This past festive season has been surreal to say the least. The bush fire catastrophe across Australia has demonstrated the best of Australian culture and community spirit, and the best and worst of Australian leadership. Many of us feel sadness, disappointment, frustration and anger, yet we have hope and gratitude in our hearts too. We have witnessed so many acts of kindness by Australians and especially others around the world, at a community level.
It caused me to reflect on what I learnt from Michelle Obama, who I had the pleasure of listening to in Singapore in December 2019, and would like to share wih you. Michelle would be one of the most humble, funny, smart and compassionate people I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Her words caused me to reflect on the past year and think about the year ahead.
The final question of the Evening with Michelle Obama was: “What do you think are the most important things in life, and what you’ve learnt, given your life’s journey to date?” She paused thoughtfully, and then said:
“Kindness, dignity and accountability.” “If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in life, it’s the power of using your voice. I tried as often as I could to speak the truth and shed light on the stories of people who are often brushed aside.”
I have always found it both perplexing and amusing that the people who have the most to say about feminism, misogyny, sexual harassment and gender discrimination are people who have NEVER experienced it – often men! And they tell you to: “Lighten up and get over it.” I am hugely in favour of experiential learning where you are introduced to the experience in a controlled environment and have an insight (not the real thing) into what it may feel like.
Any woman, I included, who supports women’s rights and calls herself a feminist is seen as some sort of “left wing, Femi-Nazi, lentil-eating, raving lunatic who hates men”. I have been called all these names online or in heated conversations, often again with men. These accusations could not be further from the truth. Firstly, I really like men and enjoy their company, I just do not like or converse with misogynistic men who disrespect women, and why should I? I am not sure what Femi-Nazi means, as no one who has called me that name has been able to explain it to me. I enjoy lentils and I don’t think eating them is a crime, a disgrace or in any way fascist behaviour and I’m not a raving lunatic, except perhaps when I watch sport that I am passionate about like AFL or Rugby.
I have returned from a month of rest, relaxation and reflection. Much of my reflection was about how we as human beings and leaders can be better, connect in more meaningful ways, enable ourselves and others to be the best we can be, and truly imagine what it means to walk a mile in another’s shoes. This reflection was brought about after months of observing poor leadership around the world. The lack of kindness, empathy and understanding for the plight of those less fortunate by key leaders worldwide, is both appalling and a call to action. Political, religious and business leaders on a growing scale are guilty of causing deliberate polarisation and division, all in the name of short-term transactional power.
David and I are about to embark on a long overdue break; my plan for this trip is to Rest Reflect Reset. I learned this practice from my dear friend and colleague, Dr Adam Fraser, who created this as part of his theory and practice of Third Space. Third Space transformed the way I lived and worked; but sometimes as often happens, we get so busy that we stop the daily routines and practices that are so good for our overall well-being.
My plan as we wind our way down the Danube River is to rest and reflect in order to reset when I return to Australia in August. What do each of these three stages mean to me?
As a nation,we are united as one for the celebration and remembrance of Anzac Day and those who have died for the freedom of this great country in which we live. Australian ideals had been both tested and proved at Gallipoli. Wayne Swan once said this about Gallipoli: “What emerged was a moral value that rapidly established itself as our supreme national virtue: a combination of bravery, resilience, the ability to improvise, and the duty to stick together in hard times and protect your friends”. At an Anzac Day service, our previous Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, said that we were a nation that was able to test its courage “in our willingness to persevere through misfortune and adversity, to remain hopeful in our dry gullies, in our capacity to reach out …”
I love research that draws our attention to the positive aspects of leadership, people and life, and challenges you to see things differently, rather than to see what’s wrong and why new ways won’t work!
In a study done by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, professors at London Business School and IE Business School (Madrid) respectively, several years ago, they identified 6 virtues of a dream workplace, as follows:
- People can truly be themselves
This means that people can bring their “whole selves” to work, they are encouraged to express their opinions even if different to their boss or their peers, passion is encouraged even if it makes others uncomfortable, and people who are different are the norm, rather than the exception. Being yourself is core to authenticity, one of the key characteristics younger workers look for in their leaders.
- People are told what is REALLY going on
People are encouraged to tell the truth, even if it means bad news. They do not sanitize the true situation for senior management and pretend that all is well when it isn’t. It is not seen as being disloyal to say something negative, provided you are able to support your comments with data and evidence, and a proposed solution to the problem. One of the characteristics of effective, inspiring leaders is that they are open, honest and transparent in their communication throughout the organisation, and are great listeners who ask good questions.
“It is better to remain quiet and be thought of a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt” Anonymous
Most of us don’t actually listen, we simply hear. This means that we comprehend less than 50% of every verbal conversation we have, so much of the message is either forgotten or lost. Many of us practice the art of “half an ear” or “stunned mullet” listening. We are so busy these days that I believe our capacity and willingness to truly listen has diminished significantly in the last two decades. I truly believe that the greatest gift you can give anyone – your team members, peers, clients, partners, children and friends is to actively listen with intent, and to be truly 100% present.
Some things to remember with closing a year and starting a new one.....
- Stop being a “human doing” and become a human being
- Stop using your technology 24/7 – shut it down, turn it off and BE PRESENT
- One for women – Stop saying “I’m sorry” if you didn’t hurt someone’s feelings!
- Stop using BUT – it disconnects people and conversations, start using AND
- Stop talking on your mobile phone when walking on sidewalks and crossing roads
- Stop talking and start listening – to your peers, employees, partners, children and friends! Listen with your ears and your eyes and your heart
Many people I know here in Australia and around the world are having a challenging year – ill health, financial difficulties, job insecurity, loss of loved ones and increasing dissatisfaction and disengagement with political leadership around the world. At times it feels as though the world is becoming less tolerant, less generous, less kind, more judgmental, more impatient and more willing to exclude anyone who doesn’t “fit in”, whatever that means. My family and I have not been immune to these challenges, and many times I have felt my patience and resilience tested.