The Tyranny of Perfection … Mind the Gap!

If there is one topic that rears its head often in conversations about leading in context it is the quest for perfection. Not just the leaders self-critic in full swing, but the expectation of the leader, real or perceived, on those they lead.

Of course, leaders want quality … a standard of work that meets the needs of the context and for which the outcome ticks all the boxes, meets the needs of users and is consistent with a quality that represents the organisation. It is how a leader determines this standard that creates what we call the #tyranny of perfection – that standard required of our people (and ourselves) that goes beyond a quality standard and endeavours to meet the personal, subjective and often unconscious needs of the leader.

Where work quality is below the standard required then leaders are, more often than not, capable of developing their people towards an improved standard of work that meets the standard required. What can happen in the quest for this is that the leader, driven by an unconscious need for perfection (as defined by them), sets unrealistic demands on people and, in the process, is in danger of demotivating to such an extent that some don’t even try and others fall off along the way.

When staff believe that living up the standard being asked of them feels beyond their capability, and all they get from their Leader is frustrating looks, little direction and maybe even a bad temper, they are not motivated to learn and grow and the situation continues to perpetuate itself to the frustration of the Leader.

How often do we hear “I just cannot get John to give me an acceptable quality of work no matter how much time I spend with him”?


How often do we hear, “my boss is micro managing me up the yazoo…”?


Why do leaders fall into the trap of being perfectionistic or over managing the outcomes? Often there is a gap in their minds between what is deemed acceptable in general versus acceptable in the eyes of the leaders.It is the gap between a standard of work that would meet an objective “quality” test and the subjective needs of the leader that, once understood, can be navigated more effectively.

The chart above presents the gaps leaders work with in developing their people. If the leader fails to appreciate the difference between continuous improvement and setting seemingly impossible targets, we get a mis-match in perspectives and expectations.

Some useful reflective questions for the leader are:

  1. How often am I finding myself ‘doing the work myself’ because no one can do it as good as I can…!
  2. What will this extra level of striving give us?
  3. What am I delaying or inadvertently impacting by insisting on a higher level of perfection?

By all means set a stretch target, encourage continuous improvement and have people look to reach beyond a standard level of quality. Just watch where the gap between under performance and your definition of quality can derail your good intentions.

If you would like to find out more or discuss your leadership context and what help you might need, contact us here.

Greg Lourey is a Partner within The Leadership Context. His background in financial advisory, psychotherapy, as a musician, a pilot and martial arts student, makes every conversation with him an interesting one!

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is a Partner of The Leadership Context. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series. Listen to the latest podcast on The Leadership Diet.

Listen to the latest podcast on The Leadership Diet

Ep 13. How can your Executive Assistant dramatically increase your leadership effectiveness with Liz Van Vliet

Any successful leader will tell you their support team are the back bone of their success. In particular their Executive Assistant – known fondly as their EA. Yet, many leaders never think of investing some time into this relationship which means they can miss out on the potential of increasing their own effectiveness.
Liz Van Vliet specialises in developing Executive Assistants, who then in turn add value to their leaders, enabling a higher level of effectiveness.
in this episode, Liz shares:
  • The different levels of strategic inputs EA’s can offer and are often overlooked,
  • The 3 P’s she encourages EA’s to know of their leader (hint; one is the leaders pet peeves),
  • The one question that leaders can ask that will free up 5-10 hours of their time per week,
  • Why she thinks of the EA role as a door hinge,


Welcome Liz.

Liz: thank you very much for having me Pod,

Pod: first of all, 120 episodes of your podcast and in podcasting world, that’s almost 10 years worth of content.

Liz: Thank you. Thank you. I was congratulating myself on when I first started on getting to 10 episodes and now where, I passed a hundred and almost at 120, as we record this

Pod: well done, I think that’s probably exciting. And a noble accomplishment. Let’s jump to the notion of an executive assistant. It’s one of the roles that is often deemed to be a core role in a team are often delegated to bare administration support. And dare I say it, the second.

The second delegation doesn’t help anybody, particularly president their role, you own the business, my ear career. What do you hear from your clients as being their frustrations as they’re trying to support leaders that they’re working with?

Liz: I think the top frustration would be that it’s a high stress, low control.

Role. So because you are managing by influence, but because effectively you have very little control over, what’s actually coming at you as an individual, but your. Basking in the stress that the leader has coming at them and therefore flows on to you. I would describe that as the biggest frustration that your ability to be proactive is constantly under pressure because of the high stress, low control environment that you’re operating within.

And you have to be comfortable with being in that environment to thrive.

Pod: And the notion of low control. that’s really interesting one. So because the role of executive assistant is really an enablement type role. It enables a leader to do their role more efficiently and more effectively get low control doesn’t mean low influence, it can be a very influential role.

Liz: Absolutely. And the EAs that I see that really are operating at that highest level have. Actually taken ownership of the fact that they do have a seat at the table by the factor of being that EA to the leader. And they actually need to step up and claim that seat at the table, not in an, certainly not in an aggressive way.

But in an, in a way that, speaks to the fact that they, that the leader has confidence, trust and confidence in them, that the leader has designated them as somebody that does have their ear and does have the ability to actually have an influence on things that need to happen and need to be executed.

So it’s. It’s taking on an active role rather than a passive role,

Pod: which I’ve into how executive assistants can really help leaders. Let, maybe let’s just dial back a little bit. What’s the difference in your eyes between secretary or say a personal assistant and an executive system? Is there a difference and if so, what are they?

Liz: I think. Way that I look at it, I’ve developed something called the EA competency model and that’s actually driving at the heart of that issue because I think there is a confusion out there. And when I talk to some HR professionals, for example, they have the perception that. an EAs or a diamond doesn’t that you can fill a seat.

If an EA was to suddenly not be available for their leader, that they would be able to slot anyone into that role. But I would suggest that’s a fallacy because the competencies that I see it as an. describe it as quadrants, that EA competency model and at the very top, in terms of, if you think of the axis as functional competency and strategic competency as the X and Y axis that the order taker is at the very bottom is the bottom left.

And that’s what I would describe. As in some cases it would actually be the PA somebody that is. Very reactive that is taking instruction is not using initiative is not expected to use initiative. so for example, if you’ve employed somebody off shore, in the Philippines or somewhere else, then you are going to have to accept that person is very much an order taker.

They’re not, they have limited. strategic competency. They’re certainly not going to have the capability to be able to predict and anticipate your needs. Whereas somebody that’s at the top. As what I described as a linchpin pin assistant is somebody that has. High strategic competency and high functional competency.

So they’re extremely capable in terms of efficiencies, but they’re also extremely capable in terms of their strategic competency and their ability to see around corners. And that is where linchpin assistance or what I would define as the ideal.

Pod: I love that notion of see around corners. And if I go back to your earlier comment about some folks in organizations say to the role of VAs dime a dozen, that may well be at that as you’re describing the bottom left-hand corner.

So there’s someone who’s reactive, who too does the admin support, who does what is being asked of them was sitting the leaders I’ve worked with who have really excellent executive assistants. They do have that ability to see around corners. They do have the ability to save time. They do have the ability to prepare in advance for presentations or team meetings, et cetera.

And they certainly manage calendars judiciously on behalf of the leader because of that notion, being able to see around corners. I love that notion of linchpin. I think it really describes the idea of executive system for a senior leader, at least in our organization. When you are working with executive systems and in your business, you do both coaching and training.

And then a whole lot of speaking around this space, what are some of the things you get executive assistants to think about in terms of how they can move towards that notion of being more linchpin, like in their service?

Liz: I describe it that for you to actually spend more time and be more.

Present in that linchpin quadrant, it’s actually about developing what I describe as your power skills. And I call them power skills because they’re, we call them that they’re actually what we often describe as our soft skills. But I described them as power skills because for an executive assistant, they are, they need to be your soft skills on steroids.

They really need to be the thing that powers you to be able to deliver in your role as a linchpin. And so they’re the classic things that you would think about in terms of soft skills. So they’re influencing skills, managing up negotiation skills. Communication skills, listening skills, all of those sorts of things.

And I’ve got 10 of them that I’ve identified as the key power skills that really enable EAs to show up as linchpin assistants. When I’m talking to AIS, when I’m speaking to AIS, when I’m coaching AAS, I describe it as what I call the knowing assistant framework. And it’s made up of five things. So there’s the knowing yourself component.

There’s the knowing your leader. There’s the knowing your job. There’s the knowing your power skills, and then there’s the knowing your organization. So I look at it and I. Train and coachee in a holistic way to be able to say that these, all of these pieces are important. And if you can focus on developing and then being supported in terms of your development around all of these elements, you will be able to show up.

Differently and add more value in your role.

Pod: Let’s jump to one of those 10. The notion of knowing the leader diet is all about leadership and effective leadership. How can a executive assistant who’s been in the organization for awhile, they let’s say they inherit a new leader. So a new CEO comes in or a new business leader comes in. What can that executive system do to really get to know the leaders?

Preferences are styles of thinking or behavior patterns more than just the obvious by observing it because over time he can observe that. But how can the leader, how can the executive system accelerate that process? So they know the leader say within a month, as opposed to six months,

Liz: I have a concept called.

Three PS, which I encourage all the, to adopt when they take on a new executive new business later. And that’s about understanding their preferences, their pet peeves and their priorities. So that is a, an intentional conversation. And it’s not just a, one-off, it’s a conversation that you set the frame, the foundations for the relationship from the get-go and then some cases that might actually begin when you’re interviewing for the role, but certainly in the, at the very least, it happens immediately when you commence the role.

and you commence that relationship and in the same way, as we think. Think about a leader having a fast start. and the first 90 days being important for the leader, I encourage AI’s to think about having that intentional conversation with the leader about what do you want to see from me in the first 90 days?

And what can. I understand what will help me to be able to execute those things. What do I need to know about you? So I have some, some feedback surveys that I get the EAs to sit down and actually do with their business later. And sometimes what I, this is not always in an ideal world. This would happen when you first.

Start in that new relationship. But a lot of the EAs that I work with have been working with their executive for a while and have actually when they come to me or when I’m brought in to deal with them, they’re actually the relationship has broken down somewhat and the leader or the executive assistant.

Has said, I think we need to do something here. And so sometimes that activity is actually retrospective, but something as simple as sitting down and having a conversation around the three PS is a very good place to start. And actually I think at the heart of it, it’s actually being comfortable asking questions.

And again, that’s something that. AIS that are operating, that are already at supporting business leaders that are the CEO or the country manager might already be comfortable with that. But I find with the EIS that I deal with that there is an innate hesitancy around asking questions. I for fear of looking like you don’t know what’s going on and B there is this perception and I’ve heard it from a lot of EIS.

A lot of VA’s believe that they would like to be seen as, having some sort of magical powers, some sort of mystical  wouldn’t we all that they can predict without actually. Asking questions or seeking to understand, but I’m a big exponent of the whole Steven Coby seek first to understand. And in order to understand, you’ve got to ask questions, you’ve got to be comfortable asking questions.

So one of the things that I do as part of the knowing your boss, part of the framework is actually worked through. How do I ask good questions? How do I ask questions that are going to get an, asking open-ended questions? not asking compound questions, seeking to clarify, restating things back to the leader, to make sure that you’ve understood correctly and then drilling down.

The other thing that’s important to say is that none of this, the idea of the knowing assistant framework is not to add a layer of any sort of onerous layer to the relationship in actual fact when it’s working well, it’s actually something that feels. just natural and organic. It actually builds the relationship and the questions and the clarification’s become a natural part of that relationship.

It’s not something that feels forced or, in any way difficult.

Pod: I think what you’re describing the area is the fundamentals of dialogical process we had in a sales role leadership role on this case and exec assistant role, which goes to lubricating the relationship for better outcomes.

Liz: Yes, but what I find with AIS is that they can struggle with confidence. To actually advocate for themselves. So if we loop back to your first question, which is about the frustrations, one of the frustrations that I do hear a lot is in terms of that feeling, that they. Because they don’t have control that they don’t have the ability to speak up when they need to, and actually advocate for themselves.

So it’s one thing to advocate for your business leaders needs. It’s another thing to advocate for your own needs. And so it’s all around that, confidence to advocate for yourself around. Setting boundaries around communicating back to the leader when something’s not working well.

Pod: We hope you’re enjoying this episode of the leadership diet.

Feel free to hit the subscribe button on whatever podcast player you are listening to this on reviews on iTunes and Spotify. I greatly appreciate it. Let’s jump to the leader then. Cause they, the leader, obviously from a power dynamic perspective and an authority level of perspective is the more, let’s say the more senior person in that relationship.

Therefore there’s a little bit of an onus on how the leader can seek to optimize to a relationship in my own experience. I’ve been, Astounded over the years as to how little time leaders can spend in, again, you quote Steven coy, sharpening the saw as opposed to cutting the tree. So the relationship here with how do you optimize it?

What would you say to them? Or one or two key questions or ideas that they can put into the conversation that will then lead to optimizing the whole relationship?

Liz: the first thing I would ask them is. To think about their, how intentional they are around communicating with their EA. I did a survey, which has I continued to seek input into.

So now over it’s around 250 responses are, and one of the questions is around how business leaders actually. Connect and, update have conversations with their EAs. Do they have a daily update? Do they have a weekly update? Do they have no update at all? And it’s really interesting how so many, the large proportion continues to be that the conversations that.

The dialogue between the leader and the AI is ad hoc and spontaneous. It’s not planned and scheduled. And if it is planned and scheduled, how often that conversation is pushed aside for something that is perceived to be more important. So that would be my first. The thing that I would suggest is that even though you might feel that this spontaneous ad hoc communication is working just fine for you, I would challenge that may not necessarily be giving you the greatest leverage from your executive assistant.

And it’s sometimes. Having those, dedicating that time and having that time block of time in your diary is going to mean that there’s space. That you might not otherwise be making available in terms of your mental energy for your AI that you might benefit from? I think the other thing that also is relevant to is it in this current environment where we’re a lot of us are still continuing to work remotely and.

We don’t have the benefit of those normal, spontaneous, tiniest, and ad hoc conversations that would happen if we were together in the office, being intentional around your communication is relevant across. Your across the board in terms of the way the leader is showing up, but very much in terms of being intentional around your communication with your AI is something to think about.

Pod: Okay. So first thing there is given the leader always has. Busy diaries schedule 15, 20 minutes, whatever the number is, but on a regular basis, as opposed to ad hoc, which is to both share, what’s come up in a diary, but also to give maybe some enabled the EA to see around the corners as to what can happen.

Liz: as we said earlier, when we’re talking about the three pays, and one of those is the priorities. So if we thinking about what are the big rocks. We know, we might’ve had a conversation around what the strategic priorities are, but they may have shifted and there might be nuances there yeah. Is actually not across.

So again, one of the things that I find with EAs that I coach and train is that not all of those EAs pre-vis they don’t necessarily, there is an assumption. In some organizations and in some relationships that the EA has other more important things to do or more pressing things to do than to sit in a meeting with their executive.

But if possible, particularly those meetings that do. Pertain to the big rock priorities. I think there’s real value to be had in exposing your AI to those meetings. So that they’re actually hearing, not just the conversation, but the dynamics of the conversation and the nuances that go on in those meetings that.

Then not able to read between the lines when that’s been communicated in some other format.

Pod: I think that’s a really insightful comment. There is, some of the most effective, CEO level leaders or just business level leaders that I’ve worked with over the years, they actively have an executive system to helps in those meetings.

And it may well be that they’re. Supporting the leader and the exec team along the way. So there is reasons for him to be there, but one of the outputs of that involvement is as you say, they pick up the nuances of the priorities and strategic rocks. They also pick up the timeline of those priorities and.

The enablement of that means that the exec assistant often looks at the diary of a leader to make sure the diary leader is aligned with the strategic priorities, which means they become judiciously guarding of that leader’s diary to make sure that leader is focused on the priorities. Is that something that you’ve noticed.

Liz: And if we’re talking about, one of the power skills that I talked to EAs about is assertiveness and assertiveness skills is, it is a balancing act. I describe it as a Seesaw that you’ve got assertiveness in the middle and you’ve got passive at one end and aggressive at the other, and it is a constant.

Act of balancing in the middle and it’s about respectful communication. So if we’re talking about protecting the leader’s time and protecting the leader’s priorities for the EA, what that actually looks and I’ve actually coached EAs around, this is actually being able to have assertive conversations with whether it’s other people in the leadership team, other stakeholders to actually push back.

On requests for time to be able to communicate with them, that you are understand that this is important to them, but that it does not work for the leader at, in the timeframe at that point. And that is a skill and a competency that’s really important for an AA to develop so that they can, assertiveness then leads on to their ability to be influencing.

Without authority and getting, earning respect by being able to have those tricky conversations with people about protecting the leader’s time and energy.

Pod: Great. Speaking of time, one question that I’ve regularly encouraged the leaders I work with. who have a good relationship with their executive assistant or who’s about to hire, an executive assistant.

And the question is, if I give you full control of my diary, how would you send me 10 hours a week? And I’ve always been astounded as to the answers that come back, that the leader often didn’t expect as the leader expected all, they will cut stuff out of my diary, but in fact, What has happened is the executive system is I can take stuff off you.

I can do this on your behalf or in advance for you, et cetera.

Liz: Absolutely. I’m dealing with an AI at the moment. that is actually happening in action in this current environment where. We’re working remotely, whether, the leader is very focused on doing a weekly communication with the, an Hans communication and the leader was investing time in their calendar, into meetings, working with the comms department about that.

What that was going to look like for the week reviewing the script. Walking through the various points, interacting with multiple people. And that was taking up time in their calendar. And the EA was able to see that I, it actually was taking up time in the calendar that the leader. Didn’t need to be involved in that it could be done completely, separately that she could actually have those conversations because she knew what the key things were that needed to be communicated that week.

She had already had that conversation. She was already aware and across those things. So she was able to feed all of that back into the comms department with the leader, not being involved in it. Font doing a final scan and potentially picking up a couple of things, but effectively taking out what effectively was two hours a week of the leader sitting down with various people to get that script.

And that process executed. The other thing that I would say is a really simple way of finding time for the leader and giving them space that they might otherwise not even be, it might not even have on their radar is rather than blocking things in one hour blocks in the calendar, blocking them in 45 minute blocks so that you’re immediately gifting them with the 15 minutes.

That they can have to have time for something else that they want to focus on in that 15 minutes. But it also gives other people a very clear indicator. It sets boundaries with other people that this leader does have 45 minutes available for me. I need to communicate with them what I want to communicate in that 45 minute block and that the AI is actually.

Enforcing this hard stop in terms of creating a pattern in the diary, that there is no expectation that it’s an hour meeting, that it’s a 45 minutes slot and you need to get done what you need to get done in that 45 minutes.

Pod: I love that idea and it ties into a white paper that we have on our website called the daily habits of exceptional leaders, which came from a study a number of years ago that I was involved with.

But one of the outputs of that study was there’s many things, but one of them was that the really exceptional leaders have a very strong notion of managing their diary. In this case was two 45, 50 minutes, but I eat less than an hour, no matter what, that was. One thing, the second thing was they didn’t go to meetings unless there was an agenda.

Already pre-prescribed. And when I interviewed the leaders who are deemed to be exceptional in this group, one of the things I noticed was this is a very subtle comment, but it came through and through that, once they realized for them to be efficient, the time. And scarcity time was the most important thing in their life because they’d been paid to think if they haven’t got enough time to think there really are, they’re working at a level too low for their role.

So the time of the meetings became really important. Hence your comment about 45 minutes, the ongoing two meetings that only if there’s an agenda in the invitation, cause then we know what we’re here about. So we’re not wasting time. But to your point, they delegated the policing of that to the executive assistants because that person was best placed to do that.

it’s just off today. It sounds like for the leader, because again, they have the authority in this relationship more so than the other person, if they were just to take that simple notion of. Walking through here are my priorities. Here are my preferences here, my peeves. And then how can you help me maximize my diary?

So I have more thinking time that will be a great conversation.

Liz: Absolutely. And I think it would be, it would open the door. Two other conversations, because I think one of the things that AIS respond really well to is the leader actually giving them the sense that the leader is interested. In their input and in their observations.

And I describe EA’s as little hinges that can swing big doors. And I think that is something that business leaders, and often HR, don’t fully appreciate. They do see them as a commodity, as a replaceable commodity. Whereas, I see them as little hinges that can swing big doors. And if you strengthen those hinges, by investing in their power skills,  by investing in, the things that are going to help them be effective, not just efficient, you’re going to be building stronger little hinges that can swing much bigger doors.

Pod: that is such a metaphor to finish this conversation on well done.

There’s a level. That I finished all my episodes with the same two questions. So I’d like to put the same two to you. If I could. The first one being now that you have accumulated all the experiences you have and the wisdom that comes with that, what would you tell that 35 year old version of yourself today?


Liz: my goodness. We’ve got another hour to have this conversation. What would I tell? I would tell the 35 year old me that. You know what I would tell the 35 year old me that I am. I am just great as I am, and I don’t need to be anything else. I just need to be more.

Pod: And your favorite song, what would that be?

Liz: Goodness. Over the rainbow. Oh, yeah. Cause I used to sing it when my daughters were little. I used to sing it to them to put them to sleep.

Pod: Fabulous. Certainly put a link to that song.

So for anyone who wants to know more, my EA is a website to go to. And anyone who wants to listen to a podcast, and they’re specifically oriented to the work of executive assistance, ‘Being indispensable’ is the way to go. These blades. Thank you for joining this morning. So good to have you here.

Liz: Thank you for having me

Pod: hope you found that conversation with Liz. Helpful one or two nuggets and maybe one or two questions to ponder for me. As I said in that interview at Liz, I’m often astounded how little time leaders spend with their executive assistant. And if Liz is right in that, a great executive assistant is a little hinges, swing, big doors, then putting small bit of structure into the relationship, or at least a conversation can only be helpful.

Her notion of three P’s. What are your preferences as a leader? What are your priorities and what are your pet peeves to my mind is a similar conversation as to a new leader, assimilation conversation that a leader often has with their team. The relationship between the leader and executive assistant is often a far more personal relationship then between the leader and their direct reports, not always.

But often these and therefore help being the executive assistant who sees your diary every single day, knows what you’re up to, helping them to understand what are your priorities, your preferences, and your pet peeves can only be a good conversation. The other question that emerged in that interview, which I’ve often used with leaders to ask of their own exec assists and to, which is if I was to give you complete control of my diary, how would you save me time?

It’s a great conversation to both help them develop in their ability to help you, but it often surfaces really unexpected outcomes and often very useful outcomes. So that’s certainly a question to consider in your next conversation. Lastly, I think the, this conversation for me surfaced again, the importance of aligning your diary with your strategy and your priorities, and really looking at how do you set up your meetings?

The daily habits of exceptional leader study that are referred to in that interview. And indeed, as a white paper on the website for you to go and look at, if that’s of interest made it really clear that in that particular study exceptional leaders, number one, only take invitations to a meeting. If there is an agenda or the decisions to be made are outlined.

And B their meetings typically are less than an hour. So typically around 20 to 25 minutes, or as Liz said, 45 to 50 minutes, and that often is enough. So how do you help your exec assistant to understand your preferences around your diaries and to make sure that your diary is aligned with your key process?

Lastly this whole podcast series is aimed at senior leaders, but senior leaders are only as effective as a team they have around them. So maybe it might be worth considering sharing this episode with your exec assistant, who knows what conversations are thinking patterns might emerge as a result of that.

Or download as a PDF:

The surprise that awaits most new ‘C’ level leaders

She was a year into her first global CEO position with we caught up for lunch. I had known Jennifer when she led a regional based leadership team in Asia Pacific for a different healthcare company and had always enjoyed her company. Visiting from New York where she was now based we had taken the opportunity to meet up again.

“What have you noticed in your first year as CEO that surprised you”, I asked Jennifer.

“I think I was prepared for lots of CEO issues or concerns. I understood the loneliness of being the ultimate leader and the sense of being constantly on the job. No one takes on a global role and expects to work 8-6 hours. I was also comfortable working into the Board, as the Chair and I struck a solid relationship up early in my tenure and he is very experienced working with market analysts and investor groups. That has been helpful”, she replied.

“But you know what has struck me really forcefully and kind of knew this from my Asia Pacific experience…two things”.

My interest was piqued to say the least.

“Firstly, as I get more senior in my career, now at CEO level, more and more people laugh at my jokes, and the jokes have not changed one bit! Secondly, and most importantly, my extraverted thinking patterns have become someone else’s orders, without me realising or meaning that. But at my level this has potential massive ramifications”.

What Jennifer was experiencing was the impact of her leadership shadow across the organisation. The more senior a leader is, often their words and utterances are taken as gospel, whether the leader has actually meant anything to be taken as literally as they sounded or not. I had known Jennifer earlier in her career and she was very talented at getting stuff done. A high achiever and task driven leader if ever I saw one.

Under stress she could revert to high controlling behaviours and listen to her core fear, in her case a fear of failure. Our coaching relationship back then was centred on helping her overcome high controlling behaviours and move to a heightened sense of creative leadership. She had successfully transformed many of her controlling styles of leadership, which led to her promotion into a global role followed by this CEO position.

One of the mis understood leadership gifts associated with Controlling mindsets, is the will to achieve, sometimes at any cost. These leaders are born to lead in many regards., They understand what a sense of urgency accelerates in a team, the drive to achieve and the energy to accomplish a range of in surmountable tasks that most other leaders baulk at.

But the cost of overly using a controlling mindset or leadership style lies in person exhaustion, high rates of staff turn over and diminished interest in innovation or free thinking. Jennifer had experienced all of these in her Asia Pacific role. I had no doubt Jennifer’s reputation had preceded her and the current organisation knew she was a leader with a reputation for winning and triumphing.

We discussed the tension for any senior leader in this position. People would listen to what she said, didn’t say and take that as a signal for a specific action to occur. At the same time Jennifer was very focussed on empowering the organisation and was working hard to develop a mindset of agile leadership across the organisation.

Before desert arrived, we talked about three levels of messaging from a senior leader when in discussions with a team member – whether this is a direct or indirect relationship. The three levels of messaging are really critical to abide by for any leader who is seen to be decisive, strong willed, successful and maybe even formidable. It gives a sense of direction and most importantly allows the team member to take accountability for their decisions without passing the buck up to the senior leader.

1. This is my opinion on the matter we are discussing.

It is no better or worse than anyone else’s opinion and you should not treat it with any more importance than anyone else’s opinion. You are the decision maker in this matter. I am only offering a perspective, not the answer.

2. This is my strong opinion on the matter we are discussion.

I have experience in this area and my learnings suggest to me that a specific course of action is at least worth considering. However, you are the leader here and this is your decision, not mine. This is an informed perspective and worth listening to, the same as any other informed perspectives.

3. This is a mandate!

I know this area really well, am exposed to thinking and have insights to other related issues that you are not exposed to. With that in mind I need to mandate a particular course of action because the one you are suggesting, whilst it is not incorrect, will lead to sub optimal outcomes for a range of other reasons.

About six months later I had a call from Jennifer. After some pleasantries she said, “I was in a meeting today with members of the global marketing team who are launching a new product into the North American market. I gave them some ideas and opinions.

One of the brand marketeers, whom I have only met briefly once before, said to me. Can I check Jennifer is than an opinion or a mandate because if it is a mandate we will need to change our thinking on the brand strategy”!

Jennifer laughed as she recounted the story. Giving clarity to her thinking had spread across the organisation. More importantly it was helping empower leaders of all levels to think and take accountability.

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.

Listen to the latest podcast on The Leadership Diet

Ep 12. Managing executive burnout in the leadership team – with Jessica Layden

Jessica Layden has worked in Executive roles for top tier companies including WL Gore and Accenture. She holds a Masters degree in Psychology and is an adjunct faculty at AGSM in Sydney. We discuss the very important topic of burnout in the Executive suite.
Jessica outlines:
  • Symptoms to watch for
  • Impact of burn out
  • Practical tips to mitigate against burn out including ‘walking puppies’
  • Why working from home is impacting new hires into leadership teams
  • The importance of revisiting team purpose on a regular basis
  • and much more…


Welcome Jessica to another episode of the leadership diet.

Jessica: Thank you for having me.

Pod: Great to see you again. I want to talk to you about leadership teams, particularly what you and I are noticing with teams during 2020. But before we go to that, let’s jump to a topic that’s I think developing into a really important topic.

And that is the topic of burnout. Particularly executive burnout study was released last week by the global leadership wellbeing survey. 3,300 executives looking at questions on their overall wellbeing and therefore lack of wellbeing. And in that survey, 80%, as in four out of five executives said they felt they were at risk of burnout.

And two thirds of them said they were anxious at work and were carrying high levels of self doubt. Now there are big numbers. Let’s start with the obvious question.

What is burnout?

Jessica: Good question multifaceted. Like most of these things, I think burnout is. Really different and experience differently from what people are used to in terms of what they think about stress and burnout, quite distinct.

So stress is what motivates us. We see it stress as being activating. It gets someone up, it gets them focused. It increases their level of energy. I’ve got to get it done. It can make them, narrow in their focus, shorter in their temper if they get interrupted. So it’s a very different energy. Burnout is more like resignation.

Burn out is when we hit that point, where, if I experience an exec in burnout, their emotional tone is flatter. It’s like they’ve resigned within themselves. It’s become that sense of overwhelm,  there’s nothing left. It’s a sense of hopelessness that there is nothing left to give.

Pod: So physically there’s no petrol in the tank, but ,on top of that, an emotional dearth, aswell.

Jessica: Yeah. that’s how it feels for me when I’m around someone like that. For sure. And it’s not like that sort of hopelessness that we might experience in a depression situation, but it’s certainly that feeling that there’s just literally, like they have run out of resources.

That’s how I find it.

Pod: Yeah. And is 2020 different to other years in the sense of it has COVID-19 and everything that goes with that accelerated the notion of burnout.

Jessica: I think COVID is the year that keeps on giving

Pod: so many levels, so

Jessica: many levels. what a perfect opportunity to explore the nuance of mental health.

COVID give continues to give us. opportunity after opportunity this year has been phasic. I think for a lot of people, I would say that, albeit there are pockets where I have certain client organizations that I work in. There’ve been pockets where they’ve had increases in engagement, largely to do with the organization remaining successful.

not needing to make people redundant and people having the resources to work from home largely and preferring that they would be in the minority across the organizations that I work in for the vast majority of organizations. I think this year has posed a series of challenges. The first of them was, when did the pre isolation time where it was, shock reaction, how do we bring together teams, but then how do we energize around that?

So the energy around it I’ll be, it was. from a fear-based reaction, there was a positive energy around it. That was, clearly intentional. We thought we did. We knew what we were here to do. we were here to beat this thing and to be energized so that we could keep our businesses open so that we could keep people in jobs.

So really purposeful. And as we know that’s so cohesive. The next stage I think was when we got a bit used to it. We’re all in isolation at this stage, but we know after the end of that sort of new three ish month period, we all think we know that it’s going to be better so we can maintain, we can be stoic.

We all did our best at, pulling together we’re in this together.

Pod: And a lot of innovation happened during that period as a little, which is really exciting.

Jessica: Absolutely. And that I think was really energizing. We saw some wonderful. things happened. We saw things that people had wanted to do for years happen in a flash.

And we saw different people coming to the fore because senior execs were deployed in different ways. We saw different people on teams coming up. And so voices across the organization had an opportunity to be heard in different ways. So for a lot of people, and I’m talking about people who are. Employed at this stage, not at all, not talking about the broader negative impacts of COVID, but in those workforces there was that still sense of energy possibility we’re in it together.

we can get through this then. Unfortunately, I think you and I have talked about this a bit. We got to June 30, at least in Australia where we’d been given the sense of, a few months ago.

Pod: That’s right. Financially. You’re kicking in the world very often.

Jessica: Oh gosh. new financial year, 1st of July, it’s all going to be great.

You’re going to have beaten. COVID we’re going to feel so virtuous over it. It didn’t work like that. And all of a sudden we got into the sense of Oh my goodness, this could actually be the new reality. And we have no answer. We have no vaccine. We have no answer. We don’t know what we’re going to do.

And what do you mean? There might be a second wave and then lo and behold

Pod: here.

Jessica: And that was for me when I first experienced with my clients, a pervasive sense of stress tipping over into burnout. And so the stress previously was there. But it had been more energized and purposeful and to burn out were quite specifically, there were clients who actually truly did burn out who too were hospitalized.

One was in the emergency ward and this is across a fairly broad base of clients and people who. normal working life, we would see as people’s being highly resilient, lots of great resources and strategies at their disposal, but the cumulative effect of trying to hold it together, I’ve tried to model consistent.

Purposeful leadership to give people certainty, to give people a sense that they were going to be okay when there was no one there doing it for them. So that was when I started to see for senior executives, the wheels getting wobbly and then start to fall

Pod: off. What are some of the symptoms that might show up just in advance of burnout?

Jessica: What I tend to notice is in a leader, if I deconstruct a couple of cases, this sense of. Everything is really important. Everything is equally important. Everything has to be done. And this overwhelming sense of it seems to be up to the individual to do it. So this it’s almost like you think about this over very much about the self at that stage, where they’re really looking to themselves to fix things.

And that over-responsibility seems to be a factor, at least as I’m thinking about certain cases here, not necessarily globally. So over-responsibility, and then it seems to become quite consuming, all the things that need to be done. And then there seems to be a tipping point and that tipping point is quite sharp.

And it could go from someone just saying one small thing, like even saying, it’s okay to need to have a break. And we give them permission to in inverted commerce fall apart. So that would be what I’d be looking for. people who are really overburdened people who aren’t sharing the light leadership teams that aren’t working as leadership teams, but we have a couple of people on the team who are the ones who are carrying the majority of the load.

People wanting to create certainty for people in a space where there’s not certainty rather than. Couching it in the sense of look, none of us really know that this is the decision that we’re going with far more constructive for everyone, rather than trying to deliver certainty. Also in parallel with people having to deliver a whole bunch of really difficult messaging to the business, to the market, to their investors.

So all of that. The cumulation of those things is what leads to that point.

Pod: and for many leaders, of course, they’re doing all that from their home. As they’re trying to manage complete known experience for almost everybody at the moment, I can concur exactly what you’ve said. I’ve certainly, I’ve had two leaders who have been both hospitalized, for burnout related, health concerns.

And if I look at their previous week from the limited opportunity I had to look. at what they were doing or experiencing decision fatigue. Absolutely. And then an inability to make decisions on it, probably because of what you said, everything looks so important, unable to differentiate between what I need to do or what’s important is what was one example?

Another example was unable to differentiate between. We are doing well over here yet. All I’m focusing on is under stuff we can, we haven’t got to. And I feel like everything is bad. No matter what we’re doing, everything is bad. So I an extra extrapolation of the negative to everything that was happening.

And then the third thing I noticed was their lack of patience. Which historically these two leaders I’m thinking of would have been very patient leaders, but they were at their end, they were unable to be patient with normal life events. And so for both of them, they ended up in hospital and one of them has said she had to step down from their role as a result of that.

and for the health perspective, that’s the right thing for them.

I’m wondering is it that the notion of boundaries I got, I read something today and I really struck the quotation was around. we have always said, work-life balance. If there’s a difference between work, life and balance. And that the author is saying, I think we’re always delusional because our lives have always bled into each other work has bled into our home life and home life has bled into our work life.

And certainly given the work that you do. That’s exactly what you notice is trying to help people understand that. But of course now there’s physical, bleeding into everything. So there’s emotional, social and physical. And I’m wondering how leaders who are looking at their boundaries are completely blurred.

How has this impacted the notion of what could lead to burnout?

Jessica: It’s a big one. We have a life, how we segment that life, how we choose, what we focus on in that life is something that all of us could probably get benefit from reviewing a little more frequently than what we do. I think that would be the first thing I would say.

The notion of being able to segment life is. Really successful. A couple of some people can do that and some people need to work like that. But for the vast majority of people, particularly coming off the back of the context within which we’re working and living now, the fusion of those things is something that we need to acknowledge.

First of all, and to really recognize. It for what it is and what the impacts of that are. So think acknowledgement is the first step. The second step is to work out, actually, what do you want those components of life to be? Let’s go back to the really basic Kovi stuff back in the seventies or eighties, what are the components, what are the big rocks that you need and how do we help clients to take several specs steps back to get perspective on that and to actually make some really conscious.

Plans around what they want their life to look like. It’s going to be an ideal, of course, life doesn’t necessarily look like that on a day-to-day basis, but I think that’s really important. I think the idea about working out what are their boundaries that work for them and their family at this point in time, recognizing it will probably be different next week and to have the flexibility and the skills.

To have the conversations to negotiate the boundaries that work for you, for your family, for your colleagues, for everyone else that needs some of your space and your time. And I think the other thing that we need to do at this time is to give people the permission to remind them. That it does. We’ll begin and end with them leaders who are not looking after themselves.

And you and I could, we can talk for hours on this, but who are not able to work out their needs, what we need right now, how it is that I support myself and my system. They’re the ones who are going to be the ones at highest risk. And they also then unfortunately, model that down through all the networks that they’re involved with their family, with their children, be it with their colleagues, be it with their team to fit with their organizations.

And that’s when we really start to get into some very unhelpful cycles where we’re seeing those behaviors propagated down through organizations.

Pod: I think that last point is it’s fundamentally important is if you aren’t able to, or willing to take the effort to manage your yourself, manage meaning, take care of yourself.

And in this particular conversation, no one else can do it for you for a start. But if you’re in a leadership role, you’re setting that model for everybody else. And eventually you’ll start leading suboptimally because you haven’t got to yet.

Jessica: Yep. It’s just so true. To challenge people’s assumptions around what leadership means and the sort of stoic element of leadership that some people over amplify where it doesn’t allow them to access that vulnerability, to identify what they actually really need.

And to be able to ask for help. On occasion, except help from other people. They sound like fundamental human behaviors that we do, but actually a lot of people are out of touch with that. And so I think when we drill down, what sits beneath that in that space of vulnerability is the sense of self-compassion to be able to reflect upon our needs and to be able to care for ourselves.

Pod: W where that compassion is permission. I’m giving myself permission to these things. I’ve certainly had a big collision with a leader only two weeks ago around, this particular person was questioning his compassion useful, and we had a great conversation around it. And where we landed was if it gives you nothing else, other than permission.

To do stuff for yourself will enable you to be a more effective leader. Is that a good thing? And we both agreed. Yes. At that point. And this particular leader had not thought about at that point that they needed. Rest during the day because they had been, they had found themselves cause boundaries are blurred going from 10 hours a day to now working 14 hours a day.

Jessica: Absolutely. We use the commute time. All of a sudden

Pod: the commute time has gone already yesterday. Microsoft teams have introduced a thing called the virtual commute because they recognize people used to use commute time for reflection or learning or downturning. It’s not happening. So now. Within their platforms, that thing called virtual commute.

and for this particular leader, it was about give themselves permission.

Jessica: Commission’s a big part of it.

Pod: Yeah, I was reminded of that actually is, I, I was involved in a study a couple of years ago called the daily habits of exceptional leaders. So these are leaders who are deemed in the eyes of other people to be exceptional.

So it wasn’t, this study was looking at that instead. It was looking at. What are the habits they have at home before and after work and allow them to show up to work in a fashion that other people deem to be exceptional, but that was the purpose of this study. But one of the things was the reflection time on route to work and on route home, particularly at the end of the day.

And they might have those leaders who actually took time to walk home in order to defrag almost. And I noticed in leaders at the moment are not. Able to overtly do that because there is not coming home.

Jessica: Yeah, it’s true. And so how is it that we work with people to identify those things that they can be doing one client that I have still get stressed for work because that person is really important.

The whole thing of putting on a. So an attire. Now, most people are relatively ineffective not doing that, but for that person, the putting on of workloads they’re taking off of workloads is part of that transition for other people. It’s going for the walk. At the end of the day, to the yelling out to the family, works over.

I’ll be back in half an hour, getting some space outside. For some people, it might be exercise for some people. It might be tidying their desk, putting everything away, people who work on the kitchen table for heaven sakes, who need to do that. But to have something that puts closure that signals to you and to those within.

The place where you’re working, be it family or flatmates or whoever that you were available in a different way. That’s a really important transition

Pod: transitioning from the end of my Workday to the beginning of my evening time or whatever that transition is.

Jessica: I think the challenge is though for many people now they’re having to cha to transition within the Workday.

So I have a client who, homeschooling children, Victoria. Both parents are working at home, so you need to transition in and out and in and out and in and out. And that causes phenomenal amounts of stress. And to be able to have that tension that you’re never meeting anybody’s needs properly to be carrying that every day.

And I think that’s an insidious, negative for individuals to be carrying. So how is it that we can. Help people to talk about that openly. And how is it that we recognize with people that this is a pressure happening in more households than you’re aware? And if we only say, if we’re giving people directives, get off zoom seriously, just get off.

Stop having so many meetings. It’s nice to have the incidental meetings, but let’s have we talked about it in one hour for lunch or something for people. That’s great if people can do that. But how about actually really being conscious, saying, do we need to be online for this meeting? Is this actually a 15 minute call rather than a one hour meeting to be really, quite ruthless in how we prioritize our demands on other people’s time?

Not just our own time.

Pod: In one sense. It’s easy to talk about the pervasiveness of burnout in it is because it is becoming more pervasive. It is less easy to talk about what are some of them, the tactics we can do to manage that. I read an interview with the founder of Headspace recently, Headspace being one of the mindful naps that’s taken around the world potential project.

I have another one called a mindful leader, which was talking about a few weeks ago. They’ve got 70 clinical trials running right now, and 20 peer reviewed studies on the use of their product. And two stats hit me for frontline workers using four meditation sessions of 10 minutes. Each reduces stress by 14%.

Now let’s stress 30 days of a regular meditation or mindfulness type practice in one of their studies reduces burnout by 32%.

Jessica: It’s amazing. It’s a

Pod: phenomenal piece. And that talks to what is the practice or tactic that I, as a person, therefore, as leader can implement for myself. And in this case, this is a 10 minute process, 30 days in a row.

I know you talk about too. Fabulously worded hypnotizing, chickens and walking puppies as two umbrella topics for simple tactics, they’ve always grabbed my attention because the names are just brilliant. What is hypnotizing? Chickens are? What is walking puppies as a tactic?

Jessica: Many of the senior execs. We work with Carrie, even in times that aren’t, COVID times they carry with them an elevated level of stress of overcommitment.

And so what I use is a huge amount of humor and simplification with my clients. I have a very strongly Reverend street. And so I think it’s

Pod: important.

Jessica: I think it’s really important that we just normalize that the world is complex. We are all making it up when things get difficult. Let’s make it really simple.

And I think giving my clients permission to make things really simple is something that they are extremely grateful for because someone says to them just stop. And we’re just going to be like a puppy for a few weeks. So your job for the next two weeks, we have our session is to get lots and lots of sleep.

And then we will work on strategies for how they do that. It’s you’re the little puppy. When you first bring it home, get lots of water. Ate really good food and get some basic exercise. Now you do not need to be done at the gym, lifting weights with a trainer, but something that moves your body regularly throughout the day.

We’re just going to do that for two weeks.

Pod: So you don’t mean them to run around the house doing cushions?

Jessica: No, I don’t know. We’ll ping on the carpet, it’s a sense of just make it simple. Make it as simple as possible, like

Pod: drink water, basic exercise

Jessica: and some good food, And now the other part that we don’t work on with our puppies, they do puppies do provide it.

They provide that, warmth and social contact, but that’s the other part that we would add in, but it really is trying to make it as basic as possible for people just to go. Just stop and do this because sometimes the most senior executives, the people that we always assume have it all together.

actually not sometimes never does anyone ever have it all together. And so someone who can stop and reflect back and go, Hey, this is what I’m noticing. Let’s just simplify. And let’s see what happens as a result of that. So that’s one thing. So it’s either hypnotizing, chickens, that whole thing, just.

Shut the system down and make it as simple as possible for someone to step back to their most effective. Cause it’s a stepwise process and it requires ongoing vigilance. We never hit it and stay there. It’s always constant vigilance, constant tracking. And so when we’ve got clients or leaders that we’re working with, who.

Aren’t curious about themselves, who aren’t that interested in building their self-awareness and self-monitoring, again, it becomes another watch out for us. How is it that we make it safe for them to do that reflection and to do that work. And so I’ll draw on models that make it feel as simple, as accessible and normal as possible.

And it always starts with the physical saying that it’s just quickly, I will say that. I have been delighted to see over the years, the number of clients who take up a meditation practice this year has certainly been an accelerator of it. And I think it’s good. It’s not the panacea to cure all ills, but any strategy that gives some of the chance just to sit for 10 minutes a day.

And learn to build some of these habits around watching thoughts, creating a bit of a space for themselves to create further optionality, I think is brilliant. And equally, I guess today we’re talking about the individual, but I think equally we need to recognize there is a limit on strategies. We need to look at the entire system here and possibly this is another day, but.

We need to look at what we’re creating in organizations and how it is that we make them places that are human, not overly focused on having everyone in roles that are so stressful.

Pod: We hope you’re enjoying this episode of the leadership diet. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on whatever podcast player you are listening to this on reviews on iTunes and Spotify.

I greatly appreciate it. I know you’ve been talking recently about the notion of amplifying the human focus in 2021 and beyond. I want to come to that in a few minutes. The notion of walking puppies or hypnotizing chickens is a way of going, let’s break this down into the real basic tactics that always work such as.

Drinking, lots of water, steeping getting good. Night’s sleep being eight plus hours a night, eating good food, going for an exercise, be it a walk or whatever, and then build up from there. What I love about that is if you are anywhere overwhelmed, it takes away the decision criteria from you. I can go out for a walk.

It doesn’t require membership to a gym. Just requires walking. Yeah,

Jessica: it doesn’t end. when we get into higher levels of that, when we move beyond the first stage of that, one of the things I get people to do at the next level is let’s make list of the things that you love. Let’s make a list of the things that give you joy, that lift your mood and lift your spirit and stick it on the fridge so that when you feel overwhelmed, you never have to make a decision because it’s there and you just pick a number and go number four, whatever number four is on this, I’ll do that.

And I think this thing that you’re talking about here around this decision making, how is it that we make it simple for each other? Because it’s really, we make a lot really complex and I hate to go back to it, but no, there is not one right way. Something that worked for you today may not work next week.

So how is it that we overall build out our wisdom, our cadre of tools and resources and our readiness and comfort to be able to select amongst those things. And I think that’s what we add value to our clients because we, this is where we live. We live in that space of creating options and creating strategies.

Pod: I had to revisit my studies in positive psychology to remind myself of some basic options. I farmers over the last three months, I’ve been almost daily obsessed with watching a non Australia country and its political system. And just observing that and, going to bed at nighttime, looking forward to reading the news, as soon as I wake up in the morning.

And of course it’s all bad news. It’s one drama followed by another drama. And I find myself having to switch off some of those notifications just cause it was. Constant bombarding of bad news. And I noticed some of my friends and clients who were in Melbourne for the last few weeks in lockdown, they talk about having to turn off the daily reminder of COVID cases.

And what was the daily total today, et cetera. And we know from positive psychology, that if you’re going to keep exposing yourself to bad news, that is the attention level is looking for the bad news in the environment

Jessica: it is. And people often ask so unconscious about the inputs. So when you get peer to really pause and think about, who are the people that most influenced your thinking, what are the sources it’s often quite revealing to people to recognize, Oh, I’m seeing how this could be related to my mood and to the vagaries in a mood.

Yeah, exactly. That I think, the political situation is a classic news reports. Anything that gets beyond our control, it really does not, is it helpful? Or is it harmful simple questions like that to bring ourselves back to

Pod: one last, tactic here that, is not new to this conversation has been around for a long time, but the idea of gratitude as being a precursor to positive sense, and how do you accelerate your gratitude often comes from doing good for other people noticing or observing or helping other people.

And the amount of folks that have shared that similar day with in the last few months, who’ve come back to me that are going. I’ve instilled it every single day. I’m doing just one thing for somebody else. And it might be simple as, I bought a stranger, a cup of coffee for whatever it is, but their report back is I just feel better.

Yeah. And that’s a good thing.

Jessica: it’s a great thing. And to do something for someone else. It momentarily takes our focus on ourselves, as fascinating as we might be. We’re not that interesting, really. And to put our focus somewhere else where it can actually be a cause for a positive impact. Why wouldn’t you,

Pod: So we’ve been talking about individuals and across individuals scared to get to become a team. But what have you noticed about leadership teams specifically over the last few months in terms of the journey they’ve been through and where are they now in that reactive sense to the world around us?

Jessica: Highly variable. The teams that I think have got through it most positively by any registration, team effectiveness, other ones, I think where their businesses have been more largely unaffected or in fact accelerated through this process because when things are going positively, what a surprise, it makes it easier for us to cohesive as a team.

The teams, I think that are struggling more. Or whether it’s change even more so than, what we’re all expecting at the moment. And The struggle I think for teams is we don’t see each other and new people come onto the team. They’ve never met anybody. They’ve never seen anybody. We don’t necessarily have very good skills yet for inducting people, onboarding people in a way that feels meaningful.

That feels very human at the moment. And the other part of it is, old team theory would say, whenever we bring a new person into the team, we reshape the team. We need to revisit our purpose, come together around that. And that’s not happening because there are so many changes.

And so I think they’re the things that teams are struggling with a sense of disconnection. A sense of many of the leaders focus has been down the organization through their teams, trying to come back to creating certainty for their teams, but no one’s doing it for them. And some organizations bring them together as a group of peers as well at the senior exec level.

But most of them I think are having a. And needing them to really focus on their area more. And so that team mean at senior exec level. I see is happening less now that the crisis navigation isn’t happening in the same way. Yeah.

Pod: So what’s the potential impact of that going forward?

Jessica: Multiple?

I would prophesies again, I think we will see less likelihood that we’re going to pick up the stressors that we’re each experiencing. We’ll probably say. More fragmentation of organizations, worst case scenario would be getting back to more siloed orientation. I think that it transmits down the organization where people see them, that their leaders aren’t working together as much, and that their leaders probably aren’t as available as a cohort as much.

And so that creates its own stories down through the organization about what’s really going on. Does it impact trust and people’s belief in. That top 10 purpose? probably. And I think going into 2021, I think we’re going to have a lot more challenges on the horizon. It’s not things aren’t going to be in inverted commas better.

I think we’re going to have to work through some enduring difficulties and we really need top teams to be cohesive and equally open. To the amazing array of voices that they have down through their organizations as well. And I think that’s going to be challenging if those teams aren’t really clear on what their purpose is and that purpose is we’ve found out this year, it can change day to day.

So how do they stay nimble? How do they stay adaptable? How do they stay in conversation when they’re working virtually? If there’s one thing at that team level, it will be. To continue to challenge each other. Are we leading through conversation? What are the courageous conversations we need to be having now?

What do we need to be talking about that we’re avoiding those sorts of habits and practices as a team and reviewing it at the end of whenever the team comes together, I think are going to help to bridge, to a slightly better, more cohesive team in future.

Pod: To your earlier point February through to may of 2020, there’s a whole lot of fantastic work done by many leaders of teams on POS are fast and needed sudden reaction to the crisis.

And how do we manage to move from an all in one building to work from home done very well up by. I would imagine lots of leadership teams moving to, we can now innovate in ways that we haven’t done before. fantastic. Yeah. And as you said, astounding, some patients, I was talking to Dan Fleming from st.

Vincent’s hospital network. Recently, he was going to come up in a future episode of this podcast talking about a major innovation that’s in Vince’s hospital network that in six weeks was typically would’ve taken 12 months before now and was just serviced a part of the market that they service in a way that they had never done as fast it’s extraordinary leadership on many levels.

But as he said, Ariana was moving towards by July one, we’ll all be back to normal. Yeah. And that’s not the case I was thinking recently around. So what does this team purpose mean for your teams going forward? And two different stories emerging from this one leader I spoke to recently who in my view is one of the best leaders I’ve ever met, talked about.

The 2020 has clarified for her. The leadership team only has three things. One is clarity, give clarity to the organization. Number two, communicate by decisions that are made or decisions we have yet to make. And three cascade learnings as fast as we possibly can. I thought how simple as that, but how brilliant is that?

Now she landed on those three things, through many experiences and debates and dialogues and an earnings. But nonetheless, I think those three things sum it up. And if Alicia team is able to. Gather around those make sense for themselves of what that means for their nuance. I think it’ll go a long way to working together in a more cohesive way going forward.

Jessica: It’s really interesting because I agree with you. I agree with you on the three CS that you’ve outlined it. And the thing for me that I’m picturing them is how is it that we make. The ground upon which we do those things. One that gives trust because that’s what I think is going to be what determines how we go forward, because this new way, and you were aware of working this speed at which we’re working.

I think it requires that we offer more trust and. In the way people work in how they choose their work. And that to me is an important part of that. It’s almost like the soil within which those behaviors need to exist.

Pod: Yeah. Trust is not a physical thing. it’s a, it’s an enabler of a lot of things, but without, it’s not the things that often don’t happen or don’t, so you don’t happen anywhere near as well.

Jessica: Yeah. Yeah. And if we don’t know what they are for each of us, because trust, isn’t a blanket thing, it’s not. One thing for us that we both agree on. So I think through that element of conversation and communication, I think we don’t want to underestimate the importance of having trust front and center.

What builds and what breaks trust for each of us going forward.

Pod: I sat in the conversation with Alicia, Tim recently in the industrial sector. And they would, they did a timeline of here’s all the things that happened in 2020 that we had the deal with as a leadership team. But on top of that, they went, let’s look at all this stuff that.

We knew where we had to do with yep. And then let’s look all this stuff that came on expectedly on top of all of that and how we dealt with it. And then the goddess let’s give ourselves a score out of 10 of how we did within the limit of how well we did as a team in leading in all of that change. Yeah.

10 out of 10, meaning we did the best we possibly could with the constraints that we had. I, we couldn’t change COVID as example, but what I loved about the conversation was let’s say the land of that. I think they said they landed at seven out of 10. I can remember what the number was. They then had a conversation.

So who I was not an eight, why was not a six? And that became the great conversation because it allowed. Surface was what actually, here’s how he actually made mistakes or for, in my view, for us to be an eight out of 10, that situation I would have needed X from you. And you didn’t give X nor did I know I needed it before that and allowed a great competition to be head follow.

I’ll go look at that team and go, I don’t know where they were. Seven, five, six, our time who cares, what they have done now though, is they have learned from us in a way that they wouldn’t have done without that conversation.

Jessica: There’s so much in that example, I think for teams to look at it, that simple thing of, taking our learnings and taking our experiences and sticking them up on a board and mapping them together and talk about what really went on for me at the high point, for the low point.

I think that’s a really powerful teams technique to be working on. We can talk about that another day.

Pod: Going into 2021. My sense is for leadership teams to be successful in 2021 is going to require a little bit of back to basics and get the fundamentals humming. What are you thinking of when you think of fundamentals for a leadership team and leaders in a leadership team? And if they’re ready, if they’re able to come back in January and put these into place, what might they be?

Jessica: Be really clear on what our focus is and for how long. So work out what our purpose is, and what’s the time constraint around that. Be really clear about each person’s role on the team and what we need from each person. The real reason why they’re there, what they’re build, what they’re at is so good team theory, and then I think too, Carry forward in our learning, the sensitivity to individual needs to be able to flex with how we work with each other. I think those things will be really important in terms of team functioning. I love the three CS that you were talking about with your client before. I think that’s a great framework to look at and to be able to communicate consistently down through organizations, what we know and more importantly, what we don’t know.

And what we’re making our decisions based on recognizing that everything could change in a heartbeat because no one really knows what’s going on. So I think they’re the sorts of practices, but I think a gentleness would be nice to take into the next year, actually bit of gentleness and a bit of kindness because.

People have never gone through. none of us have lived through anything like this and I just have this hope that through all of this, we allow ourselves to stay open to what it is to build organizations where people can thrive. And it sounds a bit cliche, where you can actually show up as fully you.

And imagine if we took that into. The year where we recognize that everyone’s so phenomenally quirky, but if we allow people to work from that and we trust them to bring their best and to contribute in the way that they’re meant to the goals that we have as an organization, I just have a feeling that it will help us to shape organizations that are nice and that over time become more robust and more effective.

Pod: Alongside that I would add clarity from 2020, I hope will look like in 2021 for village of team is what meetings are we in? And what meetings are we just going to say goodbye to? Because we don’t need them. And if we are in them, do they have to be an hour? Can they be 45 minutes? Can it be 25 minutes?

Can it be a 10 minute phone call, but get refer more skills and Ruth, and I think rootless is part of being kind and kind to ourselves and our organization by being of where we spend our time

Jessica: and to take the double step. Think about, should I be there? But then to have that more holistic stuff going, should they be there?

When am I going to put this diary meeting in for you? Do we really need to do it this way? Is it a five minute phone conversation or is this where we need to come together on zoom? Have a long conversation to do that. And that’s, to me, there’s that mutual aspect of the restlessness because everyone is exhausted and.

Who wants to carry that feeling forward into the new year. We want people to come back to work refreshed, however they do that. But to be able to carry that sense of refreshment and rejuvenation across the year, the worst is when we get clients back to work and they’re two or three days and I’m going okay.

So if you still got that holiday feeling that like her apart did it at the door and yet how often does that happen? What would it look like if we. Had that as part of our intention going forward for 20, 21 and beyond to keep that feeling of a, the whole person and all of their. Complex needs. And as part of our model of organizations yep.

Pod: Given all of the wisdom you’ve developed experience and even share with us today. And we know we haven’t shared all of you wisdom, looking back now at the 35 year old version of you, what would you not be telling that person?

Jessica: Undoubtedly, it would be to share. Ideas strategies, experiences like we are today, but to have been doing that much more publicly from back then, because I think like anyone who does, who’s been doing what they do for a long time and who does whose work is an extension of who they are, if that makes sense.

it’s so intrinsic that I just think everybody gets it and everyone knows it, but I think. that’s always gotten the way I’d be putting ideas out there, probably talking more about what’s possible or writing whatever. So it would be just to go there, just stop editing, stop worrying that someone else has said it before and put it out there

Pod: podcast somewhere and

Jessica: join some podcasts.

Pod: I’m going to ask a question, Jessica, and I ask this of everyone. if I’m nothing, I’m a music person. What is your favorite song or your favorite band? Can’t

Jessica: tell you how stressful I find this question

Pod: out there and all that,

Jessica: because it says, we talk about multiplicity of selves.

Each of myself has different songs that they love. So everywhere from. those classic songs that I would love from the sixties, a whole bunch of music as period. My. Love to go. Dancing self is extremely partial to all disco. I love any song that I can belt out, singing at loud volume while I’m driving or when I’m going around the house.

Cause everything can be turned into a song. And then I have songs that I don’t know that you just love like Florence and the machine who’s got the love and David Bowie, Early work station to station would have to be one of my favorite pieces.

Pod: You love that song. And I haven’t heard in a while, so I think we’ll have to grab both Florence and the machine and every Boeing for the show announce and say, these are two of Jessica’s.

Jessica: Cause I can’t pick.

Pod: Thank you so much for joining us today as always, it’s a pleasure to chat with you and to hear the wisdom that you have to impart as well as the very practical. Tactics that people can take and deploy. We’ll have to have you back for lots more conversations, so you don’t have to edit and you can share your ideas.

Jessica: Thank you. Loved being here. Lots of fun. Thanks Pod.

Pod: Hope you enjoyed that conversation with Jessica Laden. I regularly talk to her and. Go away inspired or at least having found something new to think about in a way I hadn’t before. And when I think about this podcast, this strikes me, there’s at least four or five great ideas that are worth repeating and summarizing.

At the individual level, her symptoms of what it could become burned out, really struck me as being important to underline reiterate the sense of everything is all important. And it’s all up to me, which then becomes an overly focused sense of me in myself is the first major symptom that’s worth recognizing, but then it leads to it’s.

All the responsibility that only I have, which then becomes consuming for me. And eventually, as Jessica said, there’s a tipping point, which is very sharp. And so they are the symptoms to watch out for, in yourself, or indeed your colleagues. When you notice you are others being overwhelmed. The other area that she talked about, which is not a new topic by any means, but 2020 has put a whole new lens on to this.

And that is this fallacy, I believe, but I’ve work life balance. Any leader I’ve ever met, who is very successful in leadership is able to understand that life is life and their work and their home life bleeds into each other and always has. But what 2020 has done is. Put a non segregation in a physical sense.

Many of us are here. We are in October, November. Many of us are still working from home sometimes out of choice, but sometimes not. And when our loved ones are also working from home, there is no physical separation between home and work and all of my life. And one of Jessica’s notions is now is even more important to have a conscious plan at your life level.

I E. Consciously stopped to look at what is it I am wanting to do with my life, not necessarily at an existential point of view, but in terms of what brings me joy into my life and how do I have a plan or at least a default list to go to the sits on the fridge that when I want to segregate my work and my personal life, I have a list that I use regularly.

To remind me of what brings me joy and plan for that, the leadership point that she’s, that she underlined really important. It was no one has, can do it for you. if you don’t do this for yourself, no one else can. And as a leader role modeling how to lead yourself during times of stress is really important because ultimately if you don’t do that, You will end up leading suboptimally and then the team you’re leading will follow that trajectory.

So how do you consciously take some time to plan and execute what’s important for you in your overall life? Given the restraints and the unusual nature of 2020.

perspective. What I loved about what Jessica said today was as a good reminder of team, a theory, and that is when any new leader joins a leadership team or indeed any team, a, the team slows down to the level of capability of that person until they come up to speed in terms of speed to competency. But also if you’re sitting on the leadership team, it is worthy to take.

And maybe it will be a short time, but revisiting the team purpose so that everyone recalibrates with this new person who’s joined that team and they get on board as quick as possible. So it could be a short conversation as part of your weekly or monthly meeting, or it could be a dedicated conversation that you sit as set aside for that.

But how do you remember to revisit that conversation on team purpose? Every time a new. Team member joins and with the speed of 20, 20 and beyond, how do you have that conversation regularly anyway, because a sense of team and its purpose can often fluctuate and change. And then the last thing that we talked about, which I think is a really great exercise and conversation for any team to have is the notion of less review.

2020 and how we lead together. And the steps that Jessica and I outlined in that are number one, on a piece of butcher paper or any kind of board outline over a timeline, let’s say January to June and then July to December, all of the major changes that are coming in 2020 that we knew then step two. On top of that list, adding changes that came into 2020, that we were not expecting, came knocking on our door.

And chart those then step number three is in a different colored pen. Ideally let’s chart all the different emotions that we experience over that timeline, all the positive emotions or the scary emotions or the negative emotions at an individual level, a team level, family level and neighborhood and society level, because 2020 has had all of that.

Let’s get them onto the chart and then step back and review. So what does all that mean? Then step number four is on a scale of one to 10, 10 being the best one, being the worst within the perimeters of our influence. I E our leadership at our best, within the constraints of what we can do. Let’s give ourselves a number.

How well do we go? And then the last step, whatever the number was, why was it not another number or why was it not a 10 or a nine? Why wasn’t not a three or four and have that conversation because it’s in that conversation that the learnings come out and the learnings are where you and the team can embed down for future crisis, our future existential situations.

Here’s how we do well. And here’s the areas that we need to keep the Nene to make sure that we keep improving as a team, because if we don’t do it, nobody else will. Thank you for listening to another episode of the leadership diet. We hope you enjoyed it. Head over to, where you can subscribe to the podcast, to our blogs and retrieve the show notes.

From each episode, every show notes has links to whatever resources were mentioned by our guests. Including their favorite song or band. And the best way you can support this podcast is by subscribing and sharing it with your colleagues and friends. So they can hear the insights from our guests as well.

Thank you.

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What gets in our way when we are trying to change our leadership behaviours?

The annual cycle of performance feedback or leadership assessment tools means most senior leaders have received many hours of feedback by the time they get to senior roles. Books such as Mastering Leadership or What got you here wont get you there offer great insights into ways for leaders to develop useful leadership competencies or behaviours that have been proved to be effective time and time again. Yet organisational engagement scores continually illustrate the frustration employees have with their leaders. Culture audits illustrate the impact that ineffective leaders have on their entire organisations. As a former executive in a recruitment firm I know the value that industry has when a recently appointed senior leader does badly, as the organisation being led by that person suddenly offers up a whole rash of candidates eager to find new jobs else where!

So why is this so hard? What is it about leaders changing their behaviours that seem to come unstuck so often? Are these people not intelligent, educated and in may cases very well paid? Does is not seem to the mere mortals that if they were that well paid, they would change just about any behaviour!

The science of behaviour change is vast and gives us good insight into the difficulties we all face when changing deep-rooted behaviours such as leadership orientated behaviours. But one of my favourite researchers, Robert Kegan, gives some interesting insights into why changing behaviours might be difficult. His research suggests we all have competing commitments- usually un-noticed by ourselves that actually compete against the desire to change. That is they actively work to keep the status quo rather than enabling the leader to change. At first this seems bizarre or even incredulous. 

What is it about leaders changing their behaviours that seem to come unstuck so often? Are these people not intelligent, educated and in may cases very well paid?

But Kegan’s research which had been lauded globally suggests our competing commitments fall into five common clusters. Have a look to see if you recognise any of these examples.

1. My relationship(s) might be affected if I change.

This is a big one. The internal competing commitment to not changing is driven by the belief that someone important to me might not like me if I change. Imagine if I decide that I want to get really fit and run a half marathon in six months. Sounds positive! However if I also believe that my husband may not want me to spend that time in training and also may not like the smaller version of me that would emerge after that training, I am now caught between my desire to get fit and my belief that my husband will not approve of that activity.

As a leader being encouraged to be less critical and controlling in order to foster a more collaborative team sounds like good feedback. Indeed, there is an unlimited amount of research that would support this. But if a former leader or mentor had taught that person to be tough is a sign of strength, the notion of changing to a ‘less tough’ leadership stance feels like I am letting that person down. Competing commitments in action.

2. My identity will change (for the worse) if I change

Using the same example, imagine the leader trying to be less critical and controlling in order to foster a more collaborative team and at the same time they believe a leader who does that is just not them. They believe they are not the kind of leader that does good collaboration, or being less critical is not them, i.e. their identity as a leader is quite different to this desired leader. When this happens the status quo to not change is driven by the (hidden) belief that my identity is at risk if I were to change.

3. This will be painful if I were to change!

This is a complicated one! The pain associated with the effort required to change is hard to endure. Alternatively, the potential loss of changing from being a controlling leader to one that is more empowering is painful. For some people the emotions required to change are too painful to ensure. One leader I worked with was so scared of actually trusting his staff as the first step in letting go his controlling tendencies because he could not stand the potential pain associated with being let down by them. It was easier to control every output in his department- or so he believed- than to go through the possibility of empowering others and occasionally being disappointed. In that coaching scenario we used the notion of different types of parenting at different ages and stages as a useful metaphor to assist in him uncovering this hidden commitment.

One leader I worked with was so scared of actually trusting his staff as the first step in letting go his controlling tendencies because he could not stand the potential pain associated with being let down by them

4. The actual outcome I am trying to achieve will actually lead to something undesirable!

Imagine working hard to change a behaviour that ultimately leads to a promotion in the work place. Hey that’s a good thing in many people’s books! Right! Wrong. What if that promotion led to some undesirable outcomes such as more work, higher levels of stressful responsibility, more international travel, more time away from family and so the list goes on. For many leaders the rewards associated with the desired outcome are actually not desirable or the notion of potentially failing at a higher level of responsibility puts the behaviour change needed to achieve that promotion into the undesirable bucket. Just too hard!

5. I will lose my control (read power) if I change!

The last powerful competing commitment is associated with a loss of power or control. “If I am more empowering, I will then lose my ability to be on top of the numbers/ outcomes/ actions/ activities. My ability to be powerful is lost”. This is a common hidden competing commitment for leaders to uncover. Particularly if the trimmings of power are very overt in the company culture, i.e. more seniority is associated with more control/ power / authority etc. Potentially changing behaviours to be less controlling could man giving up control/ power/ all that I have worked for in order to get into this position! Powerful indeed.

Given how easy it is to write out an action plan after receiving feedback in a performance related conversation or on a leadership development program, it is not hard to understand why so many attempts at behaviour change actually fail. Uncovering some deeper truths or commitments such as the five listed above will give the leader a higher chance of success in actually committing to change or at least committing to changing something they actually will!

Click HERE To listen to a podcast interview with Pod and Pauline Lee where we discuss the notions of Immunity to Change.

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.

Listen to the latest podcast on The Leadership Diet

Ep 11. The intersection between ethics, culture, strategy and a dash of imposter syndrome with Dan Fleming

Dr. Dan Fleming lives in Melbourne and is Head of Ethics and Formation at the St. Vincent’s Hospital Group.
We discuss really important leadership questions including,
  • How does an organisation truly live to its espoused values?
  • What happens when leaders are able to look back into the archives and learn how previous leadership teams in that same organisation dealt with a range of crises over the decades?
  • How does a healthcare leadership team decide who gets treatment such as an ICU bed or a ventilator during a pandemic?
  • What happens when I, as a leader, want to keep everyone happy during times of complexity, when in fact I cannot do that!


Great to have you here.

Dan: Pod it’s wonderful to be here in such a privilege to be talking to you and the listeners. Thanks so much for having me

Pod: Now, most people I speak to, in my life in terms of what I do in leadership development. And indeed on this podcast, they tend to hold, C suite level roles, where they have a big span of, direct reports and they’re across state or country and multiple countries.

Your role is quite different. Your role has one person reporting to you from memory. Yeah, it is probably the one that most strategic influential roles on the organization where you get to shape the response, shape the direction, maybe even uphold some cultural legacies within the organization, as well as the wider industry city in the notion of group manager, ethics and formation.

Dan let’s start there. What is that role?

Dan: Thanks pod and yeah, it’s unique in the Australian context. At least there are some similar roles in the U S and Canada. It comes out of the history of organizations like ours, which are, some instance is itself just over 160 years old now as an organization and was founded by the religious sisters of charity who came out from Ireland in 1838.

And has, it has a really deep. Intentional identity and identity founded in the Catholic tradition of healthcare with a special focus on the poor and vulnerable. And within that context, as the organization has developed and evolved and grown over the years, many wonderful people, that’s collaborated with us in continuing that mission, all of the sisters of charity.

And as you can imagine, and as the listeners would know in the delivery of health and aged care, All the time. And, particularly I think in these 21st century complex contexts, we come up with what we come across a lot of different, big ethical questions. And over the years, some instance has been served really well in the space of ethics, by consultant ethicists.

Come in and advise on certain issues and sit on our boards and are there to run formation and training programs and so on. But my role came out of a sense of need in the organization that it would be good to have somebody internally who’s accompanying us all the time as it were to help us think in each and every moment about.

How our principles and how our values comes alive in the different activities were engaging with. And the different issues were encountering as a large health care organization in 21st century Australia. So that’s really, that’s the framing of the role. My own expertise is in theology and in ethics.

And I bring that into this context and come alongside my colleagues at lots of different levels and in lots of different spaces, to help them to think about what our mission and our values and our ethical principles mean in the context of their wonderful work. And that applies for everyone from our Chief financial officer group, for example, when I was spending some time with soon now, executive leadership team, sometimes our board, and also all through the system. So it might be working with clinicians, frontline care staff, or chief medical officers and so on. So it’s a very diverse role, but yeah, most of it is really to try and think really deeply and strategically, as you say, about how our values and principles come alive today.

Pod: Wow. If it feels like you’re sitting at the precipice of the history of the sisters of charity and why, what they believe in and what they set up alongside theology. I, the Catholic church, which is where you sit within in terms of religious order, as well as healthcare, clinical decisions and ethical decisions and strategic decisions.

And as well as all that upholding some cultural backgrounds, that’s an extraordinary precipice to be sitting in the middle of.

Dan: it is extraordinary. And it’s remarkable sometimes looking back at a week, the different spaces I’ve occupied and the different people I’ve been able to engage with and the different conversations I’ve been able to hopefully inject some wisdom and some.

Leadership from my particular expertise into it. It’s a great privilege. But, and with a particular focus on, as you say, the legacy of the sisters of charity, which the people who work for some instance, deeply proud of, and many of them come to us, not necessarily because they have the same faith worldview as the sisters did.

Although some do, but many come to us because. They see what St. Vincent’s stands for something beautiful, something good, something honorable something courageous. They also want to stand for and with. And yeah, the role is really about trying to depth that commitment and give people the skills to take it up and continue it into the future.

Pod: Now, some of our listeners are not based in Australia, so maybe they just don’t want to say what St Vincent’s actually is. So in a, if I’m a right and remembering 1838 or something like that, five nuns from the West coast of Ireland, where my dad is from in fact, arrived in Australia and on behalf of the sisters of charity and set up what is now the largest Catholic not-for-profit healthcare organization in the country with over 20 hospitals.

20, aged care facilities, 20,000 staff, is that a fair summation?

Dan: That’s a fair summation and six public hospitals, 10 private and 20 aged care facilities. And we’re all on the East coast. And that the arrival story is a beautiful one called the journey from Ireland, which of course was on a ship in those days.

These five religious women, first women religious to arrive in Australia, really given the mandate of their founder, Mary akin to go and. Serve the sick poor in this country. And they’d heard from their comrades in Australia, that things were tough for folks out here and their arrival story. They come in to circular key on new year’s Eve, 1838, and it’s a blistering hot day.

And it’s a very different circular key to what folks would know, whether they’re overseas or in Australia now the beautiful opera house and bridge and so on. And they get lowered off the boat on Chairs with ropes tied onto them into waiting tenders. So you can imagine these nuns in their full gas being lowered down on these chairs and the sale is on board.

The boat are all wishing them all the best and sending their love and blessing is on. And no sooner are they on land and their habits and Mary’s cathedral for mass and the person who presides at the mass keeps a wonderful sermon, just honoring, really bowing down in front of their heroic commitment and then no sooner do they finish that, then they’re out towards Paramatta and working with female prisoners out there.

it’s a story of real moral heroism. If I can put it that way. and it leads to the establishment of these wonderful services, which have, an incredible track record in upholding the dignity of all April with a special focus on those who are often left aside. and so as I was saying before, many of our people love that story are in love with that story and want to be a Podof continuing.

Pod: It is a tale of heroism and you’re right. There was no, two weeks self care isolation for them when they landed in circular key,

Dan: heading straight into it.

Pod: Those are stories that we’re going to jump into later on. Cause you have your own podcast that I want to dip into where you share lots of stories, on the history and on the people within the organization. So I want to jump to that later on, but one of the reasons I reached out to you to come onto this podcast was an article that yourself and Toby hall is CEO of the organization.

Wrote recently on aged care and values and ethical decisions that have been prompted by the pandemic of the world is sitting in. but specifically in Australia, looking at the notion of how do we decide who to give care to if we have to manage resources, Can I jump into that a little bit. That’s a really interesting conversation.

First of all, it made me very torn about the article, but then maybe also talk about how st Vincent’s has addressed this. And I know you were quite involved in shaping the conversation in March to get ready for decisions like this.

Dan: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. the article itself, if we start there and say, one of the things that we see at st Vincent’s is people’s vulnerability at its most profound.

and we see that in business as usual. Say before. COVID-19 because of our work with the poor and vulnerable in inner city, Melbourne and in Sydney, and also our care for people in our aged care facilities, across the country and our care for people who are medically fragile in our private hospitals and encountering vulnerability in that way.

It makes more pronounced if I can put it that way, the real gaps in our system, our common commitments as a community and caring for the people who are Podof our community. So when you encounter vulnerability regularly and you start to keep track of the things that you’re seeing again and again, And it tells a story about where the gaps really are.

So it’s quite a different view to that which might come out of political discourse, for example, or on social media or in the news media, or even just, your average, Joe and Jane wandering down the street, having a conversation encountering vulnerability gives a privileged position. If I can put it this way, seeing things from the underside of reality, seeing things from the point of view of those who aren’t necessarily being served so well by the community, as it currently stands.

Pod: Did you say the underside as like the underbelly 

Dan: yeah, the underbelly and not in a moral sense in the sense that these people are bad or anything, but just in the sense of you’re seeing things from the point of view of folks who are hard done by the system as it. Currently exists and that’s a privileged position.

And I use the word privilege because it allows us to see things that might not be well seen in the dominant discourse, but privilege also implies responsibility. And one of the things that we’ve seen really starkly. During the COVID 19 pandemic, particularly down here in Victoria during the second wave is the sheer vulnerability of folks who’ve been living in aged care facilities.

And one of the things COVID has done, and this will be true for your listeners who are listening from various different business leadership contexts, but also in the communities. as a whole it’s exposed symptoms and problems that were there all along, but it’s really accentuated them. And so during the middle of this pandemic, our people have been called on particularly our private hospital, but also our public hospital as well to change the way in which they care.

And to welcome into our facilities. People who are really fragile from aged care facilities who need to be cared for, because it’s no longer safe for them to be in their aged care facilities. Because maybe there’s COVID there or because the facility itself just needs to shut down because they can’t provide adequate care.

Now that’s a symptom of a bigger problem it’s accentuated during COVID, but it turns up in a particular way because of the stress on all of our systems in COVID. And the privileged position of seeing that vulnerability and being able to respond to us, enables us to then think a bit more deeply about what’s going on in the system here.

What are the ethical assumptions at play in our community that our elderly are left in such a fragile and vulnerable position. And we’re susceptible to this awful disease in a particularly salient way more so than just. The general nature of being elderly, that you might contract more infections.

This was actually, every analysis has shown real neglect in terms of the care offered to these folks. So that’s the context. Now in this context, a lot of commentators have rightly been coming out and prompting debates about how we as a community should go forward, acknowledging full well that it might be some time before there’s a reliable vaccine available.

How should we make prudent wise decisions about our community and really what risks we’re willing to take, in terms of the virus, in terms of possible mortality from the virus and all those kinds of things. All of these are essential questions. But what we recognized was that some of the rhetoric that was making its way into the public discourse, how does structure along the lines of an appropriate way to find our way through this is to start thinking about whose lives are more valuable than others, and on that basis to whom should we be directing our resources and concerns?

First of all, Now in our context, in the kind of health and aged care service that we lead, that kind of a conversation immediately creates a blip or an alert on the radar because that


Pod: there.

Dan: Yeah, exactly. Because wait, predictably in any such discussion, the people who are service was established to care for as a priority fair, worse than the wealthy of the strong, those who are well looked after already.

And so on.

Pod: Let’s just pause there and underline the point that I think is really important. I think what you’re saying is the mission of st. Vincent’s that indeed I would imagine most are many healthcare providers is to help the vulnerable help the people who need help, who maybe cannot afford it through their own pocket.

And therefore they’re relying on other services yet. Some of the commentary that you’re referring to, I was looking at resource allocation. Maybe we should make. Beds available or ventilators available for the people who are youngest or strongest or fittest, as opposed to people who have less life to lead.

Is that what you’re saying?

Dan: that is, and then just to note, this is slightly more technical, but there were also some suggestions out there that what we should really be doing is looking at quality of life metrics and saying really what we should be trying to do is maximize quality of life. And put our resources into that.

And again, those metrics and folks can go and read Toby. And my article is they’re interested in some more detail about this often will privilege the already well off. And what we have argued in a few economists have argued too, is that shouldn’t be our starting points. And to your direct question there, this is, it has a similar structure.

It’s not exactly the same, but it has a similar structure to a question that we encounter in our ICU departments. And we predicted, we might encounter in the face of COVID, which is a situation in which. Many people need the resources, let’s say have an ICU bed, but we only have a scarce amount of that resource available.

So the ethical question then is to whom do we allocate those resources and on what basis and what Toby and I suggest in the article, in the context of our. Social context. And we can also talk a bit, Podof you think it would be interesting for the listeners about the ICU context to what we suggest is that our starting points are absolutely essential.

It’s not good enough to start from a, from an assumption or start from a belief system that suggests we can actually value some lives over others as if we can. Apply a dollar value to people and then either welcome them into care or resources to them and discard others. That’s a human community should just never do that.

Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t still need to grapple sincerely with questions of. We have limited resources. We know that whatever path we’re going to take is going to be difficult. Of course, we have to grapple with these things, but what Toby and I were saying is look for heaven’s sake. Please don’t start from an assumption that some folks are worth more than others because what’s going to happen.

Then we’ll look, we’re already seeing it happening. we live in a culture that doesn’t value our elderly as we should. And what does that lead to? it leads to neglect in funding and care for our elderly. And what happens when we end up in a crisis? surely there’ll be some sort of Royal commissioner inquiry into aged care and how they’re responded or how, what positions people were left in.

In the context of COVID-19 in severe vulnerability, this is symptomatic of a belief system, which suggests that we can hide away their vulnerability and not really thinking about it. And that’s just not good enough. And we now can see in the chickens have come home to roost. We can see what that looks like.

When a crisis hits, but what that points to is a belief system. That’s been there all along. And that’s what we’re trying to critique here. Let’s not start with that belief system that values some people over others. So this

Pod: goes back to my comment upfront about you’re at the precipice of a range of different philosophical views of the world in different ways of thinking of the world.

What you’re describing to us now is a lover way of using an ethical framework is start our thinking at the same token, every health care organization needs to have a health economics type view in terms of how do we balance our limited resources and how do we allocate them? so how did you and the organization shape your thinking and how have you led that conversation in the organization to arrive at a place where you can have a direction, at least as you’re addressing these needs?

Dan: Yeah. So back in March when, and th in the Australian context. So it was really much when the pandemic hit our shores in a substantive way, and our clinicians were looking at what was happening overseas. our whole system was our whole country was looking at the U S looking at Italy, looking at Spain and really.

Kind of shaking in our boots that here are countries which are really not unlike ours in terms of resource availability. And they’re just being overrun. There are hospitals that are having to make makeshift hospitals in parks. They’re having to refuse people entry to hospitals. They’re having to actually come up with criteria about who would be allocated care and who would miss out and.

Rightly. So our people were really worried about well, or what happened if this situation arrives on our doorstep in Australia, we started those discussions relatively early. Ethics is only as good as its capacity to confront real situations. And if we’d said, that’s not going to happen here or.

We just can’t confront those questions from our value set. Then it would show up that our value sets not ready to meet real world challenges.

Pod: Never a truer word. Let’s say it from many organizations what you’ve just said. Yeah.

Dan: So what we had to do is think about if it were the case that we see such a surge in demand in Australia, that we have to rationale resources, how are we going to do it?

And how are we going to do it in a way that’s expressive of. Our commitments as an organization. And look, the thing is some instance has been through a few pandemics. This isn’t the first we’ve bred back through our archives and heard about what happened during the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic.

For example, we were on the frontline in HIV AIDS in the 1980s. One of the only health services that actually opened its doors to people suffering from that horrible disease.

Pod: I remember speaking to your head of immunology who set up the HIV support clinic in Australia.

Dan: Yeah. And we continue to be a world leader in research in that space.

So questions like this, aren’t foreign to the service, although they felt foreign. So many of our people today, Who haven’t lived through these things. And that includes me. these things are the stuff of history. Yeah.

So the first things we did together as an organisation was sit down and say, okay, where are we called, where do our values call us to focus? And that started a whole lot of what you might call affirmative action or proactive work with our vulnerable communities. So there was a lot of work, especially out of our Sydney and Melbourne, public hospitals in setting up pathways for care. So our homeless folks for those suffering from addictions, those with mental health concerns and for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations as well.

So that was the first step. And we’re mitigating against what sometimes an era in ethics, which is that we go straight to the moment of acute decision and forget about all of the moments leading up to that moment of acute decision. Okay. The point is setting the acute decision in a context of decisions as not avoiding it, but it’s saying, what can we do before that point in time to reduce the complexity of the decision that might have to be made and ensure that we’re ready to make that decision.

And we’ve done everything we can. To mitigate any negative consequences that might come from that decision. Does that make sense?

Pod: Does that include scenario planning or are you talking about taking micro decisions before you have to get to the major decision?

Dan: Both. Both. So yeah, it would help us to think about the likely scenarios.

Think about who our cohorts are, who we’re already serving, what can we do for them in advance to mitigate against a situation where we have. More people needing an ICU bed than we have available. So it’s setting it in a context of decisions. So that’s the first step, but the second step is all of that works great.

And let’s hope. And actually it has in Australia prevented a situation where we actually have to choose one patient over another for the ICU bed. But. Where are we to get to that situation? And just to put it in simple terms, let’s say there were five people needing an ICU bed. Only three beds were available.

What do we do? And here’s where starting points essential. The first thing we do is look at all those people. And recognize that they all have equal dignity and value. That’s the first thing we do. So there’s no kind of, Oh, look that person’s over a certain age or that person has a certain skin color that person’s a certain sexuality.

So they’re not going to get acts. None of that. All of that’s written off. 

Pod: underline what you just said. He just said equal dignity, as opposed to. Looking at quality of life. So it’s a very different lens. You’re looking at

Dan: exactly equal dignity. Next question is what’s the need of the people presenting in front of us saying that everyone has equal dignity doesn’t solve the problem yet.

It gives us a good starting point. What’s the need whose need is most urgent. that might give us an indication of who should be prioritized. First of all, the care. What’s the likely prognosis of each person here that might give us some indication about how we should escalate care for them. there’s quite a detailed framework, as you can imagine of steps that our clinicians will go through or better still principles, which they’d have in mind to help them guide those decisions.

Now, Ken, this is okay. Let’s say we’ve been through that process and we see that this person will benefit most from the care given the situation they’ve come into us with. The need is greatest and so on. So we’re going to escalate them, but we’ve still got these other folks here. Now, what do we do there?

We’ll just because we’ve escalated care for one person doesn’t mean we abandon the others. We start thinking then about, what can we provide to those for whom an ICU bed isn’t available. And this led to some really they became famous moments during the pandemic when our clinicians were making really strong statements out in public, which were things like, no matter what, if you come in this hospital door, you will be cared for now.

Don’t know necessarily what particular care will be available, but you will be cared for. And even if it becomes apparent that your condition is so severe as this horrible disease has shown over and over again, that you’re not going to make it through, you will never be left alone. And this is responding to some of the trauma we saw overseas, where folks were dying alone from COVID-19.

So you can see here how all of these principles show up at the moment of crisis. we’ve the story so far has allowed us to mitigate as far as possible, that scenario and all of the great sacrifices, our community made helped us to mitigate that scenario. But even if we found ourselves there, Everyone was guaranteed care because everyone deserves care on account of their dignity.

Not everyone would get the same care and we had real clinical criteria for trying to figure out how to prioritize care. No one would ever be left alone. No one would ever be abandoned and. Some of our doctors have never had to encounter questions like this, but what a beautiful sense of common purpose and common commitment for us to come to?

Pod: I love so much about what you’ve explained here in, and again, I go back to the precipice. you’re in the middle of all of these different ways of thinking. You have to bring it together because the organization you’re in is a complex organization. And as it serves a whole lot of complex needs, but what strikes me more and more is.

You were either overtly or by default, the obligation has leaned back into his original mission and its original set of values to help guide it. And as you said, there’s a whole history of the organization. This is not the first pandemic. I love just that there is a whole history here that you’re able to learn from my question.

Dan is going forward. How do you, what’s your view of organizational values in the post pandemic world? I E why are we learning around organizational values, organizational missions that can help steer us as we’re making difficult decisions.

Dan: Yeah, what a wonderful question. And then really, this is the question for now, isn’t it?

Yeah. This is what we’re all wrestling with. Now. I had a haunting discussion with, a dear cousin over in New Zealand a couple of months ago. Now it was before they had this second weird little blip where they had some COVID infections. So New Zealand was basically COVID free as your listeners would know.

We were right in the middle of our second lockdown here in Melbourne, and she said to me, Dan, we forgot about the pandemic so quickly. We forgot about it so quickly! Everything snapped back to the way it was. And it haunted me at that moment in time because I thought, gosh, we’re learning so many leadership lessons now in so many ethics lessons now.

What a tragedy, if things just snapped back and we forgot all those things. So I think the question is essential for all of us to be grappling with at the moment and taking the time to grapple with,  actually, it’s when times are exceptional, that our core principles should not be. When times, even though the circumstances might be challenging or extreme our principles, aren’t. Our principles. It’s in times like these, that we should uphold them most of all. And if we find them lacking, it might mean we’ve got the wrong principles.

And then I think that there are a whole bunch of learnings that across all our organizations have a reason that a worth us reflecting deeply on what they mean for our leadership going forward. And this might be political leadership or business leadership or healthcare leadership, or even in personal life.

One of them is that we’ve realized, I think in a much more salient way, how we’re all entrusted to one another, who would have thought that the act of washing one’s hands was actually a moral act?

Pod: yes.

Dan: Haven’t we, that this is essential in protecting ourselves and one another or masking up or, all of these things.

But the second one is. Even though we all have our personal responsibilities in this space and that’s serious. We’re not all responsible for everything. I think we’ve all had this sense that we’ve been slightly out of control. and I imagine for some of your listeners who are used to being in situations where they can exert real influence and navigate the ship that we found ourselves in.

Troublesome waters with the engine broken and the sales down and a hole in the Hull kind of thing. And in context like that, it’s really worth reflecting on the decisions that aren’t ours to make. no individual could close the borders, for example.

Pod: Yeah. It really brought home. The fallacy are, we are in control and it really underlines the wisdom of at best you’re in control of your reaction when you’re conscious of it.

Yeah. And that’s it. That’s my tie. If somebody just said they’re then gone back to the notion of mission and values. One of my colleagues has a phrase, which is that your leadership teams, because they change are not structured to remember. And therefore, how do we help the organization to be structured, to remember that?

And I think that goes back to your lovely comments around that testaments at a history of st. Vincent’s is that the obligation is structured three member, and therefore it’s time during these that the principals don’t have to be exceptional because the memory’s there.

Dan: Yes. Yes, exactly. Yeah. W what a profound learning.

And we must remember there’s a quote. I can’t remember who said it’s up in the, one of the haunting corridors of Auschwitz, the concentration camp over in Poland, and it says something like those. Do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it. Now that’s in the context of grave evil, obviously the murder of so many innocence, under the Nazi regime and the second, but that’s a really important lesson.

Yeah. Gosh, if we encounter another pandemic, yeah. Two years, 30 years, 50 years. Let’s hope that these memories. And these lessons we’ve learned now still Podof our consciousness so that we can lead from this point of view and not make the mistakes that we’ve made this time. It’s like the

Pod: old joke. The, at the end of the Irish praise to arrived into a, a village as the new person priest and told a sermon on day one.

And then the next Sunday told the same sermon. The next Sunday told the exact same sermon and the fourth Sunday told the exact same sermon. And then someone was brave enough to step up and say, father you’ve told us the same sermon, the last one. Four weeks in a row. And he goes, when you start practicing it, then I’ll change it.

Dan: Isn’t that wonderful. it just remind me, there’ve been some kind of funny, in a sense ethics lessons during this context too. But I started in teaching an ethics lesson the other week with a picture of toilet paper. Now, if I had said that to you six months ago, that’s what I had a clue of what I meant straight away.

We all recognize what that is now, symbol and a

Pod: symbolic of so many things

Dan: that resources are limited. And if we all are selfish about how we use them, nobody ends up with any

Pod: good for the common.

Dan: Good. And yeah, I think it’s just worth honing in on some of the ridiculousness we’ve shown through this time.

and remembering the S and setting ourselves up for success next time. And by being ready to do things differently,

Pod: I want to move the conversation just to a complete different place. Over the last couple of years you were involved in leading a, I’m going to say cross-organization response to a very interesting legal and situation and society event. And that is effectively the Victorian assisted dying legislation and the response by the Catholic health care to it.

So for folks who are not in Victoria, R and D, not in Australia, The state government was bringing legislation to enable, hospital providers get involved with assisted dying or euthanasia. And therefore the hospital groups had to respond as to how they were going to get involved with that. And given the Catholic view around assisted dying is potentially in conflict with the state legislation view.

It brought up a series of tensions of which you had to lead. So I’m interested in what were the tensions that you had to overcome and therefore help respond to. And what was your leadership impact for yourself in that whole episode?

Dan: Thanks pod. Yeah, th that was, that was my, probably the biggest leadership challenge I’ve faced thus far in my career.

yeah. So those two aren’t in Victoria that the voluntary assisted dying act, as you say, came in June, 2019, and there was a lead-up period of about 18 months before it came in the name of the act isn’t terribly helpful. Cause it doesn’t say what it is. Legalizes, but what illegalized is, I know this is just a purely physical description of it, which is important.

It allows for a person who’s been through a particular process mandated by the state to have prescribed to them a lethal substance. So they have to meet certain criteria for this to happen, that, to be near the end of their life competent and a whole bunch of other things, people can look it up if they’re interested.

But they get prescribed a lethal substance, which they take at a time of their choosing with the purpose of ending their lives. So in medical ethics, it would be called, physician assisted suicide doctors are involved and they give a person a means by which to end their own life. Normally, for reasons of existential suffering or, pain or loss of hope, like lots of things in it.

Now, as I’m saying is I’m sure that those listening there are different bristles going off and they’re feeling a heat of a complex ethical issue, number one, and a heated ethical issue. so the whole euthanasia assisted dying assisted suicide debate really gets the emotions going in public debate.

Now the ethical framework where a Podof at st. Vincent’s and indeed Catholic health care more broadly, doesn’t see this action as something that belongs to medicine. And that’s the same as the world medical association and the Australian medical associations position is that this isn’t something for medicine to do this breaches, a boundary, the boundary of do not harm.

And On that basis, this was never going to be something that, our organizations, implemented or to put it more benignly is not going to be a service that we would offer. But, we offer some of the wall, an extensive array of end-of-life care services in Victoria. In fact, it has a piece of trivia for the listeners, that same sisters of charity legacy gave Australia its first.

Dedicated end of life care service, 130 years ago, which was the sacred heart hospice, up in Sydney there just adjacent to some instance hospital, some of the folks who know the Darlinghurst area, we know that camp as well, and that end of life care includes all sorts of things. So pain and symptom relief, accompaniment, spiritual care, social support and so on.

And for 130 years they’ve been delivering really beautiful care. So when the legislation came in, that the key question for, the Catholic organizations in Victoria was, how do we continue offering the beautiful Careware known for whilst at the same time, upholding our principles in relation to this act, recognizing full well that we might be caring for people who want to pursue this newly legal option, but that it’s not something we’re going to provide.

And I’m sure. You and the listeners can think of a million complexities in that space right away. One of the things, once the act came in, I said to Catholic health Australia, and a number of colleagues reflected this same recommendation was that look for goodness sake, whatever we do, we should be doing it together.

We’re all in the same position here and there are quite a few different Catholic health and aged care services in Victoria. So why don’t we think about how we respond together? And everybody agreed that this was a good idea. Now predictably, okay. Australia said, who’s going to lead this work and they.

Picked up the phone. I don’t know how many people they call before they call me. They called me right away.

Pod: Your last man standing where you

Dan: could well have been. But without hesitating, when they called me and asked me, I said, no way political issue. I was relatively new in, healthcare ethics, and also in the professional sense of working directly in a healthcare organization.

But also like my goodness, not only would one have to get all of these systems, which have their own complexities to work together, but in this heated political environment, that’s going to attract a lot of controversy. The media are going to be all over. no, thanks. And hung up the phone. As I hung up the phone, I remembered my very first days.

It’s Vincent. and one of the lovely things I was able to do in those days was spend some time with some of our palliative care physicians and hit the wards with them really, and see their care in action. And I went home to my beloved Rochelle after that. And I wept, and it wasn’t because there was tragedy there even though of course confronting the end of life is tragic.

Confronting disease is tragic confronting the reality that people are dying before their time is absolutely tragic. And it wasn’t because of pain. The pain I saw was managed, really quite well, but there were some folks who were clearly experiencing pains of different times. I actually wept because. I was just so astounded by the beauty of the care that was offered.

And that’s reflective of that long tradition. Here are clinicians and other allied health workers, just going above and beyond to provide care for these beautiful, precious people at the end of their life. So I put the phone down and I thought, gosh, maybe this is an opportunity to bolster that care.

Maybe this is an opportunity to inject that story. Into this moment in time, a moment where let’s face it, the Catholic church in general is known for being quite reactionary when things like this happen quite defensive. And I thought maybe this is an opportunity to actually start on a front foot, which is we have a beautiful ethic of care, which we’re going to continue no matter what.

This doesn’t belong to us this new legislation, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to change who we are. And in fact, so serious away about who we are, that we’re going to find ways to make sure that even if someone raises this or wants this from us, and it’s not something we’re going to offer, we have really good processes in place to ensure that we can uphold our commitments to them as our patient not get in their way.

But be responsive to whatever it is. They’re bringing to us, hopefully with an opportunity to provide better care, the kind of care that we provide them.

Pod: so you pick up the phone and said, yes, that is,

Dan: Oh yes, I did. I did call back. So maybe Blake option seven and eight. Declined to. So they called me again.

and I said, yes. I said, yes. And look, it was a huge piece of work. Some instance made me available. So Catholic health Australia for the work, it was probably about 14 months or so.

Pod: We hope you’re enjoying this episode of the leadership diet. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on whatever podcast player you are listening to this on reviews on iTunes and Spotify are greatly appreciated.

Can I get us to maybe double down into you, the leader at this moment, this year, as you said, you said no, originally for all the obvious reasons, there was a huge complex, hyper political potential media all over the place. And you’re likely to disappoint many stakeholders, no matter what outcome you’re going to move into.

From your own leadership perspective, where were the tensions for you stepping into this cross organizational leadership role to deliver a very public outcome?

Dan: Those who know the TLC 360, I’m strong on the pleasing quadrant, Pod. And  I had to confront a lot of my personal, dispositions, which, a Podof who I am, they’re Podof my story, but nonetheless can make leadership really difficult. And like any disposition, they can be both strengths and weaknesses in different contexts. I realized during this time, for example, that’s one in the same.

Dan who finds things, in personal life, difficult sometimes was also turning up to these meetings and confronting these challenges in leadership context. And there was such a stupid example, which really keeps coming to mind. For me. And one of these examples that all leaders have had a little moment is a great moment of insight.

We’re actually moving house, moving into our new home, down in Melbourne. in fact, I’m standing around boxes now because we’re moving out again next week and this same story keeps coming back to me. So what happened was the removal. His truck was at the front of the house. It was blocking the driveway.

And the guys were working really hard to bring all this stuff in. And I heard a honk we’re on an access road. So there are quite a few houses that use. I heard a honk. Am I? My reaction is, Oh my gosh, I do not want to be the person who goes out there and has to deal with this. I don’t want to be the size of the problem.

I don’t want to have to do the negotiation with everyone. I don’t want, I just. I like pleasing people. I like people to be happy with what’s going on. I like to make sure it’s smooth and so on. And then, this was in the space of two or three seconds. I realized that actually I’m the only person who can do right now that you guys are carrying something that’s so heavy.

They’re about to break their backs. Everyone else is occupied. I’ve got to be the person to go and get insight. And of course, it’s fine when I go out there because I’m gentle. I can communicate clearly. And we got a great outcome that more and more, and I was helped very skillfully by a coach during this time.

More and more, I started to realize that same thing was just happening all the time. And as you rightly say, in this particular context, in this leadership exercise, there was just no way. Everyone was going to be pleased with the outcomes. People were going to be disappointed with compromises here, there, and everywhere.

People were already. the community as a whole was already unsympathetic to the position we’d taken because the legislation in Victoria has by and large been popular. Some don’t like it, but many do. That’s why the government went for it. And so I really had to recognize that I’m, this is me. This is my disposition.

I’m just going to have to keep recognizing that this is going to come up again. And again, I learned a beautiful trick and I can’t, you might know the book that was in pod. There was a lovely little exercise given to me that when you hear that voice, which holds you back from the leadership into which you’re called.

An exercise to help is to just say, Oh, hello, old friend. You’re back again. And I started to do that and look at me, and sometimes it wasn’t anything particularly difficult that we had to confront. I just realized that. Person F was going to be a bit annoyed about this. Cause they thought we should do something in a different way.

Sometimes it was a huge thing, like a really big call that we had to make that some were really committed to a different position. It was coming up all the time. But that little exercise of saying friend your back again, allowed me as a person not to negate my experience, my insights, because they’re important.

But to say that’s not what’s most important now what’s most important is that we do the right thing and. I have a clear sense as a leader, having consulted widely knowing full well, our ethical principles and the leadership I’m called to at this time, what we should do. And I don’t need to apologize for that.

And I, in fact, the leadership call is to be courageous in this moment. And sometimes that courage means standing up and being blunt and saying, sorry, this is the direction we’re going. And do you know what, just like that conversation with the person honking their horn outside her house each and every time.

I was absolutely surprised by the outcomes. In fact, people jumped in behind, they said, okay, all right, that’s the decision. Let’s go with it.

Pod: Can I pause you there, Dan? Cause you’ve shared some extraordinary insights in the last few minutes. I just want to underline a few of them because it’d be easy to, rush over what you’ve said as if it were just, it happened in a few minutes, but.

Clearly it didn’t that happen over a few months as you were learning these things. The first thing is that you talked about, you were in the role and only you could lead this as an, you were in that role. So the leadership role demanded of you something bigger than you were previously able to give.

And once you recognize that, and I think this is a really common pattern for leaders is once they recognize. The role is requiring something of me that I’ve never done before. That is a first step of awareness of, I need to do something different because this is different to every before. And in your case, it sounds like not wanting to please people or seek a peaceful outcome, that wasn’t going to be possible.

So you had to step into courage as you said. so yeah, very profound insight. The second thing I heard you to say, which is really profound as well as. Recognizing all of your background was coming through in terms of, Hey, be quiet, say nothing, seek for peace. And you went, hold on. That’s my old friend.

That’s been very useful for me, but right now it’s not in this moment. It’s not helpful at all. And in a previous podcast, Paul Lawrence talks about the notion of multiple cells and the motion of the notion of the inner critic is really useful because it has served you sometimes. But rotten trying to eliminate it, just go, hold on.

Yeah. Right now you’re not helpful. Thank you old friend, but not right now. Two profound insights you’ve just shared, which I think are really worthwhile underlining. So thank you for doing that.

Dan: Ah, thanks, Paul. And look, just to link back to something we were talking about earlier on that piece of leadership growth is the same.

Exactly the same thing. That for example, when the rhetoric started during COVID, that we should be valuing some lies over others. It Dan’s immediate disposition is a look that’s terrible. Somebody should say something about that, right? We’re in the driveway. Again, somebody should go out and deal with that.

And then the recognition, hang on. Old friend.

Pod: That’s right.

Dan: That’s somebody use, man. You’re the one who’s been entrusted with a position where. going right back to the start. We had the privileged position of seeing the vulnerabilities that occur when we value some lives over others. So you’re the one with the insights, the credibility, the knowledge, to be able to inject a voice into this space that can challenge the rhetoric.

So do it. And the other thing that’s been really helpful is remembering the moral heroes who I speak about on a daily basis to my people remembering those five sisters of charity. Now, if they, and those who followed after them went peacefully and never. Ruffled anyone’s feathers. We wouldn’t have one of the worlds leading addiction, medicine departments, for example, or one of the worlds leading end of life care services.

So of course there’s a role for that self that’s self who does like pleasing and all that kind of thing. And that’s where I live and that’s who I am. But nonetheless being called into a new space requires new skills and requires a different exercise of leadership. Yeah. Brilliant.

Pod: Let’s move to a different topic. You’ve mentioned the word courage, and I’m going to put two other words next to it, passion and constellation. And that became the title of a podcast that you launched at the early stages of COVID for the organization. And it’s been a major success in connecting the organization and sharing stories, and indeed the general public have access to it.

If anyone wants to listen to it, I certainly have listened to it, many episodes. Tell me a bit more about that and tell me specifically around the impact it had on the organization.

Dan: Yeah. So this is a great story of, electrical pivoting. I was sitting with my dad over Christmas, who as but your listeners won’t is a radio engineer.

I come from a radio family. Mum’s arrived at dad’s and engineer talking about all of the wonderful people. I meet at some people who just do the most incredible work and wishing there was a way to tell their story. And dad started telling me about all this new podcast equipment he knew also, I thought, Oh, wow.

Okay, look, that’s a good opportunity. So we went through the whole process of getting us an instance podcast approved, and it was just going to be called stories of some Vincent’s. And I was going to go around the country and sit with our people and hear their stories and tell them. To our organization and to the public, to profile this work as an attempt to do exactly what I’ve been employed to do, which is keep the mission heart of the organization, beating, keep people inspired by the story and living it.

And so on. Now then of course we get all the equipment and two days later we’re in lockdown and we can’t go anywhere. Plan a was shells, but. My manager and I had a good yarn about this. And we thought, why don’t we just redeploy this equipment, this idea for another purpose, recognizing that our people are going to be under real stress, real strain are going to be called upon to be heroic in their care.

Like perhaps never before for most of them. How can we support them? How can we console them? It’s a lovely word from our tradition, which is really about giving people the ingredients they need to thrive and flourish, even when it’s challenging, even when it’s challenging and compassion and courage are obviously so much a Podof our story.

So hence the three words, that started the podcast. That will go to approve because we’d already done all the work to get something like this approved. And I spoke to a lot of different people around the organization and outside the organization too, who will lead us in different ways. Some were sisters of charity, some were indigenous leaders, some were frontline clinicians.

And somewhere our executives and really the questions to them were more personal. Right then, what we might normally do in a corporate communications rollout team, because I was asking them, look, what are the stories from some instance, which inspire you most and what do you think they mean for today?

Where do you get your courageousness? Where do you go to seek consolation? How do you bolster up your compassion? And sometimes I was just in awe at the people I was listening to and the wisdom they had, it was just, it was such a privilege to be on the other end of the discussion and hearing their stories and the feedback we were say from our people and others out in the community who listened as well.

Was that. Gosh, here’s an example of just storytelling and connection and reflection in a time where those three things are far less possible because of the pressures we’re under. And so we had frontline clinicians listening to us. We had, some of our back office staff plugging away at the numbers or sorting out appointments or in procurement, figuring out how are we going to get enough PPA with voices in their ears, telling them that what they’re doing is beautiful, important, and giving them a sense of pride in the work.

I know. Yeah, it was just such a privilege. And I, it’s interesting because you can watch, how many people have been listening and it still seems to attract a bit of attention. And just for your listeners, if they’re interested in, I mentioned briefly the HIV AIDS story earlier. There’s an episode with sister Claire Nolan, who is the director of nursing at some instances.

Time where she speaks about that pandemic and what it was like to be on the front lines. So it might just be interesting for folks because there’s a lot of learning in that time.

Pod: I’m going to put a link to the podcast in the show notes, but I have listened to that episode. I remember walking on the South coast, listening to that episode, and then to hear her great story.

and the notion of living into the mission and values at the time and date, I think even saying there was no choices, it was obvious we had to do this. so it’s a great, it’s a great podcast. What really struck me though, is at a time when you were using the mission to help you steer your ethical views to help steer the strategic direction of the organization, you were also amplifying the mission through storytelling in the podcast.

And it was really, going back to my comment about structuring, to remember it’s a great way to help an organization keep structured, to remember why the organization actually exists. Yeah, you did that beautifully.

Dan: Thanks Cod. Yeah. Thank you,

Pod: Dan. We’re coming to the end of this great conversation.

So I appreciate all the time you’ve given us the two questions that I ask everybody. I’m going to have to adapt one of them for you. But the first one is what is your favorite band?

Dan: Oh, wow. I have many, but it, but if I could hone in on one, that’s been particularly important for my, my ethics work and my formation work.

It’s a guy who calls himself radical face. His name’s actually Ben Cooper. And I just love the music. He makes. Number one, he’s an acoustic singer songwriter, but he’s also a storyteller and he wrote a whole kind of a family tree that he has these three albums called the family tree. And maybe you’re in there for the roots that are the branches, the leaves or something like that.

And. It’s just marvelous. He’s written a whole story about this family, which I gather in Podis autobiographical, but it’s a fictional family and each song refers to them. And there are some just beautiful music. There’s a song for example, called letters home, which is letters from a soldier in battle back to his father.

And when I listened to it, it gives me a sense of the tragedy of war and the pain of war in a way that. No other piece of literary or musical or even documentary work has ever done. yeah, I just love his work. I think it has deep, moral insight, but also I just find wonderfully inspiring and beautiful to listen to as well.

Pod: Fantastic. My last question is I typically ask people to look back to, and there were 35 and two given all the wisdom they have accumulated since then, what they would now tell that person or that version of themselves in your case, you’ve yet to reach 35. So the question is actually we don’t it, but Dan, I am interested in given the wisdom that you have accumulated, what would you be telling the younger version of yourself today?

Dan: I think I’d be telling the younger version of myself to, to start thinking about that still small voice, which sometimes prevents you from adding what you’ve got to add into your leadership. I’m deeply grateful for when I started to listen to that a couple of years ago now. But had I known that a few years earlier, I think that would have been enormously helpful for me.

So yeah, it would be about listening to that voice, which sometimes prevents you from adding what you have to add that no one else can add into the leadership that you’re called into.

Pod: Brilliant now you and Rochelle are about to head into your next stage of leadership. You’ve got your first baby daughter arriving in a few months time.

So delighted for you, both and very excited and that you will move on that journey. And indeed have a lot of joy on route. Dan, it’s been a real pleasure having you with us today. Thank you so much.

Dan: Part, it’s been a joy to talk to you. Thanks so much for having me

Pod: hope you enjoy that conversation with Dan Fleming. I know I certainly did. And I’ve listened to it quite a few times. Before launching it onto the podcast schedule. If you think strike me each time I listened to it and these are worth posing to reflect on. And there might be few years of questions to take away from this, for yourself.

Early on in the interview, he talked about the idea of the mission. Off st. Vincent’s and our, it has guided the organization through not this pandemic, but many pandemics and many different crisises over its history. And the question of where do our values call us to lead or to move into action right now was the question Dan used and indeed his colleagues you used early on this year to help guide them.

What an extraordinary question we often hear about values-based leadership and values guiding organizations, but in my own experience, leaders often forget to use them and that. Question has guide us in Vince many times over many decades. And as we heard from his conversation around the starting point of an ethical framework, the values and the history of st Vincent’s helped guide the leaders there into that question.

Dan: The second thing that I

Pod: found really useful was again, the history of the organization has provided maybe guide notes or signals, or at least archives in terms of how it has dealt with. Previous pandemic such as the Spanish flu or such as the HIV outbreak in the 1980s and nineties. And the idea that leadership teams are never structured to remember because the team often changes in terms of its membership.

And therefore, how does the organization use a learning process and formerly archive the insights from their learning? So future leadership teams are able to delve into that. I have worked many teams this year. Leading into COVID and indeed during and bringing a team through a former learning process has been extraordinary instructive, not just for myself, but for the team members involved in the conversation.

And it is really interesting. The amount of insights garnered through. A simple 90 minutes to our conversation. What have we learned as a leadership team in terms of how we lead during 2020 and how do we not lose those lessons? For some groups, it has led to them formalizing a disaster recovery plan. And for others that has led to updating their business continuity plan and for others that has helped them look at the way they want to formalize our, not that notion of working from home or virtual base leadership.

how do you help yourselves and future version of yourselves being the leaders of the organization remain structure to remember so that other leadership teams down the track can gain insight from your experience. With that. There’s a phrase that Dan use, which I love. And, he says it comes from ethics.

And the idea that in exceptional times, our core principles should not be exceptional. I E they are corporate symbols. How do they stay static? How do they stay relevant? And if they are not relevant during exceptional times, then it’s time to review the principles themselves. See are they actually standing up to the notion of being a principal for many teams reviewing the way the lead together during 2020 or become slide is an emergent notion of principles.

I E act together never letting a good crisis go to waste, to use the old cliche and the notion of collaborating fast, wide, increasing adaptability through learning and sharing information becomes an overt principle. Again, going back to learning as a leader or as a group of leaders together, a how do we formula learn through experiences like leading during a crisis and how do we use that to validate and to reset, or maybe even to review core principles that we held?



last thing I want to mention here is Dan, when he talked about his own leadership, He gave us a great insight into stepping into complexity and two core ideas emerged in that scenario. One, recognizing that only he could lead in that time, he was chair of the committee to bring the various groups together.

And they, for, if he didn’t step into that role, nobody else would. And number two, he recognized a lifelong pattern of wanting to please people and seeking harmony and recognizing that in this situation that would not be possible. So he didn’t try to deflect his natural tendencies, but he started with recognizing them his phrase of welcome back old friend, whenever he noticed himself wanting to seek harmony and a situation that required him to step in and give direction.

I find that this situation is a very irregular situation for leaders. Whenever we are asked to step into areas of complexity that we have never been into before our natural coping mechanisms rise to the fore and our role is to recognize two things. One is we are asked to operate in a place that we don’t quite know how to yet, and to the, some of our natural coping mechanisms may not be helpful.

On this podcast series, we have heard from many leaders who have recognized that they either the coping mechanisms or their imposter syndrome steps in loudly during times of increased complexity. And the effort required is not to try and to diminish them, but to recognize that they are Part of your leadership capability and sometimes they are not useful.

So welcome back old friend, but right now you’re not needed.

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Five ways for leaders to build their own confidence

Every coaching assignment, whether it be with an executive or a team, will at some point circle around to the topic of confidence. True confidence, not the overplayed type that is really only a cover for feeling inadequate or insecure, is a sexy, appealing trait that serves people and organisations well.

Research from the University of Melbourne shows what many people instinctively knew, that is confident people earn more money and have stronger career opportunities than their peers who are less confident.  Lead author Dr Reza Hasmath, from the University’s School of Social and Political Sciences, said the findings also shed new light on previous studies that argued the existence of ‘erotic capital’, meaning better looking people are more likely to get ahead in the workplace or studies which indicate taller people earn higher salaries. However, the research shows that higher confidence levels — which may be a by product of attractiveness and height — which make all the difference,” said Dr Hasmath.

While there can be much focus on what confident people do – what is more important is what enables that – what confident people believe and think which then triggers these behaviours. Truly confident people are inherently happy in their own skin. They draw their self worth from within themselves and as a result do not seek nor need the approval or attention from others. They also have an “internal locus of control” which means they believe they can impact and affect their lot. They are masters of their own destiny as opposed to be powerless in what happens to them and the role they play.

Dr. Travis Bradberry who wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0 suggests there are some cardinal behaviours that confident leaders exhibit regularly. Like all behaviours these can be learned and cultivated.  Understanding the underlying beliefs and thinking patterns which underpin the behaviour, will make the behaviour easier to master.

Here are five behaviours and beliefs that all leaders can develop.

Don’t pass judgment
Confident people tend not to pass judgment on others. There is nothing for them to gain or protect themselves from through the criticism of others. They understand that those who overtly judge others quietly judge themselves. Those people become their own biggest critic and over time this actually saps their own confidence. Ironically this leads to a downward spiral of judging more- decreasing confidence- judging more etc.

Confident leaders look for where people can contribute. The leadership behaviour they exhibit is to actively look for the best strengths of their people.

Know how to say no and stress less
One global CEO recently told a meeting of international leaders in an advanced leadership development program held in Basel that his biggest learning as a CEO was to ‘ruthlessly guard his diary’. Studies from The University of California shows that those leaders who have difficulties in saying no to requests tend to have higher levels of burnout, stress and depression. The mindset confidant leaders adopt is that their time is finite and needs to be spent on the most strategic and important priorities. The behaviour sounds like a clear answer to requests which leave the asker in no doubt that the leader is either available or is not.

They develop strong oration skills
Remember the Presidential candidate who told his country, “Yes we can!”? Barack Obama is renowned for his speaking skills and for years instilled a sense of confidence because of how he connected with audiences. The behaviours confident leaders exhibit are to speak with certainty and clarity whilst accentuating the main points they want to be heard. Confident leaders believe that their fundamental role is to influence others and speaking well is the most basic form of influence.

Being wrong is actually right
“I don’t know the answer you are looking for but let me come back to you”, is a common approach most sales representatives are taught in sales training 101. Confident leaders are confortable with both offering their opinions, often to see if they land well but also knowing that having diverse opinions in a team can only be healthy and are happy to be wrong for the greater good. In 2020 we have seen many examples around the globe with business and political leaders assuming they knew better than Covid 19. They were proven wrong and yet many continued to profess they were right all along, to their detriment.

It was them not me
Confident leaders learn that their rewards and fulfilment come through the success of others. They do not overtly seek the limelight or public recognition preferring to direct that to others. Publicly acknowledging the source of ideas or proposals that are deemed to be positive and raising the profile of up and coming employees is an important behaviour confident leaders exhibit. The mindset they embrace stems from a sense of self worth that is internalised, i.e. their rewards do not come from external public recognition. Rather they are able to focus outwards and help assist others to succeed and gain recognition as a result.

So, if you are seeking to increase your confidence, the pay off is potential career promotions, salary increases with less associated stress. Not bad!

So, on a scale from 1-10, how truly confident are you?

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.

Listen to the latest podcast on The Leadership Diet

Ep 10. Leading with humility and letting the characters emerge with Becki Morison

Becki Morison is an Executive Vice President with Leo, a global pharmaceutical organisation head quartered in Denmark. In this very generous and insightful conversation she shares:

  • Stepping onto a country level leadership role for the first time and realising the buck stops with her
  • Setting the vision helps but ensuring they are aligned to that vision is powerful
  • How her pattern of daily reflective questions continues to keep her focussed on both the immediate and long term
  • Why starting with humility can mitigate against inadvertent disasters as a leader
  • For expat leaders, the locals know they can hold their breath longer than your rotation!
  • Exploring different leadership team structures for different governance needs
  • And why imposter syndrome can be very useful if we allow the character to emerge


Welcome back here to this episode of the leadership diet.

Becki: Thank you. It’s great to

Pod: be here from Indianapolis in the USA. So glad to have you here. When I first met you, you had just arrived into Australia. And I think from memory was your first time in an affiliate role as a GM of an affiliate of a multinational.

Let’s talk about that transition going from leading in a U S headquarter based city to suddenly the other part of the world and taken on that role.

Becki: Yeah, it was a transition. Um, and it was fantastic actually, because I learned so much, uh, myself. So I was leading in the US for a us based company and leading really, probably one of the largest business units that we had in the U S at the time, uh, and had the opportunity to take.

The role in Australia, which was a smaller, much smaller role. Um, and I would, I would as kind of still a signal I can’t roll, but maybe significant with a little S versus significant with a largest, when you look at the size, the scope and the, um, you know, the overall revenue contribution of the U S versus.

Versus Australia. Um, but that was my first opportunity to think about leading broadly and really end to end if you will, as the country goes with regard to the, to our product portfolio and our presence in Australia. And that was new to me.

Pod: Do you remember the day you arrived with your family? And what was that like?

As a, I’m gonna imagine it’s it’s feels like an adventure, but it’s also scary when you move in across the world with a young man.

Becki: Yes, it was, uh, it was exciting. And my husband and I are adventures and I tell people who are thinking about ex-pat or different country roles. To really reflect, to make sure they think of it as an adventure, not as a, um, not a favor, but not as they kind of requisite of the job.

Those ones roles are demanding and living in a new country is exhausting. So you have to find energy. She, in that act alone in living in a new country. Otherwise I think it’s really tough. I think you count the days until you go back home and it’s hard for both your colleagues and your family.

Pod: That’s really interesting.

You say that because I think most people who have not done ex-pat roles would assume, Hey, this is exciting. You know, I get to live in another country. A lot of times I got my house and cars and all that kind of stuff for by the organization. Yeah. What you just said is there’s another side to the story and it requires a lot of intentional effort.

Becki: Yes, and everything takes longer, you know, you lose your support network. Um, and so we were a family of four, two young kids, uh, and move into Australia. So you, you figure out how to live differently as a family. And for us, it was a joy. Like we spent a lot of time together and we really bonded in a different way.

And I saw the kids bond in a different way. I remember the first time they wanted a. We were down at the beach and they wanted their own ice cream cones. So I gave them money and they looked at me and they’re like, we don’t know what this is. Right. This is all it’s like, wow, on an ice cream cone, you’re going to have to go work together.

You’re going to have to go and figure it out and make sure they give you the right change. And, and it was really a moment for both of us just to say, boy, the world is different. And it’s going to require a lot of, um, cooperation and energy to make it work.

Pod: Story reflects a lot of things about the relationship between Australia and America in that, you know, it’s a dollar bill and say me, you have a dollar bill in the U S obviously, but there’s a whole of different stories beneath that.

And so you have to go and figure it out. Yep. So you stepped into the role as his GM of the affiliate for this U us coming, where you’d been for many, many years. What were your early days like in that role?

Becki: You know, I spent quite a bit of time trying to engage and build trust with the lead team and understand kind of where the state of the business was.

And of course that’s normal. I think anybody who’s had any type of, um, experience would, would do the same, uh, and use time to kind of listen and learn what I underestimated when I came into the affiliate was. Kind of what they needed from me versus maybe what I needed from them. And when I went down, my mentor told me on one of our last conversations, he said, Becky, he goes, you’ll be your group.

You’re going to be great for the organization. Could they need a leader? I didn’t know what that meant. And I was like, okay, you know, they need. They need someone to run the business. When I got down to Australia and began to get to know the organization, I began to understand more what he meant by a leader.

You know, there’s a big difference between leading and managing. I needed to manage the business for sure. We had commitments to the corporate organization in terms of sales and revenue, as well as commitment to the, to our, um, to the country, uh, authorities as well. But.

The leadership part didn’t hit me initially, which is they needed a vision. They needed confidence and they needed someone who could give a steadfast path forward about what we were going to do and how we were gonna do it together. Which is different than managing. That probably surprised me because when you work in a large affiliate or at the corporate headquarters, there’s a lot of people leading. So you don’t, it doesn’t necessarily fall on your shoulders, but it did on mine. And I didn’t really appreciate that. Probably as quickly as is I could have.

Pod: I’ve seen that happen many times. We have someone who is based in headquarters and, and as he has international role or sometimes a global, um, you know, role based out of headquarters and then take on their first time role as an affiliate or a GM or a vice president of an, of a market.

And for them, they. Southern realizes no one around me in these corridors, who’s got the same understanding as I do. Oh dear. I’ve got to have it. And then it’s a real shock, isn’t it? Because it does force you to dig deep and go, okay. I am now setting the vision within the perimeters of the global stuff, but I’m still setting the vision and I think you’re right.

It tests, courage, the tests, it tests your leadership.

Becki: Do

Pod: you remember how you stepped into that and then how you went about realizing, okay. I now got to do this. To the point of it’s done. What was that story like for you?

Becki: You know, I think, um, I began to realize that there was this gap, um, in the organization and the previous GM that was there.

Um, I don’t think, um, had done a lot of leading himself and maybe that’s why they switched him out and pulled me in quite suddenly. So the organization, I think when there was this Southern move, Felt like, um, felt more in a position of okay, like ready, like, okay, Becky, take us, take us. And I didn’t take them.

I just kinda came in. And I think in their eyes, I was more managing than leading. When I realized that for myself, um, it was very empowering, a little bit scary, but it was very empowering. And I would go home every night. And my commute back to my house from the office saying to myself, like what it feels like to work at this company in Australia is up to me and my team.

And we as leaders, we cast the shadow that then defines the culture for our organization. And what am I doing to drive that to a place that one makes people want to work there?. And then two drives great business results. Once I figured that out, then, building that plan together, wasn’t my plan. It was our plan building that plan togethe r became the obvious chore ahead of us. It wasn’t a chore, but the obvious mission in front of us. , and from there we took off and I had to get there first in my own head.

Pod: So let’s double down what you just said. You used your commute home at the end of the day to ask some questions, reflective type questions.

And once you got to the answers for those that gave you a sense of confidence or our pathway forward, what to do. I think I might have shared this with you. A number of years ago, in some conversation we had along the way, a research study called the daily habits of effective leaders that was done in Australia.

And no, the traits are leaders who were deemed to be hyper effective was the evening the reflective process they had on the way home looking at how have they shown up that day and what ne what is required of them the next day or the next month, the next six months. So it sounds like you were in the process of asking yourself that what’s required of me and us to lay this affiliate.

Becki: Yeah. And I began to ask, so I did that in the U S as well, but I began to ask first, like when I engaged today, did I improve the culture? Did I improve people’s belief in the mission and the diet? Did I improve their belief in their ability to do their jobs. I obviously done with my team in the U S but it wasn’t as top of mind as it was in Australia.

And part of that comes from the humility of knowing that. Ex-pat rotations come and go right in. And people want to work for someone who is inspiring and they get along with, but at the end of the day, this is what I tell folks that are taking on their expat assignments. And they call me for advice. And I said, just remember, like go in with humility.

Just remember that half the people are going to be excited. You’re there. And the other half are going to look at you and think in their head, I can hold my breath longer than you’re going to be here. Some of that is true. So it changes your perspective about what is the legacy that you’re helping the organization build?

Not necessarily for me as a person or what can I tick off in my resume? Based on this assignment, but because the legacy that you live in lives in the people that stay,

Pod: I remember talking to an executive assistant to who had, um, supported, um, expert GMs once. And they said to me partying, I’ve I’ve done six GMs.

Now I’ve got two more to train in before I retired. Yeah. Someone comes along and I train them up and I send them on the way before the next one comes along. Yeah. You’re upset. Right. Starting with humility is that it’s a great starting point. There’s this idea of being comfortable in your skin as a leader and, and, and, and learning to understand who I am and what my role is and how, Oh, I missed that together.

It sounds like the reflective process you use for you allows you to get bright, comfortable in your skin. As a human being and as leader, is that true? And if so, tell us more about that.

Becki: Yes, absolutely. And I think that for me personally has always been important for me because I think it drives or it doesn’t drive it, but maybe it opens up or allows the authenticity in a relationship and the trust in a relationship to become established.

One of the things. Though that I have reflected on I’ve had these roles changes, significant role changes is really making sure I’m comfortable in my own skin, in the role that I’m in. Um, and, um, making sure that I understand. What, what role I am to play. And then, um, I’m fully like in my own head, all in.

So I think when I went to Australia, coming out again from the corporate headquarters, you know, they needed a leader and I was a leader for sure, but I wasn’t, I’d never needed to be the leader. And in Australia, they needed the leader. There was no one, um, kind of coming behind me. I wasn’t on the tail end of a big corporate town hall.

I was the town hall, so I needed to make sure I was okay. Um, and not okay, but make sure I was ready to be that leader. When I showed up at the office, even though sometimes you show up maybe for a meeting or in, in different capacities and you have a little, little bit of imposter syndrome, but is it’s important that your, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be great at the role, but that you have.

Um, you’re comfortable with it and you’ve accepted it, uh, cause no one else was going to be that leader in Australia except the GM. Um,

Pod: you said a few things that are really fascinating there. I reckon we could have in a whole new podcast just on that last five minutes,

Becki: but

Pod: I want to come back to impostor syndrome in a second, but watch, I think what you said is really profound. You gotta be comfortable in your skin, in this role. Cause each role requires something different of you.

And that doesn’t mean you’re being more or less authentic. It just means I’m shaping myself to the role that’s required to me. And I’m very comfortable with who I am as a human being. I think that’s a profound learning and I see a lot of leaders struggle with as they move roles and the role requires something else that they haven’t done before they struggle with.

Oh, that means I’m no longer authentic and that’s, that’s not the case. It’s actually, the role is very, very different. And yet you’ve got to stretch yourself to it. Thank you for sharing that that’s quite profound, what you share there, imposter syndrome, given the roles you’ve had in the role that you’re about to move to.

I would imagine that you are far from someone who’s got imposter syndrome, extraordinary confidence, but the way you’re laughing at me, the screen out of suggest, maybe I’m wrong

Becki: every single day. So it used to show up. It used to show up in doubting myself. I’m waiting and probably being one of the last to offer insights or opinions.

Uh, I think it as well, if I, if I can be honest with myself, I don’t, I don’t think I probably early on in my career fought for things as hard as I showed up, uh, when I was passionate about them. Um, I always figured someone else must have an insight that’s better than mine and that’s why we’re making a different decision or that’s why they don’t.

They’re not agreeing with my position. But as I’ve got experience, and I do think a little bit older, I’ve harnessed, it’s still there for sure, but I’ve harnessed it in a different way. You know, there’s this, this concept in leadership and in an improv and you know, I have an improv background, which is about light, like the character be there, but just manage the character, right.

Just don’t let the character kind of be winsy and flip and flat all over the stage. You gotta let the character be there, but manage it. So in a sense, that’s what I’ve done with my imposter syndrome. It’s like, it allows me to. Pause and reflect and be humble and to listen hard just to make sure I’m not missing something, but I don’t let it get, I don’t let it carry me away anymore and create kind of the self-talk around someone must be smarter than me in the room.

Someone has more experience. And so they see the situation more clearly than I. Um, so it’s about, for me kind of harnessing that energy to enable me to. Um, still grow and be confident as leader, but, um, Making sure I’m listening hard and learning, always learning.

Pod: Did you give that character a name or a persona?

Does it matter?

Becki: I did not. I did not, but maybe I said that

Pod: wonderful. As you called it now.

But they, you know what what’s lovely about what you said there is, is there’s lots of, um, I would say less than useful books written about how do you get rid of that imposter syndrome. And, and I don’t think it’s possible, but what I love about you is you just said, I want us to character and let the character there and learn from the character.

So it’s forced you to listen deeper. And to, and I would imagine then that’s taught you to listen for the nuggets that other people aren’t hearing or, or whatever, with wisdom that emerges from that. So it’s an understanding that it’s there to serve you, not, not getting it, your weight. So you, you, you stepped in, you set a vision, you, you harness the team, you, you got comfortable in your own skin.

What was your experience leading the affiliate over the number of years you were there?

Becki: Well, it was, you know, it’s probably when I think back to some of the lessons, it was like all the business books and, you know, business school classes all wrapped up into one. Like it was a tremendous learning opportunity, both from the business, just understanding, as I said before, the end to end aspects of the business in a smaller role and a bigger, you know, the corporate headquarters, I would have never had exposure to.

Um, I also learned. I’m more about leadership and just how long it takes to shift culture, but how important it is. And no matter how good you are at managing, if you. Set a vision and you turn around and there’s no one following you. You’re not going to be able to achieve what you want to achieve or what the organization sent me down there to achieve.

Um, so that learning has enabled me as I’ve moved into new roles, as well as mentor, coach others, to help people understand, you know, culture is informed overnight good or bad. So if you’re trying to shift it. It’s going to take some time. It also means that when, you know, things go in the shitter for one reason or another, right?

Like the bids, something happened in the business, or something happens with a leader that maybe isn’t, you know, beholding of the, of the company, you know, ideals, that culture is resilient as well. Right. It doesn’t die overnight either or, or, you know, it’s completely implode. Um, but that required patients and quite a bit of discipline to stay.

Um, um, stay on task and just because you didn’t see things changing immediately, not to abandon ship or keep course correcting. Cause sometimes it just takes a bit of time to kind of steer the ship in a different direction.

Pod: I would imagine that given that culture does take a time and most people, you know, most experts would suggest is two to four years before you really say.

A massive transformation as a leader, who’s there. And you know, you’re going to be there for a finite time, as let’s say a three year timeframe before the next round, as you said, the next rotation comes along, you’ve got to start looking for signs that you’re making progress as opposed to waiting for the end result because the end result may happen after you’ve left.

Yeah. So, so do you find that you’re, you’re looking for, for signs of progress in the business or in relationships or in, in, in metrics or something like that?

Becki: For sure there were a couple of things I learned. Um, you can progress. One is I could only be so patients with my own lead team, uh, if my own lead team didn’t believe where we were going.

And so because of that, I moved on and, and, and change some of the lead team, um, which was hard. Um, you know, whenever a leader comes, you know, drops into a country or drops into a, a division and starts changing the lead team, people get a bit nervous, but I couldn’t tolerate. Um, kind of mediocrity or moody moodiness.

That’s probably not the right word, but I couldn’t tolerate if people weren’t all in, um, the, um, the journey that we committed to as a lead team, cause to say one thing and do another, like your culture will never change. Right? Whether you’re, you know, A sports team or a family or an organization business.

Um, but there were other signs of progress that I looked for, which was, um, a bit about how is the organization working together and engaging with one another, but not at my level because that’s like, I, you don’t control it. But I influenced that the most, what I wanted to know is that levels. Um, uh, under the lead team and in functions, not directly kind of represented on the lead team were the, was the culture changing.

There were those organizations starting to operate differently, a big part of our cultural journey to build confidence as all, as well as take risks, find new ways to, to do business. We are a small affiliate, so we needed to do things differently. We didn’t have big operating budgets or a lot of, a lot of, um, HR resources, head count.

So we need to do things differently. So that’s, those were some of the things I was looking for. Even if the experiments failed, that was all right. But as long as people started to have the confidence and the ambition and the creativity to try new things, that was a good signal for me. Yeah.

Pod: Well, the audition.

I had confidence in you. Cause after the Australian experiment, they shipped you over to UK and you took on the president of the UK and the Nordics, uh, which is an interesting extra markets from, you know, very one, very, very big and large mature market to many smaller markets. What was that like from a business perspective, changing from being a single country leader to a multi country.

Becki: Yeah, totally missed it. When I went in that I was making a transition from being really a country president to a regional president. So I went in that job and I was thinking about it too, too much, the way I had done the Australia job. So we made mistakes pod. We. That first year, like the UK was running well.

Um, we had a little bit of slippage in Ireland and in the four Nordic countries, we, we just weren’t made a making our plans. We weren’t getting products approved and I own that because I was managing sameness, not difference. So, so it was a big learning for me. When I reflected on my commute home.

Pod: So you’re a driver from Copenhagen to London every night.

Becki: faster.

Pod: No, I love what you just said. I was managing sameness, not, not differences are nuances and, and I mean, as well as. Having different languages across the Nordics. See you’ve got extraordinary, different histories and cultures. And as I can understand the temptation to bring everyone together into the same tent and, and, and let’s all lead together, but what’s the advantage of managing for differences in that kind of relationship, versus when you’re in a single country, like say you, England, you manage you for saying, you can explain to us well, why they’re so different.

Becki: The healthcare systems are so different and what. What is required for success in each of the countries is different, both in the way that we are structured and the way that we engage with the governments for reimbursement, I’m not talking about like whether a brand team wants to use blue in the UK and they want to use green and Sweden that that’s like marketing preference.

And from that perspective, I didn’t. Allow like a lot of difference it’s like, or, um, some of that’s just preference. Like I want to do do it my way. My country is different. Every, every country leader will hear that or geography. Well here that I’m more talking about actually the, how the external environment is different and how healthcare delivers when we started.

Uh, or when I started in the UK, the UK was. The biggest country. And so everything was done the UK way. And then we then kind of deviated if you will, but not to a great extent for the other countries. What I found is that I needed to do my best, not to start with the UK way, but, but more or less kind of parallel process where I could across all of the countries and then allow differences.

For where w where they needed to be made. One very specific change I needed to make was most of our leadership roles were UK based, but if we were really going to operate as a hub, I needed strong leadership roles in Sweden and Norway. Uh, Finland Denmark. So we began to, we still wanted to hub some of the work that we did, because again, we’re a smaller, these collective smaller countries.

We couldn’t staff a full infrastructure in some of the smaller countries, but, but it couldn’t all just be the UK way. And then. And then, you know, doled out if you will. So like for instance, we shifted our city national, our hub, national sales director to, uh, Sweden, uh, role. Um, and we moved some of the marketing to, uh, outside of the UK to other roles.

It balanced our conversation better. In the UK office, because it wasn’t always about us. I imagine I actually also thought maybe I shouldn’t be in the UK office. Like there’s too many of us just worried about us. And we weren’t thinking through how different each of the geographies were.

Pod: We hope you’re enjoying this episode of the leadership diet.

Feel free to hit the subscribe button on whatever podcast player you are listening to this on reviews on iTunes and Spotify. I greatly appreciate it. I’m wondering, and maybe I’m reaching too far here with my assumption, but I’m wondering, did the experience of working outside of the U S headquarters when you came to Australia, give you a line of sight of Austin, damn then being headed headquarters and they don’t understand us, whoever us is.

And when you went to the UK, you effective you’re back in the European headquarters for the one of a better phrase. What did that insight? We landed the decision to let’s expand our borders from London to various parts of the, of, of the hub.

Becki: Yes, working on both sides also gave me more insight into what was a preference versus a difference that we really needed to manage.

Um, and, and we were able to get to those differences, like articulate those differences pretty quickly. And when we did that, then the other shift I needed to make was change how changed my governance, the hub, my regional role, that was more work group than team. Why was I forcing everyone to try and act like a team?

Because I think quite frankly, was exhausting to them and, and fake. Right. But when we were able to identify very specifically, what was it that was different. And what did we need to pay attention to? That was different and shift the government. Then we shifted the governance, which was my job, right. To shift the governance, to allow for that, and actually enable some of those countries to move much faster than because before they would just need to wait until it was done in the UK and then kind of take the scraps off the table.

So it was a big shift in how we work.

Pod: So the governance in the, in this case, uh, you meaning governance looking at the way you met the, the, the agendas of your meetings, the decision making type governance, as opposed to regulatory. Yep. Okay.

Becki: Yes. Like how, yeah. How decisions were made, where work got done and who was accountable.

Pod: I mean, I’m in a conversation right now with a few folks in Australia around the whole notion of team development as fundamental. And I keep landing back at some of those structure conversations on, you know, to what degree are we a team or need to be a team coupled with the governance structure is lucky.

Just refer to. Whilst they sound boring to still fundamentally important them without those teams. Yeah. It sounds like you’re able to use that notion of what do we need versus what are you, what do we prefer? And figure out a way to suit the environment you’re in. Yes.

Becki: Yes. And I think governance is tricky and I don’t think I’m that great at it.

And I go into every team and I say that out loud because we need to iterate on the governance all the time, too much governance. Um, even though people may prefer to work in more of a laissez Faire environment, I think it’s slow because you’re not all rowing the boat at the same pace and in the same direction.

Um, Too much governance though is like micromanaging. So it is tricky to get it right. But when you can get it right, you, what I’ve observed with my teams is that everybody is so invested, right. A little bit of the centralism in there. Like everybody knows what everybody else is trying to deliver. And they’re so invested in each other’s success, um, that it is, um, it’s like the impact is.

Is exponential and the speed increases quite a bit, not sexy and it’s, and it’s quite boring. And for me, it’s hard.

Pod: And ultra sounds like the way you describe it. It doesn’t mean you all have to be an intact interdependent team at all times is actually the opposite is actually very liberating sometimes as long as we understand how to.

Fantastic. Yeah. And when you look back now on that experience, how did, how do you think you grew up as a leader? And he and I grew up, I don’t mean that in any sense of maturity, but in terms of overall capability or what would they be the biggest developments for you in that whole experience?

Becki: You know that when I think about my own leadership development, that was one where I needed to in a very, probably in a more sophisticated way, um, lead the team.

Uh, and drive more ambition into the team. There was a mindset of kind of our destiny is due to the market that we’re in. Like we, um, I, you know, for every time someone said to me back in Becky, this is just the way it is in the UK. Right. Or this is just the way it is in Sweden and, and some of that’s for sure.

True. Right. But then there’s also with, within the market that we’re in. How do we drive more value? How do we become more relevant? How do we work differently with payers to, um, or the, in this case, the governments to get the right pricing reimbursement. How do we work differently with our corporate structure to get the right pricing approvals?

Um, so it was, it was a good learning for me, cause you need to bring people along and you need people to believe. Not just when Becky says it on stage, Hey, we’re gonna, um, try and get really excited about this product launch. I needed people really to be excited about the product launch. And for me, that was that across a broader organization.

And not, as you said before in an organization that doesn’t all sit in one place for me, that was a new leadership challenge.

Pod: It sounds like it’s a great combination of in Australia, you, you, you had the, you had to get really close to the smaller affiliate and set the vision cause no one else was going to, and then in this other role, there was, there was still that, but it was across multiple markets and you have all of this innovation, agility, strategic change needed as well.

And without both together, it may not have happened.

Becki: Yes. Yes. It definitely forced me to, um, think more like an executive. Because the, although I was doing that in Australia, but you have to do it even more. So, cause there’s just, aren’t enough hours of the day to be, you know, involved in every business case and every government meeting and every decision to be made.

So it was, I needed to figure out where, where do they need Becky and where can I empower folks to run faster?

Pod: That, um, habit you have, um, would, you’ve just alluded just now. And then you did earlier on too, of what is needed of me, where do I, where how do I serve best? That seems to be a guiding question that you’re, you’ve been using in your different roles.

And it also sounds like it serves up different answers at different times of your career in life, which is probably part of your experience. Do you still use that kind of navigation for yourself today?

Becki: For sure. Like, um, it’s a bit of the, kind of the essential ism. Content, right. The topic there, what is it that only I can do?

What is it that only I can deliver on or what is needed that I’m in the best position to deliver and making sure. And that doesn’t mean that’s the only thing I do all day. Right. But making sure that that is like number one or two on my list. And I use it, like even with my family and as my kids get older and we are navigating teenage years, which most of the time means moms shouldn’t be involved in their eyes!

But just trying to figure out, like, what is it that is uniquely. Needs to be uniquely done by Becky. And I asked on my team to articulate that and share it out loud so that we all understand, you know, I had a lead lead team meeting with my team here in the U S I’ve come back into the U S and we were talking about what is it that we do?

Like, why do we exist as a team? And we started out with. Um, and I let you know, the whole team was engaged in the conversation, but I had sales, I had marketing, I had market access, uh, and then, you know, like HR and then COO kind of the staff roles. And at first it was like deliver sales and then it was, we need to, um, meet our plan commitments.

You know, we need to serve patients we need. And not, it’s not that any of those were wrong, but I said to the team, I said, He has none of us like sell directly to a doctor, like not one of us like creates a script sale, right? What is it that we need to do that no one else in the organization can do, but they must, you know, they’re relying on us to do it.

And we ended up with our kind of our little like rally cry. It wasn’t like a mission, vision type discussion, but our rally cry was our job was to create clarity and communicate effectively when decisions have been made. Full stop. And if we can do that as a lead team. No, that’s not the only thing we do, right.

We’re going to do a whole lot. We’re going to do all that other stuff to meet with customers and make sure the product is, is patient focused, all of that. But for us as individuals, when we wake up every day, we need to make that commitment to each other, that we’re going to deliver that for the broader organization.

So that’s. You know, I use that in my own, in my own thinking, but then also with my teams to make sure that we’re really clear because when the laundry list of things that we think we do gets really, really long, I think maybe we’ve missed the Mark.

Pod: Yeah, exactly. Right. So that’s get right back up to the most important thing.

So give clarity and communicate when decisions have been made, how, how has that served you in your recent experience in the U S in terms of the business unit you live

Becki: in there? I think really well now it sounds so simple. And maybe people that are listening are like, but it, if every day you wake up and you make sure, and we were holding each other accountable and when something would start to wobble, we only had ourselves.

To to blame, right? Like, well, we made this decision, we agreed on like even a brand strategy. We’ve agreed on this brand strategy. We’ve agreed on this prior prioritization of the portfolio. And if someone is working on something that doesn’t ladder up to those it’s on us, because we obviously weren’t clear enough and, um, you know, had an effectively communicated when decisions are made.

So we. You know, we removed a lot of projects. Which lightened the load and allowed us to people didn’t necessarily work less hard, but we were putting our energies into the one or two things on our priority list instead of number five or six, all the revisiting of decisions, it stopped. Because that was on us.

Like if we were re like debating a decision, it means we weren’t clear enough. Um, or, or, you know, didn’t define the decision. Right. So the decision made, so I think we moved much faster pod after we aligned on what is it that we do that no one else can do for us.

Pod: I love the simplicity of that. And, uh, and, and I, I genuinely, when I say I love it, I really do, because it’s the simplest thing on the other side of complexity, as in, as simplicity for the sake of you, you’ve gone through do a whole lot of analysis.

You’ve figured out a whole lot. Yeah. Things and you arrived at. If we, if we focus on this, everything else will be sorted, relatively easy. And all of, all of the work I’ve done the leadership teams over 20 years now, the two most common complaints from organizations who look up to the leadership team are, we don’t know what they want us to do.

And they don’t tell us anything. So you’ve just said it let’s address with clarity, let’s address, weak communication you solve for that straight away. Um, so well done and I can really understand why that has led you and your team. So the success you’ve had more recently in, in, in your own

Becki: us.

Pod: let’s change this topic completely. I have a vague memory once. Have you telling me a story about your grandmother and Wisconsin lakes and how she was a big influence on you?

Becki: You know, my grandmother was a huge influence feminist and activist. Was the one that taught me to always do the right thing, whether people are watching or not know whether you get credit for it or not, or whether it might hurt you, um, to do the right thing.

And she was a real advocate here in the United States for racial equality and economic equality. So I to kind of try and have the type of impact she had and, um, kind of live in her shadow to be good enough to live in her shadow. And we were up at the Lake, uh, once and I was really struggling, um, through a role, um, learning you learn when you struggle, but you hate it, but you have to struggle to learn, but you really.

Do sometimes. Right? So I’m in the middle of one of those learning moments and she saw it wearing on me. I think I’d probably just had one of my babies. Um, so I had really young kids and she and I were up at the Lake, just us together with the baby. And I remember her saying, you know, Becky, you don’t have to always take the big jobs and you don’t always have to.

Be the leader, uh, and, you know, wrap your arms around whether it’s the family or your organization or the problem that you’re trying to solve. Um, really very moving moment, because I think she was trying to let me off the hook, if you will, of, of that. Um, Obligation. I felt to live well in her shadow. Um, but it was also really good about what it feels like when you’re learning and what it feels like when you’re doing good work.

And that sometimes it feels exactly the way I was feeling. Um, but it was a reminder of the purpose of that journey. Oh,

Pod: is she be thinking today of where you landed and the various roles you’ve landed and indeed the role you’re about to move to. And if he had in a few weeks,

Becki: I think she’d be very proud.

I think she, um, was one that always said like, Becky, just go do what you want to do it and do it in your own way. And. You know, initially that didn’t mean a lot to me, but then as I became more and more senior in my company or engaging at a more senior level, whether it is kind of in a, in a governor perspective or in the business world, um, feet got harder and harder to just kind of do it my way.

Cause I felt like I was so different than everyone. It’s not just because I was a female leader, but because my style is so different. So. Um, that, you know, her advice to me to, to go and go strong, but do it your own way has been, um, kind of a rally cry for me. And I think she’d be proud. I’m figuring out a way to do it.

I haven’t. I haven’t totally turned off that crazy kid that I was,

Pod: and I would hope you never do life would be boring if you did that.

You’re about to change again, you’re heading back on the trail. You’re heading over to Denmark to take on an exciting new role, executive vice president for Leo. What are you hoping bring with you in, into that new experience?

Becki: So I’m hoping to bring, you know, a lot of these leadership lessons that I’ve had and not saying that it’s going to be the same.

Um, sometimes when you move into a new role, you need amped up about having impact and making sure people are glad they hired you, that it can actually be more disruptive. So. The more confidence I have and the more I can manage my imposter syndrome, which I’m going to give a name for her, but that enables me, I think, to enter in a good, in a good place.

I also, you know, I can’t downplay the importance of learning all that I did about the different markets and how to create value in different markets. That will be invaluable as I move into a global role. Um, so that will be really. Really valuable, important. Well, we knew for me is sitting on the executive team, uh, and again, you know, um, having to figure out what, what is that role that I need to play there?

Like, as we talked earlier, as we started the conversation, what is the role I need to play there and figuring that out so that I can do it well,

Pod: And of course you’re moving to a new organization. Cause you, you, you, you you’ve, you’ve been in the organization for two decades that, right? Yeah. So there’s a whole lot of new learning in terms of, of new people in the new ways of doing business as well.

Very, very exciting. Well, I’m very excited for you and the family to be moving across there again on a, on a whole new adventure, bringing up in our conversation to a close I’ve got two last questions for you, Becky, which I ask everybody. So excuse me, for being obvious. One is, what is your favorite song or favorite band?

Becki: Oh gosh, we have music going all the time at our house. So we do love music, but I probably have to harken back to like a college band, which is going to date me, but like, uh, something like, um, You too, or blow fish? Yeah, can’t take that out of me. Some of the first concerts I went to, that’s probably why I always think about them like that.

Pod: Well, I’ll, I’ll, uh, I’ll find some links to some Houdin Blowfish songs and have it in our show notes there. And, uh, the last question for you, given everything, we’ve talked about, everything that you have accumulated three experience that you have, what would you be now telling you? The 35 year old version of yourself

Becki: to be more confident to remain humble because, um, you should never stop learning.

Um, but to be more confident in, in my ideas or my approach to solving problems, I think I. Again, took the back seat or sat in the back row for too long. Now I love where I am right now. It’s not like I look back and be like, I could be the president of a company right now. That’s not the way I think about it.

I think about, could I have had more impact and led stronger for the people that I worked with for the teams. I had a privilege of being part of. Could I have done more for them? If I had been more confident.

Pod: Well, I’m excited for the folks who are about to inherit a new leader. When you move across to, to Denmark and around the world,

Becki: maybe you should do a future podcast with one of them.

They can tell you what it was like.

Pod: It’s been a pleasure. I love all the insights that you’ve shared and the wisdom you’ve distilled in a very short period of time. I wish you and the family all of the best on your new adventure. And can’t wait to catch up again and hear how that goes.

Becki: Fabulous. Thank you so much, pod. Thank



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When Leaders Inspire Confidence Through Feedback, Everyone Wins

Today I saw a leader of an organisation do something that I have never seen done before and it had an amazing impact on everybody in the room. The Managing Director of a global healthcare organisation gave feedback to each of her direct reports in a way that will have a lasting, uplifting impact on them I suspect for the rest of their lives.

Here’s what she did.

She approached everybody that reports into the leadership team and asked them for feedback on their leader. However, she didn’t stop there.

Specifically, she asked them to give her some words or phrases that would give her insight into

(a) the greatest strengths each leader has and
(b) what they like the most about working for that person.

Initially she received feedback by email, she told the team, and then she followed up with a conversation with individuals and groups. This allowed her to get more anecdotal stories and greater insight into each leader that she was receiving feedback upon.

She then continued by saying to the team collected in front of her;

However, she did not stop there.

She took the feedback for everybody and created a visual word cloud that captured the main comments and consistent themes that emerged. She then framed each of these into a picture frame.

Today at the end of a leadership team meeting she got up in the front of the room to talk about the last 12 months and how proud she was of the team in terms of its achievements.

She then continued by saying:

“Not only am I convinced that you are all the right people to be on this team, I know for sure that everyone who reports to you is also convinced you are the right people to lead this organisation.

How do I know?  I went and asked them … !”

A pin could have dropped in the room as people waited in anticipation as to what was coming next. She then individually presented each person with their framed word cloud and gave an individual tailored narration as to what their team had said about them and why that leader was important to each team as well as the impact they were having.


As an observer of this process it was amazing to watch how everybody filled with pride “for their colleagues“. As everybody was receiving the feedback and framed word cloud their colleagues beamed with pride as they listened to the feedback that was being shared. The room felt palpably different at the end of the 40 minutes. The trials and tribulations that the team had undergone in the previous 12 months suddenly seemed to dissipate into the ether. All the effort they had put in to turn around an organisation seemed minimal compared to the verbal and positive feedback they were receiving from…effectively the organisation.

What struck me afterwards was how simple an act this was by their leader.

The idea of approaching members of the organisation to give feedback to their leaders in two specific areas and then to delve a bit deeper is one thing but then to take that positive feedback and with a genuine sense of authenticity create something memorable for each of those leaders was entirely different.

To top it off was to take the time to present that to them in a public forum in front of their peers and genuinely share her pride in the fact that they were on the team I think is relatively unique. It was the best positive leadership team feedback session I have ever been a part of.

Well done, leader!

Well done, team.