess in disguise.

Since assumptions are so risky, why do we rely on them so much?

First, not many people like to have their beliefs and views challenged. When we attempt to validate our assumptions, we are also exposing ourselves to some degree of vulnerability and the fact that our truth could be in fact a gross misinterpretation. It is easier to stick with what makes sense in our mind, rather than having our truth destroyed and feeling that invisible dent in our self-esteem.

Second, we all have deeply ingrained mental modes built inside ourselves, unique and systematic ways of interpreting the world around us that condense our thinking, feeling and perceiving into an overall subjective experience. We tend to believe that the world we experience is as it is, simply because we see it that way. Since our mental models are shaped by filters such as biology, language, culture, experiences, and of course personality, it is easy to see that there may be as many mental models as there are faces. To refer to a famous quote, it really does seem that “we don't see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

Assumption is also relevant to motivational drivers, i.e. the factors that drive and sustain the behaviour of people at work. We often assume that what motivates us will inevitably motivate others, and perhaps the most common assumption is that everyone is motivated by money. However, employees’ values and motivational drivers are often invisible and hard to detect – people just don’t go to work telling you what motivates them or disclosing what they value the most. It is therefore often assumed that simply because we work for the same organization, then we must clearly share the same values.

So, in a world filled with a great deal of ambiguity and characterised by individual experiences and interpretations, how can we try to gain a more comprehensive understanding of others and ourselves?

My advice is simple – instead of assuming, just ask; don't be afraid to communicate, enquire and validate further. Be also prepared to (actively) listen to what others have to say.

True, this will expose you, challenge your “truths” and won’t be a solution to all problems, but you may be surprised as to what you can learn from others.

What is the most “costly” assumption you ever made?

Andrea Facchini, MSc.

Business Psychologist

Facchini Consulting


Monday, 17 October 2011

Emotional Mastery – 10 tips for managing emotions

In recent weeks, I have been reading an excellent book about management called “Conscious Business”, written by Fred Kofman.

Topics included in this book range from leadership and conflict management, to effective communication and accepting responsibility for one’s actions, all of which are brilliantly presented and discussed in great depth.

Chapter 8 illustrates the concept of ‘Emotional Mastery’, and was of particular interest to me, given that much of my work recently has focused on team building and conflict management.

The inability to manage emotions (in particular ‘negative’ emotions) at work is a serious issue, and one that can be extremely damaging to leadership. It is often when we become careless with managing emotions that the dark side of personality emerges. When emotions get the better of us, we suddenly revert to our biologically in-built response to stressors, threats and danger: flight, flight or freeze.

But it does not need to be this way. Yes, emotional mastery requires patience and a great deal of practice, and individual differences play a crucial role when it comes to the frequency and intensity with which we feel positive and negative emotions (the Adjustment scale of the Hogan Personality Inventory is a strong indicator of resilience, for instance). But when deployed effectively, Emotional Mastery can go a long way to prevent lasting damage to our reputation, while co-currently promoting cohesion and understanding at work.

Tips for yourself:

1) Self-Awareness: this implies taking a step back in order to truly ‘observe’ and analyse our emotion(s) with a degree of perspective. What is the emotion(s) we are feeling?  It is important to give the emotion(s) in question space to ‘breathe’.

2) Self-Acceptance:  how many times have you felt ashamed for feeling angry, or jealous? Yet being judgemental about the way we feel is counterproductive. Emotions are hard-wired automatic responses and their presence is outside our control. You can’t help feeling the way you feel, so moving towards true acceptance is cited as hugely useful.

3) Self-Regulation: now that we have taken a step back, understood and accepted our emotion(s), we can learn to regulate them. This does not mean repressing or fighting them, but simply adjusting our response so that it becomes appropriate for our audience and the environment. The ability to regulate your emotions responses and impulses (which again varies significantly among individuals) plays a crucial role here.

4)  Self-Inquiry: this step involves identifying the root cause of the emotion in order to be able to differentiate facts from fiction. Indeed, at the source of many emotions is a distorted perception of how others are treating us, or the ‘real’ message they are trying to convey. Commonly presenting thoughts such as these can lead to distorted perception. Is our emotion justified? Are we misinterpreting others’ behaviours and intentions?

5)  Self-Expression: having understood and implemented the previous steps, we are now better able to express our emotions with honesty and respect (based on true understanding and acceptance of the emotions themselves). When we are not ‘possessed’ by the emotion, it is easier for us to tell others how something they said or did triggered a specific emotional response, opening the door to honest and productive dialogue instead of conflict.

Tips for working with others’ emotions:

1) Recognition: by observing someone else’s body language and behaviour we can make ‘inferences’ concerning the emotions that they may be feeling. Again, the emphasis here is on inferences – it is impossible to read someone else’s mind, so it is important to acknowledge the limitations of our opinions. The very nature of observing how you think somebody may be feeling can lead to open and creative conversation. 

2) Acceptance: this tip can be a real challenge, especially when faced with someone else’s anger. Anger inevitably triggers defensiveness, a normal and biologically logical response (referring again to the flight, flight or freeze human response system). Still, we must accept and validate the emotions of others without judgement. This makes a lot of sense; try to tell an angry person to relax, or don’t be angry, or worse suggest that there is no need to be angry. What reactions do you think this may trigger? Yes, anger levels are likely to increase. 

3) Defusing: it is very easy to engage in a heated argument and become an active participant in its escalation. However, the best reaction sometimes is to not react at all in order to reduce the intensity of the emotion(s).  Escalation can easily lead to increasing the emotion (and the conflict) rather than defusing it. 

4 & 5) Inquiry & Listening: what is the other person thinking? Who/what has triggered the emotions they seem to be experiencing? The key here is to help others express their needs and interests in order to understand their position. We can support others in their emotional expression without sacrificing our own needs and interests.

These tips for yourself and others go some way to help us understand how emotions can be better managed; it is useful to remember however that we can’t live without emotions, nor we can make decisions without them. But, as Fred Kofman eloquently shows us, we can work towards enjoying the benefits and avoiding the drawbacks they may bring.

Andrea Facchini, MSc.
Business Psychologist

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The power of culture and engagement: an apple and its amazing story

Take a look at a company logo. What do you see? An image? A story? A brand? A way of living?

A logo is a powerful thing. Today, after hearing about the sad news of Steve Jobs’ passing I took my iPhone, turned it around and just stared at the apple logo. For the first time, I saw much more than a simple design, an image, or just a brand: I saw an incredible story.

I saw the creation of a visionary leader, decades of hard work, passion, drive, struggles and victories. In essence, I saw entrepreneurialism for what I always intended it to be: bold, courageous, inspiring, innovative, driven by the desire of making the world a better place, without ever losing sight of the end user – our clients. And I also saw a wonderful reminder of the kind of impact that a single human being is capable of achieving within his/her lifetime.


Jobs demonstrated that power and conformity were not necessary to becoming the number 1 company in the world. The almost flat, untraditional organisational culture that he shaped as a leader was so strong and consistent that it became perceptible in every aspect of the business. I found myself often surprised as to how he would introduce the most incredible and awaited products in front of a world audience wearing a humble pair of jeans and a jumper. But it did not end at a board level: go to any Apple store today and you will find an amazing diversity in the workforce, whether this concerns style, age or backgrounds. You will also see the “artefacts” that embody Steve’s vision, style and impeccable standards.

“Impossible” was a word that clearly did not exist in Jobs’ dictionary – he would simply use his influence, drive and determination to make the “impossible”, well, “possible”. Accounts of “working with Jobs”, narrated by colleagues old and new, describe a tough, nit-picking and often temperamental leader – but also a leader who consistently (and unconditionally) lived and worked by his business values.

In this unconditional culture, some may argue, you were either in or out. But clearly he possessed the ability to build and maintain a high performing team, to “drag” people into his vision without compromising on the quality of his work.

But how did he achieve that?

He did not act without integrity. Yes, Jobs pursued near-impossible standards – and never ever attempted to cut corners. But the more he demanded of others, the more he demanded of himself. When projects or products were axed, he shared his reasoning with his colleagues. When saying: “This is the most amazing product we ever made”, he genuinely believed that. Authenticity in leadership is exhilarating, contagious and can be felt across the organisation. Though tough and intimidating at times, he surely “talked the talk and walked the walk”, leading by example.

The Apple story also reminded me why I love the Motives, Values and Preferences Inventory so much. This amazing assessment allows us to identify the key motivational drivers and values of an organisation, a leader, or a team, giving us an accurate, timely and comprehensive picture that helps us (and our clients) work together towards achieving alignment, cohesion and true engagement.

When employees experience the level of engagement described by those who have worked with Jobs, they happily walk the extra mile and put the extra hour in not because they have to – but because they want to. They will go back to the drawing board when their ideas get axed instead of leaving the organisation. When employees work towards a greater, collective purpose individual differences are more easily understood rather than rejected.

To quote a previous Apple employee: “ The quest to make the world a better place doesn't happen by coddling egos or releasing mediocre products. The culture of excellence and attention to detail was rooted at the top”.

So thank you Steve for reminding us that the road to excellence is not an easy one, but one that is so rewarding once we reach our destination. And thank you for reminding us that, while imperfection is a part of leadership, authenticity is much more of a rare find.

But when found, it can really make the “impossible”, well, “possible”.

Andrea Facchini, MSc.
Business Psychologist
Facchini Consulting Limited

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Two Sides Of Leadership: What Goes On Behind Closed Doors?

We heard it all before: leaders behaving one way in public, but then very differently behind closed doors.

Right now in the UK, ex Labour chancellor Alistair Darling is spilling the beans over the leadership style (and accompanying behaviour) of former prime minister and ex-colleague Gordon Brown. But these revelations are hardly shocking. Seemingly placid, timid and shy on the surface, rumours of an explosive, temperamental and potentially bullying Brown gradually started emerging from Number 10 in the final months of his presidency. These allegations were quickly dismissed by government officials and no further action was taken, but as we know, there is no smoke without fire. Mr Darling is now telling the world about the “hellish” behaviour he experienced and the “brutal regime” he suffered at the hands of Mr Brown, and clearly this is only a taste of what has yet to come in his upcoming book. And while, admittedly, we have only heard one side of the story (Brown has yet to comment), Darling painfully refers to this period as "hellish... very personal. It left a scar on me... you just can't get over it." Once again, a leader’s personality is on the front cover of all newspapers.

Dealing With Conflict

It is not hard to see why Brown’s personality has captured the attention of the media. With an almost black-and-white/Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde reputation (remember when he was caught cordially greeting and talking to a labour supporter, only to call her a “bigoted woman” shortly after), reports of Brown’s behaviour away from the public eye appeared like two inexplicable sides of the same coin – and the difficulty in the reconciliation of the two once again highlighted our inner challenges with ambiguity and conflicts.

This is not surprising; human beings do not like to consider themselves as “conflicted” and it is known that most of us find inconsistencies in behaviour – and ambiguity – deeply unsettling. In the history of personality research, these conflicts were once considered “discrepancies” and thus wrongly attributed to assessment and measurement errors. Today, consultants specialising in the assessment of the bright and dark side of personality are aware that conflicting behaviours can be exhibited in different circumstances or even days (e.g. emotionally composed and mature one day, volatile and abusive the next). In fact, we often encounter these conflicts when interpreting psychometric reports and delivering feedback to organisational leaders. Addressing intrapersonal conflicts is a complex task that requires careful analysis, introspection and a desire to change.

Guess The Disorder

As a prime minister, Mr Brown has always been an enigmatic figure; many articles have been written describing his awkward behaviours and noticeable lack of social skills, with some also going as far as “guessing” the diagnosis of his personality disorders. However, leadership derailment consultants know too well that you do no need a personality disorder in order to exhibit these behaviours.

Years of research conducted by the Centre for Creative Leadership and Hogan Assessment Systems, as well as an increasing number of publications (see Dotlich and Cairo’s “Why CEOs Fail”), have demonstrated that leadership derailment can be attributed to recurrent, measurable and most importantly, manageable 11 “themes” (or derailing tendencies). Indeed, attempting to guess (and address) Brown’s derailers, rather than his alleged personality disorders, may have been a much more fruitful exercise in this case.

Darling’s testimony is also a stark reminder that these derailers do not only represent barriers to leadership effectiveness and well-being at work, but also constitute significant barriers to individual, team and organisational performance (in this instance coming in the way of something as important as tackling the country’s financial crisis). These destructive tendencies affect the ability of leaders to gain trust from subordinates and form coalitions at work, which in turn negatively affect a range of executive functions, such as decision-making and the objective analysis of crucial facts and figures.

The “Displacing” Leader

I will admit to being very passionate about leadership derailment, and while I do not want to necessarily pigeon-hole complex leadership behaviours, I can’t help thinking that Mr Brown seems to fall in what I define (to borrow the Freudian term of displacement) as the “displacing leader” box.

This is a leadership style characterised by an excessive focus on managing relationships publicly with external customers and stakeholders, while ignoring the quality of the interactions with internal ones: our colleagues, peers and subordinates. A leader adopting this style has a tendency to release their frustration upon team members, disregarding the consequences of his/her behaviour, either because he/she thinks that the behaviour is acceptable (it’s between us) or simply because he/she can get away with it (no one will know).

But if we define leadership as the “ability to build and maintain a high performing team”, then we can obviously see how this approach is ultimately flawed from the start and destined to fail. At best, this is fake and ineffective leadership. At worst, this can turn into bullying and violate the true essence of what it means to be a leader.

We never fully know what goes on behind the closed doors of an organisation. But leaders who keep smiling in public, only to behave carelessly towards their team members, have an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson from this story.

After all, reputations are powerful and enduring things; they can be buried, but they never fully go away.

Andrea Facchini, MSc.
Managing Director
Facchini Consulting Limited

Sunday, 15 May 2011

“Bunga Bunga-Gate” The Final Act of the Berlusconi Show?

Yet again Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing another trial that is, as tradition has it, bursting with serious and scandalous allegations. The nature of these allegations is not really what is interesting about his story (though if you Google Bunga Bunga you will find plenty of details concerning the latest scandal); what is absolutely fascinating about this political figure is his demonstrated ability to not only fight back at his accusers, but to also survive these scandals with remarkable ease. But can he survive this one?

Indeed, despite previous trials and allegations (which have included accusations of corruption, abuse of power and potential links with the Mafia), Berlusconi remains Italy’s second-longest-serving prime minister after Mussolini. He thought he was almost untouchable and well supported by the nation, until recently, as it is estimated that the latest scandal has prompted one million Italians to march in more than 200 cities worldwide to protest against the damage that the prime minister is perpetrating to the country’s reputation. The Premier has also lost the support of a number of key political allies and his popularity is finally in decline, with ratings falling to their lowest level since he came to power (33%).

There were, of course, some high points of his leadership (the effective handling of L’Aquila earthquake crisis, as well as saving troubled state airline Alitalia from bankruptcy), but these achievements will be inevitably lost amidst an ocean of scandals, political gaffes and accusations.

Could we have ever predicted that this story would end this way? The answer is yes, absolutely. In fact, there are three important leadership lessons to be learned as we watch the final acts of the Berlusconi saga.

Firstly, his story is one of classic (almost textbook-like) leadership derailment, a topic that is dear to Hogan consultants and subject matter experts in leadership and management. If we follow the insightful taxonomy provided by the Hogan Development Survey, which lists 11 leadership derailers, we can easily identify the behaviours that most typify Berlusconi’s leadership style, allowing us to speculate about his derailing tendencies.
He is often charming and amusing when speaking publicly, using humour and fun (often at the expense of others) as a shield to deflect criticism during interviews. He has also demonstrated a strong tendency to test the limits (we only need to consider the ever growing number of political gaffes to make that observation) and ignore rules (even by making his own), behaviours that are typical of the Mischievous leadership derailer.
Mr Berlusconi is also known to constantly crave public and national attention, behaving in an excessively attention-seeking and self-centred manner (particularly when surrounded by his international peers, or even when in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen), behaviours that are typical of the Colorful leadership derailer.
He has also frequently vowed revenge and punishment for his prosecutors, alleging that all trials and accusations directed at him were part of a conspiracy orchestrated by left-wing politicians (behaviours that are commonly associated with the Skeptical leadership derailer).

Secondly, like most leadership derailment scenarios, this is the story of a leader who is unwilling to give up his power, a leader who has become completely uninterested in his followers and unconcerned about their best interests, and whose only goal is to preserve his political status. It is not uncommon for derailing leaders to overstay their welcome.

Thirdly, this story provides further evidence that demonstrates how “dark side” personality characteristics can indeed support individual career advancement (i.e. “getting ahead”), but at the expense of others (often followers and peers). This is a classic leadership mistake as, by forgetting that we still need to “get along” once we have reached the top, these leaders ultimately end up alienating and disengaging their followers, losing the support required to prevent leadership failure.

Regardless of the outcome of this latest trial, the events leading to it and the damage to Berlusconi’s reputation were easily predictable; it was all too much like a disaster waiting to happen. Yet, no one but Berlusconi himself could have prevented it; unfortunately, he lacked the strategic self-awareness required to identify derailing tendencies and modify his behaviour accordingly. Just like many other leaders who have derailed before him, Berlusconi is facing the consequences of letting his “dark side” run loose.

The fundamental lesson to be learned is that leaders who fail to manage their “dark side” (and their respective reputations) will inevitably, and I repeat inevitably, derail, leaving a trail of embarrassment and destruction behind them.
Let’s not forget, however, the role that context plays in these circumstances. Being an extremely powerful and rich person can exacerbate these destructive tendencies, as leadership positions come with plenty of discretional behaviour and lack of honest and objective feedback from peers and subordinates. As Lord Acton once said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

It is perhaps Gianfranco Fini, Berlusconi’s ex-ally, who encapsulates this story brilliantly by stating that the Premier consistently “confuses leadership with absolute monarchy”.
So, now that you have read this story, I will ask you a question. Before you hire your next CEO or promote your next leader, wouldn't you want to know the risks associated with their personality? Considering the final acts of the Berlusconi show, I certainly would.

Andrea Facchini, MSc.
Managing Director
Facchini Consulting Limited

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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Facchini Consulting Limited has expanded!

We are delighted to inform you that Facchini Consulting Limited has now a new website and contact details:

Telephone: +44 (0) 844 500 3419

We would also like to take this opportunity to tell you more about us and the expanded range of services that we now offer.  Since our creation we have grown to incorporate consultants specialising in counselling psychology, human resources and organisational change management services, in addition to our existing range of business psychology services.

This means that we are now better equipped to assist you in executive selection processes, leadership development, change management, and in the development and coaching of key members of staff in your organisation.  As always, we deploy the most advanced and trusted psychometric assessments currently available to identify key personality characteristics that enhance or hinder performance.

We look forward to hearing from you.

The Team