Thursday, January 31, 2013

Not for Profit Leadership: Three Inspiring Young Leaders Offer Us Their Insights

I was reading the Third Sector Magazine and come across a really interesting ‘couch discussion’ conducted and written by Candice de Chalian with three inspiring young NFP leaders, Viv Benjamin CEO of OakTree Foundation, Samah Hadid , National Director of The Global Poverty Project and Ellen Sandell, Australian Youth Climate Coalition. By way of background the three shared their journey to NFP leadership which encompassed volunteering, being discriminated against both in terms of age (too young) and their ethnic background, realising that change happened when politicians feel community pressure, not being held back or preoccupied with the views of others and getting mentors and developing a range of skills.
Here are some insights I gained, and notes I made from the discussion into their challenges and triumphs. They offer some great advice and I am inspired by their wisdom and encourage us ‘older’ folk to embrace and learn from these young leaders.
Strategies to overcome challenges
  • Keep strong relationships with people outside of the area or NFP sector
  • Stay true to your own moral compass and principles
  • Surround yourself with inspiring change makers and peers who are working to positively change society 
  • Trial and error
Some leadership horror and success insights • Being thrown in the deep end and realising so much about own abilities and capacity • The need to undertake big bold projects and take lots of risk to prove you can do Big things
Rewards • Working for a purposed, research suggests purpose driven people are happier • Work you do has an impact on the lives for the poor and vulnerable • Work each day on your passion
Advice • Keep doing what you love • Be authentic • Live by your principles • Try to identify and improve your weaknesses
Tips • Don’t wait - lead now • Don’t be held back by conventional wisdom • Try, try and apply the ‘learn by rejection’ rule • Put time and effort into what you are doing • Show you are prepared to do the hard things
If you would like to read the full article it’s in the February 2013 issue of the magazine I am involved in a program that seeks to increase the number of young people on Boards and Committees in the Aged and Community Sector. Find out more about the program here

Monday, January 28, 2013

Who are you being, when being a leader?

Before I commenced the role of CEO, I took the time to go on a retreat to consider what it might mean to be in such a privilege leadership position. I say privileged because I think in this role you have the opportunity to create and develop the type of organisation you believe will achieve the organisation’s mission and objectives. So I came to consider on the retreat, “who are you being, when being a leader?” and I took the time to get in touch with my own inner teacher. What emerged for me was: strength and compassion; work with people as human beings; the workplace is a community; create and build a sustainable organisation; seek to understand before you make decisions and create lots of opportunity to hear and truly listen to people’s stories. Have confidence in yourself, develop trust and act with integrity, honesty and openness.
The one ‘inner teaching’ that really struck me was “work with people as human beings”. Why did my inner teacher make the distinction between people and human beings? What emerged for me is that when people are seen as human beings there is shift in how I observe, listen and react. My physiology is more relaxed, my eyes are softer, I am more attune to the persons emotions and mood, I notice their body and how they are and I am deeply interested in them as a human being, their complexity, frailties, inherent gifts, passions, interests and family. They are not ‘human resources’ but ‘human beings’.
I think one of the major problems in the workplace is you can forget that people are human beings, not ‘human resources’, you forget their fundamental right to be seen as legitimate and when you treat people as human beings that are equal to you, the workplace flourishes. So how do you ensure that you always treat the other as a legitimate human being, rather than a human resource? I think this starts with observing your ‘way of being’ and recognising when to ‘shift your way of being’ to be at your most resourceful best.
Knowing yourself, your strengths and development needs is critical to being an effective leader, and much of this has to do with understanding your ‘way of being’ in various situations. Understanding your ‘way of being’ starts with observations. These observations can be about your language, moods and emotions and your physiology. In this conversation I am going to discuss language.
Language is made up of your speaking and listening. Listening is both hearing and your interpretations. This means listening to the language that you are using about yourself and others (both your private and public listening and speaking). What we create is first created in language, and the language of a leader can create possibilities or close off opportunities. Factors that can affect our listening and meaning making include our gender, age, position in society or the workplace, personality, family and cultural background. It can also be affected by the mood we are in.
Language creates reality, so if you enter into a conversation with a staff member as a human resource as opposed to a human being, your ‘way of being’ might not achieve the best results both for the person and the tasks. So I invite you to start observing yourself by listening to what you are saying about yourself and others. Notice if the person you are working with is a human resource or a human being. Take the time to listen and hear their story. As I mentioned at the start of the article, I found the retreat very useful in helping me to find my own path as a leader. In fact, I think they're so valuable that my business partners Anne Courtney, Kathryn Choules and I run regular wellness retreats for women. You can find out more about them here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Step Back - Take a Breath - Reflect - Retreat

“If only I had waited that 24hrs …” “if only I hadn’t sent that email”, “ If only I had taken some time out” . These are statements of reflection that I often hear when I am coaching leaders and managers. What I interpret from this is the capacity to step back and observe the situation before they acted. Being an observer of ourselves ‘in the moment’ is called second order learning and Lewin (1951) wrote that reflection as a process, reinforces learned behaviours and leads to new or higher levels of thoughts and ideas. However, in order to reflect you need to be able to appreciate the importance of taking a step back from the situation and events so you are able to respond in ways that ensure you are at your resourceful best. 

When I used to hear someone say they were going on a retreat I used to immediately think about religious communities who would go away on retreat. However over the years I have attended many retreats and partnered with Anne Courtney and Kathryn Choules to run retreats. I believe retreats are an integral part of leadership because retreating enables us to reflect and reconnect to one's self.

Retreating is a great way to give yourself the time to reflect, review, analyse, observe your ‘way of being’ and then plan and take the action needed to achieve the results you want. Retreating gives you the time to consider immediate situations that you are trying to deal work, longer term problems or concerns or a time to evaluated and plan for the future.

The following offers is a very simple technique we use to help you ‘reflect’ and ‘retreat’

  • Think about a recent situation that did not go well for you
  • Stand somewhere quite close your eyes and take two steps back
  • Imagine you are on a balcony looking down at yourself
  • What are you noticing about yourself in the situation that might be helping or hindering you or the situation?
  • In this situation do they think there is anything that you can change about yourself that could make the situation better?
  • Open your eyes and ask yourself what you noticed was different from the first time you looked at the situation to the second time you stepped back from the situation
Now imagine you have set aside 10 minutes in your day, or one full day, a weekend or a week where you take the opportunity to retreat, reflect and through this process learn about yourself. Learning occurs by integrating your concrete emotional experiences with reflection. Learning is a process best facilitated when ideas can be examined, tested and integrated with new, more refined ideas. In the process of learning, people move back and forth between differing approaches of reflection, action, feeling and thinking and then integrate new experiences into existing concepts. This creates knowledge. Retreating helps us to create knowledge about ourselves…writing about yourself reinforces new insights about yourself…what a great book read!  If you are interested in reflecting and retreating contact

Monday, January 7, 2013

Stop talking and get to work! But isn’t talking a central part of my job?

When I am asked what I do for a job I often say I listen and talk, I have lots of conversations with lots of people. Yet so many times I find myself in situations where I hear managers say “oh they are talking too much”; “I don’t have time to go and talk to them, I will send an email”; “all they did at the meeting was talk”.

So is talking and conversations the same thing? I wonder if the reason why people don’t consider talking as work is because they are not able to define the distinctions between the various types of  ‘talk’ or ‘conversations’ we have and the results they can produce. In today’s world the most important work in the knowledge economy is our ability to have effective conversations.  Nonetheless I continue to be amazed at how many people don’t realise the importance and value that conversations have in the workplace. Organisational structures, systems, processes, hierarchy, technology, geographical distance are just a few of the barriers that can cause people to not have effective conversations with each other.
However, as a leader I argue your role is to create an environment where people see that the only way work gets done in an organisation is through conversations. All the barriers that are put up as reasons why people don’t talk to each other are can equally be enablers if you choose to observe them from a different perspective.

A key component of the leadership development programs Anne Courtney and I run, is to expose people to the notion that organisations are a series of conversations, and that work gets done through conversations and relationships. A model we use to illustrate this point is the “Conversations Model” © Newfield Institute that argues there are primarily three groups of conversations. They include conversations for:

  1. Connection and intimacy - in relationship with others, these are the conversations for connection e.g. “How was your weekend?” 
  2. Shared Understanding - trying to be understood and understand in order to make plans and decisions e.g.  Oh so you mean X …Ok let’s call them” 
  3. Coordinating Action - getting things done through making agreements about who will do what by when e.g. “Ok so I will call Ken and arrange a time to collect A…”
As leaders it is essential that we develop our conversational skills so that we achieve organisational objectives. In summary, effective conversations in the workplace enable us to accomplish:

·         clarity and shared understanding,
·         possibility (including new ideas and new ways of thinking),
·         agreement and commitment,
·         strategic direction,
·         cooperation, coordination and collaboration,
·         improved relationships, and
·         desired outcomes

Reflect for a minute on where you think you strengths or limitations apply in terms of these purposes for conversations. For a further conversation on “conversations” contact

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Uncommunicated Expectations: Turning a ‘Should’ into a Clear Request"

I   A recent client of mine, who works as a Human Resources Manager complained to me about how line managers were not doing what she wanted them to do. When we explored what she had actually asked of people it become clear that she was not making effective requests.  You could be thinking ‘what, she is a HR Manager and she doesn’t know how to make a request’, well yes, at one level, it sounds a bit straightforward, however in my experience this is actually a common problem.  We primarily coordinate action to get work done through making agreements with each other.  When these agreements are not honoured they can affect our relationships. Additionally, when people are not making requests they are often complaining or they can be demanding. According to Fernando Flores there are five kinds of linguis-tic actions, the one I will explore here is Requests. 

    So what is a request? A request is asking someone to do something, inviting someone to help/assist us,   gaining cooperation to satisfy an underlying concern that you have to get things done, to coordinate actions and to meet our needs. For example “please send me your monthly report by Friday the 17th January”. This is a simple request, however breakdowns occur when people don’t make effective requests and the following offers some insights into why: 
  • Not making requests : you want something done but you don’t make a request. Why? Fear about asking others, rejection, afraid you will be seen as incompetent, don’t want to impose. A request is an invitation for another person to participant in your work/life and could be an opportunity to build your relationship.
  • Living with un-communicated expectations: a common form of ‘not requesting’ is when you live in a world of expectations that are unexpressed requests. Often your private conversation is about what others ‘should’ be doing. By translating your ‘should’ into a clear request you will reduce your frustration, resentment, anger or disappointment. 
  • Making unclear requests: the wife says to her husband “I want you to support me doing my degree”. Can you see the wife may have a different view than the husband of what support means? What kind of support? When? If there is no clear request, problems occur because the maker of the unclear request is likely to say “you promised to support me doing my degree and you didn’t”. 
In summary when you are going to make a request provide some explanation of the reason for the request so it makes sense, provide some context and consider the following tips:

  • Hinting is not an effective way to make a request e.g. "wouldn’t it be nice if we started the meeting on time for a change?"
  • Define the specific action
  • Specify timing
  • Clear criteria / standard
  • Don’t assume terminology is understood

For a further conversation on making effective requests contact