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In late March I had the great privilege to facilitate a leadership immersion trip with Millie Allbon for The Hunger Project Australia and Human Kind Project to Malawi. Whilst many people think I must be over there building huts or similar popularised views of what westerners do in Africa, the leadership immersion programs are quite the opposite. We are there to learn leadership lessons from the poorest of the poor who have transformed their own lives through opportunity, rather than aid to defeat chronic hunger.

When on these programs one of the greatest opportunities that I get to experience is to witness the selfless yet strategic leadership of our Country Directors. Their ability to work in the field helping people shift their mindset from one of desperation to possibility is something that all change practitioners could learn from and aspire to.

On the Sunday night before the program commenced, we were up late with Rowlands the Country Director for Malawi preparing for our “trippers” who were arriving the next day. When Millie and I met up with Rowlands the next morning to meet his team, he was telling us about his family and the conversation that they had together when he returned home Sunday night. His wife Sphewe was trying to get the kids to bed, but Rowlands decided that even though it was late, as a family they should spend half an hour talking about their day, even if it meant a later bed time for his children who are aged 10 and 12 years of age. 

Rowlands kicked off the conversation and said “Sphewe, my beautiful wife, tell me about your day…” and Sphewe replied “It was fine…”.  The conversation was about to continue but his son interrupted. “Mum, that is not acceptable. You didn’t give any detail and Dad built you up, he described you as his beautiful wife and you just dropped the moment”.

Rowlands and his wife were a little puzzled as they had never heard this expression before. And when they all eventually retired to bed, he told us how they started to google the expression to see if it was some new expression their son had read up on – but they couldn’t find anything! 

I loved this story for the conversation shift it created and I’ve thought about the wisdom of this incredible 10-year-old boy a lot since returning from Malawi. How often do we all potentially drop the moment with our loved ones or our work colleagues because we’re too busy or aren't present with each other. When we aren’t present we are missing opportunities to elevate and connect with each other.

Influential leaders are the ones who elevate the moment.  They have the insight to grasp the opportunity to engage, motivate and connect to the people they work with. As outlined in
The Small BIG by Martin, Goldstein and Cialdini, it is often the small things that help leaders have a big impact on effecting people’s behaviour.  From studying Cialdini's work on persuasion, the small moment of acknowledging relationship when people say 'thank you' is an opportunity many miss. As Australians, how often do we say 'no worries' when in fact, a more apt response may be 'I really value our working relationship, so it's my pleasure'. Think about the impact of that small change, delivered in a way that is authentic, with your customers and work colleagues. It might feel strange at first, but the dividends long term are worth it. 

Brene Brown also talks about small moments based on her research which shows that trust is built on small moments such as stopping to talk to someone when you can see they are upset, even if it means having to put down or stop what you are engrossed in. Or attending the funeral of a team member’s family as a show of your support.  As Amy Cuddy, author of '
Presence' cites, 'trust is the conduit of influence'. 

As you venture into your week, think about the areas where you can elevate others in the small moments. Often the small amount of effort it takes to be of service to others, is the difference between average and influential leadership. 

I was speaking this week to a group of CEOs when I was asked the question, “what about affinity bias and cultural fit? If we want to recruit or promote people who match our cultural fit then isn’t it more likely that they will be like us? Doesn’t that make diversity redundant?”.

It was a brilliant question. Affinity Bias – our tendency to ‘like people who are like us’ impacts all facets of leadership. The important distinction here is to understand what ‘cultural fit’ means and whether we are in fact confusing it with affinity bias. If someone is a good cultural fit for your business then that is about them aligning to the values of your organisation and the behaviours that underpin this in action.

For example, if your company has a value of BOLDNESS and one of the underpinnings of that value is that you want your people to take calculated risks and to speak up and voice their opinions in meetings, then as a leader there are two things to consider when recruiting or promoting people.

After years of reading Brené’s work and watching her speak I knew that she would not disappoint at this mornings Business Chicks breakfast in Sydney. Even more exciting though was having the opportunity to hear about her latest research into Brave Leaders and Courageous Cultures.

Working thousands of hours with CEOs her research highlights still, that underneath all the things we expect from leaders not one of them can be done well without a level of vulnerability (uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure). Ethical decision-making for example, absolutely requires vulnerability. Having to speak up for what is right, when the mob want to proceed with another path is itself not an easy thing to do.

And as Brené pointed out, we still expect amazing technical leaders to be brilliant leaders of people. “It’s like asking me to be the pilot on a commercial plane, because I have thousands of frequent flyer miles”. We see how nonsensical this is, however this is exactly what we see time and again in organisations.

As human beings we naturally have a negative bias, and our society is geared to this particularly with education, advertising and workplaces focused on ‘fixing what is wrong’.

With this in mind, people often question me on how focusing on our strengths can support them in their personal and professional development. “Shouldn’t we focus on the area we need to fix?”

By shifting our focus to our strengths, we are better able to manage around our weaknesses in the following way:

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I had the great privilege this month to be interview by Gallup on ‘Called to Coach’. If you want to understand more about what Gallup Strengths is all about, and how we use it at HR Junction then grab a glass of wine and watch here!

Thanks to Gallup for the opportunity.

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One week to go!

It’s hard to believe that next Friday, I will be flying to Uganda with the Hunger Project.

It has been a transformational year for me, and this work has certainly been a large part of that process.  Now a Queensland Board Member for The Hunger Project, I am honoured to be representing this great cause.

Throughout our fundraising we have worked hard to deliver on our leadership promise, however I have to say the return on this investment of time and money has been tenfold for me personally. So what have been my lessons to date on the Business Chicks and Hunger Project Leadership Immersion program? Here are just a few:

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Murli Meena

As part of our journey with The Hunger Project Australia and Business Chicks, Amelia and I were fortunate last week to hear Murli Meena talk about life in Rajasthan as a ‘Sarpanch’ or Village President in her marginalised Scheduled Tribe community.

Murli was inspiring. She had grown up the youngest of her four siblings, living off the grass on the side of the road and berries where they could get them.  Her mother was widowed at an early age.  Not only had Murli never been on a plane before, she had never left her village. As she spoke on the 51st floor of 111 Eagle Street you couldn’t help but think what this experience must be like for her? I caught her gazing out the window at the lights often and was dying to know what must be going through her mind.

Whilst physically weak from the longer term effects of malnutrition, her inner strength was apparent to everyone in the room.  Murli is one of more than 120,000 ‘unleashed women’ in India trained by The Hunger Project whose impact stretches to 10,000,000 people.  This is how The Hunger Project achieve self-reliance and true cultural change.

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