Gritty Leadership

You need a Western every year or two. Clever girl’s father is killed and she gets a Federal Marshall and a Texas Ranger on the case. There’s some real Coen Brother’s scenes on the way through – True Grit is aptly named.

It’s been quite intense work-wise the last couple of weeks and at times I’ve had to dig in. All the appointments still need to be met, clients seen, programmes planned and delivered and then get to the movies too!  I can’t have a week without at least one movie and some running. Luckily I don’t have to camp out in the snow in my long coat, leather hat and shotgun. Maybe it’s not really that tough.

At the beginning of March I blogged that it felt like time for a holiday for some people already and I’m not sure that it’s got any quieter, in fact quite the opposite. My sister mentioned on Facebook today that when she picked up her car from the mechanic today, she discovered that the attractive woman in the photograph was the mechanic’s late partner, killed in the earthquake. That’s true grit.

Most of us get on with our lives whatever the circumstance – even in Tokyo you hear that life is kind of normal – however, it’s not time to forget those still in need. I was listening to an interview on National Radio this morning with social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson on the science of happiness. Her research has revealed that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with the negative will lead you to a tipping point of resilience that will sustain you through the tough times.

What I liked about this research is that it talks not just about attitudes but also attention – where your attention is directed is led by your emotions. I don’t pretend to feel the grit required of the mechanic. Or those in northern Japan. With pain and suffering so close to the surface. If you’re leading in gritty times this stuff might put it in perspective.

Getting through the gritty times requires our positive emotions – 3 to 1 – to direct our attention to those matters that will keep us resilient and strong. So whatever it is for you, movies, running, swimming, meditation, music, reading or just chilling with friends, don’t overlook it when the times get gritty. In fact pump it up.

Maybe lose the leather hat though.


Friday leadership

As I write I have this warm feeling of a big week, quite a lot achieved and lots of positive signs that we’re moving in the right direction. Friday is a good day for wearing jeans (along with Monday, Tuesday, Wed…I digress!), to get that moving fast but relaxed feeling. Does that make sense?  Tim ordered a new game which was delivered to work here and he’s at home waiting for it. It’s a bit rainy, so a good night for a game I reckon. Word has come in via a text that the run tomorrow starts at 6.30am. Ouch. So whether I make it or not will in part depend on whether I can’t resist a visit to Tanuki’s Cave for Japanese, and suffer the consequences of having to have a lonely long run later.

Either way, it’s still Friday and the week’s work is done – in fact the cleaners are here so I should be getting the hell outa here real soon. Darren Hughes resigned as an MP a few hours ago due to sex-crime allegations after a night in town. I know he’s young and I probably sound like an old man: don’t these MPs get it? Going on a drinking session with students is hardly going to be positive. You don’t have to be boring but in leadership roles, you’re in a goldfish bowl, everyone is watching and telling less – except in this case, someone told the cops and now it’s ugly. Ouch. Maybe that 6.30am start won’t really hurt me, compared to this fiasco for Darren Hughes.

If you see a blurry army truck pointing at you maybe it's time to head home!

If you find me on a Friday night, I hope you find me much the same as you would while I’m running your workshop. Though I’ll try not to facilitate your gathering, promise!

I hope you don’t get a surprise. That’s about being authentic.

Friday leadership can really stuff you up if it’s all made up (or you drink too much I guess – then it’s all made up anyway).

Have a great weekend. My carpets are cleaned and the office is looking sparkling for Monday.


Desert leadership or deserted leadership?

I read yesterday that the US spends $3.5 million a day on defence spending. For Egypt. That seemed like an unusual thing to do and an unusually high amount. I guess you need a lot of money to buy defence gear. For another country a long way away.  Libya is being bombed now because the Libyan government has attacked an uprising, pitched as “killing its own people”. It’s probably true. It was also true in Afghanistan quite some years ago and it turned out the uprising we in the west were supporting was the Taliban. That all worked out pretty well.

On the other side of the world China is helping Japan through it’s earthquake-driven disaster. Yes, other countries are too, but China and Japan haven’t exactly seen eye to eye. China has a history a repressing its own citizens and the state legally kills more people than the rest of the world.

Is the world headed for another war in the desert?  I don’t see any UN Resolutions proposed to force China to stop killing people for fraud and whatever else they execute for. When the US can’t afford to buy its friends like Egypt, what then? I guess China will. Or will they? Maybe they do in Africa right now. If you’ve experienced Chinese culture, you’ll probably know that despite what I just said, revenge and bullying are less common values than you see in the southern states of the US, say.

We have complex and seemingly intelligent international bodies including the UN in place where insights and learnings could be applied for the likes of Libya. I can see that if a government is killing its citizens then urgent action might need to be taken. But there doesn’t seem to be any urgency in other parts of the world. Like Zimbabwe to use another example. Cause and effect thinking, oil, and our cry for democracy have spurred the West into action.

It seems to be part of a western-encouraged uprising to bring democracy to the middle-east. Is the UN sanctioned bombing of Libya a sign of international leadership? Or is it a few countries beating up another bully so democracy can rise?  And if it does will they be free? I’m pretty sure Egypt hasn’t been free. The people from their president and the president from America. Not at $3.5 million a day.

These guys don't need Libya's oil

I’m a big fan of democracy. I’m an even bigger fan of freedom. I used to think that one led to the other. I’m not so sure now.  Do you feel less free in China than you do in America?

Do you feel that the UN has shown leadership in supporting the uprising in Libya?  Is this leadership through a consensus? What of the countries like Russia, China and Germany that abstained from voting? Is there an uncomfortable feeling in that? Are they closing their eyes and not wanting to support, or not deal with, a terrorist? Or does it have a feeling of “well you do what you have to do, but we’re not sure”.

That doesn’t feel like leadership, democracy or freedom to me. The most powerful leaders in the world. And they use simple cause and effect, voting leadership, and looking away to deal with one of the most significant international issues in many years. We should expect more from them all, those political leaders.

As my friend Rex says, if we spent that money on electric car technology, it probably wouldn’t matter so much. I’m starting to think he’s right.

I don’t have the answer, but somewhere in the thinking that put China in Japan to help its neighbour without any ado, there might be a better way.


Muscle up for the good times

“So Dad, if I bought some dumb bells and a swiss ball I could probably do most of the weights I need to, do you think?”. “That’s right Thomas, as I’ve said many times you might be taller but it’s winning the arm wrestle that counts!”.  The race is on, I’ll just have to keep running so I’m not tested as I’m pretty sure the day will come…..

I keep thinking about story telling. When group members want stories from each other what always comes out are stories that are positive. I see that people have a desire to talk to their strengths and they take the positive experiences from what they have got from life. Not every part of every story is positive – there are tragedies and negative experiences on the way through – but (am I allowed to say But!) the building of leadership experiences is in this sort of forum based on strengths and positives.

Dad was contemplating with me today about how he could write up his childhood as two stories, both believable, both in part true.

His words of what made him today: “the love and protection of my parents, feeling secure, school days and the friends there, play time after school, making our own kites and the thrill of getting them to fly in the park, the  kindly church people who took an interest in us boys, celebrating birthdays and Christmas, picnics, visiting Sumner beach by tram, going to the annual Industries Fair, etc. etc.“. He then said he could focus on the negative things – I’m sure sadness with his father dying while he was in his teens would feature, but would in the end be a source of strength. I notice that he didn’t give me any of this negative detail, and that’s common when people are asked for their stories in a growing and empowering environment.

I don’t subscribe to those  pearly white teeth TV host type feel-good yeah yeah yeah, think positive and you WILL be bullshit. I do subscribe to strength-based reflection such as Marcus Buckingham promotes.

As leaders, bringing the best out in our teams is part and parcel of authentic leadership. And to do that authentically, how about a dosage of stories, the lessons of which are part of the strengths we bring to the table?

If negativity is setting in, having the courage to stop and say “well that’s not my experience” when it’s sounding like a downward spiral of experience that isn’t going to help anyone grow or learn is sometimes all it needs to get back on track.

I’ll be running (scared!) from now on, seeing as Thomas has my swiss ball and all those weights.

We all have our strengths and the stories will reveal them if we choose. Maybe an ultra-marathon one day.


True Colours

My friends from Melbourne have gone, leaving as they always do, a selection of olives, cheeses, sun dried tomatoes, cold meats and other delectable items which I’ve turned into a colourful, tasty and nutritious meal to suit me right now.  It’s a rainy evening, this Equinox, and I’m cosy after a 26km run and shower. Comfortable.

This boy unknown to me at the Grey Lynn Festival in November seemed very proud of his new colours!

Speaking of running, we had two marathon Seinfeld sessions and I’m continuing tonight solo. Jerry and Kramer have just run into someone who called Jerry a phoney five years ago. “Is Jerry still mad at me for the phoney comment?”. “Oh no” said Kramer “it’s water near a bridge!”.  “Maybe I’ll see you in another five years”, said Jerry.

At the risk of showing your true colours sometimes you feel the need to say something that has the potential to cause injury. In your own language, the truth might hurt. In the recipient’s eyes, you’re showing unpleasant, but true colours.

Last week I ran a great workshop on story telling (well I thought is was great anyway!). As you might expect I started with a story. The story started with the events of 22 February 2011 with my son Thomas and Dad in Christchurch. And somehow I went to a classic photograph of my parents in 1952 in Queen Street, taken by a roving street photographer and restored by me for their 55th wedding anniversary (actually the credit for the restoration goes to my talented former assistant Ivana Dimovski). The photograph stirs deep thoughts in me, of a young couple in love and makes me reflect back over the 48 years or so that my DNA has been part of that union. And because it means that much I like to be clear.  So in the weekend I had a ‘showing my true colours’  moment, because something challenged my values that I didn’t think had been properly dealt with.

So this blog is written I admit with a slightly bruised feeling – I’m the one that’s done the bruising – and I don’t feel flash for doing it. Funny how you can bruise yourself when showing your true colours. And I forgot the power of the story for a moment – I did the telling bit, but not the story with all it’s grit, love, rights, wrongs and meaning. And without doubt I made somethings that were actually good, not good, to justify my sense of wrong.

The story of life is gritty and true colour moments come and go.  With those that really matter they are building blocks to greater meaning. Nice words, probably true, but I need to tell myself, easy fella, make sure I don’t do more harm than good in my truth moments. And remind myself that the buttons that get pushed – mine is usually around transparency when the water is still near the bridge – are my buttons, not everyone elses.

And the couple in the photograph in 1952 are just the best parents you could ever ask for and if you don’t know that about someone special in your life, maybe you’re afraid of the true colour moment, maybe you never recovered from a true colour moment, maybe the water is near the bridge and you haven’t had the courage to let it flow. Whatever the reason don’t wait for the next Equinox to realise that it’s time to sort it. And don’t save up some crap until the next Equinox either.

I recently wrote about a cousins barbecue at the memory-filled Stanmore Bay where most of us there shared some DNA.  But remember, your DNA only lasts for so long.


Don’t stop me now!

So is the title of the Queen song. Inspired by the New Zealand movie Love Birds which made me laugh and cry at the same time I’ve had a serious and sudden desire to listen to all things Queen. No, not the head of state but the Freddie Mercury one. Doug, played by Rhys Darby gets dumped by his long-time girlfriend ‘cos he’s too boring. A fanatic of Queen, the movie features lots of Queen and great shots of an Auckland you’d be proud to call home.

Yesterday, I helped a group of Masters students get ready for a presentation today. Everyone is winding them up – the client, themselves, the other groups – and it seemed that their 20 minutes of fame followed by 5 minutes of Q&A was an Everest event. Practicing the words, understanding the jargon, suggestions to drug one of the panelists by their helpful lecturer all combined to raise anxiety. Actually they’re quite confident sounding so I coached them around being themselves, not reading stuff out (we can do that ourselves you know!) and making a stand: What actually are you recommending? (a surprisingly common oversight).

Yesterday at a senior management meeting someone forgot what they wanted to say “well I can’t say it now can I!” or something, he said. Exactly. So what? We laughed and realised our own imperfections. Yes we’ve all forgotten something we really thought we wanted to say, or do. Damn, forgot to make a recommendation on what we were asked!

Can you forget to be yourself? Yes, it seems, and usually by people who aren’t. Advice advice advice about this, that, tactics, long winded rants about what you NEED to do, all by people who are supposedly leading groups to grow.

Actually they’ve probably got no idea about what the motives and preferences of the people being presented to are – just throw out some stuff to them, say lots of technical stuff, get ready to wiz them with technical jargon, make sure you stand tall and confident. Practice the words and get them right.

What a load of shit.  Be yourself, engage from what you know – if someone advising you about a presentation doesn’t have anything insightful to say about the people you’re talking to, find someone else to help you. And if you can’t, who cares, trust yourself. What’s the worst thing that can happen? People will see the real you in all your frailties and with any sort of luck, you’ll forget something you meant to say. And then you’ll have ’em.

Once you’re going then you’re unstoppable.

Don’t stop me now!



I like what you said, but say this next time. I really liked the way you did this, but in future could you watch out for that. This has been a great day, but if only it didn’t rain. I loved that movie, but it was a shame that it finished so early.

Does but have a place in your leadership conversation? Do you notice the but in language around you? Maybe you’re a but person.

Giving empowering feedback, being positive when you can be are really important parts of growing leaders. Following it up with an empowering message about how to take the next step to grow even more is encouraging and a coaching opportunity to grab hold of when you can.

Adding a but after the encouragement is negative and makes the next part of the conversation sound like the real reason for the conversation. Which it probably is if you’re a but person.

And don’t think you can simply change but for however! I won’t let you off the hook and neither will the person receiving the feedback.

A short blog about a short word.

Watch out for it – if but is coming out when you could be empowering, ask yourself – what am I trying to do here?

I’d say it’ll say more about you than the other person.

No ifs or buts about it! (sorry had to do that)


Really glad you took our talk about getting on the bus to heart and next time we could even try to get the strategy going without buying a bus