Friday, October 29, 2010

Perception is 9/10ths of the law

Fundamentally I think we want to believe in government and that its highest officers govern with integrity and transparency. And yes, at times we can be disappointed. The recent furore involving the Directorate of Public Prosecutions is a timely reminder about the demanding importance of doing and appearing to do the right thing, in every instance.

I do not profess to know any of the specific circumstances surrounding the very regrettable situation that faced the DPP, Jeremy Rapke and his staff. And of course, if I were professionally involved in any way in mediating this dispute, it would be totally inappropriate for me to comment. So for what its worth this case invokes a number of tantalising yet potentially unfair and unfounded conspiracy theories vis a vis merit based selection, the application of EEO principles, workplace culture and the challenges thrown up by good old human nature. Some of those would be:

Scenario One

The woman at the centre of the storm, Diana Karamikov is a seriously talented solicitor and is being recognised for that alone. Old fuddy duddies intent on preserving the best traditions of seniority (or plain old jealousy) are throwing a vitriolic tantrum and getting rewarded with lots of attention for it. In this scenario protesting staffers would appear petty and age-ist. Only yesterday I met a talented lawyer who told me she was promoted to senior litigator and partner in a national firm in her late 20′s.

Scenario Two

Parties have behaved inappropriately and are getting their just desserts if power and authority have been abused potentially resulting in dinted reputations, and diminished morale and confidence in governmental leadership by staffers and the public.

Scenario Three

Independent of any possible poor judgment or otherwise, parties have seized on the opportunity to discredit the Director, the Office of Public Prosecutions which would arguably have a number of enemies and/or the government in the weeks before a state election. The fact that a senior staffer resigned over it some weeks ago doesn’t automatically invalidate the justness of an appointment and refute the possibility of Scenario One. Conversely the possibility of any friendship between the “appointer” and the “appointee” does not automatically render the appointment a perversion of natural justice for other candidates. We do know all 7 candidate recommendations were independently scrutinised by a panel convened by the Attorney General Rob Hulls and all passed muster.

In Conclusion

Government must continue to be accountable for all its decisions but the ability of individuals and the media at large to monster those responsible for such decisions and cast such aspersions on character so easily and so readily in the absence of any real evidence presented thus far would rattle even the most resilient.

It is a relief to hear there has been a reported rapprochement between two of the senior players to this regrettable saga late last week because we have long since known that a working relationship is the minimum condition of success in any high performing team and the work done by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions is vital to the wellbeing of our citizens and the preservation of our democracy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

never too young to be wise

I have had the extraordinary pleasure and privilege of presenting over the past three years to an amazing cohort of engineering students at Monash University in communication skills and change management. I have reminded them at times that our mindsets are closer than they might first imagine as I am a Gen X trapped in a baby boomer body!


The final year students concluded their last module with me (and the program) this evening. Several of the themes I felt so passionate about reinforcing through the program were the fine yet important line between self belief and arrogance, the importance of balancing the imperatives of relationships with outcomes and the irony of possessing serious intelligence coupled with the silliness of thinking we might ever have all the answers to all the challenges that life throws up at us.

One delightful student came up at the end, thanked me for my contribution to the program and admitted he found since he had left school he had struggled quite a lot with criticism. When we explored that a bit further he said directly but not conceitedly that he had not ever really had much experience of failure. Considering the vast majority of students invited onto that program had ENTER scores of 98 and above, it would not have been hard to imagine he was both very bright and knew the meaning of hard work. He left resolving to be more open to feedback and to vow to try not to take the criticism he knew would inevitably come his way, quite so personally and quite so often.

To me there is nothing more admirable than a passionate openness to learning and growth, particularly when it is so clear that the passion we are witnessing comes from a healthy place of wanting to be the best we can be, not the best in the group. How much energy can we all release if we focus our energies on being ourselves - only better rather than trying to look better than the person standing next to us? Not only does that frame sit beautifully with positive psychology but it is a substantial manifestation of a  generosity of spirit that could make the world my engineering student will lead in, a better one.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prime Time Masterchef and Prime (Time) Ministers

Yes, I confess to watching both the Masterchef Finale and the Gillard/Abbott debate Sunday night a week ago. If I hadn't I would have gone to bed feeling like a complete ignoramus with nothing to discuss with colleagues and clients the next day. Masterchef is truly an undeniable phenomenon and it has inspired one of my four children to share the load in the kitchen. Eventually she will realise that a small heavy based pan of perfectly caramelised pecans probably won't feed a family of six plus her boyfriend and older brother's girlfriend. 


I only have two misgivings about Masterchef. One is the poor modelling of healthy eating exhibited by Matt's growing number of chins throughout the series and two, that every other woman at our table at a function last night said they now felt socially anxious when inviting guests for dinner parties lest they not measure up culinarily.

I have decided one of the great ironies of life is that by the time we have really learnt to accept ourselves with all our jiggly bits, we really will be old, wrinkly and jiggly.

By the time we truly appreciate the extraordinary human beings we have raised when we're constantly told the Y's are selfish, demanding and fragile, they will have long since moved out.

And by the time I live up to the lofty standards created by the Masterchef magicians, I will have become thoroughly sick of cooking!

Let's give ourselves permission to be us ... only better!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What do we make of two women in a week?

When he was still host, Eddie McGuire would walk on set at the beginning of Thursday night’s Footy Show, rub his hands together and pronounce that it had been a “big week in Football”. By all accounts, Nick Riewoldt’s hamstring is ahead of schedule but in other breaking news two Australian women, one junior marketer and the other a political juggernaut took their bosses to court and caucus respectively and won. In the space of six days the blogosphere was pulsating with the news that the Chief Executive of David Jones elected to resign for conduct unbecoming against a young woman who worked for the retail chain. By his own admission, he had done wrong and stood down. Other women logged in and blogged in with sad, even depressing tales of poor treatment, sexually permeated work environments, rampant discrimination on unlawful prejudices like family responsibilities, pregnancy and potential pregnancy, being hit upon and preyed upon in supposedly contemporary professional workplaces. And they talked of being victimised, performance managed, even dismissed for complaining about it.


For years some of us working in the Equal Opportunity space have bemoaned the shameful percentage of women on Australian Boards, the inhospitable work cultures that often meant, in my experience, that even if women were appointed to lofty positions in companies and became ex-officio members of the Boys Club, many of those women in time resigned and went elsewhere; always feeling as if they were on the outer. They got concussed butting heads with the glass ceiling, knocked back opportunities where the pressure of future expectations kept them planted on the “sticky floor” or did their bit for population growth, had babies - even if a growing number trying to consolidate their careers first ended up seeking medical assistance to do it - and then promptly collided with the “maternal wall”.

Today an unmarried woman, childless by choice from a working class background with a vocal quality than can only be deemed a compelling liability, became our new Prime Minister. Irrespective of my political persuasions, I have walked around today with a lump in my throat, trying to label and store my feelings as if they were Tupperware containers of meat sauce to be tucked away in the freezer for a really heavy work week and asking myself if I would ever forget what I was doing on the day they shot Kevin Rudd and installed - Julia.

I felt this way on the day Obama won his election and it was not about his politics. There was something momentous about the reality of it. The winds of change were rustling among the trees and you could feel the faint breeze and smell the jasmine hinting at the promise of a new season.

The common denominator in the resignation of a seemingly high performing CEO for sexual misconduct and the appointment of a woman to the highest office of our land is that they are potent symbols of empowerment, if not entitlement. The two events signify permission for all Australians, including women, to dare to dream; Kristy Fraser-Kirk of a safe hospitable workplace environment where one day she can have “quiet enjoyment” of her workplace; and for Julia Gillard, with a little help from her friends, to win the most powerful position in the land and on merit.

If I have a concern about either of these two momentous occurrences it is that people will start to think that the battle for equality has clearly been won; that we can pick up our evangelistic bats and balls and go home. I hear some of you say but even high performing CEO’s get sacked now if they sexually harass someone. I hear you add that we now have a female PM for goodness sake! What other evidence do we need of the fact that the past is irretrievably behind us? The examples of one are exactly that. Until we stop marvelling at what has happened, it is not yet commonplace. We are not yet gender blind or habituated to a workplace culture that allows all people to reach their potential without fear of predatory behaviour or subjugation.

It should not be remarkable that a Chief Executive resigned his position for his abuse of power and it should not be remarkable that a highly intelligent, hard working, loyal and impressive person by all accounts possessing of warmth and integrity should be recognised for it. But context is king. We have no precedent for either of those two watershed moments in our collective Australian conscience.

Yes, Eddie, it’s been a big week in football, but short of the Doggies getting up and winning the Grand Final for Julia or the Saints getting up and winning one for me, there won’t be anything bigger than this week for me in a long long time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Coffee, conflict and coaching - any place any time!

There I was minding my own business in the Etihad Stadium coffee queue. Don't know if Monday night football will ever be institutionalised but over 42,000 people decided to give it a try. The queue was quite long but my mum is worth it so there I waited towards the latter stages of half time (defeat almost a certainty by then which was something I was not at all used to). The young barista behind the counter was not coping with the demand - that much was obvious. What appeared to make it worse was the huffing, puffing, eye rolling and tsk'ing going on from several queue members. I guess they figured as I did that once they had paid for their coffee (equivalent to a sizeable down payment on an apartment) they might as well stay and get the thing!


I'll be honest and say that while I was not eye rolling and tsk'ing, I was wondering why they put a seemingly inexperienced barista in front of one small espresso machine with a 20 minute half time window of aromatic opportunity for up to 42,000 coffees.


Just when the gentleman next to me seemed ready to erupt, the next in line for coffee customer - a warm, gracious, emotionally intelligent woman, entered into conversation with our novice barista, showed empathy for the hapless woman's busy night, commiserated with her about the slowness of the machine to steam, took her coffee with thanks, sipped it and informed all within earshot (including barista who was near meltdown by then) that her drink was delicious. The barista beamed and palpably relaxed. Her supervisor gave her a reassuring look and smiled gratefully at the customer and on departure, the gorgeous customer stared intently at Mr Eye Roll as if to say: "Weren't you young and inexperienced once upon a time - have a heart!"


They say, charity begins at home (something I remind my kids of often when it comes to chores!).
Peace building begins with us. Right here, right now.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Trainwrecks and Bingles - but Resilient Clarke Bats On

There is nothing I need or wish to do to contribute to the media circus surrounding the (former) relationship of Michael Clarke and Lara Bingle except to say that Michael Clarke is a fascinating case study in resilience or if you prefer the more colloquial, "mental toughness". From what we can gather, he came to a conclusion that he needed to be somewhere other than where he was (New Zealand to play for Australia), came home to Oz, executed his decision to end his relationship, surrounded himself with family and friends, had some dark moments at a pub (pictures happily snapped by other pub patrons), went back to New Zealand, spent some time in the nets retraining with the red cricket ball - he had played for some weeks with a white ball in the Twenty20 games after all - and then hit a record breaking knock of 168!

If you study his press conference, and allowing for the rehearsed pieces of script which re-occurred over and over again to fill the space and block the obvious questions he did not really want to answer at any length ("It's just great to be back here in NZ and I am really looking forward to Friday”), he cited the support from his captain Ricky Ponting and his head coach Tim Nielsen as integral to his ability to leave for a time and then be able to return and cope. He allowed himself to feel weakness and sadness at some point while he was home and then appeared to pick himself up, dust himself off, refocus on his “job", anticipate some further challenges (e.g. sledging from his NZ competitors), but laugh on occasion and demonstrate he had some insight into how the whole saga may have looked to everyone else.

He accepted philosophically the inevitable fascination others can have for the lives of professional athletes on and off the field and noted that everyone has their jobs to do including the media. Thus he was able to be creative in the frame he put around the hammering he received publically and I certainly got the sense he would cope with any sledging that came his way as he reminded us all he had copped it many times before; thus importantly affirming for himself his ability to survive that. His innings and the partnership with Marcus North which put Australia in a strong position, are blatant evidence of an outstanding ability to push through adversity by being more than mentally tough. He demonstrated he was being self aware and strategic.

1. Resilient people, first and foremost, are self aware. They know what they feel and why.
2. They handle crucial and difficult conversations (e.g. relationships bust ups)
3. They have tools and strategies to get them back on track.
4. They are big enough to admit they need help and support and know what kind of help they require and where to get it.
5. They are also able to maintain their sense of humour, as evidenced with Clarke
6. They have self belief that is not easily shaken
7. They are creative in the way they construe events that could bring other people down i.e. they maintain an internal voice that is constructive and serves to enhance their performance.

However much Michael and Lara may have become the butt of other people’s ridicule in past weeks, I believe Michael Clarke has emerged as an impressive ambassador for resilience and a most worthy future captain of Australia given the inevitable pressure that accompanies such a high profile role in our sports-obsessed nation.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Look in the mirror - what do we see?

I attended a professional development function last week and found myself surrounded by fellow management consultants, training professionals, coaches and psychologists. There was an almost audible groan in the room as we were informed that each of us would have up to one minute to introduce ourselves to the others in the room. My quick mental calculation confirmed I would not make it home to my family for dinner.

Such was the concern about the possibility of tedium, even by the organisers, that they divided the introductions into two rounds (punctuated by other introductions from members of their staff). I must admit I did find it fascinating to watch and listen to the choices made by each of us on how to introduce ourselves; for even up to one minute revealed (even betrayed) something of our self perception; the salient self disclosures we wanted to share intermixed with what we thought our audience may want or need to hear.

If each of us had to give an elevator pitch, how would we define ourselves? Would people hear self belief, warmth, brinksmanship, empathy, hubris, self-deprecation, insecurity (perhaps reflected in trying ever so hard) or humility? Would we talk about our passions or our achievements; the people in our lives or the things we have accumulated. And most interestingly, would our self perception match the perception others have of us assuming they have had enough time to really see us in action.

Marcum and Smith in their book "egonomics" (Simon and Shuster 2008) identify some early warning signs of misplaced ego that include being comparative, being defensive, showcasing brilliance and seeking acceptance. In contrast they said the healthy embodiment of ego is evidenced in humility, curiosity and veracity, that is, the habitual pursuit of and adherence to, truth. The openness of humility, the curiosity that drives exploration of ideas and veraciously chasing truth helps us have courageous conversations and be able to close the gap between what we think is going on and what really is!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Macquarie Dave - bad timing or bad behaving?

Except that we happened to see it and Macquarie was humiliated by it, Dave hurt no-one. So what is really so terrible you ask? Dave was in clear breach of company policy. It was not work related, it was clearly of a sexual nature, it had the capacity to offend, humiliate and intimidate. What were some of the arguments used to defend him apart from him being miserably "unlucky"? (Really? Successively opening and closing three separate photos?)

Yes, some women dress inappropriately for work and managers should not be so gutless about counselling them on professionalism. I'm certainly not asking for a double standard. Yes, open plan offices are cheap and not private so might we not moderate our behaviour according to the environment in which we work? Yes, companies do allow some personal internet use but why does that automatically have to be without limit? And sacking Dave or otherwise does not preclude any action against whomever sent him the Miranda Kerr photos (unless it was a friend and the responsibility lies only with Dave for having opened the file and not the friend who sent it from home).

We are Aussies, we have a sense of humour and the vision of what happened was kind of funny until you think about it. Life can be cruel so we desperately don't want to think the world as we know it, is over. But for all those who enlisted in the Save Dave petition, spare a thought for his camera hosting employer who pays his wages, think of the women in his office who wonder if he ogles them too, think of his wife if he has one and think of those children in detention centres whom none of Dave's new mates petitioned for. On a scale of 1-10, Dave is not a paedophile or a rapist but can we not defend the indefensible!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday-itis - all year long

In speaking with clients, friends and acquaintances toward the end of the holiday season, it became apparent just how many of them articulated feelings of misgiving about returning to work after the break. What was so interesting about this was that each of them has always appeared 100% committed to their work and clients and would never ordinarily strike me as being challenged to get their heads "back in the game".

I think this says something about the pace of life these days, the enormous demands on people at work, the guilt that can accompany parents and partners who struggle with the juggle. But just as much is the longing people feel to achieve some sense of "flow".

How much harder might it be for staff who aren't engaged, are under appreciated, who work in an environment that is either emotionally unsupportive at best or toxic at worst. While the economy is looking up, some unhappy employees will elect to wait out the time for access to their super, hoping someone will offer them a package in yet another restructure or go through the motions of the “bare minimum” hoping they'll escape workplace detection.

Everyone deserves to feel worthwhile, to make a meaningful contribution, to be appreciated for what they bring. Yet I often provoke clients who bemoan their situation by reminding them that to stay where they are, doing what they do, if it is unfulfilling, is itself, a choice. I derive enormous professional satisfaction from provoking and encouraging clients to take control of their situation and exercise alternate choices.

If your enthusiasm for the challenges and opportunities of 2010 is “sub-optimal”, what are you prepared to do about it? Let’s seize the day, evaluate our choices and make 2010 an intentional experience; typified by clarity of outcomes to be achieved, disciplined pursuit of the strategies to get there, the emotional intelligence to cope with some inevitable disappointments and the resolute determination to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and go again.

Having taken time out last night to sit with family and watch the final of the Australian Open Men’s Final, I was struck by the true meaning of resilience and the key to sustained excellence. In some parts of the match, Andy Murray played with a defensive mindset and hoped Federer would make mistakes to let him in. Federer understands his destiny lies in his own hands and victory will only ever come off his racquet.

A new year, a fresh start and greater business optimism. How are you going to win your first grand slam in 2010?