A week in standard 3

A week in standard 3

Not writing each day upset my new structure. This surprised me as I had thought that the extra hour I would have not writing the daily COVID-19 Lockdown Blog would be helpful. It turned out that losing that part of the daily structure made me more disorganised – working after dinner again on the couch. Too much to do.

The traffic amped up significantly since Tuesday. At times it’s almost looked normal, but not quite.

But we really are in the calm before the economic storm. Twenty-four billion dollars spent and we’re still in a post-pandemic haze, wondering what that was all about, or maybe in my Bubble I’ve become too disconnected. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs, our tourism industry is dead, we can’t fly anywhere, most businesses still shuttered. And knowledge workers are still stuck at home, but we should be grateful that we can still work and working at home isn’t that bad. Level three feels no different to me than level four, a bit like Standard 3 and 4 was for me.

Mr Keen was my Standard 3 (and 4) teacher. I remember overhearing the other teachers talking about how the headmaster, Mr Matheson, was friends with Mr Keen and Mr Keen got to choose who his pupils were! Somehow I was a chosen one. Mr Keen was an enthusiastic musician and had us all playing the recorder, other instruments, and singing – that was his real passion.  He also used to talk about the horrors of Belfast.

A search of the name Keen identifies it from County Londonderry in Northern Island. The Troubles in Northern Ireland which started in the late 1960s was almost certainly what he was talking about, but it completely escaped my attention.   Driving through Belfast, the suburb in north Christchurch that State Highway 1 used to run through, never seemed that much in turmoil to me as I observed it from the back of the family car, although I never sought clarification.

Mr Keen also showed us – from the Christchurch Star or The Press – one of the most famous photographs ever taken – the photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the Napalm Girl – who epitomised the horrors of another war. What I never appreciated was that this young girl was the same age as all of us in the class. Mr Keen probably knew though, and I’m very grateful for the social conscience that he instilled in me about things well outside the confines of our little school. At the time I didn’t realise the significance of what he was trying to get across – but I do remember his passion about these two wars – even if I had no idea where one of them was!

Your leadership story grows with practice and this regular blogging has reinforced for me the memories that are stored in us all but not easily accessed without a mechanism to do so. I’ve quite enjoyed that part of this Lockdown. So maybe there was more than just the structure that I’ve got from it – re-living and reflecting on memories from many moons ago has brought a deep sense of contentment.

Have a great first Alert Level 3 weekend!

Stephen

Day 33

Day 33

A very kind reader sent me a message today “I have learnt a lot more about you than I otherwise would in the business world.  You’re a great writer, you like the outdoors and walking, and you’re a big softy when it comes to your parents“.

Writing each day for the length of the Lockdown was about several things for me. Creating a worthwhile pattern or chain, straight out of Cal Newport’s Deep Work and something I mused on earlier on in the Lockdown. Practice is an under-rated thing, linked closely with the ability and time made to do genuine deep work. Work that truly makes a difference to what you’re trying to achieve.  The Lockdown was and still is, a perfect time for trying some deep work. The experiment of the daily blog has been rewarding, and hasn’t at all felt like hard work. It’s helped me process thoughts and feelings, and created a discipline of continuous work that felt meaningful for me.

I’ve always written in my blog as a reflective process too. In the leadership development work I facilitate, the power of reflection is always top of mind and I’ve, perhaps selfishly, used these last five weeks as a personal reflection. To see what might come out of a condensed, focussed, purpose-driven reflection to achieve lasting change. And it was doing something, when doing nothing seemed like a real possibility!

During the month, Facebook and the like has been great for connecting with family and friends, well that’s what I pretend it’s like, but it’s really full of feeds to meet your personal algorithm, echos of your own views and prejudices, and largely uninformed commentary building on the echos. It, along with Twitter, and an empty email inbox, will have zero consequences when the day comes and people talk about what was meaningful and memorable in your life. The shallow work things in your life don’t matter and the same applies in leadership. Ignore them. Cal Newport’s Facebook Amnesty can help.

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I noticed these last five weeks that a majority of the viewers came to the blog via LinkedIn, which has prompted me to look at it a bit. It’s nice to look at, clean, and the commentary is somewhat more intelligent. Is it just a giant for sale thing or is it just me? Is there anyone there buying? You might know that my main day job in client work is leading the PwC Forensic Services practice – you know, economic crime, conflicts of interest, fraud, anti-money laundering et al. Although during the last five weeks, most of the time has been spent in my people and culture lead role in PwC Consulting, as you might expect. Perhaps I should have spent time writing about all this stuff to sell! Maybe, really, that might have been a better use of my time and energy. Afterall, someone has to pay for all the nice things! Is it worthwhile reflecting and sharing?

Writing wasn’t the only chain I had. I walked everyday – total distance 322 km in 41 separate walks. I love walking and I’m sitting at 140 walks for the year, creating a habit for mental and physical health. The Lockdown has solidified the walking chain and I have a deep sense of contentment and achievement from that.

When we went into Lockdown 33 days ago, it felt quite scary and I was quite anxious.  Living close to the Newmarket Viaduct, the drop in city activity was obvious and confronting. I got irritated about the 80,000 people that were said to die if we didn’t do anything as it seemed obviously wrong. Today that was brought up again, sort of, in a rough looking chart that mapped countries that did nothing vs those that did. That binary message is too simplistic as I doubt anybody thinks we should have done nothing.  It draws from declarations of war language to fire up a community.  It’s hardly been challenged. I’m disappointed in that as it’s an opportunity for authenticity lost.

My anxiety passed quite quickly and I let my own thoughts about where I was each day into the blog.  At its core I think leadership and authenticity are inextricably one and the same. Together. Peas in a pod. When you write your own journal, you’re reasonably likely to write truthfully, honestly and authentically. So the same has always applied here for me. It can feel risky at first. It’s not smooth and manicured like a marketing message. What if you said the wrong thing? What if you offended someone? What if your thoughts today, are not yours tomorrow? Hey, so that’s authenticity right?

I’ve no idea about the writing as my kind reader has said. I’m pretty sure I’ve started way too many sentences, like this one, with “And”, although you are allowed to, apparently. What I do know, is that if you want to build trust in your life, with a team, your family, maybe your readers, you share a bit and build the trust bank. Trust is at the heart of meaningful business relationships.  Possibly even better than a LinkedIn Ad!

What you share must be authentic, things that matter to you. And the more you know about yourself, the more you have to share. Before you know it you have a story, your leadership story which will start with events long before you were in business, probably from your family. So of course, I’m an old softy about the folks!

It won’t be every day from now on, but the blog feels that it has a much better meaning for me now.

I’m feeling grateful for the opportunity to reflect and share. There’s a lot of pain in the world right now and I, relatively speaking, have none. Just the leg a bit still. Thank you.

Stephen

 

 

 

Day 27

Day 27

It could have been the penultimate Lockdown blog, but we’ve still got five more days. David Bowie’s Five Years comes to mind for no other reason that it’s five, although that song is about the end of the earth coming in five years.

Thinking, hoping that it might be only one day to go I went back and looked at the earlier blogs of the Lockdown. Quite a bit of talk of anxiety and being indoors. It did kind of scare me a bit at the beginning.  The 80sqm apartment, my love of freedom,  I think I was a bit sceptical reasonably early on – or more questioning – as it worried me and still does, that the media have acted like an arm of the official information bureau, rather than any deep questions. I mused about what I would do – watch all 25 Bond movies – I’ve watched one only.  Moonraker with Roger Moore – great sets, actually a really good story, but the lines. Ouch, James Bond 007 The Sleaze!. I finished the third series of Ozark and nothing else on TV has really held up well in comparison. As the days stretched into weeks I’ve felt my rational mind more active and have read lots about COVID-19 and consumed a lot of data, some of which I’ve shared here.

People I know have a range of views but many people, sadly I think, appear consigned to defeatist – or they would say realistic – unquestioning compliance. At the risk of sounding like a consultant, that’s not to say that we’re not doing the right thing.  But I think we should, must! question such a massive imposition on our lives the impact of which is long term for many.

On our leadership programmes we really encourage the leaders on the programme to do serious self reflection. At first it’s not natural – it can be seen as time consuming when real work could be done. But as we do more of it, there are real moments of clarity and insights that can cause material and long-lasting change for people in their lives. This is the unquestionable beauty and satisfaction of this work. But it needn’t be a programme or a special event that drives reflection.

This electronic, public diary has helped me to process my thoughts. The changes forced upon us these last few weeks have given me deep and unexpected insights about my own behaviours. I’ve realised that I derive quite a lot of contentment from being much more structured that I have in the past. I feel confident that this new structure is something I take forward. It’s happened on the back of other reading I’ve done – Cal Newport’s Deep Work – is the main reading, so it’s been a happy coincidence. I don’t know whether reflecting each day has been the deciding factor in these insights, but it’s almost certainly accelerated it.

As a police cadet there were a few unusual things we learned. We learned a lot about death and dealing with it practically and emotionally. This has come up quite a bit for me these last few weeks as there’s been lots of dialogue about death, and as my rational mind has come forward, it’s played out here. I’ve felt it’s been quite healthy and therapeutic for me to discuss it here and I do hope it’s not been too confronting.

Another thing we learned about at the Police College was what act is the act that makes an attempt. That is, how close to the crime does the act of the suspect need to be to be an “attempt”? If you’re going to rob a bank, does buying the guns cut it? Does getting into the Ford Transit van to drive to the bank do it? Does marching into the door and demanding to be let in through the sliding doors do it? The answer is, you look for the “penultimate act”, which would be the last example here. The one before is the anti-penultimate act and doesn’t cut it. Of course there might be conspiracy, possession of weapons etc, but not attempted robbery. Some things stay with us forever. Hopefully yours are more useful than the need to explain anti-penultimate just because you started a short dialogue using penultimate. And I haven’t gone all totally structured!

Reflection using everyday tools of deep thought, writing, processing, sharing and being honest with yourself can bring amazing changes for the better for anyone who wants to give it a crack. Those things can stay with us forever and for good.

Stephen

 

Day 14

Day 14

Are we there yet!

Could we be half-way? Well we could be, but at least we can be certain we are halfway through the minimum sentence! But I get the feeling that although we’ve generally been well-behaved, it hasn’t been perfect so there might be a little more time.

But no more time for the almost 400 pilots at Air New Zealand about to be laid off, the 300 Flight Centre Staff who are laid off, or the other 100,000 tourism jobs estimated to be lost. Wellington Airport is in discussions with its banks and half of New Zealand’s hotels are closed. And this is just one sector.  Sounds like a crisis to me.

To its credit the government is in discussions to “re-start” the Tourism sector, which means domestic tourism only, as we have no community immunity, and unless I’m missing something, we can’t possibly permit any overseas visitors until there is a vaccine.

So it’s time to “Don’t leave town until you see the Country!” again. I love a good road trip. I’ve driven from Cape Reinga to Bluff and most places in-between. There’s so much to see! The gorgeous bays of Bay of Islands, Molesworth Station, Ophir, the giant canals of the South Island’s Hydro-electric schemes, Lake Paringa on the West Coast, Arrowtown, the square of Palmerston North, the Redwoods of Whakarewarea Forest at Rotorua, the Hokianga Car FerryMona Vale Gardens and the Wairarapa to name but a few places I’ve been to on road trips.

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And no disappointment if your favourite isn’t mentioned, the list is almost never-ending. In fact the only two places I think I haven’t driven to are Gisborne and Farewell Spit. Makes me want to wrap my hands around the leather steering wheel, press “START” and head off.

My personal favourites from the top of my head: the Giant Te Paki sand dunes, Otira Viaduct at Arthurs Pass, Gibbston Valley in Autumn, and – one I visit every week – Cornwall Park.

Te Paki Sand Dunes

Right now, we’re not able to do any road trips – STAY HOME! – but it’s an ideal time to plan the next one, to reflect on places you’ve been to – get the photos out or on the screen and relive the memories.

Taking time to reflect on past adventures enriches us. We should allow ourselves the time and space to take a journey in our minds. Reflection is not just about learning.

It’s also an opportunity to luxuriate in past pleasures and times of great satisfaction.

Are we there yet!

Stephen

 

 

Sustaining development

Sustaining development

I was privileged recently to interview a number of participants of past programmes for a short video. We didn’t know what they were going to say, although it’s fair to say that if you agree to go on video you probably have positive things to say!

Be that as it may, it was amazing to hear the ongoing benefits from authentic leadership development being embedded long after the work on the programme had concluded. As I’ve said in the past, leadership development can get a bad rap for adopting a “sheep dip” and/or “break ‘em down to build them up” approach, something we do our best to avoid.

The answer is to give the development time. Time on programme, time back at work to practice and reflect, more time on programme, time to embed an ongoing reflection habit, and then allow sufficient space for participants to own the development opportunities presented to them.

iStock-1039315630.jpgOne of those I interviewed referenced the Leadership Walk as being one of the most powerful parts of her development. She didn’t call it by our anointed name, but the meaning she took out of it and then applied back at work was very gratifying to hear. Another said that the most powerful feedback moment he took was, well, about feedback. He has adjusted how and when he gives feedback to his team and said it’s made a material difference to his team leadership.

Whether we’re on a programme or just genuinely focussed on pushing our own development, giving ourselves space between learnings to reflect, try new stuff, embed and try again, is vital.

That creates a sustained leadership development journey, whether that be a formal or informal process.

Stephen

 

Cornwall Park

Cornwall Park

Cornwall Park was gifted to the people of New Zealand in 1901 by John Logan Campbell. It’s my favourite city park – and it doesn’t hurt that I’m within striking distance – for a good walk. I was there over the weekend after dark for a 10 kilometre loop out and back home.

Last year I attended a wonderful talk by the lead landscape architect, Thomas Woltz, engaged by the Park’s Trust Board, to oversee a 100 year transformation. Excitingly some of the projects are already underway. At the Manukau Road end of the Park, which I suspect many people don’t think of as an entrance to the Park, the statue and surrounds have been lovingly restored and invigorated.

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From Manukau Road through to the Green Lane entrance past the sport’s grounds it’s a great route that I never tire of. Cornwall Park “proper” (my phrase) is full of mature trees, farmland, rock walls and Twin Oaks Drive. There’s nothing quite like it.

At night it’s completely unlit which is rare in the city and ideal for deep thought.

Watch out for sheep on night patrols though!

What better way to build resilience?

Stephen

 

Tough love

Getting feedback can be tough. As leaders we welcome it, embrace it, even ask for it, sometimes via formal systems like a 360.

But sometimes it’s not easy. Working with a new team, a different boss or chair, or, unfortunately, not exhibiting the behaviours others expect of us, can lead to some unpleasant reading.

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I always encourage people to prepare for written feedback by preparing for reflection, ensuring they have the context in their head, have some support available, but above all, seek to find the real “juice”. Most people who give feedback do so with the best of intentions to help us. Not everything said will calibrate, but there’s almost always something in it that you can find and own.

Yes, own. Own that feedback, return the love, thank the givers and start planning on making changes.

Stephen