Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Reminder that Black and White aren't the Only Colours

Photo by Getty

I must admit I did a double take when I learnt the news. A part of me groaned inwardly. Was it a smart decision? Do we need the grief? Will people see the ‘frame’ or just the convenient canvas? I could hear the trashy (but clever) memes. And I could see the pain of people I know and care about and the hurt and suffering they felt when it happened to them. 

And yet St Kilda Football Club has appointed Simon Lethlean, former General Manager at the AFL to head up its football department. 

At a time when the public and the media is white hot about sexual harassment and the #metoo movement, it would be easy and negligent to confuse what Lethlean admits he did in having an illicit relationship with a junior staffer and the sordid allegations tumbling forth every week since the Harvey Weinstein scandal. I am not going to reproduce my thoughts on the initial AFL saga when it unfolded but you can read the OpEd I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald here if you choose. 

An illicit relationship between consenting adults may be morally abhorrent to many but it will never constitute sexual harassment or worse, sexual assault.

The roots of St Kilda Football Club are in the St Kilda shoreline, the fun and the outdated tackiness of Luna Park, our spiritual home at Moorabbin to Mordialloc, the posh suburbs of Brighton and Portsea. It is home to the hipsters and the homeless, the fabled and the fallible, the suave and the second chance. The Club above all else embraces inclusion.

Human fallibility is the reason St Kilda got to interview Lethlean in the first place. Would he have stayed with the AFL for a while if not for this? Of course. Is his CV outstanding? Undoubtedly. Might he make the difference to the Club to bring us closer to that elusive second flag? Quite possibly. But that on its own for me would never have been enough to hire him.

I will never advise an organisation to turn a blind eye to conduct just because someone is a star performer. Too many boards and too many companies have obfuscated, wimped out, rationalised and even condoned below the line behaviour because the perpetrator was the CEO or the darling of the media, or the best rainmaker or someone's drinking buddy or niece. I know it happens. I wrote a book on it.  But St Kilda Football Club is not a "vulture culture", not with Matt Finnis as the CEO or with Peter Summers as its President. And I'm saying that as someone who has had the privilege to get to know them both over the past three years. If Lethlean has learnt from his actions; if others much closer to him than you or I have had the capacity to forgive, might we do the same?

Gillon McLachlan hoped Lethlean would find a home again in football. It's widely publicised they are friends. Yet Gillon, whom I respect a lot, accepted Lethlean's resignation. Because life is not just black and white. It's not as simple as: “You're either with me or against me”; “I'm your friend so I can't be your boss and the custodian of culture.

Finnis has said the Club's brand is now strong enough to withstand the scrutiny and the inevitable questions and pushback. Yet any club is one tweet or one drunken night away from ignominious scandal. He knows it. We know it. St Kilda Footy Club has both brought it on itself in days past and suffered for it through no fault of its own.

Life is complicated. Some decisions are complex. My colours outside work are black and white...and red. And the red is for heart - hearts filled with empathy, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance. With the highest engagement of any AFL club despite our paucity of on field success to date, I trust the Club to have crafted a message that is authentic, balanced, sensitive and honest about the decision to hire a flawed yet competent new Executive. Having just been granted our licence to launch St Kilda's team in the AFL Women's League, the women who play for us and those who follow us with such enduring passion and loyalty deserve nothing less.     


Saturday, December 2, 2017

When looking on the bright side ain't so bright


There is no doubt we all can be placed on a continuum of optimistic to pessimistic. That is not to say we will have the same predictable reaction to everything, but we may tend to lean one way, to the middle or to the other. Some people have a voracious change appetite that manifests as a genuine restlessness to be doing new things and challenging themselves often. Others of us, if given a choice, might prefer things stay largely the same. If we keep going back to the same coastal holiday destination year after year, that may be an indication of a preference for low risk and for familiarity (and predictably good times). If we’ve made a vow we will never visit the same place twice, our mindset is probably somewhat different. 

In her book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking (2001), author and psychology professor, Julie K. Norem argues that rather than thinking positively, defensive pessimistic strategies can help people to effectively manage their anxiety so that it can work for rather than against them. For example, how many times have you been left feeling more anxious and infuriated after hearing the phrase "look on the bright side" from a family member or a friend who meant well? Norem's research found it wasn't that people were able to do well despite their pessimism but rather that it was the pessimism that allowed people to do well. They were able to turn anxious thoughts into action and thus optimise their performance.

A change announcement may be made to a number of people and it may end up affecting all of them from a structural point of view in the same or similar way. That does not mean they will all react or respond to the change in the same way. The perceived quality and number of options open to us can make us feel very constrained, even vulnerable or secure in the knowledge that we’re holding some attractive cards. It is unlikely we will feel good about the change, particularly imposed change, if we feel what is being offered to us is a choice between bad or disastrous or worse and "worser"! Based on the impacted person’s understanding of the change, how well does it seem to match the hopes, skills, interest and passions of the person undergoing the change? In other words, how attractive/comfortable is the change likely to be and how well can the person see him/herself flourishing and enjoying the fruits of the change?

"VUCA" (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) is an acronym first used in the US military in the 1990’s to describe the general conditions and situations of the armed forces. As a metaphor, it reasonably depicts the fluid environment and the changes that employees are asked to embrace. In view of the above, we might be facing a challenging re-structure at work, the job requirements of our role have expanded and become more onerous than anticipated or a new CEO has taken over the company and we may need to bounce back, demonstrate mental toughness and manage our own 'state' particularly when under stress to increase our competence and confidence to flourish post change.

American author and organisational consultant, William Bridges, postulated that whether or not change is self-initiated or imposed, we do experience loss even if that loss is only the 'old way of doing things'. He says that it is unlikely we can envisage every possible consequence of the change, even when we initiate it and and therefore we might need a period to adjust or adapt. An analogy for a mild change is the excitement of learning that we were successful in our application for a new job. The success of the application marks an "ending" to whatever we were doing before. Initial elation can sometimes give way to some nerves about how we will fit in, whether or not we oversold ourselves at interview and could find the role too challenging, whether or not it was the right decision to leave the current company we were working for and how much adjusting we will have to do to feel comfortable in a new work environment. Many of those anxieties will prove to be ill-founded but that won’t necessarily stop us from fretting about them until the large “realm of unknown” shrinks and is replaced by a larger "realm of what’s known".

Defensive Pessimists spend a lot of time and energy investing in the possibility of how things might go wrong. Our anxiety is fundamentally fuelled by the discomfort in uncertainty and loss of control. Therefore, if we can convince ourselves of the likelihood of future good outcomes occurring we can a) reduce our feelings of anticipation and fear of the unknown, without ignoring or denying them happening or b) we are able cope better with change if the worst possible outcome we imagined, occurred. The key here being that we feel more in control. By mentally preparing for disasters or setbacks to occur we are more prepared to plan and respond quicker in case things don't go as planned.

Norman went to her son's pre-school and as part of career day was asked to explain to a class of five-year olds what her job was.

"I gave them smiley-face or frowning-face stickers and told them a series of short stories describing various situations such as 'It is a cloudy day and Mary is going to the park. What do you think will happen?"

For each example, the children were instructed to put a frowning face or a smiling face sticker on their paper and at the end counted up the number of each sticker they had.

"We talked about what it meant that some kids had more smiling stickers and some had more frowning stickers. The children were able to explain to me, as one boy did, that 'it can be good to remember that it might rain, because then you will take your raincoat and boots, and you can stay outside and play. This makes Mary feel better about the clouds'".

This is a perfect, yet simple example, of a circumstance where it is effective to call on defensive pessimism. However these are some tips to consider:
· Is my reaction to the change proportional to what’s actually happened? Am I allowing myself a 10/10 reaction to a 3/10 stressor? Can I intentionally bring myself down to something more proportional?
· Is the thing that I fear (really) likely to happen? Am I worrying for nothing? Am I worrying excessively?  
· What are my Primary Driving Forces? Do I really want what I say I want? Is someone else telling me this should matter to me?
· Am I dwelling on the past (which I can’t change) or worrying about the future and robbing myself of joy in the here and now? 

If our self-efficacy is high, we will be less likely daunted by unexpected events and imposed change. If our self-efficacy is low, we are more likely to be dubious about our ability to cope and may worry more than is necessary for longer than is necessary. It is important at times to turn up the volume of the voices in our heads and work out which ones need to be silenced and when… (because they can be really unhelpful).

If you've recently coped with a difficult change, we'd would love to hear from you about your thoughts and strategies.