The handshake: Getting it ‘just right’

This is one of those important practicalities of leadership – the handshake. With an election looming here in Australia, many can remember that pivotal moment of the 2004 election. The Labor leader Mark Latham’s handshake almost wrestled the then PM John Howard as they passed in a corridor between radio interviews, pulling him close and staring him down. (This was included as #2 in the list Five famous handshakes in history*)

The perfect handshake, not to tight, not too lose, but just right.  The handshake has been a traditional greeting, a symbol of peace and a key part of business deals for thousands of years. New research  reveals that as many as two in three people (70 per cent) have a crisis of confidence when it comes to performing the act of a human handshake.

The importance of the handshake applies equally to men and women – I became used to shaking hands when we lived in Scotland for a year. In that culture it is the general polite greeting for both men and women, and it became a habit I adopted and maintained when I returned home. We (that includes us, girls) don’t have to kiss everyone we meet.

Now someone has quantified it.

Professor Geoffrey Beattie, head of psychological sciences at University of Manchester, devised an equation taking into account 12 key measures. The mathematical formula has been developed for car brand Chevrolet as part of a handshake training guide. Professor Beattie said: “The human handshake is one of the most crucial elements of impression formation and is used as a source of information for making a judgment about another person.” A limp handshake speaks of insecurity and the Latham-style looks like it was attempting to intimidate.

Professor Beattie has come up with the formula for a handshake: PH = √ (e2 + ve2)(d2) + (cg + dr)2 + π{(42)(42)}2 + (vi + t + te)2 + {(42 )(42)}2

The elements of the formula are listed below** but for the regular guy and gal like you and me, what does the professor suggest?

  • use the right hand
  • a complete grip
  • a firm squeeze (but not too strong)
  • a cool and dry palm
  • approximately three shakes
  • a medium level of vigor
  • held for no longer than two to three seconds
  • executed with eye contact kept throughout
  • a good natural smile
  • an appropriate verbal statement

Now that doesn’t seem to difficult?

Top 10 handshake turn-offs (

1. Sweaty palms (38 per cent say it is their top turn off)

2. Loose grip / limp wrist (35 per cent)

3. Gripping too hard (7 per cent)

4. Not making eye contact (5 per cent)

5. Shaking too vigorously (4 per cent)

6. Shaking for too long (4 per cent)

7. Standing too close (2 per cent)

8. Shaking with the left hand (2 per cent)

9. Not shaking for long enough (1 per cent)

10. Hot hands (1 per cent)

**(e) is eye contact (1=none; 5=direct) 5; (ve) is verbal greeting (1=totally inappropriate; 5=totally appropriate) 5; (d) is Duchenne smile – smiling in eyes and mouth, plus symmetry on both sides of face, and slower offset (1=totally non-Duchenne smile (false smile); 5=totally Duchenne) 5; (cg) completeness of grip (1=very incomplete; 5=full) 5; (dr) is dryness of hand (1=damp; 5=dry) 4; (s) is strength (1= weak; 5=strong) 3; (p) is position of hand (1=back towards own body; 5=other person’s bodily zone) 3; (vi) is vigour (1=too low/too high; 5=mid) 3; (t) is temperature of hands (1=too cold/too hot; 5=mid) 3; (te) is texture of hands (5=mid; 1=too rough/too smooth) 3; (c) is control (1=low; 5=high) 3; (du) is duration (1= brief; 5=long) 3.



The Leader’s DNA filters through every time

Thankfully my time as a driving instructor is long gone.

When we taught our sons to drive, we were confident we knew what we were doing. We were both teachers, of course. Our tactic was the same both times – spend a couple of months giving them road experience, then about a month out from the test, we’d get Ernie, the local instructor to lead the boys toward the test. For both of them Ernie’s first job was always to ‘unteach’ the parent’s bad driving habits. What bad driving habits, I ask?

We just can’t help transmitting the seemingly invisible to the people we lead.

Recently, I’ve noticed examples, both positively and negatively of how the leader’s DNA filters throughout the whole ’body’. Even as I watched the TV news tonight, there was a report about the sacking of a state board at a significant not-for-profit, after years of bullying complaints, “In order to be true to why we exist, we need to ensure that any structures that exist are there at the service of the people and not the other way around.” Those at the top were responsible for the culture and behaviour toward all the staff and volunteers, all the way through.

Another leader I know constantly speaks vision, as a result the people are empowered to think big, to expand their capacity and try new things. Most importantly, at every level of the organisation the staff feel valued and confident in the part each one plays toward achieving the vision.

Who would you rather follow?

Continue reading “The Leader’s DNA filters through every time”

Are we doing the best for our students?

What are the critical skills for employability?

For these workers the general preparation for work was basic knowledge:

What were the important employability skills for these people?
  • Technical skills
  • Scientific skill
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmetic

What are the crucial skills needed in this workplace? Applied skills…

A very different set of skills is needed.
Where's the boss?

Global literacy | Digital Literacy

Culturally sensitive | Languages

Creativity | Innovation

Flexibility | Agility | Nimbleness

People skills | Team members


The report: Are they really ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century US Workforce (2006)

These are the most important skills cited by employers:

  • Professionalism/Work Ethic
  • Oral and written communication
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Critical thinking/problem solving

Employers were asked:

Of the High School students that you recently hired, what were their deficiencies?

Written Communication 81%
Leadership 73%
Work Ethic 70%
Critical Thinking & Problem Solving 70%
Self-Direction 58%

What applied skills and basic knowledge are most important for those you will hire with a four year diploma?

Oral Communication 95.4%
Collaboration 94.4%
Professional/Work Ethic 93.8%
Written Communication 93.1%
Critical Thinking & Problem Solving 93.1%

Now we are in a both/and world… “75% of employers say K-12 schools should be responsible for the necessary basic knowledge and applied skills.”

A new vision for schools in Australia…Are you up for it?

Vision – an overused and perhaps under-delivered concept. It is the picture of a preferred future. What would a vision of a preferred future look like for schools in Australia?

  • A place where students want to learn and they do
  • A generation who are lifelong learners
  • A curriculum that engages and inspires
  • A place where teachers know they are making a difference in the lives of young people

We are about to get a new Minister for Education in Australia. I think that perhaps the current one may be a little busy, now that she’s PM. In NSW we have had about six education ministers in as many years.  I would love to see a strong vision for education in this country.

This great big new vision doesn’t see schools as a lever to stimulate the economy during the GFC by the provision of billions of dollars in building projects, but instead, its the provision of billions of dollars that supports a BIG vision for education in Australia. This new vision needs to recognise that we are in a new era, which is very different to the one where I went to school and needs a significant rethink in design – physical spaces and curriculum.

I’m sad that these not-insignificant-funds have not come with significant thinking in our state. A real vision for education would see a rigorous evaluation of what we have and what is needed and where we want to go…VISION.

What would be my vision for education in Australia?

A united and strategically funded education system that prepares our young people with the skills they need in a globalised and connected world, with curriculum delivery that enables them to reach their potential and then continue learning through life.

How would this be achieved?

  • Schools, teacher and curriculum design that doesn’t look like they belong in the industrial-era
  • Learning opportunities for students that are personalised, engaging and stimulating
  • Teachers as facilitators and coaches of students
  • Significant changes in the language we all use. What picture is conjured in your mind when I say: Classroom, Library, Teaching. These things still tend to look the same from when I went to school.

I’m a bit of a *Pollyanna and firmly believe we can begin to see change but there’s lots of work to be done – talking, listening, putting aside our own experiences of school and embracing change.

Are you up for it?

*To you non-baby-boomers, Pollyanna comes from the classic children’s novel of the same name by Ellen H. Porter and the term refers to someone whose optimism is excessive to the point of naïveté.

What I do and where we’ve been #1

From factory to C21st learning – vision, spaces, people, culture. Let me explain…

This year so far (from Feb to June 2010) we’ve had more than 200 visitors come through our school  Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS), I work in the R&D unit – Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL). A school with an R&D unit? Yes, it’s a pretty unique place.

My role is ‘Director of Development’ and my one sentence job description is “I take what we do to the outside world and bring the outside world in.” And the outside world is very interested.

About 5 years ago our principal, Stephen Harris, decided to investigate how we could embed research and innovation within a school environment to be able to prepare young people for the big wide world they will enter. He wanted to establish a culture, equip teachers and design the school in such a way that would really emphasise collaborative, enquiry-based learning for a technology-rich and changing world.

This year the SCIL Building was officially opened and the students and teachers commenced work in the space. It doesn’t look like any classroom you’ve ever seen, that’s because it isn’t a ‘classroom’ – it’s a series of interconnected, multi-modal, multimedia ‘spaces for learning’.

But long before the schmick new building was opened, the process of change commenced. For all the visitors who come to our school the recurring question is: How did the principal manage to get the teachers on board with such significant change?

The answer is that the process of bringing the whole staff along for the ride began well before the opening of the building. There was a systematic, deliberate approach that combined support, training and guidance, with benchmarks, expectations and outcomes.

I spent some time thinking about the case-study of NBCS/SCIL and I’ve synthesised the process to four key elements: