This time of year is often a time we all reflect on the year gone and the year ahead.
I have been able to get a very real glance at what I will be doing only 10 months from now by following the very recent #HB3 Team’s trip to Antarctica, finalising the third year of the Homeward Bound program.
The incredible images of the seascapes shared by the group are nothing short of spectacular. You can feel the serenity. The blue colours in the icebergs are incredible, and the wildlife – just captivating.
As a marine biologist, Antarctica has always fascinated me. Thinking about having a chance to see all those animals (penguins, seals, whales…) up close in their natural habitat is so exciting! It is an incredibly rich ecosystem, existing much like it always has.
In a way it reminds me of Tetepare, an isolated uninhabited island – the ‘last wild island’ – in the Solomon Islands where I lived and worked for 18 months (and where I met Gayle and Malcolm). There, the rainforest and reefs are much like they were thousands of years ago, just as the water and ice is in Antarctica.
There is a strong link between Antarctica and places like the Solomon Islands. While both are wild and largely untouched, both are experiencing the impacts of climate change due to the rising temperatures, melting ice and increasing sea levels.
Of course, the overwhelming feeling I have about starting the #HB4 program (and of course going to Antarctica) is excitement. But I also have feelings of uncertainty. There is a lot of work to do between now and November. Monthly assignments, coaching, group meetings and reading to do. It is a year-long program: the trip to Antarctica is only … well … the tip of the iceberg.
I do wonder:
Am I going to have time to do all the theory work and still balance work, family and life?
Will I be able to make the changes I want to make?
Am I going to manage the Drake Passage? (I get terrible sea sickness which causes many people question why I am a marine biologist!)
Will my twin boys, Felix and Jackson, who will be three-and-a-half, and my husband, Michael, be okay while I am gone for three weeks?
I am sure I am going to have a range of feelings throughout the year, but I do know that all the people who have done the program before me say it was life changing.
When I ask myself why I am doing this, I remind myself it’s because I want to be more confident as a leader, I want to increase my visibility and I want to be in the best position I can to influence global environmental policy. This (hopefully) will give me the conviction to do my very best this year.
Follow Gillian’s journey through the Homeward Bound #HB4 program here.
This month we feature another guest post, this time from Tim Giles. Tim has been a social worker for 11 years. After a chance encounter working with men who had had contact with the criminal justice system, he has spent his career working with this population in various leadership and clinical roles. Five years ago Tim had the opportunity to learn and develop an understanding of emotional health with the Global Leadership Foundation. In his words, it has since become a guiding principle in his personal and professional life. We felt Tim’s reflection on the value of emotional health was the perfect message to share at this time of the year.
If we are honest with ourselves, I think we would all be able to identify instances where our actions, or our reflections of our actions, have been self-serving. We might even discover through honest self-reflection that we have approached our lives with a skewed focus towards the self, possibly with totally blinkered attention on meeting our own individual needs even when it comes at the expense of the other.
We forgive ourselves so much more quickly than we forgive others. We reflect favourably on our own achievements yet forget to recognise the contributions of others. Did you take the time to unconditionally appreciate the colleague who emptied the work dishwasher this morning? Were you fair and reasonable in the last argument you had with your partner, your mother, your brother, considering not only your own needs but also those of the other person?
Most of us are so conditioned to meeting our own needs that it can be very difficult to impartially reflect on whether we were fair, for example, when we lashed out at a fellow motorist who we perceived to have cut us off. Had that driver made an honest mistake and not seen us? Is this a section of road that they are less familiar with? Did they really cut us off that badly anyway? We are prepared to paint an unfavourable picture of the other driver and very quickly (with a lot of assumptions) see ourselves as victims of their terrible, inexcusable driving!
We see this on a micro level in individual interactions, however this phenomenon also exists on a macro scale. For instance, human influences resulted in a 50% decline in coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef in the 17 years to 2012. This has been allowed to happen because industries that caused harm to the reef brought us cheaper goods and services than would have been the case had we reformed those industries to protect one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
Recently another common example of self-centredness occurred to me in an interaction with my health insurer. I received a request for feedback from my insurer about their service, to which I responded positively. I wanted to recognise some great support I’d received in maximising a rebate for removed wisdom teeth.
It was only on reflection later that it occurred to me that I had only provided this positive feedback because I’d been asked and because they made it easy for me to do so in just a couple of minutes. Had I had a negative experience, I know I would have been prepared to proactively call, wait on hold, complain and possibly even become aggressive if my complaint wasn’t dealt with to my satisfaction.
Thanks to my exposure to the work of Global Leadership Foundation, I now understand that the self-centredness I’ve been describing – something that nearly all of us possess to some degree – is a reflection of our level of emotional health. If we rise through the emotional health levels, our degree of self-centredness diminishes. With that our interest and concern for the other (our community/those around us) increases. Herein lies the key to improved community cohesion: a capacity to recognise and improve not just our own lives but those of the people around us, from the very important people in our lives to those who we might have a very brief encounter with.
If we can focus on building and developing levels of emotional health across all aspects of society, the potential for improvements in our ability to function effectively as individuals, for interpersonal effectiveness and societal cohesion are limitless.
The journey towards improved emotional health is not easy. It is an ongoing journey – one that most of us will never complete in its entirety. It requires hard work including honest and sometimes confronting reflection every day.
I certainly don’t propose to possess any superior level of emotional health, however I do believe that with passionate and ongoing focus and self-reflection, I have become emotionally healthier in myself. The greatest pay-off in all of this is that the more emotionally healthy I’ve become, the more content, satisfied and happy with life I’ve become. I approach life with a greater sense of optimism and positivity and can honestly say that I enjoy life more than ever before. The good news is that I still have a way to go and that if I can continue to nurture my emotional health, my quality of life can continue to improve.
With widespread, societal improvements in emotional health, perhaps we will be able to see a shift in how our major systems and institutions operate to produce a more inclusive society, a fairer distribution of opportunity and wealth. Perhaps we will see a greater tolerance for diversity and openness to new and different ways of doing things which, in turn, could open our eyes to very exciting new ways of thinking about and doing things in – and for – this world.
This month we feature a guest post from Alicia Kennedy. Alicia is a participant in the 2018 Melbourne Table of Ten. Having worked as a veterinarian for thirty years, Alicia was acutely aware there was a growing need for a community-centred veterinary service that provided special support for senior clients. So, in 2015 she founded Cherished Pets, a unique veterinary social enterprise that supports pets and people through all life stages and enables the human-animal bond to flourish.
What a year you’ve been. You took me to my limits, emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially. You have been a year of crisis, celebration, progress, interruption and consolidation. You were unrelenting.
This week marks the end of an extraordinary experience for me as I reflect, restore and prepare to head full-on into 2019 ready for the excitement and challenges of the year ahead.
Over the last nine months I’ve been blessed to take part in the Global Leadership Foundation’s Tables of Ten in the company of eight extraordinarily talented fellow humans. As well as meeting as a group each month, I’ve also had, as part of the journey, an enriching monthly coaching session with co-founder and Tables of Ten facilitator Gayle Hardie.
Each month’s experiences have centred on a theme, and it astounds me how these aligned so well with where I was at and what I was seeking at the time.
Part of our coaching process is to create an intent of ‘how we want to be‘ as we move forward. Over the year we’ve described our intent using three words, which have evolved for me over time – starting with ‘Nourishing’; ‘Balanced’; ‘Powerful’ and finishing with ‘Grounded’; ‘Calm’; and ‘Confident’.
It’s also been a year in which I’ve discovered that seeing the world as a ‘both…and’ person is actually okay. And that, in the words of Brené Brown, we can be “tough and tender; brave and afraid” all in the one moment.
In summary, my year has been Extreme, Supported and with Boundaries. Here’s why.
My team and I at Cherished Pets have been stretched as we’ve continued to grow our groundbreaking bond-centred veterinary and pet care business. With our commitment to making our service accessible to all, we deal with people in crisis on a daily basis. This has required digging deep into our reserves to meet growing demand.
Personal and professional challenges have arisen as the result of some confronting cases. In one case we had to report a situation to the RSPCA in order to protect a pet from further suspected abuse from an owner who was seriously ill, both mentally and physically. Harrowing is the only word for this experience. In another situation a client attempted suicide. One of our team arrived at the scene after the police.
Palliative vet care cases have taught me so much about commitment, the human–animal bond, strength of spirit, life and death and the importance of letting go.
We’ve further extended our resources by embarking on a project to open Australia’s first community pet hub in the face of escalating demand for our services. There have been moments of extreme excitement about the possibilities that abound – the realisation that we are a ‘happening thing’. And, on a personal level there’s been a death in the family and the passing of three very special elderly clients, niggling illness and escalating anxiety that some days grips me and holds me in my tracks.
Dealing with difficult people has tested my emotional health and resilience as I’ve attempted to stay above the line and present in the face of distress, confusion and an ‘inner critic’ who loves to raise her voice when the going gets tough.
It’s in these times that purpose matters most in order to keep you on your path. I’ve been mastering the art of two-minute meditations as one way to stop, breathe and ground myself before moving forward.
Cherished Pets is now in its fourth year of operation and never before have I felt more held. I feel like I am wrapped in a big blanket. Some wise words recently heard at a BCorp workshop ring true: “Community is a safe place to fall”
Cherished Pets is indeed a community. Through our team, volunteers, supporters, donors, business friends, advisors, board, clients, partners and my family and friends, I have never felt safer and more supported as we progress this remarkable venture, driven daily by our purpose and mission. We are holding each other and, most of all, they are all holding me.
As a founder who is always chomping at the bit to be ten years ahead of where we are at now, I have trouble saying no. However, when the ‘hot breath’ of burnout starts to breathe down my neck, I am realising the importance of boundaries: professionally, personally and as a leader.
We are ‘building this plane while we are flying it’ and I need to take stock of the incredible progress we are making. I need to get smarter about what we say yes and no to. It now feels safe to say no, to slow down to speed up. We cannot be all things to everyone and we cannot fix everything. I work to the 75% rule when it comes to fixing the problems in the world. We do what we can, when we can. We always do our best to be what we need to be for everyone we work with … but we cannot be it all.
I am getting better at holding my boundaries across all I do, and better at taking care of me.
So, thank you 2018 for your abundance, your celebrations, your challenge and your lessons.
Just because I am following my dreams doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, I am convinced that I’ve chosen to travel the harder, and lesser, path. But as 2019 looms on the horizon, this is what I’ve got to say:
“I am ready. I am calm. I’ve got this”.
Heartfelt gratitude to Global Leadership Foundation Tables of Ten 2018 for it all.
Two months ago I wrote about how the lack of emotional health in our current political leadership – in particular in parliament itself – was keeping me awake at night. As if to emphasise that below-the-line behaviours aren’t restricted to the chambers, in the period since then we have seen yet another sitting prime minister replaced and continuing accusations of bullying and intimidation of sitting members, especially females.
I received a number of thoughtful responses to that last blog post, in which I asked what could be done to ‘change the game’.
Andi Sebastian rightly pointed out that there are already a number of politicians who are principled and who articulate their beliefs with clarity. She cites Fiona Patten (in the Victorian upper house) and Cathy McGowan (in the House of Representatives) as two examples. Interestingly, both are crossbenchers rather than members of the larger parties.
Andi makes the point that ‘a committed, loving and tested network (friends, family, dogs, etc.)’ and ‘a rigorous routine including yoga or meditation, exercise, good food and sleep’ is essential for any politician to be able to keep themselves emotionally healthy. This, unfortunately, seems far from the current reality, as journalist Katharine Murphy described in a long piece entitled ‘The Political Life is no Life at All’ in the journal Meanjinlast year.
Our colleague and friend Dianne Collins, who created and facilitates the amazing QuantumThink®program along with her partner Alan, sees low levels of emotional health in politics as a global problem. ‘The current status of politics is centered around staying in power, and the money that supports it. From a QuantumThink perspective, that is a cultural least-action pathway – the way the energy goes simply by automatic habit, based on limited thinking of an “either/or” mindset.’
Dianne wonders what would happen if a genuinely awakened leader spoke and stood up for ‘what’s best and right for the whole of his/her nation’. She suggests we are in a time of restructuring of our institutions, ourselves and our thinking. ‘I think “the party’s over” – the idea of political parties may no longer be an effective structure for great leadership and governance.
Geoff Smith, who leads a school for disadvantaged youth in north Queensland, sees a shortage of integrity amongst people in positions of power, and not just in politics. ‘… there appears a certain expectation within society that to succeed in one area it has to be at the expense of others.’ However Geoff emphasises that we can’t accept that this must be the case, reminding us of the well-known quote:
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’.
In Geoff’s case he is continuing to upskill himself and ‘working to create networks of like-minded people’ as forms of action that he hopes will contribute, over time, to a change of mindset. Dianne and Alan Collins continue to change the way we all see the world. Ralph Ashton and the Australian Futures Project continue on their mission of ‘fixing short-termism in Australia’. Global Leadership Foundation continues on our mission of raising emotional health levels across the globe.
And many other individuals and organisations all over the world continue to pursue related goals.
Perhaps the most important thing of all, despite the evidence immediately in front of us, is not to lose hope that our political leadership can be better.
This month we welcome a guest post from our colleague and collaborator Kim Lisson. Kim is a ‘late onset artist’ (a writer) and the Principal Consultant at Karrak Consulting. After 30 years in the leadership development field, he has finally realised artists are his tribe and he’s enjoying making and sharing the now-so-very-obvious links between art and leadership, that each might learn from the other.
Leadership has been hijacked by management, and it’s time to liberate it! I’m looking for volunteers for a rescue party.
BUT FIRST, A STORY…I live in Denmark in Western Australia’s Great Southern region. The town has a population of only 5,000 people, but it’s growing due to the tree- and sea-change appeal of our temperate rainforest landscape. I should know, it’s why I moved here, despite the commute to Perth and beyond for work.
You can tell we are growing because our post office had to increase the number of post office boxes a few years back. After they were installed, the wall space around the boxes was initially left unfinished, in ‘asbestos grey’. A blank canvas. With this image of a canvas in mind, I approached the post office manager with an idea to surround the boxes with murals painted by local artists, depicting local nature scenes and representing community life. A resident himself, he didn’t need much convincing nor did he need me to point out the savings in labour and material costs.
But, of course, the suggestion he passed ‘up the line’ was turned down by someone, somewhere. It was decreed that the corporate livery, with two shades of grey and a thin red line, were the order of the day. That was that. There is no happy ending here, unless you’re a big fan of grey and corporate Darwinism. The opportunity to engage local community artists, to create folklore and to imbue our local post office – a town hub – with beauty, local meaning and community pride was missed. It could have also been a talking point for tourists, highlighting our local attractions.
Unlearning managerial leadership
My work involves helping people ‘unlearn’ what I’ll call ‘managerial leadership’. You know the type… rational and logical, unfailingly evidence-based, conventional and conforming, and often unwilling to take risks or embrace change. (Not to mention top-down, command-and-control and bottom-line driven.) There’s nothing wrong with these things per se, but not when that’s all there is, and not when they’re the ends, not the means. This ‘old paradigm’ approach appeals to the part of us that wants our life and our organisations to be certain, predictable and controllable.
But we know life, including life in organisations, can’t be controlled. Life and people are infinitely unique and bring with them all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff, along with some not-so-wonderful stuff. Nature too has this annoying capacity to upset the best-laid plans. We can’t control it, but we can influence it. In fact, we can’t not influence it. The only question is how?
Enter ‘artful leadership!’
Now, I’m not suggesting we all need to become artists in the conventional sense but I am suggesting we can see our leadership as art and that we can exercise our leadership artfully. What might this mean?
The core of art is, of course, creativity – bringing something new into being. Artful leadership involves honouring possibility and ‘what might be’. As Fritjof Capra says, ‘Life constantly reaches out into novelty,’creating new forms. Our leadership is strengthened when we recognise, allow and act upon our own natural creativity – when we act upon the novelty that arises within us with our own ideas and initiatives, however grand and however small. In artful leadership everything is potentially a canvas or a blank page; a pen or a brush; a costume or an instrument; a stage or a gallery.
‘The painter draws with his eyes, not with his hands.’– Maurice Grosser
Engaging our creativity necessarily means owning our distinctiveness and unique expression, and living with authenticity and integrity in keeping with the full range of who we are. Art is not a production line and neither is leadership. The power of both relies on authentic self-expression. You may work with the canvas of the universe but your art, your leadership, are uniquely you.
A big part of this self-expression involves appreciating the value of playfulness and of beauty, and their roles in all our lives. These have a universal truth that is generally shunned by organisations as too childish and too subjective respectively. Yet art and artful leadership involves working with our natural childlike desire to have fun and to bring joy to how we do things. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, ‘When we are playing, we are usually unaware of ourselves … and we become free.’Free to exercise our leadership potential.
Of course, to be meaningful, leadership is always bigger than just creativity and playfulness. It involves care – acting from passion and compassion in the service of a vision beyond ourselves. But embracing creativity and playfulness, and seeking to bring beauty to the world, isn’t opposed to service and accomplishment — indeed the opposite is true. Artful leadership means honouring what attracts us and makes life ‘worth living’ so that our leadership performance both enriches and entertains others.
Here’s to murals around post office boxes everywhere, and to the colour, stories and leadership they unleash.
Photo by Terry Lee: Silo at Sheep Hills, Victoria, painted by Adnate. Part of the Silo Art Trail.
I really enjoy a good night’s sleep and with all the amazing gadgets that help monitor this, I know I am getting a healthy balance of deep, light and REM sleep.
Sometimes I do wake up around that 3.00 am marker with something on my mind, and more often than not what keeps me awake at that point is thinking about the lack of emotionally healthy leadership in our current political environment.
I had the privilege of working with a group of regional community leaders for two days last week and one of our table conversations turned to that exact topic.
One of them commented on how different political leaders appear to be when you meet them one on one – respectful, curious, concerned and focussed on the topic at hand. We would consider this a great ‘above the line’ example.
This all seems to change when they walk into the ‘chamber’. It doesn’t seem to matter on which side a politician sits. Suddenly almost all of them become incredibly disrespectful, blaming, defending, naming and shaming. In other words, they exhibit classic ‘below the line’ behaviours – behaviours we would not tolerate in other environments.
To make things worse, there is nothing that resembles genuine debate and exchange of ideas. There is no sense of ‘both … and’ – it is entirely ‘either … or’.
Around our table, we agreed that you could argue that all the politicians are doing is ‘playing by the rules’ that exist in that space. However, we also agreed that the example they are presenting gives all of us a justification for behaving in the same way. After all, they are ‘leading’ the nation and we voted them in.
What came next in the conversation was a question I’m often asked: ‘So if that is how you are feeling, why don’t you step into that world and make a difference as an emotionally healthy leader?’
That’s where my own 3.00 am reflections re-appear:
What would others (especially politicians and media) ‘dig up’ to cast doubt on me, my family and friends?
How could I maintain my emotional health in such a ‘below the line’ environment?
How would I ‘call out’ the behaviour and offer alternatives, when the response might be ‘Grow up, girlie’ (which I have heard before)?
What will it take to find like-minded people who are also willing to step in with me to represent the changes that need to be made?
I know I have presented a generalised picture of the world of politics and I apologise to those who genuinely are there with ‘above the line’ engagement.
I am also aware that the media (in all its forms) can paint pictures that do not represent the actual situation. However, it is hard to ignore the reality of a televised ‘Question Time’ from parliament.
So what can be done? What reflections and responses do you have to my three-in-the-morning questions? How possible is it to change the ‘game’ and lead by example? What might we need to do differently to make that happen? I have several ideas to build on in a future blog post and look forward to incorporating yours.
Experience tells me that the gift of spontaneity lights up the hearts of others. Being spontaneous can be as simple as letting someone know you care when they least expect it or thanking someone for just being in your life rather than waiting to thank them for something they have actually done.
Spontaneity is also about trusting your instinct and intuition and taking the chance. It is making a choice without the deep rationalising that often occurs prior to taking the step. How many of us have noticed that when we finally decide that we are ready to move forward, the moment has passed?
I have found that if I recognise my spontaneous action or language as a ‘gift’ to another, the judgment around whether is it appropriate or not lessens and the risk in taking the opportunity to give increases. When given in that spirit it has the potential to delight.