“Rethinking Infidelity”: test you inclusion skills, as a leader!

by Didier Marlier on Friday March 10th, 2017

I am still puzzled as to why TED proposed me to watch the following intervention of a Belgian born, New-York based psychotherapist, Esther Perel… The title of her intervention sounded provocative: “Rethinking infidelity!” I had a few minutes to spare and chose to watch. My doubts and rather neutral attitude gradually faded. I liked the tone of her voice, the detachment, the brutal clarity of her explanations and ended up with a strong intuition that we could be using this clip, or parts of it, in our practice. My interpretation was that Mrs. Perel, still married to her first love, was opposing betrayal and cheating from a personal standpoint but was able to talk about it in such a non-judgemental and almost clinical manner that it could be a good example of how a leader could explore viewpoints that she opposes in a value building way. I sent the clip to my partners, asking for their opinions and… was surprised by the strength and emotionally loaded responses I had in return. Most of them sounded shocked by what they saw as a defence of infidelity and strongly recommended not to use such a TED talk in our practice.

I was amazed to see how divergent our opinions were on the subject. How could we see things under such a different light? A lot probably had to do with our own life stories, traumas, values, principles, preconceived ideas, with our vision of what can/cannot be done in order to preserve families, society etc… All these form biases and our biases are weighing strongly on the decisions we take, as business leaders.

Those who know me will tell you how biased I can be. It seems that I am unable to form an opinion without it to be supported by a strong emotion in favour or against. As a matter of fact, nothing bores me more than arguing for the sake of it. But the biased person I am, especially as a leader, needs to be aware of this.

This is where the challenge of creating a truly Inclusive Culture comes in.

Inclusion is not:

  • Free for all, all opinions, attitude and behaviours are accepted: An organization has a clear set of values. People are invited to join, are welcome to test the values and boundaries but there is a clear expectation that they position themselves and accept the values or leave.
  • Mediocrity: Let us “tolerate” diverse opinions and avoid conflicts. Hopefully, “they’ll go away”…
  • Keeping everybody happy: If all theories of education were to be summarized, they could probably be boiled down to two pillars: Unconditional affection (of which inclusion is part) and structure, if you wish to avoid the “Child Tyrant Syndrome”. Inclusion can’t work alone: it needs a counterweight of structure, purpose, values and objectives. It is not about keeping all happy.

Inclusion, in fact is a very demanding exercise:

  • Inclusion means, I listen without judgement. I seek to understand why you say/think that way. I walk the tightrope of understanding without agreeing/disagreeing nor colluding
  • Inclusion is not about being right or wrong or about deciding, it is about growing, learning, exploring, understanding.
  • Inclusion can’t be passive, neutral or “tempered”: it is a “hardcore exercise” where the organization and its leaders must want and accept to be influenced by those they wish to include. And that is probably the hardest bit: Fighting against the “We have always been successful at doing it that way” reflex.

I engage you to listen to this TED talk. How would you react to Esther if she were talking a business matter in such an unusual manner in your team? What is she really saying? How would you include someone who thinks her way (if you disagree with her) or the opposite way (if you appreciate what she explains)?

We are frequently called, my partners and I, around the world, to support executives teams who are locked in positions, dictated by their values more than their rationale. Of course, executives all know how to hide their emotions and personal values behind pseudo logic. Our job is the help them listen, re-include each other in a non-judgemental way and ensure that they practice a strong and engaged inclusion towards each other.

Lyon and Paris (for a public speech and the redesign of one of France’s top Exec MBA) this week. Enjoy the diversity of opinions along your weekly journey!

Didier

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