Mind Fitness for Leadership – Melbourne Session

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence

Two roads diverged in the woods and I…

I took the road less travelled by

And that has made all the difference”

– Robert Frost

In late May in Melbourne, a stellar turnout of around 40 eager actuaries held a tremendous conversation on mind fitness for leadership, facilitated and guided by Katharine McLennan of QBE.

Katharine led us through the challenges we face in going through significant change, and how fear can trigger our fight, flight or freeze responses. While the role of automatic responses has been an evolutionary gift that has saved us from many a sabre-toothed tiger, our inherited neurological responses can also hijack us in ordinary situations. This is what Katharine described as FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real).

From there the group explored the things that can happen in our workplace roles that trigger emotional responses. The acronym SCARF is used to describe the common themes of what we may perceive to be at risk of losing during change:

  • Status – our credibility, where we are in the pecking order, is called into question. For example,” You are not required to attend this meeting as it is only for senior managers.”
  • Certainty – significant change almost always reduces the capacity for predicting the future with reasonable certainty. When sudden changes occur that you are not aware of, certainty is threatened. This is when the water cooler rumours start!
  • Autonomy – when our ability to make our own decisions is scaled back. For example if a new structure is put in place that reduces our delegated authorities.
  • Relatedness – major change often means existing relationships are disturbed and a reduced feeling of safety and trust is felt with the people guiding the changes.

    Fear of conflict is another example where there is fear of damage to a relationship.

  • Fairness – when redundancies, promotions or pay rises occur, concerns about being treated fairly compared to others are often triggered.

The conversation explored how these played out in people’s day to day roles and how going through the major restructures and integrations that many finance organisations are facing can trigger the whole SCARF in a single day. A link to a short video on the SCARF model is https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=BT_IF6Jr15U

There was also discussion of other losses that occur through change that can lead to a threatened response. These include loss of identity and loss of meaning or connection to purpose.

To respond elegantly in the face of such challenge requires a high degree of capacity to step back from the event and to choose carefully how we respond. This was referred to as mind fitness.


  • Get out of the immediate situation, physically remove yourself.
  • Be aware of your breathing and where in your body you are experiencing tension or anxiety.
  • Identify which of the five SCARF themes has been triggered, or what other feelings have been triggered. Explore why that has caused a response.
  • Consider alternative responses.

Much interest was also shown in the applications of mindfulness techniques to create space between an event occurring and our choices of response. Amongst those discussed were meditation, yoga and reflective practices.

As the session came to a conclusion, the stream of people bubbling away in conversation and coming up to greet and thank Katharine left no doubt that actuaries could easily become keen mind fitness fanatics!! The slides from Katharine’s presentation can be found at http://www.actuaries.asn.au/Library/Events/ Insights/2013/LeadershipForum131210.pdf


The Leadership and Career Development Committee aims to promote the non-technical skills that will enhance members’ leadership capability and contribution to business, the actuarial profession and the broader community. The Committee is responsible for:

  • Raising awareness of the value of developing leadership and communication skills to members.
  • Raising awareness of the leadership capabilities of members of the profession to stakeholders. This includes employers, government, professional bodies, members and new entrants to the profession – school leavers and university students.
  • Encouraging interaction with other professionals for purposes of interdisciplinary education and relationships.
  • Advising Council on recommended leadership initiatives.

CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.