How often are you engaging in daring ventures from a secure base?

Today is August 8 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you engaging in daring ventures from a secure base?” Those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well understand the value of engaging in one daring venture after another from a secure base. Such a process allows for one to return safely and re-energize for the next adventure. Since navigating the chaos often takes years, and in some cases, decades, having a secure base is an important strategy to consider. The observation originated from British child psychologist John Bowlby. In his 1988 publication A Secure Base, Bowlby wrote that “life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base.” The two most common examples of this strategy in motion are the parent-child relationship and the leader-employee connection.

In the parent-child relationship, the home serves as a secure base, or safe zone, where the children can always return for renewal and reassurance throughout their developing years, indeed for their whole lives. As these early attachments flourish, a positive foundation is laid for all development that will follow. And this development comes partly because of those "series of daring adventures." For the child to develop they need to move from one stage of experience, behavior, and accomplishment to the next. Traversing from one stage to the next demands children experience discomfort, disequilibrium, and diligence, all of which can be gained through daring ventures from a secure base. In short, the less secure one’s base, the less chance one might have to experience daring ventures. Conversely, the more secure a child feels the more likely they will engage in daring ventures to learn, grow, and develop. As David Brooks wrote in a March 29, 2007, New York Times editorial "people with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world."

The same strategy of engaging in daring ventures from a secure based can by hypothesized for the leader-employee connection. What good is an employee if they feel as though they will be fired if they make a mistake, miss a day of work, or question their boss? Some leaders like Kimo Kippen, Founder of Aloha Learning Advisors and former CLO at Hilton and Vice President of Learning at Marriott recognize the necessity for employees to feel safe. Kippen noted "This whole level of wholeness is a place where I am able to show up as a full human being with all of my gifts to the table to be a part of this organization. That leads to a great feeling of inclusiveness because what it allows me then to do is to bring this real, authentic self to the table and to really love the work that I do."

As discussed elsewhere in the Navigate the Chaos series, mistakes are so commonplace while traveling the path of life it almost bares no value in even mentioning. Mistakes are the stepping-stones to moving outside our comfort zone. Mistakes entice growth, discoveries, and lessons. Sadly, some leaders create a culture where mistakes are discouraged, or worse yet, forbidden, and employees have no security at all. One such example is Volkswagen and its 2015 diesel engine debacle. According to many company executives, former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was demanding, authoritarian and abhorred failure; he also fostered a climate of fear. A key part of Volkswagen’s aggressive growth strategy was a new diesel engine that would deliver low emissions and high efficiency. The problem was that, as the engine came into production, it failed to meet the goals Winterkorn had publicly stated it would.

Too afraid to bring this failure to their boss, the engineers used their collective ingenuity to cover up the problem, leading to billions of dollars in losses and damage to the brand. Winterkorn resigned from Volkswagen on September 23, 2015, several days after an emissions cheating scandal was revealed that concerned the company's diesel cars. He resigned as chairman of Audi on November 11, 2015, after further information associated with the scandal was revealed regarding VW's gasoline-powered engines Winterkorn was criminally indicted over the emissions cheating scandal in the United States on May 3, 2018, on charges of fraud and conspiracy. In April 2019 he was criminally indicted on charges of fraud in Germany.

An example of a leader who helped build a secure base for his people can be found in the 2009 film Invictus starring Morgan Freeman as South African President Nelson Mandela. The scene involves Mandela, as the nation’s first black president, speaking to the white employee who have come to believe they are no longer wanted or needed. Standing before his employees Mandela (Morgan) declared:

“I could not help noticing the empty offices as I came to work this morning; and all of the packing boxes. Now, of course, if you want to leave, that is your right. And if you feel in your heart that you cannot work with your new government, then it is better that you do leave, right away. But if you are packing up because you fear that your language, or the color of your skin, or who you worked for before disqualifies you from working here, I am here to tell you: Have no such fear. The past is the past. We look to the future now. We need your help. We want your help. If you would like to stay, you would be doing your country a great service. All I ask is that you do your work to the best of your abilities, and with good heart. I promise to do the same. If we can manage that, our country will be a shining light in the world.”

This ‘secure base’ approach to life is similar to the belief by French novelist Gustave Flaubert “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

  • How often do create a regular and orderly life, or a secure base, so that you can go on daring adventures and be original in your work?

  • Have you created a secured base for your children or loved ones so they may go experience daring ventures and return safely?

  • Can you be regular and orderly in one area of your life and original in another?

  • Has your lack of a secure base held you back from engaging in daring ventures?

  • Have you found a way to pursue a daring adventure without a secure base?

  • What can you do to help either create a secure base or find one to use?