Eyes Up #13 – #MakeItHappen – Hell Yeah!

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As I contemplated the messages from this year’s International Women’s Day, I realised the reason I haven’t been blogging for a few weeks is because of the sheer amount of interesting events I’ve been attending and the interesting people I’ve been meeting and hearing from.  IWD has become a high profile event in the calendar and a fantastic catalyst to examine how we are both recognising the contribution of women in our society and taking personal accountability for championing change.  This theme was highlighted in my last post, and my recent observations have reinforced my belief that we can all Make Things Happen for ourselves.

A year ago my commitment on IWD 2014 was to ensure I started meaningful conversations on how the way we interact is subject to our own conscious and unconscious biases – most of which are a product of our cultural background and upbringing.  Now I used to consider this type of statement as strictly belonging to the school of political correctness and hence having no real meaning in my life – but one incident a few months back made me reconsider.

A work colleague came into the office with her two young children, a girl just starting school, and a pre-school boy.  As a mother of boys, I naturally was captivated by the mini-man figure with all his bravado and apparent technical prowess with my own work computer.  But when the 6 year old girl had finished drawing a beautiful picture on my desk, I was quick to say how great it was.  She then said something that surprised me – “this picture is for you to take home and show your husband”.  Now that was a lovely thought – but the fact is, at the age of 6, she had no idea of my marital status or even my sexual orientation – she simply assumed, from her own stable nuclear family background, that any woman of my age would have a husband waiting at home, just for the purpose of congratulating me on my day.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no wish to question this lovely image in her mind.  But to me, IWD is about the possibilities for all women to be empowered to live the lives they chose at the time they chose in the way they chose – and to be able to fully realise their potential without the hinderance of bias and discrimination.  All of us grow up with our own experiences colouring our view of what we are and what we are capable of –  which brings me to the “Hell Yeah” moment.

Last month I was fortunate enough to attend a function in aid of 7 times World Surfing Champion Layne Beachley’s Aim for the Stars foundation.  Layne was on a panel of illustrious Australian female sporting stars that evening, and she was asked the question of how she choses between the many options she is now presented with of where to spend her valuable time.  I really loved her response, which was that if unless her natural reaction to a request is “Hell Yeah” she really thinks carefully before accepting.

I’ve taken the “Hell Yeah” as a call to action for how I want to progress in my own life and the example I want to give for my children.  If something feels right and I think I have the potential to do it, I will take a chance even though I don’t have the expertise.  If I can help someone else with a difficult time through sharing my own experiences, I will put myself out there and tell my story.  If I can show my children I can exhibit of tolerance and acceptance, I will try my hardest to demonstrate those traits.  I will not live my life wishing I had been something more, I will be something more.  I have a personal responsibility to show the next generation what it means to be the best you can be, however that looks.

It may be one day at a time, but I will not die wondering.  I WILL #makeithappen.

Hell Yeah.

 

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Eyes Up #12 – For things to change, first I must change

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Recent discussion on the numbers of women in leadership has returned to the idea of quotas – including this article:

Quotas will put women of merit in top jobs

I have often pondered why quotas are seen to be evil.  Collectively, I think we believe that we are better than that given we all understand that women are equally as talented and educated as men in Australia today.  Indeed several senior executives I have spoken too would acknowledge that women are frequently more competent and knowledgeable than men at the comparable level in their chosen fields.

My view is that we all like to believe change can happen organically as part of a natural progression, once we all recognise and acknowledge the obvious benefits.  I don’t wish to feel constrained or dictated to by artificial quotas, targets or policies – I want the freedom to run my teams and businesses in the way I think is best – right person, right role, regardless of their gender, culture or lifestyle choices.  So quotas – which are more carrot than stick – are in my view a motivation that can work.  Much as I will tell my children they must eat 2 bites of broccoli before they have dessert.  But the “broccoli quota” doesn’t actually make them like or appreciate broccoli, they just grit their teeth and get through it, or worse hide the green stuff in their pockets, with the ice cream at the end the reward.

I think any public discussion of these topics helps, but I draw the most inspiration where we seek to put responsibility for change in the hands of the individual.  Recent references include Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant’s article:

Speaking While Female

So I ask myself – what actions am I taking to be a catalyst for change?  For a start I’m writing this blog, which is part of my commitment in 2014 to facilitate open discussion on the issue of women in leadership.  I believe real, sustainable change will only happen when we all recognise the need for personal, individual responsibility, including calling out inappropriate behaviour when we see it.  I am a fan of the sometimes controversial Male Champions of Change initiative, because it is leveraging the status of the current male dominated ranks of CEOs in corporate Australia to model behaviour and act as catalysts to initiate change – but as individuals taking responsibility upon themselves.  So I will continue this year to create talking points wherever possible and progress my own career.

But I also recommend we keep an eye on the future and question the way we present ourselves to future generations.  We all have the ability to act as role models day in, day out to not only our own kids but others we interact with, in both the ways we act and the things we say.

I was very proud of my teenage son when he announced last year he didn’t want me to buy Tim Tams anymore because he knew eating 2 packs a week was not healthy for him.  He had taken responsibility for change himself.  I was equally proud when he noted with horror that he had just realised how many mothers of his school mates didn’t work – but told me he thought it perfectly normal that I did.  In fact he thought it was better for everyone!  That moment melted away a decade of working parent guilt.

We should never underestimate the power of the individual – and neither should we abdicate responsibility for change to a system of quotas, targets or endorsement by senior leaders.  We should all just walk the talk ourselves in whatever way we can, and remember that doing nothing is akin to endorsing the status quo.

 

Eyes Up @ Darden #4 – Other people’s shoes can be uncomfortable

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We all expect to cover topics such as political correctness, negotiation, influencing and coaching on a leadership program.  What I didn’t expect was that my biggest learning from this final part to the Women’s Leadership Program was that sometimes – no matter how uncomfortable – we need to learn to stand in other people’s shoes before we can even begin to lead effectively.

Yesterday we considered political correctness, led by the charismatic Dr Martin Davidson (www.leveragingdifference.com).  I’ve loved all the presenters this week, but Professor Davidson was definitely my favourite – for his energising effect on the class, his obvious intellect and above all good humour.  The concept of the different layers or dimensions to diversity was new to me and has changed my thinking – whilst I am a woman, and therefore less dominant in some situations such as the boardroom of a financial institution, I am also a white anglo saxon – which in different circumstances of cultural mix,  has the potential to make me more dominant.  If we perceive discrimination against us on the basis of one dimension, we need to question ourselves carefully about what the other party is thinking, seeing and feeling before we label that behaviour .   In most cases, especially with working mothers, there are other issues at play that have nothing to do with being female and everything to do with parenting and work/life balance.  I can’t fully express here how much impact this session had, maybe after I’ve read Prof. Davidson’s book I can be more enlightening…so watch this space.

We had heaps of fun practicing negotiation skills, which provided some very useful tips for the next shoe or handbag sale I attend as well as for the workplace!  Then we moved to the auditorium to practise our leadership presence on the stage – using some very liberating voice and body exercises.  The point to this was firstly, to relax, and secondly, to gain more understanding of the mix of visual and vocal tools we can use to more fully engage an audience of any size and better convey our message.  Again this has left me wanting to study more in this area as I am starting to believe it’s something I can become really good at if I practice.

On the final morning, we got to deliver our own response to the question “How’s Business?” – to leverage these leadership presence tips in a 2 minute soundbite of our choice.  At the last minute I decided to correct something which has bothered me since the 24th June when I was awarded the Women in Banking an Finance (WiBF) Turkslegal Scholarship to come to Darden.  On that particular day, I had been told I would be named at the WiBF lunch where 500 people were waiting to hear from David Gonski, a well regarded Australian public figure.  On arrival, I was informed I would be presented with my award on stage, but would not be required to say anything – which I found quite a relief!  But of course, on receiving the award I was asked if I would like to say a few words – and promptly flushed, shook my head and exited the stage.  I’m sure there were a few people who admired my humility, but as I walked away all I could think of what what an idiot I had been to miss an opportunity to say something even slightly memorable in front of 500 well connected and important people.   I had failed to grab the mike when offered.  Unforgivable.

If I walked in the shoes of the audience that day, even though they were really waiting the hear from David Gonski, I would have felt disappointed that the award recipient didn’t even speak.  So today I re-enacted that moment properly.  OK, so there were only 12 people in the room – but the feedback was great.  I will  keep practicing.

As our final closing today we all chose to write a word on the blackboard (yes they still have those here!) saying what this week meant to us – as this is the last Eyes Up @ Darden,  I’ll leave you with some of them to ponder – and perhaps LuluLemon might like to re-do their bags with them!  I know I’ll keep coming back to these as reminders of this week – as I put myself in others’ shoes and see where my potential can take me.  Eyes Up will be back soon… stay tuned.

Pay it forward – practice – believe – recharged – authentic – mission focus – encouraged – energised – acceptance – blessed – inspired – courage – prepared – meaningful – change – eye opening – network – calm – unfinished – connections – chemistry – inspire

Eyes Up @ Darden #3 – Bankrupt, but still Mission Focused and Paddling Hard…..

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It’s been a couple of days between entries as I’ve been busy with my learning team-mates bankrupting a company.  Yesterday we began a team assignment to run a business manufacturing power inverters over several years – the objective being to maximise the stock price.  Fortunately for us, the exercise was not about winning, or about the intricacies of manufacturing, but about team dynamics.  No secrets in the team room – the first few sessions were recorded for our coaches to provide feedback to us!  What did we learn? You don’t need the pen in your hand to have power – but it helps!  Our team dynamic was great and everyone was encouraging – doing the exercise over an extended period allowed different behaviours to surface, and we all got to know each other better.  It was particularly good to see that the skills and leadership qualities we all have are transferable to areas where we are not experts, so none of us need to hide behind our particular specialist areas – we’re well equipped to lead anywhere.

At the start of yesterday, we all presented our Best Self Portrait which I mentioned in my Darden #1 update.  This was a sometimes emotional journey but very insightful – it is amazing how often something you thought people didn’t notice had a big impact, even several years on.  In my case, I was struck by the way that stories from family and friends were reflected in comments from work colleagues – us women are in the main very harsh judges of ourselves, and we can gain a lot from asking others what we do well on a regular basis.

One of the things I have noticed about the environment here is that it sits somewhere between the formal corporate world and the free spirited learning environment of my undergraduate days.  There is something about Darden that pays homage to the underlying history of the University of Virginia but makes me feel like I am somehow experiencing a very modern learning experience.  This afternoon we had one of our most compelling sessions yet.  Somewhat surprising, given the timeslot in the “dead” zone of early afternoon.  Our debrief on Donna Dubinsky’s experience at Apple, again early in a very successful life story, uncovered truths on how to deal with conflict – and the need for a “mission focused” rather than a “self-focused” mind set.  I have the feeling I will refer back to the notes from this session over and over again as reminders to keep the “stupid” switch, which flips when we get self centred, angry and frustrated, firmly OFF…  by trying to look at situations without emotion, and above all remember in all our interactions that people are human, not objects.

So I’ve adapted my main leadership learning of the day from this session, to compare leadership to surfing….  It doesn’t matter how beautiful the wave is, or how great the equipment, if you don’t paddle hard enough before the wave comes, you will never ride that wave.

No matter whether you succeed or fail, great leadership is not about the actual moment you make a decision, it’s how you set up to make that decision.

Still learning to paddle hard here!!