You're listening to KBKast, the cybersecurity podcast for all executives cutting through the jargon and height to understand the landscape where risk and technology meet. Now, here's your host, Karissa Breen.
Marilise. Welcome to the show. Now, it's really early because in the United Kingdom, it is 03:00 P.m. Sydney time, and it is like 06:00 a.m. UK time. Now, you deserve a medal. I do get up early, but there is no way I would want to do an interview with me this early. So really appreciate you getting up and giving us your time to talk about a topic that I think is really interesting and I want to explore that a little bit more. But before we do that, we always like to start a podcast off. We're talking about you and your journey, so please walk us through where did you start and how did you get to doing what you're doing now?
Marilise de Villiers (01:22)
Good morning. Good evening, KB. It's so wonderful to be with you. Thank you so much for inviting me. And, yes, I have a very strong coffee that's got me going this morning. So I am Marilise de Villiers. I have a company called ROAR! And it's very much based on my personal story. I've been on a bit of a journey the last five years and it was kick started by a situation at work where I got to burnout. I'm very careful to blame the bully because I think my burnout was very much a lot of the bullying that happened at work, which was my boss. I think I also had a big part to play in that. And that's the thing I learned over the years. But, of course, at the time, when you're in a situation, it's really quite hard to make sense of it all. So, yeah, I stepped away from a 20 year corporate career about five years ago, mainly because I was on my knees and I was having career success, but I was completely burnt out. I was completely sacrificing my health and my relationships with the people I love the most.
Marilise de Villiers (02:37)
And I realised that enough is enough, and I decided to step away and start my own thing. And I think over the last few years have realised and reconnected with my passion, which is to help people grow and be successful in a holistic sense, so redefining what a successful life means to them. And, yes, I work in the cybersecurity industry, so I've been in the industry for a decade now. I am a behavioural change expert and I work with companies to help them to design multi year sort of strategies where they can actually embed secure mindsets and habits in their organisational culture. So this is not just about a tick box awareness exercise. This is all about really tangible behavioural change and embedding that culture, where we become a cyber, resilient organisation, where people become our strongest defence.
Wow, I really like that you're honest there and saying that you're on your knees and you are sick of it, you did something for yourself, so good on you. It's not easy to do that, especially if you go against the grain of what other people think that you should be doing. So I applaud you for that. One of the things that was interesting that you said is redefining what a successful life looks like. Now, I want to understand, from your perspective, with the people that you've spoken to, what do people often say? Maybe when you're younger, it's like it's all about the money and the car, but then, like, as you get older in life, it's about my children and it's about my husband or my wife. So I'm just curious to know, what do people usually say or how do they answer when you ask them that question?
Marilise de Villiers (04:22)
So I think it is a very one dimensional answer. And I think what is interesting is people think about life and different parts of your life as or. I always say it's not an or conversation, it's an and conversation. So it's your career and your health and your relationships and your time and money freedom. So that's sort of the four categories that I think about in terms of my successful life, and it's about making my whole life work and becoming my whole self. So the conversation with people is very much always about there's these trade offs going on, so I can have one thing but I can't have the other thing. And it's saying, obviously, I spend so much of my time, for example, at work and I don't have time to get to the gym, I don't have time to do that, or I will do X when something else happens. So there's always a condition, there's an if, there's a but, there's a when. And so people have a very trade off, almost conversation going on in their heads.
Yeah, that's interesting. So what I'm hearing from what you're saying is, for example, as an entrepreneur, it's like, that's the trade off. So it's like you can't do the family thing. It's like entrepreneur don't have time for anything else. It's that all sort of predicament that we often find ourselves in. So how do you, as an individual or executive listening to the show or even just anyone, how do you move yourself from it's the end rather than the or how do you sort of move past that whole, you can have both? Because, I mean, there's so many of these, I don't know, phrases out there saying, you can't have it all. If you want a career, then your family life suffers. If you want a family life, your career suffers. How does that all look? And then how do we arrive at that place where you can have the and rather than the all?
Marilise de Villiers (06:28)
So I think this is where people have to realise, I always say it's an inside job, so it doesn't happen from the outside in, it doesn't happen when external things and things in your external environment change. It happens when you look inside. So I always say to people, the moment that I held to the mirror up and I got brutally honest with myself about my situation and how much my success, my career success, was costing me in my house and my personal relationships, that was kind of my pivotal moment when I realised I can't carry on like that. So I looked inside and I realised that I have a tremendous power inside me that I've not tapped into. Because I think when you grow up and you conditioned by society to really look for validation in the outside world, and, of course, what we see in the outside world is not always the truth. A lot of it is lies. And so for me, it was very much realising that I had to hold the mirror up, I had to get really brutally honest with myself and I had to really connect with that fire in my belly, that thing that I'm so passionate about the purpose of my life.
Marilise de Villiers (07:48)
Because I think, at the end of the day, if you don't have that anchor, it's easy to then use external queues and external messages and external situations to actually validate your existence and justify your existence on this planet. So I think it's very much, as I said, an inside job.
That's so true. Justifying your existence. It's something that I probably suffered with when I was younger. I mean, a human being, like, every now and again, it's like, justifying my existence on the Earth. So I get that and that's hard. And some people, unfortunately, never get there or they arrive at their very late in life. And there's something that I've learned from people that I know or friends of mine that even in their 60s, who are the best humans on the Earth, they're just like, I wish I learned what I'm telling you, what you know now younger. So, yeah, definitely there's a lot in that when you speak about that. So I appreciate you sharing that. So one of the things I want to zoom in now is focusing on your area of expertise. And that's really the coaching executive in the cyber space. Now, this is interesting because cyber security people are interesting. They're wired differently, they think on a different level. And one of the things that you sort of mentioned when we spoke originally was that there's this inner and outer game as a leader, but what do you mean by this when you say this?
Marilise de Villiers (09:23)
Yeah. So for me, when I think about my life. Holistically, as I said to you earlier, it's about making my whole life work. You know, there is connecting with your purpose, with your authentic purpose. We all have a unique reason for being. So I am very much like nobody has your story and your story and your message matters. So it's tapping again into that inside connection with what gives you that fire in your belly. So that's kind of where it all starts, right? But then it's about winning the inner game and winning the outer game. So the inner game is your thoughts and your feelings that sort of come from your belief. So whether you have limiting beliefs, we work a lot with you to kind of take those limiting beliefs and turn them into empowering beliefs and really tapping into that power that you have inside of you. So winning your inner game, developing that winning mindset that helps you to show up every day as that executive leader that really bring your best self. And then, of course, the outer game is your words and your actions, is what you say and what you do.
Marilise de Villiers (10:38)
That's so crucially important because we can have an amazing mindset. But at the end of the day, things happen when you take the right action and when your words and your actions are completely aligned and that you don't say one thing, but you do something else. And I think that's important because often as a leader, people watch you with such a sharp eye, eagle eye, I should say, every single day. And people really reconcile what you say and what you do all the time. So you've got to be, as a leader, very conscious and cognizant of the fact that you are being watched. And you've got to just really think about that alignment.
So the people that you've spoken to or coached, what are the common limiting beliefs that you often hear? And is there any sort of like, do you sort of hear the same ones or is it very different? I'm just curious to know.
Marilise de Villiers (11:39)
So I think it's the big one that jumps out and it's very much in our industry, very prominent in our industry. The label people use for it is kind of this imposter syndrome where you're incredibly capable of what you do, you're so qualified, but you have this feeling of I'm not enough, I am not worthy if someone's going to catch me out not knowing everything. So it's that sort of desire that people have to know it all to be there. My friend wrote a book, Christian wrote a book about this, the Smartest Person in the Room. So that desire that we have a cyber security professionals to want to be the smartest person in the room. And it stems from that deep insecurity that we feel, that limiting kind of feeling that we have that we're not enough.
Yeah, that's so true. Okay, so let's get into this because I know what that feels like, the imposter syndrome. And then I also think that there are many people in this space, like the cyberspace specifically, that think the same. But then to your point around being the smartest person in the room, I often have found in my career that there could be someone sitting opposite you that just will spend their whole life trying to be smarter than everyone else. And then it's like, I don't know if anyone a notices, b cares. So I'm curious to know where does that come from? Because everyone is smart in different ways. And so to me, it comes across a little bit of naivety, like, okay, you may be the most super technical entity dude that's like, out of this world, crazy on another level, but then you've got this person sitting right beside you that has really strong relationships and influence and strong communication skills, but you're sort of maybe doubting that person because there's a little bit of that in there. I've also seen people online that will be like, oh, you can't speak about that. You don't have 20 years of experience.
I kind of feel like maybe we're breathing a bit of this culture.
Marilise de Villiers (13:46)
KB that is so true. And I think for me personally, as someone who comes from a non technical, non cybersecurity background, so I sort of transitioned into cybersecurity from my background is in finance, so my formal training is in accounting, so I trained as a chartered accountant and initially for the first half of my career was very much working in the finance space and delivering finance transformations and then pivoted into cybersecurity about ten years ago. And I've had this niggling feeling for the first few years about the fact that I'm not technical enough. And I don't think it was just me being insecure. A lot of it was me being insecure, but a lot of it was also you're. Right. As an industry, we're very quick to dismiss people if they don't have all those certifications and all those qualifications and that credibility behind their names. So it's very much focusing on how technical you are and not necessarily on how well of a communicator and an influencer you are. And that's really why I do what I do, is because I really want people to help, to realise that influence and persuasion and communication skills are so critical if we want to move our industry from this sort of very technical industry to an industry that's at the boardroom table, that has that seat at the table, that actually helps the business make better, more secure decisions every day.
Marilise de Villiers (15:27)
So, KB, I just want to pick up on your question, specifically around wanting to be the smartest person in the room, and that sort of whole, where does it come from? Because that was your original kind of question around, I have to prove that I'm the smartest person in the room. And this is something I pick up in my book. I talk about the narcissism spectrum scale and I talk about how we have obviously got neurodiversity in our industry. So that plays a big part in the way we communicate and interact and I think it's something we have to embrace more. I also think there's something about when that insecurity that you have deep inside of you becomes toxic, then you can become narcissistic. And so I think there is something also about that narcissistic ego that we see sometimes is actually really coming from a person that is deeply insecure inside.
Wow, that's a very interesting observation. Maybe I'm so entrenched in our industry, but correct me if I'm wrong, do you believe we have more of these I want to be the smartest person in the room type of vibe narcissistic people than other industries? Or is it that I'm just so immersed in this that I can't see any other industry for what it is? Because I do see that a lot, even consulting or working on the client side historically there was a lot of that going on and it was just like so much flexing and it became more about flexing than it did about the actual problem that we're solving. And then I do see it online then as well. So I'm just really interested in how this all fits together.
Marilise de Villiers (17:23)
I don't think it's specific to cybersecurity, I think it's everywhere and we see it in society, we see it in politics, we see it in big corporations. I honestly don't think it's only cybersecurity. I think we have to address these problems head on regardless. I think from an organisational perspective and from doing the right thing and making the world a better place to live in, I think this is something that is everywhere, there's pockets of it everywhere. So I by no means want to make and label cybersecurity as an industry that has a bigger problem than other industries. I don't necessarily think so. I just think that we have an opportunity as an industry to really step up and to really focus on becoming leaders in the world. Because really what I see, and this is why I love working in cybersecurity, is because the people who work in cybersecurity have a very deep connection with I want to make the world a better place, I want to make the world more secure. That's the reason that's the why we do what we do. So from an authentic, purpose perspective, we have such an important reason for being showing up every day to make the world a bit safer every day.
Well, I agree, I think that's a great observation and I think that is one plus of working in this space. I've worked in other industries before, not as long as this one, of course, but there's definitely that common goal amongst people, even if they don't get along or I'm more technical than you or whatever it is, there is still that under current of we are working in unity, even if it doesn't look like it. So the next thing that I want to explore, I guess even pressing on your point a little bit, one of the things that was coming up on my mind as you were speaking around I'm the smartest person in the room. When I was younger, I worked for a company and a lot of people kept asking me where I went to university and my response was I didn't go to university. And then I think people were taken aback by that because everyone else had but it was like, okay, yes, they can ask me to be curious but then it's like, what are you trying to prove? That you're smarter than me because you went to university? Maybe, but maybe not.
And so then it leads back into the example around people saying well, how technical are you? I just think it's a bit of a moot point and what are they trying to ascertain by asking that question? Because does it a matter b who cares and what is the ulterior motive for asking that question?
Marilise de Villiers (20:23)
I think many times there is no ulterior motive. Maybe it's just because that's just how we grew up. It's how we were conditioned. The natural step after school is to go into some sort of tertiary education that is completely changing now. The world is completely changing. So when someone asks that question, I think if you give that person the benefit of the doubt, they're probably just trying to make a conversation with you. If there is a malicious intent in that question, it's probably because that person feels again that the actual qualification is important and they need to feel some sense of validation about themselves so they have something to compare themselves to. But I think this is almost like a topic on its own because the whole conversation about going to university I mean I went to university and it hugely benefited me. But I'm in a place now where I've got two teenage sons where I'm like, I don't know if I want them to go to university because the world has changed completely and more than 50% of the jobs that our children are going to do one day, they don't even exist yet.
Marilise de Villiers (21:43)
And I'm thinking you need to experience life, you need to develop life skills. And this whole new industry of self education that's popping up, it's a massive industry. I think it's coming up to be a trillion dollar industry by 2028. Right? So self education is becoming the new norm and people are becoming a lot more credible and valued for what they know in terms of their personal experience and the skills that you've built up over the years based on your unique experiences.
So would you say that if we look at that example and we flip it on its head and look at it from an example from our industry about being technical perhaps is a way of validating perhaps someone's self or their ego or their expertise and then much to and someone asking me this is an example whether it's the case it may or may not be. It's just an example of the qualification of the uni or college degree. And it's like that's. Then that person who's asking me validating themselves to be like, okay, well, I have a uni degree, so therefore I'm validated. And so would you say that people asking other people if they're super technical or whatever it is, that's their sort of sense of worth and then they're sort of using perhaps the next person that they're asking that question to as a barometer to then assess their own self worth?
Marilise de Villiers (23:17)
I think you got that. Spot on. Spot on. And I think it comes back to I think the majority of people do not have any malicious intent in asking that question. But let's say we talk about the outlier and the person that does have that. And I say malicious intent because it comes across to you and me as a little bit of this person being a bit of a jerk. Right? But actually it comes back to my earlier point that it is actually coming from a sense of real deep insecurities, that sense of validation that they need and the mentality. And I think this is something really important when you are dealing with people where you get that niggling feeling that this person has an ulterior motive. It's often because people have this winner versus loser mentality. So it's always a competition in their minds. So it's like, I have to be the winner and you have to be the loser, so I have to prove that I'm better than you. And I think when you talk about that person that's asking that question, not necessarily from a sincere place, that's the mindset that's going on for them.
Marilise de Villiers (24:28)
I'm a winner, you're a loser, and I'm in competition with you. And I have to prove when it's a very toxic person, that person will have to prove at all costs that they are the winner and you are the loser. That's what happened to me when I was working with the bully. There was very much this he had to prove at all costs that he was the winner and had to prove every single time that I'm the loser. And I think that when it becomes really toxic. That's the extreme end of the scale. But I think in the majority of cases, I think generally it is kind of just a conversation starter and just a point to kind of get to know someone and a little bit about their background better.
Wow, that is very true. I have seen that and I do get your point. Like, yes, it's a conversation site, but I also think some of the time it does go beyond that. Now, I'm not just saying my own example I'm looking at for other people what other people have told me, things I see online as well that I've observed. Would you say that people saying that? Because I just find it really interesting and I've spoken to a number of people in the show about this, this being I'm more technical or not technical sort of conversations. I'm always keen to really explore this in detail. Tell would you say it's conscious or subconscious that people are thinking well, I'm better than you because I'm more technical or do you think that they're not really thinking about it or they're just so conditioned to like you were saying there's being that winner because they are the most technical dude on the earth that that is just a normal thing for them to ask but then b to say well, I've won regardless this.
Marilise de Villiers (26:13)
Is such a difficult question, you can't really generalise but I think if I would have to say in the majority of cases I don't think there is actually an awareness it's almost like we are so conditioned in our industry to be technical that I think people just don't even think about it. Most of the times they're not actually aware necessarily of the impact that they have on others and I think that's something which really for me, I think it's part of the work that I do. It's very much about helping people have better awareness of the impact that they have on other people and having better awareness of the assumptions that you make, the way that you perceive things, the way that you think about things. I use this phrase I always notice what you're noticing. So you have a body, you're not your body, you have a brain, you have a mind, you not your mind. So it's using that and controlling that and being aware and noticing what you're noticing about your thoughts and about your feelings and really tapping into being aware of your impact on other people as well.
Marilise de Villiers (27:36)
So we move on to a leadership perspective and just following the same theme. Now there are some leaders in the space that put all emphasis on being technical and others who don't. What potentially could be the downfall? If you're a leader and you're putting all of your emphasis on your team being technical, what sort of culture does that breed? And the example I'm going to use is I don't know, it just reminds me of one of those like Hollywood movies and it's got that family that they're all into playing sports and playing soccer together and then we got the third kid that the outlier likes chess and they just can't deal that the kid likes chess. So I think that it's the same sort of thing that I'm thinking about it's like you got this one leader that's like okay, everyone has to be really technical but then you probably got pockets of people in your team that aren't and then they just like these pariahs and perhaps it may not generate a great culture if it is being led at the top that being technical is all that matters. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on what does this potentially create long term for people?
Marilise de Villiers (28:46)
So I think it's very important that we realise that we do need that very deep technical expertise. The problem I have seen is that we've been so focused on technical in our industry as a behavioural change and someone who focuses on the people aspects of cybersecurity. I'm very aware of this always, because you look at cybersecurity budgets and you think, oh my gosh, they spend all this money on the technology and at the end of the day, people have to become our strongest defence. The majority of incidents happen because of a human making a mistake or being malicious or negligent. So I think at the end of the day, I think the industry is rebalancing and I think cyber leaders are beginning to really recognise that balance and the importance of having the non technical and the technical balance. I think we've got work to do. The industry is still growing up in that regard and I think as the role of cybersecurity professionals change and as we become more and more at the forefront of business decisions and in the business, I think we're becoming more business partners, we're becoming more advisors to the business.
Marilise de Villiers (30:10)
It's not that sort of technical back office role anymore. It's just too strategically important for organisations. We're going to have to adapt our skill sets accordingly.
Why would you say you said before that we've forgotten about the people side of it, the communication side of it. Why did we do that?
Marilise de Villiers (30:30)
I think there was a very big ignorance around. We can automate everything, we can implement a technology and it will automate out the human error. I think it was mainly an ignorance. It wasn't something that we necessarily I think it is a case of we were thinking about solutions as technical solutions and automation and now as an industry, we're realising that actually, at the end of the day, this is a lot more complex and we're always going to have the people elements and we're going to have to flip over to really think about how do we influence people's mindsets and habits so that they take this seriously and they help us, they become our sort of strongest defence in this.
Yeah, that's a good point. Would you say that now because of that ignorance, which I agree with, that now we're trying to almost correct, perhaps that error in judgement of, okay, yeah, we could have potentially automated this. We kind of figured out we can't now we're sort of trying to go back through the paces and focus on the communication and the people side of it.
Marilise de Villiers (31:48)
I think it depends. Every organisation is at different stages of maturity, right? So it's just a natural journey. Every organisation goes through, obviously different ways and different orders of implementing things. It's not the same anywhere. But what is important, I think, is that once you've reached a certain level of maturity, you recognise that the people just become more and more and more important. And so, from a culture perspective, you cannot ever stop focusing on educating people, on engaging people, on influencing behaviour. So, at the end of the day, I think the organisations that are many organisations, of course correcting, because they're now reaching a level of maturity where they're realising, actually, you know what, we've got to put more of an emphasis on our people. And then, of course, when you focus on behavioural change, this is not a programme that ever stops. This is continuous reinforcement, little and often over years and years. So recognising that you can't just tick a box and this is not something you can just fix one time. It's a culture that you've got to embed and just takes forever. It never stops.
Yeah, most definitely. So, to switch gears for the next part of the interview is to focus on the leadership side of things and really sort of drill into your area of expertise. And one of the sort of questions I wanted to ask you was about high level strategies on how leaders can navigate difficult conversations. Now, before you and I jumped on the school, I was talking through a bit of a difficult conversation I had to have, which wasn't easy. So I'm curious to know, because, look, I like to think that people don't like having difficult conversations. I may be wrong, but it is hard. I think sometimes if you look back retrospectively, you can handle things a little bit better or you thought you did quite well on handling that. So I'm curious to hear, from your point of view, how can people navigate this? Now, I have found as well, for cyber people, it's probably a little harder for them because many people say that I'm not a people's person or I struggle to communicate, or I don't come across as strong as I'd like to. So I think this question is really important to ask for people that perhaps are listening to this, that are like, wow, I need to start implementing the things that Marilise is saying today.
Marilise de Villiers (34:31)
Absolutely. This is my absolute passion. I'm always encouraging people to have the courage to speak their truth and to have the courageous conversation, have the difficult conversation. And my whole method, my whole brand, is built on a process which is helping you to navigate that difficult conversation. So ROAR! Is actually a four step process for navigating a difficult conversation. It stands for Recognise, Observe, Assert and Redirect. Now, I think before you go into a conversation, I think it's important to think about the mindset that you've got to have. So, for a moment, let's imagine you're actually approaching a person and it's a difficult person, right? So the first thing that you've got to really think about is what is your mindset going into that conversation? How are you feeling about that person? Are you making any assumptions about that person? Now, the mindset that I'm always promoting is it's called I'm okay and you're okay. So it's an I'm okay, you're okay mindset. And what that means is that you have positive regard for the other person. So you try and go into that conversation neutral and you try and put your sort of assumptions and feelings about the person aside.
Marilise de Villiers (35:56)
You have positive regard for that person, but most importantly, you have positive regard for yourself as well. Because often when we go into conversations, we talked about people that are insecure and sometimes when you don't feel okay about yourself, you show up differently in that conversation. So you're either going to play really small or you're going to become quite nasty as well. So it depends on how you feel about yourself again deep down. So I'm okay, you're okay. That's really an important mindset. And I think what you've got to also the other mindset that you've got to really have is that you're going into that conversation to learn, to not necessarily just state your point. Yes, you want to state your point, you want to put your position out there. That's what the assert part is all about. But you're actually going in to learn more about the other person's perspective. So you have your perspective, the other person have their perspective. And there's also different other perspectives. There's perhaps a third perspective. So when you go into that conversation, you want to learn. Always remember you want to learn. And that's where you switch from speaking at people or just saying things and making statements to actually asking questions.
Marilise de Villiers (37:20)
So I'm always curious about asking questions and I think when it is a difficult person, if that person's reaction kind of gets your backup, it's easy for you then to attack back. But if you're able to stay calm and stay present and breathe, so recognise and observe is all about that. So recognising the other person's behaviour, observing, staying present, listening actively to what they're saying, that will then give you the ability to then assert and redirect. So the assert response is very much about you're responding, you're not reacting. There's a difference between responding and reacting. So you want to respond calm and you want to actually really understand again where that person is coming from. So questions is really important.
Wow, thanks for sharing that. I think that's a great framework that you developed. It's a lot easier said than done, I'm assuming.
Marilise de Villiers (38:29)
Of course, it takes Practise. It takes a hell of a lot of Practise.
Sounds so easy, right? But then it's like, well, actually, when you're in that moment, you get very heated and there's emotion.
Marilise de Villiers (38:40)
Yes, absolutely. And this is why it's lifelong learning as you said earlier, you can always do something different and something better. I think the most important thing is that you learn from it, because I always say there's no such thing as failure. Failure is feedback and it's important to recognise that every experience that we have, we can learn something from it.
So, as an example, if I'm going into a meeting and I know the person is difficult, do you think as human beings, we naturally start to, and I'm guilty of this, to say, okay, well, I've got to go and speak to Marilise and I've got to ask her something, and I start to piece together what I think you're going to say based on preconceived notions, assumptions that I have about you. Also historical data that I have on you and how you reacted in the past, perhaps, do you think that we often do that? And if we do that, does that then mean we're already starting off the ROAR! Framework on the wrong foot? And if so, how do we recalibrate that?
Marilise de Villiers (39:48)
100% yes is the first answer. So I think I come back to this. The recalibration happens inside. Remember I said right at the beginning, this is an inside job. And so the recalibration, when you notice what you're noticing, so when those thoughts come up, so, oh, gosh, I've got to speak to Marilise, I hope she's in a good mood today. I can't bear to have a conversation with her because she's actually I don't know if she's going to be, like, shouting at me or whether she's actually going to be really, really nice and really friendly. You go through all those thoughts and by the time you're in that conversation, you're already so worked up. Right. But if you can pattern interrupt, which means if you notice what you're noticing and you realise, oh, my gosh, my thoughts, this is what I'm thinking. But actually and the way that I normally do that is I challenge myself, I ask myself, is that the truth? Is that the truth about that person that might feel really true to you? Like, based on your experiences with me, you might know that I'm a very person, that one day I'm friendly, the next day I'm like a tyrant.
Marilise de Villiers (40:59)
But I would encourage you and welcome you to really recognise, is that the truth? Or ask, Is that the truth? And to actually notice that actually your feelings about that person isn't necessarily the truth, it's just your perspective of that person. And if you can go into that conversation again with that, I'm okay, you're okay mindset and approaching it as a learning conversation, you have a much, much better chance at having a productive conversation.
So when you say, Is this the truth? Is that before you get into the conversation or your midway through conversation, you're nervous, you're anxious, then you start to have that awareness to say, is this the truth about these preconceived notions about this person. When is that part where you start to have this inner dialogue with yourself?
Marilise de Villiers (41:52)
I think the inner dialogue happens all the time. What I was describing to you earlier was more beforehand. So when you think about before you go into that conversation and you're nervous about the conversation because you're not sure how I'm going to react, and you make an assumption about me as a person, it might feel like the truth, because it might feel very, very real based on your experience with me. And this is where the honesty with yourself comes up. Right. You've got to hold that mirror up and be honest with yourself, because that feeling about me might be coming up because of your own insecurities. And that's where I'm saying, if you allow yourself just for a moment to say, that's not necessarily true about Marilise. That's just the way I've interpreted it. And if you allow yourself for a moment to open your mind to a more neutral conversation and to put aside your judgments about me, you will be able to have a much more clear head going into that conversation, and you will be able to actually think more clearly, observe more clearly, listen more actively, and you might be able to engage in a very different way and respond in a very different way.
Wow. Yeah, this gets really interesting just to go a layer deeper than that. Okay, I'm going into the meeting with you, and then I go, Is this the truth? But then my ego goes, Yes, Marilise is awful and she's mean, and I start having these preconceived notions because it's my ego talking. Now, you can appreciate this, what Eckhart Tolle goes on about, which is, how then do you know the truth? It's your ego talking. Or if it's not your ego talking, how do you have that level of understanding about yourself? Because it's like straight away, our ego is going to come out and say, yes, it's the truth. Like, it's hard to get beyond that part where it's like, actually, no, it's not the truth. How do you sort of cheque yourself on that?
Marilise de Villiers (43:56)
And I think this is where I think I said earlier, it's lifelong learning. I think every day for all of us, there are points in the day where the ego gets in the way. I think it's just human nature, we're human beings. But it is about how aware you are about what you think and what you feel and what you say and what you do. So it comes right back full circle to winning the inner game and winning the outer game and recognising that there are going to be times that you're going to get it wrong, but it's important that you learn from it and that you keep checking in. Right. So, KB, this is such a beautiful question you're asking. I also think it's such a difficult question to answer because I think it is just acknowledging that we will make mistakes and we will react. We react and we fight with the people closest to us, the people that we love the most. And I sometimes think, why do we do that? I'm a very aware, very conscious person and I still do it. We're just human beings, we get life gets in the way, we get tired and I think it's at the end of the day to be kind to yourself as well and don't beat yourself up about it when you do get it wrong, but you learn from it is most important.
Yeah, you're so true. And I think, yes, it is a difficult question to ask because everyone is different. Some people might have this awareness. Would you say the other thing is as well? I remember psychologists saying to me years ago, like, sometimes if you've got your mind made up about someone, so hypothetically, I don't like you, so any little thing that you do, I'm just going to see red with you. Do you think that's a very real thing as well? Because it's like, Oh, no, I made my mind up. Any little thing that you do now, if you zoom out, you actually may not be doing like the right thing or the wrong thing, but does it matter because I've made up my decision about you, I'm just going to see red. Do you think there's a lot of that that comes into it as well?
Marilise de Villiers (45:58)
Absolutely. I think sometimes it's just you have to recognise where you are with the person and sometimes you just got to, I guess, agree to disagree or even if you're not interacting with someone, just to kind of let that person go. Because I think often if we don't get on with people, I think sometimes we try so hard to get on with people and I'm like, no, you don't have to, we're all different beings and so we can't be friends with everybody. We are going to have clashes. Sometimes it's okay to move on from a friendship, from a relationship, because it has to be reciprocal. You've got to find a way to make that beautiful dance work in a relationship, in any kind of relationship.
You speak about becoming a trusted security adviser. Now there's this word that gets thrown around the industry, like building trust. I mean, I use it myself, so I'm not sort of like saying it's any negative connotation towards it, it's just more so how does one become a trusted adviser? Like, what would be the steps that you'd take personally to become this, to become that function? Because trust, I think, is very hard to define and it's not necessarily like tangible sort of outcomes that you can attach to it, so to speak. So I think it's one of those mysterious sort of boxes that we open to become a trustworthy person. So I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this.
Marilise de Villiers (47:41)
Fantastic, because actually there is something called The Trust Equation. There is a book that's been written many years ago called The Trusted Advisor.
I've read that one.
Marilise de Villiers (47:53)
Yes. So the formula in that is that trust equals credibility plus reliability plus intimacy divided by self orientation. So if you take credibility we talked about being technical earlier, so by way of your qualifications and your certifications and you being in a role that you qualify to do, you are credible. Right. You build trust through reliability. When you're actually showing up on time, you delivering what you said you will deliver by the time you said that by the deadline, for example. The third one, intimacy. I think this is where people struggle the most because that intimacy factor is about your ability to build deep personal relationships, professional relationships with people. And I think that part in the intimacy part is really where people have to be courageous to show up and be more vulnerable as well. Renee Brown is famous for her research on shame and that she always says that courage and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin. So in order to be courageous, you've got to be vulnerable. So the intimacy point is all about how do you develop deep personal connections and relationships with people. And then, of course, the divided by self orientation is the more self orientated you are as an individual, the more it's going to detract from that trust that you can build with people.
Marilise de Villiers (49:30)
So I always go back to that because it's such a beautiful, helpful framework for me to think about where can I improve my trustworthiness with a particular individual? And I think, again, it's that dance between building that intimate relationship and not being selfish or being so self orientated, but having that sort of positive regard still for yourself. So it's that reciprocal relationship, I'm okay, you're okay. It comes back to that. I'm okay, you're okay.
I guess trust takes time to build up, right? So I think that do you think maybe people just assume that, I don't know, if I worked at this company, I'm going to have the trust, or if I get fired from that company, I'm not going to have any trust? Do you think that people sort of just assume that it's an easier thing to gain and definitely an easy thing to lose, but perhaps they don't look at it holistically and think that all those steps that you just mentioned in that equation, that's not necessarily, like, got a time limit on it either, right? It could take ten years, it could take a lot less than that, but it's just not something where, okay, we're just going to go outside now and it's going to purchase it from a store, and we've got trust. As I mentioned before, it is a little bit mysterious in the sense of, well, what does that time frame look like? I think it does take a number of years, but it's also exercising that trust muscle. It's not just, Oh, okay, well, I'm now trustworthy, but you've got to maintain that level of trust too.
Marilise de Villiers (51:10)
I love that, exercising that trust muscle. And I think you're right, it can take years to build up someone's trust, it can take seconds to destroy it. It's definitely a relationship based, it takes time. And I think what makes it really difficult in our current climate is that we have this sort of attitude of instant gratification and we think that we just want to see the results now and we want to trust now and everything has to be now. You make such a valid point. Years and years of building relationships, and I've seen it in my business, I've built relationships with people where initially you think, oh, my gosh, we're going to be doing some stuff together, and then years past that, you stay in touch and you continue building the relationship and then when the time is right, things happen. Right. But it's not conditional. It's not like, I'm only going to be building a relationship with you because you can help me. It's about connecting with people again at that deeper, deeper level, and to recognise when you meet people where your values are aligned and you can walk a long road with someone.
Yeah, it's so true. Yes. It's not instantaneous and I think that you're right, we are breeding this culture of getting everything now. And I think that's probably where I was going to my point before. So you've hit the nail on the head when you say that. And then I also think, as well, that with trust, I think that it's not as clinical, perhaps as people may look at it. It's not like you said before, it's not like just building relationship with someone to get something from them. It's a little bit more than that. And perhaps, maybe would you say people are looking at trust, whether it's in that trusted security advisor, just generally speaking, they are looking at it very clinically and not like, looking at it for the long term impacts and knowing that it is a bit of a process. It's not just like, I don't know, being very basic and saying, oh, hey, Marilise, how are you? You want to go for a coffee? It's sort of a little bit more to it than that. So do you think that perhaps people's interpretation of how to build trust is perhaps not right?
Marilise de Villiers (53:39)
I think as human beings, I think it's just natural to think about our own needs first. And I think we can be quite selfish creatures and we can get so consumed in our own needs and our own problems that sometimes you don't really put yourself in the shoes of the other individual. And I think that, I think, is something I see a lot. And so the moment I think you start putting yourself into someone else's shoes, I think it really helps to open your mind to the fact that I've got to really work. And it's that reciprocal thing again because I come from an environment and conditioning where I used to be a people pleaser, so I would give so much of myself to other people at my own detriments and I don't want that either. So, yes, I was loved and trusted by so many people, but at the end of the day, I wasn't actually love and trusted by myself. Like, I didn't actually love and trust myself because I was feeling empty and I felt tired and I just kept giving. I think at the end of the day, it's understanding that dynamic with yourself, but also if you're able to put yourself into someone else's shoes, how you're able to actually make sense of things better.
Yeah, wow. Thank you for sharing that vulnerable piece of information because that's not an easy thing to say. I think many people can relate to that and I think that's not an easy pill to solve. So I really appreciate you sharing a part of your story. The last question I sort of want to close with today is you mentioned high challenge, high support. What do you mean by this? And then how does that apply to our leaders today?
Marilise de Villiers (55:40)
So that is actually a beautiful framework as well. So it's basically using challenge and support in equal and powerful combinations. So high challenge, high support. Now, where you typically get big problems is when you have high challenge and low support. So that's typically where you get sort of your toxic environments where there's massive challenge the whole time, but people don't feel they necessarily feel the support. And equally, when there's low challenge and high support, there can be a sense of apathy. So there is that sort of beautiful balance where you have high challenge, high support, where you are using support and challenge in equal and powerful combination, which really just helps people because people want to have that validation and they want to know if they're doing a good job, but they also want to be able to feel safe to make mistakes and they want to feel safe that the leaders watch their back. So we call that psychological safety. Right? So I think it's just recognising that people need that challenge because it is important to create a high performing culture. But at the same time, with that challenge, we have to give people the necessary support as leaders, particularly, we have a massive responsibility to give people that support.
Marilise de Villiers (57:04)
But the moment you fling to either side, either higher challenge or higher support, it actually can become a problem. And I think that is really a beautiful balance to be able to strike as a leader. High challenge, high support in equal and powerful combination.
I love that. I think that's awesome. No one really wants to go out on a limb, but if they have that support, they've got that safety net, they know that they're not going to be sort of scolded or they're not going to be spoken down to because they made a mistake. I think that that is a wonderful thing to engender into any culture, into any organisation to feel supported. I wish I had more of that a lot earlier in my career. I can't say that I had a lot of that, and so I guess I just ran the risk and I took the risk myself. So I like to hope that even with my staff, that I like to support them, because I do know what it feels like to not have that support. So I genuinely do appreciate that methodology or philosophy, because there hasn't probably been enough of that type of support wrapped around by leaders or even just staff. So I really appreciate you sharing that and also making this more of a reality for people that if they're listening, they can embrace this type of culture for their team and their staff.
So, really, really loved this interview with you today, Marilise. I think it was real, it was roaring with honest and I think it's exactly what the industry needs. So I really appreciate you coming on the show today, getting up early and sharing your thoughts and sharing your wisdom.
Marilise de Villiers (58:50)
You are so welcome and thank you so much for having me.
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