Event Report: Leadership for a Sustainable Future Lecture

We asked MCFly reader Laurence Menhinick to attend a recent lecture at Manchester Metropolitan University and tell us what she thought. Here’s what she wrote.

Leadership for a Sustainable Future – by Professor Damian Hughes (3rd November 2011)

Reading Professor Hughes’ impressive résumé (international speaker, former Manchester United football coach, Human Resources Director for Unilever, sports psychologist to the GB Rugby League, author of leadership books and director of his own Change Management Consultancy), you couldn’t help but have high expectations from such a world-class expert. Indeed the lecture promised to explain the human psyche and behaviour patterns, and to equip us with practical steps to overcome resistance to change – all of which I reckoned would come in very handy when trying to persuade people to review their actions and change their impact on the environment. The event was very well attended by a mixed crowd, from important business managers to MMU students, together with lecturers and a generous helping of interested members of the public, me included.

Professor Hughes’s confidence, obvious expertise and easy delivery relaxed the audience from the onset. His style being very friendly and approachable, you immediately felt that this was going to be worthwhile, even if you were not the leader of a team of hundreds. Building on anecdotes and entertaining videos, Professor Hughes made sure that the audience both felt involved and also honestly questioned their own behaviour patterns in order to reflect on the influence they may have on other people’s patterns. The lecture, I must add, was predominantly geared towards leadership and team leaders (managers, businessmen, sports coach etc), and how they can improve their team’s performance. Then again, resistance to change occurs all day and everyday, and we are all trying to lead at some level. His point is that leadership depends on the leader in which case you must:

      * Reflect on your behaviour today, were you at your best or worst? The image you have of yourself consistently reflects on your behaviour ( itself following your personal logic so you act the way you think you ought to)– but you can change your behaviour by moving out of your comfort zone


      * Consider how you are feeling ( again put yourself on a scale) and how feelings impact your behaviour. He went on explaining that there are four emotional needs: the need to belong ( ie be part of a group, community etc), the need to be safe, the need to be valued and to be in control. All influence your behaviour and reactions.


      * Consider your attitude and act on it. How you respond to facts and changes defines your attitude, so become engaged and positive and others will follow-


    * Consider your belief or conviction – ie. if you believe it is possible, your efforts carry weight, are never wasted and you get there. If you concentrate on the negative, everything takes a dive.

Now this was great stuff, but I am not leading a team myself! I am merely trying to influence people I know and encounter so that they take heed and reduce, reuse, repair, recycle etc… In other words trying to change the behaviour of people I don’t know well, over whom I have no authority or who don’t feel particularly concerned in the first place. However, Professor Hughes also gave insight in human psychology and how the brain works. We need to know and understand why people react the way they do.

If you are not familiar with MacLean’s triune brain theory, in a nutshell, it considers that the human brain evolved so that it now has three levels, a reptilian brain which is concerned with basic functions, a limbic brain ( Pr. Hughes called it “chimp” brain) which, among other things, is concerned with your reaction to danger, ie “freeze, flee or fight”, and finally a neomammalian brain, (the “human” brain here) where logic, perception and language are processed. Professor Hughes explained that the conflicts between the chimp and human brain are at the basis of our reaction to change. In front of a danger or a situation out of your comfort zone, you either stop, run away or face it. Then your logical brain kicks in – it argues and finds reasons to do or not do. The same goes for all new situations, you have a sort of immediate reaction and then your logic gives you reasons for your behaviour. (This is true of, say, climate change mitigation measures when you think about it – business as usual because you’ve always done so and refuse the argument, or adapt your lifestyle because you’re concerned about consequences on future generations, or even every shade in-between because you have conflicting sets of arguments to adhere to). To be sure, considering all these factors together, emotions, attitude, unpredictable brains, personal perceptions and logic, you must admit that behaviour is complicated and difficult to influence as you need to break so many barriers to bring out change. But fear not, since attitude to change follows a natural course too: it is first ridiculed, then opposed until it finally gets accepted as self evident. Although “timescales may vary”.

Altogether this lecture was excellent, insightful and inspiring and I left enthused and motivated, armed with a better understanding of how people think (and why) but also aware of my own role on other’s perceptions and behaviour. This knowledge I am sure will be useful for implementing change on any scale, from group to city to, who knows, even country? And I would really recommend attending Professor Hughes’ lectures if you are given the chance, he is truly a leader in his field.

Laurence Menhinick


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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