Practical insights for leaders

Don’t swim upstream

Welcome to Acumen, your monthly fix of practical, evidence-based insights for leaders.

My 2021 reading list has drawn me deeper into the worlds of neuroscience, behavioural science and productivity. What have I learned to-date, in a nutshell? The more disciplined your environment is, the less disciplined you need to be. Don’t swim upstream.

Best, Olivia Meyrick
Executive Coach at Cadence


Our recommended reads / listens / watches this month…. 

PODCAST: Becoming A Better Listener | HBR Ideacast | Dr. Mark Goulston (21 mins)

The #1 downloaded HBR Ideacast episode. Recent neuroscience research has revealed that being listened to and empathised with boosts the level of oxytocin (associated with bonding) and reduces cortisol (associated with stress) in our brains. Goulston deftly translates these findings into practical tips for structuring sales conversations and getting people to reveal what is truly important to them.

ARTICLE:  The Confidence Gap | The Atlantic | Kay & Shipman (20mins)

Evidence shows that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence. This article’s authors explain how we can all choose to become more confident simply by taking action and courting risk, and how those actions change our physical wiring. This is not about positive thinking or faking confidence. Rather, it requires an explicit choice around people-pleasing, perfectionism, risk-taking and fast failure.

VIDEO: The Authenticity Paradox | Herminia Ibarra | TEDx (17 mins) 

Ibarra argues that a simplistic view of being ‘authentic’ can hinder growth and limit our impact. To ensure that we don’t latch onto authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable, we should accept that any learned behaviour feels unnatural at first.  It helps to view ourselves as works in progress and evolve our professional identities through trial and error. Personal growth is the prize when we challenge our sense of self.


Seeing More Clearly

Recent research suggests that only 15% of leaders have great self-awareness versus 95% who believe they do.  So, it would pay to have the assumption that we need to see ourselves more clearly than we instinctively think we do. 

To become more self-aware, follow these steps: 

  1. Ask yourself: “If I wasn’t quite as self-aware as I thought I was, how would I know?”
  2. Seek out ‘trusted critics’. These are people who have your best interests at heart but are not afraid to give you the hard truths. 

Read more here.


A persistent enemy of excellence is fragmented attention.

On average, knowledge workers switch tasks every 10 minutes. How can this allow us to think deeply or achieve flow? And here is the really bad news – it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back to the task in-hand.

Research suggests that humans are much better at single-tasking than multi-tasking.  Focus on one task at a time if deep work and productivity is your goal.  

Read more here.