At this year’s International Leadership Week (Nov 18-21, 2019), The Institute and our speakers are exploring organisational and personal values. Ahead of the event, some of the most authoritative, world-renowned, thought-leadership voices speaking during the week tell The Institute what their most important personal value is, and why. In the first in this exclusive series of blogs Ulf Löwenhav, managing partner, Aalto Capital AB discusses the value of being a resilient contrarian.

It so happens that the mere concept of values is widely considered as commonly-shared, objective, and even trivial. Make no mistake: values are subjective, personal and deeply-rooted in our own life experiences and convictions.

Our professional lives have taught us the value of values. Financial markets do not forgive one’s mistakes and always forget one’s past achievements. The value of challenge has always been present in our lives and addressing a problem with a “what a wonderful growth opportunity” stance has become a motto that underlines the value of challenge. Challenges take you outside of your comfort zone, presenting an opportunity. Whether to take this opportunity or not will depend on your willingness to take one brave step forward.

To be a useful asset to yourself and people around you by being an active thinker, to continuously force yourself into a conscious state of actual thinking, whether in steering the corporate ship in line with the corporate purpose, or simply being a useful asset to a company, is one of the values that shapes our lives. Yes: being contrarian, and a sternly resilient contrarian, is valuable, though quite uncommon.

Being a resilient contrarian is valuable for us: but what does it really mean? Well, in turmoil and complexity, the decision to take a step back and reflect on the ways in which previous decisions were taken, even if this is contrary to what others are doing, describes in a short and precise way the value of being a contrarian, and a resilient one in particular. My recent book “The Power of Active Thinking” is precisely about that – how not to allow the thinking of others shape or intervene in your own thinking process, with applications to the financial industry.

Being resilient means that one can recover from difficult conditions, that one bounces back from adverse outcomes, that one is able to stand up to personal attacks and separate the people from the process. One should always try to see the best in people and avoid confusing the relationship with the process, or the decision at hand. If you can separate the two, you will find it easier to deal with critique or the resistance that may build from you taking a different position than is expected. This is directly connected to emotions, and you may find it difficult to not be liked. But resilience also means survival, longevity and sustainability. So, one has to see contrarian and resilient as long-term versus short-term: that what one is doing is actually serving the purpose of the organisation and its stakeholders – that one is not acting solely in the interest of the fellow decision makers, but applying his or her own active thinking before making a decision.

It is true that the only way to really add value is for you to find the answers within yourself, based on your own knowledge and experiences, and… your own values. However, the way to become a useful decision maker is to be strong and resilient, and never back down to influences around you, which means cultivating the value of being a resilient contrarian.

Book your place at Ulf Löwenhav’s free International Leadership Week webinar (21 November, 4pm GMT/5pm CET) on ‘Values Management: enabling resilience and growth’.


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