Eyes Up #11 – Courage can be a quiet thing

9-roaring-tiger-981I saw a quote today on Facebook.

“Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes Courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow'”.

We are constantly told to be courageous these days – to speak up, to be different, to innovate.  This quote actually brought tears to my eyes as I considered it, because so many different takes on courage suddenly flooded my mind and challenged me to consider what the word means for me.

I’ve bungy jumped, sky dived, taken off on my surfboard far to late on waves too big for me, driven my car too fast, trekked in Nepal and even been on the Funnel Web at Jamberoo.  All required a form of courage but honestly, mostly the motivation is to be one of the group I was with, or to prove something, rather than to show genuine individual courage.

My true moments of courage came almost 4 years ago when I felt my life was in ruins, and I had decided the world was better off without me.  I had to find the courage to accept help, and rebuild myself piece by piece – sometimes hour by hour.  This was a slow and steady process, but it became a solid foundation which has changed my perspective on life and altered the benchmark for what is really the worst thing that can happen – my aspiration is that I can take this foundation forward and ensure I make the most of the potential I have to make a difference in some small piece of the world.

In the business world this week I came across an interesting example of courage which I have admired: the retirement of the CEO at the organisation I work – the subsequent appointment of her successor, and the associated internal candidate who came second in that race.  The courage of the retiring CEO is out there for all to see – roar and all!  But for the 2 candidates for succession, this has been a long hard road chasing a goal that only one could attain.  Both internally and externally, we treat these contenders as public property – we all have an opinion, we de-humanise them, we may even mock them.  But they’ve both shown ongoing tenacity, dedication and passion.

So today I want to highlight the respect I have for the courage those guys showed to put themselves out there, knowing one would fail… sure, they earn the big bucks, but they’ve both had the courage to move forward with a goal in mind each day; and in the process, they have provided me with inspiration to aim high, despite the possibility of failure.

I hope they can both sit down quietly after a turbulent week, reflect, and try again tomorrow.

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 #5 – Help! I forgot my socks!

20140509-135943.jpg When I wrote a long list of possible blog topics, decision making featured heavily. So as a veteran of 4 previous posts now, and a select but illustrious following, I set out to communicate some of my thoughts on how good decisions are made. Trouble was, I couldn’t decide on an approach, and my drafts were rambling, disconnected garbage. But then, a sudden moment of clarity – I forgot my socks! Rushing to the gym at lunchtime, not feeling overly enthusiastic, I pulled open my bag to find singlet, shorts, shoes… But NO SOCKS! Sharp intake of breath, roll of the eyes, (silent) mild cursing…. Sure, the socks are not 100% essential to the workout – missing shorts for example cannot be overlooked – but training without socks means discomfort, smelly shoes and potentially blisters…… a decision had to be made. The choices were: 1. Great excuse to skip the workout – I’m not that keen anyway 2. Buy new socks 3. Wear shoes without socks At this point my rational brain took over… Here was the analysis: 1. I need a workout badly due to excessive chocolate and wine intake and to relieve a frustrating morning 2. I have lots of socks at home, buying more would be wasteful 3. My shoes are comfy, only worn by me, and the workout is weight training not a 10k run Result? Decision taken to go ahead without the socks, I returned a tired and much happier human with the added glow of having triumphed in such adverse circumstances. This trivial example contains for me all the elements of good decision making. I had a problem and analysed the choices rationally. But most importantly, once the facts were laid out – in particular the comfy shoes I had that day – I was able to follow my intuition which was screaming “you NEED to exercise today, NO excuses!!”. So trust the facts as you perceive them, follow your heart, and even if it doesn’t work out quite as planned – I could still have got a blister you know – you’ll know you’ve set yourself up to take the best possible decision. I’d love to hear any other decision making pointers you have as I’m sure I’m going to revisit this topic! @eyesup2014

Eyes Up #4 – Believing you’re a success when you’re not the best

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Our tendency in life is to measure ourselves against those we see as being the “best” – those who are number 1, those getting attention for their achievements from others either publicly or in our own circles at home and work.  Us women in particular are our own harshest critics, rarely prepared to look objectively at ourselves and constantly comparing all aspects of our lives with others, often with a very negative slant.  Our cultural upbringing seems to deem it inappropriate to play down our achievements and skills – we don’t want to be seen to blow our own trumpets, and talking about things we know we’re good at seems boastful.

 

This goes beyond basic self confidence to not only how we measure ourselves but whether we truly believe we have been successful. I was involved in elite sport from the age of 18, playing in an U21 national side and then in the senior reserve side for several years.  I trained hard, played hard, and harboured longstanding ambitions to run on just once for the senior national side – something I never achieved.  In my mind, I’ve always seen this as a failure as my final goal was never reached – and since moving countries where no one knows my background, it is something I rarely mention or discuss.

 

It wasn’t until my family mentioned proudly to my kids that I had represented my country, that I saw things in a different light.  My focus had been on achieving the elusive goal of getting a spot, just once, in that national team.  It was a great stretch goal, but not achieving it didn’t mean my sporting career was not a success.  I played at that level for over 5 years, whilst working as a graduate in an investment bank and completing my accounting qualification.  I trained late in the often frosty evenings, practicing skills, fitness, strength training, battled a run of injuries – I always felt I could have done more, but not many of my work contemporaries were running 800m reps at 9pm in the middle of winter!  On the flip side – very few of my fellow athletes were in such demanding jobs – they were students, trainee teachers with ample vacations and more flexible hours.  And the most important factor was, I was not the best player, the most talented, the fastest or the strongest.  I was very good – but not quite good enough for that number 1 team.

 

So what have I learnt?  My sporting career was a success, just not against the harsh benchmark I set myself.  I learnt a lot about practice, hard work, juggling priorities, and working in a team.  But my biggest takeaway was that I have the ability to be a leader.  My favourite memories from those days are from my university side, which I captained to the national championship.  We had no coach, so strategy, team selection, game day tactics and motivation were all down to me.  We came back from a several goal half time deficit to win the Grand Final in extra time – as well as scoring 3 crucial goals myself, I truly felt like I had personally turned the team around.

 

I’ve found myself dipping back into the feelings generated by that day many times – savouring what success felt like, but also recalling the tougher side to leadership, taking risks on selecting the team, having hard conversations with those who didn’t make it into the line up, and how vulnerable I felt trying to motivate the team when we were in a losing position– followed by how sweet it was when we were, for one moment, truly number 1 – undeniably successful in our small corner of the world.

 

This experience has served me well over the years, and influenced me greatly in my actions when managing teams and making decisions.  I’m still not the best, whatever that looks like – but I can continue to be successful if I build on my strengths and experience going forward.

I’d love to hear comments and feedback on the definition of success!  Comment on the blog or on twitter @eyesup2014.