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.
You know, All change involves chaos. We’ve been dealing with corporate organizations for almost a quarter of a century, working with over 300 organizations and their leaders, helping them manage through change across 38 different industry sectors.
So we’re used to chaos. However, mostly, the chaos comes with a small C. The last time it came with anything like a capital C was during the financial crisis back in 2009. And, one of the things that we observed during that period, we observed that it brought out the best in leaders, but it also brought out the worst in leaders.
And, following that particular passage of time, when things went back to the new way, those who had built better reputations were able to rebuild their organizations faster than those who didn’t. There were those who won the gold medals, and there were those who won the wooden spoon. But everything was built around one central ingredient, and that was the ability to build trust.
As Warren Buffett famously said in a different context, it’s only when the tide goes out you see who’s been swimming in the nude. And I’ll guess, if you’re like me, during these most trying of times, you’ve probably begun to observe the best and the worst in people. Even at home, I can see different sides to my two kids than I did previously.
Even at home, I can see different aspects to my neighbors. Some of whom I’ll be closer to as a result of this when it’s over, and some of whom I won’t. It’s in moments like these, especially moments of tension, complexity, uncertainty, and where the stakes are higher. That’s when you really see what people have got or what they don’t.
And it’s when you really trust people, or you don’t. So, how does that work exactly? Well, let me begin by describing to you what we call the 5 per cent moments. What’s a 5 per cent moment in ordinary time? Well, you know that moment when you’re in a meeting, and somebody fires a question at you, puts you on the spot, and you mentally freeze? You mumble your best answer at the time, you leave the meeting, you go back to your office, and 15 minutes later, when you reflect on it, You just remember to yourself and think to yourself, I should have said that, I could have done that. You already have the answer.
Or, you’re going in to have that difficult conversation with somebody, and you promise yourself on your way in, I won’t get defensive, I won’t get defensive, I won’t get defensive.
And as you’re leaving it, after the conversation’s gone, you walk down the hall, and you say, I shouldn’t have got defensive, I shouldn’t have got defensive. So why is it that in the moments that we most need to be at our best, Something happens or intervenes that makes us at our worst and doesn’t get the outcome that we’re looking for?
We call these the five per cent moments. What’s happening in those moments is precisely connected to what’s happening in our brain, and our brain is made up of two distinct systems. If you imagine it like a fist. And if you have the liberty, and you’re not driving your car at the moment, if you splay open your fingers and your thumb, and you close your thumb inside and wrap around your four fingers on the thumb to make a fist, that’s a pretty good working model of your brain.
You’ve got two systems. If you splay it open again, you’ve got your four fingers, which represent your thinking brain. Wrapped inside your thinking brain, you’ve got your thumb, which is representative of your feeling brain. They do two very, very different things. The thinking brain is what is operational and is minding you or looking after you and in play 95 per cent of the time.
And it does four things: four fingers. The first thing it does is it solves problems. It also deals with complexity. It makes you creative and agile, and it also prioritizes future first in your decision-making. That’s the thinking brain. The feeling brain is completely different, the thumb. It’s only got one focus and one purpose and that is to keep you safe and to keep you free from harm.
So it’s constantly monitoring for danger, danger in all dimensions. It only typically activates a minority of the time and when it does, it kicks in instantly and it operates a fight or flight response. During the current climate of tension, complexity, uncertainty, and higher stakes, it is far more likely that the limbic system or the feeling brain will be in play more often and with more virulence than it would typically in ordinary times.
It’s more active now, and the impact that it has when it takes over the controls is it literally makes you stupid. It shortens your horizons, and it narrows your focus. And when I say makes you stupid, it accounts for the reasons why people end up having fistfights in the aisles over toilet rolls. It makes no sense when you step back and look at it. But then again, people aren’t applying their thinking brain.
But here’s the rub. There are more 5 per cent moments in chaos than there are at any other time. And it’s only in 5 per cent of moments that trust is built or trust is broken. We discovered in earlier episodes at no other time like this are people watching you and their limbic systems are scouring to determine whether you are really a friend or a foe.
This limbic system has kept us alive and kept the species going for over 150 million years. So, it knows a thing or two. It learns and understands in ways that we don’t logically apply. So, it knows. And how you show up for people in their 5 per cent moments and how you show up in your 5 per cent moments are going to determine your reputation and your ability to build the trust that you need and rebuild your organization through your people.
If you want any proof of this, let me ask you and finish off with a question. As you think about your own career and your own life to date, if I were to ask you, who is the leader that you are most inspired by and has been most instrumental in helping you through your entire career? This could be back all the way to your childhood, maybe in the sporting field, perhaps in school, education, or through your professional career.
Who is that one person that you would identify as being the ultimate role model for you as a leader? As you reflect on that, let me tell you what your brain is doing. Your brain is scouring for the leader who showed up for you in your 5 per cent moments in ways that you needed them to. And that builds the trust.
What is it that you would or wouldn’t do for that person?
Until next time, stay safe, stay sane, stay connected.