Just like riding a ski

Just like riding a ski

I’ve been fortunate enough to see if I could ski again after a bit of chop and change in one of my legs a couple of years ago. No one was more surprised than me when I gave it a go at Coronet Peak a few weeks ago, and I managed a few runs, backed up a fortnight later.

I found myself telling people I could still ski thanks to a special ski week quite some time ago and it got me thinking about that ski week.

Back in the school holidays in the sixth form (year 12 now) I spent a glorious week learning to ski properly at Mt Olympus Ski field near Lake Coleridge, Canterbury with a group of school boys. It now promotes itself as the place to “Ski in the Playground of the Gods“. It was a big week.

We got dropped off at a Canterbury Farm Station somewhere, and me and three other boys were driven up in the couple’s two door Range Rover. I assumed they operated the Station, but at that age, you don’t know much really, and I didn’t ask, or was told. Mind your own business my mother would have said anyway! They were club members I do recall, and I can see that the club is still running the field – the Windwhistle Winter Sports Club – as it has since 1932. I’ve had a thing for skiing and those early Rangies ever since.

Then there was no milk and I started drinking black coffee which tasted quite bitter and was instant – I think that was “normal” then – but I’ve been a black coffee drinker ever since. And on the first day of skiing the instructor told us “leave your poles boys, you’ll be learning to ski properly”. And we did.

So when I thought I’d give skiing a go at Coronet Peak with limitations to my leg I found I could. What came straight back to guide me were the lessons at Mt Olympus, coming sharply back into focus. Shifting the weight from ski to ski to turn. Poles just for balance.

It’s worth learning something properly. It stays.

Stephen

The original Range Rover was introduced by British Leyland under the Rover brand in 1969 and continued in production until 1996, by then under the Land Rover brand. It was a two-door model until 1981. You’ll see restored two door models for sale in NZ for ~$50,000 and a lot more overseas.

Going back in time with a prince

There were sixty of us teenagers, 17-18 years old, apparently selected from a pool of 1000 applicants to be members of what was to be HRH Prince of Wales 25th Cadet Wing of police trainees. I don’t recall in advance knowing that our patron was to be the the Prince of Wales or, as it happens, that this was the penultimate police cadet wing, a programme designed to take school leavers directly into a year of police training. “Last week you couldn’t spell Contsatble and now you are one!“, the more mature recruits reminded us on a banner.

The prince had a stand up lunch with us during his visit that year, at which time he officially opened the new police college – later designated “Royal” during a visit by his mother the Queen. The only thing I really recall during the lunch was the prince asking us if we smoked cannabis – I can’t recall how the conversation got there – but it was an odd question to ask police trainees. I can’t imagine his mother asking such a question, but maybe it was a reflection of being a leader in waiting vs holding the ultimate position.

Twice the Queen drove past our family home in Christchurch, from her yacht in Lyttelton Harbour to the central city. Like dutiful subjects, we waited on the avenue, the road deserted, looking for the arrival of the motorcade, with various police and other very shiny vehicles leading, and ultimately the vehicle without licence plates – transporting a queen and her husband, on full show. On one occasion we were certain that she waved directly at us.

It’s only very recently that I thought about us having the future king as our wing patron – apparently the only time it was granted – there is no Prince of Wales “wing” of police or military trainees anywhere else. Although it’s not completely clear what our patron was supposed to do, but lending his name to our cadet wing seemed to be the main thing, and, according to publicly available information, “providing support and guidance”. As trainee police constables, what was to be important was service – to our community – although it would be fair to say that driving lessons, physical training, and marching were probably more front of mind at the police college that year.

I noticed that much of the talk at memorial services for the Queen these last two weeks was about her service too. Her service to the Commonwealth, the countries of her Realm, including New Zealand and to the United Kingdom. Growing up and watching from afar, that service appeared replete with beautiful homes & estates, motor vehicles, the bestest outfits and, for some reason, picnics.

But despite that privilege, there is little doubt that the Queen has been a symbol of stability, if somewhat remote and obscure to almost all of us. She never really appeared to take it easy, shirked from duty unless she was too unwell, or simply retired. They were not options she gave herself.

Maybe I don’t fully understand it all, but the memorial services with their juxtaposition of military, church and state feels somewhat confronting. Not to mention “God save the King!” being sung in New Zealand, like it was completely normal and 1937. But with that stage-managed backdrop I think we can expect King Charles to reign over us for the foreseeable future. Like his mother, he can be expected to serve, providing in a mysterious way a level of stability and continuity that many people take comfort from. A form of servant leadership. With castles!

And long may the experiences of the King Charles III cadet wing live on in the 60 teenagers who helped me grow up all those years ago.

Stephen

Of the 60 police cadets who started, seven are still serving in the NZ Police, and several are sadly not with us. We’re having our (Covid) delayed 40th reunion early next year. In July 2016 a number of serving police members from our cadet wing had their 35 year service medals presented to them by the future king in London.

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.