Cautiousness kills


Didier Marlier

January 24, 2018

From Disruption to Engagement

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Year after year Helen Fisher (Chief Scientific Officer for the Dating website, holds a Survey with a large sample of US members. This year, she found out that 67% of the single US members who were engaged into a long-term relationship had not married because they are terrified at the idea of… divorcing!

Recently, I was observing an executive team at work. The five participants were sharp minds. Their diversity was interesting (a blend of Asian, Middle Eastern, American, South American and European and nice gender disparity as well). They were all strong characters but, for a reason, their business performance was appalling. So when we debriefed on why that was happening, one of them explained: “We seem to spend so much energy avoiding conflict, being considerate with each other that we fail to dive into the content and discuss about our strategy”. In other words, the team’s attention to relationships was diverting them from holding the conversations they should be having in order to decide about their strategy.

Those two stories, apparently far apart, have in fact several points in common. Why do people who share each other lives for so long, not dare to take the extra step of engaging with each other? Why do intelligent executives, working for the same aim, fail to focus on the topics that will truly make a difference? In other terms, why do those executives, like the long-term partners neutralize each other?

I can see three points in common between those two stories:

  • Is your Trust earned or given? If my trust has to be earned, I am conditional, I choose, I wait for you to prove something… If we both (or in the case of a team, if we all) do that, then it will take time until something happens, if it happens at all. In the case of the team I was observing, this was very clear. And rather than throwing themselves into the deep end, the executives were engaged into a never-ending round of observation, carefully maintaining their guard high, not taking any risk and having switched their minds on avoiding problems rather than solving issues. When my trust is given, I am inviting, I create Psychological Safety, I engage, I take a personal risk. In my life, I consistently chose the second option and hardly met betrayal.
  • I am into Prevention or Contingency Planning mode? In a recent conversation about why so many people fail to build a passionate and fusional relationship in their couple, a friend explained: “There are two ways to start a new relationship: The first is to be cautious, for all sorts of reasons, maybe he/she is lying? Maybe he/she is into this out of interest? Maybe he/she is just after sex? Maybe… maybe… maybe. The problem with that approach, is a sort of “Paralysis by analysis” and you will never, ever engage as suspicion will creep in like a cancer. The other way? Throw yourself unconditionally into the relationship, make yourself vulnerable, put yourself in danger! He added “Do you feel so weak that you need to focus on preventing another disaster or will you trust in your own recovery mechanism and go for it?” I loved his conclusion: where will I put my energy? On prevention planning, hoping that I can be certain that the relational opportunity I am offered will indeed be worth the risk or will I trust my capacity to rebound, my recovery ability, should I have taken the risk and be disappointed? When confronted to the uncertainty of the VUCA/Disruptive Economy, hoping that careful planning will ensure a peaceful journey, very much sounds like an illusive 1.0 tactic of the past. Trail and error, fail fast, fail smart and fail cheap, fall and recover, seem to be the advice of all management experts in this new configuration.
  • Am I a go getter or do I build an emotional space first? Take a look at this video. Although it doesn’t hide the fact that it is a propaganda for a well know beer brand, the situations are real and people here are no actors. They are genuinely who they portray to be:

In this clip, I find it fascinating to realize that it doesn’t take a lot to have people from radically opposed viewpoints, working, collaborating, creating great things together. But in order to get there, rather than throwing them in a worthless debate of opinions straightaway, Heineken has had them to build (literally) a common emotional (Pathos) platform. This is actually the first action I undertook with the players of the football team I am busy supporting as Team Dynamics Coach. And the result was a 180° change, unconditional support and a determination to put themselves in danger for the benefit of the team.

Cautiousness kills teams by bringing them to their lowest common denominator. As leaders, our duty is to put ourselves in danger, lower our guard and be vulnerable if we wish our people to go out of the trenches and give their best.




  1. Ivo Knottnerus

    Hi Didier,

    Great post and a more than fantastic video – even though it is from Heineken :-).

    I think the video is really inspiring and I found it amazing to see how people accepted each other and build stuff together before they are confronted with the views the other person actually holds. I am sure they would not have created something together if the views were shared first but after having build some emotional connection, it is much less of an issue and there is a willingness to discuss.

    Again amazing and inspiring. Many thanks for sharing!

    Take care.


    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you dear Ivo, this is a great summary of the post and attached (Heineken) clip. I find it useful… Thanks for having taken the time to read and comment! Kind regards

  2. Cecile Fages

    Thanks for sharing this Didier, it is very inspiring and a very good example of what inclusion means. It’s powerful and should be shared widely!

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you dear Cécile… Yes, I found the Heineken clip moving. Throwing ourselves, without condition, into the relationship is what creates magic in love and… business alike. Have a good day Didier


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