Matthew, can you take a look at the picture of these two guys in the newspaper? (Zandhuis & Koehoorn, Financieel Dagblad, 4 October 2014). What emotion do you see on their faces? It is a little game we often play with pictures of people in the newspaper. Please try for yourself, before you continue reading.
“I think they look proud”. He reconfirms my first impression. “What are they proud of dad?” “Good question, Matthew, they have just let off 45 people and they are about to let the company go bankrupt to save one part of the business”. “That is not something to be proud of, really”: says my seven year old. He is spot on.
I read a newspaper article about the bankruptcy of a Dutch Consulting and Interim Management company (BoerCroon) with increasing astonishment. The story in itself makes rational sense: The consultancy part of the business has been loss making for several years. The only way to survive is to let BoerCroon go bankrupt to restart the profitable parts (interim management & corporate finance) of the business. I don’t know the ins and outs of this firm’s drama. However facial expressions tell a story in itself. We call that ‘emotional leakages’. You will recognize this from your experience with waiters or stewardesses. They sometimes show a ‘real’ emotion when they think no one can see them rather than the polite smile we expect as a customer. In this picture the board members give away their real emotion in the picture instead of the emotion we might expect from them caring for the people who will lose their jobs.
These guys are not battered and broken because they have had to give up part of their organization. They are triumphant that they have proven themselves right after years of internal dispute, the interview reveals between the lines. “Consultancy was holding us back, now the company can move forward”, they explain.
Back to the underlying emotion: pride. It is one of the seven sins. It is even considered the root of all sins: to place yourself above someone and look down at the other person. That is a surprising message to give as a professional services organization. Now nothing is more human than a sin. I am the first to admit I suffer from ‘pride’ myself. We all need to manage our messy shadow sides. But please do manage your shadow, otherwise it will manage you at uncomfortable moments. A picture might tell your real story, even to a seven year old.