By Martin Landreville, president and CEO of Pyxis
I’m old enough to realize that today’s business world is much more complex than when I started out, more than 32 years ago. It seems to me today that for every dilemma, several perspectives are activated, all of which seem equally valid. This leaves me with a major problem: how do I find my way around? This is quite a challenge for a manager like me, who is used to applying recipes and relying on experience. These recipes don’t seem to work exactly as they used to. It’s as if my environment and situations expect from me a level of competence that is greater than before. I can’t help but think of Richard Feynman when I reflect on this complexity. Feynman is the famous physicist who made a major contribution to quantum mechanics. He used to say, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you do not understand quantum mechanics.” That’s what I think of the complexity of today’s world. A system is complex if we can’t explain the relationship between its components simply by analyzing them, because they are dynamic and changing.
However, I still have something to hold on to. Acknowledging that my environment is complex also means admitting my difficulty in understanding it. Being humble in the face of complexity is important, but so is trusting yourself. I’ve made an inventory of the things that keep me going despite my fatigue, that help me to trust myself. And I’d like to list a few of them. Perhaps some of them will help other managers like me to cope with complexity and uncertainty.
1. I name my intentions; they’re the basis of everything I do.
This seems trivial at first. A few years ago, I asked myself very few questions about what was good and what was bad, about what I wanted and what I didn’t want. I moved forward on autopilot without really knowing what direction to give to my actions. By reflecting on my intentions, I can at least put aside a whole series of actions and solutions that don’t serve my intentions. It also allows me to act less on autopilot and observe more closely what’s going on. I’m in a better position to see if everything is aligned with my intentions. But be careful, when I talk about intentions, I’m talking about who I really am, who I want to be, what difference I want to make.
2. I have integrity.
Integrity is a fundamental value for me. My actions must reflect what I think, and what I think must serve my intentions. I won’t do something that contradicts my intentions. I won’t “believe” because it feels good, or “say” just to please. I don’t know how noble my quest is, but right now, that’s not what’s most important to me. What I care about is respecting myself and not acting against my values.
3. I evaluate my assets.
I value what I have, not what I lack. A good way to empower my positive inner voices is to look at the progress I’ve made, not the distance I still have to go (especially when the road is long). I may have to take detours, but I’m certainly a little further than I was a few months or years ago. If I can look at what I’ve done so far and answer the question “is it better than before?” positively, I’m on the right track. Evaluating my assets means looking at my progress, finding out what’s working, looking at how to improve what’s working well and identifying opportunities. It’s living in a more affirmative and positive zone, a zone that pulls us forward, it’s the zone of the “possible”.
4. I spot the “armchair quarterbacks”.
I have enough inner voices without worrying too much about other people’s voices. I notice that there’s always someone who thinks they’d do better, someone who’s got it all figured out, someone who knows exactly what to do. There’s always someone who simplifies the complexity I face by conjuring up simple solutions. I believe that to fully understand a situation, you have to be at the heart of it. I listen to what I’m told and I ask questions, but I’m in a better position than anyone else to integrate the advice into my day-to-day situation.
I have a deep intuition. A leader neither changes the future nor controls it. He doesn’t direct change either, but tries to make sense of it. He doesn’t seek to eliminate disorder, but rather to learn how to be in balance with it. He doesn’t influence others to go in a certain direction, but rather shows them possible paths.
5. I try to do a little more.
Doing a little more for me translates into effort. No one can blame me for that. On the other hand, I can be criticized for the relevance of what I do. I then fall back on the other points. I have to be careful here, because sometimes self-motivation isn’t enough. Sometimes you need a pat on the back, and when that doesn’t come, you have to slow down to avoid burning out. It was Og Mandino who said, « Exercise your privilege to go the extra mile.” That means doing more than the situation calls for.
6. I work on myself, and it’s amazing what I learn!
The work is never done. There’s always something to improve. This work allows me to appreciate other perspectives. It allows me to expose the subtle disguises of my ego. It allows me to detect increasingly sophisticated attempts to prove myself right. The sculptor reveals his work by removing pieces; he sculpts a wolf by removing everything that isn’t a wolf. By working on myself, I slowly reveal myself, not by removing pieces but by accepting and integrating them.
7. I open my heart.
For some, this last point may seem a little inappropriate at work. I find it quite the opposite. I’ve discovered the power of opening my heart. I’ve experienced it, and I can say that unless you’re a sociopath, you can’t be indifferent to opening your heart. Opening your heart and making yourself vulnerable has a direct effect on the social field, on the people around you, and opens up possibilities.
These are some of the things that help me navigate the complexities of the management world. I don’t think we should bury our heads in the sand, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up either. All we have to do is imagine that what we’re going through, others are also going through in their own way. When I’m tired, when I’m fed up with a headwind, I think of these seven points.