An unspoken maxim that underpins business life is to separate objective and subjective thinking when steering the ship in turbulent waters. After all who wants to make boardroom decisions about the direction of the company based on “emotional mirages” that can so easily land us on the rocks?
So boardroom dynamics tends to centre on tracking the numbers and avoiding the uncomfortable gut feeling that surfaces during tough decisions. However, gut feelings are inevitably emotional responses that are triggered when subconscious values and belief systems are challenged. In fact, neuroscience has determined notably that our values are linked to the brain’s empathetic system. Furthermore, accessing the deep memory associated with values operates through the emotional parts of the brain. It is now an indisputable fact that values and emotions are closely linked and always occurs during most thinking.
Hence, to separate emotion from “rational thought” merely suppresses the emotion and consequently increases the risk of avoiding ethical considerations.
My reflection on this matter is triggered by the reports of almost endemic corruption that characterises the South African economy at present; private and public sectors. My response to this crisis is based on my experience and observation of business practices over four decades. The following are steps that I would advise leaders, present and future, to overcome the situation:
- Acknowledge and embrace the role of emotion in rational thought processes.
- Deliberately find and adopt a process (“language”) for the group to use that accommodates subjective with objective (e.g. Creative Interchange).
- Discard short-term approaches to making and acting on decisions (can “agility” sometimes be counterproductive?).
- Adopt a wider view of the business context (helps reduce narrow self-interest?).
- Establish this new behaviour as a permanent feature of day-to-day leading and managing (e.g. limit the use of facilitators for “annual ritual” strategy sessions).
Recent events in the South African economy have set off a chain reaction of disbelief and outrage. The logical response is to call for tighter and more onerous control. Paradoxically, appealing to more of the “rational” simply impedes the influence of values in our businesses and society.
So if the moral compass is to be found within most of us, it only requires a willingness and ability of people of good intentions to always engage with our emotions and values and take a stand for the common good.