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!!

Eyes Up #3 – Life is like a box of chocolates…..

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If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump, you’ll smile as you remember the line “My Momma always said, Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

As a control freak, my advice would be “look at the inside of the lid Forrest, you’ll see exactly what you’re getting, no surprises”.  My rational side says don’t take the risk, do your research, consider your choice, look for your favourite first, and so on.

But this approach, whilst “safe”, misses the mark – unless you have a serious food allergy, ANY chocolate is a fabulous treat – and there is the chance you may be surprised by trying something new and finding you really love it.

At some time in our lives, it seems most of us stop taking risks and stick to what we know and are comfortable with.  Of course, I’ve encouraged my kids to “try things” when I’ve considered it appropriate – try this fish, or a different vegetable, a new sport or a new musical instrument; their privileged upbringing allows them many opportunities.  It’s easy to discuss how stepping outside our comfort zone – just a little – has benefits at home and work.  But what happens when life serves up things we didn’t plan for and can’t control?  Serious illness, accidents, redundancies, relationship breakdowns, financial problems.  These things have not been packaged up and delivered with a bow from Cadbury online; they happen to ordinary people we all know each and every day, often out of the blue.

This is the point where I think Momma Gump has it right.  Life is unpredictable; you can plan and try to control what you can, but as Forrest’s story shows, eventually amazing things can happen as a result of even tragic events.  In my case, the movie wasn’t enough – when crisis hit me hard I needed several well qualified medical practitioners, some medication and some very good friends to get my mind to realise the glass is ALWAYS half full.  But once that realisation really hit home, it has become incredibly powerful in all areas of my life.

Growing up in England I was hardly a water baby – once living in Sydney, I was at best suspicious of the surf – by no means comfortable in the water.  But my newly liberated, post medicated self was persuaded a few years ago to take up the challenge to try surfing.  Totally ridiculous you might think – but that first day getting pounded in the white water unleashed a previously hidden surf chick, and struggling bruised (and bleeding!) from the shallows that first day I had unexpectedly found a new passion.

If you’d told me even 5 years ago what my life would look like today, I would have chuckled politely, rolled my eyes and shown you to the door.  Sure, I’ve been to some dark places, and challenges exist very day – but life is surprising, delightful and full of unexpected joy – largely because I no longer look at the inside of the chocolate box lid, I keep my eyes up and just dive on in.