Lifted up by Uncle Stan

On his 80th birthday in 2009 Uncle Stan played an impressive violin piece for the guests.  It was an uplifting experience. Somebody made a recording and we heard and watched it again at his funeral service last week.

Uncle Stan was one of a kind. Forever youthful in his outlook: learning, reading, discussing and playing and enjoying music all his life. He took brave steps in the seventies, changing his family’s immediate projectory and took his own course through life in many ways. He gained great respect and love.

Growing up we all had music in our family, but for some of us – especially me – it was a chore and although I still have my violin it’s not been out of its case for many years. But for Uncle Stan it was a life-long passion through orchestra, solos and sharing it with us all, just as he did at his 80th.

I was struck by the uplifting I felt at his funeral. I wondered whether this was right. Should I feel good at a funeral? Looking around on the day, I don’t think I was the only one. Of course there is grief – especially by his immediately family of course – but joy too.

Uncles Stan uplifted us at his funeral. That’s a feat of leadership.

Stephen

 

Is it management or leadership?

I facilitated a public session this week – Management vs. Leadership – for a diverse group including senior leaders and young women and men just starting out in their leadership roles.

We discussed what Management involved as compared to Leadership. Then we focussed on developing our authenticity through story-telling. We all have a leadership story and each participant made a start on a leadership story that I hope they can use in the future.

The clear message that came through was that most people understand the differences between management and leadership.  Words and phrases used to describe management included “ensuring deadlines are met”, “directing”, “controlling” and for leadership “inspiring”, getting others to achieve” and “future focussed”.

The exciting thing was that both senior and younger leaders understood it in much the same way.

Knowing when you need to manage and when you need to lead is the big challenge. That’s often decided (or not) in the moment.  Unless we’ve given it some deliberate thought we can quickly find ourselves inappropriately directing, when a coaching style of enquiry to team member could provide the best impetus to get the job done.

Discouraging atmosphere in the workplaceWe’ll be repeating the session in Wellington this coming week and I’m looking forward to see what the second group comes up with.

Stephen

A rage about leadership

The group I was in the other day was asked by the facilitator “are you for or against Trump?”.  Yes, I replied, I don’t think you can be benign about him. Some people feel angry, not just in America, but everywhere.

Anger creates reactions and high interest when we see it. It has a place when our ethics are seriously undermined, or behaviour around us deliberately sets to undermine us or our organisation. It can create fear and further anger if not contained. But anger is not rage which is uncontrolled, scary and shouldn’t be in our toolkit.

iStock-930597440.jpgWhat to make of Trump I often think. He seems like he’s in an uncontrolled rage much of the time, although we don’t see it directly expressed, other than in the middle-of-the-night texts. The administration he leads seems fueled by rage – rage at minorities and those that support them, at political opponents, at other countries, the FBI and Special Counsel – and so on.

You could argue that he’s standing up for what he believes in. Despite that proposition being very difficult to determine (I originally wrote laughable here!), it’s not authentic leadership by any stretch. Authentic Leadership requires empathy, a strong ethical compass, firmness when needed, and nurturing those that need support. Not abandonment and undermining.

That’s my rage about leadership!

Stephen

A Wahine memory

The Lyttelton to Wellington ferry was an important step in holidays to Auckland. As a boy,  the start of the annual trek to Auckland and Stanmore Bay involved a trip through the Lyttelton Tunnel to the ferry. The Lyttelton Tunnel was an exciting entrée to the adventure – so modern and glistening – and you had to pay the toll which made it very special.

iStock-177155389.jpgDriving aboard the ferry was just awesome (actually I confess it still feels just as good on the Cook Strait Ferry), and the ferry was an adventure to behold. I remember one particular trip we had a large cabin for all nine of us with various alcoves and maybe even a bedroom or two. And early morning being awoken by the tea ladies – large I recall in white uniforms – with trolleys of tea and plain milk biscuits. A cup of milk with a biscuit on the side for me.

As a youngster I never quite understood how we went to bed and woke up in Wellington. But you knew you were getting close because you could hear the men removing the chains and ropes that held the cars in place. And the high-rises of Wellington! It was great.

I remembered ships called Maori, Rangatira and Wahine. In researching for this blog I discovered that there were two ships each of those names plus one called Hinemoa that serviced the route over the years. The first Wahine was shipwrecked in 1951 carrying troops to the Korean War.

On 10 April 1968 we were huddled around the radio in the lounge in Prebbleton listening to the devastation as tropical cyclone Giselle hit a southerly front, creating the weather conditions that shipwrecked the Wahine. We had planned to travel on the ferry the same day as the ill-fated Wahine (although not on the Wahine) but had changed the booking to travel the next day, 10 April. It was a very serious feeling that day in the lounge listening to the news, which for us concluded in Mum and Dad deciding we weren’t travelling north that day.  We travelled a couple of days later, presumably past the wreck of the Wahine, although I have no recollection of that. The seriousness of the disaster was not clear to me as a young boy.

Tragically, fifty-one people died that day and two more later, from injuries they suffered.  They were folk just like us, on their own adventures. Lessons were learned and changes made to how ships are built and operated. The New Zealand Court of Inquiry found that errors of judgment had been made, but that the weather was difficult and dangerous. No-one was held personally accountable.

The service stopped in 1974. It was a great shame although the Interislander Service was great too, and still is.

The story isn’t complete for me without reference to the reasons for our travels north – visiting Grandma (and before he died in 1967, Grandpa too) – and all the Auckland relatives on Mum’s side.

I’ve no idea how Grandma coped with all of us in her flat in Sandringham although the bach at Stanmore Bay was probably easier for her. She gets the last word as the great Wahine of those adventures, standing by her front door as we backed out “Lovely to see you come, and lovely to see you go“.

Only years later did I understand.

Stephen

 

Back to the stars

We’re made of the same stuff as stars. In fact our bodies contain stardust from long expired stars in the Universe and we keep regenerating our bodies throughout our lives, although we will all suffer one failure too many and return to the stars. Quite soon!

iStock-498309616.jpgAnd so it was recently for my favourite scientist, Stephen Hawking. Not just a great scientist, but a great person who contributed historic insights about the nature of things despite the devastating odds of his illness.

It’s trite to say he was clever but it’s fascinating that he achieved so much so quickly, with a medical gun held to his head most of his life, so to speak.

The sense of urgency in his life has to have been a key driver I reckon and we can all learn from that. Time passes whether or not we do anything with it. Before we know it the stars will be calling.

Time to act.

Stephen

In the blink of an eye

I can run, not fast, and I really don’t know if Julian Savea could have made the try on his own down the right hand side running hard up against two Rebels’ players.

But I couldn’t help but notice the difference between him and Ben Lam on the other wing that night.

Savea for all money looked like he could…should!…make it. He glanced and in that millisecond he knew he wouldn’t make it. So did we. Went infield, into contact, and the try was not to be. The Hurricanes still won, so it didn’t really matter.

But I suspect it matters to Savea. Score those sorts of tries and it’s game on for the All Blacks Jersey.

iStock-485876118.jpgGreatness is tested for all of us at moments that we can’t predict. We can plan, practice and strategise but when the moment arrives, the test is upon us. For ordinary people it might be the response to a racist or inappropriate remark – stepping up immediately – to rebut and assert our ethical compass. Or it might be in a meeting where a client has unexpectedly declared the whole exercise futile, and someone needs to lead the response.

These are the moments that test us in the blink of an eye.

I bet we’ve all waivered and we carry that. But when we don’t we know. And so do others.

Stephen

Changing Development

We’ve been running the Authentic Leadership Programme for almost a decade. It’s never stood still and if you attended one of the early programmes when I was at AUT you’d notice many changes from those days.

iStock-813786528.jpgRelevancy is a word we are increasingly using in business and leadership development must remain relevant, to be relevant.

Leadership development is a nice to have at many organisations and even though I’m in the development business, I’m not surprised.

Facilitators without any authentic leadership experience themselves, dried out old case studies straight out of a 1980s MBA, lecturing and bring ’em down to build ’em up nonsense all make potential participants question the true value.

So what changes have we been done lately? Learning conversations with senior leaders led by the participants themselves, micro-coaching sessions on the way through, location, location, location – context driven locations for learning – like on a tram for transport leaders hearing early stories of trams in Auckland.

We’re reshaped the reflection process putting it out in front of everyone with ReflectBack™, enhanced our Blueprints with time on Programme to complete, share and reflect with.  We’ve embraced client direct participation on the programme. After all, we’re not running a secret society and we’re confident enough in what we do that we’re very proud for our clients to see close up the development we’re providing for their managers.

And we’re using technology – an App to stay connected and share practical details throughout – and running in-between sessions via electronic methods sometimes.

The next edition of the Authentic Leadership Programme will be different – we try and learn as we go – keeping the Programme relevant for the new context, and at the same time providing us with new energy to try new things out.

You don’t always know where it’s going to go, but hey, that’s leadership isn’t it?

Stephen