Bringing leadership development into the metaverse

Rarely has the world been so disrupted on a global level as it has since early 2020 when Covid was first reported. All aspects of life have been upended and many industries changed as a result. But disruption shows up in many ways. Technology changes are one such aspect.

The broader metaverse has come into vogue, some would say finally, and it is set to become a defining disruption over the coming decades. The way leadership development is experienced is one industry that will evolve as a result of this new technology.

In early 2022 we brought over 100 leaders from nine cities in five countries on a metaverse enabled learning experience. To our knowledge, this was a pioneering experience and received very positive feedback from those leaders.

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    How to prevent burnout as a leader

    Inspired by a conversation with Andrew May and Dr. Tom Buckley

    “I know I am not at my best. My patience is low, I feel blunt and slow in my thinking and reactions. No matter how much sleep I get, I am always tired. It is affecting my confidence. I am second guessing myself”

    “I used to wake up excited to start the day. Keen to engage in the challenges ahead – even if I knew it was going to be challenging. Today I just feel like I am on autopilot and that it is about surviving until I can retreat and hide at the end of the day”

    Striving and ambition are excellent traits but when overextended they can have a dark underbelly. When they are not balanced with restorative practices, depletion can settle its dark cloak as evidenced in the two comments from CEO clients. These are representative of the many versions of the same story that I have heard from C suite leaders who are approaching or have hit “Burnout”.

    Originally profiled in the 1970s to describe the consequences of severer stress and high ideals in “helping” professions i.e. medical and healthcare practitioners, Burnout is now formally recognised as a disease by the World Health Organisation who define it as:

    “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

    It is characterised by three dimensions:

    1. Feelings of physical and emotional energy depletion and/or chronic exhaustion
    2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
    3. Reduced personal accomplishment and professional inefficacy.”

    “You cannot pour from an empty cup” 


    In a recent Leadership Diet podcast with Andrew May and Dr Tom Buckley we explored this phenomenon. Andrew is CEO and founder of a digital consultancy that partners with organisations to create Cultures of Wellbeing. Tom is an internationally recognised expert on the impact of stress on human health and wellbeing.

    “Burnout is not about hours worked.”

    The conversation highlighted some interesting notes that I can validate from my own experience and those of the clients with whom I work. Burnout is not about hours worked. Some of my clients work 80+ hour weeks and never burnout but others find themselves struggling regardless of whether they work much fewer hours. Burnout comes from the chronic depletion of our coping resources. In essence, it manifests if we experience prolonged work-related stress but do not have sufficient recovery. As evidenced in the quotes above, key characteristics are exhaustion, disconnection or alienation from work, and reduced performance.

    As a leader it has massive implications. Not only on the impact of performance but also on the role modelling that is being set.

    “Creating a culture of burnout is opposite to creating a culture of sustainable creativity. This is something that needs to be taught in business schools. This mentality needs to be introduced as a leadership and performance enhancing tool”

    Ariana Huffington

    5 Strategies for Avoiding Burnout

    An exciting feature of this was Andrew and Tom’s assertion that burnout can be avoided. This is achieved through implementing the 5 strategies of:

    1. Purpose Alignment

    Invest time to reflect and consider the following. This is where a coach can be a helpful thought partner and critical friend:

    • Articulate Your Purpose. Invest the time to understand your ‘why?’ Ask yourself “Beyond earning money, why am I working? Why am I here?” When you have a clear answer, you not only feel better about yourself and your life, you generate a kind of force field that protects you from some of the harsher effects of stress.
    • Understand when you are at your best. Think about when you lose track of time or when you are in flow. What is common amongst these activities? How can you include these activities in your week?
    • Meaning making. How does your current role provide meaning rather than just paying the bills? How does work contribute to your wellbeing, finances, relationships, learning and development, sense of belonging, etc?
    • Supplementing. If work and purpose don’t feel aligned or if work is not providing lots of meaning, where can you supplement in other areas of your life? A hobby, sport, education, community involvement.

    2. Active Recovery

    Physical relaxation and switching off mentally are key to sustaining energy levels, reducing fatigue, nurturing creativity, and enhancing emotional intelligence. Recovery benefits the body and brain, creating physical and psychological detachment from the stresses of your working day. It expels stress hormones from the body and soothes us, it cools down our overheated systems.

    Active recovery (doing stuff), as opposed to passive recovery (doing nothing), involves engaging in low intensity physical activities. It is more as a form of detachment or play, rather than physical training or an exercise stressor. Examples include walk in nature, swimming, light stretching, listen to or play music, gardening, cooking, guided meditation, mindfulness exercise, epsom salt bath, creative activities including painting or knitting.

    3. Restorative Sleep

    Sleep is a superpower. There is a multitude of research about the importance of good quality and quantity sleep, along with the factors for us to implement to make it happen i.e. good sleep hygiene. Yet, people tend to sacrifice sleep to get more work done. Some executives wear their “only got 4 hours sleep” as a ridiculous badge of honour.

    The consequences of poor or not enough sleep include reduced concentration and cognitive processing capacity, poor memory, decreased physical activity and increased weight, decreased productivity, greater stress and emotional strain, increased tension in personal relationships and greater susceptibility to a range of illnesses and burnout. “In essence – sleep deprivation is making us larger, less intelligent, and less connected.”

    4. Physiological Capacity

    Physical activity enhances cognitive flexibility, boosts energy levels, reduces chronic lethargy, boosts mood, increases social cohesion and can reduce symptoms of mild depression – all buffers against future burnout. Tips for achieving this include:

    • Be 5 Years Younger. Measure biological age and aim to be 5 years younger than your chronological age. This provides an extra buffer to deal with stressors life throws at you.
    • Choose Healthy Natural Foods. Eat foods as close to their natural state as possible, with the bulk of intake being fresh vegetables, quality protein and performance carbs to fuel you through the day.
    • Do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Include intervals in your training regime 2 or 3 times a week to improve VO2 Max, this also helps lower resting heart rate.
    • Go Green. Regularly get a good dose of nature and where you can double dip – exercising or engaging in active recovery activities in the great outdoors.
    • Safeguard Sleep. Sleep is vital for physiology to adapt and regenerate. This is when your body gains the most benefit from exercise and physiological growth and regeneration happens while you sleep.

    5. Social Connectedness

    Sometimes, when you are surrounded by people at work it can seem that engaging with more people in different ways is overwhelming however humans are social beings. Flourishing relationships and connection with community are fundamental to pleasure, meaning and fulfilment in life. Being connected to others gives us purpose, meaning and pleasure, higher self esteem and empathy, all buffers against burnout. What is important is to be connected with people we care about and share interests. It is possible to be lonely and never be alone, because we do not feel connected to those around us. Here are some tips for social connectedness:

    • Strengthen existing relationships. Prioritise relationships with family, friends and loved ones. These already exist and have a strong base. The best way to do this is to schedule relationship time in your diary each week.
    • Find Your Tribe. Join a local group like an orchestra, dance class or community gardening group. Sign up for a sporting organisation, a swim squad, or cycling club. Or join a book club or volunteer for a local charity.
    • Physical Activity Double Dip. Regularly train with others to strengthen relationships. Exercise is a great way to build physiological capacity, get a dose of nature and connect with other people.
    • Ditch Digital Devices. Consciously switch off technology and social media to create meaningful connections. Emphasise connecting in real life, not just online.
    • Reach Out. If you are feeling burnout at work, reach out to colleagues, family and friends. Connections with others provide a buffer from work stresses and re-energises you.

    “If you feel burnout setting in, if you feel demoralised and exhausted it is best, for the sake of everyone to withdraw and restore yourself.”

    Dalai Lama

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    5 ways to increase your female CEO Talent Pipeline

    Inspired by a conversation with Susan Metcalf, CEO of Chief Executive Women

    “It will take 65 years or until 2086 before women make up 40% of line roles in executive leadership teams, based on CEW Census trends from the last five years.”

    CEW Census report 2021

    The lack of female representation in executive leadership positions in Australia (or internationally) is not a new conversation. But it persists, signalling the complexity of the issue. This is not a straight-forward conversation with simplistic issues and even more simple solutions. Rather, this is a tapestry of occurrences and outcomes at social and business levels. A natural reaction is to be overwhelmed and frustrated with the sense of the inability to affect change. But in a recent Leadership Diet Podcast with Susan Metcalf from Chief Executive Women, the conversation forced me to consider what was something that can be actioned now, by the people who listen to this podcast?  Here are five ideas.

    Chief Executive Women (CEW) has 640 members who hold leading roles in Australia’s largest private and public organisations. Through advocacy, research, targeted programs and scholarships, they help to remove the barriers to women’s progression and ensure equal opportunity for prosperity. Through the conversation with Susan, one area that is vital to ensure this is to make sure there are enough women in the actual talent pool from which CEOs are drawn. It is possible but it will take effort.

    Australian women are the most educated in the world, according to Nabila Ahmed from Bloomberg, and have more women graduating from university then men. Access to education and intellectual capacity is not in question. Yet, women make up a quarter (26%) of roles on Executive Leadership Teams and there are only 18 women CEOs in the top 300 ASX-listed companies (6.2%).

    There is a gap here that can be addressed. What we also know is that most CEOs (78%) in 2021 were appointed from line roles with profit and loss accountability and women make up just 14% of those line management roles across the ASX300. The pool from which CEOs are sought does not contain enough women. There are women in business but they are more often employed in senior functional roles such as HR, Corporate Affairs, Marketing, Sales, Legal, Risk, Strategy or Technology which are not traditional CEO pathways.

    So, something that is available to everyone who aspires to CEO and / or executive leadership is to pursue roles and experience in the line roles with carry profit and loss accountability or commercial and operational oversight. These are springboard roles, and the objective has to be to get more women exposed to these roles, if having a stronger or equal representation of women in CEO roles is the outcome being sought. This is also an obvious call out to every organisation, mentor, CEO, people leader, leadership and organisation development practitioner is to create, promote and enable (even mandate if necessary) the movement of female talent into these roles.

    “You can’t be what you can’t see”
    Marian Wright Edelman

    1. Actively recruit women into line management roles.

    If there is a shortage (which is often the feedback that we hear) learn from organisations that recognise supply challenges and war for talent. If your current processes are not working, then learn from someone else. In recent years, as example has recognised the supply of women in broader technology sector with product development or coding skills was not as readily available from the existing graduate pool. So, they have gone further down the supply chain to the high school students. They provide opportunities for high school girls to attend multi day learning workshop within SEEK before they complete HSC, to encourage enrolment into technology style degrees. Whilst this is a long-term strategy, it does address the pipeline of future female leaders at the very starting point. Interestingly SEEK are noted in the CEW report as having a 50:50 split at the executive leadership team. What can you be doing beyond asking the recruiters to provide you a shortlist to ensure that you are attracting quality candidates into your pipeline? Who is currently working in the line that could be encouraged and mentored to pursue leadership positions?

    2. Ensure that all women in executive development programs have experience in a line management role as a cornerstone of the program.

    This may require a fundamental mindset shift for the organisation, but it sends a very clear message about the seriousness with which CEO/ C suite succession and development planning is taken in the organisation. Sometimes this might take encouragement to move people from their comfort zones. My experience in assisting C-suite development suggests rotation of roles or expansion of responsibilities amongst the expanded leadership team, fosters greater understanding of the whole of business view among the leaders and brings a stronger decision capability to strategic conversations, rather than what is often considered to be a functional only approach.

    3. Create organisational cross functional projects that have P&L or operational responsibility, with the female talent as the leader and include these in development processes.

    This comes back to two core principles. One is if organisations truly want to have their client base represented by the make of their leadership teams, then having a larger number of women represented in key commercial roles makes sense. Secondly, if there are obvious springboard roles that lead to CEO succession pipelines, then get more women into those roles as often as possible. Exposure to commercial and operational oversight comes with specific roles. But exposure can also come from cross functional organisational wide projects.

    One healthcare company we have worked with created a role that encompassed pre-product launch activites, sales force efficiency activities, data insights gathering and GTM analysis with a heavy lens towards their R&D expertise. The female leader of the R&D department took this role as an expansion of her functional leadership role. Five years later she became the Managing Director, which would have been unheard of had she only stayed in her functional role.

    4. Remove the structural barriers.

    Too many times we have seen examples of a role that is a perfect next step or a building block to a wider scope of leadership been created, only to find it has inherent designs in it that limit many candidates, especially working mothers. Next time a new role is created, or an opportunity emerges that allows for a vacant role to be redesigned, as part of the design process, also ask, what is in the design and nature of the line role that would make someone say “no thanks” to doing it? Maybe it takes more design work to enable flexible work arrangements and normalise uptake across levels and genders. Let us not forget the extraordinary pivoting that has taken place all over the world in 2020-2021 from perspectives that were once held as sacred cows. Once held views sounded like, ‘they must have x and y to do this senior leadership role, or they must be based in X location to do this role’. Many of those pre held convictions have been proven to no longer be true.

    5. Be unapologetic about actively sponsor rising women.

    The notion of targets and quotas raises concerns and can be an emotive conversation, depending on the points of view expressed. My personal view is that targets are already in place for almost all aspects of business. As a former headhunter/ search consultant, I never left a client briefing session without absolute clarity on what the organisation was targeting as the ideal candidate they wanted me to find. Targets exist whether they are overt or not. The use of mentoring, network opportunities, study programs – many of these already exist in organisations. My view is there is still room for specific focus on developing line management aptitude and appetite for women who demonstrate capability in their functional expertise and illustrate promise of more, were the doors to be opened to different opportunities. This can sometimes be a very challenging hurdle for individuals and organisations to overcome but the numbers are in – there needs to be a change and this is something that can be done.

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    How to develop good judgement as an Executive and why this is so important

    What I learned from talking with Meahan Callaghan

    “Good judgement is a bit like personal values, you don’t know what is missing until it is not there. The quality of any of our leader’s judgement is only recognised when the consequences manifest. And if the decision is deemed to have been a poor one, the leader’s judgement capability Is absolutely questioned!”

    So said one CEO to me recently when we were discussing how can leaders develop their ability to make good decisions. I dare say we have all committed, observed, or been affected by poor judgement. Depending on the scenario this can land on the spectrum from relatively inconsequential to disastrous for the individual and their career, their team, and the organisation. Often the energy, effort, and cost (for all parties) needed to deal with the consequences (intended or otherwise) from poor judgement is significant.

    Judgment is about making good decisions.
    Real decision-making is rapid, biased, and subconscious. And we rationalize our decisions after the fact. Having good judgment mostly concerns fixing (or not repeating) bad decisions. Judgement emerges as a property of a leader’s information processing style, decision-making approach, decision-making style, personal reaction and openness to feedback and coaching.
    R. Hogan, Leadership assessment author
    and psychologist

    While it is easy to be wise in hindsight, much can be done to increase the capability for good judgement. I explored this topic in a recent Leadership Diet podcast (link), with Meahan Callaghan, one of the most experienced tech sector CHROs in the Asia Pacific region.

    Meahan believes that as executives progress in their careers, the development need is less about general skills and more about judgment especially where there are decisions to be made under pressure and where there are competing interests. Specifically in relation to employees she advocates that faster quality decisions are made by leaders on their own, the more credit that will gained from followers.

    So how can people learn good judgment and have good cognitive ability in this space?

    What gets in the way of leaders exercising good judgement?

    Before we jump into what can leaders do to develop the capability of good judgement, it is useful to cover off some common pitfalls that leaders fall into, leading to poor decision making or excising poor judgement.

    1. A lack of formal learning in the science of decision making
      Given that judgement is a property that emerges from a combination of inputs, particularly making good decisions, the obvious place to start is how are leaders taught to make decisions. Jay McNaught, Director of Global Leadership Development in a global retailing organisation, completed his PhD in how leaders are taught to make decisions and found that most senior leaders had no formal training in this area. In recent interview, Jay commented that leaders need to learn the basics of speed versus incubation, the importance of optionality, intuition versus rationality and the dangers of personal biases.

    2. Relying too much on personal history and expertise
      Leaders are regularly promoted after having done a good job elsewhere or at a different level within the organisation. The relatively famous book by Marshall Goldsmith, ‘What got you here won’t get you there’, suggests that relying on past successes is a poor predictor of future success for a leader who is taking on more senior or complex responsibility. Neuroscience backs this up. Our brain is a superb pattern recognition expert and seeks to look for patterns in new situations that are like previously experienced events. Thus, if a leader is dealing with a situation that appears to be familiar to them, our brains can cause leaders to believe they understand the situation and therefore to act accordingly. Often with negative consequences.

    3. Letting the emotional tagging override rationality
      Building on the previous link to neuroscience, research from Ashridge Strategic Management Centre on executive level decision making suggests emotional information is attached to the thoughts and experiences stored in our memories. This is why when retelling personal narratives or stories that are associated with important events in our lives, we strongly feel the story as we retell it. From a leader’s perspective this tagging can be useful in helping to direct them towards specific actions. But, on occasions the same emotional tags can be unhelpful if they are linked to reactive emotions such as having felt cheated, embarrassed, ashamed, let down etc. The decision that is waiting to be made is now potentially influenced by an unhelpful tagged emotion.

    4. A lack of checks and balances with unconscious biases
      Rational thinking processes often have built in checks and balances. Decide on the core question to be answered, project a desired direction, lay out a specific or agreed criteria and check options against those same criteria, measure compromises as they emerge and land at an optimal decision. Very rational and full of ‘gates’ that allow for rationality to reign supreme.

      But building on the ideas of pattern recognition and emotional tagging we make decisions fast and are often blind to our personal biases along the way. According to Sydney Finkelstein, Professor of Management at Tuck School of Business, ‘our brains leap to conclusions and we are reluctant to consider alternatives, we are particularly bad at revisiting our initial assessment of a situation”.

    The starting question always is, “What does good judgment look like here?”
    Meahan Callaghan

    5 Key steps or principles to help develop good leadership judgement

    1. Define what is good judgement here?
      You can’t train good judgement, you can only train good judgement here. Judgement is situational so the question Meahan recommends starting with is “What does good judgment look like here?” Understanding the context is critical so that decisions can be made in light of the circumstances. For instance, you may use values and behaviours of the organisation to determine what good judgment is in a context. It provides the ability to specify “good judgement here is this” and “poor judgment here is that”.

    2. Determine the key principles that guide the context here.
      Meahan in our conversation, discussed her experience as CHRO in SEEK. She told the story of one SEEK principle was “put the organisation first above your own individual needs”. Understanding that ambiguity breeds confusion, Meahan recommends organisations drawing on their values, behaviours, and culture to set the guide rails for decision making. Organisations can offer clarity regarding their internal values or important principles by extending the headline with “This means XXXXX and This does not mean XXXXX”

    3. Give lots of examples to illustrate what the favored principles mean. It is generally recognised that giving strong direction is more helpful than trying to create a rule book to try to cover every possibility. The latter is impossible and can lead to people abdicating the responsibility for using judgement. Organisational specific principles can be taught internally by using case methods (a learning approach designed to accelerate experience through exposure to a diverse range of perspectives by using real business cases) or through leadership simulations which are designed to immerse participants in common business situations commonly faced by senior leaders.

    4. Develop Self Awareness and Self-Regulation
      Poor judgement often occurs in reflex to avoid what the executive perceives to be a potentially catastrophic possibility (realistic or not, rational, or not). Avoiding this requires self-awareness. By understanding what is happening and increasing the ability to self-regulate, they then have the capacity to pause rather than react and this brings space. This space provides an opportunity to evaluate before action. This is critical. Meahan says that being able to respond rather than react is vital. She shared her experience of developing a process of personal reflection, be it through journaling or coaching allowed her to explore the narratives she, as the executive held, examine the potentials and realities and scenario plan to give her a flexibility of options.

    5. Own and learn from mistakes
      Lastly, if good judgement includes learning from mistakes, then covering up, making excuses or blame shifting is not acceptable. Accept that we will all make mistakes and exercise poor judgment and decision making. What is important is to own it, reflect for learning and share so this can increase capability for self and others.

      Being able to say to a team “I made a poor judgement call there and these were the things that I was using as guide” is a very useful learning moment for everyone and should not be shied away from – that is good judgement.

    “One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty councils.
    The thing is to supply light and not heat.” 
    Woodrow Wilson

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    Pod featured on Pod Buffet

    Akimbo, the infamous online education school set up by Seth Godin, teaches many courses, including one on podcasting. Every year hundreds of aspiring podcasters from around the globe partake in a variety of ideas designed to offer the best podcasts for their ideal listeners. One of the outputs of the program is, of course, a podcast, called…The Pod Buffet!
    Guests are chosen from the graduates of the program and are by invite only. The Pod Buffet is an eclectic mix of new podcasts from fresh new podcasters around the world.

    Our own Pod was invited to partake in October 2021 (Yes we appreciate all the various puns here…!)
    Listen to the 8-minute interview below

    Size matters!

    Design is the key to leadership team effectiveness, speed and agility.

    What I learned from talking with Ruth Wageman.

    “Can you come and chat? I’ve got some great people on my team, but it feels like I am alone in pushing a boulder up a hill. They don’t seem as committed as me or are only focused on their function – not the whole business. And this is the most senior leadership team! Can you help to sort us out”?

    This was the content of a recent call with the Managing Director of a subsidiary of a large global organisation. She is charged with overseeing $3bn of revenue in the 5th largest market in the world for their global organisation. This is not small fry.

    Yet her frustration is not unique. In fact, it is quite common for leadership team leaders and indeed members to be frustrated at how their team works together (or as may be the case, does not)

    Where does frustration within leadership teams emerge from?

    One helpful assumption to hold when thinking about leadership teams and leaders within those teams is that most leaders want to do a good job. Yet when we dig into what lies behind the classic call from a Managing Director as outlined earlier, many leaders are confused as to what is really being asked of them in their individual roles and functional responsibilities when coupled with their role as a leadership team member.

    The functional leadership roles (Director of Marketing, or Director of Supply Chain etc.) are typically challenging roles with all kinds of performance metrics attached. Feedback from many leaders is that what happens in the leadership team meeting is not leadership work. Mostly what they’re doing when the collective leadership team comes together is reporting and exchanging information about what’s going on in the different parts of the business.

    I was discussed this in a recent Leadership Diet podcast episode with Ruth Wageman. Ruth is a renowned expert in all things team, team formation and setting up leadership teams for success. She has been a Professor at Columbia, Dartmouth and Harvard universities in the USA. She co-wrote the widely acclaimed book, “Senior Leadership Teams: What it Takes to Make them Great” and is the co-creator of the “6 Conditions” team assessment.

    Ruth noted when leadership team meetings become a mere information exchange, “the leaders are distracted and thinking about the problems that they could be solving back in their day (functional leadership) jobs. The invitation to be enterprise level leaders has never been clearly called out, which leads to an assumption that as a leader I’m here because I’m supposed to fight for my part of the enterprise”.

    Ultimately the time spent in meetings for many leadership team members become boring at best and completely ineffective at worst. If that is the case how does a leader think about structuring the leadership team, so it becomes effective and leadership team meetings become a valuable use of time?

    In the episode we discussed what she calls 3 essentials that are part of the fundamental building blocks for launching teams towards effectiveness. 

    The 3 essentials are:

    • Be a Real Team – needs to be bounded, stable and interdependent to differentiate it from being a group or cohort.
    • Compelling Team Purpose – needs to develop and have a collective purpose that is clear, compelling and consequential. In simple terms, a clear reason for being.
    • Right People – be comprised of the optimal people, of those available, with the right mix of capabilities and diverse thinking to deliver on the team purpose.

    What is the real leadership team?

    According to Ruth, the first mistake leader of leadership teams make is not thinking through the make-up of the team itself. Her experience and international research suggest that many leadership teams are made up of all the direct reports of the most senior leader, be it the Managing Director or CEO. Hence many teams end up with large numbers of 12-18 members. This is not a leadership team! This is merely a reflection of the organisational structure.

    First and foremost, if a leader is intent on leading a collaborative, enterprise wide thinking and effective leadership team, they need to start with building a real team with clarity on who is and who isn’t a member. This is what Ruth refers to as a bounded team.

    A real team is:

    • Clear who is officially a member of the team and who is not,
    • A stable entity i.e., members are in roles for extended periods,
    • Together long enough to accomplish something significant,
    • Interdependent – members need to interact with each other, exchange,
    • information and resources to accomplish something larger than what can be done individually, and
    • Here because only together can the goals be accomplished.

    Compelling Team Purpose - What are we here to do?

    The second problem is that many leadership teams have not paused to clarify the team’s actual purpose.

    Ruth suggests the core questions the team leader needs to be able to answer with their team, include:

    1. What must we do together that has to be done together?
    2. What is our unique added value as a team?
    3. What is it that we must do together that only we can do that will bring about the success of the enterprise?

    She adds, “a really compelling purpose is clear about what our contribution is. It’s challenging. So, it’s going to be a real stretch of our capabilities, just like our individual leadership roles. There is a consequence for us doing or not doing this”.

    My experience in facilitating many such conversations is that when done well, functionally orientated leaders realise there is a significant contribution they are being asked to and can make as leadership team members. It’s a very powerful intervention. Once there is real leadership work on the table, it calls upon all of them to remove their functional leadership hat and come to conversation as an enterprise leader. But for many leadership teams, the invitation has never been clearly given.

    I often get misquoted as saying that trust and relationships aren’t important. But I do think trust and relationships matter. I just think that they’re an outcome of good team design. Building trust is not the point of intervention.
    Dr. Ruth Wageman

    So, who needs to be on the leadership team, then?

    When a CEO or Managing Director has an organisational chart with 12-18 direct reports either because of historical reasons, matrix structures or indeed, the motivation to review the leadership team structure has never been loud enough, leaders struggle to articulate a compelling purpose for a team that large. Large teams (of up to 18 members) find it difficult to work interdependently on core business needs.

    Ruth suggests better questions to ask of such a team, are:

    1. What is the critical leadership work that would benefit from the creative fusion of different thoughts and perspectives?
    2. What is the critical leadership work that needs us to be operating in alignment?
    3. What’s the critical work that needs a team and who are the people that can contribute to that?
    4. Who are the people with the mix of capabilities, the diversity of perspectives and teamwork skills that would enable them to fulfill that purpose?

    With these questions what emerges is a realization that one size does not fit all and having more than one leadership team addresses many core complaints. An example is demonstrated below.

    Leadership team
    Core focus
    Wider Alignment leadership team, often called the Management Team
    Has all members, which may be a large number. Convene for the purpose of companywide alignment on key strategies including organisation culture, information sharing, corporate messaging and/or broad consultation.
    Information is shared at Functional level and at other leadership team levels
    Operational leadership team(s)
    Members are those with direct oversight of key commercial or operational parts of the organisation. There may be a manufacturing or commercial orientated leadership team(s), as example. Convene to steward BAU leadership, oversee key pre agreed metrics and raise red flags as appropriate.
    Feeds urgent issues into the Strategic or Executive Leadership team and updates the Wider Alignment team in BAU updates
    Strategic or ‘Core/ Executive’ leadership team
    Usually led by the CEO/ Managing Director, is a small team made up of the roles with key strategic impact, including CFO and commercial leaders. Convene for oversight of multiple business horizons, rapidly address urgent issues and redeploy resources as needed.
    Usually led by the CEO/ Managing Director, is a small team made up of the roles with key strategic impact, including CFO and commercial leaders. Convene for oversight of multiple business horizons, rapidly address urgent issues and redeploy resources as needed.

    Each team needs to address the 3 essentials as outlined earlier i.e., the structure to make it a real team, purpose of the team, membership. When this is done well, Ruth says each team will have a clear purpose statement and direction, purposefully designed meetings agendas and clarity on the interdependency between that team and the other subsets of the leadership team.

    Where do mindsets come into all of this?

    My experience in sharing ideas like this with many leadership teams over the years is the notion of leadership team subsets makes logical sense to everyone. However, the realization that my role does not need me to be in the core or Executive leadership team, is often confronting for many leaders. This takes a mindset shift. Indeed, restricting a large leadership team into a series of smaller teams, takes a few different mindsets.

    The first mindset set shift is for the CEO or Managing Director. According to Ruth, for the most senior leader to say, “Oh wait a minute, all my direct reports are not my team. In fact, I might have more than one team and I really need to ask some key strategic questions!” can be very freeing as a mindset shift. This mindset shift gives them permission to think about different configurations of people for different purposes.

    A useful approach for the leader is to share with the team that they want to get more efficient in how the team works together, in how they share information and, most importantly, do real work together. In doing so the leader intends to launch several smaller teams to address specific areas.

    “Everybody wants to be on the leadership team, but no one wants to go to all the meetings, because so much information that’s being shared is not relevant to anybody who, you know, to 50%, at least of the people sitting around the table at any given moment!”
    Dr Ruth Wageman

    The second mindset shift is for new members of leadership teams, particularly if this is their first time on a leadership team. Their expectation is they will be involved in all decisions at the leadership team level. They quickly realise this is not the case and often are relieved when this is shown to be untrue. The allure of going to many leadership team meetings, many of them deemed to be a waste of time, diminishes fast.

    At a point when the team has got some success under its belt, it’s much easier to authorize subsets of the team members when they’ve come to recognize why those talented and smart people are best suited to tackle a specific area of leadership team responsibility and report back.

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    Ambition – Your Friend or Foe?

    What I learned from speaking with Nicolai Tillisch on The Leadership Diet

    “I am very happy to be in this role and I enjoy the challenge and reward it provides. But when you ask me if I am content – I have to honestly say I feel guilty about not being there enough for my family and actually feel quite lonely a lot of the time”.

    This was the reflection of a CEO client. They were “successful” and had worked long and hard to achieve it. Their ambition had enabled their success on one level, but the rewards had come at a cost. This is not uncommon. Ambition is admirable but its relentless drive can have negative personal and relational impacts.

    “Ambition is a powerful yearning and drive to attain a future state that is different from today and challenging to reach”

    Nicolai Tillisch

    Ambitious people are shown to be more educated, have higher status jobs and make more money. “This often comes at the expense of close relationships and personal wellbeing”, was the comment of Nicolai Tillisch, in a recent Leadership Diet podcast (link). Nicolai is co-author of the best-selling, Return on Ambition: A radical approach to your achievement, growth and wellbeing, which has just been nominated as one of 10 finalists in getAbstract’s 2021 international Book Award. Grounded in research it is a work he developed with a McKinsey colleague, also with the same first name, Nicolai Chen Nielsen, to investigate and remedy the dark sides or underbellies of ambition.

    Nicolai shared with me on the podcast, while the vast majority of executives consider themselves to be successful, the majority also confirmed they struggled to balance the achievement of their aspirations with personal growth and wellbeing.  “The research shows it is correlated with a higher level of stress, burnout and depression”, Nicolai explained.

    This can be attributed to:

    1. The nature of ambition: Ambition has strengths and pitfalls, impacting behaviour and mindsets. This “double edged sword” creates unintended consequences.

    2. The nature of drive: The ambitious executive’s relentless drive to be successful across all they do both personally and professionally.

    3. The nature of self-reflection: Or, as Nicolai shared, a lack of self-reflection! Most ambitious people claim reflection aids in the fulfilment of their ambitions yet significantly fewer actually take the time to do it.

    4. The nature of change. Change is difficult even when it is desired (as observed in the work on Adult Development and Immunity to Change. Change requires challenging previously held beliefs and assumptions, many of which were instrumental in the achievement of their success, and consciously making alternative choices.

    In their book, Nicolai and Nicolai have developed a useful equation that emerged from their study into ambition.

    Return on Ambition = Achievement + Growth
    +  Wellbeing (physical and mental)

    As a holistic measure of being a fulfilled human being, the equation recognises that return on ambition is dependent on the:

    1. degree to which meaningful personal and professional goals are realised (achievement) +

    2. degree of learning and development +

    3. level of personal happiness, purpose, health and connection.

    Interestingly, the lack of development is a more significant contributor to burnout than hard work itself.

    Organisations with effective onboarding programs have 2.5 times more revenue growth and 1.9 times greater profit margin than those without transition programs in place.

    Truisms of Return on Ambition

    Understanding the realities of ambition are helpful in increasing awareness about its implications and what that means for you:

    • The bigger the ambition, the higher the required return to attain satisfaction. So be aware of the challenge and the risk.

    • Be aware of context – different people will need to expend different levels of effort to achieve the same ambition depending on where you are starting from, skill level etc. To have a clear and realistic expectation and avoid frustration, appreciate the ambition in the context of your circumstances.

    • As ambitions grow and stretch you further, the risk of falling short also increases.

    • As ambitions increase, it becomes increasingly challenging to balance the 3 elements of your return. You will need to make greater investments. The more you want the greater the sacrifice. Ensure you are willing and able to put in the necessary resources and effort.

    Frenemies of Return on Ambition

    One concept I found very useful in Nicolai and Nicolai’s book is the one of Frenemies. The things that have helped us to succeed, when overused, can become liabilities. These tendencies are “frenemies” – part friend / part enemy. There is nothing wrong with the tendency itself. What is needed is awareness and control of our use of the tendency so it is only utilised where and to the amount it is useful. We also need the flexibility to reach for an alternate strategy when the usefulness becomes a cost.


    “I have no spur
    To prick the sides of my intent, but only
    Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
    And falls on the other.”

    William Shakespeare, Macbeth

    Given the majority of listeners to The Leadership Diet are successful executives or those who support successful leaders, the notion of both the upside and downside of ambition will be very familiar. What might be less familiar is what to do about it.

    I recommend starting here or here and assessing how ambition is helping you (or not!).

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    Don’t assume your new CEO will be successful. Insure it.

    What I learned from talking with Dr. Ty Wiggins

    “My reputation grows with every failure”, said George Bernard Shaw. 

    That’s great George, but what kind of reputation was it?

    One of my key areas of interest is the topic of leadership transitions, why so many fail and what organisations can do to increase the success of new leaders transitioning into organisations, particularly at CEO and other C suite roles. McKinsey’s define a transition as the period (which can last up to 18 months) after an executive has assumed his or her new C level responsibilities. A successful transition is defined as when that C suite executive has aligned and mobilised their organisation to the rating of “very well” to the objectives (as agreed with the Board) and have met their remaining objectives “well” or “very well”.

    Yet, studies put the failure rate at between 25-50%. Internal hires, in general, fail at a rate of 20-30% and this rises to 50% when expatriate appointments are included. Failure most often occurs at or before the 18-month mark.

    When you consider the obvious cost of an appointment to this level such as recruitment, international relocation, transport, housing and accommodation, school fees and/or other benefits, the cost of failed leadership transitions is enormous. In general, the cost is deemed to be between 2-3 times the executive’s total remuneration package. This is only the start as it does not account for the hidden expenses including the time and focus of the organisational resources at both home and host locations. So when the assignment fails it is a significant expense for the organisation. It has been suggested that for senior executives whose base salary is above US$250,000, the cost of a failed expatriate assignment can be up to 40 times base salary. Ty, shared in our conversation an example of a failed CEO transition that led to a total cost in the hundreds of millions. Yes, that was hundreds of millions of dollars!

    Dr. Ty Wiggins completed a PhD examining what enables and inhibits successful leadership transitions and now leads a global practise for Russell Reynolds in this space. In his research, he found that 70% of the organisations studied had no formal onboarding process (read transition process) for their senior leaders. Of the ones that had a formal process, only 35% were rated as effective.

    What is remarkable, is that his and other research has shown that organisations with effective onboarding programs have 2.5 times more revenue growth and 1.9 times greater profit margin than those without transition programs in place.  The research also shows that newly appointed C level leaders who are effectively supported in their transition do achieve full productivity two months quicker than those who do not. If your most senior leaders are competitive advantages, this is a lot of advantage!

    Organisations with effective onboarding programs have 2.5 times more revenue growth and 1.9 times greater profit margin than those without transition programs in place.

    So, Ty what is a leadership transition failure?

    A failed C level appointment, at a professional and developmental level, is defined under three categories:

    • the executive is deemed to have not performed adequately and leaves the organisation.
    • If the leader was promoted internally, the assignment is ceased early, and the executive is recalled home; or
    • the executive is returned to their original position upon the end of the assignment;

    One startling statistic from his research was up to 40% leaders had left their role within an 18-month period.

    Ty says that organisations don’t know how to think through what makes an effective transition support program or have the internal resources to do so. Often any support is of generic kind and not tailored to the leader. With that the psychological contract that was established during the recruitment process is undermined. The leaders in his research shared with Ty, the lack of an onboarding program or any structured transition support was a major disappointment and caused many of them to second guess their decision to join the organisation. They had been looking forward to joining and were often promised help on their way into the organisation, but that was not their reality.

    What does transition support look like?

    I previously co-wrote with Carole Field, a series of books called Foreigner In Charge, which were written for expatriate leaders taking on new roles in new countries. In our research we had identified similar findings to Ty’s – that organisations were poorly equipped in offering successful leadership transition support. Our research suggested organisations offered:

    Little or no support
    The organisation provides very basic relocation, transport, accommodation assistance and basic information about office logistics. This satisfies the basic, short-term transactional needs and rarely goes beyond the first week after arrival in the new role. Think of this is basic onboarding and nothing else!

    Cultural support
    Many organisations offer short programs on explaining the cultural differences between the new country an expat leader is headed to and their home country. The family of the executive are often included. While most executives are grateful for the information, many comment that it is while learning to lead the organisation over the ensuing three, six and twelve months that they really start to understand the new country culture. For leaders joining an organisation within their current country, culture can still trip people up. Understanding industry and company culture remains a key hurdle that inhibits successful transitions.

    Role support
    Executive coaching is a well utilised and known mechanism for supporting executives to transition into the role. Learning to elevate the level of thinking that needs to be employed, the level of leadership to the new position and the level of influence across the organisation is as much a nurtured and learnt framework as it is a natural ability. Many organisations support executives by providing an internal or external coach to work alongside them for the first three or six months. Traditionally an executive coach will focus on the role only and will not take into account the multiple transitions the executive is experiencing.

    Onboarding versus Effective Leadership Transition and Integration
    Onboarding should be a well-designed and thought through process designed to help leaders learn the behaviours, skills and knowledge to succeed in their new organisation. But most organisations, if they have an onboarding program, focus on the hygiene factors and logistics. “Here is your computer, your carpark, keys and there is the toilet”.

    Effective transition support acts like an insurance policy for the organisation against executive derailment. Executive onboarding should be a distinct process to general employee onboarding, Effective programs are designed to address the critical areas of weaknesses for leaders, align their leadership style with the culture of the business, help develop effective relationships and optimise the most desirable skills for their new role.

    Ty shared from his research that effective support includes increasing a leader’s understanding of the role demands, avoiding opportunities for the leader to make mistakes and decreasing time to productivity. It should also include reducing the chance of derailment, mitigating the risks of termination and the resulting costs of replacement. Stories of successful programs report the impact of the support helped those leaders build alliances with their teams, helped the leader develop a sense of belonging and provided support and feedback during the transition period.


    “We hired these leaders because they are supposed to be great. If they are that good why is the transition to a new role so difficult!”

    The research we conducted that led to the Foreigner In Charge books, suggested most of the reasons behind expatriate leadership failures were not because the leader was an expat, but was down to cumulative transition overload. That is to say, the leader was transitioning from one level of leadership scope to a higher level, was often moving from a functional speciality to a broader base leadership role, was moving to a new country with new languages, cultural norms and nuances and the family was transitioning with them. Cumulative transition overload.

    Ty identified six key areas and challenges that are common in leadership transitions.

    Taken from research by Dr. Ty Wiggins

    In our podcast interview he shared some useful reflections for an incoming CEO/ C level leader to overcome existing cognitive biases, including;

    • What kind of leader does this organisation need me to be?
    • What does the organisation need of me that I have never had to do before?
    • What does strategic thinking look like here?
    • How attached am I to my ‘playbook’ and how do I write a new one for here?

    Don’t be blind to your behaviours. Seek early feedback from new stakeholders

    Ty also observed that people judge others by their behaviours and judge themselves by their intent. Therefore, there is a high probability that a new leader, keen to impress, will underestimate the negative impact of some of their behaviours. A classic example, Ty shared, is an example of a new C level leader cancelling a specific meeting without ever attending that event and not explaining their reasons why. They had good intentions (save wasted time for everyone) but all that was on show was perceived arrogance.

    “The most serious failure of leadership is the failure to foresee”
    Robert K. Greenleaf

    Ty’s research suggests that a leader in transition to a new company needs to learn what behaviours did their colleagues in their previous company tolerate or compensated for them because the leader was well known and their intentions were understood. He suggests transitioning leaders ask the colleagues in the organisation they are leaving to help map out not just key strengths but also these weaknesses to assist in avoiding offence in a new role and organisation.

    “It is not a numbers game; it is a transition game. Failure causes many ripples for many people. Mitigate the risk of failure!”
    Ty Wiggins

    How does a leader strategically increase their transition success rate?

    Fail to plan or plan to fail?
    One research finding from Ty is that women are twice as likely to avail of and use a transition plan than their male colleagues. Ty says, “using a transition plan is a significant promoter in transition success, even if they are completed at a basic level. This view is held by both the leaders and the organisations. Transition plans give the leader structure, task direction, prioritisation and deliverables. All of which increase the level of confidence that the leader is achieving”. When you consider the failure rates as outlined earlier in this article, why would a new leader not plan to be successful in their transition.

    Don’t be a cheerleader for your former function or expertise!
    Ty shared that one clear inhibitor to transition success was a lack of multi-functional experience, or a functional bias towards their specific skill set.  He says, “the lack of functional experience is an ignorance on how the other functions operate and deliver results, whereas a bias is where the leader favours a specific  function over others, typically the one matching their skill set and training. When leaders were given responsibility for other functions where they lacked understanding or possessed a bias, it proved difficult and inhibited their performance during the transition.

    Bill was a very successful commercial leader in a healthcare organisation based in Midwest USA. His organisation had over 2500 sales orientated roles out of the total 3100 employee headcount. Bill was very orientated to being “a sales guy”. When he took on the CEO role of a smaller organisation, he completely ignored over 50% of the employees in his first year as he continued to index to his former speciality i.e. the sales function. As an R&D based organisation he learned, almost too late, that he had offended some of most important and influential leaders in his organisation.

    Don’t assume success. Insure for success.
    What struck me in my conversation with Ty, is that organisations spend a lot of money, time, resources, relational equity when hiring an outside candidate for an important role in an organisation, particularly a CEO or C level role. There are often very good reasons for doing so and ignoring internal talent for the same role. Sometimes particular skill sets are needed. Other times the ideal experience is missing in the organisation. And often a strategic culture or market orientated shift is needed, which is best done when the leader brings a fresh pair of eyes. Whatever the reason, hiring the best candidate from the available pool, does not mean that person will succeed. Far from it! Succeeding in a leadership transition is not a numbers game. It is a strategic transition game. And failure causes many unneeded and painful ripples. Organisations can stack the game in their favour and in the favour of the leader. Don’t assume success. Insure for it.

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    Changing the plot. Ensuring your intentions have substance.

    What I learned from talking with Padraig O’Tuama on our podcast.

    Shaking Hands by Pádraig Ó Tuama
    27th May 2012

    Because what’s the alternative?
    Because of courage.
    Because of loved ones lost.
    Because no more.
    Because it’s a small thing; shaking hands; it happens every day.
    Because I heard of one man whose hands haven’t stopped shaking since a market day in Omagh.
    Because it takes a second to say hate, but it takes longer, much longer, to be a great leader.
    Much, much longer.
    Because shared space without human touching doesn’t amount to much.
    Because it’s easier to speak to your own than to hold the hand of someone whose side has been previously described, proscribed, denied.
    Because it is tough.
    Because it is tough.
    Because it is meant to be tough, and this is the stuff of memory, the stuff of hope, the stuff of gesture, and meaning and leading.
    Because it has taken so, so long.
    Because it has taken land and money and languages and barrels and barrels of blood.
    Because lives have been lost.
    Because lives have been taken.
    Because to be bereaved is to be troubled by grief.
    Because more than two troubled peoples live here.
    Because I know a woman whose hand hasn’t been shaken since she was a man.
    Because shaking a hand is only a part of the start.
    Because I know a woman whose touch calmed a man whose heart was breaking.
    Because privilege is not to be taken lightly.
    Because this just might be good.
    Because who said that this would be easy?
    Because some people love what you stand for, and for some, if you can, they can.
    Because solidarity means a common hand.
    Because a hand is only a hand; so hang onto it.
    So join your much discussed hands.
    We need this; for one small second.
    So touch.
    So lead.

    Originally published in Sorry for your Troubles (Canterbury Press, 2013).
    Copyright © 2013 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.

    To start with, I highly recommend you listen to Pádraig reciting this poem on the Leadership Diet podcast episode here (scrub forward to 11:06).

    I don’t normally have poetry recited live on our podcast but this was a special occasion.

    This poem was written as a reflection on the event of Queen Elizabeth II and Martin McGuinness, Leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland and former IRA Commander publicly shaking hands in 2012. The Queen and McGuinness represented opposing sides of a long and bloody history of conflict. Shaking hands could not change the past but it signalled a possible, different future. This simple but loaded gesture was a signal of intention. It was not the final word but an excellent first word in demonstrating the intention of trying to move forward in a positive way. It changed the plot.

    The gesture showed they were willing to personally connect with someone who was previously been regarded as the enemy. This was also risking the scrutiny of their own communities who are heavily invested in the past. By reaching out they were signalling that there is less need for fear and hostility than previously thought.

    In the words of the poem:

    “Because some people love what you stand for, and for some, if you can, they can.”

    In a recent Leadership Diet podcast I spoke with the author of this poem, Pádraig ÓTuama This Pádraig (he has the same name as I do, but is far more skilled in so many ways!) is a poet, mediator, theologian, and a specialist in exploring language, power and in mediating conflict.

    The conversation provided a powerful insight into the imperative for leaders to ensure their gestures have integrity to deliver the impact that matches the intention. It provides the opportunity for leaders to change the plotline of what is happening in their spheres of influence but to do so requires courage and vulnerability.

    “‘Shaking Hands’ makes reaching out an imperative of leadership.”
    HRH Prince Charles

    The space between intention and impact

    It is common that we judge ourselves by our intention, we judge others by their impact. A significant portion of development work that we do is focused on helping executives understand and bridge the gap between their intention and their impact.

    In relation to this Pádraig cautions suspicion of gestures and the underpinning intention as they can be hollow. He says we need to measure the space between intention and impact. We have all created or been on the receiving end of situations where the impact of decisions and actions is way from what was intended.

    Many leaders and organisations are guilty of demonstrating gestures or symbols in a half-hearted way. This may be to placate, be seen to be doing something, check a box. What a waste of time and resources! It is quickly obvious where there is no integrity, that the gesture is hollow and there is nothing tangible behind it. The impact is to leave a sense of distaste about the leadership and the leaders.

    Merely claiming “it was not my intention!” does not abdicate responsibility for addressing the consequences. A more constructive and integrity-filled starting point is “whatever my intention – here is what it caused and now let me be accountable”. The gesture of making amends needs to be tangible, not just words. The leader needs to “take the risk of doing” in the hope this creates opportunities for further risks to be taken by themselves or others to bridge the gap between intention and acted upon impact. So, the test is “does the gesture have integrity to it?” Be aware that no one thing is ever going to be enough but it is a starting point from which things can be carried forward.

    Changing The Plot Line

    “We wouldn’t be doing our work if we weren’t fighting. The real question is ‘What is the quality of the fighting?’”
    Padraig O’Tuama

    “Conflict has a phenomenally predictable plot,” says Pádraig. It always trends toward each party seeking dominance.  Leaders have the ability, through their gestures, to change the plotline of the situations where they are a major player i.e., in a Board or Executive Team meeting or when acting as an organisation delegate. All of these circumstances will involve competing interests and conflict. 

    Conflict has a bad reputation. Usually, because its energy and potential are not realised. Pádraig says “we wouldn’t be doing our work if we weren’t fighting. The real question is ‘What is the quality of the fighting?” There is not enough focus and process on enabling respectful disagreement and arguing well to make inroads to create dialogue.

    This has to do with the intentions of the people involved and the environment in which it occurs. Quality fighting happens where there is no recourse to threat. Threat in the corporate context can show up as ostracising, ridiculing, isolating, withdrawing etc. This means we can tap into the creativity to come up with something that would previously have been unthinkable.

    This requires creating dialogue. Quality dialogue starts with intention. Padraig says his experience in mediating long term and historical based conflict suggests It involves truthfully answers to the questions:

    1. What do I want?
    2. Am I committed to moving forward or am I committed to not moving forward?

    What is my (real) position here?

    Sometimes people are unaware of their positions. This lack of clarity can show up when people and teams get stuck. It is not uncommon that people in teams to be stuck on positions (these are usually dressed as intellectual debates) but it really comes about because people are committed to not moving forward. While they are declaring a public intention of wanting to move forward, they are holding a private position that is wedded for whatever personal, political, power or other reason, to remaining in conflict.

    What to do? Be curious about how interested people are in changing the plot or is this just a theatre for you to say what they have been storing up to say?

    “Be curious about how interested people are in changing the plot.”

    Honest exploration the following questions can raise self-awareness.

    1. What will I do if this is resolved?
    2. What will I do afterward?
    3. Will my own people consider me a traitor?
    4. Am I much more used to the idea of maintaining the conflict than the possibility that it might move towards being resolved?
    5. How have I been benefiting from the conflict?
    6. What is my contribution to the conflict? For example, am I just by standing and as such, contributing to ostracising, humiliating or dominating of someone?
    7. What am I privately seeing as positive while the public negative is being felt from this conflict?

    Facing your own resistance to the thing you are saying you want is painful – it hurts. It is one of the complexities to being human. Read the book, Immunity to Change, if this is of interest to you. Facing your own/ our own resistance is not about shaming people about hypocrisy it is about understanding the truth of where we are at so that we can be clear about what needs to be done to get to where we want to be.

    If you would like to speak with us about how you can close your gap between intention and impact or change the plotline, we would love to hear from you.

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    Reputation matters!

    What I learned from podcast episodes with Brian Hartzer and Warwick Fairfax

    “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. ”
    Warren Buffet

    Waking up to find the media camped outside your house. A swarm of journalists following you and hurling questions while cameras are thrust in your face. Having your life dissected by people you don’t know and they don’t really know you. This is the experience high profile people have when their reputation is being called into question sometimes from their own actions and choices and for others just as collateral damage. For others, it is a quieter, less public but no less painful, shameful experience. Regardless, the impact on the individual is the same, it is traumatic. They experience Reputational Trauma.

    “he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.”
    William Shakespeare, Othello

    Even if you personally never experience reputational trauma, chances are you will know someone who will. Every leader will face a humbling moment in their career at some point. In recent Leadership Diet podcasts with Brian Hartzer, former CEO of Westpac and Warwick Fairfax, as well as in working for more than 20 years with executives, it is not uncommon that as the responsibility and accountability increases in roles the chances of an event occurring where the executive is negatively judged for their actions (or inactions) resulting in a hit to the reputation is experienced. The impact of this hit can vary as can and the tangible consequences but what is often not recognised is the personal impact – reputational trauma. How they respond and learn from that experience can make or break their future personal wellness and their professional success.

    Reputation is universal, applying to all things – individuals, families, societies, nationalities, products and organisations. It is a measure of standing and value but it is relative as while we can desire to have a particular reputation, it is others who will be the judges. It can be a gateway or a barrier.

    While we can influence our reputation through our actions and behaviours, these are not the only elements others use to form their views. Other inputs include company communications, the views of others (regardless of credibility and legitimacy), media, personal experience. We have very little influence over these other sources so the only factors in our control are our deeds.

    “Your reputation is in the hands of others. That’s what the reputation is. You can’t control that. The only thing you can control is your character.” 
    Dr. Wayne Dyer

    The impact of Reputational Trauma is the same as other traumatic events. It has physical and psychological impacts which can be overwhelming and devastating to the individual – impacting their quality of life for themselves, their families, and those around them.

    Unlike the loss of a loved one, there are remedies available to address “injustice” associated with a reputational trauma e.g. financial settlements and apologies. While a hefty payout may be intended to cause pain to the guilty party, it does little to ease the emotional pain and suffering of the recipient. The work to restore physical and psychological wellbeing can only be done by the individual. 

    While there is an increasing focus on restorative work in the other areas of trauma, there is little focus on Reputational Trauma. It is left to the individual to manage for themselves, for better or worse.

    Through working and speaking with executives the following is a process that has been shown to be effective.

    A process for working through Reputational Trauma

    1. Recognise this is an actual trauma and that it will have the same impact.
      The responses will not be rational, linear, or timebound. They need to be processed the same way as any trauma.

    Emotional & psychological symptoms:

    • Shock, denial, or disbelief
    • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
    • Anger, irritability, mood swings
    • Anxiety and fear
    • Guilt, shame, self-blame
    • Withdrawing from others
    • Feeling sad or hopeless
    • Feeling disconnected or numb

    Physical symptoms:

    • Insomnia or nightmares
    • Fatigue
    • Being startled easily
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Racing heartbeat
    • Edginess and agitation
    • Aches and pains
    • Muscle tension

    “You can’t through an experience like that and not have any wounds or scars. It hurt.”
    Brian Hartzer

    1. Give your body and mind time to rest and heal.
      Dealing with trauma, especially when public, takes a huge physical and emotional toll. This can take a few months to a year for your body and brain to adjust. This will not be rushed regardless of your own desire and sense of urgency. You will go through highs and lows. There will be bad days and better days and over time, the lows lessen and become less frequent.

    As for grief, you’ll find It comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is, no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

    In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’II find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be Just about anything… and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

    Somewhere down the line, and It’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ II come out.

    Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’II survive them. And other waves will come. And you’II survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’II have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

    An excerpt from an article by Tim Ofieli

    1. Reconciliation.
      Do this phase well requires objectivity – from yourself and from those from whom you seek insight. This cannot be done well until the mind and body are rested and healed. Again, it cannot be rushed and may take 6 months or more.It involves asking people to “tell me the truth about this” so I can begin to understand. At this time there is a high need to be heard and reminded of who you are outside of this trauma. Sometimes it is helpful to engage a professional at this time. You have been wounded in a way that even friends and family may find difficult to understand. Those close to you may struggle to support you effectively as their emotions are tied to yours. As much as they care for you, you may need more than they can provide.

      Your focus should be on coming to grips with the questions of:

      • What actually happened?
      • How much is about me and the things I need to learn an own?
      • What was my contribution?
      • How much is part of the randomness of life? The randomness can feel very personal at the time but it is with perspective and time it can be seen for what it is.
      • What stories am I holding about this that is no longer true?
      • What can I learn from this experience?

    2. Rebuilding.
      This is a time for reimagining the future. It is about exploring things that are genuinely interesting, dropping things that are not, setting a new agenda, and figuring out what to do next.

    “Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls your life…….”
    Akshay Dubey

    Support Strategies

    Self Care:
    Having a healthy body can increase your ability to cope with the stress of trauma. These things are within our power to manage. It is important to take control of what is within your power to support yourself.

      • Good Sleep. Worry or fear may disturb sleep patterns. However, lack of good quality sleep amplifies a negative state and makes it harder to achieve and maintain emotional balance.

      • Avoid alcohol and drugs. While it can be tempting to dampen or numb your state, their use can worsen your trauma symptoms and increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.

      • Eat a well-balanced diet. Fuel yourself well to maintain energy and minimize mood swings.

      • Reduce stress. Try mindfulness meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Make time for activities that bring you joy – music, art, dance, craft, gardening, going to support your favourite team.

      • Move. Trauma creates hyperarousal and fear. Exercise/movement burns off adrenaline and releases endorphins which make us feel good and helps repair the frayed nervous system. Try for 30 minutes or more, of rhythmic exercise, most days. Or if it’s easier, three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day are just as good. Great options are walking, running, swimming, or even dancing.

    Make an effort to maintain your relationships. Start with those who will treat you with kindness. Comfort comes from feeling engaged and accepted by others. You don’t have to talk about the trauma. Friends bring more happiness into our lives than virtually anything else. If you’ve retreated from relationships that were once important to you, make the effort to reconnect.

    As well as helping others, volunteering or performing selfless acts can be a great way to challenge the sense of helplessness that often accompanies trauma. Remind yourself of your strengths and reclaim your sense of power by helping others.

    Get help:
    While you don’t have to talk about the trauma itself, it is important that you have someone to share your feelings with face to face, someone who will listen attentively without judging you.

    In our discussion in advice to his younger self, Brian Hartzer said he would tell himself, “It’s good to desire to be wise but understand that the way to it is through the pain”.

    If you feel you have trauma of any kind including reputational trauma then we recommend you consider speaking to a trusted friend, to a medical professional such as your family doctor or to a support organisation such as Lifeline or The Black Dog Institute.

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