Potential generational boardroom conflict will have to be managed in order to ensure a united approach to the challenges that lie ahead.
“The energy of the mind is the essence of life” Aristotle
Man’s psychological mind which determines how we react to situations comprises of three parts:
- Mr Past-Experience
- Mr Emotional
- Mr Rational
Mr Past-Experience is what it says, he reacts very fast, faster than both the other two and is based on past experiences some of which are positive and some negative. As you would expect past experiences can be very powerful and once established in the memory bank it can be very difficult to change those views especially from a business angle when the past experience brought positive results, “If it isn’t broken don’t fix it”. This can often be the cause of board room conflict especially when there are different generations involved, those wanting to embrace change “move with the times” and those wanting to stick with the “old tried and tested methods”. The moment change enters the conversation so you introduce the concept of risk.
Peoples risk thresholds vary as do their concepts of risk. Some people are just naturally more risk averse than others. What is generally consistent, is that the more you have to lose the more risk averse you are and generally the older you get the more risk averse you become. If the business has always provided, then the idea of making changes and putting that all at risk can be a step too far for some. What often brings things to a head is when some of the board believe that not to change is a bigger risk than to make changes and this can be further compounded when the older board members, whilst deep down knowing that changes are needed, believe there is enough juice in the old tank to see them across the retirement line.
Change in today’s dynamic and disruptive markets more often than not will involve something new and untested thereby aligning itself to greater risk. In the past companies would either look to appoint someone who had overseen the transition somewhere else or replicate a proven model. Doing something new is perceived as high risk, risk evokes fear and the old order is threatened which wakes up Mr Emotional (we will call him Mr Em). Now Mr Em comes straight from the heart, often fuelled by adrenaline and does not always act appropriately and more often than not if he senses real fear he can be totally irrational. Mr Em is controlled by the Amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the three Fs:
This part of the brain helped us survive in the jungle, today you sometimes hear on the news that someone has reacted in a heroic way when in a very dangerous situation, the person afterwards says it just seemed the natural thing to do. This was Mr Em’s amygdala taking control of the situation. Physically when in this state blood rushes from the brain to the limbs in readiness for flight, fight or freeze, Mr Rational does not stand a chance. This extreme state wears off after 15 – 20 minutes but for Mr Em to go totally back to sleep can take longer and will vary from person to person.
When Mr Em is in control you cannot reason with him while he is being very illogical and stubborn. They will form instant opinions and seek out facts and if necessary distort them to support their case. This can be very challenging especially when an older person takes past experiences and twists the facts and uses “selective memory”. Mr Em will seek out the negatives, fear the worst, be totally irrational and think of every reason under the sun not do what is being asked of him.
For how to avoid Mr Em or, how to deal with Mr Em should you wake him up go to next page.