Snake Charming: Why Leaders Avoid Anxiety

Uugh! Charming.

Uugh! Charming.











I have a client who recently took on an international role. He now spends more time on airplanes than Willie Walsh in British Airways (yes, be careful what you wish for!). On a recent visit to India, he was looking forward to getting involved in some high-level, strategic discussions in a plant which was under threat of being closed down. Instead, just after he arrived he was asked to carefully review the local policy on snake catching. Apparently, specialists are brought into the plant – and like St. Patrick they get rid of the snakes. Listed below is a faithfully reproduced extract from the existing policy. If you have to write a similar policy for your factory in Mullingar, it might save you a bit of effort…

These person catch snake based on experience & acquired skills. There is no official certification issued to them from any agency. Hence advice if you feel he is unhealthy or under influence of alcoholic or taking extra ordinary risk, do restrict him.

Bland undertaking forms are kept at security gate, ensure that this form is got signed before assigning him the work of snake catching.

Often after the snake is caught they perform demo to demonstrate their snake catching & handling skills. Avoid such acts to be done in factory premises, if required as part of awareness development they can be organised through registered agency.

I’m not 100% sure exactly what ‘value’ my client was able to add to this snake-catching policy. Other than a couple of visits to the Reptile House in Dublin Zoo with his kids, I don’t think he’s that big into snakes, albeit he is quite charming.

Sleeping Pills: A couple of years ago, I was a patient in the Mater Hospital, receiving a small medical procedure (no, not a lobotomy). Just before 11pm, the nurse woke me up to give me a sleeping tablet. Hymm. It raises the question: ‘In organisations, why do smart people do stupid things?’ Like asking people to look at snake catching policies or waking sleeping patients.

Anxiety Avoidance: Well it turns out that in many institutions where there is ‘high anxiety’ (hospitals are off the Richter Scale on this), routines like drug dispensation help to alleviate anxiety. In a sense they ‘shield’ staff from dealing with the day-to-day crisis of pain, suffering and death. ‘Getting on with it’ in an unthinking, ritualistic fashion allows people to cope. Black humour in the Fire Brigade service plays a very similar role. And, it’s not always about life and death issues. Organisation issues like ‘strategy development’ or ‘plant shutdowns’ can create enormous anxiety. And so they are avoided by focusing on stuff like snake catching. Not sure how to respond to a new piece of legislation or a competitor move? Can I suggest that you re-write the policy of ‘dress down Friday’s’ and go home tired after a busy day at work.

Of course, avoidance is not a sustainable policy. You need to face up to the BIG issues in your organisation. Check your payslip. That’s why leaders are paid big bucks. Whichever way you argue it, you can’t ‘snake out of’ that one.


 PS Saying Goodbye: I was saddened to learn of the death of Ivor Kenny. While I never met Ivor in person, I admired him from a distance. He set up the Irish Management Institute and, through his many books, made ideas on leadership accessible. One of his best lines: “Doing is the Opium for Managers” (i.e. managers hate ‘thinking’ and have a default position of ‘getting on with it’). A visionary and a loss. A lot of us owe him a debt for our earlier training. 

Lighter Moments

 Q: While did the snake’s wife file for divorce?

A: Ereptile Dysfunction

A devout cowboy lost his bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Two weeks later, a snake slid up to him, carrying the bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the snake’s mouth and, looking heavenwards declared: “It’s a miracle!”. “Not really”, said the snake. “Your name is written inside the cover”

From the irrepressible John McGlynn, a bevy of 1-liners…

  • I hate Russian dolls, they’re so full of themselves.
  • People used to laugh at me when I said: “I want to be a comedian”. Well nobody’s laughing now.
  • When my wife told me to stop impersonating a flamingo, I had to put my foot down.
  • My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.
  • The first time I got a universal remote control, I thought to myself “This changes everything.”
  • People say I’m condescending. That means I talk down to people.
  • Whiteboards are remarkable.
  • I asked my North Korean friend how it was there. He said he couldn’t complain.
From Kevin Griffin: I went to Starbucks the other day for my normal daily coffee. A man came in and ordered a coffee and sat down to drink it.
He didn’t have a smartphone.
He didn’t have a tablet.
He didn’t have a lap-top.
He just sat there and drank his coffee like a psychopath !!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.



About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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One Response to Snake Charming: Why Leaders Avoid Anxiety

  1. Anxiety avoidance is probably much the same as conflict avoidance. Research into this shows that avoiding conflict is the most popular conflict handling mode at work, by a long way. Basically when we’re at work we’re a bunch of woosies. No wonder nothing ever gets done.

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