Look after your stuff

Taking responsibility for what comes your way too.

I’m back to Mum’s 85th birthday again. After a lovely lunch at Dux Dine (where Mum and Dad are regulars) we assembled in a corner of the restaurant for photographs and words. Thinking about what I was going to say to Mum I noticed she grabbed all her cards and gifts together in a neat pile and clutched them tightly.

Look after your own stuff. Make things happen for yourself. Take responsibility for your own actions and if you want something then find your own way to get it. That’s Mum.

She’s a great Mum and firm and compassionate all at once. Direct too. “About time you bought a house” she said once. She was right and I did. If only more people knew she predicted the Auckland housing market long before it was even talked about!

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A fine leadership example.

I like taking responsibility for achieving something myself – they’re the best achievements you can ever have.

Stephen

ps I got a lovely thank you card after the birthday too. That was a nice surprise.

Mother

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!

Stephen

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

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.

Stephen

When you feel who matters

It was 5.02am this morning and my new Blackberry (which I didn’t even know was on or off such is my knowledge of it so far) buzzed and woke me.   It took three goes for me to plug in my PIN number but when it did the text from Mum in Christchurch sent a shiver up my spine “Terrible Earth Quake”. It was one of those moments that I shall never forget. Or the next 15 minute frantically trying to contact them and finding a headline on stuff.co.nz that read in huge lettering that a 7.4 quake had hit Christchurch.

Were they trapped under a pile of rubble and one got text out? Were they struggling to find their way around? Clearly they were scared.

I felt devastated with concern and became upset. It made me realise how much my folks mean to me and them being vulnerable with the force of the earth against them was very difficult.

Thankfully we made contact and it was obvious that they were scared. Dad said it was like a bad dream that he hoped to wake from. Like most folk they had no power, books were thrown from shelves and crockery and ornaments smashed.

We’re little beings in a universe that is never static. Planet earth is relatively calm, although today’s events make you wonder, but that’s because we are so small and temporaty. The universe might be mighty and completely beyond our command, but we have emotional connections with loved ones that gives us meaning.

When the core of that meaning was put at risk for me, I felt an immediate and deep sense of empathy. It was me. In this moment did I felt the depth of meaning in this relationship.

They are safe, but they’ve had a frightening experience.

I’ve always known what matters. Today I felt it.

What is your leadership theme?

Just over a year ago on 10 August 2009 I wrote my first blog Who is doing your dirty work. I had started contracting to AUT University a few months earlier to establish the Centre for Innovative Leadership and started the blog partly, at least, to gain a web presence for the Centre.

I came to enjoy blogging and combined some of my other interests – movies, photography and general commentary – into other related blogs.

But the leadership blog remains my core. I’ve learnt a lot about the technical aspects of putting stuff on the web including photographs, linking, doing automatic feeds into twitter and facebook and recently, video – which I believe will be the key to communication on the web going forward.  These words will become more limited.

Speaking of words, I’ve created an electronic book with my 56 (including this one) blogs and done some reflection about the themes within my work (sorry about all the headshots of me – it’s to do with the linking I did on LinkedIn and I can’t remove them … yet!). Writing about leadership has both consciously and unconsciously been a reflection of my own journey in the last year and the other nearly 47 years before that.

Which brings me to themes.

My conscious themes are about authenticity, vulnerability, having fun, photography, narcissism, anti-dogma, transparency. But what else comes through? What are my unconscious themes?

Looking through the blog book and doing some searches I also found a story embedded about my sons, my father and mother, holidays, Space, Evolution, Officials hiding, values, fake personal branding, religion, tolerance, running, forests, driving and disclosure.

No surprise then that that’s been my life this past year: my authentic leadership themes.

What are yours?

Stephen

A week of it

Tomorrow morning I’m going to run a workshop about authentic leadership. I’m pretty certain that Mother Teresa, described as Mother of Mercy will get another airing – my mother, in an act of mercy to someone she never knew,  suggested to me “leave the poor woman alone – she can’t defend herself”. Mum’s right (though if Mother Teresa is where she thought she was going then I guess she can!). We’re also going to talk about personal branding and see if we can discover what if anything, the relationship is between that and authenticity.

Two surveys came out today – one was about who the most trusted New Zealander is and the other was about the most trusted brand. Notice that we weren’t asked to decide who the best branded person was? Not that surprising really for me – if you’ve read any of my blogs you’ll know that I go on a bit about trust and its relationship with leadership and authenticity.

So, authenticity and leadership week. This week came about to celebrate Sir Peter Blake. He struck me at times as a bit gruff and someone who didn’t take any nonsense. If you’re big into emotional intelligence you might say there’s some work to be done if you’re gruff.  But then again, you might think it’s authentic to be who you are. The author Christopher Hitchens who got me thinking about Mother Teresa declares in his book Love, Poverty and War (after describing how, objectively, his life is good and satisfying) that “I wake up ever day to a sensation of pervading disgust and annoyance”. The book explains much of this annoyance.

So I ask myself, if I have a sense of irritation or gruffness, should I exhibit my maximum emotional intelligence and restrain myself? Or are there times to let rip at the ignoramus who texts in the movies, or the paper-pushing bureaucratic that spends our taxes justifying a decision?!! My coach says that I need to get mad sometimes. I’m not sure that this is the week to start. After all, I’m putting myself and others I work with out there to be involved in Leadership Week and people might expect…expect what? Caught myself.

Sorry Mother Teresa (and my Mum). If you are just a brand, expect no mercy!

Stephen

What can you say Mother?

Often when I ask people who are the leaders they admire, along with the usual suspects of Peter Blake, Nelson Mandela and Ghandi we often hear “my mother” or “my father”. We also hear about that other mother, Mother Teresa.

I’m reading essays by Christopher Hitchens who is pretty unflattering about Mother Teresa and accuses her of stage-managing images of poverty to ensure that those who were in poverty, stayed there, even when in her care ie the places she set up, even in America, were stripped of all possible trappings of normal civility.

Lately I have realised that the phrase authentic leadership development is absurd. It’s discovery. Running alongside the idea of authenticity in a parallel, but not necessarily the same universe is the concept of personal branding. Develop your personal brand ladies and gentlemen so people know not only who you are, what you stand for but also what you’re really about.

Is that authentic? Or is it marketing spin? Was Mother Teresa an authentic leader? Or did she simply have a brand of poverty that gave her followers? Does it matter?

Only you know that. Mother Theresa can’t answer that. If, like me, you’re fortunate enough to have a mother you could ask, I’d hazard a guess that she wouldn’t give you much of an answer though. My mother never branded or got told how to brand. But I know what she stands for. So does she.

That’s important I reckon.