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Why Your Organisation Needs Systemic Change, Not Individual Change with Michael Cahill

Do you have a problem with the free flow of energy in your organisation? Perhaps you’ve been replacing individuals who aren’t performing only to find that their replacements are also not bringing in the results. Then you need to listen to Michael Cahill, author, trainer, coach and facilitator at MarketMatters. 

Michael blends a rich and deep knowledge of NLP (neuro linguistic programming), Systemic Coaching and Constellations with his considerable experience of business and investment, to inspire change, growth and transformation within organisations. 

In this episode, Michael explains systemic coaching, his energy model, and how making decisions with the right energy can make all the difference in your organisation. He also discusses how you build a business, what leadership looks like, how you make decisions, and how you become more strategic.

To learn more, download and listen today. 

On today’s podcast:

  • What is systemic coaching?
  • What the business world can learn from Tiger Woods
  • How to make decisions
  • Difference between leadership and management
  • Get clear on what you’re good at

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Why You Need to Think Systemically Rather Than Individually with Michael Cahill

Author, trainer, coach and facilitator at MarketMatters, Michael Cahill, has a background in investment. But, having spent 16 years working in the city as an equity analyst in the number one rated team at UBS Warburg (now simply UBS), Michael decided there was more to life than spreadsheets.

10 years ago he left UBS and began sharing his understanding of the city and valuation. And that’s since developed into coaching, training, leadership workshops, and facilitating workshops, often around strategy and purpose.

“I prefer to work with people who want to think differently. I remember a very senior client saying to me, Michael, people will use you if they are serious about thinking differently. If they’re not serious about thinking differently, you’re not right for them, and they’re not right for you.”

Systemic coaching

One of the biggest issues Michael sees time and again in the organisations he works with is a focus on the individual, rather than the system as a whole. 

“One of my big areas of coaching is systemic coaching, which is where you’re working with the client being the system rather than the individual. And that’s a really powerful way of working.”

He gets invited into organisations to look at the system dynamics: what needs attending to? What would improve the free flow of energy in the system? Are people taking the right responsibility with their authority and making decisions for the good of the system, not just themselves?

“If you’re working with an individual and the focus is on the individual, the danger is you’re recruited to work at an ego level. And if something’s going wrong in an organisation, 85% of that relates to the system [only] 15% relates to the individual.”

Ejector seat syndrome

And when things do go wrong in the organisation, says Michael, what tends to happen is we try to cure individuals, or make someone a scapegoat. We blame the individual rather than the system they work in. We don’t look at what’s happening systemically and consider that this behaviour highlights that something isn’t right. 

“We call it ejector seat syndrome. And it doesn’t matter how good the person you’ve recruited is, the ejector seat throws them out at the appropriate time period. And of course, it’s impossible for them to step into the authority of the position.”

Another problem Michael frequently sees is that people often identify with the job title. They say “I’m the CEO”, rather than “I’m occupying the role of CEO”. Changing the perception of the role, and detaching yourself from it gives a very different energetic feeling. 

“‘I am CEO’ is going to allow my ego to be attached to the position. If I ever lose that job, I’m in real trouble because my ego and identity has been attached to the role. Whereas ‘I am occupying the role’ means that there were people before me, and I want to honour that, and there will be somebody after me.”

What the business world can learn from Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods reportedly said that the weakest part of his game was bunker shots. So, rather than practicing these shots, he dedicated his time to practicing what he was really good at and improving what he already excelled in. 

His take was, if you’re weak in an area, why waste energy focusing on where you don’t want to go, rather than dedicating your time and energy to getting even better at where you’re already excelling?

The same thinking can be applied to business. Why waste energy on looking where you don’t want to go when you could be creating a competitive advantage by focusing on where you already have the competitive advantage? 

“You know it yourself that once you start focusing on the bunker rather than the fairway, your body will get a little tense, then you’re not going to play the shot as well. And it’s the same with decision making. If I say, at all costs, we must avoid X, Y, and Z. That’s the energy I’m putting into the decision. And that’s what I will attract. But crucially, I won’t make a good decision. Because all I’m focusing on is what I don’t want.”

Decision making in leaders

Did you know, says Michael, that people who are self aware are 10X better in business? That’s because they know when to make their best decisions, in particular, what environment they should be in to make good decisions. 

Take Jeff Bezos, for example. He only makes decisions in the morning, and he puts his decisions into two buckets – can the decision be reversed, or can’t it? If it can be easily reversed, then it doesn’t matter what you decide to do. But if it’s hard to reverse, then you need to really pay attention to what you’re deciding. 

“The best leaders just keep deciding. So rather than it being a noun: we’ve taken this decision, you just keep on deciding. So it’s an ongoing process, it’s not a thing. And that takes the pressure off. Because if it’s not quite working out, you just decide to do something else. And it’s no big deal.”

The problem with decision making, says Michael, is that often egos and emotion get attached to the decision, and fear.

“And this comes back to the energy piece. If there is the energy of fear, it’s going to constrict the body, it is going to stop oxygen flowing to the brain and people won’t make decisions. And you can’t solve a problem in a fear state. You have no access to creativity.”

Difference between leadership and management

There’s all sorts of models around leadership and management, says Michael. But one of the things he finds a useful distinction is that execution and performance is management. Whereas leadership is being in charge of vision and purpose. 

As a leader, you have to be really committed to the values and purpose of your organisation, and the vision and its general direction are very different from the execution. But, when you’ve got those two in harmony, your organisation will really prosper. 

The value of recognition

In John Whittington’s book on systemic coaching, says Michael, he outlines three human hungers which are imperative in any organisation: the need for psychological safety, the need for recognition, and the need for belonging. 

Too often in business, though, it’s all about transactions rather than relationships. The way he advises you to look at your employees isn’t to think of simply employing them, rather you’re entering a relationship with them. Because if you have a relationship with your staff, they can create a relationship with your customer base. 

“Nobody can love the customers if they don’t love the company that they’re in. And so if your relationship with your company is transactional, then it puts a cap on the level of customer satisfaction or customer delight. It’s never going to be better than ‘meh’.”

Get clear on what you’re good at

As an organisation, your strategy needs to be to get really clear on what you’re great at. Because, says Michael, if you’re not clear about how good you are at something, how can you get better at it? 

And you get better at it not by having a metric like the Net Promoter Score, but rather by asking – is the leadership team more competitive at the end of 12 months than you were last year? What have you done to increase your competitive advantage? 

Whatever it might be that determines your competitive advantage, that’s what you should be interested in. More specifically, what are you doing to deepen it? 

Book recommendations 


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