Defensive Driving at Work; Expectation and Trust



I spent a fair while as a head-hunter; if you've worked in the industry, you may have heard the fairly common idiom 'keeping your head on a swivel’. With every client, every candidate w\as the object of potential income and commission, one misstep could spell the loss of a client, and subsequently the loss of tens, and sometimes hundreds, of thousands of dollars.


This is a theme in the corporate sphere, particularly pertinent to high-stakes sales, but penetrative enough to absorb itself into cultures. This foundation of mistrust of clients, employees and people in general, is so commonly held to because if you always expect people to fail, you’ll be one step ahead when things go wrong and be able to manage it.

My experience with leaders, as with almost everyone, has been mixed; I have had good leaders and difficult leaders, but I will say that there does seem to be a common cultural thread – of course this is not unique to recruitment.


You are trusted when you prove yourself, and likewise, you can trust others only when they prove themselves to you. Distrust is the benchmark, guilty until proven successful.

This is the old gold-standard for commercial people relations, with the 'earn your desk' line is still extant today.


My grandfather, John Allison, amongst other things, taught defensive driving. For those who haven't attended a 1980s DD course, in the form that was taught by John, is a way to drive safely under the assumption that everyone around you is on the offensive; that is, drive expecting every other car wants to run you off the road.

He was a brilliant driver, highly intelligent and confident, from what I’ve been told. His mantra was that ‘a good driver will always know the make, model and braking distance of the car behind them, at all times’.


However John Allison died in a car accident in the 80s. He wasn’t driving on a street, and he wasn’t hit by another car.


He was solo on a racecourse, as was his hobby. He came off on a corner, ploughed into the barricade and was put on life support, to be switched off in a few tragic weeks.

Despite years of DD learnings, a model of scepticism wasn't what he needed in those moments.


I have learnt a lot about myself over the last few years in headhunting. Leaving the industry, one clear takeaway is that if you learn, are taught, and more importantly, decide not to trust people, you are walking into a self-made snare.


I started my career off as a disability support worker, and in learning support in a primary school. When I walked away from that job I thought to myself, “I wonder if I will ever love a job as much as I have loved this”. I had little boundaries on what my role looked like, other than improving the lives and learning of the kids and adults I worked with, and I did it well.


I thought for a long time that I loved this job so much because I was making a difference in the world, because I was needed. But the truth is that I was replaceable. A relentless truth I have learnt countless times in the world of recruitment.


Looking back, the key reason I loved my job is because I was trusted.

Walking out of that job was heart-breaking, but largely because I thought I would never experience that kind of environment again. In the last few months I have seen a transition deeper into the world of consulting with Apricot Consulting.


I can say with certainty, I have been completely surprised by how much I am enjoying work again, to the degree that I only realised recently I have finally found somewhere that I enjoy my work as much, if not more than I did at the primary school. This is because I have landed in a business that inherently trusts.


My point in all this, and the imprint I want to leave;

Trust the people that spend their days working for you – they may not necessarily do well all the time, but they will do better, and be better, than if you don’t.


Defensive driving, extreme risk-management; the expectation of failure - while this may make commercial sense, it does not make human sense, and will restrict people from reaching their potential.


When risk is managed well, it is not expecting failure, or whole-hearted optimism that things will work out; it is a reduction in expectation altogether, and creating space for employees to feel comfortable to make mistakes, and secure in the knowledge that they will be supported to succeed, whatever that may look like.

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