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

broccoli

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 #2 – Strategy, Self Awareness and 27 women – 27 opinions!

I’m writing another entry again today as I fear tomorrow night the pressure of the business simulation may take over!  What a day we had today…. it is so long (23 years to be exact) since I sat in a purely academic environment and just soaked it up without being under a particular company banner.  Even though the subject matter is directly related to my day to day life, it feels slightly liberating and a little bit self indulgent at the same time.  But more later about female guilt and inferiority complexes…

When you put 27 diverse women in a room even for an hour, you’re always going to have some interesting times… and we’re certainly on a voyage of discovery.  There are people here from industry, government agencies, the military, hospitality and of course finance – to name a few – and they come from legal, accounting, marketing, operations and many other disciplines.  Add to this they have come from the UK, various parts of the USA, Nigeria, Turkey, Dubai and of course Australia, and you can see that despite the gender similarities, there are many differences.

The day started with a 2.5 mile power walk in the dark – it was about 7 degrees out so we needed to walk fast….. the keener exercisers ran or swam even earlier.  Then straight into a day of strategy and leadership case studies covering Taren Swam (Nickolodeon), Christine Day (Starbucks/LuluLemon) and finally words of wisdom from Sheryl Sandberg.  The learning style at Darden is interactive – there is nowhere to hide in the room.  Each Professor teaching showed accomplished presentation skills and challenged us to respond and comment on the written material and further questioning.  It was amazing how many different views there were on each of these well known leaders – particularly when we were asked if we would like to work with these people ourselves, or what the message/story was that was being told.  There were some very strong views and considerable emotion in the room on several points.

With 27 women in the room, sometimes it felt like there were 27 opinions… I was left wondering how the discussion would have been with an equal representation of men in the room.  It seemed as if every point made could be applied equally to men in certain circumstances, and some members of the group alluded to this being  the case in their areas of expertise where men frequently take a back seat.  But I think we’ve all felt the female imposter syndrome at some point plus a healthy dose of parent guilt for those of us who have been working mothers.

My main takeaway was that we need to be very careful how we judge, as without self awareness of our own natural and often unconscious bias, we may be too quick to interpret words, actions and appearances, and our emotions may take over our ability to walk in the other person’s shoes and see their point of view.

In case I don’t post again for a couple of days, I thoroughly recommend this TED talk to you all – especially if you’re a parent.  It’s about creating a growth mindset to encourage learning and change awareness, and is beautifully presented by Eduardo Brinceno: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote of the day from the Professor who presented to us on Strategy:

“Strategy is the MSG of the Business world” – nicely put!!

Eyes Up #10 – I believe in YOLO, but I still iron my sheets?

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Yes it’s true.  I iron my sheets…  even on evenings like today when I have better things to do.  We all have things we do that no one else understands, and that is just one of mine.

I’ve found YOLO (that’s “you only live once” in case you’ve been living on another planet recently) a very interesting and useful acronym.  I never really understood the “LOL” plague – which had to be used with caution as it could mean either laugh out loud or lots of love depending on the context.  But YOLO really strikes a chord with me when I’m walking the line between the plan ahead, risk averse culture of my upbringing and the current generation of knowing and doing everything now before it’s too late.

To me it’s the modern version of “don’t die wondering” – if you get an opportunity, take it, as it may not come along again.  Quite a few years ago, after a few drinks, I agreed to go skydiving in place of someone else.  Great idea late one night, not so good when strapped to a madman about to jump out of a plane -I did obtain a new understanding as to why people become addicted to the adrenaline rush – but I definitely won’t be back.  But 3 years ago when I tried surfing, despite not being a water person, I discovered a new passion which has become a life changing outlet for me – all an unexpected side effect of another dare set over drinks (is there a theme there?)

But the other side of YOLO is that we need to consider the way we are living and how it impacts others in our home and workplace.  We really only get one shot at this, so as discussed in Eyes Up #9, do we want to demonstrate generosity of spirit and kindness to others and to ourselves?  In most case the answer is yes.  Particularly in the workplace this can be hard to do – balancing career opportunities with our home lives is another challenge.  I know I’ve missed some of my children’s school events because I was at work, particularly when they were younger, and as they’ve grown I’ve realised those moments will come round less and less.  So whilst I can’t be at every game and every art show, or help out at every function, I now prioritise things differently to ensure I will be involved in their school lives wholeheartedly.

So back now to my sheets – which are still waiting for me when I finish this blog.  Why do I bother to iron them? Because I love the feeling of getting into a freshly made bed with crisp sheets, and if I only live once, I want to get that feeling as often as possible.

 

Eyes Up #9 – Generosity of Spirit, Costco and Current Events

Screen shot 2011-09-14 at 10.10.25 AMI started writing this post some time ago and it was almost finished when MH17 was gunned down over the Ukraine. For most of us, it is impossible to fully comprehend events like this, let alone explain them to our children.  We’ve nearly all flown in passenger planes, many of us on that exact route.   Collectively we all share a shake of the head, murmurs of “what’s the world coming to” and may even shed tears with our family, friends and colleagues – despite the fact the victims may not be personally known to us.

These feelings of despair, though, certainly make me lift my “Eyes Up” and take a good look around at what I have, particularly in terms of human relationships and how I chose to interact with other people day to day.  So I ask myself, am I practising generosity of spirit every day?  Am I treating people the way I would like to be treated?  Am I being “nice”? I do know that I have sometimes felt strongly enough about someone else at work, or in my family, that I approach all dealings with that person with the expectation that they will fail me in some way, or that they are actively trying to undermine me.  As a result I am rude, abrupt, negative and using defensive, barbed language before a conversation even begins.  This open hostility puts everyone on edge, breeds tension in the air, and restricts people’s responses – particularly if they are subordinate in the exchange.   My kids will clam up if they see me cranky about the fridge left open or dirty clothes on the floor – and they won’t open up about their day, tell me any good news or share any issues they have.  At work the fear culture results if team members are afraid to point out issues that invoke a negative response and too many useful comments are left unsaid.

I don’t think being “nice” is purely about wanting people to like me.  I believe it’s ultimately an authentic human way to conduct relationships – even with people who we know are not our closest friends or family.   And so to my experience at Costco – which I visited for the first time a couple of months ago.  Now I was wary of the warehouse shopping experience – expecting something similar to the carnage seen at the Boxing Day sales.  But I was wrong.  Without exception the staff and fellow customers were polite and patient.  It took an hour to get there, there were queues to sign up, you had to fetch your own trolley from the car park, and find your own way around – but everyone EXPECTED this – and they were happy about the experience, as their expectation was this was the trade off for the marvellous bargains awaiting. Once inside the store, there was some sort of strange camaraderie pervading my fellow shoppers – people opening shared overwhelmingly positive opinions on this and that, sought advice from strangers on shoes and offered guidance to the best fresh food or bargains.  Even the checkout guy stopped for a friendly chat – whilst we packed our haul into boxes ourselves.

If a warehouse shopping experience can provide this type of positive human interaction, surely we can all make a little effort every day to be positive in our attitude to all our relationships at home and work.  There will always be difficult moments where anger, conflict and frustration are present.  But this week in particular, try to be human and genuine a few times each day.  Ask people how they are, how their day is going, see what goes unsaid, and be accommodating, polite and courteous.  Chat to a stranger in the lift at work, to the cleaners after hours or the mail man.  Remind yourself that not everything in the world is bad and practise generosity of spirit – and we might all feel a little better about humanity.

Eyes Up #8 – Celebrate Often!

champagneIt was my birthday last week.  I love birthdays, because at some point a few years back I decided that all birthdays need to be properly celebrated.  This is partly a reflection of my desire to feel special, but most importantly, I love to have an excuse to do something different, have some fun, and get together with a few people.

It’s pretty hard these days to keep your birthday a secret – social media has changed things in a way which encourages celebration.  These days I get bombarded with fantastic facebook messages, texts, tweets and emails – all because these systems have built in reminders and flags for people so very little effort is required to pass on the joy.  People have a cast iron reason just to say hi and connect – and I think it feels fabulous to receive these greetings.  Even a simple “happy birthday” from someone on the other side of the world you haven’t seen for years has that feel good factor which makes me smile.

We should all spread the joy of celebration more often than just birthdays.  It’s always more powerful in our day to day relationships to have a positive reason to connect and share – it helps us remember how many good things there are in our lives.  In my family we are in the habit of going out for BBQ ribs at  the start and end of school terms, or eating special ice cream when someone gets recognised via a merit certificate in school assembly.  Most families have these types of rituals in place for major events and milestones, but what if we take the concept further, and make it a habit to find something to celebrate once a week.

It doesn’t have to be anything big, and you don’t need to justify your actions or set a benchmark on what is worth celebrating.  Celebrate getting a report finished at work, someone going on holidays or returning, your dog’s birthday, a new coffee shop or wine bar opening up.  Jump for joy when your son scores a try at rugby or just because he tries out a new position on the field.  Create anniversary excuses to meet friends and colleagues you haven’t sat down with for a while – “it’s 5 months since you introduced me to ginger tea – let’s celebrate!”.

The lives we lead these days, particularly as busy working parents with hectic schedules, restrict our ability to connect and share informally.  Our time is carefully controlled, and it’s easy to sink into a routine where everything is focussed on things that went wrong or disrupt our carefully planned lives.  We always have too much to do and our tendency is to get grumpy, snappy and feel that the glass is half empty.  Find a positive reason to connect with someone else once a week,  get that glass half full with some metaphorical (or real!)champagne, and practise celebrating the small things so the big things don’t pass you by.

Eyes Up #7 – Don’t forget the “ME” in “TEAM”

ID-10026966There’s no “I” in TEAM – but if you look carefully you’ll find a “ME”…. a few years back, this phrase was often bandied about accompanied by smiles and chuckles – usually in reference to someone in authority who was using the guise of encouraging teamwork to further their own interests.  Jokes aside though, maintaining our individual identities in a team environment both in the workplace and at home is a key factor in finding balance and satisfaction in our lives.  If we lose track of ourselves, we quickly start to feel taken for granted, trampled on, and resentful of others in the “team”.

I’ve always found it difficult to maintain a sense of my own identity at home.  I’m not sure if this is historically due to the hang ups inherent in being a middle child, or just that I’ve always got so much satisfaction from getting things done that I get lost in over organising everyone else and forgetting to do anything for myself.  My experience is that working parents, particularly mothers and single parents, get into the habit of putting everyone else’s needs before their own.  The other team members – in this case in the family – get used to this state of affairs, so it perpetuates – often because it is assumed that the mother or parent enjoys doing things that way, or out of fear of doing something wrong.  As a control freak, I know I’ve often dealt harshly with anyone who messed with my system, purely because I wanted to get things done as efficiently as I knew how with no tolerance for variation.  Over the years I would have snapped at anyone who stacked the dishwasher wrong, folded the towels in a way they didn’t fit into the cupboard, or put the milk in the space the juice should be in the fridge.

At work, teamwork has long been held out as an important behaviour we should display.  Again we women in particular assume that our contributions to the team will be recognised, and we often feel resentful if others are recognised as individuals.  I’ve often felt like teamwork is used as a cover for more “take” and less “give” by some individuals – leading to me channelling a “victim” mentality, withdrawing  myself from the team,  picking up my toys and leaving the playground.

It was a stark situation of personal crisis that changed my view, and with it my perception of how to preserve the “me” in all parts of my life.  As I struggled to recover, I discovered that setting my own boundaries for my interactions with teams was critical.  The boundaries I set helped me foster a feeling of control, which made me more confident.  The boundaries are tested and re-set many times, but  despite initially feeling restrictive, they have made it easier to take decisions and chose when to say yes or no to things (see EyesUp #1 for more on saying No!).

These boundaries started simple – such as controlling communication channels – for example, please text me when you want to talk, and I’ll call you when I’m ready – giving me time to prepare my response.  I’m still using this one in the workplace – screening calls when I’m busy, and only checking my email once an hour instead of constantly.  Does this show a lack of commitment to the team if I prioritise my time this way?  Not when these actions improve my ability to operate efficiently and effectively by ensuring that when I respond, I give other team members my full attention.

Has this made me a more “selfish” person?  I believe it’s actually made me a better team member.  If I feel my life is in balance, and I am in control, I am more present when contributing to the team.  I’m not wasting energy on resentful feelings or self pity, or being distracted by other issues, I’m contributing the best I can at that point in time.

Teams can be greater than the sum of their parts, and one step towards this is to ensure each team member has preserved their own sense of “me”.