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Thriving on Chaos – Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

As we’re more than half way through 2021 and those of us in Australia enter a new financial year amidst lockdown, the covid chaos of the past 18 months remains a challenge. 

Like many, I recently moved to a home office after selling my business premises. It took ages to clear bookshelves as I fell into the trap of glancing over highlighted passages of books that had helped my career; and couldn’t bear to part with copies signed by authors I knew. Since my days as an executive with IBM, I admired the no-nonsense, energetic delivery of former McKinsey management guru, Tom Peters who wrote the New York Times #1 best-seller, In Search of Excellence.  We met at a conference when I started out as an author and speaker. Over 20 years later, I dusted off his lesser-known tome; Thriving on Chaos. Although written after the 1987 stock market crash, the title is equally relevant today.

Catherine DeVrye and Tom Peters
Catherine DeVrye and Tom Peters

The inside jacket flap states:

“Everywhere and every day, managers confront shattering and accelerating change…in a chaotic new world.”

Hmmm, sound familiar? I haven’t had a chance to re-read the entire book but some chapter headings are just as applicable today in what Peters labelled:

Prescriptions for a World Turned Upside Down:

Inset: Thriving on Chaos book by Tom Peters

Not every chapter is as relevant but most sound practices stand the test of time. So too, I’m reminded of Peter Drucker who, in 1954, published The Changing World of the Executive. Although that was decades before I attended Harvard University, his legendary quote was prominent in our leadership curriculum:

  • Achieving flexibility by empowering people
  • Use self-managing teams
  • Learning to love change
  • Reconceive the middle managers role
  • Decentralise information, authority & strategic planning
  • Master paradox

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Yes, change is constant. In my own book, Chapter 14 of Hot Lemon & Honey – Reflections for Success in Times of Change is titled:

“Change is inevitable. Learning from change is optional!”

Peter Drucker passed away in 2005, aged 95 and Tom Peters turns 78 this year and still actively comments on Twitter with his trademark candour. Amidst some of the fads of self-proclaimed ‘thought leaders’ of today, don’t we need sustainable wisdom that stands the test of time?

Timeless! I love my Kindle but sorting through those physical bookshelves left me with a lingering sense of lingering déjà vu—that sometimes the more things change, the more they remain the same.

In this current age of covid chaos, will your decisions be based on a trendy whim or on sustainable wisdom? Will you be a victim or a victor of change? Those choices are entirely yours and I’m sure you’ll choose wisely.

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The two types of trust

Being genuinely interested in everyone you meet may be second nature to those of us in the executive search business, but contrary to the popular saying, the reverse isn’t always true. In London for an AESC conference recently, I met John Niland. John is best-known as a conference speaker on doing higher value work and for the last 15 years, has been coaching others to achieve success. He has a particular passion for supporting independent professionals to adapt and thrive in today’s challenging economies. In the following article he makes some valid points about the nature of trust – applicable to all of us, no matter what business you are in.

Geoff Slade

1. Cognitive trust and Affective trust

To win wholehearted trust from another person, you need to win both their head and their heart. However, not everyone we meet places equal reliance on these two faculties.

Some people (and cultures) are primarily cognitive. When building trust, they look for evidence that is factual: e.g. evidence of credibility, track-record, process, reliability, tangible results and useful insights. If you can answer their questions specifically (or guide them to ask better questions) then you build trust.

Other people (and cultures) are primarily affective. They first decide if they like you or not, then they listen to what you have to say. Bombarding them with evidence of your credibility is unnecessary and may even be counter-productive. Their decision to trust is intuitive rather than rational … and is often uncannily accurate. They take in your body language, your attentiveness to them and a host of non-verbal cues.

While most people will use both dimensions (i.e. cognitive and affective), in practice the majority of people have a tendency to rely more heavily on one dimension than the other. For example, in large organisations, the greater the likelihood that trust-building is cognitive… at least in northern Europe. But beware of stereotypes: I have come across senior managers in finance who build trust affectively, just as many freelance professionals are as cognitive as you can find on the planet.

In a team environment, affective trust tends to win out. If team members like each other, this generally makes for greater performance and mutual support than if they simply cognitively respect each other. However, in many teams, it’s worth noting that cognitive respect plays a big part in whether one professional likes another or not. So it’s always worth considering both dimensions… not just the one that most reflects you!

2. Trusting yourself

How do your build trust? Cognitively (via the head) or affectively (via the heart)? Which is your primary mode of trust-building?

Perhaps the person that it’s most important to trust is yourself. This is usually expressed as confidence: confident people have trust in themselves. Indeed, in some languages (such as French), the same word ‘confiance’ means both trust and confidence.

If a person is not particularly confident, then they struggle to trust themselves. So they furiously prepare for meetings, feel anxious in negotiations, worry about the future, avoid difficult conversations, postpone decisions, have difficulty with business-development and often with personal relationships, too.

Most people would agree that confidence is built though action, rather than by reflection. Certainly this is likely to be true for cognitive trust-builders. By creating their own track-record in dealing with scary situations, they see increasing evidence that they can trust themselves.

However, for those who build trust affectively (or intuitively), how do they deal with low self-confidence and lack of trust in themselves? In my coaching work, I see that affective trust-builders often have a harder time overcoming a poor reputation with themselves. Unlike the cognitive trust-builders, they cannot easily grow self-confidence through affirmative action… because they don’t like themselves very much to begin with.

Self-worth is about liking ourselves – with or without the evidence. It’s not the same as self-esteem and certainly not the same as confidence. It’s a fundamental pre-requisite for career-development, for charging better fees and raising the value of our work.

 

John Niland is a Brussels based management consultant. john@vco-global.com

This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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