Wrapping up Season 1 with some amazing highlights and summaries

Season 1 of the ‘The Leadership Diet’ has already arrived and come to an end.
And what a season it was!
In this end of season wrap up we revisit some of the most downloaded conversations from the last 15 episodes and discuss,
  • Imposter syndrome and letting the character emerge but not dominate
  • Turning anger into curiosity
  • Leading during Covid
  • Executive Burnout
  • Hosting a Stop It Month
  • Inescapable Questions
  • Origin stories from Boston, USA
  • Classic mistakes expat leaders make
  • …and more

Ep 15. What happens when leaders learn to coach with Dr. Julia Milner

Julia Milner is an internationally experienced Leadership Professor, currently living in France and has taught in Germany, China, Australia and many other parts of the globe.
She has been labelled in the Top 40 under 40 Business Professors globally. Her TED X talk has been watched by over 100,000 viewers. She has been published in HBR online, the Economist and many academic journals.
She shares:
  • Cross cultural leadership and how easy it is to spot what is different
  • Leaders who think they are coaching but in reality are motivational micro managers
  • Connected leadership
  • The role of empathy in 2021 and beyond

Show notes


Julia: Thank you so much, and we’re excited to be with you

Pod: again, it’s been a couple of years since we were being in each other’s physical company, but we’ve kept up to date on various zoom and other video calls over the last couple of years. Now, the listeners would have heard of my introduction to you already, but currently you’re a professor of leadership in one of the major MBA schools in France.

You’ve been a honorary professor in SBS and Sydney. You’ve had an associate professor role in China, and have been nominated on the top 40, under 40 business professors in the world. So I’m guessing, a thing or two about leadership given all of that.

Julia: Oh gosh. Yeah. I would hope so, but yeah, it’s a topic I’m very excited about.

So from a practitioner side, so being a leader myself, but also training leaders. Yeah, like big corporations or smaller businesses, but also looking at it from the research perspective. yeah, I’m just, I’m very excited about the topic because I think, yeah, a lot of things go well or go badly bad leadership.

Pod: You made some time for us today because a lot of different topics as a subset of it, it should be. I know that you cover lots of different areas, particularly in your teaching part of your role. But today I want to talk about probably three different areas. Let’s start with cross cultural leadership and you are German background.

You’ve worked in different parts of the world, and you’ve written about cross cultural leadership. I’m interested, first of all, as a lay person, living in different countries. What were some of the things you noticed as the differences that really stood out for you as you moved from continent to continent and culture to culture?

Julia: So for me, what makes it exciting to explore a different cultures is when I have the chance to do more than just visiting a place, it’s also a great opportunity, especially if we now are in these times where you can travel. But if I can live and immerse myself, into our culture.

For me, it really starts with a little things, you move to a place and you need to start to settle in and just understand, okay. So where do I get groceries from and how do they do this? And where can I get that thing? So for me doing that and by figuring out the. The small processes.

This is where you meet people and that’s where you, yeah. You start to understand how things go differently. And I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of going, but this is different how I do it. I’m used to it, but just trying to remain open and see, Oh, why and how? And so not only the watch is different, but yeah.

Why are people doing things in different ways? Yeah.

Pod: It’s funny you say about, noticing wants different and trying to stay open. I had a sudden flash of memory, as you were talking about me and my mom bringing her to London for the first time. Now this would have been 30 years ago and bring her to a Chinese restaurant in London for our first time ever.

And she got really upset cause they brought the tea up front. As they do in old Chinese restaurants, as opposed to an Irish restaurant, which the last thing you do. And I kept saying, why don’t you just listen? Cause it’s different. And she couldn’t, she was really upset that the tea came first and that last as it did in her own town.

So you’re right. The idea of staying open and just noticing what’s different as opposed to why it’s wrong is it’s probably a good starting point for any overseas adventure, couple Hubba from your leadership. you and I both have done a lot of work in cross-cultural leadership. What do you notice are some of the common pitfalls or patterns that leaders fall into that makes their overseas adventure less exciting or less successful than they would have hoped?

Julia: I guess I think it goes on to the point we just made it. So it’s coming from your perspective. So you are used to. Giving or receiving feedback in that way, or you used to, starting a conversation with lots of small talk or no small talk at all, and then you start, doing that because that’s like logical for you.

And I guess, yeah. That’s where a lot of the pitfalls can happen. just talking about feedback, feedback is, so I find it so different. Different ways of approaching it from the different colleges. in some places I worked, there you go, like very direct and, telling me negative.

And if I only tell you positives, then that’s fine. Where is it now? It would be a total effects and you can’t even. Directly talk about it. You would have to talk maybe more about something else, like a movie or something that you can related to, but not that directly. I find that very intriguing and I only means I have not figured it all out.

I think they’re all of course, books or models or purchase that can help you to prepare a little bit better. But again, I think, only once you’re there and you’re merged yourself and if you want to learn and stay open circuited, I think that’s where the beauty happens.

And yeah, for me, actually, it’s funny because the most happiest moments in my life, besides of course, My husband and my kids. And so when you really are in that new space, I just love that. I just love hearing that, but having said it also comes, it’s not only like an app there’s of course also the downs, because we want to struggle.

You going to fall down. You want to get frustrated in them. That also goes with it. But yeah.

Pod: It sounds like you’re saying that, there’s a honeymoon period. When you go into this overseas country as a first time for all of this telephone, the adventure, the learning, they seen the new things, seen the new phases and new customs.

And yet you need to have a, some sort of a learning mindset, or certainly a fair degree of curiosity to jump into, trying to understand why things happened the way they do, as opposed to why they don’t happen the way you were used to somewhere else. And then it talks about openness for feedback.

Julia: Yeah, the best chances I always had was when I was able to meet people who wanted, to also learn more, about me and where I’m coming from and, making friends.

And then if that friend takes you within their cosmos that’s, of course. Yeah, that’s amazing. If you wish you can do that instead of just staying, tried to stay in it from an outside perspective, but that’s not always possible, but yeah. I met some wonderful friends. So while I was in China, I met Sarah.

I don’t know if she’s going to have a listen to this, but she and I, we really, yeah, we hit it off very well. And so we went out and that was a great way because she took me to different places and from food to, other activities. So that was really cool.

Pod: when you’re teaching in the business school, in Sydney and indeed again in China, and now you’re in France, is there aspects of leadership that you’re teaching that are uniquely different to those environments? Because leadership in itself, there’s a lot of general topics that are saying no matter where you go, but what, imagine there’s some nuances that are specific to the region that you’re in.

Julia: Yeah. So most of the classes I teach, I would say mostly is. Is on the executive level. And often we have really quite a mix of different nationalities. So it’s very mixed. I would always love to go more into the different cultures perspectives, but often, you’re so short on time. So you just try to, there’s so many things from encounter.

If leadership people can bring in the expertise and experiences and if they can share it, I guess that’s the best way. To learn. And I’m also, I’m very, I have a very, I would say hands-on approach. So I like people to try things out because I think that’s also how we can learn and make sense of things.


Pod: Makes sense. Now you are known for many things in terms of your writings, you’ve written in the economists and the HBR. And a whole raft of academic journals or course, and you also have done a Ted talk. So I’d like to jump to the content or the subject matter of your last Ted talk on indeed your last HBR article.

And it’s around a study you’ve done in leadership coaching as an leaders, coaching their teams and their colleagues, their direct reports. And I was the, I was interested in the fact that you did some video analysis. During this study, which illustrated perceptions that the members of the project had versus the reality.

And then what that showed for you. So can you talk us through the premise of this study and some of the implications that emerged from that?

Julia: Yeah. So the TEDx talk I did was about, yeah, the KOL question about can leaders coach, or can they learn and how do they, how did they, how do they learn that?

Yeah, I was always very intrigued by it because I, as I worked as a consultant, then helping organization, I saw lead school, improve their coaching skills very quickly, but. It was always a question. how were they Jewish and why doesn’t happen? And so I wanted to look more into that. So we started this quite large study with collaborators and we asked people to courage someone else for five minutes and we video type these into actions.

We’ve thought giving any further instructions on how to coach. And we did this because that’s actually what we see right now in practice. A lot that, organizations. I catching up on the idea that coaching might be good. It might work. So we’re blessed is that I want you to just coach. So just go and coach and so we want it to directly get that sentiment.

And what we saw is what I call is more, a type of motivation or micromanaging. So when you tell,   Leaders to coach everyone, most often we see people  do this motivation. But they still are telling people what to do. Sometimes they are hiding that  behind closed questions and they say, don’t you think it would be a really good idea if you look at it this way?  And we have, we help leaders and we walk them through one at a different skillsets.

What can you use? So we came up with nine, nine to 10 core skills so far and how they can learn it. Once they see it, see the evaluations, we let the video’s evaluated by peers, but also by coaching experts and we’ll have use of training. So we give them the feedback and once they see and they understand that coaching is actually more about empowering others to come up with their own answer.

And that creates so much about movement and people that, solving things and coming up with bright ideas once they understand that. That’s when I think the clique or the ship happens. And so we do that again. Coaching is at the end of them off the training again, when we let them get evaluated and then we see they improved so much, but they also able to look back at the first experience and go Maybe when I was doing that was not coaching. I find it very intriguing from several angles. So first of all, yes, we can learn to coach and they can learn it quite quickly. So that’s really impressive. sound skill is that easier to develop than others, but they can do it. They can absolutely self-reflect and, but we also see that somehow we have maybe still this notion in our head that yeah, coaching.

Within organizations is you have to be this much inventing coach, which they’re that a sideline of a sports soccer field.

Not always. But it’s not always the best way to achieve the goals.

Pod: let’s just double down what you’ve said. So the program has a starting point where leaders are asked to code as they would normally would that’s recorded. then they receive feedback from their own colleagues, as well as folks who are experts in coaching.

And then you lead them through a process of maybe on learning what they’ve learned or what they already knew. But he has some skill sets such as listening, open ended questions, et cetera, and then go again and compare and contrast that to my own experience of watching leaders learn to coach that once they jump into that, a few things happen.

And I clearly agree what you said. First is a realization of, I think my role used to be telling people what to do, or if I can tell you what to do, what is my role? So I’m confused about what my role is suggesting, and I believe that coaching then is. Yeah, a hyped up motivation way of telling people what to do.

And is that what you call micro-managing and a motivation?

Julia: Yeah. first of all, I absolutely agree with you. So a lot of leaders that I worked with, I didn’t say well, but if I’m not telling people what to do, then I’m not needed. Like what’s the whole point. First of all, we have to say they out of course, situations where you have to be direct.

And there’s no point in coaching somewhere on that. So I want to make that clear as well. So coaching is not the solution to everything, but they are lots and lots of situations where if, instead of telling somebody what to do. If you help them think it through, it’s so much better, it’s not more motivating for them to come up with their own lens, but it’s also better for you because they might have ideas that you never even thought about.

SLAs. I think, if we come up with our own process and way, it’s much more likely that we actually do things then yeah. Just following instructions. Okay. For this and this and this. So I’ve seen that.

Pod: It’s a few things there that I think are really worth underlining. One is, as you said, they’re all identity.

I thought my role was to tell you what to do, and if it’s not that they’ll pass my role. And of course the answer is roles evolve and the more senior you get these different levels of doing and doing director level stuff may not be useful at a more senior level. So there’s the role does evolve as the job involves.

And indeed as complexity arises. You can’t keep doing what you’ve always done. You’ve got to find different ways. But I think the second thing you’ve just said about time, I’ve always been fascinated by leaders who have jumped into and embraced coaching type skills, come back and say, the paradox is I actually have less.

I’ve got more time coming back to me now because people are figuring out stuff that I used to have to get involved with, which allows me to spend more time elsewhere in a more strategic sense. So there’s a time involved upfront, too. Learn the skills practice, the skills, deploy the skills, but time comes back almost in a payback process.

Julia: yes, absolutely. Because if you are always the person who solves everything that people will keep coming and you create almost like a bottleneck where, you know, nothing moves without you saying something. Having said that you, of course also. We to be clear when you want people to come back and check in with you and when not.

So we’ve also done a study on an ethical issues around leadership coaching and having the boundaries is also one thing, because if you just say, go whatever and do whatever you want and never, then you’ll also of course get that. Yeah. But yeah. Agreed. So it’s what is my role as a leader?

And the time is third. Her life I’ve come is actually not from the leaders themselves, but, I’ve also heard expert coaches. So executive coaches saying while we have totally against leaders coaching, because, you need to have two years of training before you can coach someone. And so that’s the other thing.

So it’s more about, leading this, shouldn’t be doing this because I don’t have the whole thing. And I always say to that, Of course, it would be great if everybody could do it two year process, but I think there’s a space and room for both types of coaching, more the, the professional lunghi the executives or external coaches.

And, but wouldn’t it be nice also if we have more leaders. who listen more? Who can ask better questions, who, give good feet. Wouldn’t that be nice? So I just think, because we can’t achieve perfection, shall we just stop and not do anything? I think it’s much more, better to work with the skills that you can improve in a shorter amount of time that also inform about.

What are the limitations of approaching some ethical issues that of course is also necessary.

Pod: I remember one CEO say to his exec team, this CEO is a big fan of coaching and indeed in their own private life had done some extracurricular training because they were so interested. But I remember when they were bringing in a program to their organization and the CEO said to her team, and I expect all of you to be good at budgeting, but don’t expect everyone here to be a forensic accountant.

Likewise, I expect all of you to be good at coaching, but don’t all of you to go. You don’t need to go in and become a professional executive coach, but it’s a core skillset as part of your role. and that made a lot of sense. There’s some fundamentals that elevate your leadership to be more impactful.

Which your Ted talk and with the HBR study, what kind of reactions have you had from folks who are thinking about elevating their skills and are maybe using your information or your studies as prior to their decision-making process, are you finding it’s helping people to lean in more and more into the notion of being a better listener or being a better question?


Julia: Absolutely. I got actually wonderful feedback. So it was a lot from practitioners. So people like individuals who were saying, Oh yeah, we’re trying to do this. It’s so nice to see this. Now, then I had others saying. Oh, yeah, I think I have micromanaging. I thought I wasn’t, but now that I listen to this and so well, but no, this is exactly what I’m doing.

and then I had also people who are trying to be checking in it champions in terms of moving coaching across the organization. Want to establish more coaching cultures. So they approached me and asked, how do I do that? And we won an organization and level because I’m already doing it there. So yeah,

Pod: linked to your Ted talk in our show notes.

But I noticed this morning, I looked when I really looked at again as almost a hundred thousand people have watched it. So it’s certainly. making traction, around the place that people are searching and watching it. So we hope you’re enjoying this episode of the leadership diet. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on whatever podcast player you are listed to this on reviews on iTunes and Spotify are greatly appreciate it.

Let’s move on to a different topic. You were recording this in the end of September, 2020, the world is still in the midst of a pandemic and it’s gone up and down in different parts of the world. What are you noticing from where you’re sitting in terms of how leadership is showing up during the pandemic or how people are eating during a virtual digital type world, as opposed to a very tactile face-to-face type of world.

Julia: So from where I spending, I don’t know if it’s, if you can hear it, but they end the background noise.

This is how leadership shows up in the world of independent accounts. But that is for people who have, or will have children. we’ve been thrown into just. Deep end of trying to organize it all. so you have the occasional, popups in zoom calls and, we see lots of funny videos about that.

And then, the biggest difference I guess, is that leadership has also moved into the digital space for a certain amount of time. It was completely online for most people. not everyone again, but for most people. So I think. Oh, both sides struggled, but also explore opportunities in that.

Which means how can how can you be? can you even show empathy what’s happening with Zhou fatigue? I feel very isolated. No, I feel too much monitored. So I think you have all these extremes coming in and. Yeah, it’s about trying to find the opportunity in this, because we see organizations saying while we don’t want to return completely to what it was to be.

And you also hear individuals saying, I always think we have the three groups. We have people who say, no, I really want to go back. And I, yeah. I find that too isolating. Then you have people who say, yeah, actually a mixture would be nice. So having a little bit of. Of digital work and then you have the other extreme.

We said, no, absolutely. Either. There’s no point in me going to work anymore or yeah. Why can I not do it from home?

Pod: It’s gonna be really interesting as we go forward, because I know team cohesion is one of your areas. And if you have a team that has historically been an intact team in the same building, or are relatively the same.

Presence of each other to have some people say, no, I’m never going back makes, their way of working far more difficult than previously. So it’s been interesting to see how teams do grapple with questions of how we work together and does a face-to-face process enable cohesion. As much as we thought relative to hybrids are or are completely virtual.

did you have any sense yet as to what’s going to emerge for that

Julia: seem that it’s Gord, if teams can refresh once in a while face-to-face interactions or at least let’s say w what is the most closely tourists, say a video call having said that we also have all these other issues coming up, the questions around system.

Inability. is it really feasible to fly everyone in from everywhere? So sustainability, not only in terms of being I am in, but also of all of our time. So yeah, I think we have to find our way, or certainly if there is something about, we as humans, even if it is with a mask on, but that’s the other question.

So we now have, for example, In France, you have to, you have to wear your mask. So for any interaction where we have somebody else in an office, so then the question comes well, is that them better? Because then I concent you a face or is it then maybe better if I can see your face, but then I’m at a computer screen, but at least then I can see, and read your facial expression.

I think it’s just the path where some lead just asks. Cared about, I think is just like going there because there are so many emotions coming in. only from that move from face-to-face to virtual, but also riff the pandemics. So many things got out of whack. and then there’s this whole question.

maybe if I don’t talk about anything or I don’t address anything or we just go, great, let’s go to business. Maybe that’s better, because I don’t want to go there. So I think there’s also a whole big question of. but I haven’t, nobody taught me how to do this. How do I deal with all of these, emotions coming in or maybe not coming in, but what do I do then?

So that’s another big topic.

Pod: you’re right back to where you start. As I E you move into a new country, you’ve got to. Keep your eyes open and stay curious. Cause it’s nothing lucky experienced before and it feels like it’s wrong, but it’s not, it’s just different. And then how do we adapt to that?

So ma maybe there’s something from a leadership perspective of approaching this pandemic way of working through the eyes of the next pallet. This could be an adventure. Hopefully it is, but it’s starting different. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But I it’s certainly different. Yeah. Yeah. I’m I’m sorry.

No, it’s just all the things that you’ve two you’re talking about. And I’m also noticing leadership teams who are in cities are in lockdown. And of course, each city around the world is in various States of that. But the cities are in lockdown are far more tired for, I would say even exhausted. Some leaders are like yourself yet.

They have their one-year-olds. and three older, five and 10 year old around the house, and many leaders are experiencing the other, their partner and kids are sharing the wifi for various webinars and SKU webinars, et cetera, as they’re trying to leave their company. And eventually a exhaustion does kick in.

So there’s a question Mark around sustainability. I think of a physical health and attention span, as well as all the other sustainability factors that you’ve referred.

Julia: Yeah, but I think at the same time, again, there’s also opportunities in that, because it doesn’t make us more approachable and more human, if you know about, me and my personal life, and then I’m also dealing with lots of balls in the air and yeah, I think there’s also a great opportunity to maybe learn more about each other and yeah.

And then create better work. So I don’t think it’s all. Then it’s all negative. Having said that I absolutely agree. There’s a whole new question around, being and, avoiding burnout and what can we do and how can we, how can organizations really support their employees right now?

Pod: Speaking of get to know each other a bit better. We’re coming to the end of our conversation. And I wanted to pose some questions for you as to how we can get to know you a bit better. I said a few minutes ago you were ranked in the top 40, under 40, which means you’re still very young, but given all the wisdom that you’ve accumulated in your, let’s say, short life given the title of top 40, under 40, given all the wisdom you’ve accumulated, what would you be telling the 30 year old version of yourself now?

Julia: I think we stress ourselves through situations or circumstances that we can’t change. And I think, sometimes it’s really good. So I would advise my younger self to, just hang in there and wait, and things will change also to see, of course always finding, the best. in the situation.

So sometimes I feel when we have a problem, we have as humans, the tendency to focus on that problem. And what’s not bored, but out of every situation does I say and your door open. and of course, if you look back, you know what happened, but when you write in it’s become, you can’t really see it. So I think that for sure, Yeah.

And just to, and enjoy the little murmurs because everything I find, the older we get, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, but for me it was at succeeding out. And once you have kids, it’s even more, it goes quicker and quicker. Yeah. At the same time I feel that, I’m also happy. I made a few United half decisions in my life to go for the things that you really want to do, and that makes you happy.

And. I had some great job offers in Germany and I decided I’m going to Australia because, I wanted to do at that point in time. So I think sometimes it’s scary, but I see best. It always turns out if you stick to you about values. And of course again, is this pick 12 because sometimes our circumstances are differently and we have to do things that we don’t want to do at that point.

Of course, you have to take that into account, but yeah, I’m following your values are following what makes you happy and giving yourself the time to figure that out. And I find it’s like all building on it on itself. So I, when I was younger, I always thought, Oh, I have to make a decision. And that is the decision for the rest of your life, what you’re going to do.

that you can build things. And I guess I often did not go with the classical way, in a sense. So specializing very early on. I think I made lots of different moves, whether that was from more the practitioner world to academia, to back to combining both. But in the end of the day, I think you also then create.

a profile that might distinguish you from others. And it always depends on what people are looking for in that moment. So I encourage, I heard to my younger self, but that’s what I encourage my students. Or if I coach people I’m yet to really also. What think about that.

Pod: I love that.

Yeah. So I’ve been asking this question for about 10 years of almost anybody I meet and I have to say almost all the answers fall into a small group of themes. One is worry less and breathe more. Yeah, just breathe too, is, take more risk and be courageous. And three is when you make mistakes, go back to your values and your sense of purpose and just recalibrate and carry on.

And it seems to be a broad, almost universal set of themes of wisdom. Accumulated seems to fall into those areas. Or, if you get those areas right, the rest of us take care of itself. Given your background growing up in Germany. And what was your favorite band or song when you were growing up there?

Oh, this is

Julia: really bad. Now my ass would always tell three. I have the worst music taste. So apparently I have, but I actually think that a lot of people have my music tastes because I’m very much mainstream in the chops. I love, I guess I do have in a way, a soft. But for four. Okay. Everybody closed it. Yes.for the Backstreet boys, because when I was 18, I had to, I had an amazing opportunity of flying to New York and interviewing them for it for a German music channel.

Pod: I did not know you do that. There you go. I’ve known you for a long time. I didn’t know that part of your history. I’d say that’s exciting.

Then the last question, Julia, I’m giving you and your prolific researcher and writer. what areas are you looking into going forward in terms of your leadership research? Is there particular areas or topics that you’re interested in are you’ve started delving into that? We’ll be waiting about in a few years’ time.


Julia: I guess one part is for sure, what does this whole digital space doing for us in terms of, work, changes the way we work with each other. But another area I’m very intrigued with is this whole notion of empathy. And I really like, what, the New Zealand and prime minister. So she, she said something that’s so great.

The squat, I think she said, I don’t know the exact quote, but it’s something along the lines. I can be, I can be strong and I can have empathy at the same time. And I absolutely rebel against that image of just because I’m a leader. I can’t show empathy and I think I will hold. yeah, a notion of leadership is hopefully also changing in a way, that it’s not only the super charismatic leader out there, but there’s yeah, there’s a.

There’s a room for yeah. The empowerment of others and showing empathy. Absolutely.

Pod: in empathy, because this word is bandied around quite a lot. Why do you think that’s going to emerge or is already here as an important consideration for leadership?

Julia: Yeah. so as we just talked about this whole concept of, yeah, you can be vulnerable and you can be strong and you can do not worry.

You can leave in that way. And for me, it was also an, a ham moment when, so when I did the TEDx talk, I was actually, yeah, almost six months pregnant and I was debating with myself. Do I, make it very obvious because couldn’t. You couldn’t, I wasn’t showing so much, so do I, and I stop reef, I’m pregnant and I didn’t.

So I I think I hinted, edited a couple of times, but you could interpret it in different ways, but, so I got lots of, genuinely positive comments and people engaging in it. And when I got also somebody saying, she is breathing heavily, That means she’s nervous, which means she can’t be a leader.

and that was very interesting to me because I had, my little boy maxi pushing it. Actually, I really have difficulties breathing because you, I don’t know any one of you listening, if you weren’t

Pod: pregnant. Yes. And we’ve heard Maxie, are you on today? And he’s not quiet.

Julia: So in weeks that we’ve of course, You’re quiet. you have lots of ethylene going through your veins when you walk into a room and you don’t really see the audience, you just see that there are hundreds of people, but it’s all black because you have the camera on yourself. So of course, yeah.

Anyway, so that makes together, I had difficulties breathing, but I didn’t address it. That’s not the whole point. I think I didn’t want to address it because again, I think. I just wanted to be seen as everybody else. So it was doing a talk and everybody else who might be leading or not leading or whatever.

And, but it is interesting that we still seem to have, this combination of. Thinking in our head that, yeah, I do have to be a shortened way as a leader. You can never show vulnerability. You cannot show and let’s just assume it is, nervousness. You can’t, you only have this one way that works.

And then yeah. So then this whole debate started, I saw it like, no, she was not breathing. No. Interesting. Yeah. What do we have to do? yeah. How can we change the picture and what is the, what is it today? And, yeah, I don’t know. It’s a whole, it’s a question, but I never answered to it because I’m also very, I’m always very protective of everyone.

Not me. I’m very

Pod: predictable. So I didn’t

Julia: want to, I was thinking I should I say something

Pod: I think were as a fascinating topic on that the notion of this strong charismatic leader is a still part of our society. And we know that on the political stage is certainly part of our society, but it seems to be losing its cache and it seems to be devolving in attraction overall.

And I think that. What we’ve learned from the pandemic, if nothing else, into the lens of leadership, the notion being able to connect with people and rarely reach across the zoom cameras of the world, into each other’s lounges and living rooms to understand what is your reality as you’re trying to lead at home?

That was my reality. And certainly leaders I’ve worked with who have been most successful in this year and leading their organizations do portray vulnerability, do share stories of where they’re struggling and are not trying to portray themselves as being some extraordinary, strong person managing some of that.

No one’s ever managed before. So I think you’re absolutely right. Empathy will emerge as a very strong characteristic for leadership as it evolves into 2021 and beyond. Julia, thank you for so much for making time for us, your writings and readings and Ted talks have been very helpful and educated for lots of us, including myself.

I’m gonna include some of those notes in our show notes, but where can people find you or where’s the best place to find you, if they want to find out more about what you do.

Julia: Probably LinkedIn is easiest to connect with me. I’d love to hear from people.

Pod: Hope you enjoyed that conversation with Julia. I’m thinking podcasts are useful and they add value, but they become more useful when you do something about what you’ve learned or what you’ve listened. And I think there’s. Two, maybe three notions that are useful to take from the conversation with Julia and deploy them into your upcoming weeks.

The first one is to observe yourself as a leader over the next couple of weeks. And as you are coaching your colleagues or your team, just observe to what degree are you listening to them? Versus to what degree are you listing for the conversation to allow you to step in which you’re already predetermined answer number two, to what degree are you connecting with other people it’s very easy to connect on a transaction level.

We do it every single day. It’s very easy to connect via video meetings, such as zoom or teams or whatever other platform we’re on and to be doing two things at once, looking at the camera and answer emails quietly on the keyboard. So just observed yourself to what degree are you connecting? When are you doing that?

And where are the personal connections that allow you to move the relationship forward? Lastly, for anyone who wants to read more, I’ve put some links to the Harvard business review article and other articles that Julie has written in the show notes and also linked to Michael Bungay, Stanier his book, the coaching habit, which is another useful resource for this topic.

Thank you for listening to another episode of the leadership diet. We hope you enjoyed it. Head over to www.thedishofdiet.com, where you can subscribe to the podcast, to our blogs and retrieve the show notes. From each episode, every show note 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. Thank you.

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Ep 14. How living systems can help leaders navigate uncertain times with Dr. Josie McLean

Josie Mclean specialises in helping leaders and organisations learn how to navigate complexity by taking lessons from the world around us, ie. living systems. Her recent book, Big Little Shifts, outlines practises for leaders and practitioners on how to lead when times call the leader to adapt.

In this conversation she shares;

  • Why oak trees will never become ducks!
  • Why patience, trust and humility are enduring leadership traits,
  • What the metaphor Leader as Gardener really entails,
  • Why there are different types of doing in leadership,
  • And why our experimenting muscle has been getting a work out recently


Josie: delighted to be here. Thank you.

Pod: You have just published a new book called Big little shifts, a guide to complexity, organizational change, and adoptation. And I want to jump into that in a few minutes, cause I know there’s loads of really interesting topics for us to delve into and get our minds around.

But before we go into that, I want to jump back to your original career. Am I right in remembering you were the first female finance analyst in the Mitsubishi car company in South Australia.

Josie: Actually Chryslers- by the time Mitsubishi had taken crisis over, I’d moved into the finance industry. So yeah, that’s how old

Pod: And I remember you telling me once, you, did you, I think you did all the original coding by hand originally, or was some the strap planning.

Josie: No, it was on cards. we used to you probably not familiar with the word comptomotrist?

Pod: No,

Josie: I’m not. No. So in the old days, I really feel like grandma now, there used to be banks of women.

Actually. They were women in the Comptometer room and they would sit there with adding machines, doing all of the calculations that our computers do now.

Pod: Wow.

Josie: And so we would draw up these huge sheets, 13 column twenty-five column sheets of paper with pencil on them. In case we made an error and they would check.

Or they would actually do the computations. So we, computers were just emerging at that stage. And, I was the only one that had coding experience at all because I was a young whippersnapper from uni.

Pod: And,

Josie: I could code in basic it just enough to do, some arrays and some computing that was actually coded onto cards.

That they had to run at night because it took the entire capacity of the computer to actually run these spreadsheets effectively.

Pod: How far we’ve come in a relatively short time when you think of competing speed and everything else. And I would imagine that early background of you, you had an economics education background as well, that shaped your thinking around systems I’m imagining, but to tell me more.

Josie: Yeah, Crawley economics, does tend to encourage you to think in systems think more broadly than just small parts. Although macroeconomics in its traditional form, doesn’t actually extend the system out into our physical resources or the natural world. It stops at the limit of the social world. and there are macroeconomic series now, like modern monetary theory and the doughnut economics that actually extend our economic thinking out.

into the planetary resources that we have as well, but certainly then that didn’t happen. But, it did facilitate a way of understanding that this is connected to that. And if this goes up, that might go down

Pod: because it sounds is the fundamental way leaders often have to make decisions is understanding the interconnectivity between different relationships.

Josie: No, I think that’s right. And, when times are really stressed, it’s really natural for us to, really reduce. We get like tunnel vision and we tend to reduce the field of vision, I think, and we lose sight of some of that interconnectedness in our stress. And so to hold that, interconnect that broad vision open is a really great tray for, Why is leaders to possess?

I think

Pod: right now we are probably emits maybe the most complex time of certainly of our lives, but certainly from a leadership perspective. And I thought it might be useful just to really a common understanding, what is complexity? what is whole ism and reductionism, the butterfly effect.

Some of these terms are often thrown around that some of us may or may not even know. So maybe let’s just start there and then we can jump into the whole notion of how you apply it. So complexity holism reductionism share with us your wisdom, Josie.

Josie: What is it? Okay. How many days do you have? so complexity is shorthand for complex adaptive systems, and these are actually computer models designed to understand the behavior of living systems.

So they’re connected, but they’re not the same. So we often use complexity and living systems as interchangeable terms. Holism is connected to, living systems and complexity. By virtue of the fact that if we want to understand a living system, we have to develop the capacity, the capability to actually see the whole, the relationships between all the parts.

What were we just talking about? If this goes up that goes down, this influences that influences that, but when it becomes really complex, like in our Metro systems and even in our social systems and coronavirus is just an ideal example of this. The uncertainty is so high in these systems because of the interdependence between a large number of variables that we can’t predict what’s going to happen.

And, planning fall short. As a way of understanding how to make progress in the world. So planning is actually, and strategic planning like I used to be involved in is really, it comes from an understanding of the world where the world is a lot more certain and it’s predictable. And this is often referred to as Newtonian paradigm champion developed by sir Isaac Newton in all of his brilliance.

and I’m certainly not saying that it’s wrong. What I am saying is that I think it’s been incorrectly applied to different types of systems. So there are actually different types of systems. There’s not just one system. Okay. And then you Tony and paradigm, which has at its heart and understanding. That the universe is actually a clock.

that was a phrase that sir Isaac Newton used. And if we could just understand all of the nature of all of the paths we could understand the whole. So another way of saying that is that the hole was no more than the sum of the parts and we can break the whole down to parts to understand it, and we can break it down to parts, to resolve problems.

With the whole machine as well. And we see this approaches deeply inculcated into our society and into the way we run our organizations. The idea that, there’s an equal and opposite force and that’s one of Newton’s first laws, wasn’t it? that idea applies in our organizations. We think if we push hard, we’ll get a big impact, but it’s not necessarily the case.

Another example of the Newtonian paradigm at work in our organizations is the very way we structured them in hierarchies. And then we take a plan and we cascade down through the organization and we give little bits to different people. And we assume that if we can hold them accountable for their bid and everyone does all of their bits, then suddenly the whole plan will have been delivered.

Pod: Which sounds perfect in this strategic planning session, when you put your lovely PowerPoint together, I go, here’s our plan for next three years or where we go?

Josie: I can tell you the basic problem with that because I learned it when I was 25, a long time ago. You can write beautiful plans. That never get implemented

Pod: exactly.

As well as many of us have found that to the detriment.

Josie: So I wrote lots of them.

Pod: so I think what you’re saying here is that the original notion from Isaac Newton, which was based on a mechanistic notion that everything is connected. And once you understand the connections, you can then manage the whole that affected what he was saying.

And what you’re telling us is that was far that might’ve been fine in a new era. Gone by, but it’s really not fine today. And starting was never true. Anyway,

Josie: it is certainly true that way of operating holds it works for things like bikes and buildings and bridges. As long as you don’t have people nature

Pod: involved in isolation,

Josie: but people are actually living systems and we operate differently.

We operate by fundamentally different rules, if you like. and I think we’ve incorrectly. We certainly didn’t intentionally. We just assume that all of these systems were the same and that the same rules would apply. But it turns out that nature is telling us something different now. And, so the world has always been interconnected.

It’s always been interdependent. It’s just that now the pace of change is so much greater than the number of people on this world are so many more. It’s just in my lifetime. For example, the population on earth has doubled more than doubled. so humans are now living in a global niche where we used to live in small geographic niches before, and we’re learning how to live in this much larger niche.


Pod: I read about, and it’s often used in explanation around complexity and it is called the butterfly effect and the idea, meaning that a butterfly flaps their wings and somewhere, and then causes something dramatically different elsewhere. Can you tell us, what does it mean if a leadership perspective,

Josie: first of all, it was developed by scientists to try and explain the interdependence in weather patterns.

And, the basic butterfly effect was exactly, as you’d mentioned, that you can have a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world, and it produces a hurricane or a tornado on the other side of the world. Or not because it is inherently uncertain. And so it might produce. A hurricane, but it may not either.

It may just be the flapping of wins. It’s actually about the interdependence between all of those weather patterns. It might include the temperature of the oceans. It might include the strengths of the winds. It might include another tornado appearing somewhere else. It is inherently uncertain and unpredictable.

And we can’t control. And so socially that shows up in phenomenons, such as Greta Thornburg, for example, as a school girl of 16, deciding she’s not going to go to school on Fridays. And she’s going to sit outside the parliament. Then some days she gets a little bit of attention and she’s a assertive young woman and she speaks her mind. Now we’ve got students all over the world captured by her words  that is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. You couldn’t predict it. Similarly. the Arab spring was triggered by, one Twitter, one tweet that laid dormant for about three months before it came to surface again and went viral.

And there’s that word went viral. That from nature viruses are the epitome of interdependence and, just taking off exponentially and illustrating to us that a very small change somewhere can produce a change. Much greater advocation. And that’s really what the butterfly effect is trying to tell us about.

And we’re living through it right now,

Pod: as you’re talking, I’m thinking about, I’m province, of course, AOA and interdependent reaction happened that could have happened at any time in the past, but happened. Spontaneously we imagine, but then that causes extraordinary impact all over the world and not, no one could have predicted that to the degree that had happened.

We obviously have had predictions that it can happen. And we also know bill Gates has predicted that in his Ted talks, but how, and when no one would know that.

Josie: No, that’s right. And certainly, those that study pandemics had wanted to just September last year, I believe that another pandemic was probably imminent, but they didn’t know where or when, but we should get really for, so it’s the uncertainty that’s.

The real issue here.

Pod: And that brings me to this topic emergence because obviously what we’re talking about leadership year, and as you quite rightly said, there’s a certain amount that leaders can plan for. And a certain amount of planning is redundant because no matter how much plans you do, it’s not going to happen.

And then as the whole thing that just comes out of the blue, it emerges from nowhere. What Josie and you experience, what do leaders need to be mindful of are tending towards to observe the emergence tubs thereof was coming out of left field or unexpected, and then how to attend to that from a leadership point?

Josie: that’s a really big question, I think. so first of all, I think I’d say that emergence is actually happening all the time and we’re largely unaware of it. And I think within our organizations, I’ve become more and more aware of the structures within our organizations that are mechanistic in their origins that actually dampen.

The possibility of emergence within organizations. So it’s not that the Mo the emergence doesn’t happen. and there are various things that emerge from living systems and adaptation and change is one of them. so it’s not that’s not happening. It’s just that it gets dampened by the structures that exist.

And essentially these are structures of control of different types, processes, and systems that are trying to. Control to create the conditions for certain predetermined outcomes to occur. And when we dampen the conditions for emergence, we might be able to control sufficiently to obtain those predetermined outcomes, but we do so at the expense of the abundance of possibilities that exist.

If we removed the controls. So most people within organizations I believe are unaware of how wasteful. Our current structures are in some of my work. For example, I’ve seen organizations doing twice as much work with the same number of people when we’ve finished doing our work within the organization.

So that suggests. Almost a hundred percent increase in productivity, which is almost unheard of isn’t it. Like I wouldn’t go out advertising that because I can’t say what we did actually, cause that was a whole organization with a focus on something at a pure point in time. and I don’t know how long it’s been sustained for either.

But there is an enormous cost to control, which is at the heart of the Newtonian paradigm. And it’s at the heart of most of our management and leadership teachings within MBAs. it’s all about managing scheduling, controlling, structuring, getting people to do is meant to do. and it’s only more recently that we’ve started introducing notions of, working to people’s strengths, which are a natural.

Force within the complexity of people, I think, engaging with their passions, which are another natural force. And then there’s research to suggest that when people do that, they are a lot more creative. They have a lot more persistence to continue with a problem and their creativity. this is actually the source of innovation.

I believe it’s not in processes and systems. We put in place it’s in the way we create an environment for people to work and to experience their work

Pod: point there, the notion of releasing control to cliche, being here to unleash the power of the creativity of the person or the organization, and then that releases innovation, et cetera.

What’s the tension between looking for creative outputs through innovation relative to chaos.

Josie: That’s a great question. and chaos doesn’t insure ensued.

Pod: And that

Josie: that’s the amazing thing, because you can take away those structural controls, but there are still forces of cohesion that are working within a living system.

So the example I often use is that an Oak tree doesn’t spontaneously turn into a dark. It has the DNL and it’s going to remain an Oak tree. So within an organization, we can think of the lived. organizational values, vision and purpose as the organization’s DNA. And we can generate cohesion within the organization by connecting each employee to that DNA.

So can they bring what they care about? They’ve got their own complexity and their own values and their own picture of what’s. Can we bring that into the service of the organization by actively connecting them to the vision? And I don’t know about you, but when I work in organizations that I ask people, what the organization will vision is, they go.

Oh, it’s over there somewhere, it’s on the walls. It needs to be a lot more active than that. and we, we work in the space of engaging people to actually co-create the vision and the purpose. And that’s not scary either because these visions are remarkably consistent around the purpose of the organization.

And I think that’s because people know the environment that brings out the best in them. And.

Pod: I’ve just finished, a series of interviews. I think it’s about 25 for leadership team. So stakeholders of the leadership team internally and externally, and this is a very successful allegation on many levels. However, they are now moving to a different phase of their gestation and what’s become really clear is that the mission, the long-term mission, the long-term reason for being in the organization for the organization is clear because they have a history, but the vision of where they’re going to now on the current journey is very unclear.

And the impact of that throughout the organization is, and this talks to your point, is a lot of wasted effort on people doing different things, because they are unclear and therefore they’re doing their very best of course, as best as they know how. And so the big call out from these 25 interviews, I’ve just concluded.

Get clear. As a group on the vision for the next five to 10 years, get clear, therefore on the boundaries that we are operating within. So therefore then we can become as innovative as we can, as opposed to dispersing your energy everywhere, which is causing a huge amount of extra work.

Josie: Yeah, I’d agree with that.

I think getting really clear on the purpose and when I use the word vision on using it slightly differently than many people would be imagining. I think because the talk of vision we help organizations create around their purpose is how do we want. How do we want to experience this organization and how do we want others to experience it in the future?

So the difference is, if I can use, an example, a metaphor, perhaps if we were trying to plan a house together, for example, and then we have an argument over how many bedrooms it’s got to have and what the shape of the Bush might be and what color the tiles would be, or the iron cladding or whatever it is.

That’s a very physical. Vision, it’s almost a big goal. That’s the type of vision we are used to setting, but in a world where we can’t predetermine the outcome, that type of goal doesn’t serve us very well. And it’s really just one possibility in a really abundant future possibilities. There are all sorts of things that could emerge in five or 10 years.

So if we develop a vision of the house, we want to live in that set the level of cool we’d like it to be safe and secure. We’d like it to be hospitable. We’d like it to be airy and open to the environment. We’d like it to house a certain number of people. That’s much easier to agree on and it leaves the flexibility of the tangible outcome to emerge into the future.

Does that make sense? So I’m using vision in a slightly different way. And I think when we use a vision like that, it can be a cohesive force. For people that enables experimentation to see what helps. And I think that is very necessary. we don’t, we can’t predict what’s going to happen, so we have to work it out on the run.

and it still gives us. A guiding light though. And the guiding light may shift around a little bit, but it is possible to run an organization like that. And, for a period of time, the organization that I did, my PhD research in actually had such a vision. It was on one page, it had half a dozen vision values around it, and they used to put their initiatives inside the circle.

With those values on the outside and an understanding of the story that went with those values and how they related to the vision. And they would say which initiative actually serves all of these values at the same time and the are ones that got funded.

Pod: why that would align everybody to the purpose, to the long-term vision, to the immediate action, to the decisions on funding, our resourcing, or allocations or priorities, et cetera. And, it’s initiatives are ticking a lot of the boxes, not all the boxes and kitty that they become. Part of Asians very quickly.

Josie: So in the Newtonian world though, our strategic plan. So usually four strategic pillars, and then we put projects underneath each pillar, but they’re actually not interrelated. They’re not working together in a, like an ecosystem of projects connected by anything, but this way, all of these initiatives that are actually connected by the vision.

And, there are a lot more powerful because of them.

Pod: I love that. I love that. 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. We’ve used an iTunes and smarter. I greatly appreciate it. So when the big chefs cook was coming, I was thinking, Oh, this is something worth delving into.

I’m sure there’s going to be great nuggets. And sure enough, there’s a huge nugget, which is the metaphor of leader as gardener. I’d love you just to walk us through some of the thinking around that and how you’ve put some, it’s not just a one-line metaphor, there’s actually a whole lot of stuff that sits within the metaphor as to why you use that.

Josie: it goes back to understanding the way living systems actually work. And for so long, we’ve understood, our leaders as people who have to be strong and decisive and out front and with all of the answers. But if we understand the world as a living system, then it is, it becomes clear really quickly that knowing answers is just not possible.

And certainly one person knowing them is even more impossible. so there’s a lot of learning to be done, learning how to. Interact with different parts of the systems so that we can influence the outcomes that we’re seeking. And we may not get what we’re seeking because the rest of the world’s all trying to influence outcomes too.

So that’s another area of emergence where an outcome emerges. But if we understand that the world operates differently than we thought it did in that linear, predictable, consistent, certain manner. If we say no social systems and living systems don’t operate that way, they actually operate differently.

Then it makes sense that if we want to influence those systems, we would think differently about the qualities. Of the people who are trying to influence them. And it’s actually delving into the understanding of how living systems operate that give us some of the ideas around what are the qualities that we might seek to nurture within ourselves as people who might be wanting to influence that system.

One of the very first things we observed when we start thinking down this track is that we are all a part of the system. None of us inherently more important than anyone else. So we all have an opportunity to influence and there’s this line that’s become very popular. through Ron Heifetz’s work that leadership can come from anywhere.

And that’s the first thing. Any one of us can be a leader, but it’s not a position of authority. It’s actually a choice to make a difference. And so that’s the first thing. Then we start thinking about, if we can’t actually predict the outcomes, then it takes a great deal of humility to actually work within these systems.

You have to be humble enough to say we don’t know. we can’t predict, no is actually an interesting word. Isn’t it? If you speak to someone like Tyson, younger Porter, who’s just written the sand or I was talking to him about, living systems, complex systems as well. And I said, we don’t know.

And he said, don’t be stupid. Of course we do. We can’t predict what the outcome will be. Knowing is a different matter. There are different ways of knowing there’s more than just thinking to know something. So sometimes we do know, but there’s a different way of knowing

Pod: and our heritage might give us different insights and ways of knowing to that than that.


Josie: Yeah. I think of systemic practice, the art of actually influencing a living system. If you like, as a very embodied practice, we feel things where our whole body’s gathering data about the info about the system. At any one point in time. So there’s humility as a quality there’s trust, but you’ve actually got to trust the system to be able to work it out.

if we, if, as the person in authority, we can’t know the answers in the way that we produce traditionally want to predetermined outcomes. Then we have to trust that the people in the system that we’re going to and saying. How will we deal with this? We have to trust that they are going to be able to do it.

Not only trust our own resources, but trust everyone, else’s resources, their intuition, their willingness, their contributions to trying to work this through.

Pod: which of course is the antithesis to control. if I’m looking to control and even if it’s overt, couldn’t, as I say, as in subtle control, I may not be overt about my intentions that does diminish trust.

and of course, as you and I both know, and everyone who’s listened to this one, now it’s easy to feel, not trusted by your leader. straight away when your leader doesn’t trust you through their actions and through their behavior.

Josie: Yeah. Trusting is so important. Isn’t it?

Pod: Absolutely.

Josie: And we know from the research into organizations that the public has lost its trust in so many institutions over recent years.

And how do we re rebuild that again? How do we earn people’s trust back once it’s lost. And then there’s qualities like patients that are so important, in most organizations, if you put your feet up and you rest your head back in your arms and you have a little think about things for a while, people walking past your desk are likely to think you’re slacking off.

In action.

Pod: In one of your writings, you tell a lovely story. Alan Malala, from who, when he was the CEO of Ford at the time, I think he might have been new to his role at the time, but it really epitomizes the notion of being patient and allowing the, the change to occur to tell us that story, because that really piss him off is what you’re talking about here with

Josie: patients.

I don’t know Alan personally, but I heard him speak at a conference and he was relating, his first few months on the job as the new CEO of Ford. And he’d come from Boeing, a very successful company and Ford was losing a lot of money at the time. And, so there were clearly problems, right? It was learning, losing millions a day.

And, he set up this agreement with his executive team to have a traffic light report when they got together and even getting the executive team together at the same meeting at the same time was a novel idea apparently from around the world, because of all of the different time zones. They agreed that they would all come with their traffic light reports and they would have a look at each other’s reports.

And if there were any yellow or red issues, they would work on them together. So the first team meeting came along and everyone turned up with all green traffic lights. this is interesting. So who I did for the second week, they’re still all green and he’s still losing money, hand over

board. What are you doing? I’m waiting. I’m waiting for my executive team to actually admit that there’s a problem. eventually one of the executives turned up with a red light on his traffic light report and he assumed. That by doing. So he was about to be exited and, ushered out of the meeting and out of the organization because that’s the way things had been dealt with in the past.

And Alan made sure that, he, that didn’t actually happen, that he drew that person closer to him physically and emotionally, I assume. And, he ensured that the team all rallied round. And they offered him support and ideas, and they made sure that he had the people resources to actually resolve the issue.

And within a few weeks, the issue had been resolved. But what struck me most about this story was not only his nerve to actually wait that out and not rush to action. But he waited with good purpose. Like he knew why he was waiting. He was waiting for his executive team to do their own internal work around, coming to terms with a new way of working and also taking responsibility for what was really going on.

and he waited and they must have been wondering what he was going to do. but he just waited. He had the patients and when the moment came, it was like one of those moments of truths that we used to read about in, was it Northwest airlines? I think, it was a moment of truth for him and he acted and he made sure that person.

Was, supported in order to do the work that they needed to do. So it transformed not only that person’s approach to work, but the entire executive team. And then you could imagine how that would have rippled through the company as well.

Pod: No. What I love about that story that illustrates, patients, as you quite rightly said, and also the distress courage on behalf of Alan as CEO to stand.

By his own principles, but on behalf of that executive who on the third week showed up and, historically speaking would have been fired or punished or whatever, but had the courage to do it. But the other part about Israel that I really love is Alan didn’t necessarily put that executive on a pedestal for, behaving like.

the good executive, you’ve got everyone else to come around and help them. So he introduced teamwork straightaway as the new way of working together. And I think that learning would have been, the secondary, but brace subtle and interconnected learning for that leadership team that they were forced into it.

And did it really well for a number of years afterwards.

Josie: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s this, lovely term, from. The Dow is from the Chinese culture. Actually, Wu Wei is called. It’s doing without doing. and I just laughed that this idea of you can do something. I actually know rushing to action. I not pushing it forward by not being forceful.

Actually, those things can actually be. Counterproductive to what we’re trying to achieve.

Pod: That’s right. It’s so starting as a parent, it’s been, one of my learnings is to, over the years of the, how not intervene in between the, the gripes between the five children and they eventually work it out themselves and go right there you go doing that.


Josie: So much self-awareness doesn’t it to actually hold yourself back.

Pod: Absolutely. Absolutely. so you talk about humidity, trust patients. You also talk about vision and awareness as system, and then there’s the six one that you talk about, which I really love that the deafness of touch and it goes to, I suspect the. That the masterful way of leading and, the subtle ways. And there’s a lovely story telling your book, I think is based in Adelaide, there’s a building project and it really illustrates how someone’s difference of touch through a lovely question or posing of questions transforms the whole way of that particular group and how they led together.

Josie: Yeah. So I’ve been working with this group for awhile. So we had been practicing the art of listening for the assumptions underneath compensation. And, we’d been trying it out on each other for a year or so and developing the capacity around this. And we had also been developing an awareness. it was actually an organization that was trying to deliver more sustainable outcomes for its community.

So it was a local council. And, so we’d been practicing, listening and practicing, interacting with each other and practicing that, being that interacts with each other in a way that opens up possibilities rather than closes them down. And I think importantly, this small group had actually developed good relationships with each other within the small group where we’d been practicing that too.

And there were, several of them at this meeting of senior managers where they were talking about, developing the central business district at the half of this local municipality. One of the team members, one of the group that I’ve been working, we just sat back and sit down, wonder what would happen if we didn’t keep calling it a central business district, what would it be like if we called it a central people district?

And just, just really generally logged it on the table and then stepped away from it and left it alone. Didn’t argue. Didn’t persuade didn’t force. Just left the question there. And it provoked this incredible conversation that spread right throughout the organization, up to the elected members and into their strategic plan from one little question delivered in.

If I don’t know, is there any real right way, but it was certainly an effective way. It was, it was not pushing a solution. It was asking the question.

Pod: Which really goes back to your piece on humility is I can’t remember who said to me once, but some wise presidents said to me once a great idea should have no owner.

It should just stand on its own. But most of us want to own the great idea. Therefore, that’s why we put a forward as our solution. Whereas I think what you suggested here is. This person had great deafness of touch to go. Here’s the thought let’s just put in the middle and then see what happens from a life living systems, growth perspective, and a sounds like that really took off as a core notion.

Josie: And I think, and there were other people in the room that sort of saw what was going on and understood what was going on. So they were able to back this initial move up as well. And one of the things that’s intrigued me is that. the way we mix colors, we can put, blue and yellow together and we get green.

And that’s what we’re aiming for in these dialogues. I think, and I put yellow on the table, you put green on the table, suddenly we’ve got blues and that fantastic. We don’t have to just stick to the yellow or the green. So it’s when it mixes together that we actually get the richness of what’s possible.

Pod: Yeah, there’s a leader I used to work with, who I always watched and told this person is extraordinary masterful at shaping conversations and shaping outcomes without the group realizing that the group usually ended up in a place where the leader had thought they might, I suggest, but it wasn’t pushy by his behalf.

And one day I just stopped and said, what are you actually doing in the room? And what he would do is like this example that you suggested. He would put in some ideas or some thoughts are more often not a profound question. And then when the group went to a breakout, FIPSE charting type exercise, he would always go to the group that wasn’t working on, the thoughts that he had put into the room, because his view was they need to shape it.

Then it’s theirs. Whereas if I’m in that group, I’m going to shape it the way I said it originally. And invariably, the group ended up assuming that the profound question or idea, it was a good one. They ended up shaping it almost to where this person thought I would get to, but it was theirs came from them at that point.

So he had very definitely put into the group, walked away. So the group could then shape it. I throw humility in a lack of attachment to it. And assuming that it was a good version of what they wanted, the group then owned it and shaped it in a way they went. Whereas I think most of this person’s peers wanted to be in the conversation so they could get stuck into an attached to it and then, and effectively control it.

So it was a real, a lack of control, a real trust that the group will shape it properly. And they’ll end up where it’ll end up.

Josie: And I think we can achieve a lot with a deft touch, doing much less than we imagined we have to when you’re trying to control people. And

Pod: the mere fact that you believe you can is it is stressful in its own, right?

That’s a war that’s taught us in 2020 that there’s a free, it’s not a free to use which I really love. And that is. Different levels of doing. And I think what we’ve just talked about leaning into this is sometimes, doing requires a lot of effort, but sometimes doing requires deafness and less, of doing and has a different impact.

Did John tell us more about that?

Josie: perhaps an example is the way we go about trying to influence peoples or even control people’s behaviors at work sometimes. we want certain things done. So we use rewards and punishments, carrots, and spit sticks most often. To achieve what we’re trying to achieve.

That’s a fairly, I’m gonna use the word gross, but I don’t mean gross as in sickening. it’s a blunt instrument if you like, it does work, but it comes at a cost because you’re actually missing people’s discretionary effort, the things that they do, because they want to do.

A more subtle form. There might be actually a more subtle approach might be, aligning particular work with the, as we were talking about earlier with the strengths and passions that people have now, that’s the more subtle that’s the more deft approach to getting outcomes. Does that make sense? The difference.

And then an even more subtle approach might be becoming aware of the assumptions that people hold around. What they’re good at, what they’re not good at. how we do things around here. What’s achievable. What’s not, one of the things that I’m always fascinated by is the idea that many people come to work.

And this has been proven in mind. Experiences that many people come to work with a belief that their personal values aren’t welcome at work, but they have to take the method. And if you can, if you can encourage people to actually bring them with them, then you get a whole richness of the whole person at work, rather than just a part of them.

And that’s a deft infant intervention too, but it’s not the sort of intervention that we’re used to where it’s, if you behave like that, we’ll punish you. or if you behave like that, we’ll reward you with a bonus. that’s a lot courses sort of intervention. You can align with what someone wants, or you can have a conversation around them about what they believe that they may not even realize that they believed it.

And you just do this tiny little thing and you get an enormous outcome from it.

Pod: That’s the great thing about valleys is most of us don’t fully understand our own values until they’re compromised or they’re forced to address it. Or someone actually asked a question about it and then it becomes to light.

That’s for sure. And as you said,

Josie: like they change yes.

Pod: Yes. Say as a 50 year old man, my valleys today, Different to 20 years ago. I mean my core buddies probably haven’t, but what’s important to me now is very different to what I was. Josie, I’m interested in, what are you noticing with leaders you’re working with in terms of how are they learning?

These principles are how they apply these principles and those that are applying them. What’s the impact they’re having in their organizations as leaders.

Josie: Do you know the expectations that most leaders have around their own ways of operating and what other people expect of them? Are so strongly Newtonian that is actually really hard to share some of these ideas, but, like there’s a great deal of trust that needs to be developed in order to consider the possibilities quite well.

Having said that, The MBA is a starting to teach this sort of thing now. and that makes it easier. the younger generation are certainly a lot more open to it, I think. and it makes sense that if you are in a position of higher authority in an organization, you’ve got more risk. if these ideas aren’t.

Aren’t successful for someone that there seems to be more at risk, but one of the gorgeous things about working in living systems is that the same principles. Apply at every level or subsystem within the larger system. So you don’t actually have to bet the farm to try these ideas out. So one of the ways that you can start experimenting with them is just to reflect on your own behavior and what works for you and to raise your awareness around that.

Most people tell me that they don’t like being controlled by others.

Pod: That’s right? Yes. They forgive him due to somebody else. Yeah.

Josie: And that they actually perform better when they’re not. So we can start there and work outwards, I think. And then, we can actually just start to experiment with teams that are willing.

so if there is a team leader and a team that is willing to experiment with the way it’s working to see if they can work better and produce a better work environment and most are willing, you’re not, then you can experiment at that level and you can gradually work it out. The successful people can build some trust in what they already know to be true, actually, but we have been taught to distrust it.

Because of that older paradigm letting and it’s, with Corona virus, I think it’s really clear that, that older paradigm is disappearing more quickly. even in the mood to work from home. Most leaders and organizations have experienced. I won’t use the word strengths and even that’s not quite wrong.

They’ve experienced a more constructed cultural merging because the purpose became really clear. Crystal clear and everyone was acting on it. And from a living systems perspective, I would say that they generated greater cohesion within their organizations because the purpose was really clear for a point in time and everyone was really connected to it.

many organizations have talked about how their cultures have actually been enhanced by, The pandemic and coronavirus and that working from home has taught them that they can trust people to work hours. And in fact, I’ve had clients, Reflect on the fact that they’ve had to try and stop their people working such long hours, but they’ve been working from home and they’d been working perhaps 12 hour days.

And they can tell that from the

Pod: interactions with the

Josie: students and the emails, and they’re actually trying to get people to reduce their number of hours rather than do their number. So it’s just not true that people won’t do the work. If you’re not watching them like a fall. so we can observe this.

And I think now is a time when we can really build on some of these ideas of living systems to help prepare organizations, to be more adaptable, continually adapting into the future, being able to adapt to the pandemic once. Great. But we’re going to have to go on doing this.

Pod: I love what you said about experimenting.

Cause that’s a word I use a lot in all the work I do because I find that the notion of experiment allows us to make mistakes and allows us to learn from it and allows us to try out our hypothesis and to prove it right or wrong or whatever. Whereas if you say change the behaviors as that can be very difficult sometimes.

And so the notion of experimenting. During COVID, but everyone had to, there was no choice and we’ve learned a phenomenal amount as a result of it. And as you quite rightly said, a lot of it leaders have learned that, either the trust they had built up has been validated or they can trust the people more.

And there were surprise and it’s a very welcome surprise. but they were forced experiment. I think what you’re telling us now is. COVID forced us to experiment because we had no choice now, how do we take that experimentation muscle that we’ve been building and then keep applying it over and over again and see what naturally emerges and watch for that.

Josie: Yeah, because one of the qualities of living system is that it naturally adapts when it needs to. That’s one of those emergent qualities. if you can organize. An organization, according to the principles of living systems, you’re actually building in the capacity to be naturally adaptable when it’s necessary, right.

Throughout the organization, they may be adaptive patients that are different in different parts of the organization. And that’s an anathema to us when we think of Newton Newtonian paradigm, because the change has to be uniform the same and at the same time, So we’re at the organization. But actually that’s not the way natural systems work and you can have an adaptation in one place as peculiar.

Because of the circumstances and it makes sense in that particular location and not in another, and, or it might be at a different time because one place is ready at a different time. it, it enhances the adaptability and that this will actually become a strategic imperative that we can develop strategies as we’ve known them in the past, but it will need to be underpinned by an adaptability.

And I think. Developing that adaptability is becoming a strategic imperative and it fits so well with the work that Henry Mintzberg did back in the 1990s around emergent strategy, because that’s what strategy will become as we move forward, it will become a lot more emergent from different parts of the organization.

And then it can be institutionalized when it’s ready.

Pod: Josie. I need to bring this to an end are coming to an end. I’ve got two questions that I ask everybody in all of my interviews. And I love to pause and to you. One has got nothing to do with our interview. And one has the first one is what’s your favorite band or to our song?

Josie: Oh, wow. I think it probably, this is embarrassing probably takes me back.

Probably takes me back to John. Lennon’s imagine. I was a real Beatles fan when I was a kid. I can remember crying the day that they broke up, but I just love the sentiment behind John Lennon’s imagine there’s no. No borders, no differences between us. it’s such a, utopian song, but it’s great to imagine that this really

Pod: appeals.

None of them embarrassed by that song was the first one I ever learned on the piano. So there you go. You brought back memories for myself. And then last question, Josie, given everything we’ve talked about, given everything that you now know, what would you be telling the 35 old version of yourself today?

Josie: I think it would be, there’s no real rules. I used to think there were rules about how I should be and they are there’s cultural ones, but no one cares if I break them. And so I would be telling the 35 year old me, just to have a goal and to forget about all of my self doubt and.

All of my beliefs about what I can do and what I can’t do, because the more I do, the more I find out that he can do it. And so I don’t mean that there’s no legal laws. What I mean is that there are no rules about what you can do or can’t do in terms of your own capacity and your own potential. And. And I’ve nowhere reached my own potential and I don’t believe any of us ever do, but just to go on having a triad it and keep experimenting and trying things out.

But the world has not stopped spinning when I got it wrong.

Pod: That’s a lovely sentiment turned. I suspect many of us wish we had taught ourselves that a long time earlier than we actually did. Josie. Thank you so much for all that you’ve done and all that. You, all your research and all your contributions and thank you for making time for us today.

Really enjoyed hearing all of your insights. It’s

Josie: a real delight to talk with you. Thank you.

Pod: I hope you enjoy that conversation with Josie McClain. She certainly brings a whole wealth of knowledge to every conversation around complexity and particularly in relationship to leadership. Before I move into that. I’ve had a lot of people contact me over the last few weeks and how much they’re enjoying the end of episode seven, such as this.

So thank you for all of those contacts and reach outs and feedback. Glad you’re finding that. Helpful me. When I think about George’s conversation, a few things jump out at me as being really worthwhile to spend some time thinking about our noting about. The whole idea of living systems. There’s a huge body of knowledge around that.

And I certainly found for myself, I went back into some old readings on leaving systems and I find this a really useful reminder. So for anyone who is either new to living systems as a whole philosophy of knowledge, Or who hasn’t read about it recently, this might prompt you to do a revisit and look at some of the principles of living systems, such as adaptability, such as patients, such as humility, et cetera, and see how that might impact your thinking of leadership during times of complexity.

The metaphor of leader as gardener raised some lovely traits that are not new in any way in terms of leadership, but are very useful than how Josie gathered them around the metaphor of a gardener. And as does strike me that humility is one of the most underestimated and probably one of the most strategic.

Quantities of effective leadership during times of complexity, not because humility of itself or in itself, but because humility does allow or enable us as human beings and as the leader to be more open-minded to ask questions such as, how could I be wrong in this situation? Or what am I not noticing in this situation?

Or who can I ask? Questions or advice from in this situation and, keeps the open-mindedness on a high alert as well as staying to the edges of the conversations and looking for alternative opinions that might be useful. So the question for all of us always is, how can I be more humble or direct questions such as, how could I be wrong here?

Or who else can I ask information from? Might be useful questions to increase our levels of humility.

Josie: Okay.

Pod: The other metaphor of a deft touch. I really like that idea because it talks about mastery. It talks about effortless as opposed to effort team, and she outlined three areas. Where leaders can increase the sense of deafness of touch. One is looking at the strengths of your team and how do you allocate work or ideals of, strategy towards folks.

Who’ve got different strengths in different areas too, is how do you help? Aluminate the assumptions that your team are carrying with you and with them into different conversations. And lastly, how do you use powerful questions as a way to force bigger conversations? In a way that’s different to you just giving your opinion.

So there just three ideas that Josie brought that I think are worth while playing with. Lastly, for me, the biggest thing that came out of this is this notion of experimentation as a muscle. I love the idea that COVID has enabled almost all of us in all of our lives to experiment in ways we haven’t done before.

And adaptability is a trait of living systems. I, when we’re forced to, we can adapt very quickly. So how do organizations keep creating environments that encourage adaptability and encourage experimentation and encourage innovation? And not just have to resort to pandemics or external market changes or competitive her emergence as a reason to experiment with, to actually make this a lifelong and a work long process.

Thank you for listening to another episode of the leadership diet. We hope you enjoyed it. Head over to www.thedishofdiet.com, where you can subscribe to the podcast. To our blogs and retrieve the show notes from each episode, every show note 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

Josie: you.

Or download as a PDF:

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 career.com 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:

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 www.thedishofdiet.com, 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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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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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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Ep 9. How martial arts can teach courage and leadership insights with Tim JohnPress

Tim JohnPress is based in Texas, USA and has studied and taught both martial arts and leader development for over twenty years.
We talk about:
  • Developing courage as a leader in order to be able to speak out,
  • How to foster conversations that lead to insight and better outcomes,
  • We also delve into the notion of somatic awareness,
  • How to tune into your body for somatic based clues or directions


The Leadership Diet with Tim JohnPress

Welcome Tim from Texas to the latest episode of the leadership diet. Great to see you pod, thank you for the opportunity to visit with you and your audience. Tim, I’m going to start with an unusual topic in terms of leadership, and that is the topic of martial arts. I know you’re a lifelong practice. I know you’re you operate at a very high grade.

I know you post to Facebook regularly. Some of these really extraordinary moves that are a 20 year old man would find difficult to find a man of my age. Tell me how you got started into that and how that influences the work that you do. I started helping a little late in my martial arts career started at the age of 18, and I was always pretty athletic in school, basketball, things like that.

And, When I went off to college, I realized that I wasn’t doing anything to just work out and I really enjoy being active. And so literally hanging out with some of my buddies one night, we noticed this martial arts school. Next to a parking lot where we were hanging out as 18 year olds. And so I decided to check it out and, I visited the instructor signed up for class.

I’d always been fascinated by martial arts, even as a small boy. he, and probably by my second or third belt, I think I would in Greenville, I had an awareness that actually, I might have some talents around doing this thing called Marshall and probably halfway to black belt. I realized it was so much more than just kicking and punching.

And I started feeling more confident. I’m feeling better about who I was as a person, even at those at a pretty young age. So I stuck with it. And, what was fascinating, the connection between martial arts and coaching was I was 21 and I received my black dog. And I was given the, kind of the instruction saying, great, you’re a white belt, and now you have to start teaching.

You’re assigned like junior students to help progress and work one on one with, and, I was pretty nervous because I wasn’t quite sure I was relatively shy guy. And my instructor gave me this, young lady. Her name was Suzy and Suzy was. Very nice, very enthusiastic, a bit awkward. She had big thick Coke bottle glasses, and probably not the most gifted, student, but

what was so compelling about her is her enthusiasm. And she was determined to get her black belt. And so I worked for her. It was just a joy working with her and actually seeing her grow through the different ranks. When she got her black girls, I’ll never forget the day. she came up and gave me a big hug after she was awarded her belt.

And that feeling still lives with today, the joy and seeing somebody accomplish something that they weren’t quite sure. And knowing that I had a small part. And so that was the

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beginning of my coaching career. I still I’ve went on to teach so many years. I still teach from time to time. but I’ve transferred.

All that I’ve learned in those years of teaching. And I started applying and that was beginning of my coaching career. And what start, or what philosophy of martial arts do you practice? My initial style was take window, pretty mobile, popular style, martial arts on South Korea. And then I started another style in addition to that called to calm salt, which is another South Korean style.

The reason I was really drawn to Kong. Is, it was I think a great evolutionary step because it blended mindfulness meditation, the softer arts of Tai Chi, and more importantly, mass, you used to call it to action philosophy. He was as dedicated to teaching us to become better people in addition to becoming better martial arts.

And that was very appealing to me. It was a guy who kinda got at the time, I got my first black belt, but I realized there was something almost spiritual about the training to me. And so my, as my practice grew and I continued training, I started developing into more of the inner game, as we say, of martial arts in addition to all the outer game.

And, it’s become. Literally my religion. It’s a way of life and a philosophy of development and learning. And what’s fascinating is, having gone through a lot of tough lessons, being able to bring that to clients. When I say, have you ever been through something like this? Sure. I have. And I’ve just got a few ideas on how we can work through those.

I can really understand that the notion of the physicality keeping you fit and healthy and agile, but the philosophy is what drives you as a human being. Yeah, absolutely. And even to this day, people say, what’s it like to be, what’s the secret to becoming a master. And I said, I’ll tell you what, it’s not about kicking in her punching.

And it’s really about the mindfulness, the philosophy in a consciousness of your pension. You put into your practice. W we were chatting in a head of our conversation, and indeed, we’ve had this chat many times in different parts of the world when you and I have met. And that’s the notion of sematic development in the sense of knowing your body and sensing your body and giving you a background in martial arts.

It’s no surprise that you are, you’re a big believer in sematic awareness. T tell us more about. You know what it is and I, and I’m really intrigued, you’re in Texas, right? that’s renowned for oil, men and ranchers. It’s not renowned for ballerinas per se. And I say that with a degree of cynicism, but how do you use somatic development in your work?

So early on in working with some of the masters, when we would be training, they would ask the question. What are you noticing about your body as you do the different forms or the techniques? How does it feel. What are you noticing about foot position or hand position, or even just the stance? I remember early I’m here.

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Take stances of strength. Big energy is master you, call it or playing small. And so I really use that and use my body as a, Almost like a temperature gauge to check in on how I’m doing on the inside, because there’s a, the body reflects what’s going on internally in your focus, attention, your consciousness, the body reflects that.

And when did you start developing that practice and get some, a heightened degree of somatic awareness? One unexpectedly. What I learned is that I was able to start sensing. What was going on with people that I was either working with in martial arts even more so now today and the coach, there’s a connection.

I believe I call it working the unit of field. We’re all connected. And when I started observing things within my own form, there’s a pretty good chance when I’m working with somebody, I got a sense of what’s going on for them. So I’ve really, probably leveraged that to a great degree and just being able to connect with people.

And then most powerfully is being able to start teaching some of that somatic awareness. To my clients, one of my early coaches, he had this really great question and nobody ever asked me, he goes, what’s going on for you right now? Just tell me what you’re experiencing. then the dots connected and I had some huge awakenings and it called me to the moment.

And in the moment there was a treasure of learning things to explore. Just by saying, what are you noticing right now? Whether it’s a group and an audience or yourself, getting them to just stop running the monkey mind and drop into their form and pay attention for many people, it’s surprising to me how little they do that, but when you get them to go inward, the amazing amount of new possibilities or perspective.

That becomes available to them, but it’s just double down there a little bit, because what you said could be perceived as being a, one hand relatively flippant and the other hand, very profound and having done the work that you do. I know it’s more towards the profound side of that equation.

W what did you, what do you notice when you’re in a room with folks who may not be a aware of mindfulness or may not practice that are maybe less used to. Stopping to pause and notice what’s in their body. And then out of the blue incomes, Tim, John press he’s in the room and says, what do you notice now?

What are you noticing in your body? What’s the reaction you find in every or in every group? There’s always what I call one or two people that are looking at you. very skeptically. And what I find for the most part, people want to participate. People want to have some kind of success, whether they believe in me or not.

what I learned is I sensed that and I immediately can tune into the people that are all land or the people that might be giving me a bit of a critical eye, the way I translate it, particular professionals, speaking into their hearing, asking them, okay, let’s just think about this. You don’t have to buy into mindfulness as the leader.

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Is it important for you to know about what’s going on in your organization having a sense or a pulse. Oh, yeah. How about the marketplace? Yeah, I said, does it make sense then to pay attention to yourself and just do a check in on how your system is working? That seems to break the ice with them a little bit.

And that’s the challenge is with some of these more touchy, feely concepts, mindfulness consciousness, you gotta be able to make it meaningful and accessible to somebody who’s never done anything like that. Or who may, not even believe in things like that. And you just gotta find a way to connect the dots in your experience team, or when you bring this into this concept and this awareness into a group aren’t are individuals who have not exposed to before.

What kind of insight do they get from having to answer that question or from having to start noticing that? And then therefore, probably the biggest insight. When they decide to participate, check in with them afterwards is being able to give voice and expression to what’s going on inside. It’s very liberating.

And when they can do that with peers or even in a coaching session, they now have more, a more grasp. On something, they didn’t have any grasp or awareness of. So it’s a pretty liberating moment for most people. I’m not saying it’s easy, but what they find is wow, I didn’t even know all that was going on inside of me.

And now I can start to see how that’s impacting, how I’m showing up or what, the types of practices or things that I’m doing as a leader or in my work. So it’s a very liberating moment. And it empowers them to say, okay, there’s something to this. And here are some specific, actionable things that we can do to shifts to keep you in a better place.

To be more effective as a leader from experience a couple of years ago now where I was working with one chief executive. And unlike you, I started using that question, what are you noticing wearing your body? Is it, can you give it a name or et cetera? And initially it was re it was received with a fair degree of skepticism.

I have to say. And maybe. Wasn’t as artful as you and how we introduced it. But over time, this particular lady developed a real sense of what was going on for herself to the degree that she then started sensing what’s going on into the room far more than she’d ever noticed before started sensing where people were buying into are not buying into the conversation and where the concerns were and was even at one stage able to pinpoint.

The exact concerns people are having before anyone had ever articulated this, which made her in the eyes, everybody else extraordinary in tune with them. And therefore in their eyes, very authentic. Now authentic was the wrong word. She was just in tune, right? It’s just listening to what’s going on, but it made her far more able to lead change and to sense change and to have the conversation that needed to be had.

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So you brought up a great point when people get a sense of the leader tuning in. What’s that experience of now. They care. They’re having empathy. They have the understanding. We can see me. What happens to me. I’m more receptive to that leader. I’m my trust level goes up a little bit. How that works.

Let’s jump from somatic into this whole notion of courage, which again is another. in some sense is an emotional trait, but certainly it’s once on display, it’s perceived by everybody or the lack of results or perceived by everybody I know in your own career, noted for being someone who stands with courage and in yourself, and they’re there for you.

You bring that to the conversation and in our pre. Meeting before we got to get it today. You told me a fantastic story about you as a 31 year old, and you’re not sure was your first client or your second client where you really were tested and your own courage came out. Can you tell us more about that?

One of the gifts of my father growing up with them and, he always had a sense of what was just right. He wasn’t very sophisticated. when he had a strong kind of. Ethics or values, you just knew Eddie. He honored what was right. Even if it was difficult, he always did the right thing. And so that was instilled and it was a pretty profound gift.

And I’ve been able to leverage that, in my career, the incident, I have a sense of what’s going on and even if something doesn’t look right, I have a keen sense of what’s right. And. Again, based on just proven out with my dad to give that voice and to act on that. And I think that’s been one of the gifts of my coaching.

It’s one thing that stands out in my clients tell me is you’re absolutely relentless. You’ll go anywhere. We need to go. You’re fearless about it. So it was my second client. It was a bank in West Texas, and this is the bank, Cattle ranchers, farmers, oil guys, some pretty rough guys, very well, very sturdy.

And they called me in for an emergency board meeting. the CEO and the president were having, some significant disagreements and they were worried about the business. And so they asked me to just come in and facilitate facilitated, observe the board and the interaction and see if we can figure out a way to make it work better.

I said, sure. And so I probably spent the first half of the meeting, just listening and probably because I was a little terrified because these, most of the guys were 40 years older than me, probably a collective net worth of half a billion dollars. young 31 year old guy, what’s. So I’m watching the dance, getting to notice all the players were started feeling a little more comfortable and then latter part of the meeting, they started grilling the CEO and the president, the board members did.

And I could see the CEO and president, both getting very uncomfortable. Something just didn’t make sense to me. And they were concerned about the performance of the business, the relationships, all that thing. And I said, Hey guys, can I ask just a simple question? And

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they said, sure, Tim. I said, I know I’m only 31 years old and I don’t have a lot of business experience, but true.

Isn’t it. The job of a board for support guide the president and the CEO. And I said, you guys are attacking them for all these things that are going on in the business. And yet I don’t understand how you guys could let this happen. And now you’re holding them accountable.

I don’t think anybody to talk to them like that after a moment or two of silence. And I was literally terrified, like they were going to throw me out of the room. the chairman of the board, he was probably 80 years old. Very frail, man. He looked over the table and he said, you’re right, Tim, we screwed up and you weren’t really,

I’ll never get it done. He’s such a great guy. And what happened after that is everybody settled down. We all started just telling the truth about what was really going on, what wanted to happen and, What was fascinating is the president of that business. He said, you know what, I’m 65.

I’m tired. I don’t want to do this anymore. And that’s the honest truth. I love you guys when I’m just tired. So we have your leadership in place and that business is still in you 25, 30 years ago. It’s still in business today. That’s a great story. what I find interesting about it? as well as a, what is the risky took, but it wasn’t, It wasn’t like you were being critical of our judging of, you were noticing what was going on and you wrote it artfully pointed out.

He’s what I’m observing. And then you ask the question and I think that’s really important that technique you use because as you and I both know, there’s a thin line between being courageously authentic or just courageous and being critical and the difference is the arc, the way you do it.

How do you help leaders develop their own sense of courage or their own sense of speaking out? Because it is one of the derailers to grant leadership is the ability to artfully speak out what needs to be said. So how do you help you to develop that? there’s, there’s a lot of things that we do, but I would say initially upfront is as the coach, I have to be willing to model courageous authenticity with the leader.

And just by coaching with them and, creating a safe space for them to start being more authentic with me and quite honestly, themselves, that’s where it begins. And then the authenticity begins with maybe a three 60 assessment where they get a complete snapshot and just owning it and being able to handle the results, whether they’re great results or lots of great results.

So that’s where it starts. And it creates a. a bubble of safety for them with the coaching relationship. Then when we start expanding and working with the team, we’ll set some guidelines for how we’re going to work together. And then I can actually work with the leader and their team members drawing people out, or just creating even a safer container

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for more of a courageous and authentic and honest conversations and then coaching and guiding people.

Again, it’s it’s teaching and then modeling the way even in some of those meetings. so that’s the external beam or the outer game. The inner game is, some of the deeper inner work exploring beliefs, experiences, inner narratives that keep them from being encouraged to be authentic. So there’s a short game, some specific practices.

And then the longer game, which is more of the deeper inner work. Mindset work consciousness work. And you actually, I work in both simultaneous. so it feels like you’re giving them some techniques to get some early wins or to fake it till you make a type thing. And then the same token that lets do the deep work.

So you don’t revert backwards later on. You actually set in a whole foundation for growth and courageous. That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. It really does work hand in hand, but again, busy professionals. They want to see some results. They need to see something that could work right away. So you’ve got to give them that.

I’ve I found them in my own career. I’m specifically talking about courage now. Cause it is one of those traits that is contagious when it works really well. And it’s, it’s really obvious when it’s absence, found that some of the beliefs that you refer to, can be as simple as, they won’t like me if I stand out or they want me to fit in.

Therefore I dare not do this or in some cases, which is obviously a reality, my career might be at risk. If I voiced this, how have you found those belief patterns or similar belief patterns to be true? And then how do you help someone to reformat some belief patterns in that space? Yeah, so there’s just probably what I call the top three or four, three, five common patterns.

The biggest one is I’m not good enough. the second one is I don’t fit in or I don’t belong here or big one with professionals, and this is a big one. I’m afraid people find out that I might not know what I do. I’m doing, I’m a fraud, right? I’m an, the imposter syndrome. So sure. Some of the work that I use in my APA coaching process, we get that and whatever those core beliefs are, and then using a very simple technique from an NLP neurolinguistic programming, I just do very simple reframing and anchoring.

So the first thing I do before we get to the front of Erie and curious, Has an adult, can you absolutely. 100% all the time. No, you’re not good enough. Yes or no. Is that true? when they think about it, no. So just by asking that question, is it always true? I’m not good enough competent. I’m an imposter, blah, blah, blah.

What that does it unhooks them from the ground with that deep, so deeply then? I asked them to just say, what is the hundred percent, what is another truth that, that is, was it this one I imagine enough might become, I’m pretty amazing. Great. And then I’ll ask him, can

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you give me one real life experience where you had a moment and you knew you were amazing personally, professionally, it doesn’t matter.

Even if it’s just a second where you had a sense of being amazing and I’ll have, and I’ll have them just start telling me the stories. And then I might be doing little things like anchoring it or making a noise, or have them take a deep breath as they just sit in that and soak in that for a minute. And depending upon what I’m sensing with the client, I may only have to do two or three, or I may have to do 20.

To the point where they go, this is ridiculous. And they start laughing when they start having some humor about it. That’s when I know we’ve shifted something inside. we haven’t, we did shift something inside and it’s that moment of liberation throats. So this connecting, is that true? Yes or no?

Give me an example of something completely opposite and then give me a real life. I could do that in five to 10 minutes, used to take me weeks and months to do, to get the relationship, but that nice, simple little reframing process. And there’s hundreds of them out there to do it. I just use the simple one is the one that’s really, Oh, gets people and they go, what’s interesting is then you see their whole face transform.

Your whole body just opens up. They relax a little bit more. You used the word Liberty there, that there’s a liberation with this. And I completely agree with you because all of us are held captive to our beliefs oper to the point that we actually understand what the belief is. And then we can go, okay, hold on.

I believe this for quite a while now, lets me look at this. Let me look at this in a different light to see if it still helps me. it’s a phrase I love using, which causes the name of a famous book. What got you here? Won’t get you there. And I believe pattern clearly has helped you, but it may not.

Continue to do And I think that the notion of courage is one of those leadership traits that if you’re being held back by a buddy pattern, it’s time to change the belief pattern. That’s exactly right. And it does require a great focus and courage and do that deeper work. As a coach, you’ve got to be able to have the courage and the presence to be able to stand toe to toe with these people and just hold the space and.

I learned it from early on, from fighting in the rain, just to be able to stay centered and calm and strong. And it’s just can we practice any codes? We have

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. We’ve used an iTunes and Spotify are greatly appreciated. The whole notion of, the world we’re in right now. We’re in a really interesting, strange time.

We’re recording this in August, 2020. what are you noticing in your own career with the teams that you’re working with in terms of the kind of help that they need, the kind of

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overwhelms that they might be in or not in, and then therefore, what are you doing to help them? What I am completely still amazed at is.

when you’re in business working, we’re always focusing on solving problems. We’re always in this fixing, solving, creating, designing, which is great and necessary. But if we don’t take a break for a moment to celebrate and anchor the things that we’ve done well, It’s just like we’re continually beating the dog.

The dog is never going to throw up. And I would say a big piece of my work with Jeeves is getting them to just take ownership and appreciation for what they’ve done. That’s worked well. And giving that a little bit of time to breathe, not just with me, but with themselves as a team. So the celebrating the successes, imagine a football team.

If we didn’t have any chances to celebrate it or any kind of team, or even acknowledge your win. Not very motivating. So that’s probably the biggest one where I spend extra time making sure that I’m building them up so we can have the energy and motivation to go tackle these big, hairy things that we’ve got to do.

I can piece some teams is always the, it’s being able to bring voice to what’s really in your heart. And a lot of people have the ability to do, but he’s space. The team awareness of the team container, whatever you wanna call it, there’s a perception. It’s not safe. It’s risky to be able to speak openly and honest.

And the challenge in today’s market is things are moving so fast and the complexity is so extreme. And now with COVID or doing everything virtually. We can’t afford to not be speaking completely authentically and honestly, with, as long as our inventions, Nolan honorable, she afforded that, do that because there’s just so much at stake and it’s so moving so fast and so quickly and rapidly.

As a coach with a team, we can become an accelerant and just clear the air so that they can just start getting down to things that are most important that will drive themselves in the business forward. Those are probably the two biggest things. And are you finding you’re spending more frequent time or less frequent time, or is there any specific thing to doing with your individual, chief exec level leaders to help them manage their sense of stress or overwhelmed?

Cause. I’m imagining a Texas is no different than the rest of the world, where there is that there’s a lot happening with little information to help guide people going forward. Yeah. So all my individual clients, I do more frequent touches, touch bases than we did, and I’m getting more almond spot calls saying, Hey, how do you do this?

Or what do you think? Or what is it, everybody else doing communication and messaging. So we let people in come back to work. So we do keep them all at home. We do a hybrid. Nobody really knows because they’ll figuring this out. So my coaching that has been more

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frequent communication, and probably advocating a position more frequently than I would do in coaching.

as we talked about earlier, when you’ve got a pandemic, Asking them what they think they should do may not be the most effective coaching. Okay. Here’s what you need to do. One, two, three, got to give them a, an avid, would you work through this plan together? So helping them quick thing fast, think strategically.

How do we get the communications? How do we get work for workplace virtual? A lot of conversations around that. So that’s immediately just how we keep the business going. Then once we’ve put those plans in place, more frequent touches on what are you doing to take care of yourself? What are you doing that you have your culture alive now that we’re not all dancing with each other in the office or interacting or meeting with colleagues and we’ve had.

Do implement some different things, whether it’s virtual happy hours or just increased communication and updates, which has actually been really good because people are getting more information. They’ve got a closer sense of the pulse of what’s going on, which is a laying their fears and worries and concerns.

The third thing, and I had to do this with a large tech executive he’s I don’t know what to do. There’s so much. And I said, You just need to keep holding the vision of what’s possible. People are scared. People are afraid. People are worried. You got to keep acknowledging what it is and keep encouraging saying, listen, this is where we’re going.

We’re still on plan. We’re still on course. This is what we need you to do to step up. You’ve got to show up just in the way of confidence, because we’re not getting that from anywhere else with that kind of conviction and resolution. That’s probably the biggest thing that my coaching has been for leaders.

you can’t waiver, not when you’re in front of your team because their word, and I’ve talked with people they’re scared, so be this icon of strength and focus. You don’t have to have all the answers you can admit when we don’t know what’s going on. But Joel was conviction. There’s a few things you said there that I think everybody important.

and it brings back a conversation in mind. I had in, I’m going to say early April of 2020, with his exec team and the, the HR director of this particular team, absolutely struggling with holes going on. in the world in general. And I was brought into running virtual team session with the exec team cause they were spread out across the Asia Pacific region and they typically would have got together face to face at least four times a year.

And now we’re running. A three day meeting virtually for the first time. And the leader in question said to me, or can you bring all the evidence space information you have on how we should be handling this? And the chief exec turned around to look at the, this director. And I could see the chief of exec.

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I was imagine that have exact thinking. Evidence-based con is, it’s just hit us like six weeks ago. My reaction was like, at this stage, there’s not a lot of evidence space, but there’s a lot of people experimenting and learning. How about we move into what can we experiment and learn with insight and in line with the vision that we have always held, knowing that we’ve been thrown this extraordinary carvable.

But we still got to stay on track quad dealing with that carved bowl, which I think is what you’d be talking about. And that team up the communication enormously, particularly using homemade videos had great impact. And I would say dial up the connection across the organization, tenfold compared to where they were two weeks earlier.

Yeah. Yeah, and I’ve had to have done it I’d have done well. but it’s amazing. During times of stress like this, we do want to reach for the expert view and sometimes, the executive coaches can help provide a view. but helping people to ramp up their learning and experimenting is probably the, the most useful technique that they can deploy as a group.

I would imagine. Yeah, I want to jump over to the eight gate process. This is a, a framework, if you will. that I know you’ve been developing and testing for over 10 years and, I’ve, I’ve seen the impact this can have, can you talk us through, the framework and how it can be useful for a leader and may maybe share us, share with us a story to illustrate the impact it can have.

Okay. When I got into coaching, I was just back in the mid nineties, I was really fascinated by even back then, the amount of things you could learn and absorb about how to coach and teach and mentor. And as you could imagine, internet now, 25 years later, there is an infinite stream of experts, techniques, practices, program certifications, and how to be a great couch.

So much so that it can be exhausting and overwhelming at times saying, what’s the best approach to use with clients? Is it this model? Is it that practice? And I found myself literally jumping from book to book, time to time pulling all these different things. And as a former electrical engineer, it was frustrating.

Where’s the platform, where’s the unified operating system. How does this all come together? And so the last thing I wanted to do was put another piece of coaching content out in the marketplace. Here’s tons of good stuff and it’s all excellent. But the one thing that’s missing is how do we make all this great material work together one and how do we make it applicable to you have a client based on your context, your timing, and what your needs are.

And This was around the time of the Apple iPhone when it came out. And I saw the brilliance of that thing is Apple created a platform with the iPhone and then subsequently they opened up the operating system to create cuts of you. Anybody can make any custom application they could dream of, and it were worked beautifully on this platform.

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And it got me thinking where’s the unifying platform, an operating system for coaching. There’s tons of great models, but it’s still a bit fragmented. And again, me thinking, how can I honor everything that’s out there, make it comprehensive and complete and make it completely scalable, agile as necessary to meet the needs of my client, because bottom line is what does the client need.

Most of them will and how can I deliver the most impact? In the shortest amount of time. So that’s our work with this thing started tinkering with it, locked it in about 10 years ago and I’ve been testing it with my wife and my partner. And it’s, it works as beautifully as in coaching as the iPhone. So we initially began our work with, the eight Gates.

Helping to unpack three 60 assessments. And again, it was very much driven by the customer’s needs. We said, okay, Jim, here are my results. What do I have to do to change? I don’t need theory. I don’t need to know the tool I get. And I said, there’s a short game and a long game, and we’re going to take you through both.

So we took them through, we developed this process to really help unpack a leader’s specific results. What are they doing to create these current levels, the results from their minds, to their choices, to their practices. And then in the same 90 minutes to two hours helping them upgrade so that they can get a better outcome as a leader.

And we can work the process. The process is taught and we’re very linearly, but it has the complete flexibility to, go wherever the client needs to go. What we found is in about 90 minutes, we can create immediate visual transformations with somebody. Like they will have a deep experience of becoming something new as a leader in the coaching session.

They get a, he liberated from their old operating system. And with that becomes a surge of energy, new possibilities to use your language there from one operating system to a newer, more freer or more capable operating system. So what are some of the Gates or some of the questions you bring people through to help them realize that?

Yeah, so there’s probably a couple of big ones. I call it what’s the payoff. So they, they go, okay, the, they take ownership that maybe they yell at people or maybe they just check out and that creates a certain impact on their team. And I asked them the question, what’s the payoff, what’s the payoff for yelling at people.

What’s the payoff for just completely checking out and then look at me funny. there is no payoff. While there’s a payoff behind everything we do because otherwise we wouldn’t do it. You want me doing this? That’s right. When we get to the big payoff, I’m committed to being in control. I’m committed to proving my worth.

I’m committed to proving you wrong. I’m committed to not getting hurt. I’m committed to being safe. That’s a really. Deeply illuminating and liberating conversation. The situation you just explained as leader, I’m yelling at my team or to an external supplier or to somebody

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because I’m committed to something else such as being right, or such as being in charge of such as not looking stupid or whatever.

Okay, cool. And I get an energetic boost. I get a significant pay off. So that’s gate number four, something we call the subconscious pay off or they didn’t pay off. And then. We asked them very, it’s a tricky question. And this is where it gets into a little bit of the more complex aspects of the APA work what’s at risk for you as a leader, or what inner story do you tell yourself about yourself?

If you’re not proving to others that you’re smart, right? All the above they go. What do you mean Tim? If you’re not proving to people that you’re right. If you’re not doing that. What are you afraid might happen? Or what do you think it means? it means I’m no good. I’m not valuable. I don’t belong here.

So we get to that condition mindset or that core belief, we call it condition mindset, because we learned it somewhere in our training education or work history. And then we go into and say, is it true? Is that mindset helping you achieve anything that you want? What else could be possible. And then we get up into the other Gates and start upgrading the operating system.

It sounds like the question you’ve just asked there around what’s at risk. I would imagine that leads to a pretty small number of recurring passions. And mean maybe the other ones that you mentioned are you on today in terms of, I don’t fit in here, I’m concerned about, but there’s a regular passion because humans are humans.

We haven’t changed that much in the centuries. We’ve been around our way. Our recurring patterns are always the same. It’s exactly right. Like I said, there’s probably about 10 of them that I see. And every now and then there’s a little outlier because everybody’s wired themselves differently, but there is that powder is pretty predominant.

And what I find fascinating is that even with coven. On a global level, humanity is starting to work through some of it starting to awaken these core beliefs and fears, which is a really one of the gifts. Because we can actually work through these and realize we can do something else other than walk around in fear or hate or blame or be victims.

This process called the gay process. And for anyone interested, we’re gonna have a link in the show notes to a, an article and a white paper that you’ve written about this team. but so talk us through an example of a team or a leader where you. Brought this through and, the kind of rapid impact it can have for them and what they do with it.

One of the case studies in a white paper guy named lane, very sophisticated, executive leader. I’ve worked with him in a couple of different companies and he was a, a CFO of $140 million retail. online retailer and business was an, a. No organization affiliated with home Depot and the use up for succession to be the CEO is that I really want to become CEO.

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So we did a three 60 and, unpacked as results. It was pretty humbling for him. What came out of the eight gate work was that he was. Here’s a Harvard grad, well educated, I believe education, very smart, very sophisticated financial and technical. he was over leveraging those skills, the whole people side of the court.

And so we worked once you realized that, and then we realized why did he over leverage those skills to fit in, to belong, to prove his worth? And when do you realize he didn’t have to do that anymore? You relaxed started connecting with people. he didn’t get the CEO position, so we took another position and he went all in as the new lane, we call them and he was able to turn around a business in less than two years in a row, in an industry, oil and gas that was struggling at the time.

And he just, and then he was recruited by another company to be CEO of a large, which, and I checked in with him recently and he’s like, all the wheels are balancing work and lifestyle business. And this is Eva during coven family health and wellness. When he is able to shed that baggage of, trying to fit in or prove his worth and just know that he’s loved.

Simple and It was life changing for him. How often have we seen in our respective careers? a leader or indeed, our sales may be where we strive so hard for our particular outcome. And some along the way someone said to us, let go of that striving and just relax into. Serving the people who need to be served.

And what happens is you don’t get the role you’re striving for you actually get the outcome that the role would have wanted. And then you ended up getting the role at square because of that, you’ve learned the big lesson, it’s a bit like the dark of the night type lesson. Yeah. you bring up a great point.

Particularly in the West in America, we’ve gotta be doing something to prove value. We’ve got to make things happen, which I completely agree with. leaders get sober as a leader and I’m talking in a leader context, they forget the whole outside of the equation, which is focused attention, intention, and relationship.

As a leader, you probably have to leverage more of those. And those are more effective than. Getting things done. That’s what he missed. And so I work a lot and this is all the inner game of leadership. And I find that it has a huge, profound leverage. And the leaders are finding out, said, you mean I don’t have to do more.

I remember one, no. And he said, me and I don’t have to do all this stuff as a leader. I can just show up with my people the same way I do with my clients, my, my patients. I said, yeah, the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders. I said, just to have a good bedside manner. I started using a terminology around different levels of doing and cause you know, that notion of being an action man or action oriented or getting stuff done, huge, kudos to all of us who were able to do that.

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And indeed you don’t get promoted on the, she gets stuff done. But to your point, if that’s all you’re focusing on you, I’m planning to be doing stuff. How do you reframe. Doing. And I think there’s a different types of doing as you get more senior. And certainly, I’m leaning away from always being busy and leaning into what’s the conversation I need to be having with people I’m not having, it’s a different type of doing and it liberates.

and the amount of execs I’ve met over the years and helped figure out what kind of doing is needed for this new role. That’s different from what I’ve done before. It just liberates and allows expansion. So to that point in the AK process, based on who I am and where my business is at, or where I’m at a leader, we can get really dialed into specific, have the, what level of doing that leader needs to be doing.

And it’s going to be different for him than her or somebody else. That’s the beauty of that process is that you help them when you run a leader through it. You can get so granular and specific based on their context needs development. And they have a runway to completely continue to scale from that.

And they, they blueprint specific blueprint, not theory, not models, not five. G’s a specific blueprint. For me, this is what I need to do. And not I’ve read your white paper. I’ve used it on myself and I can attest to the wisdom that’s inherent within the frameworks for anybody who wants to learn more.

And the links are in our show notes for Tim’s white paper on his AK process.

Tim we’re coming to the end, but I want to come to maybe a profound question. I’m not sure, but I know something, it comes back to something you and I talked about recently and this notion of, in the world that we’re in today, it is changing. People are asking big questions. The world is asking big questions and you, and I pose a question to each other around, what is it requiring of?

Also as coaches in terms of what are we being called to do now that the world is asking of folks? And as you and I were chatting about that notion, so what are we even called to do here? Share with me a story where you asked almost the exact same question of a tech executive, in light of, some of the social changes in America where black lives matters, et cetera.

Yeah, Jay, do you want to share that? And then, and the notion of the, when you ask someone a powerful question, what are you being called to do? It opens up opportunities that they may not have even thought about. Yeah. And this was, again, one of those, it’s probably one of the riskiest moves I’ve ever made as a coach in this session.

This was in the midst of a pandemic about a month ago? No, I guess junior year, it was in June. And, got on the zoom chat with this particular leader and, runs a large global organization in the tech space. I’ll solve Liberty to say. And he said, Jim, how do we manage our people through this?

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what are you seeing? Not only just Kelvin. But the whole race and diversity conversation, he said, I’m in a place where I can actually do something about it. And I’m not sure how to go about doing driving change through the position that I met. And I was like, wow, I really admire your willingness to take on and actually do something with this, And they said, here’s the things we’re doing, systems, hiring, processes, structures, things like that. even little things right down to how they wear their badges. And I said, I think those are great. But if I may be candid, I said, it’s not gonna, I think you should do them, get your mouth.

And he sat back and he said, what do you mean? And I said, listen, you’ve got all these talking heads on TV and talking heads and leaders, all they’re doing is talking about the problems or blaming or being victims to something on all sides of the aisle. I said, if I could just hear somebody stand up and say, this is where we’re going, this is what we want to see.

This is what we’re committed to helping build. I said, I would write a check. I’d get on a plane. I’d do whatever I had to do to work with LVT. And I said, so here’s my suggestion. If you’re open. He goes on, listen. And I said, what I would like to see from you first and foremost, and envision all those, kind of tactical things and important phase.

I’d like to see you come up with an NLP. I have a dream speech and I said, I liked you have to write it and then deliver it to your team. Globally. Many thousands of people. And make it so compelling and so inviting, and I want to know what you want to see happen and what you can do to help make that happen.

And this was all around uniting, respect, racial equality, honoring the diversity. I said, just give us some really great vision of what you want us to see and, what you can do to support us in doing that. And he sat back in his chair and he said, wow. So I’m still going to follow up with him probably in a few weeks and see our goals, but this is an organization that can actually do something about it.

And, it’s the same message I’m giving to. A lot of my leaders is yes, let’s take care of our people. Where do you want to go? And what do you want to be cold? What do you want to do? And beyond just making money and having a great business, give me something greater. We as coaches, you have the ability to have their conversation with their client.

We have a modicum of influence with them. We get them in touch with their heart, and what’s really important to them. We can help guide that and sharpen that with them. That’s why I get excited about this as a coach is because I think there is literally a battalion of coaches globally. All I’ve never met a bad coach.

They’re all wonderful people who are really committed to surgery while the world needs us to step forward and serve. And we have the ability to, tons of resources available to do it. The fact that right now the world is in a pause and it isn’t a, in a question of, what if, and what’s happening, and it’s an opportunity.

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And a, this is so rare to get, to be able to get an executive tension when the whole world is on pause to go, you now have a potential to make it a big decision or. Big vision. And he is he’s the opportunity because the world is looking for a difference. no one wants to go back to whatever normal was and no one quite knows what the new normal quiet is yet.

So here’s the opportunity to every leader has an opportunity to put forth something. Let’s say, this is what else is possible. And this is what I like to do. How does that sound to you versus just the grinding that’s going on? Tim has been fascinating as always talking to you. I’ve got two questions, which I ask everybody as we’re finishing up a conversation.

the first one is given all of the wisdom you’ve accumulated, in your life. How would you now tell the 35 year old version of yourself based on what you now know? Yeah, that’s a great question. knowing what I know now at 56, I would tell that, young man stop playing so small. It’s all there.

You can do it. It’s available, but you gotta be willing to play a bigger game and put yourself out there to play a bigger game. So stop playing small. That’s great. And last question is, I’m a music man. What’s your favorite band or your favorite song? So you’ll love this coming from Australia.

And I get a lot of grief about this. My favorite rock stars, Rick Springfield. I feel like I grew up a guy back in high school, listening to Jessie’s girl and listening to his music and, from a teeny bopper where he’s matured to even where, he was on the spiritual quest and still is, and he still has his youthfulness about, it’s just, I feel like I’ve been on this journey with him through his music.

And, I guess the favorite song it’s meaningful and it’s powerful. It’s a fare of the heart. you’re a man full of heart. Tim always, I was a pleasure to connect with yours, a pleasure to visit and have a chat. Appreciate your time this morning. And, where can people find you? What websites can people find you on there when they want to look up what you do?

John press.com. And then, we’ve also just joined forces with a few other consultants in the Washington DC area called Longwave partners. And if you want to email me directly, just email jim@johnpress.com. Thank you everybody for listening.

Or download as a PDF:

Ep 8. Insights from a Master Coach on leadership teams, mediation and shamanism with Chip MCFarlane

Chip McFarlane has worked as an Executive Coach in over 27 countries spanning three decades. To say he brings vast experience to the conversation is an understatement!
We discuss;
  • Early mistakes as an expat leader
  • Why learning how to pronounce someone’s name pays huge dividends
  • When global politics enter an organisation, how can mediation help
  • Co owning a private business that then lists on the stock market and the impact that has!
  • Leading in Asia
  • His ‘alternate’ life as a Shaman and what that means


Chip: intended at least is sometimes frowned upon.

Yeah. in the beginning stages until they get a chance to know you. And so for me, there was the learning of almost being a chameleon in moving across borders and learning. Okay. What part of myself do I express here? How much do I express there and what do I pull back? Who am I friendlier with at this moment?

And those sorts of things to know, to just to get a sense of

Pod: that requires a lot of, Cultural dexterity, I suppose if there’s such a phrase to be it’s to be able to be mindful of that whilst you’re doing your role in your role, a lot of negotiation, a lot of operational logistical type input. So that’s a very cognitive load in itself.


Chip: And it is, you. I think the way that I would put it is that you learn by bumping into walls sometimes. And at least for me, that was my journey as a going across that I do something to do something work for it, for work, and then bang hit until woke go. Oh, alright. That didn’t go too.

Pod: I think in my case, I had bottled those walls quite a few times.

Chip: It’s something that is in the previous decades. That wasn’t explored dramatically by most organizations. What do you do as you cross here? You would just expect it to be able to go in and sometimes depending on where head office is, that sets the flavor for the expectation of how you will show up.

That’s right. In those various locations. So are you flying the flag for us there or have you was the phrase before God

Pod: native, Canadian localized for culture? And of course you originally from the Bronx and there, right from the Brooklyn, excuse me. Oh, no dear. A long day. So how did that background.

Show up.

Chip: I grew up in Brooklyn and I was actually born in Panama. So the first language that I learned as my parents described many years ago, the Spanish as my first language didn’t know that. And then wired English because the, I think we moved to the U S the day before my second birthday.

So was that transition to my father, wanted to make sure for him speaking articulately, it was actually very important. And he didn’t want a slang or anything else speak properly. And that way people won’t make fun of you. So took you to Brooklyn. Yeah, that’s right. That’s where the immigrants who are coming in and particularly from Panama, from Trinidad, from Jamaica, from Barbados, all around the neighborhood that we were in crown Heights.

So that you had that sort of melting pot of a variety of different even Caribbean. personalities and families and cultures coming together. And then we were right next door to that. The in crown Heights part of crown Heights also has a very strong Hasidic community. And so you have a, that. That branch of the Judaism, which sits right next to you and still is still very strongly there in crown Heights.

And so there’s the influence of, Jewish flavor in the neighborhood as we were growing up. And as it went in further into the seventies, it dropped off. But as it turned out, I ended up learning Hebrew as a result of it. So it’s, or are beginning to learn elements of Hebrew. And as a result of that,

Pod: So it’s a real melting pot of culture in your streets, in your, in your neighborhood.

So that could have served you really well. If you’re mindful of that, how do you think it served you when you took on the leadership roles and started bumping into those walls? As you said,

Chip: One is learning the importance of,  as we were doing a little bit earlier, how to pronounce someone’s name,  how they prefer their name to be said. Because that bridges an incredible chasm for people when you can, you either care enough to take the time or you may work your way through it. But for me, I’ll say a lot of times in my head just to get it right. And I’ll ask them again and just hear how it said.

Yeah. Cause for me that was a bridge that if you do that small things like that, Make a difference in terms of relationship building.

Pod: Yeah. People remember the sound of their name intimately. So when someone else says it, particularly someone who doesn’t know them well or shouldn’t know them well, it rings true.

Chip: Yes. And also knowing the difference. You don’t want to say their name, that they’re all my mother would call me that. That’s probably not the one you want to go up against

Pod: too. I remember being in trouble when my name was,

Chip: seems so formal.

Pod: You said something a few minutes ago and it struck a chord because in a previous episode, Paul Byrne, who’s from Boston originally.

Now there’s an Amsterdam. He had a similar notion. He talked about his view of leadership. Is all about returning to wholeness at you? You said something similar a few minutes ago. So what does that mean for you that the notion of being whole or returning to whole

Chip: very strongly in, let’s say my beliefs around life, that have developed further and further along as I went through spirituality on one side of things.

I see coaching. Conversations and engaging with people as a catalyst for helping us to be more whole, to become more whole understand more of ourselves, the breadth of who we are and what we’re capable of and relationships, our engagement through relationships are the key vehicle for that. So I find that.

The purpose around things has been there for throughout as a through theme throughout a lot that I do. and that wholeness, I say that we’re continuously learning. What does it actually mean to be whole, to be more whole, to be more of as in our case, a husband and a father and, and a manager or director or CEO of something.

So in the aspects of our lives, how do we show up and what. How can we be more holes in how we approach what we do?

Pod: And if with that means letting go of stuff, doesn’t it. In terms of letting go of beliefs or patterns or our headbutting, the wall isn’t in my case,

Chip: I’m learning on there is that part of you’ve grown up in a particular way and or something.

And when I say grow up, it’s actually within organizations within a generation of an organization, how. Whatever the leadership was vibrating at is what you learned in. Yeah. And so sometimes you reach a point where I think it was Marshall Goldsmith’s book. What got you here?

Pod: Won’t get you there.

Chip: the recognize that, Whoa.

Okay. That was useful for getting me to this stage. Those who are more open to things open to learning, then recognize this is no longer going to be useful. Yeah. Those sometimes we can get stuck though, in a space where we just doubled down on it and double down on that

Pod: one. Yeah. Yeah. Funny you say that I was in a conversation only few hours ago with a CEO and a whole board who are looking at this organization and.

10 years ago, the organization went through a crisis and almost didn’t survive, but have, and in an industry that’s gone through some tough times, but they have survived and in many people’s eyes have done really well. But the notion of how do we survive is inherent in the DNA, which leads to leadership of micromanaged control and everything.

Yeah. Don’t be scared not to spend stuff. And so the conversation today was all around. That has served us really well. It no longer is we can’t lose sight of it because we need to be financially prudent, but it’s actually preventing our growth so hard to be led. How do we let it go without being dismissive of our pastors is a conversation that group’s trying to grapple with right there.

Chip: It’s an incredible sense of both and as opposed to either, or yeah, if we leave that Do we include enough in the spectrum of how we approach our future. So we don’t let it go fully. We just expand the spectrum of behaviors and expect from, of approaches that we would use to be successful so that it allows for that other end of the scale, as well as keeping an eye on those other things.

Pod: Yeah. You’ve had over 13,000 hours of a one on one coaching now, the big number. And that either happens because you’ve done lots of it very fast, over many weekends, or you get out of for a while. And am I right in saying you’ve been in the executive coaching space since 1989 or thereabouts?

Yeah. So it was a lot of experience and I know you to be one of the most experienced executive coaches in the Asia PAC region, not just in Sydney. first of all, before we jump into all the experience and what you’ve gleaned from that, how did you fall into this? What was then an emerging industry?

it wasn’t even an industry back then.

Chip: Yeah. It’s interesting. It’s through a, seems a confluence of events. I was successful in one of the roles that I was in at that time and began to realize that the better I got at growing. The guys who reported into, because it was all men at that time, the better I got a growing them, the easier my job became.

And the, so the focus then became on less being, getting my, getting the spark. Yeah. From hitting the deal. Then it was on growing. Like eyes. So when I saw them grow, then I got a different feel for that over a period of time. And I realized that what I was doing more was I was doing less of telling them about things and asking them questions about it.

Particularly places where I didn’t know, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on or how they were doing that. And there’s some people who were very successful with doing some things that I thought, Ooh, that’s interesting. Wow. what’s he doing? And so that actually took me down the road at beginning to ask more questions rather than question things.

And that questioning I found was the easiest way to draw things out of people and for them to feel more engaged in what was going on. So that style that approached them rolled its way into, Working with beginning to work with people development on the other side of the corporate curtain.

Okay. And it’s interesting. Bye bye. My sister had, she knew what I was doing and I was trying to describe what I was doing. And, she knew what I was doing. And she said, here’s an article that describes the same thing that you’re doing. And it was in time magazine. and it was a cover of executive coaches.

And the, describe the center for creative leadership. They, it, at that time, it was called the jump school. It was in North Carolina. And all kinds of other things and they highlighted different types of coaches. And I was, and she said, you notice, this is the stuff that you do right now. I’ve got a name.

Pod: Okay. I know what I am.

Chip: it’s like the Jim Croce song, I’ve got a name.

Pod: What have you noticed it’s around leadership development or developing leaders in that time period that you’ve been involved with it? What have been some of the patterns of some of the evolutions that you’ve experienced?

Chip: I’ve noticed that there, like with coaching, when I initially came to Australia and talk to people about coaching at that time, it really wasn’t on the radar screen at all.

And the early nineties. Late eighties, early nineties and having discussions with different organizations. And usually the relationship would be hidden in one way or another behind a, an advisor, Here’s my consultants. And they’d be fulfilling the role in a way, but not being. Given credit as the explicit relationship.

And so what I’ve seen over the years is that right? That one’s interesting. The multinationals are the ones who typically bring coaching into a new market. And that’s because back at head office it’s being used, the marketplace has reached a sophistication level where it’s being used to develop talented people.

Cool. And when you’re. Posted out in the antibody, in regions, on the other side of the world underneath, do you sometimes with some organizations who are left high and dry, they forget that you’re down there. As long as you’re delivering, they forget that you’re down there within the marketplace.

Usually what you found is that the multinationals would send coaches to work with their people who were there and let’s start giving credibility to coaching because people around other companies. Oh, there. They’re doing that type of development and they’re big multinational. So there must be something to that.

Yeah. So then again, credibility over a period of time here. So it’s interesting seeing how it went from the usual sheep dip approach to development, whether it was leadership development or not. You never mentioned anyone. You never really, because you didn’t want any everyone else to be. We become angry or disenfranchised.

So you never highlighted who you really wanted. You just put everyone through and then you just kept an eye on that person. Oh, yes. Yeah. Yeah. And now it, things have moved to where the development is more personalized, a much more specific both to the role. And the expectations of that role and the individual demand, the woman or the person who’s fulfilling that role.

Pod: Yeah. Yeah. I know in your career, as an, the most recent career, there’s this process is you working one on one with leaders and their teams, is you running programs in organizations to help develop the overall capability in the organization to be done externally? What would coaches who want to be certified and then.

Let’s say before me, you’re regarded in the echelon in that regard, in this part of the world, you also have a mediation practice where you work in a mediation type space. Now the skills are similar, but I suspect there’s also nuances of right. Different in the mediation space. Can you tell us more about what you’ve done there in the corporate setting?

Chip: it’s doing mediation in the, in that space or, it is funny because, Sometimes where they don’t want to win when it’s broke media, she’s not brought up in, I’m usually asked about it. It’s because they don’t want to go down a legal route around it or being in industrial relations in one way or another.

And so that space has been an interesting one for me, where I find that. As a coach, it lends to certain skills that are there and I had to learn to pull myself back even further. Okay. So the styler approach for a mediation that I have a preference four is transformative mediation. And, and it’s about the, not to getting a list of outcomes at the end anymore.

Okay. The end of this week negotiated this through, which is more of a negotiation. It’s more, how do we transform the quality? We have our conversation. So that the relationship then moves then out of that, a whole bunch of things may fall out as a result of that. So the emphasis more on the transformation of the quality of the relating.

Okay. And so that for me is when I’m usually brought into something or a wonderful example of that is working for a bank in the region, very large bank, a multilateral bank, and, Got there within two divisions, the two divisions were, had a large team of people from particular countries. And these countries on a geopolitical level were escalating in terms of their aggressive language and actions towards each other.

That was beginning to play itself out in how the divisions were actually interacting and mostly led by the people who were leading. That division. Okay. And so it started there, but it wrote cascades. It certainly does. Yeah. And what I was brought in to do is actually it was, I was doing some coaching work with another of the heads of the division and they said, would you mind having a discussion with these two?

And so warfare, it was unofficial to begin with where I met with one and I met with the other. And, because I was there for about seven days on that occasion and I met with one and I met with the other and then had a talk to them and said, would you mind just catching up together for a few minutes, just for a few minutes, and then spent an hour of us, the three of us beginning to have this conversation.

And at the end of it, they both said, we’d like to continue this conversation. And so from there, then it became more official than the organization acknowledged the, what the relationship was going to be. Cause it wasn’t coaching. It had to bring in a whole different set of things and different outcomes that were expected from it.

And yeah, it was, that was when that sort of began, which was very interesting.

Pod: I’m interested in that aspect is way beyond the organization’s remit. This is, as you said, as a geopolitical, is this cultural it’s different countries, et cetera. I think Peter Hawkins talks about how do you transform the white space between relationships, which is what you think you were talking about as well.

How do you start with a leader who has a business remit? But also has a very strong cross-cultural Rebbe. That’s bigger than them and help them to understand

Chip: both beginning with something personal motivations in a way, and finding out what is important to them. So as we do, as coaches at times, it’ll start with that individual.

Then I like taking the conversation too. Not just how they are, but how the environment and the culture around them actually influences them or has influenced them. And then talking about some of the impacts of the greater systems that are around them. So taking the conversation out at a variety of different, layers, Further and further out too.

And then what happens is that through that, and as we do with our counterparts in, when we coach them, we get them to spend time in reflecting on the conversation, reflecting on life, on influences and those sorts of things. And so the progressive conversation then takes in the systems. Various ways that the systems actually show up in geopolitics is one element that will come into that at a time.

Pod: I would imagine that’s a, it’s not a fast process. Automatically

Chip: not necessarily. It’s. It doesn’t take a long time. once someone establishes a sense of a level of with you, then even if they feel not even it trust in a way that there’s a sense of comfort of being able to just say, okay, yeah, say this, whatever it is.

That’s right. That’s there and not have to hide it. Yeah. and that it’s actually okay with the person that they’re speaking with. So that being able to contain that space that allow someone to do that then very quickly allows them to say, yeah, I noticed that. Wow. I hadn’t thought about that before. And yes, this does affect me and that’s playing out very interesting here.

And, even to the point where with, within, with those two gentlemen that I’d mentioned before, in that example, After three meetings with them over a period of it was about two and a half months. At the end of it, they were concerned in a way they were very, they’re working better with each other, giving each other a greater amount of leeway and, and.

Compassion for where the other person was. They’re also really concerned because they said, when I speak to people who haven’t been part of this process, who come from my culture, yeah. They don’t understand w my way of thinking about this now, my way of talking about it. Now, my metaphors I described as their metaphors have changed and other people with in, within that system, notice it.

So they’re going, Oh, It’s you know, are you still a part of

Pod: us call the dark side?

Chip: You’re the ingroup or you’re the part of the outgroup now?

Pod: Yeah, but we’re recording this in August, 2020. And in, I grew up in Ireland and then host the whole Northern Ireland peace process happened. during my time there recently, Jerry whom just passed away, he was one of the famous, peace leaders there.

It was a great movie to come out a few months. About two years ago called the journey. And it’s Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness who were absolute, enemies drew my whole childhood one day, the arch Republican army, and one led the to Socratic union party and sworn enemies who ended up being called leaders of the first Northern Irish assembly.

So extraordinary unification and arguably have done a fabulous job as they started leaning in. And. Giving each other compassion and giving each other permission. Our role there, I will let that part of you go, I won’t get caught up as much as I used to. They found a space to live, but their followers took a lot longer.

Okay. Know, they were leading the way. And then these folks had to, if you crossed the dark side and how do we lean in, over time it was, it’s quite extorting for the whole country in terms of those two men and or what they did. Yes. So I would imagine is really satisfying work.

Chip: that day it is, I enjoy quite a bit.

And. the thing that, that stands out to it is that it has such an effect years later, where people have contacted me, because of an experience they had during that time. Yeah. And they said, Oh, we remember you from this. And this happened to that person. It really just, they talk about how they were they’ve described where the, the quality of their workplace changed.

And the relationships between different parts of the organization shifted for the better. it was more whole, as we say, as a more whole more of a whole sentence,

Pod: it sounds really simple as if we can amplify the quality of dialogue. We naturally amplify the quality of relationships and it sounds simple, but it’s actually not at all.

it’s quite profound. Isn’t it to get to that stage. Yeah, 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. We’ve used an iTunes and Spotify. I greatly appreciate it. Let’s jump to patterns. Then if you think about all the leaders, honestly, think about all the leaders.

Cause we’ll be here for hours while you think about them. But over the years of you working one woman leaders across a range of countries, Australia, Japan, the Philippines, China, Berlin, and UK, et cetera. U S as well, of course, it’s restarted and go back to regularly. What patterns do you notice about leaders who are consistently effective and in terms of what are they doing or thinking about that allows them to be consistently effective.

Chip: One is that there is a focus they’re willing to grow themselves. They’re willing to allow for the idea that I’m not perfect right now and that I can do something differently.  I think of the women and the men whom I coach or the people who I coach, to be like the Olympic level athletes of the business world. And so with Olympic level athletes, you find that they’re not working on gross motor movements quite so much as the small things that actually make an enormous difference for them. Yeah. And even when they’re highly successful, they know that if I want to continue high levels of sales sustained performance, I have to continue to grow is I can’t just rely on last year’s performance or those things before it actually is entailed in this that I continue to.

Sharpen. What I do is strengthened when I do a ultra, what I do in some way. So there’s that openness to continuous growth. And for, in a business sense, I find that the people who have been more, Successful in a way, in transitioning, there was a willingness itself point to say, Ooh, Maybe I can grow private.

That’s been a key part of it. Another part of that is also that they’re, they look beyond. More than just the structure of what they’re with him. So they have plans somewhere inside of their vision. As we discuss it over a period of time, their vision moves to a place where it’s more than just did I deliver on those numbers and then becomes about the environment that they create and how they.

Grow the talent underneath them. And when they start thinking there, I notice also the, when they start with many today, I’m working with a woman right now. Who’s running a, an NGO in Ethiopia and, her thoughts are about Ethiopia now, right? It’s not just our organization. It’s not our group is not, it’s not even our beneficiaries.

Ultimately it’s the broader world around Ethiopia. And so her thoughts are okay, we’re putting this together for that. And her plans are bigger than, so what I noticed is that there, they successfully make leaps into bigger and bigger pieces of things that it’s not small. It’s not about them personally, any longer it’s only becomes about.

And as I say, morphs to service being in service of something greater,

Pod: which may sound like a cliche of servant leadership, but actually in reality is living that whole notion to the full I’m. Sure a bit like you I’ve been involved in many conversations over the last four to five months in terms of what I’ve been noticing with covert and therefore our leaders showing up and how do we help those froze?

Cause you know, we’re in the, world’s never been here. All at once like this in our lifetime. And I know that you have a very clear view that leaders who have a well-defined or they’re close to their sense of purpose, seem to be leading differently during this sense of pandemic. Can you tell us more?

Chip: Sure. I have noticed that as, just as you mentioned there. With a sense of purpose is it gives them, a harness to hold them in the midst of a maelstrom. When you think of the story of Odysseus and going past the Island of the sirens. And, and in order to listen to the song of the sirens, where if you’ve heard that you dashed yourself against a rock, you drawn yourself to get to her.

he had his men bind him to the mast. And so that sense of a harness that allows you to hear the siren song and not get pulled off, because there are so many things that could. Caused you to crash in the midst of this fear of the one element of it. you have, isolation being another part cause we are social creatures.

And with this in forced, sense of distancing where it’s a physical distance, but with the what’s been included in the word is. Social distance and which makes it a really interesting for creatures who were social creatures. And so the people who are able to acknowledge even there, their fears that they’ve gone through, I found that their communications to their teams, to their organizations, we worked on it a little bit.

We work on it. And when they began including their own journey through that, how did they come through that? What is still. Present for them. Yeah. When able to translate that and use that as a part of their communications, the organization’s moved a lot faster to move through those who, typically wanted to continue new appearing Bulletproof.

Yeah. cause sometimes as a coach, remember you, they make commitments at the end of a coaching session and then you have to step back and as an adult or adult. So you have to let them go and see what happens. And for some, it takes a little longer to get a sense of. Can I show that sense of vulnerability to others or culturally, is it expected to me as a leader?

I don’t show that. I need to show these people that I’m Bulletproof. Yeah. And so I’ve noticed often with the leaders who, with that Bulletproof persona. Yeah. It takes longer for the organization to move because there’s still things that aren’t being acknowledged.

Pod: Yeah. That’s yeah, I think that’s a profound insight.

Do you have. What is the tension or the balance between being open for honorable sharing, what’s going on for me as your leader and the peering that I have no idea what to do next is the concern of course, and yet the leaders who are able to balance, I am very. I’m okay. I may not be happy, but I’m very okay to share with what’s going on for me and in doing so we will figure out the way forward is the, the paradox of this, all it isn’t that you may not know the answer front, but by having the conversation, it allows the answer to emerge or at least an answer to emerge.


Chip: Yeah. There’s also that willingness, that the type of system that they’re in has to be in an open enough system, because if it’s very hierarchical, then everyone’s going to be looking at one direction anyway. Yeah. so if they’re used to that and all the, processes within the system, we enforce them.

Yeah. So you have the, these, the processes within the system that are reinforcing, that you have the cultural elements from outside, from the stories of that particular culture, where leaders do X, all of those things that placing pressure on this individual. And for some, they. They’re able to hold that at Bay long enough, enough to be able to include others, other voices, other individuals.

And that’s what helps with the movement because then people have a greater sense of commitment, engagement, and ownership of what comes out of the conversation.

Pod: If I listen to your story about the bank that you mentioned a little while ago, and again, this story here, it feels like there’s a similarity in terms of how do leaders acknowledge for themselves?

There is a part of me that gets in the way and how do I hold that at Bay long enough to allow a different conversation to emerge, trusting that it will emerge? Yes, that’s the hard part. Isn’t it?

Chip: It’s the courageous part. Yeah. That’s how I should say. I should say, I say, this is the scary part. It’s going to get really scary because you’re going to notice some very interesting things and really inside of you, you’re going to be feeling some things that’ll put that may have pulled you down a particular road in the past.

So that, yeah, there’s a courageous element to doing any of this, to really stepping into any part of that.

Pod: Everyone I’m speaking to as part of this whole series and indeed, the work I do anyway, the word courage keeps coming up as how do I, as a leader, either amplify, honestly, amplify the poster, superficially amplify my courage when I don’t feel courageous.

and again, this there’s a paradox in that part of it is the role requires that. But to you, as a human being, there’s a lot more capability and resources within you than you might’ve known. How do you reach into that?

Chip: Yes. that’s, this is like a big moment for, and that’s what coaches is. and it is the.

There’ve been research in the past of what helps someone to develop in their role that, I think it came down to the 70, 2010, that idea. So is it real? No, that, isn’t a, is an idea, an interesting idea around development. Yeah. That’s an interesting thing to step into 70% of someone’s development is on the job doing it.

20% of it is the, or are the relationships around them? That they engage in to help them to grow. And then 10% of the training programs with programs that they attend, the academic elements of them, the pedagogic elements of things. So that 20% inside of there having someone to be able to talk to. So as a mentor, As a good friend, as an advisor, as a coach, whatever someone to be able to bounce that talk that through is actually very important for someone’s development, for anyone’s development.

And so that’s, I’d say that’s a critical piece that rather than being, in the past where people would typically say, if it’s to be. It’s up to me. And that was one Rebecca in personal development back in, in the eighties, into the nineties, the personal development movement. that was one of the key phrases that was bandied around at that time.

And so it’s important that we engage on the personal level and we are social creatures. So there is more than just myself. I can’t be a servant leader to myself. I can. but that also becomes very lonely after a while.

Pod: I’m an Island

Chip: unto myself. Yes. And so the, that piece of the relationship, I find this is a very important element of.

Development. So having someone to talk to someone importantly that supports you and can challenge you because without the challenge, then you’ve got a wonderful fan club. But,

Pod: and again, I’ve been like you’ve been in this role for a while and now, not as long as you have in terms of I’m younger or a slow developer, one of the two just younger.

But I think what I’ve appreciated more and more about the industry that you and I are in. And indeed the leaders that we have the privilege to work with is the more senior you get the, the less honesty about your impact as leader is fed to you. And yet it’s probably one of the most important things you need.

Yeah. You mentioned walked has athletes. they are fed feedback every single day in many formats lion inherently to improve to me. I think it leaders don’t get the privilege of that helpful feedback is often. Yes. And so I’ve realized more and more balancing the. I am compassionate for you in your role, because it’s, you might be well paid.

That’s a relevant, it’s a tough role and you’re in it and you’re in the role. Yes. You’re in it. And both got together. Yes.

Chip: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a both. And it’s both. Yes, because it is. And the more senior you become, the more things are. edited bowdlerized and cleaned up before it lands on your desk. Yeah.

And, then traditionally it’s been that way because you always want to show the bus. Any direct report is always going to want to show their boss their best hand. Yep. And so what will get fed up are the things that are going to, in a way it showed that I’m showing you my best hand and the cards that I don’t.

Like Hudson, March. There’ll be it’s often the corner somewhere. Yeah. And so it is hard. It becomes hard. And. They don’t get a chance to understand the true impact of, or the greater impact of their decisions. Because even if things aren’t going very well, people still smile at them and say, hi, it’s not that bad, but it’s usually means no, something’s really wrong here.

Pod: Why don’t you have the conversation complete to a two different topics, in, for those folks who are in the Asia pack region, listening to this episode, how many would have heard of the Institute of exact coaching and leadership, which you are one of the original founders and the business is now part of a larger organization, which is listed on the stock market.


Chip: the ASX what’s that

Pod: as a founder of a, a baby organization and growing it up and ultimately releasing onto the big, bad world, if you will,

Chip: it’s it’s a process of growth. So over years, and this is the ground where you learn about a lot about yourself along the way. whatever it is that you’re teaching, does that mirror.

Mirror your practice. and so for me, I learned a lot about myself over the years of what is, what’s the value that I could add within what we do. So at the beginning stages, we came together and we had to, we, each of us had, A different area of specialization, which made it complementary and a lot of fun.

so we have, one of the directors who’s really good. She was our editor and the heart of the company, the engine for business development and attracting things. another director, he was exceptional in terms of structuring what we do so that we could go from a really tiny organization to a very big one.

It’s nice, shiny, bright. Engine and car. and there were two of us who were, so who were the out there doing stuff, directors. And, and so that complementarity actually made a difference for, weathering some of the storms that came up, going through the stages of after a while of being against things, what do we announce them for and how do we grow on from that?

And then at what point do we recognize where. Who’s heard of topped out. we need some fresh blood to come into push us again, give us different flavor to this. And that’s the stage where we actually brought in a CEO and then that’s year to the organization even further from there. And in ways that, because, for me personally, I arrived to the point where I realized the value that I added was more along the lines of ensuring that as we entered a new market, They’d see the quality of what coaching is and the perception of that it’s not a fluffy relationship of everyone being nice all the time.

And it was that phrase, hold hands and sing kumbaya. Yeah. Yeah. We get that. And there’s a hard edge to this, so yeah. Helping to establish the perception and the recognition that coaching. Does its job in hard places. Yeah. and and that’s where I found that I was able to dance the best insulate

Pod: your lead into the Philippines and to China and some places you guys went into.

Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And then they had the notion of going into the big bet and I say the big battle, right? that metaphor. In the sense of you give ownership over to other people by going to be becoming listed. Yes. What’s that as a, I’m imagining this a degree of excitement and maybe a bit of grief at the same time, but I’m imagining that

Chip: you left out the trepidation.

Pod: It was a family show. You don’t want to say that

Chip: there’s that element of the excitement of the possibility, because always wanting. To create an organization that would go beyond us. Yeah. And that was always part of how we were operating. We wanted to ultimately know that we could step away and it’ll go beyond us.

So we were always structuring things in a way towards the end. We were always structuring things in that way to ensure that, because we saw that was a key part of anything that was going to be coming. Yeah. And so there’s the excitement of seeing that. Yeah. Add it branches out into touching into.

A way, a partnership within a larger organization in sectors that we have no idea about. Yeah. And the weak and add value in a way because of who we are and how we do what we do. There’s the excitement of that part. There’s also the part on the other side of F after you’ve been growing something for so many years.

And as you’ve mentioned before, the metaphor used was like a baby and it is it’s now growing up and hold, handing off your baby to someone else. There’s that sense of will they care for it as much as I do? Do they love it as much as I do. Do they see the way. I see it, had they dried as tears?

Will they dry? Will they stand and hold it when it needs that? And also get it out of the nest when it needs to go. In addition to that. So all of those things that, are going through internally around that, and then having to also discover, probably for the past, cause that was March, 2018, when we IPO.

Successfully, blah, blah, blah. On the part of the ASX. Yeah. And, and from there then I had to begin discovering no longer being an owner. I’m now just a shareholder. Yeah. So there’s that? There’s a, okay. I’m not a director as an owner now I’m a shareholder. Okay. Then transitioning from that to over or to who is chip.

Back far lane, aside from that, that identity that I’d grown into over a series of years. So the past year and a half has been really me saying, okay, this is me separate from that. And, and yeah, I just didn’t, my wife was yesterday. I did an intranet. So they’re trying to say, okay, Put your name into the internet and what pops up.

She said, there’s nothing showing what you’re doing now. It’s all your history. It’s all tied to it. I said, yeah, algorithms, search engine, another set up this way. It’s going to be until people begin to discover that.

Pod: And there’s a whole lot of, part of you that a lot of other world may not know about. And I noticed you have a section on your new website about that, and you and I have had conversations in the past about this, but shamanism or being a shaman is our shaman. As some people say is a part of who you are a part of your identity, part of your background, and probably not something that corporate America, Australia regularly talks about snow.

Tell us more about that and how, what. That part of you about, and how does that influence you?

Chip: Oh, probably so being a shaman for me has been the template of how I become more whole. How I discover and recognize that there is more to exist in small to the world out there. There’s more to establishing a sense of presence.

and so it’s interesting in being a shaman, People will seek you out for healing and for a variety of things, and you become known for your successes. And that for me is a very similar thing that happens as a coach. So as a coach, if you’re not successful, you get a reputation for that, and people don’t seek you out.

and in both of those things, I also see that my job is to bridge the two worlds. So for the person or the people of the team, when I’m doing team coaching, I bridge two worlds in their current and their future world, and I stand strongly to help them to make those transitions as a shaman. My life is one where I bridge.

the world that people see everything that’s around us right now and the spirit world. And so an understanding of that and being able to take what I noticed, what I see, what I learn in one space being on that side of the threshold is like standing at the threshold, and then bring that into how I work with people.

And that’s also shows up, Incidentally. When I run a training program, when I’m working with a team, I call it a journey because literally shaman are known for journeying. So the attorney to the spirit world together, information, knowledge, understanding, energy allies. Whatever’s important, useful, or enabling for the situation at hand.

And so that for me has always influenced them how I show up with an organization or with a person. And they don’t always know what I said at the energetics around the situation so that it can be a space that allows them to be more of them, to contain the fires that are going to be burning like a wonderful crucible, the heat’s going to be turned on.

But yeah. For the transformation to take place, they have to have a sense that the crucible is there to support them. And so what I work with is creating that sense of that crucible around there. And that sort of comes from my work on that side of being Charmin

Pod: fantastic, fits to meet as a whole.

Another podcast interview with you on just that topic. It’s such a, it’s such an unusual, it can be seen to be unusual. Yes. I know many folks who work in it’s called a transfer formative spaces for the want of a better word who bring a lot of energetics to the conversation without talking about. Yes, they do allow the, A good vibe to the car.

Yes. That then enables everything else. It sounds like a similar to what you’re describing.

Chip: Yes. it’s not a case of having to proselytize and say, Oh, I need to convert you to this. Or let me tell you what I do, because it’s what people get is what they experience over you. And when that wa I find that.

When people enjoy the space with me, they feel challenged. When I say enjoy, it’s not just, they’re happy all the time. They’re going to be, yeah. The appropriate type of challenge, like a good sparring partner in the boxing ring. Just before you have the big match, you want a good sparring partner to be able to help you to get into match fitness.

Yeah. To be able to go in there and do what you’d like to do. Yeah. And so I, in being able to do that, There’s the creation of that space of being able to bring them through and to challenge them in the right way without injuring them. Yeah. but there’s still that support and that’s okay. All right, let’s go.

So they have something to go up against before the big,

Pod: I was sharing with the fiasco when we caught up for coffee, that, one of my earliest memories of being in a program with you, I’m not even sure when it was, but I had this very. Loud memory, my head in an accident that I can’t do, but chip saying to me, it felt like this to me personally, I’m sure it wasn’t switched to the whole group.

You may want to be many things as an executive coach, but you never want to be ineffective and it doesn’t do you justice the way he said it, but it was like this rumbling through my body. Never be ineffective. You’re about to go on to another journey in your life, in that you’re about to become a grandfather. Oh

Chip: yes.

Pod: Yes. You’re heading over to France. Where soon to be, around for your daughter when she’s giving birth, is that right?

Chip: Yep.

Pod: We’re very excited for you and for the family, but also you’re able to make time for us today before you head off in a few weeks before we bring this to an end, there’s two questions that I like to ask you, which I ask everybody in this whole series.

First I’m being given. All of the wisdom that you’ve accumulated or indeed that you generate, what would you now tell the 35 year old version of you?

Chip: Oh, it’s likely that I would say breathe and trust yourself. Just breathe and trust yourself. And yeah, we have a, for me, those are there’s. I think that it’s at the times when I went into shallow breathing, when I knew that it was an indicator of me, Oh, there go the rails and I just derail things.

So yeah. Breathe and trust you and trust yourself. Yes.

Pod: My last question. I am nothing. If I’m not a music, man. What’s your favorite song or what’s your favorite band? Oh,

Chip: let’s see. favorite song. Probably be depends on that. Oh, that’s a difficult one. That’s a D because I can just thinking across a variety of things. Somebody who stands out to me, I was watching a Mike Nichols film the other night, ah, the graduate and, and the sounds of silence, Simon and Garfunkel sound and silence stood out to me.

And that’s, they’re one of my favorite bands has been The electric light orchestra,

Pod: ELO…

Chip: yeah. Yeah. For many years ago, there are early words around Eldorado and, let’s see, there’s a new world record and just a variety of them out of the blue. It’s just the progression of things from way back when they were still using violins and all kinds of other stuff.

So their instruments.

Pod: Fantastic. I got to dig into my Spotify collection. Find that again. I know memory chip has been fantastic talking to it’s been a while coming that this catch up and I’m so glad that we were able to make time

Chip: or

Pod: congrats on all of this. you and the colleagues have achieved.

We’re able to bring to the markets and then to the market, as an ASX market, where can we find you for anyone who’s interested in finding out more about you?

Chip: Two places right now. so www.chipmcfarlane.com. That’d be one part. And then the other thing is on YouTube. there’s the, I have the YouTube channel and you can join me for Chip’s Tips.

Or download as a PDF:

Ep 7. How unlocking moves can unleash surprisingly impactful leadership

Paul Byrne lives in Amsterdam and is considered to be a world class Executive coach and consultant who has partnered with some of the world’s most successful leaders to assist them in transforming their organisation and leadership styles. His work has been cited in a range of books and business articles.
He shares;
  • How dyslexia influenced his life in Boston and later his leadership impact
  • Why does leadership development occur in bursts and plateaus
  • What are ‘Inescapable questions’
  • He outlines what he calls ‘Unlocking moves’ and why these are imperatives to great leadership,
  • How can leaders who are arrogant or autocratic shift that style to be genuinely embracing and impactful,
  • How can leaders listen to the system (the organisation) like a weather app?

Show notes


Favourite song

  • Born in the USA Bruce Springsteen
  • Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, the Netflix show


Welcome Paul, so glad you’re able to join me.

Paul: Yeah, it’s good to be here. Yeah. It’s good to see you,

Pod: man. You and I have had the privilege of working together are traveling together in Amsterdam, in Switzerland, in San Francisco, in China and Singapore, and a whole range of places.

And I’ve no idea how many conference calls would was being on over the last number of years. One thing I have a consistent memory of with you in that process is you talk about the return to wholeness as a leadership journey. And in fact, indeed of the human journey. But the returns journey suggest as a starting point to the journey.

So can I get you to go back to your starting point back to Boston where you grew up and how that shaped you on your own journey?

Paul: Yeah, sure. it’s, in some of the work we’ve done together, we, we’ll often include this idea of origin stories. which of course, for the superhero fans, we all know that, to understand, Superman, you have to understand his origin story is pretty important as this guy flying around.

Yeah. What’s the deal with kryptonite. and I think, for a lot of us. and in particular, when we work with leaders and I’ll talk about that mind, but I’m really understanding what’s that origin story. and how did those early influences begin to shape my experience?

Usually in beautiful ways, the human being that sort of emerges and develops since, so for mine, Oh, gosh, we often do this exercise where we get folks in the evening to tell their origin stories. And these are those conversations that can go to all the we hours in the morning if you let them.

But I think, some of the more certain points of minor, I grew up in the U S I’ve lived. Most of my professional life in Europe, but actually grew up in Boston, a working class suburb of Boston. And you know what, I think one of the most important influences for me was, growing up with dyslexia and probably add or any number of things.

And at that time, and the 19 avenues in Boston and, in the kind of school I was at, you’re just diagnosis. Was he slow? Rice, and you tended to get put in a classroom, for others, slow kids. And that could be everything from someone with a slight learning disability to, extreme autism.

But it was a way of taking you out of the mainstream. So you don’t slow things down and some of my earlier memories are like not fitting in, I would say that was a theme. There was a sort of sense of where I was put wasn’t. Maybe intuitively I knew it’s not necessarily where I belonged probably true for a lot of the people in that room, but, and I don’t think I made any conscious choice about it, but as I reflect back, there was this sort of sense of, I need to keep my distance, I need to not be too consumed by this world.

Or I’ll lose myself to it, and it was for the sake of a phenomenal sixth grade teacher, mr. Troy, who, suffered polio as a child. And was this hulking scary? Figure in the school and he brought me back, and so it’s a, another amazing story of a teacher and, these sort of angels on the path as a result, part of the origin story is be careful about groups.

keep to yourself the system isn’t there to help you, It’s there to be navigated, and it’s of course, fast forward, whatever it is, 40 years or something or more, it gives you a real sense of kind of systems thinking, Is what would call it today. But at the time it was more of a, how does a boy.

in a big world, figure out how to get through it without getting consumed by it,

Pod: And they had, the irony is of course, as you said, fast forward, 40 years, whatever it is, you are now an expert in groups and insistence and helping systems here, which is the one that the heirs you were avoiding way back then.

Paul: I always, I always like to think that often the work you are called to do in the world is the work to do for yourself. And so of course, the irony of focusing on teams and working with leaders around enhancing relationship for somebody who’s struggled with being in relationship my whole life is, there’s a certain poetic irony to, you know, who better to advise you than me, because I’ve done it wrong every way you can. And how funny that you’re and how funny that you’re asking me? No, he’s here. He’s a 10 mistake relationship.

Pod: Here’s the 10 mistakes. I know.

Paul: I like to think.

Yeah. If anything else I can be a cautionary tale. There’s always something to gain.

Pod: Funny. You mentioned that teacher called mr. Troy. I just had a sudden flashback to assist a sister breeder. Who was my sixth class. None. I completely forgotten this too. You said it, who took me aside one day and said, you’ve got great talent at all.

Understanding people’s sensitivities until you manage your own. If they’re always going to hurt you. And I’ve just realized that how right she was and how insightful she was. And I would have been. 10, maybe, a boy back then and she’s right. They’ve already understood. I fully understood her wisdom way back then.


Paul: these, for those of us that are lucky enough to have a sister Brita or a David Troy, on our path, I there’s, when I think about who, who have been the coaches in my life, and by that, I don’t mean the sort of professionally trained or, but.

there was this, and I, we’ve talked a little bit about this idea of unlocking moves, but there was this unlocking move that he allowed for me, which was to create a new identity. I, I wasn’t, broken. I was just stuck, and that there was actually no reason in the world that I couldn’t stay in his classroom.

Yeah. and, everyone up until then had told me that I don’t belong in the classrooms, and just the have, and I remember, went home in tears every day. he was in my mind a tyrant and in retrospect, just, exactly what I needed. And I think he knew that. And, Yeah.

It’s always touching to think back to that memory. Cause it’s one of those moments where you think the trajectory completely changed. the path forward without him is decidedly different than the path I walked rotten, that’s

Pod: yeah. You mentioned unlucky move and I want to jump out and you for a minute because you’ve got a really cool website called unlucky move.com and she shared some great stories on that based on your leadership insights.

But before we jump there, You talked about your formative experience in Boston. How did that show up for you in your leadership roles? I’m thinking of a one stage. You headed up corporate exec board in Europe, that was a pretty geographically wide roll out of Boston shape you then relative to who you are now,

Paul: how does Boston shape anyone?

Exactly. You get an attitude and a, exactly what’s the sarcasm and the Irish new Yorkers driving everyone away. Exactly. Italian humor. Yeah. it’s interesting. it’s it definitely did. And I’d say it probably has more to do with kind of the learning disability than Boston, so to speak.

Although Boston kind of, there’s a lot of STEM up stand up comedians that come out of Boston and most of them tend to have a bit of an edge to them. So I think, part of, part of. What you learn in that environment is you get fixed skin, which is another way of saying you can go pretty distant, right?

So you don’t let anyone hurt you. And it’s like the point of friendship is to see who can take down each year. It’s a brutal, like when people move to Boston, when they’re young, they’re like, Jesus, you guys are friends. it’s just a nonstop competition to see who can come up with a better put down.

But anyway, the, if, and again, this is the benefit of hindsight and having some frameworks to think through. when I think about, coming back to this idea of wholeness and, my hypothesis, which is, for a lot of us, for most of us, there are aspects of ourselves, our personality, often our gifts.

That we decide early in life, don’t have a place in that world or make things more complicated for me, or aren’t appreciated, and we push those into the shadow or we subdued. and I think for me, it was as I. worked through school and with the learning disability, I think there’s a kind of a strategy that I deployed, which was one, no one’s going to get in and I won’t be hurt, And so I think that, in our terminology, when we look at the leadership circle, that’s the sort of protecting yeah. There was definitely a wall. and then there was this parallel strategy, which was, and I’ll prove them all wrong, probably using slightly stronger words. Then that is a as a 15 year old.

But, so which is that controlling, the idea is to win, to be better. you know what, you never let me at the table. I’m not only gonna be the smartest one at the table, but I’m going to show the table. Cool. That you’re you don’t belong here. Yeah, exactly. And so I think for a lot of my career, and a lot of the leadership roles, it was very much about good strategic thinking.

So that power of. Taking distance on things, seeing systems noticing kind of problems around the corner and achieving, getting things done, winning, all in the preservation of my own sense of identity. I won’t be hurt, show them wrong, and man, that can run you for a while.

it’s certainly not something that’s going to bring a letter joy of your life, but, yeah, you can make a lot of people, a lot of money and you’ll get a lot of recognition for it. And, and for me, the part that I think until I started getting into coaching and this leadership journey that was always in the shadow was, the broken part of me that could see the broken part of others, so this sort of compassion, and I know what it feels like to, Be excluded to be different, to struggle.

And I think it was a part of myself that I for a long time. And, and then I think as a coach, as you bring that back and you can combine that with the ability to see things, the desire to move things forward, that’s really when. I wish I could say I figured that out in my kind of classic leadership roles, I don’t think I did.

I don’t know that I was particularly good leader. I got a lot done

Pod: the way you describe that person is not unique to Paul Bern. That would be a very. Common and regularly promoted leader in many organizations, as you get stuff done, you make money, you’re smart, et cetera, right up to the point where you no longer can or right up to the point where you burn your people out or you’re burning yourself out or your family, cetera, and then suddenly to use the other phrase.

Are you okay? Then you need an unlocking move kind to be able to shift your paradigm and shift how you do stuff. What is an unlucky move?

Paul: Yeah, that’s a good question. so I’ll tell you how I think about it. Cause there’s definitely a, in the world of kind of developmental psychology and adult stage development, they referenced this.

I know Bob Keegan, I think. maybe even use the term in some of his books, but the, for me, and again, this has been my own personal lived experience. And also the experience I’ve noticed with leaders is that, development doesn’t ha doesn’t tend to happen in the sort of straight linear ways.

8% better per quarter, over 15 quarters. happens in bumps and leaps. my census particularly one year have moved beyond issues of competency. do you know how to do the job? if you’re a CFO and you’ve struggled with accounting, there’s no amount of unlocking moves.

That’s good, help there. for most of the folks that I think we work with that, you could argue there. they’re the best in the business at what they do. And the developmental leap is really the, the mindset, it’s an often, it’s, what’s the story you tell yourself about yourself.

In what ways is that story constraining? Some of them, the best parts of you, no doubt. It’s a story that served you. we wouldn’t be yeah. In this conversation, if it didn’t, so let’s acknowledge and celebrate the eight year old or the 16 year old that decided to build this story.

Because, man, all the paths you could have gone, this is a pretty good one! But now it’s as an adult,  a father, as a  husband, a leader, what’s actually the story that feels more true and allows for more of you to come through?

We talked about this idea of wholeness. I think it’s true for organizations. I think it’s true for people. It’s  this movement towards, ” can a more complete expression of who I am over time continue to emerge”? The best leaders I’ve known  don’t hide those parts. In fact, those parts that they may be hidden for a long time, end up becoming their sort of signatures…

whether it’s vulnerability or, compassion or a big heart  or being more powerful.

for a lot of leaders, the unlocking move is not about, people it’s about, I need to re learn that power isn’t corruption. You know that, powerful people aren’t by definition, bad. And that actually in order to make changes in the world, I need to have more of my power expressed, even though I recognize that always comes with an edge, and maybe powerful people in my background, didn’t always use their power appropriately.

And, but that doesn’t mean that’s the case for me.

Pod: If I understand you, What you’re saying is leaders have a certain level say technical skills or horizontal level skills. They’re the entry point to the role, but they’re the true development happens in the way they upgrade or change their mindset or their way of thinking or the storytelling that allows them to access a different level of effectiveness or a different level of impact or a greater version of themselves.

We stand leads to a different level of impact or effectiveness.

Paul: Really well said. No, exactly. I think it’s, where’s the leveraged move, I, half the leaders, we were like, I don’t know, could they be 3% smarter? could they go from like the 98th percentile to the 99th percentile in terms of IQ?

Maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. Probably not. But often it’s in the, how do you make sense of it? And as you look at. The environment and in particular, are you reacting to it or from it? And I think that’s one of the, one of the big unlock he moves that will often work with, and you and I work with leaders around this, which is this move to self authoring, mind this sense that I both being created and creating at the same time, the reality I have it, I’m not just reacting to the situation I find myself in.

And, a lot of young leaders. Understandably. and appropriately, so are reacting to an environment that they’re in. and I think as leaders mature, they begin to realize that it’s a little more complicated than that they’re actually creating the environment as well as

Pod: So I know you talk about the idea of inescapable questions as a kind of a precursor to the unlucky move. I’m asking a question that can hide from. Puts you into the place where this unlucky move emerges are, becomes more obvious. Good. Can you tell us more about that?

Paul: Yeah. So these are the questions that kind of, they haunt it’s you can’t, unask it, and you think to yourself like, Oh, damn that person for, and for me, they tend to sound things like up until now rather.

what are you now unwilling to tolerate? In your life. The reason I think of it as an inescapable question is it’s, we all tolerate things in our lives and like appropriately, like we have to live in a system, it in with people. And so part of that is, you probably call it compromise.

and there’s probably also something closer to the edge of things so that, for the last 30 years, this is what I’ve tolerated is me playing small or this being this way. And actually I’m noticing I’m not willing to tolerate in any longer. I don’t know what to do about that. And I’m actually maybe even scared of what the repercussions could be.

but this idea of, refusing to tolerate either my own inaction or situations. I think that’s a big one. I think it’s certainly an apropos one now. globally with certainly in my home country, in terms of, Racial justice and this sort of sense of, how have systems and individuals, tolerated a set of conditions that they say they don’t want, and yet are in very real ways, part of what it is it right.

And yeah. how do I tolerate the thing that I say I don’t want, but actually, either intentionally or unintentionally, contribute to, and, Yeah. So those would be those kinds of questions. And I’ve always had a few good ones.

Pod: I remember being in a room with you, or maybe let’s say four or five years ago, and you asking the group, which I was part of it phase, like something needs to be voiced, but none of you are willing to say it.

And I remember at the time the question landing and taught me like a, Oh my God. That is an extraordinary challenging question. And I don’t feel challenged as in aggressiveness is I need to step up to this question because I’m part of this group. That’s not voicing whatever this conversation was.

Can’t remember what, but it led me. And the group to really getting into a far different conversation, a far better conversation. I’m Oran conversation, not necessarily a more comfortable conversation, there’s a whole problem. but about what I remember was the power of the question really unlocked. The conversation that needed to happen.

and I think that’s what you talk about. When you talk about the unlocking moves, there is something that needs to be shifted for you then to move to a different level of in our case conversation and probably capability over all as a result of that.

Paul: No, it’s a great appointment and we’ve used this and in groups together, but this idea of, even just.

asking a team, what’s the essential conversation that you as a team are unwilling. Yeah. it’s amazing what comes out, there’s usually five of them, but there’s something somehow about the question actually forces the answer. Yeah. Cause it wouldn’t sort of surface on its own.

And so I don’t mean to say that, I don’t want to trap people or Trump teams questions, but I think that there are some of these questions that you want to put forward that, these leaders are so smart. they know how to get themselves out hot water. Yeah. And yeah. Can you frame questions and conversation that don’t have easy back exits.

It’s no. You’re going to go through this. That’s why

Pod: we’re here.

Paul: It’s important. Yeah.

Pod: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s a bit of it paradox there then in the sense of, a lot of, there’s a lot of writing, a lot of books, a lot of articles that talk about positive psychology and staying optimistic and the power of all of that.

And yet a few minutes ago you talked about developmental happens in bursts and plateaus and it can be uncomfortable. W what’s your view on the, maybe the pros and cons of the pop psychology of the positive psychology in relationship to this unlucky move and it’s need to be uncomfortable to be able to unlock it.

Paul: That’s a good question. listen, I’m all in favor of, Positivity and I prefer to be there, but I think, from a developmental perspective, and I think we know this, when we think about ourselves, some of our biggest sources of growth moments weren’t necessarily in that moment, fairly easy or comfortable or where we want it to be.

whether it’s, Holiday going wrong or getting lost or having your heartbroken, these things that are, challenges that build us, there’s, the whole concept of human beings are antifragile, in that when they get disrupted, they actually get stronger.

They don’t break often. And so almost. Psychology is almost an anti-fragile element. the learning can come from darker moments, the, the difficult, challenges as well as, the high points and the peak experience. and I think when you’re looking for these unlocking moves or.

I’m looking for moments in time where certain stories just became embedded. I think if you avoid the sort of the negative. Yeah. And I know most folks in the coaching space wouldn’t do that. But, I think for leaders in particular, when you stay away from negative emotion, because you’re afraid of going death, you take 50%.

of the potentiality off the table. Just statistically, it’s not a great thing. Move it’s man, if you did that, if you took 50% of your market off the table and you’d still have to have the same revenue targets, you’d think you’re insane. But yeah, mental standpoint, I think emotion both positive and, and difficult.

Are, it’s just it’s fodder for the yeah. for the development process. Yeah.

Pod: I saw a quote from Susan David, the South African psychologist who’s who does a lot of work in Harvard and a lot of work on an emotional agility. she talked about only dead people. Never get unwanted emotions. the stress of life is the starting point to a meaningful life, which goes to your point here, is it meaningful, has got to be both positive and that the stressors and together, they give you the whole sense of meaningful in the whole sense of growth.

Paul: Exactly. Exactly.

Pod: let’s double down a little bit into maybe examples of leadership. you’ve been in this space where you’ve been cultivating leaders working alongside, as you said, some of the smartest people in the planet to do great work every day, and yet they still can elevate their impact.

What patterns do you notice about leaders who are able to continue to elevate their impact? Or maybe even the opposite leaders who are, could have the potential, but just haven’t done it yet. And there’s a passion to it.

Paul: That’s a good question. I, the obvious kind of quick answers is this is self-awareness right?

So it, it is, this. Goes back to the Greeks and probably earlier than that somehow, but yeah, this idea of unexamined life of the ability to take perspective, to see myself in the world, not be so consumed by the world, that everything, it’s the fish and the goldfish in the water, syndrome.

one of the things that we’ll first work with a leader and in particular team on is, are they able to take perspective, a lot of the agile principles, things like running retrospectives. there’s a lot of sort of structured ways that teams do that, but I think it has developmental level, can teams and leaders begin to see a more nuanced realities around them?

what’s actually happening. I had a, It was actually a conversation yesterday. And it was a leader who was promoted to a leadership team, and a leader who was on the team was demoted. And, there was a situation where part of that demoted leaders team was going to join. This new leaders team and his group.

So it was a little bit, it was tricky and we had a conversation and there’s eight people on the team. And his first comment to me was, I found it interesting. Only one person sent me a note after the announcement. like good luck, and, and I could tell he was hurt.

and it also felt personal. It was about them and about him. And in the conversation where we went was, okay, let’s just step back from it and notice that even in this situation where it’s just eight people. People found it difficult to congratulate you at the same time that a trusted and respected peer was being asked to leave.

It’s how do I do that? And so what might that signal further down in the organization? these, this is a team that is responsible for probably 10,000 people. So as that amplifies down, in what ways are people uncomfortable about talking about this? what else isn’t being said?

And so we used it as this. A very personal kind of felt experience of wow, I would have appreciated a little bit more congratulations too. Isn’t that interesting? really decent people found it difficult to congratulate me on this new role. What might that actually be representing?

Yeah. and where actually might that show up where we actually need to get the work done. And so led to a whole different conversation. I think this ability to take perspective and examine it doesn’t mean that. The deeper meaning is necessarily the truer one. But to recognize that, within the noise, there are lots of signals and often leaders will pay attention to the one that we’re trying to here.

And they don’t hear the others that actually could be really impactful for them. And I think as a coach, part of our job, I can’t interpret them. I’m not someone you’ve come to for business advice, but I think I can help you. discern what other signals might be mixed in there that you haven’t traditionally paid attention to, but actually it could be whole new sources of data and insight.

Pod: In that example of what was, what I’m hearing you say is you helped that guy understand that they had a reaction to, Hey, I’m a bit upset people that haven’t congratulated me and unlocking it, allowed him to see that. This data here that could be a far bigger story that you need to tend to, and potentially it is leads go in and be aware of because you’re now in service of that.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s allowed to be about you. So go ahead. You can have that conversation with your colleagues. Don’t let it only be about you. Yeah. and that’s the, I think that’s part of what unlocks is. it’s both true for you and at a just interpersonal level and maybe there’s something to attend to.

it’s also true at a systemic level. And as a leader, that’s actually more interesting frankly, than. Do you know whether or not someone sent you an email on the first 48 hours, because then you can actually start attending to something that, over time could actually become an issue, right?

Pod: Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned Bob Keegan a few minutes ago from Harvard and you and I have worked with Bob Anderson from leadership circle for many years. And they both talk about, in different ways, are the emotions having you. Are you having them or in Bob’s case, coming from a reactor space or coming from the creative space.

And I think a wall, I think what your example he illustrates is you’re trying to help that leader move from an automatic, reactive space off I’m upset to yes, you can be. And. Also listen to the language and then therefore you can come from a creative space as well, which is truly unlocking that potential for his leadership there.

Paul: Oh, it’s beautiful. yeah. just to use sort of leadership circle language, I’d say it’s this, initial high complying. High critical. If they didn’t send me a note, does that mean I don’t belong? Do I not fit in? And, what does that say about them? That they didn’t maybe, I don’t know them as well as I thought, maybe they aren’t as, Oh, Oh, is that how it’s going to be here at the top? that kind of quality and that unlocking mood, move to systems awareness and self awareness actually. Let me get curious about this and isn’t it interesting that it had such an emotional, a reaction in me. And can I put the personal nature of that to the side for the moment and actually almost pick that up as a, like a window, picking up a wind and it’s wow, like, Where else is that happening?

systems awareness, what does that say about me? Oh, isn’t that interesting? It matters so much. And like, how’s that going to influence difficult conversations that we’re going to need to have as a team? Cause if I’m looking for a Pat on the back, instantaneous with anything positive that I do, I’m probably in the wrong place, So I think getting them to think in those more creative ways, just end up having the situation be much higher leverage than just Like to your point, like now I need to react to it. I feel bad and I’ll either shut down or I’ll, I’ll tell them that they were wrong.

those are not always helpful.

Pod: You often talk about the down and out move as an example, or maybe even a regular example. I was suspect of an unlucky move for leaders. Can you just walk us through that and maybe even have an example that she had a straight out with one of the leaders you’ve been working

Paul: with.

It’s a, again, it’s, w without having the visual it’s the down and out makes sense, because it plays out on the leadership circle profiles. So people who know that kind of, and typically with leaders and it’s very common. It’s a, and I’ll just, yeah, I’ll use the leadership circle terminology just for the sake of clarity.

But the, it often starts with the leader who is really purpose driven, is it believes in the vision of the company and the mission thinks that makes a positive connection  into the world and cares. this isn’t a sort of nine to five and I punch out and, do my side hustle where my passion really lies, that they’ve invested and they commit a lot of their life’s blood to this organization and what this organization is trying to accomplish.

And so that’s yeah, a, a precondition. And then. Often they tend to be incredibly intellectually gifted. you just be, frankly, it’s hard to make it to the top of any enterprise of any significance without. Having your share of brains, right? the IQ is typically there and it’s it didn’t show up at 35.

So these are just, these are people who, probably since seven years old had the right answer or the smart one in the class, all the things I wasn’t by the way, which is 35, actually asking me anything, I’m sure there’s a reactive sense of me that takes a certain pleasure from a ha you thought you were so bright.

Now you have to talk to them. I was

Pod: just upset to get in trouble. That’s a Brita. Totally,

Paul: exactly. David Troy. the, so what ends up happening is that, they see things that aren’t working in the organization. They tend to see them sooner and more vividly than anyone else. And they typically speak out about it.

They’re like, Hey, we’re not structured the right way, or we shouldn’t be doing this way. Or, here’s this massive inefficiency. And even the way we think about the marketplace, And the rest of the organization, it doesn’t really know what to do with them. Probably doesn’t see it.

often again, these folks are seeing things much sooner. And so that’s the down, which is they go critical, and I always think of the reactive tendencies. And I think Steve, athe a colleague of ours. Talks about them as these, anxiety management systems that there are one of the places we go when the world becomes, like we get filled with sort of that steam and the pressure builds, and we’re going to do something and the down and outs cycle is critical.

So it’s noticing things aren’t happening the way they should. And then there’s typically two directions leaders go and some actually managed to do both. The first one is down and, again, looking at the leadership circle to the left, which is this move towards, distance. And that sounds something like, they don’t get it.

I’ve told them a hundred times. I’m not going to say it 101 times. If, once they figure out that I was right, they know where to find me, And so they’ve drifted from distance right. Into passive, which I think is the highest inverse correlation. it makes sense. Sort of the opposite of leading.

Yeah. Yeah. And they unintentionally and ironically, because they’re so passionate, they go into the yeah, exactly. they end up in passing, which is the last place and they’re always surprised in their profile. Like, how’s that even possible? no one has ever described me as passive the other way as they can I’m down and out to the right, which is moving more into sort of arrogance.

And that tends to sound like, conversation with a spouse over a glass of wine, the I’m surrounded by and nobody gets it. And I misunderstood. As our spouses often do, they jump on our side and defend us. You’re right. you are smarter. Yeah.

Pod: Don’t see the value of you.

Paul: Exactly. So probably not the best conversation, but, and then, the reality is once they’ve discounted people. So if I’m surrounded by idiots, but this is still important, I guess I better do it myself. And that’s that drift into autocratic. And so these autocratic and passive traps that leaders.

Very unwittingly get into because they didn’t see a coming and it wasn’t the initial thing. They did. I think critical was that first move something that’s happening. That shouldn’t be, but they didn’t know how to bring it through that, in our model, the authenticity, how do I tell truth to an organization and actually look at both myself?

So self-awareness. How am I partly responsible for the fact that this isn’t changing? What is it about the way that I’m communicating it, that doesn’t allow people to hear it and that, would bleed down into relating or systems awareness, which is where are we stop? what’s the repeating pattern that seems to be unbreakable.

And how do I begin to experiment with. Bold choices that might disrupt that pattern. And so that’s systems thinker down into, achieving strategic focus. what’s a new story that needs to evolve. And so no one leaders can move out of that sort of anxiety management, but totally understandable.

But almost always derails them into sort of a different way of experiencing the same, the same situation with more curiosity. and I may, I might be misquoting this, but I think even from a brain research standpoint, you can’t be curious and anxious at the same time. But there’s some.

Yeah. And so this, I always say what do you do when you’re anxious? I’d be like, get curious about why you’re anxious. And you’re likely to find that the anxiety dissipates your, it might be just a brain trick, but it seems to work. Yeah.

Pod: But what you’ve outlined for the leader listening to this is if they find themselves in that emotive or anxious passion, where they move into.

That’s all done. I’m tired of trying so hard, call me or I’ll do it myself or any variation of that. Yeah. Step is recognize it. Get out of that anxiety moment if into the self awareness piece, but then move into that in almost inescapable question. how can I raise a question about our patterns as an organization or how can I help these people to move into it?

And by doing that. As opposed to standing anxiety moment, they are more likely to get the outcome they want. Anyway,

Paul: that’s it? how many times have people gone home? And we all know this in ourselves, right? Either on the train or in the commute or something where we either think I’m surrounded by it.

It’s no one gets it or, I give up, sometimes you gotta, when the lose the battle to win the war, some battles aren’t worth fighting or whatever. rationale you use, but I, I think for leaders when they noticed that story is emerging in them, just to catch it because, give yourself 15 minutes, no, that’s fine.

it’s like a warm bed. It’s don’t say, you will get all wrinkly. If you stay there too long searches, human and enjoy the, the self righteousness of it for a short period and then, figure out what you’re going to do.

Pod: But one of my old professors. Tony grant who passed away already this year, he used to say, yeah, have a warm bath with milk, but don’t stay too long.

Cause then he would start smelling. Yeah. Enjoy it for a little bit. For not too long.

Paul: All things in moderation. My grandmother used to say,

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. We’ve used an iTunes and Spotify.

I greatly appreciate it. Let’s shift the story to a very different one. When I first came across your name, I think was in Debra Roland’s books, still moving where I think she referenced to you as part of the team. And that was working with her. It’s a great book for anyone who’s interested in a larger scale transformation, but particularly in system.

Awareness the system thinking and nudging the system, if I’m right and under and remembering the story where the book was written about, or it was based on was a large German nuclear energy organization that was shifting it’s a way of working products was, an organization that was asked to be entrepreneurial yet is working in a very bureaucratic, nuclear energy sector.

And you got to come in and help navigate that.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. and Deb is a, it was a great teacher of mine and, yet another one of those people who, when you come across there’s the work I did before I met Deb. And then the work I do after having that debt, is richer.

And yeah, and, she, she does a wonderful, again, her book, she does a great job of calling out these principles. And even, I think going into that example of the. The energy company, I think one of the, I came in probably with a overly psychological approach.

That’s like somehow if the leaders could change and make better choices and show up differently and develop that, that would be sufficient. and I think what I learned from dab in particular, working with this client over multiple years, God, I think we ran, 50 programs. w so we really got to know their senior leaders is that leadership is embedded in a context.

we’ll say that leadership circles, and that context is, The systemic influences that are both under your control and completely out of your control. So it’s this idea of, sailing from, Portugal to New York and the irony of you actually have to sail down the West coast of Africa and then up.

through the Caribbean to get there. cause the winds and the currents, if you try and just cut straight across, you’ll just never make it. or it’ll just be so definitely long that you won’t have time. and I think organism change is a little bit the same that. The distance from point a to point B can look to see really close and absent any undercurrents and Tradewinds it may be.

It is. And so it’s worth experimenting with, some change efforts or just about doing things differently. My experiences with large complex multi-stakeholder influences, It isn’t that way, And so this idea of being able to read the system, not just the system in the organization, in terms of, how are we structured?

How do we do things, the external system, I think that particularly for enterprise leaders, that’s more and more, where they need to look, how is the market, how regulators competitors. Society. how is that creating headwinds and tailwinds and how do we begin to navigate the organization to take advantage of them or at least to mitigate the, the cost of it.

And, yeah, so it was a, it was an enlightening, couple of years, working with Deb and her team that really brought to light, this important of, how do you really bring that systems thinking in? and in fact, recognize that most big. Complex change is about shifting systems.

and you have to do the right leadership thing. so the things need to compliment that, but boy system wins is my experience. Even my ex and my examples are phenomenal leaders from one organization who go to another organization and fail dramatically. And it happens all the time and it’s because their leadership is worse or they weren’t doing the right things there.

They embedded themselves in a system that completely overruled. Yeah. and, and you see it and I know you do a lot of work with transitions and yeah. New CEOs coming in and boy, that’s it. If you’re not watching out for that. yeah. And they’re all invisible

Pod: things.

Paul: culture.

Pod: One of my mentors years ago, Peter Hawkins in bath, in England, he always said to me, you put a great leader in a bad system that they can change.

The system always wins no matter what. And therefore, how do you help the leader to start recognizing the system as quick as they can? Is it easy, is the only way to give them a sense of it. So with that mind, then how does a leader start listening to the system?

Paul: Yeah. w and again, we’ve already mentioned Deb’s book, shoot.

She goes into quite a bit of detail on the inner, and she did a lot of research around that, what are these inner practices? these inner competencies that leaders have, the ones. so self-awareness. again, comes back. Can I take, I guess is what I’d say and can I use that perspective to gain insight?

And can I integrate that insight into my art actions moving forward, personal learner, right? Like it’s one thing to do just like, Oh, I noticed that happened and they just keep doing it. It’s another. So I noticed that happened. That’s not ideal. Let me experiment with something different and. Going to shape and change the way my leadership looks.

Yeah. So I think that’s one, I think another, especially in this moment is, pay attention to emotional hotspots. they’re, they’re often where, it’s like these, in Yellowstone park, in the U S the geysers, they often are aware the, all of the turbulence and power underneath the surface pops up and.

And it’s often in uncharacteristic behavior, isn’t that odd this team did this, or I never would have thought this, the leader would have said something like that. And so I think a systems lens would say might actually just be interruption of something much bigger. So how is what’s going on underneath that leader or what this team is trying to navigate?

how might that Seemingly uncharacteristic or out of character. Yeah. Action. Yeah. Be something deeper than that. And something. So it’s really that kind of paying attention to what shows up and treating it all as potential data. A lot of it’s noise and that’s part of the leadership job is to discern the two, but yeah, emotional hotspots.

And then, and this day, particularly emotions that aren’t necessarily considered positive. So there’s a lot of, There’s a lot of grief. again, we had talked about, some of the, the racial justice issues and some of the social justice issues, particularly in the U S right now, that are, hard, to confront, our representative and I think signals of something much deeper that needs attention.

you can criticize a protest if you want, but actually what it’s representing and what lies underneath it is. much is something that’s important to attend to the, yeah. So I would say that those are a couple of the places that I would look as look for the emotional hotspots

Pod: they did.

The hotspot study is fascinating. I think Colbert has taught us this in a completely non-leadership emotional way. If you look at the countries who have, who are managing covert, what they are doing is managing the virus outbreaks in hotspots in terms of postcodes. And why is this postcard getting more?

Cases and other postcodes and the BioTracker as the folks who are ringing around to figure out where have those people being are figuring out such a cluster hotspots somewhere because three or four people were in the same venue. And then that became super spreader. So I suspect what you’ve just described.

We’re learning that in a very different environment today with a pandemic, same leadership, discipline applies. Go through the hotspots. They’re uncomfortable. Figure out what’s going on there sometimes it’s noise, but actually sometimes it’s a really shit going on there that if you understand that you can try and solve for

Paul: it.

Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And often, something, I’ll give you an example and I think, and again, I think, Deb might talk about it in her book, but, at this energy company that there were these sort of two, two big things that are happening. So the first thing was a huge focus on innovation.

And how do we get an innovation team started? And of course, from when you think about energy, it’s actually one of the most interesting and potentially innovative areas, w whether we look at electric vehicles or just the future of non-carbon producing energy.

And the energy space is a sexy place to be at the moment. Who knew, Silicon Valley is interested. It’s you’ll get invited to the right parties. It’s it’s okay to be an energy company. I used to be boring now. It’s so there’s that aspect. And then you have, in the case of this client, this idea of.

The reality, which is much of the energy is, using, lignite or Brown coal, or less environmentally responsible, ways of using energy. And so this sort of paradox of, we both need to. Innovate and move into the green energy and yeah, the reality, which is our whole history as an organization has been built on a foundation of this, of coal, and how do we allow ourselves to both end that part?

to give it its due. It’s a place in history to not make it wrong. it, wasn’t what it was. And we made choices at a time where maybe we didn’t know as much, or maybe we made the wrong choice, but this idea of organizations noticing where are things dying and where are they growing and to be able to give both attention, I think allow, I think the extent that you can end things well will predetermine how.

Effectively, you can start new things. Yeah. And I think, for a lot of folks and organizations, there’s this desire to only talk about the future and the positive aspects of where we’re going and innovation and, L in any organization or family or the individual, there are other parts that need to be attended to which may be are falling away and don’t have as big a place, but need to be respected.

Pod: Yeah, it’s certainly a mistake. I see many new, C level CEOs or any businesses leader who comes in from the outside. It join a business, our takeover and our organization, and that is rushing to embrace the future, but not honoring the past, even if they, you were given a mandate, even if they’re brought in with a specific mandate.

To get ready for the future. Not I’m not honoring the past me. They are all virtually dishonoring, everybody other team who was there as part of the past. And it’s a very over, and it’s a genuine mistake in the sense that the leader doesn’t intend to do that, but their speed to us, to the future without acknowledging the reason we’re here is because of where we came from and the great work you did to get us here.

Is often misunderstood as a very blatant disregard for our history.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. as the great social scientists, Bruce Springsteen said, we can, we can either be, ghosts or ancestors, and so we can be ghosts to who torment and, and haunt. The next generation, or we can be ancestors who resource and support and enable them.

And I think this idea of ending and beginning is so important. and I think, it doesn’t just play out in a, on a highway in New Jersey, but, I think it’s true in organizations, we’ll hear legacy, be a goal or an ancestor. Yeah. and there’s plenty of. Yeah.

Pod: Speaking of legacies, our heard you on another podcast with Joel, from coaches rising a few weeks ago, along with, Bruce and Tammy who were senior leaders in the Roche healthcare organization. And you and I have been. Part of a three or four year long program where we were working with Roche.

So in that podcast, you and Tammy, Bruce described in great detail, the whole history of that program and how it started. So for anyone who’s interested in that story and that whole topic and how indeed an organization decides to or emerges on what, as an extorting transformation, go to the coaches, rising podcasts, and you hear the whole story over there.

What I’m interested in asking you, Paul though, is I know you were one of the early folks involved in creating the potted and then in koala co architecting, I became this great program. My question is either as a leader in an organization who is trying to enable or lead, a transformation of some kind or in day some on the outside who is there to try and help them.

What is needed on behalf of that person to participate or how to show up that then enables our catalyzes. What becomes a transformation?

Paul: Yeah, I’m pausing. Cause it’s such a, it’s such a big question that I wish I had a, I wish I had a right answer to, it would save an awful lot of people, an awful lot of time.

Pod: Cause I suspect the answer is not the obvious. I suspect the answer is more about who you be as opposed to the gray strategy and what you do.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. so yeah, the obviously, not the, obviously the things that have become self-evident, having done this is if you go in say any large scale chain, it doesn’t have to be a 94,000 person multinational, It could be. Small family business. But the idea that if you cannot go in any longer, I think with a clear set of here are the eight steps that we’re going to take to get from a to B. I think the oral changes is changing too fast. Technology is changing too fast. You’ve got these black Swan events like COVID whatever’s next.

that’ll always impact that. And so I think this idea of taking an emergent approach. Which I think frees up consultants and coaches a great deal, because you don’t need to have answers to things you couldn’t possibly have answers to. but what you do need to do is, set a specific course of travel.

So I think this idea, and sometimes we’ll talk about this as a what’s the frame. So what’s the from, to what’s the big movement that we don’t know how we’re going to make. We actually don’t even know. All of what’s going to be required to make it, but how do we make that? And so in the case that ed Roshan and many other organs, at a high level, there was this sense of becoming a more agile enterprise.

this ability for a big complex organization that runs off of very long term. R and D cycles. how do you become more nimble? How do you begin to respond to the needs of customers? The needs of patients and, having a CEO who had a vision around, what do you term as a person utilized healthcare?

So this idea that medicine can be increased singly, personalized through the use of. Emerging diagnostic techniques and emerging, drugs and medicines. So that was this, point on the horizon, is we need to somehow be more of that. And then I think that they set up a few more hard rules, which is we’re going to experiment a lot.

We’re going to build in a toleration for experimentation. So one of the things that we did there that I think was important at the very beginning was. We brought the executive team into the process of this, program that we’re running culture. And he says that was, targeting the top two or 300 liters there.

And actually had them design themselves. Around, how are they going to respond when people start trying things differently? So you’re saying you want people to be more innovative. You want more innovation and ideas and change to happen down in the organization. So how are you going to be intentional about not stifling that because and all it takes in a board presentation is one roll of the eye or one look away, one red marker on

Pod: the property slide.

Paul: You don’t really want this. Yeah, exactly. and, to their credit, they did a great job of actually coming up with a set of, I think it was times seven or eight principals. And, and they participated in the program and would, there were involved as a stakeholder and a, when we were short, always, make sure we sent out the reminder of, remember what we agreed to, and, and they really embraced it.

And I think. The two things combined of senior leaders experimenting re-imagining what’s possible with the top team. Not necessarily endorsing it yet because there was these aren’t necessarily endorsing bubble ideas, but encouraging, like I get this as difficult. I can imagine this is going to require a tremendous amount of change, much of that.

We’re not sure if we could do. But we want to encourage the direction you’re headed. I keep going, and, so I think, those two things feel important. I don’t mean to say that you always have to have the executive team fully on board. it’s certainly always helps, but having, I think senior leaders design themselves around.

How they’re going to react when members of their team start coming with very bold, very courageous, sometimes misguided ideas. And, cause they can shut that whole thing down right away. Or they can keep the possibility open and actually mentor and sponsor and help direct. Yeah.

Pod: So it’s the vision for possibility.

How do you keep leaning into that?

Paul: Yeah.

Pod: coming to the end of our conversation. and I’m interested in, we’re recording this in August, 2020, clearly 2020 has been an extraordinary year for everybody in the world on many levels, but particularly for leaders in the world who have probably been, confronted with the most complexity of their careers, I would imagine because it intersects with the complexity of their lives at the same time.

I’m wondering, what are you noticing about leaders who are managing to navigate well at the moment, in terms of what are the patterns you’re noticing about them, either on what they’re doing or what they’re thinking about this, allowing them to navigate the, a really strange situation that we’re all in.

And it might be just slightly better than everybody else, but it’s enough to be amplified. The impact the ripple effect is having.

Paul: I think it’s this, it’s an interesting article. It just, I think it’s a McKinsey quarterly, this latest edition, but it’s on the, the power of personal purpose right now. And I think that’s been a lot said about organizational purpose and, even team purpose and, it was a nice sort of, look into, and it’s something that I know you and I have believed in a long time, which is, leaders need to leaders who are really clear about why they’re showing up and, it’s a borrow, language of, our.

our friend, Bob Anderson, how do they make their life, their message, And I know what my message is. Yeah. And so in a moment where there are no right choices where everything feels like some version of less bad, what do I lean into? Yeah. and. in a place where the playbook has gone, I think for many of these organizations, certainly with COVID, but I also think with technology I’m and I just was reading an article about the, I was the head of Warner, Media, being unceremoniously dismissed and this collapse of old Hollywood and the next Netflix , of the entertainment industry, which not everyone is positive about, but, That will continue to happen and it’ll continue to happen at an accelerated basis. And so if that’s the case, I feel like that sense of personal purpose, that inner anchor, that. Inner narrative, sometimes about this idea of narrative identity, what’s the story I’m living, who I, who and who am I in that bigger story of what’s unfolding.

And I think when you work leaders around that, and the leaders have noticed that have done actually. In some ways thrived and really stood out is, people are just super clear what they’re about, when everything seemed, whenever the lights go out, it’s like, there are these sort of beacons of right.

we’ll go that way. Yeah. And, yeah. And so then they come in. All right. Levels, all stripes. it’s, there’s no demographic or seniority that I point to, but it’s, when the tide goes out, who’s, you can see who’s not wearing pants aspect. And I think when difficult times come in, you can see the leaders who actually have done their work.


Pod: yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. You say that because I’ve noticed the leaders. Yeah, as you said, have a strong sense of purpose for themselves and for the organization that they’re leading. And I’ll say not obviously, but often they are very linked. They then tend to be able to lean into relationships far more often.

And in fact, they had the increased, the frequency of relationships and team meetings during these kinds of pandemic moments. And they tend to like you mentioned reactive and creative language. When we talk about leadership circle, they tend to be able to lean a whole lot more into the vision and the possibility.

And therefore lead from those kinds of, creative competencies and then the ability to think across the system. And I agree with you, they, it stems from, they are clear about all the realization needs to do, and they’re very clear on their role in that. And then it gives a lot of confidence to everybody else.

So the fact that if anything, I think confidence becomes contagious.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. But, and then what you mentioned, I think is worth just highlighting, which is this, I would argue even absent sort of the disruptive moments, right now this idea of, relationships. in the, in, again, coming back to the leadership circle model, this idea of relating as being your point of leverage, bill, our friend and colleague, bill Adams will often say, who’s in the room when you’re not, how do you scale you?

these sort of, maybe those are in a way on escapable questions in themselves. But, the reality, which is all of the intellect, all of the capability, all of the ability to make things happen, set against the challenges moving forward, will overwhelm. even the most perfect leader, And so the ability for leaders to bring others into their story, to use that sort of power of connection of relationship of helping people see themselves in the bigger narrative of, doing the David Troy, move of holding a possibility for people long enough for them to believe it themselves.

I think those are the kinds of leaders who. are going to really thrive and come out of this period as being the ones that organizations lean into most. no one in the room versus being the one who makes the room smarter is going to be really, differentiated. Yeah. we need smarter rooms, not smarter.

Yeah, smart people got us here. So that’s,

Pod: coming to the end. I’ve got two final questions for you. And they’re the same two. I ask everybody in this whole series. First one is given all of the wisdom you’ve now accumulated. And I’m assuming there’s lots of wisdom. In fact, I know there’s lots of wisdom given all the wisdom you accumulated, what would you now it’s held a 35 year old version of yourself.

Paul: I think the first thing I’d say is, it’s going to be okay. it’s, I almost wish every 25 30, like it’s going to be OK. most of what you’re worried about right now has absolutely no bearing on where your life is headed. figure out who you are, resist the temptation to be who you think you’re supposed to be, or who people tell you need to be.

and if you can find a way to have what you do be the only thing you could do, you’re going to have a great. A great run, and, be good to your friends, love your family. And, I wouldn’t say the rest will take care of itself, but the rest will just happen. Yeah.

So you’re going to be okay. I could have used that. So I’ll have my 80 year old self tell me. 50, almost 52. I’ll apply that to retrospectively

Pod: brilliant. And the last question, and I know that Marcella and your wife, and I share a huge interest in going to live gigs. And we have a share that what he said, but what is your favorite band or indeed your favorite song?

Paul: Oh, gosh. Yeah. yeah, she’d definitely give you a much more updated, answer, to that. she’s more in tune with what’s going on. but it’s such a, you had sent that email and I was thinking about it and I re. So it’s an album, it was, it came out the summer. I turned 16 and it was, Bruce Springsteen’s born in the USA.

huh. And whether it was born in the USA or I’m on fire or. The whole of side B aging myself was an actually it was a record. it, and it was, like I had known Bruce before, but there was something about that album hitting. the summer I turned 16 and I actually have my middle son turns 16 this summer.

And so I was thinking about, just, it it’s this moment in time when, whenever I see that sort of, Bruce’s rear end with the baseball hat and that iconic album, I just, I can place myself. I know the beach, I know the. I think growing up in new England, which is, it’s not New Jersey, but we weren’t a world away.

there was so much of what he spoke to. I think born in the USA was the first time I’d actually really paid attention to the, the lyrics of, disillusionment and, in a way, a lot of. it’s played as some patriotic battle a ballad, but when you actually listened to the lyrics yeah.

it’s also partly an indictment of choices that have been made and sort of the work class. and I’ve always loved, I was the first live concert I ever saw was Bruce Springsteen. And, I know you’re. So big on storytelling, but I always think, when you go to a bruce Springteen concert, it’s 60% stories, then 40% music, it’s just his, whether he talks about, getting his draft notice or his arguments with his dad, or, and then it’ll just seamlessly flow into a song.

I just, I find his, that ability to to tell a story, and to create a narrative, part of what I also love about him is, and he says this in his, Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, the Netflix show, which if you have access to it, as I highly recommend that, even if you’re not a Bruce Springsteen fan, it’s phenomenal theater, but this idea of someone who, never had a blue collar job, never worked nine to five.

Never made a living with his hands and he became the official spokesperson

Pod: for the whole world. And

Paul: as he says in the Broadway show, I’m not good with this idea of how you construct an identity, and that he. Channeled his father and his town and, forever more around the world.

When you say Asbury park, for most of us, a very specific person comes to mind. So yeah, Bruce born in the USA.

Pod: Okay. My first major outdoor concerts of my life was Bruce Springsteen. The year after the album came out, it’s slaying castle in Ireland, there was 70,000 people and it was his first.

  big outdoor

Pod: concert. I was extraordinary. And my 14 year old son has just fallen in love with Springsteen on Broadway and every time he and I in the car together, that’s all he wants to hear. And just to hear the stories behind the songs. So living legend is a, is Springsteen.

Paul: we talk a little bit about, what is it to be self aware?

And it’s part of why I love. that, is Broadway a one man show, is it is a masterclass in taking memory and making meaning. Yeah. And being able to somehow weave that together into, an evolved identity and, Yeah, just, it’s just speaks to so much of what we would all hope we’re well to do in a well lived life.

And, I also love the fact that I think is, I think his oldest son is firemen and, someone else’s a musician. So there was this, disability to escape the trap of, are you a ghost or an ancestor? I suspect he’s, he’s an ancestor. And as children, not a haunting ghost of, can you be a success?


Pod: Paul, it’s been a, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show today, and it’s been a pleasure working with you for the years that we have. And I know for a fact that there’s hundreds of leaders who think about by leadership pre Paul Bern and my leadership post Paul Bern, and in terms of the impact you’ve had on them.

And, I suspect today’s show will give listeners who don’t know who you are, insights into the golden nuggets that you just bring to the table every time we have a conversation. Thank you, sir.

Paul: Thank you. Thank you.

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