An Honest Climb

An Honest Climb

Tobins Track has a steep incline of about 2.5 kilometres from Arrowtown. A man on a cycle moving barely quicker than me on foot, went past about two thirds of the way up. “It’s a good one isn’t it?” I said. “It’s an honest climb” he replied. As I approached the landing, with a view over Arrowntown, across to the Crown Range and a peek of Lake Wakatipu with downtown Queenstown nestled in the foreground, I felt quite emotional. Last time I’d done the walk was in September last year, recovering from radiation treatment and two weeks out from surgery to remove a soft tissue sarcoma in my leg.

I knew I had a problem during the first lockdown almost a year ago and blogged at the very end of my last daily post on the final day of the lockdown that my leg was still a bit sore. Six weeks later I knew I had a tumour, soon diagnosed as malignant and needing treatment and surgery.

The cyclist was resting at the landing when I reached it. He told me I’d done well. I told him the last time I’d been up here was just before surgery for cancer – “been there done that” he said. Nothing more needed to be said. We enjoyed the view.

Over the last nine months I’ve felt many blogs circling in my mind about the experience, but nothing felt right. It hurt, it felt private and it felt very uncertain at times. I kept a handwritten diary – The Sarcoma Diary – which was a source of calm when I felt the need to look back at it.

Arrowtown seen from above during Autumn

And yet my story is extremely positive – my prognosis now a first world problem compared to many – I limp a bit and possibly always will – and stairs are a challenge.

My resilience has been tested, and at times I considered existential questions, although they passed, and looking in the rear view mirror it’s slightly unreal. More mundane work and home life concerns soon took hold – the meeting at 7.30am, really? and why is the gas bill so variable?

So coming out of this cancer has felt honest, with a clear head and a tight focus on what’s important. All the things I already know, but with an added honesty that keeps me focussed.

I told one of my specialists that having cancer was one of the best things that’s happened to me. Apparently it’s not that uncommon.

Having said that, I know that cancer is a terrible disease. I’ve heard more stories in these last nine months with bad endings than I thought could exist in my circle of family and friends. I know that I’m blessed and for that I’m very grateful.

Stephen

Adding Value

Adding Value

It’s a common consultant’s pitch – adding value – and a relevant question to ask when engaging one. Last week our Auckland team moved into our new premises in Commercial Bay to impressive, collaborative and inviting premises. We’re confident that it will add value to our culture through ways of working and ultimately help us to better help our clients solve their and society’s, important problems – our Purpose.

Which at first blush sounds almost as grand as the PwC Tower – at 39 levels in a prime location on Auckland’s waterfront – it’s physically imposing and very modern.

Underpinning PwC’s Purpose is WARM Care – Working together, Act with Integrity, Reimagine the possible, Make a difference and Care – our Values.

I’ve found myself reflecting on our values lately as they’ve come up in a number of conversations, as they should. I’ve noticed people starting out on their leadership journeys will often seek examples of straightforward conduct that is either evidence, or not evidence of a particular value. This is the basics.

As we move through our leadership journey, great leaders recognise that values, like new ways of working, are embedded into an organisation’s lifeblood in everything it does. Every action, inaction, interaction, communication, internal dealing, work with clients, will have values embedded in them.

As you are transported up the PwC Tower in the glass-sided elevator at 8 metres a second, looking out over the city it’s easy to forget you’re at a workplace. For a few seconds, it’s another world, quite removed. Suspended.

For leaders, there’s no suspending, opting out, and no action that “skirts” around an organisation’s values. Values are not “things” to reference or use only when needed. They’re everything.

So, it might seem obvious, but if something is not done in accordance with the values, even if it seems benign, it’s contrary to those values.

Next time someone tries to argue that the action or inaction was not against a particular value, ask “So which part of the values was this action facilitating?”

Stephen

I know it’s been a long time between blogs. Unbelievably nearly 3 months – time has flown by! I stopped when our Lockdown finished and as I write now, another lockdown starts in Melbourne. Feel sad for the citizens there. That’s really tough.

Since the lockdown it’s been work as always, partly at home, partly in the office, but no let up. I’ve carried on walking, albeit a bit less as my sore leg has needed some attention. Moving into the new office last week has brought a new energy to work at a range of levels, with the benefits to play out over many years.

Nearly over

Nearly over

I had a sense of slight disappointment when someone texted me to say that most of our restrictions were about to end. I was doing something very mundane – collecting my car from servicing – which almost felt normal although the “service” manager certainly kept his distance.

I’m watching the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona which at its heart is like many other Woody Allen films – about being yourself – at a level of authenticity beyond which we typically engage with in leadership.

Lockdown has been a real gift for me I feel. Firstly, to engage in structure – I’ve talked of that before – but also in deep thought on what matters. At a basic level we didn’t have a chance to have any new “things” for several weeks. Did we feel any loss for that? I doubt it. Did we actually enjoy and embrace more of what we have? I think so. Which might not bode well for the local economy if we realise we don’t need so many new things. Or even takeaway coffee. The $65 home machine is just fine! 

We’ll kinda go back to work if we want to next week, but we don’t have to – we can work at home still – and I suspect many of us will. Some will say they’re being cautious about the ‘rona, but I reckon some of us will stay at home because we like it more. In seven short weeks we’ve actually embraced, enjoyed and thrived in it. I think at a deeper level of personal growth about my own purpose I’ve thrived. I’ve also got far more from my work than the everyday normality – which for me is never too routine – but this was another level.

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There’s a scene in Vicky Cristina Barcelona where Vicky is out to dinner in Barcelona with her fiancé and another couple. The other three are in excited conversation about A/V systems, the latest high-def television, interior designers et al, for their new homes. Vicky gazes in the distance, dreaming of the meaningful life she could – should –  have in Barcelona, in art, with a man she’s passionate about, living life to its full richness.

It’s easy to get caught up in what appears to matter but if I take anything out of the reflections I’ve had in Lockdown it’s to never forget what really matters. They’re not just “to dos”. They’re everything. And only you can work that fundamental purpose question.

Barcelona still beckons.

Stephen

The coffee experience

The coffee experience

I’ve had two now. Both involved long (40 then 20 minutes) waits in the cold for a zap of espresso. Was it worth it? Hardly. It turns out the cheap pod coffee maker at home is just fine, maybe not quite as good, but overall, sadly for NZ Inc, the more pleasant pathway.

Instant reflection on that thought: self absorbed first world boomer problem! It’s raining today in Auckland – quite consistently – so there’s a warm cozy feeling in the apartment with E Kore Rawa E Wehe – Never be Apart – by TEEKS playing on the Hifi.

One of my neighbours escaped Russian aggression with his family as a young boy, fleeing into Nazi occupied Austria and eventually, by chance of where the ship went, to New Zealand. He proudly displays the crest of his country of birth on his motor vehicle. About a year ago his wife moved to hospital care in a rest home and his routine is sitting with her and having lunch each day.  He hasn’t seen her for six weeks. Even under a lockdown regime that isolated only those predominantly impacted by the ‘rona, he would probably not have got to see her. Whenever I see his car – it’s never moved – I wonder how he’s doing. It must be hard and I imagine him drawing on his early life challenges to put this into perspective.

The Worldometer continues to fascinate me, not just for the COVID-19 statistics, but the wealth of other information on other matters in real time – how long until oil runs out (43 years – don’t rush for the E-car quite yet, maybe, although there are other reasons),  World’s population (7,781,858,953 but it grows so quickly that this tally was there for less than a second),  deaths this year (almost 20m), today’s net population growth (145,000!), undernourished people in the world (852m), and deaths of children under 5 this year (2.5m). At least none of the under 5 deaths are from COVID-19, or under 10 for that matter. The statistics on COVID-19 continue to show that by far those most at risk are those over 65 with underlying conditions (which I think probably includes many elderly) and others with underlying conditions. Men continue to have about double the chance of dying from COVID-19 as women. I haven’t seen scientific basis for that, but you’d have to assume one will come.

Having a bit of time to catch up on news over the weekend showed the economic challenges are front of mind, with the health choices we’ve made as a country a close second. Those that consider that the elimination at all and any cost was the way to go, will always see it that way I reckon. A close consideration of risk likelihood and impact is still needed to see whether that is correct. Embedded in that analysis are ethical choices that have been made.

I do not doubt for one second that the approach has saved certain people from death this year.

Is a blanket “stop the ‘rona at any cost” ethical? Sounds it, but it’s not all about creating winners. I blogged about this in more detail on Day 12.  That approach does not consider fully the risk’s impact – who actually has been at risk – and the unintended health (and economic) consequences that flowed. The sick people who couldn’t get treatment during the lockdown. I won’t add my iliotibial band in there, but there are many thousands who had treatments cancelled and delayed. This has to have made a real impact on the lives of those people. It was an ethical call, preferring those most at risk from one illness to other sick people at known risk of damaging their health. And I don’t think we should shy away from a conversation about that.

And for all the country has achieved, don’t delude yourself we’re an outlier in achieving the low spread and deaths: Australia’s death rate per population is (slightly) lower than ours and there’s a total of 120 countries or territories with the same or lower death rate than us. Maybe that will change when the ‘rona spreads, but it may not. Afterall, it’s hardly spread here at all and there’s no saying it’s going to take off in Africa to the same degree as it has in the US, UK, Spain, France and Italy, where 60% of all deaths are.

Maybe it’s a good learning opportunity for the country. We all want the world to reflect our own version of Nirvana. We want more land for housing – but it costs rural production and adds to environmental damage; we want first class public transport – but someone has to pay; we want an easy drive across the city – but roads create cars (sort of), and so on.  Stopping COVID-19 in the manner we have done has a price, that we’re only just starting to see.

I remember my Grandma in 1990 the last time I saw her, at the South Auckland Hospice. She didn’t see me. She sat, head slumped, every breath was a rasp.  A few short months prior she had decided that there was to be no treatment of her cancer – she had seen almost all her siblings treated and then die – and declared that the Lord had given her “3 score years and 10” (70), plus another 14, and that was that. I’m not sure I could have that attitude, but that message shaped my thinking I think.

Feels heavy on a gloomy Sunday! And I quoted the Bible, on a Sunday.  I haven’t completed my thinking here, but I’ve well exceeded the desirable blog word limit, so thanks for making it this far!

And despite declaring I had no opinion on the End of Life referendum on Day 11, I now have.  That feels useful and I’ll take that as a win for deep work.

Time for a home espresso.

Stephen