I have written about fear at work over the last two weeks.
In this post I discuss how a Chair or Chief Executive might be more successful, if they work with the knowledge of fear, how to manage it and how to strengthen their teams. My own experience tells me that in groups and organisations where there is a high level of trust and a low level of fear, a strong sense of shared endeavour, enthusiasm and fun gets great results.
In an organisation where reflection and an awareness of emotional forces are part of the culture strategic decision making will be less subjective than in an organisation where we pretend these things cannot happen. We have found that bringing up our subjective experiences and seeking their emotional context together in our senior team has really helped us arrive at better decision making. As we become more aware and open, and as we share our experiences, feelings and thoughts within our team, we bring our cognitive biases to light.
Having a genuine dialogue improves the quality of the processes and the interpersonal relationships between board members. This is lots of fun, and creates a unified, enthusiastic board, full of energy and commitment to the task. These features help ensure the job is done more quickly and at a higher level of quality.
The other factor, of course, in a team that genuinely trusts one another, fear and insecurity are reduced. Then everyone can bring their fullest experience and attention to the difficult issues, helping resolve them through collective reflection.
I am not suggesting that boards of management or Non-Executive Directors go on courses or that workshops are organised. If the Chairperson or Chief Executive uses their power and authority effectively to manage agendas and meetings, these benefits can be achieved during a normal meeting cycle. Banish the boring presentations, giving too much information, at your board meetings . Avoid papers, with lots of hyperbolic adjectives, that insist on one “no-brainer” answer (if the solution is so obvious why are we wasting our time on it?). Encourage dissent, and bring hesitancy to light. Allow an actual exchange to take place, especially if you think you know the “answer”.
A genuine dialogue requires all of to make our perceptions available to the group to reflect on. As the group thinks through the issue it is good to question our own assumptions and those of others, wherever possible separating the idea/comment from who said it. One of the greatest challenges in effective meeting management is to decouple our reaction to an idea from our reaction to the person who voices it. It is considerably easier if we see all ideas as coming from the group as a whole. The discomfort all of us feel when our ideas are rejected or criticised can make it very difficult to express our thoughts and feelings freely. It is only in an atmosphere where all the ideas are genuinely “shared” that everyone can gain the confidence to contribute their learning to the group.
These feelings, once made conscious and aired in a supportive group, allow us to make better decisions in an uncertain and constantly changing world. This gives an enormous competitive advantage. For example poor sales results may lead to a knee jerk reaction – reaching a solution too quickly that jeopardises the future. Even worse one team gets the blame and are ostracised and eventually they leave in demoralisation, or are sacked. The difficult and frightening reality that the product is not selling as well as it did needs lots of thought, research, questioning and a united team approaching it from all angles.
Not all boards can work this way, as so much depends on the personality of the Chairman or CEO. His or her behaviour absolutely determines how the meetings and atmosphere develop. The more mature and developed the personality the easier it is to conduct reflection-based meetings, so it is of no surprise that some of the best Chairs are in their 60s or older. Often wisdom comes with age, although not in all cases! At the same time it is not that unusual to find narcissistic personalities in charge of organisations, either as Chair or CEO. These type of people may be highly motivated to become the best but underlying it is often an unconscious fear of failing, becoming a pathetic also-ran no one cares to spend time with. This fear leads them to need huge amounts of recognition, and they like nothing better than being applauded and admired. On the other hand if they hear voices of criticism or even disagreement this is experienced as an existential threat and needs to be closed down, so it is not possible to allow open dialogue in the board room.