Talking Business – Margot Cairnes

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Margot Cairnes is the Founder and Chairman of Zaffyre International. One of the crucial ingredients to a successful business is great leadership and this is especially the case during these tough financial times to ensure employees remain motivated and focused. Zaffyre International is a strategic leadership and corporate transformation consultancy that helps CEOs and managers realise their capacity for success. Welcome to Talking Business, Margot.

MC Hi Peter. How are you?

PS Very good. Can you tell us where the name Zaffyre came from?

MC Yes, we went through one of those processes where we got somebody in and we had to imagine if our business was a person, who would it be? And if we came to work how would we come to work? And we ended up being the Queen of Jordon, because she’s young and beautiful but classy and up market; well connected, clever, and we come to work on a bicycle because we’re ecological and she was about the age of late 30s early 40s, the age of most of our consultants.

PS Okay, and Zaffyre was the queen of Jordon or is the queen?

MC No, no, no. That was just the process that lead to it. Then we came up with all sorts of names and then you have to check that someone doesn’t own the domain name or it’s not a rude word in another language.

PS Okay. Is it a first name in a foreign language?

MC No, it’s not.
PS It’s a made-up name?

MC No, it’s not. The only thing we could find is that there is in fact a purple dragon in a child’s book called Zaffyre, so that made it quite safe for us.

PS Well, given what Seth Godden said about purple cows, a purple dragon’s a good idea!

MC Absolutely. [laughter]

PS Okay. So Margot, tell us how the business evolved and then we’ll talk about what you’re doing right now.

MC Yeah, so I started off 25 years ago in this business, Peter, as a sole trader and my first client became the world benchmark, it was Portland Aluminum Smelter. So clearly I stumbled on something because I put together a lot of different training, an MBA, a degree in education, I’m a trained psychotherapist, so I put all that together and helped Portland Aluminum become the benchmark over a period of 18 months.

PS Could we get that questioned, because there’d be people on the plane saying, well she’s not actually telling me how she’s cracked a contract like that, because you’re living in Australia, that’s a US company. So how did you create the credentials or the interest in what you did to get them to say “give this girl a go”?

MC I gave a talk and it was one of those talking head things where there was person after person after person getting up and speaking.

PS In the USA?

MC No, it was here in Australia, and I was the first speaker after lunch and I thought I can’t do that to these people. I can’t just get up and speak again, they’ll all go to sleep. So I had all the tables removed and I got everyone to sit in small groups and I got them to think of each other as an animal and then to tell them why they thought of them as that animal. And you know, if someone says you remind me of a snake, well, you need some information on that, or a dog what sort of a dog? And what people realised was that even though they’d only met these people for a very short time, that people were picking up who they were on a very deep level. And that lead me to understand it’s not what we say that makes a difference, it’s who we are and the messages we’re transmitting may actually be very different messages from what we think is coming out of our mouth.

PS But are you saying who we are actually ultimately has a physical manifestation so when people see us, that person acts like a snake, looks like a snake…

MC … feels like a snake. So you know, you could go up to a dog and say, ‘nice dog’ but if you really hate dogs and you have malicious intent, the dog will pick that up. Or you can go up to a dog and say terrible things but if it knows you love dogs, it’s not going to be frightened. Well people are the same, we’re just less aware of it. So what often happens is a manager or a leader will be saying one thing to their staff and saying, ‘why don’t people do what I say?’ and you say, ‘well actually the message coming out from your energy’. So 97 per cent of the message that we transmit does not come out of our words. Our words are about seven per cent and the rest is 93 per cent. It’s our body language, it’s our energies. If we’re not aware of those and we’re not managing them, we won’t be getting the response we want.

PS So, in a sense, what you’re talking about is what we kind of joked about in the 70s when we were young and groovy and long-haired and whatever, or even had hair – it’s the karma. Talking about something that comes out of somebody is felt by somebody and has a business or success impact?

MC Absolutely. I mean, some people walk into a room and they’re just magnetic. Other people walk into a room and no one wants to be near them, and a lot of that’s got to do with how we feel about ourselves, what we’re thinking, who we actually are. So it’s very useful to be aware of that, particularly in these changing times.

PS It’s very weird, the business woman I’m talking to, Margot Cairnes, talking about weird topics, Margot is an expert on leadership and her company is Zaffyre International. So do you take this kind of analysis to the CEOs and managers you’re talking to if you feel that’s a significant issue for them?

MC Well, all the work we do really is helping people understand how they think and how they operate because what comes back to us is a direct response of how we think and how we operate. So particularly in these changing times we’re spending a lot of time helping people (a) manage their own fear, because what tends to happen is when things change a lot and particularly if we lose staff, we go into fear which means we actually go into the reptilian brain or the limbic brain and from that place we’re actually not capable of creative strategic thought. So a lot of the time we’re spending actually helping people stay in their neo cortex so that they can be strategic and manage their fear.

PS So the negative attitudes we have is this reptilian part?

MC Our brain has three major areas and the reptilian brain is kind of the flight and fight bit, so when you go back to basics, when you go into fear, when you kind of hunker down, that’s the bit you go to.

PS Blokes cope with emotional stress in that part of their brain, don’t they?

MC [laughter] Exactly, a lot of them do.

PS That’s why we always fight with our female partners in the emotional part.

MC The emotion part is the mammalian brain and the strategic part is the neocortex. So right now where we all need to be is in our neocortex, where most people are in their reptilian brain.

PS Okay, so when you go into a company, why don’t you tell us the process that’s the template, in a sense, that you use?

MC We generally work from the board or managing director down, so we work with who our individual client is and really get very, very clear about what they want. Now, often people think they know what they want but they don’t really so that can take quite some time just to really go down, drill right down – what do you strategically want to achieve in this company? You know, do you want to turn it around? Do you want to have a rethink about where you are? You know, one of our clients is about to lose $4 billion in funding and most people are seeing that as a problem. There are people on the board who see it as a huge opportunity because it means it opens up a whole other field to them that they’ve been trying to get into for a long time. So you kind of find out what’s really going on here and what do you want and then we start to work one-on-one with people to help them (a) manage their fear and getting to their neocortex but (b) also look at the messages they are sending and the messages they’re sending congruent with what they want to achieve. And then we start to work with the board and the top team and perhaps different layers across the organisation to bring that into relationship because it’s only in our relationships that we’re going to achieve what we want.

PS Who do you win over first, the CEO or the chairman?

MC Different companies, different things. Sometimes we’re approached by the chairman, sometimes we’re approached by a CEO.

PS But then the fact that you have to work with a board, board’s are famous for not necessarily being great on consensus because you have all different sorts of people.

MC Ah, yes. Look, because what we’re working in is such an important strategic area, the board’s usually pretty good because they realise that they need to support their CEO.

PS And I guess once they decide to bring a company like you in, with I guess unusual practices for them because that’s why they brought you in, they must have decided that this is the kind of unusual thing they need for the company to go forward.

MC Yeah, and sometimes we’re asked to come in and work with the board and help them get there. So the chairman might say, why don’t you just come and have lunch with us or why don’t you just come and have a chat to us or why don’t you meet people one on one.

PS Last question, Margot. I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where you’ve felt like saying to a board, “you are the problem”. Have you ever said that?

MC Well, our rule of thumb is that the only thing that any of us can change is our 50 per cent of any relationship, so it’s very true that we would say to anybody, whether it was a board or a top team, you work on your part of any relationship and your relationship will improve and we know from systems theory that relationships are a system and if you change any part of system, you change that whole system. So if people want radical change they all have to start with ourselves, we all do, whether we’re on a board or on a top team or who we are.

PS Without a doubt. Margot, if people want to know more about you and your company where do they go?

MC They can go to the net,, or they could ring us in Sydney on 02 8912 3456.

PS Thanks for joining us on Talking Business.

MC Thanks Peter.

Talking Business airs on Qantas Inflight Radio. Click here to download complete Talking Business transcripts from the Qantas website.


Published: Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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