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.

Feedback Season

Feedback Season

For many organisations including mine, it’s “year end” at 30 June, meaning lots of work to close out financial performance measures and work out how well we did as humans. Assessments are made against goals – how did you get away with that for an objective?! – and we try as best as we can to assess behaviours on leadership and teaming for the year just past.

It’s serious business. Countless research and anecdotes tell us people are more likely to leave their workplace because of their boss, not the work, or even the rewards. Leadership has a massive impact on performance, wellbeing, and the one measure most precious to me, happiness.

I don’t recall anyone saying to me – hate work, the boss is a prick, but I’m as happy as can be. Of course, happiness must just be my thing and satisfaction, professional reward, or contentment might be better descriptors for you. In fact I’ve had my happiness both challenged (it’s potentially superficial) – and reaffirmed (deeper happiness), at the same time by some recent reading on Stoicism. Stoicism considers that happiness can be found through virtue, the four main types of which are wisdom, justice, courage and moderation.

Using the Stoics virtues can guide us in feedback.

I think if we could try to give feedback that followed these Stoic principles, it would be a fairly good start for all of us. We could try giving feedback that is:

  • Given in the exercise of good judgment, experience, as a wise person would do – wisdom. Serious feedback needs serious work and is not for the faint-hearted and requires experience. It’s grown up’s work.
  • Fair and equitable according to the receiver’s experience – progressive justice. The platinum rule – treating others as they wish to be treated, not just how you think you might like to be treated.
  • Given honestly and accurately, regardless of the giver’s feeling – courage. Buckle up, this isn’t easy and it takes courage to do it, and do it right. That’s not just “telling the truth” as they can sound blunt, uncaring or abrupt.
  • Given with a sense of reason, balanced against the receiver’s overall performance and the team’s too – moderated. Moderated feedback is kind, generous and fair all at once.

Of course all is this is about supporting the giver. The receiver needs to be equally as prepared, and a wise receiver of feedback will be noticing the care and attention of the giver and playing their part – like an encouraging, nodding member of an audience – to encourage and help the giver too.

Go for it!

Stephen

ps Stoicism developed in the 3rd Century BCE and flourished in the Roman Empire

Walking True

Walking True

Almost the last thing I did in 2021 was walk. It could be the year of the mask but it was the walking recovery year for me. After having a chunk of muscle removed from my right leg (with a tumour) in September 2020, I set out to do what I had endeavoured to do in 2020 and that was to walk at least 365 times.

Under that goal you can have a day off, but be warned you have to make it up with two a day if you slacken off! I did 374 walks covering 1582.82 kilometres (I know, it’s the App – keeps it exactly – there’s no hiding). That would have been a reasonable marathon buildup distance back in the day. The average walk was 4.24km and the average per day was 4.33. It’s lower than I would like but I’ve noticed my resilience for longer walks building and 2022 will be about maintaining and building an average walk of 5km. I loosened my “minimum 2km” rule on account of the surgery but very few walks were below 2km. All walks were deliberate (that’s a rule), but I incorporated other activity like shopping, walking at my little piece of land, and occasionally to and from work.

I listened to lots of music (became addicted to True by Spandau Ballet on the walks) and audio books – including 1984 with a mention almost exactly ten years ago on this blog (by Orwell – one insight: it’s happening in parts of the world), Brave New World (Huxley – it could happen), Animal Farm – I love this book, something about the farm, not just the story (Orwell – it’s happened in many places), A Promised Land (Obama – opportunities missed from fear of one’s own authenticity), The Tragedie of MacBeth (a play! – Shakespeare – violence begets violence), Leading Change (Kotter – it takes longer than you think), Skin in the Game (Taleb – only when you have actual skin in your game (work) do you have the rights to be heard), Apropos of Nothing (Allen – he’s funny, very funny and showing humour and grace when under attack is effective), Wuthering Heights (E Bronte – it was every bit as good as it was in the sixth form, and shaped me more than I realised – even the location of my new build to a degree), The Road to Wigan Pier (Orwell – cheer up for goodness sakes!).

From walk #5 of 2022 this morning – Arthurs Point, Queenstown

I walked in Auckland, Queenstown and Tauranga. Fewer places than I would usually, because of lockdowns and the resulting lesser travel. I have many favourite walks but standing out is Ohinerau – Mt Hobson – a gorgeous Maunga with spectacular views and sunsets and very close to home, the Arrow River by Arrowtown. Cornwall Park and the Domain are unbeatable really too. Maungawhau (Mt Eden) tests the cardiovascular system the best.

Reading back at this blog as I drafted it I cringed a little at the mention again of my cancer, but it’s part of me (well I live in hope it’s not physically!), and shaped me in unexpected ways. It made resilience real in 2021, it forced me to face existential questions early on and removed a fear of disease. Having it in the back of my mind – brought to the front of the mind every x-ray check up – has sharpened me in 2021. Live for now and get on with what I want to get done. Build the house, spend time with those that matter, and none with those that take the energy.

This is of course a leadership blog but after over ten years on it, there’s one constant which keeps me grounded in it and why sharing is necessary for leading. Authenticity. It’s everything in leadership. No degrees, accolades, books published or other high-sounding commendations can make up for a lack of it. Ask those who are led.

And grace – my word to start the year – we’re all human, so I try and will try more show grace in good times and in adversity. An old-fashioned word that captures how I’m feeling. And True? That’s the song I got addicted to on the walks. No idea why, but it’s true.

hari tau hou – happy new year!

Stephen

p.s. the featured image is also Arthurs Point, Queenstown this morning – a stiff walk uphill!





Looking back at habit forming

Looking back at habit forming

A year ago we were recently out of lockdown and I was continuing a walk a day to not break the chain. Good habit forming. The chain was well broken after surgery in September but once I got off the crutches I was up for another crack at one a day. So far 141 walks in 2021.

I noticed during the Lockdown in March and April last year that it was possible to form new habits much more quickly than I had thought. Adapting to life mainly at home wasn’t that difficult, in fact I quite enjoyed it and the new routines that went with it. I shouldn’t say this out loud but sometimes I feel like I wouldn’t mind another lockdown to have a break! Not that WFH is a break, but for me it has a sense of calm and I know others who feel the same.

It’s about now a year ago this week, that I thought I should see a physiotherapist, assuming I had a muscle problem. There was a delay until an appointment on 12 June 2020. The date is stuck in my mind and always will be. That’s the day I had a scan and consultations and knew, subject to biopsy and MRI, that I had a soft tissue sarcoma in my leg. Studies in both the US and the UK indicate that the typical time from symptoms to diagnosis is over a year. I feel blessed with the rapid support I got from medical specialists, including the physiotherapist who, without my knowledge, immediately consulted with an specialist before referring me for a scan that day.

So for me it wasn’t just Covid that gave rise to new habits. Cancer did too: I don’t run now. I can’t! I don’t jaywalk – there is no quick sprint available if needed. I don’t use stairs yet, unless I have to although I’m told I should get there. I’m careful with seating and make sure I put my leg up when I can.

Taking these two major events to create positive and lasting personal and professional change has been a source of renewed energy and contentment for me. It’s not that work hasn’t continued to grow in intensity and volume. Or that I am physically where I was before. Covid created professional opportunities and the possibilities of new ways of working.

Cancer created the freedom to get on with many things, reinvigorated healthy habits of exercise, but most importantly, took away things that don’t matter giving space to focus on what matters. A new calm energy.

And in case you don’t have the habit of monitoring days of the year it’s 140. I’m one walk ahead!

Stephen

p.s. I am mindful that disease and cancer in particular can be triggers for many of us, and that not all outcomes are as positive as mine is now.