On her Facebook page she used to describe herself as Retired. Recently my mother changed it to Mother. I felt the need at her 80th this weekend to apologise for her having to come out of retirement for us kids! Born in the depression in Auckland to parents who ran a fish shop in the Valley Road shops, Mum went to Dominion Road School and Auckland Girls’ Grammar, leaving to do night school secretarial studies and typing while working for WG Archer Builders. She met my Dad at a church convention and they married in Christchurch in 1952. Lots of children were born from 1953 until 1959 with a gap to 1962 and finally in 1965.

Mum's a great gran now too

She’s a quiet but very determined woman my mother. Excellent with money, super organised: there were bread orders from different dairies on different days of the week, lunches to make or organise the kids to make them, music lessons for all of us, some sports including Tennis, regular church attendance. And, washing, ironing, cooking, baking with tins of biscuits “hidden” under their bed so we didn’t eat them all at once! We were never hungry or lacking in warmth or clothing. There are times when you look back at your childhood and forget your parents – well certainly in my case – were very young when we were growing up. By the time Mum was 30 she had 5 children. Time can fool you into believing that the wisdom they now hold is precisely what they had when you were young. Maybe Mum did, but I reckon she, like most young people, learned it on the job. So the wise 80 year old I’m in Christchurch now to celebrate the birthday for, got there by trial and error. Experiential learning we call it and if we’re wise too, we recognise that growth comes from failing at times. And giving it a go.

Which is what Mum certainly did in 1970 when she enrolled into the University of Canterbury and completed a BA and Diploma in Teaching. Teaching the dysfunctional girls at Kingsley Girls’ Detention Centre was probably not a big stretch from us 7! Some of the girls achieved School Certificate pass for the first time in the history of the centre under Mum. When I was sick from school I would sleep in the back of her Triumph Herald in Hereford Street while she attended lectures. Morning Teas were at the university cafeteria – now Dux de Lux restaurant. This is all now the Arts Centre and seriously damaged from the 22 February quake. Time can do many things to your perceptions of the past – it can at times make you regret, it can rose-tint actual events and it can make you angry, if you believe something did or didn’t happen that was outside your control.

I count myself as extremely fortunate to have active reflection with my Mum and learn about her life, my life and those around us.  She taught me to respect but be cautious of so-called authority and of different perceptions (see the link below – it’s exactly sums it up about draft vs breeze – but not the rest!). You really can’t ask for more than that. Or can you? At Mum’s birthday celebration yesterday I was privileged to take the role of MC and talk of Mum’s life. To be able to publicly speak of Mum – facts and figures including a family tree going back to the Vikings, being born 10 weeks after the Napier earthquake, the early life in Auckland, marriage, family, study and career.  But what really made it was being able to express the personal memories and connections in front of so many family members that mattered. I never expected this to be the rich experience that it was. Such experiences leave you with a contentment that is difficult to describe.

On our leadership programmes we challenge the participants “What makes you a leader?”. Sometimes you really do find out.

Thanks Mum. You can retire again!


Like me, Mum enjoys a good laugh and Seinfeld!.

Leadership and reality

If you listen to talkback radio it’s not a pretty picture painted of our country. We’re broke, it feels like a recession, those that can least afford it can afford it even less, crime is rampant.

An opinion poll came out this evening which showed the National Party on 57.5% compared with Labour’s 28%. All of this in the middle of a lot of crises – the earthquakes, the AMI guarantee, South Canterbury Finance, all of which put together are going to leave us no change from $10 billion. Notice how suddenly everything seems to cost in the billions now? When did that happen? We hardly blinked for more than a day when AMI was guaranteed by us for up to $1 billion. A few days later the Treasury produced a report that said government agencies could save $245 million through efficiencies. Seemed to me (slightly cynically!) that if we have $1 billion for AMI, why bother with all the pain of saving $245 million? Or put another way, let AMI fail and there’s a billion saved just like that, or maybe not.

Anyway I digress. Somehow in the midst of all of this the leadership of the government has managed to keep the majority of New Zealand in support. Some people comment that John Key appears genuine, mixes well and tells it as it is. And whatever the crisis him and Bill English keep telling us that this latest 1 or 5 billion will be allowed for in the budget. Seems like we accept that and on we go. I should also observe that those who don’t think John Key is so flash, have become sharply more critical of what they say is a facade.

What exercises my mind in all of this is whether leadership can be so good that we ignore reality, maybe because it’s too much to grapple with, or we think it’s not our problem.

I’m no economist, but $8.5 billion for earthquakes, $2 billion is it for South Canterbury Finance and up to $1 billion for AMI sounds like a lot of money for us. And must put the economy and our lifestyle at serious risk – even if for all the things that we won’t be able to do while resources are directed to Canterbury (all of it!).

Collision course or to the rescue?

Are we turning a blind eye? Do we think that the leadership knows what it’s doing so we keep on supporting? Do we think that a lot of it is out of the leadership’s control? Or what?

I was a teenager in the mid to late 1970s when the Muldoon government borrowed us into oblivion. Yes there were outside forces, such as the oil crisis, and UK joining the EU, but it all seemed to be well, not quite real. Then.

The discussions about political leadership seem to me to be way too superficial for intelligent people (I know some intelligent people who told me!).

We’re in a big financial crisis, living on an expectation that our political leadership, who appear to majority to be reasonable people, have some reality behind the photo opportunities.

Why do I keep thinking “I hope they know what they’re doing”. Is your organisation like this?


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.


So out of touch

This is the darkest week in our recent history. A favourite and much-loved city devastated with loss and destruction on an appalling scale. I feel pained and I am sure most Kiwis do. The international community has come to our aid with generous and unconditional support. It seems like the New South Wales Fire rescue were there almost as quickly as our people. It’s heart-warming.

Last week the Independent Police Conduct Authority released its report into the failure by the police to investigate child sex complaints. Is is just me, or is it that every time a significant report is realised by the IPCA they’ve already worked out with the police that the situation was “historical” and “new procedures have been put in place”? If that’s the case, what’s the point of the IPCA? I think that the police are careful and concerned enough to make appropriate changes without a bloated bureaucracy reminding them years later. If that wasn’t enough did you notice that they never even bothered to interview the policeman who was apparently at the centre of the allegations!  This is not the first time this has happened – they once told a complainant that they had reviewed all available evidence in the case. Turns out the IPCA hadn’t spoken to one single witness they had been told about.  The person concerned left soon after.

But that’s just the beginning. In this week of grief, sadness when even the most cynical will probably be holding fondly the work of our police and other services as they pick through the carnage that is Christchurch, the IPCA open their files:  this is the week that they decide it’s a good time to announce that they recommend the police should apologise to Tony Veitch for releasing material to the media. That’s right – our guardians of the police have the most astonishingly bad taste and irrelevant contribution to this dreadful week. Ignore for a moment the rights and wrongs of the Veitch case – that’s not the point here.

This is the week that all those involved in the Maori Party problems, the Limo replacements, welfare reform and other seemingly pressing problems, have been gracious and tactful enough to recognise that this is the time to reflect on our community in Christchurch. And support our boys and girls in blue.

Sometimes the moment is big enough to say that a failure in leadership is fatal. When leadership is so, so out of touch with the community it seeks to serve, it should go. And now.

So let’s show we care for Canterbury. I’m sure most of us do.