What’s love got to do with it?

Talking about love in business might make us uncomfortable. Isn’t business all about head, not heart? When we talk of love at work, we don’t mean romantic love. It is love for what we do (passion), love for the people we do it with (teammates) and love for the people we do it for (customers).

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Have you put your garbage out?

A few minutes before I was to go on stage recently, the MC who was introducing me glanced at the printed sheet in front of her, looked up and said: “You look so much younger in the photo here.”


I made a joke in response and then stepped on to the stage. Shaken but not stirred, as Mr Bond would say. Later I sent a text to my mentor about the MC’s quip. My mentor sent the most beautiful text back and concluded with a quote “Your better self showed up”. I joked and texted back: “Sometimes my better self goes on unexplained absences!”

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Getting your a**e kicked – the dark side of leadership

Within the first 18 months of setting up our business, we had an article published in The Age newspaper. It made massive waves, and our phones and inboxes began to overflow with great feedback.

The very next day, however, a vicious attack on the article from another consultant appeared in The Age, while online a ‘storytelling expert’ went ballistic with personal criticism that just kept snowballing. It was traumatic and humiliating. At the moment of our lowest ebb, the phone rang. It was a CEO we had recently worked with. He had never personally rung us before, but did now to say, ‘First of all well done for standing up for what you believe in.’ Then he added, ‘Every time you stick your neck out, there will always be someone who will try to kick it in.’ The CEO was empathetic, reminding us what the stakes are when you enter the arena.

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The business of busyness

item0546luIn a classic clip from an old I Love Lucy episode, Lucy gets a job in a chocolate factory and she and her friend Ethel are placed on the assembly line.

The draconian supervisor tells them: “Girls, this is your last chance. If one piece of candy gets past you unwrapped, you are fired!” The production line starts slowly and they carefully wrap candy, remarking how easy it is. Then the assembly line starts to speed up, and they can barely keep up.

They start stuffing their mouths with candy and Lucy calls out to her friend in despair: “I think this is a losing game.” They hear the supervisor returning and hide the remaining candy in their mouths, under their hats and even down the front of their dresses. Their mouths are bulging. The supervisor returns. Seeing the empty conveyor belt, in a moment of perfectly-timed comedy, the supervisor shouts to the conveyor belt operator “Speed it up!”

This famous scene has been parodied by many other TV shows.  What makes it funny even now is the relevance of this message to our modern lives. So often we keep up the pretence of being on top of stuff, and the pretence can work for some time, but exacts a heavy toll.

Somewhere along the line, for a lot of us in business, work became synonymous with worth and ‘busy’ became the currency to measure this worth.

Author Julia Cameron says there is a difference between purposeful, zestful work and work for work’s sake; not in the hours we put in but in their emotional quality.

Three things we can all do to improve the emotional quality of our work lives is to ask for help, stop being a hero/martyr (only I can do this) and draw a line in the sand (I don’t look at emails on Sunday or take business calls after 6pm).

Just as an alcoholic gets sober by abstaining from alcohol, we need to abstain from the idea that we’re only at our most productive when we’re putting in frantic 12-hour work days. There’s far more merit – and reward – in purposeful, contemplative work.

How do you improve the emotional quality of your work? Please share, as always I love hearing from you.

Are you skating to where the puck is?

downloadHave you heard of Wayne Gretzky? Your answer will definitely be yes if you are either Canadian, into ice hockey or a general sports nut.

In Canada, Gretzky, a brilliant ice hockey player, is a national hero. Gretzky was so good that when he retired, his number – 99 – was retired from all North American professional hockey teams. He was once asked why he was so successful. He had no immediate answer for the reporter, but he went away and thought about it. Later he summed it up perfectly: “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.”

The simplicity of this message belies what it conveys for us in business. It’s not the grand vision or the 90-day plan, but the simplest action I can take right now to achieve my goal. In ice hockey it is skating to where the puck is going; in business it might be making that phone call to a client, or having that difficult conversation with a team member.

This is backed up by current research in the recent best-seller Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader where the author, INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra, shows that becoming a leader is not an event but a process with kinks and curves.

Ibarra turns the usual ‘think first and then act’ philosophy on its head, arguing that we learn through action. She says action increases your ‘outsight’: the valuable external perspective you gain from direct experiences and experimentation.

Of course through experience, champions such as Gretzky build up formidable outsight, but it all starts with that simple first step. Skating to where the puck is.

Please comment; I love hearing from you.

How would you like….?

download“How would you like your hair cut?” a talkative barber asked a client.  “In silence”, the man replied!  This is one of the oldest recorded jokes, attributed to Roman times.

Most people shy away from silence as it is awkward and scary.  We often see silence as a vacuum that needs to be filled, quickly and furiously.  Yet silence can also be powerful, if used well.

Consider the power of a well-timed pause – especially when you are presenting.  It takes practise to get the timing right (try counting slowly to three in your head).  This will feel like eternity, but gives your messages the space they deserve.

When you finish narrating a story, you will usually be greeted by complete silence instead of rapturous applause.  The silence does not mean your story has not worked; quite the opposite.  The silence is your audience thinking about what you have said.

Quite often you have barely finished speaking in most other contexts when people rush in with what they want to say.  As such, the novelty of being greeted by silence at the end of a story is so unusual that it can unnerve even seasoned presenters.  I prep clients by saying “Bask in the silence!”

Research (in a paper aptly titled ‘Why Silence is golden’) has studied the effects of silence in consumer advertising and found that a silent segment in a television commercial increased attention and recall.  The researchers recommend that advertisers should selectively pause for a cause.

So, how are you going to pause for cause?  Please share – I love hearing from you.

Quantum leap your influence

What if lives were saved or lost because of your ability to influence?  How do you influence when the stakes are so high?
Pet Rescue Australia faces exactly this situation every day.  Sadly 100,000 rescue dogs are put down every year in Australia. jerky-dog
To make a difference, Pet Rescue had to influence more Australians to adopt dogs from shelters.  They also had to overcome the very first barrier that is actually getting people to visit a shelter.  Their strategy was simple ‘If we can’t bring people to the rescue dogs, we’ll bring rescue dogs to the people!  But how?  Pet Rescue is a not for profit with limited resources and marketing spend.
One of the insights they had was most people look like their dogs!  Really, and there is some scientific evidence that backs this up.  They used this insight to deploy their strategy.
An app was built titled Dog-A-Like.  You can download the app, upload your photo and it scans through all the photos of dogs in rescue shelters and ‘bingo’ finds your perfect dog match.  Dog-A-Like was an instant hit and became the No. 1 App in the Australian iTunes store for two weeks.  Whether people were thinking of getting a dog or not, everyone started using it and uploading their perfect match images on to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  And the results, 36% increase in dogs rehomed – over 2200 dogs every month.  This has been Australia’s single most successful dog rehoming campaign to date.  Inspiring!
An insight, a simple strategy and involving your customers to create a new story worth sharing.  A potent mix to quantum leap your influence.

Please comment, I would love to hear your thoughts.

‘Getting your a**e kicked’, the dark side of leadership

Brene BrownIn the first 18 months of setting up our business we had a full page article published in the business section of  The Age.  It was a momentous occasion for us, and our phones were ringing hot and our email inboxes overflowing with good wishes.

The very next day there was a vicious letter in The Age from another consultant, who had taken offense to one statement in the article and used it out of context.  Online, another ‘Storytelling expert’ also went ballistic with personal criticism  in what felt like a spiteful unwarranted attack  that just kept snowballing.  It was traumatic and humiliating. At our lowest ebb the phone rang and it was the CEO who we had recently worked with.  He had never rung us personally before but he did  tell us “first of all well done for standing up for what you believe in”.  Then he also said “every time you stick your neck out there will always be someone who will try to kick your head in”.  The CEO was not sympathetic, like our friends and family, but had empathy and was also preparing us for what the stakes were when you play in the arena.

It was the most powerful thing anyone could have said to us.  It helped us pick up the pieces and move forward, instead of floundering in self doubt. Interestingly we continued to write, publish and grow whereas one of our critics has disappeared (and no we had nothing to do with it!) and the other one has simply earned a vitriolic reputation.

With the passage of time we are able to joke about this, humor is after all sometimes the best coping mechanism.

I was recently given a new frame to think about that experience, in a talk presented by Brené Brown.  Brené Brown is a professor and a researcher who’s TED talk in 2010 shot her to international stardom, practically overnight.  It was an unexpected and meteoric rise but well deserved and earned.

Brené said that her husband and her therapist had put her in lock down mode and banned her from looking at the comments posted on line about her talk.  So what did she do?  She immediately went on online and looked at the comments, and people had posted hurtful, spiteful comments like ‘Less research more botox’, ‘Lose 15 pounds and we will be ready to listen to you’.  Anonymous comments are the cesspool of the internet. When Brené shared some of these comments, the audience literally gasped.  Then Brené said ‘I realized then that when you go into the arena, whatever that is for you, in sport, at work, in life, there is only one guarantee, that you will get your arse kicked’.

She also said when you are picking people up after they had their arse kicked the best thing to say to them is along the lines of ‘That totally sucked, (don’t deny their experience of what is happening to them) but remember…and remind that what they did that was brave or what they stood up for’.  That is what the CEO did for us that day in the single phone call, he knew that is what we needed and reached out and pulled us off the floor.

Everyday in organisations, leadership is the largest and most important arena that people play in. But most people don’t often talk about the dark side of leadership and the toll it can take on leaders.  The days when leaders stand for something and metaphorically get their head kicked in either by the board, share holders, or peers.  Knowing that these are the stakes, might make us risk averse, no one wants to stick their head out, and innovation, opportunity or even simply ‘doing the right thing’ might all sadly wither as a consequence.  So if you are a leader or not, prepare yourself for this, as it is the only guarantee in the arena. And every time you see someone getting their arse kicked, reach out and help them back up off the floor.  As next time, that could be you.

Sexist, Racist? Me? Couldn’t be!

Last week I walked into my local pharmacy and was greeted by a young Asian man and I immediately started asking him very specific questions and he interrupted Young-smiling-asian-man-745813me and politely said ‘Sorry I’m not the pharmacist, I’m a pharmacy assistant but I’m sure the pharmacist would be able to help you‘.  I was so embarrassed and apologized but he very politely said ‘No worries, it happens all the time, everyone thinks I am the pharmacist‘.

What he didn’t say but was implied was ‘…because I’m male & Asian’.  Sexist, racist, me? Couldn’t be! Classic case of unconscious bias on my part and for a lot of their customers.  Unconscious bias is where we are not even aware of the biases we have.  Everyone has their unconscious biases, and in leadership unconscious bias can seriously impact communication, decisions, judgment, performance and results.

But there is hope. As  journalist Fiona Smith in a recent BRW article states ‘The point is we are all biased, but as intelligent, thinking people it is incumbent on us to question our responses and decisions to ensure we do the right thing’.




You might be over him, but is Covey still relevant?

One of the first self help book I ever bought was ‘The 7 Habits of Highly effective people’, with the earnings from one of my first  jobs. The lure of that irresistible title jumped out at me from a passing bookshop window, and before I knew it I had whipped into the shop and was parting with hard earned money to get my copy!   Though I didn’t know it then, the book was to be both life affirming and life changing.   As we mourn the passing of Stephen Covey (October 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012) it is interesting to share with so many other leaders how they too have been profoundly impacted by Covey’s seminal work.

It’s testimony to the power of his ideas, which have become so mainstream and part of who we are that is hard to imagine how original and insightful his thinking was back in 1989.  Stuff like ‘Begin with the end in mind’ might make us think ‘doesn’t everyone do that?’  Possibly lots of people do begin with the end in mind but Covey was the first to articulate this, and so elegantly, and for that alone we owe him a debt of gratitude.  Also my addiction to models and quadrants, the origins of which can be traced back to this exact moment in time, must be squarely placed at his feet! Covey never set out to write a management book or a leadership book, but again the power of his ideas translate so well into both these spheres.

What makes Covey immensely readable was his use of stories and parables, to make a point.  When he was talking about ‘Paradigm shift’, he explained what that meant through this story.  Once when he was traveling in a subway, a man gets in with his two sons, the sons are running all over the place bothering people, this continues, so Covey finally gets irritated enough to ask the father why he doesn’t do something to control his kids. The father replies, “We just got back from the hospital where their mother died. I don’t know how to handle it and I guess they don’t either.”

Suddenly everything you thought about the father and the kids running amok in that instant changes. You understand the family in a completely different way. That is the power of a paradigm shift.   When I was reading Covey I wasn’t even sure how to say paradigm (now we all slip into those words like an old pair of comfy pyjamas!). But then the story really helped me understand what a paradigm shift  meant and the story has stayed with me, and I continue to use it.

Covey’s ideas endure, where most other management buzzwords have been reduced to dust or a mockery of their old selves.  A client recently told us that all that is left of the old BHAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) is the word audacious!

As we look back on his legacy it is interesting to ask where does Covey fit in today’s leadership / self help literature?   Is his book still relevant?  My mentor Peter Cook helped me understand, how to deal with the tsunami of literature in any area by saying if you want to master a subject for example productivity read a classic like Covey’s 7 habits, a blockbuster like David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ and a current best seller like, Timothy Ferriss’ ‘The 4 hour week’.

I can’t predict what might happen with the blockbuster and the best seller.  They both might become classics, but only time will tell. But today Covey’s book alone stands apart as the definitive work on productivity.  So if you haven’t read it, it’s time to be proactive (a little ‘in joke’ for people who have read the book as one the principles is to be proactive) and lay your hands on a copy.  And if you have read it the best homage you can pay Covey is to re visit it, and decide for yourself, if it has stood the test of time?

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