Finding your digital sweet spot – Dr. Justin J Kennedy [Interview]
About Dr.Justin J Kennedy
Justin James Kennedy, is a TedX speaker, executive coach, leadership coach, career coach and a public speaking coach. He is a faculty professor in neuroscience with universities in Switzerland and the UK. As a Leadership Coach, and psychologist, speaker, and author, he researches the neuro-psychology of what improves performance and well-being. We are very happy and honored to have him on our interview series.
Welcome to another episode of the peopleHum interview series. I am your host Aishwarya Jain and let’s begin with a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.
Thank you so much. So let’s begin with the interview. Dr Justin.
If you can tell us a little bit about linking leadership coaching to psychology?
So leadership psychology or leadership coaching, as you said, it’s a little bit blurry where leadership coaching stops and psychology begins. Nobody really knows what people that in the know should know, in my opinion, is the model of cognitive behavioral therapy. So CBT for short or REBT, if you really get technical, is looking at the cognitive behavioral changes that you can make to improve your leadership, which is used in psychology for leadership.
CBT comes from psychotherapy where it is being used very effectively for treating phobias and anxiety disorders. But in leadership, we assume people aren’t necessarily having an emotional breakdown. But using that kind of protocol, it seems like a very effective way to get behavior change.
And in your career lifetime Justin, have you seen an increase in disorders and anxieties and in the levels of nervous breakdowns? Have you seen that?
No, my clinical work is very limited. In fact, I’ve actually stopped my clinical practice. But in that space, anxiety, depression has become a worldwide epidemic. So that epidemic of a mood disorder is completely out of control. And when you’re in the coaching space, you need to be able to identify that so that you don’t end up dealing with psycho-pathology if you haven’t been trained in that environment.
So a lot of coaches need to be aware of what are the markers of chronic psychopathy so that they can be aware of that psychological disorder so that it won’t overstep their chemical and professional and organization and leadership boundaries. So, hope that helps you make sense of where leadership coaching ends and where therapy begins, I hope, was that a useful example and answer?
And I was just curious to understand that as leaders, what would be certain signs that we should be looking out for to avoid such disasters and breakdowns?
In order to look out for those symptoms is very difficult, because in a business environment, it’s not group therapy, you’re there to do your job. So in order to look out for those symptoms, it’s really useful to notice behaviours. So around the anxiety,depression disorder, let’s speak a bit about that spectrum rather than other psychological diseases, because other information might be not so useful to your audience.
So in terms of the anxiety depression spectrum, first to notice that kind of energy that the person is bringing to the work environment. Has that changed? Have they become a lot more melancholy and a lot less energized? Are they basically feeling down? I mean, everybody has a down day but if you have a down year, that is a different story.
So a lot of work is very exhausting. And working is getting more exhausting as we proceed. All work now is at home. You can’t even escape work when you go home and we’re both sitting at home right now and here we are doing our work. So, it’s very invasive, so it can become very depressing simply because energy is not replenished and when you’re on the go all the time, every day, something has to give, and what often happens is a state of emotional dis-ease that can lead into the disease. But, and what happens if that energy isn’t replenished is people burn out And when you burn out, you simply lose the flame, and that can easily turn into a clinical depression.
“You can’t even escape work when you go home and we’re both sitting at home right now and here we are doing our work. So, it’s very invasive, so it can become very depressing simply because energy is not replenished and when you’re on the go all the time, every day, something has to give, and what often happens is a state of emotional dis-ease that can lead into disease. But, and what happens if that energy isn’t replenished is people burn out And when you burn out, you simply lose the flame, and that can easily turn into a clinical depression.”
So when you’re in a work environment and you’re working with someone with symptoms of depression, it’s really as simple as, are they as similar to how they’ve been? Are they arriving late? Are they delivering the same quality of work? Are they the same kind of person that you have been able to work with? So that’s on the depression side of it. Any questions around the profile of the person with burnout and depression?
No, I think I’ve understood that.
Okay, so I think on the other side, on the anxiety side of the spectrum and you start to notice people being excessively engaged in things in an emotional way. So they will get very nervous or they will get very angry or they will become very fidgety. A lot of people with anxiety start to show physical symptoms of stress. Maybe it’s a skin disorder.
Maybe it’s loss of appetite and lack of nutrition, but the first things to look for are those symptoms of tone, speaking very quickly and not to understand, not that I’m anxious, I promise, but it’s about that speed of them engaging. A lot of people with anxiety or even depression show symptoms of lack of sleep hygiene. Either sleeping too little or too much, showing a dysfunction with nutrition and eating, and even medication and drinking water and alcohol as well as how they show up in the general effect.
So effect is a word that covers everything from emotion to feeling to mood to cognition. It’s a nice umbrella word. A bit too clinical but maybe it’s useful just to know that affect covers the way you psychologically and emotionally show up. And if a person is anxious, they would be kind of like an energizer bunny, if you know the energizer battery, there was an advert many years ago, and an energizer running around and that’s often a symptom of anxiety.
“if a person is anxious, they would be kind of like an energizer bunny, if you know the energizer battery, there was an advert many years ago, and an energizer running around and that’s often a symptom of anxiety.”
So it’s about looking for those behaviors where a person is being a little frenetic. If you know that word. Yeah, so that’s a symptom, and if they are anxious, they’re going to be very hyper alert. They’re gonna be, they are, as a dancer all around. They’re gonna be clenching their jaw or they’re going to be very fidgety and very close to break down where the depressants are going to be burned out, the anxious people are going to break down because they’re running on such a high rift?
Does that help at all?
Yeah, absolutely. And to add to that, if you think about it, I think people are suddenly finding themselves back to the first level of Maslow’s hierarchy when they have to really conquer their psychological safety. And they are really struggling with that right now.
And so, how do you think can they cope in these times where they’re just burning themselves out completely?
Yeah, so, let me give you a bit of academic stuff dumbed down a bit. So the psychological safety model from Amy Edmondson is beautiful. And in a discussion with her, I have been most impressed. However, my opinion on psychological safety is, it is more psycho-social safety because they’re such a psychological and social element to being safe in a team or business units and from my background in neuroscience, I’d prefer to focus on the neuro-psychological safety. So maybe the phrase isn’t as simple as Amy’s one, but I think it’s useful to understand how the brain influences your behavior, your motions and the style of you thinking.
And if you’re feeling psychologically unsafe in a social team or group environment, the brain becomes over anxious or you become feeling under stress or insecure. So knowing how the brain shows up and knowing how the brain functions in a community are very important to ensure psychological safety protocols are implemented so that they could be sustained, if that makes sense.
Got it. Absolutely.
And you know when it comes to improving an employee’s well being, health, and improving their performance, what are some great tips, according to you that we could use?
So in my book, I wrote a book last year. So, I expect you to buy 100 copies and give them out to your readers and your team. I’m just kidding. The book was on a lot of a personal journey from how I came out of a coma after a road accident and then journeyed into academia, finishing my doctorate and becoming a professor of neuroscience in the application of neuroscience.
So the model that I look at in the book or one of them at least looks at what I call the Sneese model. And the Sneese model is designed to help people know how to find sustainable health. So the way to find sustainable health and well being so that there’s effective performance is the intention of the model. So my PhD looked at a model of developing wellness and performance in the time continuum and the Sneeze model is, I suppose, just a simplified way of describing that. So, let me quick, can I take you quickly through the model, would that be okay?
Of course, that would be wonderful.
Okay, wonderful. So the phases of the sneeze model are first is that S for sleep and sleep hygiene, as it’s known, is the ability to sleep in a healthy, sustainable way and the two parts of sleep that are most important is duration and quality, right? Now, when it comes to duration, most people have an incorrect opinion. So let me ask you a quick question. How long should you sleep every day, every night?
I would say about seven hours.
Yeah, everybody says about 7 to 8 hours, which is what we all are told. But it’s a bit of a myth in this that Einstein slept over 10 hours, Winston Churchill slept under four, and these were both pretty effective people
“everybody says about 7 to 8 hours, which is what we all are told. But it’s a bit of a myth in this that Einstein slept over 10 hours, Winston Churchill slept under four, and these were both pretty effective people”
as I’m sure you would agree. But most people tend to hover around 7-9 hours, but it’s important for you to find that out yourself only. And that’s very important, and only if you’re having the right quality of sleek, which depends on your posture, which depends on your environment, which depends on your nutrition, which depends on the emotional loathing you bring into the sleep.
So it’s relatively complicated because sleep is very, very important. If you don’t sleep well for the energy put tomorrow, and many people don’t know why we sleep. Do you have any idea why the brain sleeps perhaps?
To replenish some energy? I don’t know.
It is to reboot the energy. Clinically, it’s useful. Sleep is an effective way to increase the cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. So you clean out all the junk so that you have a “fresh” start every morning, so that is the sleep side of it.
Yeah, very good. Thank you. So that’s the S for Sleep. So the N for the Sneese model stands for Nutrition and nutrition includes hydration, so good eating and drinking. So most people know about drinking a lot of water every day, and that can never be understated. Drink more water. Let me show you quickly.
Excuse me. Sorry, My wife says never drink while I’m speaking, that’s very rude. But anyway, hope you forgive me and help you find it relevant to the point that we’re making.
So hydration is important. Nutrition is very complicated because everybody likes different things and diets come and diets go. There’s even a marshmallow diet. I mean, it’s crazy how many different diets are out there. The anthropological research is being very useful at the moment. and it’s showing that homosapien as a, from its cave dwelling prehistoric times, we would eat within a food window. So the food window shows that we eat late in the morning and early in the afternoon. So we have a little window of nutrition. And that kind of makes sense.
If you were a caveman, you would bring back a buck or some berries. You’d bring it back to the cave, and you’d sit and you’d shovel it all in and then you’d be finished eating, I don’t know by the early afternoon, by the time you’ve caught the buck or the Berries. So then the next morning you’d go out hunting and scavenging again and you wouldn’t find any stuff until late in the morning at best. And then you bring it home and you’ll sit down and shovel it like a wild pack of dogs, and then you’d be finished. So the research shows that the body is designed to eat and drink, mainly eat within this little window, if that makes sense, right?
And also, the research goes even further to say what kind of nutrition and the short version is basically lots of protein, lots of fibre. Not so much carbs. Because we didn’t have many carbohydrates lying around like candy floss and bags of chips when we were roaming around from cave to field.
So nutrition is nice and complex. But that’s what the research is saying about nutrition.
Got it. So we’ve done the S and the N.
Yeah, so the E is for Exercise and everybody, well not everybody but 90% of people think that is the thing they need to focus on to build their sense of wellness so they can improve their performance and their health in general. And of course, it’s important, but it’s not the most important. Most people also think that the wrong kind of exercise is most important. But the research shows there’s three kinds of exercise modalities. There’s cardiac exercise. There’s muscle training and there’s muscle toning.
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So cardiac training is when you go for a run or you do anything that’s an endurance sport. Muscle training is when you build muscle mass and toning is when you build flexibility. So research says, do weight training and do yoga. Those are the two things you do to build flexible muscles so that you can stay fit.
Research also shows that too much cardiac stress causes your heart to get exhausted and that can actually cause cardiac failure, which they’ve shown that excessive marathon running actually causes cardiac disease, so don’t be Forrest Gump. Don’t run everywhere. Rather go to the gym and get flexible and touch your toes and do some yoga, which is good fun if you get into it. So that’s the E.
Then the effect, which I’ll get through quickly now is looking at the emotional and psychological well being. And there’s a plethora of information around that. My simple question to you in this environment is, do you have an understanding or any awareness about emotional intelligence?
Okay, very good. So, tell me, what is the difference between an emotion and a feeling?
Don’t worry, I’ll save you. Everybody gets this the wrong way around. Well, not everybody, but most people think that emotion is a feeling. And a feeling is an emotion. An emotion is a surge of neurotransmitters in your brain that gets you aroused to take action. If a car jumps in front of you while you are already crossing a road, huh? You have a reaction, a feeling follows, thank goodness I wasn’t crashed or who knows that drive din’t knock me over or whatever. So the emotion happens neurologically, the feeling happens psychologically.
“The emotion happens neurologically, the feeling happens psychologically.”
So that’s my quick overview, and we could carry on that topic around effective intelligence forever. But I don’t want to take too much of your time.
The next S is for social neuroscience. And in the brief sentence, there is a model called mirror neuron theory that shows that if people are on the same page like you and me are, we both end up nodding our heads or having the same kind of behavioral report. And when that happens, things work more fluidly. People are on the same page, so that’s an important part of having that kind of social experience.
I always say to clients, you need to find your tribe where you can connect with your fishing or your golf for your knitting club, whatever it might be, but it’s very important to find your social community and the last E in the Sneese model stands for engagement, where you have a skill and the space to engage in things that give you happiness. The research shows that the best way to find happiness is to give stuff and not just vaguely give to UNESCO or to an online charity, but to give in a way that you can get feedback of how loving you’ve been. So that gives you a full heart on well being. So that’s the Sneese model. I hope I didn’t take too long to go through it.
Oh, not at all. I think this was so, so, so interesting. And I would love to read about it more and I’m sure it’d be very useful to everybody listening out there.
Okay, yeah. And I’m happy to give your readers the first chapter of my book, and so if they want to have access to that, they can obviously contact you. But they can also go on to my website, which is professorkennedy.com. And they can contact me there. Whatever is easier for them. I don’t really mind.
Absolutely, would love that. And thank you so much for that kind offer and I would really love to read your book as well, ‘Brain Reboot’. I think it would be really interesting.
You’re very welcome. All I’ll send you a copy if you keep on smiling so longingly at me.
Oh, thank you so much.
So moving on from here, Dr Justin, improving cognitive performance to achieve neurological resilience is one of your main specialities. How do you help your clients achieve this?
So it’s a big question, and the answer is, it depends. Which isn’t very useful, I’m sure for your listeners but that’s why coaching exists. It’s there to help take a person on the right kind of journey, to give them the right kind of solution. So in order to give you a simple answer, I would discuss the Sneese model with them, find an area of development or improvement that they would like to focus on and then journey through that, to help them find that sense of excellence.
In terms of resilience, you need to have enough skills across those different modules, how something will fall down? A lot of people forget the role of emotional, psychological and social well being, they’re a little bit less clear. But people are also confused about what kind of exercise, what kind of nutrition and how they should be sleeping to reboot their brains to be fresh in the morning.
And how would you say that, how do you keep employees excited about work and to help them find a purpose? Because especially the younger generation, right? Many of them are just lost. So, what would you say?
I’m outside them. Look, you’ll be happy you got a job, just get down and do it properly and they all probably leave the company, and I would have no people to do anything. The simple answer is you need to find the space to let them find meaning. So if you don’t help the next generation of employees find meaning, they won’t show up, at least not psychologically. So, if you want people to perform, help them find meaning.
Help them have resilience so that they can find meaning so that they engage as I said in the second E of the model where they need to engage and find purpose out of their work. That makes all the difference.
Do you also think, what’s your opinion on technology and digital disruption? How do you think organizations can really adopt it for dealing with change and remote working setups during the pandemic and also after?
The simple knowledge and truth is that technology is going to change the way we work forever and this pandemic has given us a window into the future and it has showed us that we don’t need to drive for 90 minutes in the traffic to do our work. We can use those three hours to play with our kids or to go for a run or another, even watch Netflix movies instead. So the way technology works is A, it gives us more opportunity and B, it limits opportunity.
So finding the sweet spot is the role and responsibility of not only the organization but of the individual as well. So how you show up with technology is very important.
“The way technology works is A, it gives us more opportunity and B, it limits opportunity. So finding the sweet spot is the role and responsibility of not only the organization but of the individual as well. So how you show up with technology is very important”.
For example, at the moment I don’t even have a phone. I just don’t even need a phone. And it’s quite a weird thing to say. I don’t have a phone. Sure, I’ve got a tablet, a little tablet, but I don’t actually need a phone because all my conversations are via Skype or Zoom. So having the phone has become redundant. So think about what kind of technology you have in your life that is invasive. People have TVs and phones but do you really even need those things?
You just have a big screen in your home, that is an LCD screen but the biggest thing about technology is that it is very, very addictive. It’s hard to put down your Twitter account. It’s hard to start to step back from Facebook because you go there, there’s so many juicy, newsy things coming out. And it’s an addiction. It is simple as a food or drug addiction, it is no different, neurologically getting the same dopamine pathways engaged. So the trick for work, I believe, is to use that relationship people have with technology to make the work addictive
“The trick for work, I believe, is to use that relationship people have with technology to make the work addictive”
And the way to make the world addictive is to have the people play with the task so they find meaning, and they find pleasure, and they get rewarded from that task. So that’s my vision for the future and technology. If I didn’t get too carried away.
Oh, absolutely not. I think that makes a lot of sense, especially for millennials who are working and Gen Z that are gonna come working. They would want fun in their work, otherwise they would just lose a sense of purpose.
Yeah, I hope that purpose is understood by people listening. You don’t get purpose right, you don’t get passion, you don’t get passion, you don’t get passionate, you don’t get performance. The three P’s. I just got it. What do you think?
Yeah, that’s awesome and passion is so important, right? In whatever you do.
Exactly. If you don’t have passion, you don’t get performance. And that’s not a good way to run a business.
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Absolutely. Love that. I’m just gonna wrap this interview up by asking the last question.
If you have any important tips or soundbites that you would like to leave our audience with.
Well, I think the most important tip that everybody is listening to is that they should know how well you interviewed. It has been an absolute delight. Surprisingly much more fun than I expected to have this conversation. So the thing that I would like to mention to people is that if you have an engaging relationship, things flourish. And I have found this to be a flourishing conversation and I hope we have many more.
Oh, thank you so much for the kind words. I really hope we have many more because I think we can talk about psychology and neuroscience and anthropology. It’s all so very interesting and thank you so much for this wonderful and very, very interesting conversation. I really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us. Thank you.
You’re very welcome. And don’t forget to tell your audience about the opportunity through your channel or they can visit professorkennedy.com.
Professorkennedy.com, I will remember that and hopefully our audience will too. Lovely, lovely talking to you, a lot of valuable information. So, let’s keep in touch, Dr Justin. And have a safe, healthy time ahead of you.
Thank you. You too take care and now buh-bye.
Take care. Bye.
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