Hi, I’m Ian McClean. I’m the founder of Flow Group and GreenLine Conversations, and this podcast has grown out of the chaos that’s been thrust upon us. During the podcast, I’m going to try and share with you the best of 25 years of helping corporate organizations deal and cope with change. So, as you’re out there, busy making sense of it all, trying to cope, and maybe, in some cases, trying to rebuild your organizations, I’m hoping that some of this can be of some assistance. We’ll keep it deliberately short, because I know you’re busy. Let’s dive in.

Welcome to episode 13, and apologies already to the Triskaidekaphobics who are out there. If you ask any non-martial artist, what’s the pinnacle of achievement in any martial art? Anybody will say a black belt; however, ask any black belt how they would describe being a black belt, and the most common answer you will receive is the word beginner.

The reason for this is you move up the belts from one colour to the next, the blues and, the browns and the whites all the way through until you get to the black belt. And then, when you arrive at the black belt, you enter a brand new system. Which is called the Dan system. Have you ever wondered, we haven’t used all the colors in the rainbow before we get to black. Why start a brand new system when you could just introduce more colours on the way to black?

The answer is the purpose of the belts is to eliminate restrictions and the different colours, so when you get to a black belt, by the time you arrive, you will no longer be limited by strength, you will no longer be limited by flexibility, you will no longer be limited by technique. And it’s only when you remove the limitations that you can then begin to experience the art of the martial art.

Leadership is a lot like that. The belts on the way to black belt include IQ. So, being smart, intelligence. Another one is technical expertise, whatever your chosen discipline is, but this will only get you so far.

We have a very interesting question that we’ve asked for the last 20-plus years to all candidates for leadership on leadership development programme, which is to identify the leader that has had the most positive impact them on them in their entire lives to date. Once they’ve nominated the person, they identify the characteristics that made them make that selection.

And in more than 70 per cent of cases, it has nothing to do with either intelligence and smarts or technical knowledge and expertise. It has everything to do with how that leader connected with me. Particularly when I needed it most and how they were able to make me feel and motivate me in the hours that mattered.

Perhaps Henry Kissinger summarized it best when he said, “The further up the food chain you go, the more it only becomes about understanding who’s on the other side of the table?” We may be very sophisticated as a species, but there are basic fundamental laws that still govern our nature. After all, we are animals.

Whether you come at it from the point of evolutionary biology or cognitive science, there is nothing to differentiate us in our basic genetic code from bacteria or daffodils. Albeit, most of us are a bit smarter than the daffodils. So if our reputation as a leader is based on our impact and how we’re going to be judged during this chaos, and that impact has nothing to do with our intelligence or knowledge of our discipline.

I still find it remarkable that most leaders can read a balance sheet, prepare for a meeting or run a project but they haven’t the first clue about what the basic tenets of how to motivate people are. And that their foray into understanding this is either based on their basic intuition of what they think to do at the moment or what they’ve experienced to do and not to do based on good or bad behaviour from previous leaders that they’ve experienced in their career to date.

So last week I introduced the model of SCARF from the Neural Leadership Institute, which is made up of five components that are core to people’s motivation one way or the other. And they are Status; how people feature relative to their peer group in their community, in their teams. Certainty, a basic understanding of what the game is, what the rules are, what’s expected, what the detail is. Autonomy is the ability to make my own choices and determine my own destiny. Relatedness is the connection to other people, and Fairness, which is a sense of fairness for all and fair play.

The thing to know is that we are not all disposed to each of those in equal measure. In fact, the individuality that we have is that typically, there are one or two of those five virtues that drive us more than the other. And understanding what that hierarchy is, is a very, very significant tool in being able to help people stay focused, stay motivated, stay inspired.

So, let’s begin with you. Which of the five is the one or two that are core to your own personal motivation? Many managers and leaders are blind to this. It’s like betting blindly on poker hands, and they’re wondering why they have good days and bad days. Naturally, we will have good days and bad days, but we can mitigate that somewhat by a better self-understanding of what our core drivers are for me.

It was a very interesting journey to discover that my entire life has been a homage to autonomy. And it’s nothing that’s a conscious thing. I don’t get up in the morning thinking, how can I be autonomous today? So, this is going on underneath the surface all the time. It’s like the hum of the fridge. But retrospectively, when I look back at my life, it’s no coincidence that I left home and was the first to leave home at age 19, giving up a scholarship at university in the process.

It’s no coincidence either that I’ve never had a paycheck from an employer because I’ve never worked for somebody formally. And I can remember very clearly the day I got my first credit card. I was living in Oxford, and when I got the credit card through, the thing that drew my attention was the credit limit, which was 1500 pounds at the time.

I remember feeling incensed, making an appointment with my bank manager in the days when you could have an appointment with your bank manager and remonstrating with him about the limit, which I insisted needed to be raised. The interesting thing about this is that it’s not as if I was even going to hit the limit. But just the idea that there was an imposition of some limit was enough to trigger a limbic response.

Now, I wouldn’t want to be employing me, but if I did, it would be clear that the way to motivate me would be to give me a clear target and get well out of the way.

Finally, in this episode, I can remember very clearly the last crisis in 2008, 2009, when without the wage subsidy, like many other organizations and our competitors, we had to lay people off. And those that were left were reduced both in terms of pay and in terms of time.

There were two consultants that I can remember distinctly, and their responses to the same circumstances were completely different because their needs were completely different. So for one consultant who had a high certainty need, she was somebody who needed to know at every turn, every corner, what was happening, what wasn’t happening, what the expectations were, how long it was going to last, when pay might be restored, when time might be restored, what I knew, what I didn’t know. This need for certainty was something that I needed to pay attention to in order to keep this person, this consultant, motivated.

Another consultant who’s main driver was relatedness. This was somebody who had a lot of their motivation through their interaction with others, whether it was peers whilst working with clients on projects or working with clients directly in the office. Because we were reduced down to such little hours the opportunity for this consultant to have her relatedness need met was very, very limited and strictly curtailed.

And what I had to do was think about ways in which I could still create the relatedness opportunities to connect in spite of the fact that there was practically no work to do. The idea of a one-size-fits-all approach to motivation is absurd because people are individuals and understand what their core drivers are and what their needs are in both cases that I’ve mentioned, one of the least anxieties that people had was financial.

In our concluding part of motivation next week, I’m going to go into more detail about how we can identify the things to do and not to do with our people, depending on what their priority needs are.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay sane, stay connected.

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