Ep 7. How unlocking moves can unleash surprisingly impactful leadership

Paul Byrne lives in Amsterdam and is considered to be a world class Executive coach and consultant who has partnered with some of the world’s most successful leaders to assist them in transforming their organisation and leadership styles. His work has been cited in a range of books and business articles.
He shares;
  • How dyslexia influenced his life in Boston and later his leadership impact
  • Why does leadership development occur in bursts and plateaus
  • What are ‘Inescapable questions’
  • He outlines what he calls ‘Unlocking moves’ and why these are imperatives to great leadership,
  • How can leaders who are arrogant or autocratic shift that style to be genuinely embracing and impactful,
  • How can leaders listen to the system (the organisation) like a weather app?

Show notes


Favourite song

  • Born in the USA Bruce Springsteen
  • Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, the Netflix show


Welcome Paul, so glad you’re able to join me.

Paul: Yeah, it’s good to be here. Yeah. It’s good to see you,

Pod: man. You and I have had the privilege of working together are traveling together in Amsterdam, in Switzerland, in San Francisco, in China and Singapore, and a whole range of places.

And I’ve no idea how many conference calls would was being on over the last number of years. One thing I have a consistent memory of with you in that process is you talk about the return to wholeness as a leadership journey. And in fact, indeed of the human journey. But the returns journey suggest as a starting point to the journey.

So can I get you to go back to your starting point back to Boston where you grew up and how that shaped you on your own journey?

Paul: Yeah, sure. it’s, in some of the work we’ve done together, we, we’ll often include this idea of origin stories. which of course, for the superhero fans, we all know that, to understand, Superman, you have to understand his origin story is pretty important as this guy flying around.

Yeah. What’s the deal with kryptonite. and I think, for a lot of us. and in particular, when we work with leaders and I’ll talk about that mind, but I’m really understanding what’s that origin story. and how did those early influences begin to shape my experience?

Usually in beautiful ways, the human being that sort of emerges and develops since, so for mine, Oh, gosh, we often do this exercise where we get folks in the evening to tell their origin stories. And these are those conversations that can go to all the we hours in the morning if you let them.

But I think, some of the more certain points of minor, I grew up in the U S I’ve lived. Most of my professional life in Europe, but actually grew up in Boston, a working class suburb of Boston. And you know what, I think one of the most important influences for me was, growing up with dyslexia and probably add or any number of things.

And at that time, and the 19 avenues in Boston and, in the kind of school I was at, you’re just diagnosis. Was he slow? Rice, and you tended to get put in a classroom, for others, slow kids. And that could be everything from someone with a slight learning disability to, extreme autism.

But it was a way of taking you out of the mainstream. So you don’t slow things down and some of my earlier memories are like not fitting in, I would say that was a theme. There was a sort of sense of where I was put wasn’t. Maybe intuitively I knew it’s not necessarily where I belonged probably true for a lot of the people in that room, but, and I don’t think I made any conscious choice about it, but as I reflect back, there was this sort of sense of, I need to keep my distance, I need to not be too consumed by this world.

Or I’ll lose myself to it, and it was for the sake of a phenomenal sixth grade teacher, mr. Troy, who, suffered polio as a child. And was this hulking scary? Figure in the school and he brought me back, and so it’s a, another amazing story of a teacher and, these sort of angels on the path as a result, part of the origin story is be careful about groups.

keep to yourself the system isn’t there to help you, It’s there to be navigated, and it’s of course, fast forward, whatever it is, 40 years or something or more, it gives you a real sense of kind of systems thinking, Is what would call it today. But at the time it was more of a, how does a boy.

in a big world, figure out how to get through it without getting consumed by it,

Pod: And they had, the irony is of course, as you said, fast forward, 40 years, whatever it is, you are now an expert in groups and insistence and helping systems here, which is the one that the heirs you were avoiding way back then.

Paul: I always, I always like to think that often the work you are called to do in the world is the work to do for yourself. And so of course, the irony of focusing on teams and working with leaders around enhancing relationship for somebody who’s struggled with being in relationship my whole life is, there’s a certain poetic irony to, you know, who better to advise you than me, because I’ve done it wrong every way you can. And how funny that you’re and how funny that you’re asking me? No, he’s here. He’s a 10 mistake relationship.

Pod: Here’s the 10 mistakes. I know.

Paul: I like to think.

Yeah. If anything else I can be a cautionary tale. There’s always something to gain.

Pod: Funny. You mentioned that teacher called mr. Troy. I just had a sudden flashback to assist a sister breeder. Who was my sixth class. None. I completely forgotten this too. You said it, who took me aside one day and said, you’ve got great talent at all.

Understanding people’s sensitivities until you manage your own. If they’re always going to hurt you. And I’ve just realized that how right she was and how insightful she was. And I would have been. 10, maybe, a boy back then and she’s right. They’ve already understood. I fully understood her wisdom way back then.


Paul: these, for those of us that are lucky enough to have a sister Brita or a David Troy, on our path, I there’s, when I think about who, who have been the coaches in my life, and by that, I don’t mean the sort of professionally trained or, but.

there was this, and I, we’ve talked a little bit about this idea of unlocking moves, but there was this unlocking move that he allowed for me, which was to create a new identity. I, I wasn’t, broken. I was just stuck, and that there was actually no reason in the world that I couldn’t stay in his classroom.

Yeah. and, everyone up until then had told me that I don’t belong in the classrooms, and just the have, and I remember, went home in tears every day. he was in my mind a tyrant and in retrospect, just, exactly what I needed. And I think he knew that. And, Yeah.

It’s always touching to think back to that memory. Cause it’s one of those moments where you think the trajectory completely changed. the path forward without him is decidedly different than the path I walked rotten, that’s

Pod: yeah. You mentioned unlucky move and I want to jump out and you for a minute because you’ve got a really cool website called unlucky move.com and she shared some great stories on that based on your leadership insights.

But before we jump there, You talked about your formative experience in Boston. How did that show up for you in your leadership roles? I’m thinking of a one stage. You headed up corporate exec board in Europe, that was a pretty geographically wide roll out of Boston shape you then relative to who you are now,

Paul: how does Boston shape anyone?

Exactly. You get an attitude and a, exactly what’s the sarcasm and the Irish new Yorkers driving everyone away. Exactly. Italian humor. Yeah. it’s interesting. it’s it definitely did. And I’d say it probably has more to do with kind of the learning disability than Boston, so to speak.

Although Boston kind of, there’s a lot of STEM up stand up comedians that come out of Boston and most of them tend to have a bit of an edge to them. So I think, part of, part of. What you learn in that environment is you get fixed skin, which is another way of saying you can go pretty distant, right?

So you don’t let anyone hurt you. And it’s like the point of friendship is to see who can take down each year. It’s a brutal, like when people move to Boston, when they’re young, they’re like, Jesus, you guys are friends. it’s just a nonstop competition to see who can come up with a better put down.

But anyway, the, if, and again, this is the benefit of hindsight and having some frameworks to think through. when I think about, coming back to this idea of wholeness and, my hypothesis, which is, for a lot of us, for most of us, there are aspects of ourselves, our personality, often our gifts.

That we decide early in life, don’t have a place in that world or make things more complicated for me, or aren’t appreciated, and we push those into the shadow or we subdued. and I think for me, it was as I. worked through school and with the learning disability, I think there’s a kind of a strategy that I deployed, which was one, no one’s going to get in and I won’t be hurt, And so I think that, in our terminology, when we look at the leadership circle, that’s the sort of protecting yeah. There was definitely a wall. and then there was this parallel strategy, which was, and I’ll prove them all wrong, probably using slightly stronger words. Then that is a as a 15 year old.

But, so which is that controlling, the idea is to win, to be better. you know what, you never let me at the table. I’m not only gonna be the smartest one at the table, but I’m going to show the table. Cool. That you’re you don’t belong here. Yeah, exactly. And so I think for a lot of my career, and a lot of the leadership roles, it was very much about good strategic thinking.

So that power of. Taking distance on things, seeing systems noticing kind of problems around the corner and achieving, getting things done, winning, all in the preservation of my own sense of identity. I won’t be hurt, show them wrong, and man, that can run you for a while.

it’s certainly not something that’s going to bring a letter joy of your life, but, yeah, you can make a lot of people, a lot of money and you’ll get a lot of recognition for it. And, and for me, the part that I think until I started getting into coaching and this leadership journey that was always in the shadow was, the broken part of me that could see the broken part of others, so this sort of compassion, and I know what it feels like to, Be excluded to be different, to struggle.

And I think it was a part of myself that I for a long time. And, and then I think as a coach, as you bring that back and you can combine that with the ability to see things, the desire to move things forward, that’s really when. I wish I could say I figured that out in my kind of classic leadership roles, I don’t think I did.

I don’t know that I was particularly good leader. I got a lot done

Pod: the way you describe that person is not unique to Paul Bern. That would be a very. Common and regularly promoted leader in many organizations, as you get stuff done, you make money, you’re smart, et cetera, right up to the point where you no longer can or right up to the point where you burn your people out or you’re burning yourself out or your family, cetera, and then suddenly to use the other phrase.

Are you okay? Then you need an unlocking move kind to be able to shift your paradigm and shift how you do stuff. What is an unlucky move?

Paul: Yeah, that’s a good question. so I’ll tell you how I think about it. Cause there’s definitely a, in the world of kind of developmental psychology and adult stage development, they referenced this.

I know Bob Keegan, I think. maybe even use the term in some of his books, but the, for me, and again, this has been my own personal lived experience. And also the experience I’ve noticed with leaders is that, development doesn’t ha doesn’t tend to happen in the sort of straight linear ways.

8% better per quarter, over 15 quarters. happens in bumps and leaps. my census particularly one year have moved beyond issues of competency. do you know how to do the job? if you’re a CFO and you’ve struggled with accounting, there’s no amount of unlocking moves.

That’s good, help there. for most of the folks that I think we work with that, you could argue there. they’re the best in the business at what they do. And the developmental leap is really the, the mindset, it’s an often, it’s, what’s the story you tell yourself about yourself.

In what ways is that story constraining? Some of them, the best parts of you, no doubt. It’s a story that served you. we wouldn’t be yeah. In this conversation, if it didn’t, so let’s acknowledge and celebrate the eight year old or the 16 year old that decided to build this story.

Because, man, all the paths you could have gone, this is a pretty good one! But now it’s as an adult,  a father, as a  husband, a leader, what’s actually the story that feels more true and allows for more of you to come through?

We talked about this idea of wholeness. I think it’s true for organizations. I think it’s true for people. It’s  this movement towards, ” can a more complete expression of who I am over time continue to emerge”? The best leaders I’ve known  don’t hide those parts. In fact, those parts that they may be hidden for a long time, end up becoming their sort of signatures…

whether it’s vulnerability or, compassion or a big heart  or being more powerful.

for a lot of leaders, the unlocking move is not about, people it’s about, I need to re learn that power isn’t corruption. You know that, powerful people aren’t by definition, bad. And that actually in order to make changes in the world, I need to have more of my power expressed, even though I recognize that always comes with an edge, and maybe powerful people in my background, didn’t always use their power appropriately.

And, but that doesn’t mean that’s the case for me.

Pod: If I understand you, What you’re saying is leaders have a certain level say technical skills or horizontal level skills. They’re the entry point to the role, but they’re the true development happens in the way they upgrade or change their mindset or their way of thinking or the storytelling that allows them to access a different level of effectiveness or a different level of impact or a greater version of themselves.

We stand leads to a different level of impact or effectiveness.

Paul: Really well said. No, exactly. I think it’s, where’s the leveraged move, I, half the leaders, we were like, I don’t know, could they be 3% smarter? could they go from like the 98th percentile to the 99th percentile in terms of IQ?

Maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. Probably not. But often it’s in the, how do you make sense of it? And as you look at. The environment and in particular, are you reacting to it or from it? And I think that’s one of the, one of the big unlock he moves that will often work with, and you and I work with leaders around this, which is this move to self authoring, mind this sense that I both being created and creating at the same time, the reality I have it, I’m not just reacting to the situation I find myself in.

And, a lot of young leaders. Understandably. and appropriately, so are reacting to an environment that they’re in. and I think as leaders mature, they begin to realize that it’s a little more complicated than that they’re actually creating the environment as well as

Pod: So I know you talk about the idea of inescapable questions as a kind of a precursor to the unlucky move. I’m asking a question that can hide from. Puts you into the place where this unlucky move emerges are, becomes more obvious. Good. Can you tell us more about that?

Paul: Yeah. So these are the questions that kind of, they haunt it’s you can’t, unask it, and you think to yourself like, Oh, damn that person for, and for me, they tend to sound things like up until now rather.

what are you now unwilling to tolerate? In your life. The reason I think of it as an inescapable question is it’s, we all tolerate things in our lives and like appropriately, like we have to live in a system, it in with people. And so part of that is, you probably call it compromise.

and there’s probably also something closer to the edge of things so that, for the last 30 years, this is what I’ve tolerated is me playing small or this being this way. And actually I’m noticing I’m not willing to tolerate in any longer. I don’t know what to do about that. And I’m actually maybe even scared of what the repercussions could be.

but this idea of, refusing to tolerate either my own inaction or situations. I think that’s a big one. I think it’s certainly an apropos one now. globally with certainly in my home country, in terms of, Racial justice and this sort of sense of, how have systems and individuals, tolerated a set of conditions that they say they don’t want, and yet are in very real ways, part of what it is it right.

And yeah. how do I tolerate the thing that I say I don’t want, but actually, either intentionally or unintentionally, contribute to, and, Yeah. So those would be those kinds of questions. And I’ve always had a few good ones.

Pod: I remember being in a room with you, or maybe let’s say four or five years ago, and you asking the group, which I was part of it phase, like something needs to be voiced, but none of you are willing to say it.

And I remember at the time the question landing and taught me like a, Oh my God. That is an extraordinary challenging question. And I don’t feel challenged as in aggressiveness is I need to step up to this question because I’m part of this group. That’s not voicing whatever this conversation was.

Can’t remember what, but it led me. And the group to really getting into a far different conversation, a far better conversation. I’m Oran conversation, not necessarily a more comfortable conversation, there’s a whole problem. but about what I remember was the power of the question really unlocked. The conversation that needed to happen.

and I think that’s what you talk about. When you talk about the unlocking moves, there is something that needs to be shifted for you then to move to a different level of in our case conversation and probably capability over all as a result of that.

Paul: No, it’s a great appointment and we’ve used this and in groups together, but this idea of, even just.

asking a team, what’s the essential conversation that you as a team are unwilling. Yeah. it’s amazing what comes out, there’s usually five of them, but there’s something somehow about the question actually forces the answer. Yeah. Cause it wouldn’t sort of surface on its own.

And so I don’t mean to say that, I don’t want to trap people or Trump teams questions, but I think that there are some of these questions that you want to put forward that, these leaders are so smart. they know how to get themselves out hot water. Yeah. And yeah. Can you frame questions and conversation that don’t have easy back exits.

It’s no. You’re going to go through this. That’s why

Pod: we’re here.

Paul: It’s important. Yeah.

Pod: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s a bit of it paradox there then in the sense of, a lot of, there’s a lot of writing, a lot of books, a lot of articles that talk about positive psychology and staying optimistic and the power of all of that.

And yet a few minutes ago you talked about developmental happens in bursts and plateaus and it can be uncomfortable. W what’s your view on the, maybe the pros and cons of the pop psychology of the positive psychology in relationship to this unlucky move and it’s need to be uncomfortable to be able to unlock it.

Paul: That’s a good question. listen, I’m all in favor of, Positivity and I prefer to be there, but I think, from a developmental perspective, and I think we know this, when we think about ourselves, some of our biggest sources of growth moments weren’t necessarily in that moment, fairly easy or comfortable or where we want it to be.

whether it’s, Holiday going wrong or getting lost or having your heartbroken, these things that are, challenges that build us, there’s, the whole concept of human beings are antifragile, in that when they get disrupted, they actually get stronger.

They don’t break often. And so almost. Psychology is almost an anti-fragile element. the learning can come from darker moments, the, the difficult, challenges as well as, the high points and the peak experience. and I think when you’re looking for these unlocking moves or.

I’m looking for moments in time where certain stories just became embedded. I think if you avoid the sort of the negative. Yeah. And I know most folks in the coaching space wouldn’t do that. But, I think for leaders in particular, when you stay away from negative emotion, because you’re afraid of going death, you take 50%.

of the potentiality off the table. Just statistically, it’s not a great thing. Move it’s man, if you did that, if you took 50% of your market off the table and you’d still have to have the same revenue targets, you’d think you’re insane. But yeah, mental standpoint, I think emotion both positive and, and difficult.

Are, it’s just it’s fodder for the yeah. for the development process. Yeah.

Pod: I saw a quote from Susan David, the South African psychologist who’s who does a lot of work in Harvard and a lot of work on an emotional agility. she talked about only dead people. Never get unwanted emotions. the stress of life is the starting point to a meaningful life, which goes to your point here, is it meaningful, has got to be both positive and that the stressors and together, they give you the whole sense of meaningful in the whole sense of growth.

Paul: Exactly. Exactly.

Pod: let’s double down a little bit into maybe examples of leadership. you’ve been in this space where you’ve been cultivating leaders working alongside, as you said, some of the smartest people in the planet to do great work every day, and yet they still can elevate their impact.

What patterns do you notice about leaders who are able to continue to elevate their impact? Or maybe even the opposite leaders who are, could have the potential, but just haven’t done it yet. And there’s a passion to it.

Paul: That’s a good question. I, the obvious kind of quick answers is this is self-awareness right?

So it, it is, this. Goes back to the Greeks and probably earlier than that somehow, but yeah, this idea of unexamined life of the ability to take perspective, to see myself in the world, not be so consumed by the world, that everything, it’s the fish and the goldfish in the water, syndrome.

one of the things that we’ll first work with a leader and in particular team on is, are they able to take perspective, a lot of the agile principles, things like running retrospectives. there’s a lot of sort of structured ways that teams do that, but I think it has developmental level, can teams and leaders begin to see a more nuanced realities around them?

what’s actually happening. I had a, It was actually a conversation yesterday. And it was a leader who was promoted to a leadership team, and a leader who was on the team was demoted. And, there was a situation where part of that demoted leaders team was going to join. This new leaders team and his group.

So it was a little bit, it was tricky and we had a conversation and there’s eight people on the team. And his first comment to me was, I found it interesting. Only one person sent me a note after the announcement. like good luck, and, and I could tell he was hurt.

and it also felt personal. It was about them and about him. And in the conversation where we went was, okay, let’s just step back from it and notice that even in this situation where it’s just eight people. People found it difficult to congratulate you at the same time that a trusted and respected peer was being asked to leave.

It’s how do I do that? And so what might that signal further down in the organization? these, this is a team that is responsible for probably 10,000 people. So as that amplifies down, in what ways are people uncomfortable about talking about this? what else isn’t being said?

And so we used it as this. A very personal kind of felt experience of wow, I would have appreciated a little bit more congratulations too. Isn’t that interesting? really decent people found it difficult to congratulate me on this new role. What might that actually be representing?

Yeah. and where actually might that show up where we actually need to get the work done. And so led to a whole different conversation. I think this ability to take perspective and examine it doesn’t mean that. The deeper meaning is necessarily the truer one. But to recognize that, within the noise, there are lots of signals and often leaders will pay attention to the one that we’re trying to here.

And they don’t hear the others that actually could be really impactful for them. And I think as a coach, part of our job, I can’t interpret them. I’m not someone you’ve come to for business advice, but I think I can help you. discern what other signals might be mixed in there that you haven’t traditionally paid attention to, but actually it could be whole new sources of data and insight.

Pod: In that example of what was, what I’m hearing you say is you helped that guy understand that they had a reaction to, Hey, I’m a bit upset people that haven’t congratulated me and unlocking it, allowed him to see that. This data here that could be a far bigger story that you need to tend to, and potentially it is leads go in and be aware of because you’re now in service of that.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s allowed to be about you. So go ahead. You can have that conversation with your colleagues. Don’t let it only be about you. Yeah. and that’s the, I think that’s part of what unlocks is. it’s both true for you and at a just interpersonal level and maybe there’s something to attend to.

it’s also true at a systemic level. And as a leader, that’s actually more interesting frankly, than. Do you know whether or not someone sent you an email on the first 48 hours, because then you can actually start attending to something that, over time could actually become an issue, right?

Pod: Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned Bob Keegan a few minutes ago from Harvard and you and I have worked with Bob Anderson from leadership circle for many years. And they both talk about, in different ways, are the emotions having you. Are you having them or in Bob’s case, coming from a reactor space or coming from the creative space.

And I think a wall, I think what your example he illustrates is you’re trying to help that leader move from an automatic, reactive space off I’m upset to yes, you can be. And. Also listen to the language and then therefore you can come from a creative space as well, which is truly unlocking that potential for his leadership there.

Paul: Oh, it’s beautiful. yeah. just to use sort of leadership circle language, I’d say it’s this, initial high complying. High critical. If they didn’t send me a note, does that mean I don’t belong? Do I not fit in? And, what does that say about them? That they didn’t maybe, I don’t know them as well as I thought, maybe they aren’t as, Oh, Oh, is that how it’s going to be here at the top? that kind of quality and that unlocking mood, move to systems awareness and self awareness actually. Let me get curious about this and isn’t it interesting that it had such an emotional, a reaction in me. And can I put the personal nature of that to the side for the moment and actually almost pick that up as a, like a window, picking up a wind and it’s wow, like, Where else is that happening?

systems awareness, what does that say about me? Oh, isn’t that interesting? It matters so much. And like, how’s that going to influence difficult conversations that we’re going to need to have as a team? Cause if I’m looking for a Pat on the back, instantaneous with anything positive that I do, I’m probably in the wrong place, So I think getting them to think in those more creative ways, just end up having the situation be much higher leverage than just Like to your point, like now I need to react to it. I feel bad and I’ll either shut down or I’ll, I’ll tell them that they were wrong.

those are not always helpful.

Pod: You often talk about the down and out move as an example, or maybe even a regular example. I was suspect of an unlucky move for leaders. Can you just walk us through that and maybe even have an example that she had a straight out with one of the leaders you’ve been working

Paul: with.

It’s a, again, it’s, w without having the visual it’s the down and out makes sense, because it plays out on the leadership circle profiles. So people who know that kind of, and typically with leaders and it’s very common. It’s a, and I’ll just, yeah, I’ll use the leadership circle terminology just for the sake of clarity.

But the, it often starts with the leader who is really purpose driven, is it believes in the vision of the company and the mission thinks that makes a positive connection  into the world and cares. this isn’t a sort of nine to five and I punch out and, do my side hustle where my passion really lies, that they’ve invested and they commit a lot of their life’s blood to this organization and what this organization is trying to accomplish.

And so that’s yeah, a, a precondition. And then. Often they tend to be incredibly intellectually gifted. you just be, frankly, it’s hard to make it to the top of any enterprise of any significance without. Having your share of brains, right? the IQ is typically there and it’s it didn’t show up at 35.

So these are just, these are people who, probably since seven years old had the right answer or the smart one in the class, all the things I wasn’t by the way, which is 35, actually asking me anything, I’m sure there’s a reactive sense of me that takes a certain pleasure from a ha you thought you were so bright.

Now you have to talk to them. I was

Pod: just upset to get in trouble. That’s a Brita. Totally,

Paul: exactly. David Troy. the, so what ends up happening is that, they see things that aren’t working in the organization. They tend to see them sooner and more vividly than anyone else. And they typically speak out about it.

They’re like, Hey, we’re not structured the right way, or we shouldn’t be doing this way. Or, here’s this massive inefficiency. And even the way we think about the marketplace, And the rest of the organization, it doesn’t really know what to do with them. Probably doesn’t see it.

often again, these folks are seeing things much sooner. And so that’s the down, which is they go critical, and I always think of the reactive tendencies. And I think Steve, athe a colleague of ours. Talks about them as these, anxiety management systems that there are one of the places we go when the world becomes, like we get filled with sort of that steam and the pressure builds, and we’re going to do something and the down and outs cycle is critical.

So it’s noticing things aren’t happening the way they should. And then there’s typically two directions leaders go and some actually managed to do both. The first one is down and, again, looking at the leadership circle to the left, which is this move towards, distance. And that sounds something like, they don’t get it.

I’ve told them a hundred times. I’m not going to say it 101 times. If, once they figure out that I was right, they know where to find me, And so they’ve drifted from distance right. Into passive, which I think is the highest inverse correlation. it makes sense. Sort of the opposite of leading.

Yeah. Yeah. And they unintentionally and ironically, because they’re so passionate, they go into the yeah, exactly. they end up in passing, which is the last place and they’re always surprised in their profile. Like, how’s that even possible? no one has ever described me as passive the other way as they can I’m down and out to the right, which is moving more into sort of arrogance.

And that tends to sound like, conversation with a spouse over a glass of wine, the I’m surrounded by and nobody gets it. And I misunderstood. As our spouses often do, they jump on our side and defend us. You’re right. you are smarter. Yeah.

Pod: Don’t see the value of you.

Paul: Exactly. So probably not the best conversation, but, and then, the reality is once they’ve discounted people. So if I’m surrounded by idiots, but this is still important, I guess I better do it myself. And that’s that drift into autocratic. And so these autocratic and passive traps that leaders.

Very unwittingly get into because they didn’t see a coming and it wasn’t the initial thing. They did. I think critical was that first move something that’s happening. That shouldn’t be, but they didn’t know how to bring it through that, in our model, the authenticity, how do I tell truth to an organization and actually look at both myself?

So self-awareness. How am I partly responsible for the fact that this isn’t changing? What is it about the way that I’m communicating it, that doesn’t allow people to hear it and that, would bleed down into relating or systems awareness, which is where are we stop? what’s the repeating pattern that seems to be unbreakable.

And how do I begin to experiment with. Bold choices that might disrupt that pattern. And so that’s systems thinker down into, achieving strategic focus. what’s a new story that needs to evolve. And so no one leaders can move out of that sort of anxiety management, but totally understandable.

But almost always derails them into sort of a different way of experiencing the same, the same situation with more curiosity. and I may, I might be misquoting this, but I think even from a brain research standpoint, you can’t be curious and anxious at the same time. But there’s some.

Yeah. And so this, I always say what do you do when you’re anxious? I’d be like, get curious about why you’re anxious. And you’re likely to find that the anxiety dissipates your, it might be just a brain trick, but it seems to work. Yeah.

Pod: But what you’ve outlined for the leader listening to this is if they find themselves in that emotive or anxious passion, where they move into.

That’s all done. I’m tired of trying so hard, call me or I’ll do it myself or any variation of that. Yeah. Step is recognize it. Get out of that anxiety moment if into the self awareness piece, but then move into that in almost inescapable question. how can I raise a question about our patterns as an organization or how can I help these people to move into it?

And by doing that. As opposed to standing anxiety moment, they are more likely to get the outcome they want. Anyway,

Paul: that’s it? how many times have people gone home? And we all know this in ourselves, right? Either on the train or in the commute or something where we either think I’m surrounded by it.

It’s no one gets it or, I give up, sometimes you gotta, when the lose the battle to win the war, some battles aren’t worth fighting or whatever. rationale you use, but I, I think for leaders when they noticed that story is emerging in them, just to catch it because, give yourself 15 minutes, no, that’s fine.

it’s like a warm bed. It’s don’t say, you will get all wrinkly. If you stay there too long searches, human and enjoy the, the self righteousness of it for a short period and then, figure out what you’re going to do.

Pod: But one of my old professors. Tony grant who passed away already this year, he used to say, yeah, have a warm bath with milk, but don’t stay too long.

Cause then he would start smelling. Yeah. Enjoy it for a little bit. For not too long.

Paul: All things in moderation. My grandmother used to say,

Pod: we hope you’re enjoying this episode of the leadership diet. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on whatever podcast player you are listening to this on. We’ve used an iTunes and Spotify.

I greatly appreciate it. Let’s shift the story to a very different one. When I first came across your name, I think was in Debra Roland’s books, still moving where I think she referenced to you as part of the team. And that was working with her. It’s a great book for anyone who’s interested in a larger scale transformation, but particularly in system.

Awareness the system thinking and nudging the system, if I’m right and under and remembering the story where the book was written about, or it was based on was a large German nuclear energy organization that was shifting it’s a way of working products was, an organization that was asked to be entrepreneurial yet is working in a very bureaucratic, nuclear energy sector.

And you got to come in and help navigate that.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. and Deb is a, it was a great teacher of mine and, yet another one of those people who, when you come across there’s the work I did before I met Deb. And then the work I do after having that debt, is richer.

And yeah, and, she, she does a wonderful, again, her book, she does a great job of calling out these principles. And even, I think going into that example of the. The energy company, I think one of the, I came in probably with a overly psychological approach.

That’s like somehow if the leaders could change and make better choices and show up differently and develop that, that would be sufficient. and I think what I learned from dab in particular, working with this client over multiple years, God, I think we ran, 50 programs. w so we really got to know their senior leaders is that leadership is embedded in a context.

we’ll say that leadership circles, and that context is, The systemic influences that are both under your control and completely out of your control. So it’s this idea of, sailing from, Portugal to New York and the irony of you actually have to sail down the West coast of Africa and then up.

through the Caribbean to get there. cause the winds and the currents, if you try and just cut straight across, you’ll just never make it. or it’ll just be so definitely long that you won’t have time. and I think organism change is a little bit the same that. The distance from point a to point B can look to see really close and absent any undercurrents and Tradewinds it may be.

It is. And so it’s worth experimenting with, some change efforts or just about doing things differently. My experiences with large complex multi-stakeholder influences, It isn’t that way, And so this idea of being able to read the system, not just the system in the organization, in terms of, how are we structured?

How do we do things, the external system, I think that particularly for enterprise leaders, that’s more and more, where they need to look, how is the market, how regulators competitors. Society. how is that creating headwinds and tailwinds and how do we begin to navigate the organization to take advantage of them or at least to mitigate the, the cost of it.

And, yeah, so it was a, it was an enlightening, couple of years, working with Deb and her team that really brought to light, this important of, how do you really bring that systems thinking in? and in fact, recognize that most big. Complex change is about shifting systems.

and you have to do the right leadership thing. so the things need to compliment that, but boy system wins is my experience. Even my ex and my examples are phenomenal leaders from one organization who go to another organization and fail dramatically. And it happens all the time and it’s because their leadership is worse or they weren’t doing the right things there.

They embedded themselves in a system that completely overruled. Yeah. and, and you see it and I know you do a lot of work with transitions and yeah. New CEOs coming in and boy, that’s it. If you’re not watching out for that. yeah. And they’re all invisible

Pod: things.

Paul: culture.

Pod: One of my mentors years ago, Peter Hawkins in bath, in England, he always said to me, you put a great leader in a bad system that they can change.

The system always wins no matter what. And therefore, how do you help the leader to start recognizing the system as quick as they can? Is it easy, is the only way to give them a sense of it. So with that mind, then how does a leader start listening to the system?

Paul: Yeah. w and again, we’ve already mentioned Deb’s book, shoot.

She goes into quite a bit of detail on the inner, and she did a lot of research around that, what are these inner practices? these inner competencies that leaders have, the ones. so self-awareness. again, comes back. Can I take, I guess is what I’d say and can I use that perspective to gain insight?

And can I integrate that insight into my art actions moving forward, personal learner, right? Like it’s one thing to do just like, Oh, I noticed that happened and they just keep doing it. It’s another. So I noticed that happened. That’s not ideal. Let me experiment with something different and. Going to shape and change the way my leadership looks.

Yeah. So I think that’s one, I think another, especially in this moment is, pay attention to emotional hotspots. they’re, they’re often where, it’s like these, in Yellowstone park, in the U S the geysers, they often are aware the, all of the turbulence and power underneath the surface pops up and.

And it’s often in uncharacteristic behavior, isn’t that odd this team did this, or I never would have thought this, the leader would have said something like that. And so I think a systems lens would say might actually just be interruption of something much bigger. So how is what’s going on underneath that leader or what this team is trying to navigate?

how might that Seemingly uncharacteristic or out of character. Yeah. Action. Yeah. Be something deeper than that. And something. So it’s really that kind of paying attention to what shows up and treating it all as potential data. A lot of it’s noise and that’s part of the leadership job is to discern the two, but yeah, emotional hotspots.

And then, and this day, particularly emotions that aren’t necessarily considered positive. So there’s a lot of, There’s a lot of grief. again, we had talked about, some of the, the racial justice issues and some of the social justice issues, particularly in the U S right now, that are, hard, to confront, our representative and I think signals of something much deeper that needs attention.

you can criticize a protest if you want, but actually what it’s representing and what lies underneath it is. much is something that’s important to attend to the, yeah. So I would say that those are a couple of the places that I would look as look for the emotional hotspots

Pod: they did.

The hotspot study is fascinating. I think Colbert has taught us this in a completely non-leadership emotional way. If you look at the countries who have, who are managing covert, what they are doing is managing the virus outbreaks in hotspots in terms of postcodes. And why is this postcard getting more?

Cases and other postcodes and the BioTracker as the folks who are ringing around to figure out where have those people being are figuring out such a cluster hotspots somewhere because three or four people were in the same venue. And then that became super spreader. So I suspect what you’ve just described.

We’re learning that in a very different environment today with a pandemic, same leadership, discipline applies. Go through the hotspots. They’re uncomfortable. Figure out what’s going on there sometimes it’s noise, but actually sometimes it’s a really shit going on there that if you understand that you can try and solve for

Paul: it.

Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And often, something, I’ll give you an example and I think, and again, I think, Deb might talk about it in her book, but, at this energy company that there were these sort of two, two big things that are happening. So the first thing was a huge focus on innovation.

And how do we get an innovation team started? And of course, from when you think about energy, it’s actually one of the most interesting and potentially innovative areas, w whether we look at electric vehicles or just the future of non-carbon producing energy.

And the energy space is a sexy place to be at the moment. Who knew, Silicon Valley is interested. It’s you’ll get invited to the right parties. It’s it’s okay to be an energy company. I used to be boring now. It’s so there’s that aspect. And then you have, in the case of this client, this idea of.

The reality, which is much of the energy is, using, lignite or Brown coal, or less environmentally responsible, ways of using energy. And so this sort of paradox of, we both need to. Innovate and move into the green energy and yeah, the reality, which is our whole history as an organization has been built on a foundation of this, of coal, and how do we allow ourselves to both end that part?

to give it its due. It’s a place in history to not make it wrong. it, wasn’t what it was. And we made choices at a time where maybe we didn’t know as much, or maybe we made the wrong choice, but this idea of organizations noticing where are things dying and where are they growing and to be able to give both attention, I think allow, I think the extent that you can end things well will predetermine how.

Effectively, you can start new things. Yeah. And I think, for a lot of folks and organizations, there’s this desire to only talk about the future and the positive aspects of where we’re going and innovation and, L in any organization or family or the individual, there are other parts that need to be attended to which may be are falling away and don’t have as big a place, but need to be respected.

Pod: Yeah, it’s certainly a mistake. I see many new, C level CEOs or any businesses leader who comes in from the outside. It join a business, our takeover and our organization, and that is rushing to embrace the future, but not honoring the past, even if they, you were given a mandate, even if they’re brought in with a specific mandate.

To get ready for the future. Not I’m not honoring the past me. They are all virtually dishonoring, everybody other team who was there as part of the past. And it’s a very over, and it’s a genuine mistake in the sense that the leader doesn’t intend to do that, but their speed to us, to the future without acknowledging the reason we’re here is because of where we came from and the great work you did to get us here.

Is often misunderstood as a very blatant disregard for our history.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. as the great social scientists, Bruce Springsteen said, we can, we can either be, ghosts or ancestors, and so we can be ghosts to who torment and, and haunt. The next generation, or we can be ancestors who resource and support and enable them.

And I think this idea of ending and beginning is so important. and I think, it doesn’t just play out in a, on a highway in New Jersey, but, I think it’s true in organizations, we’ll hear legacy, be a goal or an ancestor. Yeah. and there’s plenty of. Yeah.

Pod: Speaking of legacies, our heard you on another podcast with Joel, from coaches rising a few weeks ago, along with, Bruce and Tammy who were senior leaders in the Roche healthcare organization. And you and I have been. Part of a three or four year long program where we were working with Roche.

So in that podcast, you and Tammy, Bruce described in great detail, the whole history of that program and how it started. So for anyone who’s interested in that story and that whole topic and how indeed an organization decides to or emerges on what, as an extorting transformation, go to the coaches, rising podcasts, and you hear the whole story over there.

What I’m interested in asking you, Paul though, is I know you were one of the early folks involved in creating the potted and then in koala co architecting, I became this great program. My question is either as a leader in an organization who is trying to enable or lead, a transformation of some kind or in day some on the outside who is there to try and help them.

What is needed on behalf of that person to participate or how to show up that then enables our catalyzes. What becomes a transformation?

Paul: Yeah, I’m pausing. Cause it’s such a, it’s such a big question that I wish I had a, I wish I had a right answer to, it would save an awful lot of people, an awful lot of time.

Pod: Cause I suspect the answer is not the obvious. I suspect the answer is more about who you be as opposed to the gray strategy and what you do.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. so yeah, the obviously, not the, obviously the things that have become self-evident, having done this is if you go in say any large scale chain, it doesn’t have to be a 94,000 person multinational, It could be. Small family business. But the idea that if you cannot go in any longer, I think with a clear set of here are the eight steps that we’re going to take to get from a to B. I think the oral changes is changing too fast. Technology is changing too fast. You’ve got these black Swan events like COVID whatever’s next.

that’ll always impact that. And so I think this idea of taking an emergent approach. Which I think frees up consultants and coaches a great deal, because you don’t need to have answers to things you couldn’t possibly have answers to. but what you do need to do is, set a specific course of travel.

So I think this idea, and sometimes we’ll talk about this as a what’s the frame. So what’s the from, to what’s the big movement that we don’t know how we’re going to make. We actually don’t even know. All of what’s going to be required to make it, but how do we make that? And so in the case that ed Roshan and many other organs, at a high level, there was this sense of becoming a more agile enterprise.

this ability for a big complex organization that runs off of very long term. R and D cycles. how do you become more nimble? How do you begin to respond to the needs of customers? The needs of patients and, having a CEO who had a vision around, what do you term as a person utilized healthcare?

So this idea that medicine can be increased singly, personalized through the use of. Emerging diagnostic techniques and emerging, drugs and medicines. So that was this, point on the horizon, is we need to somehow be more of that. And then I think that they set up a few more hard rules, which is we’re going to experiment a lot.

We’re going to build in a toleration for experimentation. So one of the things that we did there that I think was important at the very beginning was. We brought the executive team into the process of this, program that we’re running culture. And he says that was, targeting the top two or 300 liters there.

And actually had them design themselves. Around, how are they going to respond when people start trying things differently? So you’re saying you want people to be more innovative. You want more innovation and ideas and change to happen down in the organization. So how are you going to be intentional about not stifling that because and all it takes in a board presentation is one roll of the eye or one look away, one red marker on

Pod: the property slide.

Paul: You don’t really want this. Yeah, exactly. and, to their credit, they did a great job of actually coming up with a set of, I think it was times seven or eight principals. And, and they participated in the program and would, there were involved as a stakeholder and a, when we were short, always, make sure we sent out the reminder of, remember what we agreed to, and, and they really embraced it.

And I think. The two things combined of senior leaders experimenting re-imagining what’s possible with the top team. Not necessarily endorsing it yet because there was these aren’t necessarily endorsing bubble ideas, but encouraging, like I get this as difficult. I can imagine this is going to require a tremendous amount of change, much of that.

We’re not sure if we could do. But we want to encourage the direction you’re headed. I keep going, and, so I think, those two things feel important. I don’t mean to say that you always have to have the executive team fully on board. it’s certainly always helps, but having, I think senior leaders design themselves around.

How they’re going to react when members of their team start coming with very bold, very courageous, sometimes misguided ideas. And, cause they can shut that whole thing down right away. Or they can keep the possibility open and actually mentor and sponsor and help direct. Yeah.

Pod: So it’s the vision for possibility.

How do you keep leaning into that?

Paul: Yeah.

Pod: coming to the end of our conversation. and I’m interested in, we’re recording this in August, 2020, clearly 2020 has been an extraordinary year for everybody in the world on many levels, but particularly for leaders in the world who have probably been, confronted with the most complexity of their careers, I would imagine because it intersects with the complexity of their lives at the same time.

I’m wondering, what are you noticing about leaders who are managing to navigate well at the moment, in terms of what are the patterns you’re noticing about them, either on what they’re doing or what they’re thinking about this, allowing them to navigate the, a really strange situation that we’re all in.

And it might be just slightly better than everybody else, but it’s enough to be amplified. The impact the ripple effect is having.

Paul: I think it’s this, it’s an interesting article. It just, I think it’s a McKinsey quarterly, this latest edition, but it’s on the, the power of personal purpose right now. And I think that’s been a lot said about organizational purpose and, even team purpose and, it was a nice sort of, look into, and it’s something that I know you and I have believed in a long time, which is, leaders need to leaders who are really clear about why they’re showing up and, it’s a borrow, language of, our.

our friend, Bob Anderson, how do they make their life, their message, And I know what my message is. Yeah. And so in a moment where there are no right choices where everything feels like some version of less bad, what do I lean into? Yeah. and. in a place where the playbook has gone, I think for many of these organizations, certainly with COVID, but I also think with technology I’m and I just was reading an article about the, I was the head of Warner, Media, being unceremoniously dismissed and this collapse of old Hollywood and the next Netflix , of the entertainment industry, which not everyone is positive about, but, That will continue to happen and it’ll continue to happen at an accelerated basis. And so if that’s the case, I feel like that sense of personal purpose, that inner anchor, that. Inner narrative, sometimes about this idea of narrative identity, what’s the story I’m living, who I, who and who am I in that bigger story of what’s unfolding.

And I think when you work leaders around that, and the leaders have noticed that have done actually. In some ways thrived and really stood out is, people are just super clear what they’re about, when everything seemed, whenever the lights go out, it’s like, there are these sort of beacons of right.

we’ll go that way. Yeah. And, yeah. And so then they come in. All right. Levels, all stripes. it’s, there’s no demographic or seniority that I point to, but it’s, when the tide goes out, who’s, you can see who’s not wearing pants aspect. And I think when difficult times come in, you can see the leaders who actually have done their work.


Pod: yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. You say that because I’ve noticed the leaders. Yeah, as you said, have a strong sense of purpose for themselves and for the organization that they’re leading. And I’ll say not obviously, but often they are very linked. They then tend to be able to lean into relationships far more often.

And in fact, they had the increased, the frequency of relationships and team meetings during these kinds of pandemic moments. And they tend to like you mentioned reactive and creative language. When we talk about leadership circle, they tend to be able to lean a whole lot more into the vision and the possibility.

And therefore lead from those kinds of, creative competencies and then the ability to think across the system. And I agree with you, they, it stems from, they are clear about all the realization needs to do, and they’re very clear on their role in that. And then it gives a lot of confidence to everybody else.

So the fact that if anything, I think confidence becomes contagious.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. But, and then what you mentioned, I think is worth just highlighting, which is this, I would argue even absent sort of the disruptive moments, right now this idea of, relationships. in the, in, again, coming back to the leadership circle model, this idea of relating as being your point of leverage, bill, our friend and colleague, bill Adams will often say, who’s in the room when you’re not, how do you scale you?

these sort of, maybe those are in a way on escapable questions in themselves. But, the reality, which is all of the intellect, all of the capability, all of the ability to make things happen, set against the challenges moving forward, will overwhelm. even the most perfect leader, And so the ability for leaders to bring others into their story, to use that sort of power of connection of relationship of helping people see themselves in the bigger narrative of, doing the David Troy, move of holding a possibility for people long enough for them to believe it themselves.

I think those are the kinds of leaders who. are going to really thrive and come out of this period as being the ones that organizations lean into most. no one in the room versus being the one who makes the room smarter is going to be really, differentiated. Yeah. we need smarter rooms, not smarter.

Yeah, smart people got us here. So that’s,

Pod: coming to the end. I’ve got two final questions for you. And they’re the same two. I ask everybody in this whole series. First one is given all of the wisdom you’ve now accumulated. And I’m assuming there’s lots of wisdom. In fact, I know there’s lots of wisdom given all the wisdom you accumulated, what would you now it’s held a 35 year old version of yourself.

Paul: I think the first thing I’d say is, it’s going to be okay. it’s, I almost wish every 25 30, like it’s going to be OK. most of what you’re worried about right now has absolutely no bearing on where your life is headed. figure out who you are, resist the temptation to be who you think you’re supposed to be, or who people tell you need to be.

and if you can find a way to have what you do be the only thing you could do, you’re going to have a great. A great run, and, be good to your friends, love your family. And, I wouldn’t say the rest will take care of itself, but the rest will just happen. Yeah.

So you’re going to be okay. I could have used that. So I’ll have my 80 year old self tell me. 50, almost 52. I’ll apply that to retrospectively

Pod: brilliant. And the last question, and I know that Marcella and your wife, and I share a huge interest in going to live gigs. And we have a share that what he said, but what is your favorite band or indeed your favorite song?

Paul: Oh, gosh. Yeah. yeah, she’d definitely give you a much more updated, answer, to that. she’s more in tune with what’s going on. but it’s such a, you had sent that email and I was thinking about it and I re. So it’s an album, it was, it came out the summer. I turned 16 and it was, Bruce Springsteen’s born in the USA.

huh. And whether it was born in the USA or I’m on fire or. The whole of side B aging myself was an actually it was a record. it, and it was, like I had known Bruce before, but there was something about that album hitting. the summer I turned 16 and I actually have my middle son turns 16 this summer.

And so I was thinking about, just, it it’s this moment in time when, whenever I see that sort of, Bruce’s rear end with the baseball hat and that iconic album, I just, I can place myself. I know the beach, I know the. I think growing up in new England, which is, it’s not New Jersey, but we weren’t a world away.

there was so much of what he spoke to. I think born in the USA was the first time I’d actually really paid attention to the, the lyrics of, disillusionment and, in a way, a lot of. it’s played as some patriotic battle a ballad, but when you actually listened to the lyrics yeah.

it’s also partly an indictment of choices that have been made and sort of the work class. and I’ve always loved, I was the first live concert I ever saw was Bruce Springsteen. And, I know you’re. So big on storytelling, but I always think, when you go to a bruce Springteen concert, it’s 60% stories, then 40% music, it’s just his, whether he talks about, getting his draft notice or his arguments with his dad, or, and then it’ll just seamlessly flow into a song.

I just, I find his, that ability to to tell a story, and to create a narrative, part of what I also love about him is, and he says this in his, Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, the Netflix show, which if you have access to it, as I highly recommend that, even if you’re not a Bruce Springsteen fan, it’s phenomenal theater, but this idea of someone who, never had a blue collar job, never worked nine to five.

Never made a living with his hands and he became the official spokesperson

Pod: for the whole world. And

Paul: as he says in the Broadway show, I’m not good with this idea of how you construct an identity, and that he. Channeled his father and his town and, forever more around the world.

When you say Asbury park, for most of us, a very specific person comes to mind. So yeah, Bruce born in the USA.

Pod: Okay. My first major outdoor concerts of my life was Bruce Springsteen. The year after the album came out, it’s slaying castle in Ireland, there was 70,000 people and it was his first.

  big outdoor

Pod: concert. I was extraordinary. And my 14 year old son has just fallen in love with Springsteen on Broadway and every time he and I in the car together, that’s all he wants to hear. And just to hear the stories behind the songs. So living legend is a, is Springsteen.

Paul: we talk a little bit about, what is it to be self aware?

And it’s part of why I love. that, is Broadway a one man show, is it is a masterclass in taking memory and making meaning. Yeah. And being able to somehow weave that together into, an evolved identity and, Yeah, just, it’s just speaks to so much of what we would all hope we’re well to do in a well lived life.

And, I also love the fact that I think is, I think his oldest son is firemen and, someone else’s a musician. So there was this, disability to escape the trap of, are you a ghost or an ancestor? I suspect he’s, he’s an ancestor. And as children, not a haunting ghost of, can you be a success?


Pod: Paul, it’s been a, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show today, and it’s been a pleasure working with you for the years that we have. And I know for a fact that there’s hundreds of leaders who think about by leadership pre Paul Bern and my leadership post Paul Bern, and in terms of the impact you’ve had on them.

And, I suspect today’s show will give listeners who don’t know who you are, insights into the golden nuggets that you just bring to the table every time we have a conversation. Thank you, sir.

Paul: Thank you. Thank you.

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Ep 6. Trust, Teams and Competing Commitments

Dr. Pauline Lee is a specialist in teaming. Her PhD looked at trust within leadership teams and how to accelerate the development of same.
She shares;
  • What is trust.
  • How is it different from Psychological Safety?
  • Why is it even important?
  • How to develop trust amongst team members
  • What is different about working in Federal Government teams compared to the private sector.
  • What is immunity to change?
  • How do competing commitments impact new years eve promises!
  • How to self coach out of a slump?


Pod: glad to have you here.

Pauline: Oh, awesome. Delighted to be here part

Pod:  All the way from Cavan in  Ireland via Melbourne . How cool is that?

Pauline: Yeah, it’s a bit of a distance or 10,000 miles, but hey, it doesn’t feel like that far away.

Pod: Not at all. Before we turn on the record button this morning, Pauline, I had a quick look on Amazon and I typed in, into the book section of Amazon, the word trust, just to see how many books will be written there.

And there’s over 50,000 books available on Amazon on trust. And within that group, a large section or within the business section. Now you did a whole PhD looking at trust and looking at trust specifically within teams. So that’s probably fair to say you understand a lot of the science of this whole area.

So maybe let’s start with the real basics. What is trust and why is it important for teams?

Pauline: A great question. And so at a very basic level, trust is the willingness to take a risk. And so there are different factors of trustworthiness. It could be reliance, disclosure, competency, vulnerability, but essentially that the bedrock in which it sits on is this willingness to take a risk in the other person.


Pod: in the other person?. That sounds interesting. So what does that mean…in  the other person?

Pauline: Interestingly, when I was studying trust probably about 20 years ago, I hadn’t come across psychological safety that much, which is used a lot now in terms of teams and Amy Edmondson has done quite a bit of fabulous work on that.

And trust is very much focused on…are willing to  take risks, engage, depend on others?And it’s between, two people, or you can scale that out where it’s within a team where psychological safety is more the willingness to admit a mistake or say what needs to be said without any humiliation or without been being ashamed.

And that’s seen more at a cultural, it’s more than team level or at a cultural level. Okay. is there a willingness to actually say what needs to be said in this group? So that’s trust at a very basic level. It’s used interchangeably with psychological safety, but they are two different concepts.

Pod: So why is trust important in a team setting

Pauline: it’s foundational to almost everything that needs to happen in a team. Many of your listeners will probably be familiar with Lencioni’s work and he puts it at the base of the pyramid. You need to have trust in order to have robust dialogue, creative tension and so on.

But if you think about it, If we were in a team together, we can be very aligned on our goals. We could, be very clear on the strategy in terms of reaching those goals. However, at a personal or interpersonal level. If you have been breaching some expectations we have together in terms of, you can rely on me for this or I’m not being honest in how I’m showing up.

Or, I say I do something, but I don’t do it. So I lack integrity. Then it doesn’t matter how amazing your shared goals are or how clear your priorities are. if that trust is not there, you won’t be able to bring the, the team priorities, the team vision to life. I think it’s at the heart.

Yeah, I think it’s at the heart of high performing teams.

Pod: The way you describe it there, if it feels like it’s a real lubricant for the relationship without the relationship could feel mechanistic, maybe, whereas the trust kind of helps it to minimize the friction or accelerate the relationship.

Pauline: That’s right. And relationships is one of the pillars. rich relationships, deep reports, one of the pillars of high performing teams, but you can have a very transactional relationship. Like you keep it at a very surface level. We’re really only exchanging data, facts and, wants and needs.

But if I can drop into my feelings and appropriately disclose some judgments, that takes the relationship to a whole new level and to actually need a level of trust to do that, you need to be able to take some willingness. To be open to being vulnerable. I’m typically brought in to work with teams that are perceived to have some level of dysfunction.

And it’s usually starts with Joe. Doesn’t get on with Micah. They don’t trust each other, So it usually starts with exactly. And of course we often know that there’s so many other problems that are contributing to that trust. it’s not just trust in itself, so it’s pivotal to, teams, but also you mean, if you think about family systems, family systems break down because there’s a breach of trust.

So it’s everywhere. in our one-on-ones our family life, our team life.

Pod: So what let’s all, wait, when you’re brought into an organization like that or to a team like that, what are some of the fundamentals you’re looking for to help you understand what the level of trust is or what level of trust is missing?

Pauline: I take a very systemic view to trust and the brief will be. There’s infighting. There is cliques. There’s some sort of, the underbelly of the team is impacting on the performance. And so they’ll say, come in and fix the trust. And so I go, I said to myself, what else is happening at a systemic level that may be either increasing the trust or decreasing the trust.

So one of the first things I do is. Engage in some degree of inquiry and discovery around the factors that are actually impacting them trust levels. And I think going in with just the client’s perception of what they think is the root cause of it is limiting because then often not seeing them full picture.

So that would be my first thing. And, just to get to the practicalities of that, now there’s some grace, psychologically psychological safety trust scans that you can. You said zero in on the level of trust, like the fearless organizational scan by any chance. But I would just look at the whole picture.

what’s happening in the organization in terms of the provision of resources or budget or competing priorities that might be creating friction within the team. So look outside the team and then look within the team. how aligned are they on? What, on what they need to be doing collectively as a team?

What is their approach to dealing with friction? Intention and conflict. And often I find they don’t have one. And so therefore they actually classic at the moment. There’s one team I’m working with and there are suboptimal levels of trust. And. How they have characterized, the low levels of trust is that I find it disrespectful.

If you interfere in my individual line of accountabilities, it’s disrespectful. If you offer me advice, And so there is an implicit norm that’s been created in that team that actually we are not expected. We’re not allowed to actually be acting not only on behalf of the team, but advice on each other’s respective units.

so that’d be the first step. Doing a diagnosis.

Pod: And it sounds like in that process, you’re helping the team to understand the situation that it’s in within the bigger context of the team sits on a wider organization or a wider industry. So they can see how the system might be helping the team. But at the same token, give an example.

You just said there you’re pointing out where here’s some of the norms that you guys have. Is that helpful or is that hindering yours? what do you think about that?

Pauline: That’s right. That’s right. And actually. I find. Starting that process in itself helps to open up conversations at a collective level that the otherwise wouldn’t have.

And so you’re starting the process of building trust

Pod: before you’ve even started the actual process. Correct.

Peter Hawkins from the UK whom you and I both know and love, has a phrase that says, I trust you enough as an I trust that you will do your best. I trust that if the, if you’re not going to complete what you’ll do, then you let me know, but I don’t need to trust you completely because yeah. How many of us trust other people completely.

But what’s your sense of what’s the level of trust needed in a team to move from? Let’s say, okay. Performance to good performance or to very good performance or even high performance. What kind of level of trust is needed for that?

Pauline: No, I don’t think you can. I don’t think you put a number on it, but I think it is it’s in your heart that, you can be fully authentic.

With your team members. And you can say what needs to be said. It’s okay. To actually discuss the tough stuff and not be punished for us. So a team will know when there is sufficient trust in the system for them to be able to do their job well, because think about it. If anyone member. Is holding back for fear of being punished or sideline or, often it’s, I don’t want to be, my, I don’t want it to jeopardize my promotion, so I’m not going to push back on the CEO.

So that is going on in the background. Therefore, there are ideas that are not being heard. There are, challenges that are not being put on the table. And so as result, it’s impacting decision-making, it’s impacting problem solving quality. and overall, I think. Impacts on the degree of energy and passion.

You truly break. Cause when we’re authentic, we bring our full selves. We, our hearts shine. So I think you need full trust. I think you need as much trust as you possibly can. Engender.

Pod: In order to get that discretionary effort, that extra passion, that the collective effort together. I’m interested partly in terms of, if I am sitting on a leadership team and I’m sensing that it’s unsafe for me to vocalize something or in the past I have contributed and I’ve been smacked down in some way or other.

And then we bring in this leadership expert called Pauline Lee to help us. Develop that, what kind of processes would you be asking of me? what kind of questions would I need to be thinking about or what kind of habits or skills would need to be developing in order for me to become more trusting of my colleagues?

Pauline: That’s a great question. And yes, there’s lots of ways in which we can help a team foster higher levels of trust. So after I would have done there, Inquiry tour, reveal that back to the team and got them to decide on what are the most important things that they need to work on to gel and collaborate more as a team we’d go off and do some of that, which is typically is team chartering stuff.

get our heads around why we exist as a team, get our heads around our team strategy and so on. typically a lot of teams without external guidance. Hasn’t done a lot of work around explicitly talking about their values and the behaviors and how do we want to show up with each other collectively?

So we do that piece of work and guess what happens after, a team coach comes in and does that work 70% of the times? That as a team agrees, values and behaviors. Great intentions really wants to commit with that chapter. You were talking about that, has been holding back now commits to stepping forward and speaking his truth.

70% of the times, it actually doesn’t get done once you leave the off site. So here’s what I do then, which gets to the juicy part of trying to build trust, which is. I’ll come back into the team and I’ll say, how have you been traveling with them? Those values and behaviors, which ones of them have you been succeeding on and which ones have you been struggling with?

And usually there will be there’s enough trust in the system. And if it’s not, I will, words the team leader up to step out in front and. Model some vulnerability, but typically the leader, the team will speak to an area that they’re struggling with. So let me give you an example, authenticity, they might say, look, it’s hard sometimes to truly say what we need to be said because of X, Y, and Z.

And they’ll often use time as an excuse or there’s too much stuff in the agenda. And so one of the methodologies that I use then to really help them. Unpack, what is going on in respect to authenticity or some shared of trust is an eclectic community change process. I think that’s one of the most robust.

Methodologies for helping them get past the stickiness of being fearful to trust each other. So that’s one of the ways

Pod: I want to jump to that in a few minutes. Cause the image, the change is. Process designed out of Boston that I’d like is to share a bit more in a few minutes. But before we get to that, it sounds like what you’re doing is you’re holding the team’s feet to the fire and getting them to engage in, into a conversation to try and figure out.

We said, we would do X, we had good intentions about X, but X hasn’t happened. So now how do we really uncover the reasons why it hasn’t happened?

Pauline: And if a team doesn’t have the commitment or the energy or the budget to do. More involved processes like that. I think at a, maybe at a more simple What I’m trying to get more trust in the team, the system, the fabulous technique that I found is working really is say one of, one of the issues is. I’m afraid to speak up. And so I would identify that behaviors that are green, the ones we really want the team to endorse and the ones that are red, like holding back.

Asking each team member to pick red and a green card. And over the course of the next couple of weeks, they are to proactively give their team members feedback on the display of those behaviors, which can be done individually or collectively. And that just starts to move them out off. They’re their safe space, where they don’t want to speak.

And so that’s been quite helpful in getting feedback. Which is a demonstration of trust if it’s done constructively, but also the person speaking about their experience of team members,

Pod: your story of the red and green card. It just reminded me of an experience I had about 10 out years ago, working with the leadership team and the, in the broader, defense industry.

And this particular CEO has come out of the defense industry and therefore was used to leading organizations through the lens of being in the military. And therefore had a very strong Authoritarian sense of the world. And in this particular of team meeting, we had got the team to a place where they were able to vocalize this was their concern.

And more importantly, the concern was that this particular leader lost his temper ferociously on a regular basis, which as you can imagine, led to lower levels of trust, of him by his team. And by the same token, the leader, to be fair to him, was completely oblivious to this. And so  when we got the team to a place to be able to share that with him, he was completely shocked.

And I think hurt for what he had caused in terms of  the pain and the potential barriers he was creating. So one of his colleagues said to him, I’ll tell you what, John, you’re a huge soccer fan. How about this? How about we create a series of red cards and every time you’re about to lose your temper

and indeed when you have, we will show you a red card, which is a signal to you just to stop talking so right this minute. So the guy agreed to it.

And the first week he got 26 red cards!

Pauline: Oh,

Pod: in my review and the week that he’s gone, I can’t believe it was 26 rate cards. Like I’d been sent off the field 26 times, but you know what?

within six months he was down to a one card a month. I E the process. A visual feedback. You said, encouraging people to use visual notions of cards or whatever symbol to nudge you to our particular behavior, to nudge you to our project, going to change, then accelerates all this stuff like trust and then, and like leaning in.

And that particular organization transformed themselves over about a four or five year period. Convinced the starting point was the leader, recognizing that I am the barrier to trust. And then therefore I need to shift

I’m guessing 99% of. Articles or books that we read about leadership and leadership teams are in the commercial setting. there’s a PNL, there is a stakeholders. there is a, profit orientation of some kind yet most of the work you do, isn’t a very different sector and an equally important sector.

And that’s federal government and working with leadership teams in federal government. Can you tell us from your experience, what, so what are some of the core differences between being a leadership team in a federal government type environment relative to a commercial setting?

Pauline: There are. Key organizational differences.

So the drivers are different. The stakeholders have different, yes. Minister is taxpayers. They, organizational culture tends to be quite different in that, in the public sector, especially those big departments, thousands and thousands of people in them, very here, hierarchal. there’s a chain of command.

There is. A sense of legacy being attached to what we’ve done before. So we’re going to continue doing it. And they’ll escalate Wayne, crawling to passivity. it’s a kind of dance between the two and the other biggie. That’s different is. Business processes and systems. And so let me explain, like the one that I encounter a lot of is people systems, they approach their tech to hiring, firing, managing, and developing staff is different to what you might see in a Sikh or an ad set because a band one level, which is the SES, very senior leadership level.

Talent development team who sends the team leader, that’s who’s going in your team. And so often they don’t have the same input or decision making rights around

Pod: who on my team.

Pauline: And if you think of, Hackman and Wagman’s. Research around the conditions for high performing team, the right people on the bus is a critical condition.

So that’s often hampered for them. And similarly, I’ve actually supported a couple of transformational programs, in the departments and particularly working with the leadership team in terms of their effectiveness. I don’t know if I could say I saw through any one of them too. It’s completely three years because the leaders move around a loss.

And so that’s why culture change is very challenging. Any form of transformational effort is challenging because they’re not there to see it through. And then another leader your comes in and puts their own. Stamp on it

Pod: for a leader who joins the public sector, say from a private sector background and is brought in to potentially bring a change orientation with them.

They’re going to encounter a very strong historical stable system that may well be in the way of that request.

Pauline: Absolutely. And that’s the STEM wants to maintain equilibrium. And You need a very, typically the leader needs to be fairly high up in the organization and has excellent change leadership skills to, to really.

Engage people into a different way of working and I’ve seen us in places. And just as we’re moving the needle, the leader goes elsewhere is gone too. yeah.

Pod: Yeah. At the same token, I would imagine passion for the service of that department. Passion for what government is trying to do is he as also a key characteristic of the leaders that you

Pauline: work with.

Oh, I mean their commitment and their passion and their love for working in the public sector is next to none. Most of the leaders I work with, they’re not there for the money. They could be making 10 times that in the private sector and they’re often headhunted. Next to none, they’re there for what they’re contributing to the bigger, at the bigger picture in Australia.

and they work extremely hard. The really do, the work ethic is very strong. and the one, one of the things I’ve been working in federal government now for, close to 15 years. And one of the things I’ve noticed is that. It is increasingly getting more sophisticated at developing its people and developing its leaders.

Like it’s not. As focused on that corporate page training, where you’re just, adding in some knowledge and skills and things go, they’re doing, they are starting to do more, truly personal transformational work. And that’s very exciting, to see that happen because that’s. That’s where that’s, where leaders need to be doing the work.

Pod: We hope you’re enjoying this episode of the leadership diet. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on whatever podcast player you are listening to this on reviews on iTunes and Spotify. I greatly appreciate it. You talked about passion. You talk about, service to community. Talk about long hours. What have you noticed?

over the last few months as the whole world has been encountering covert and particularly at a federal level, whose job of course is to manage the whole country. As we, as we respond to this environment, what’s been your experience as some of the leadership teams that you’re supporting through this process?


Pauline: I have, I have one client who’s been right on the firing line and, in respect to their handling of some of the issues in COVID-19 and in, and it actually has brought the team, this leadership team closer together, and it is highlighted to them where their deficiencies are as a collective.

And they realized that actually, if we continue just to represent our own individual Eunice, we cannot overcome these challenges that are coming at us. Cause they’re coming at us at, fast and furious. So the upside of that is that they used a bridge done to help them have a team breakthrough.

And so that’s been very helpful, but in terms of email general level, I think. Many of my clients who are typically, a DEP sec level or a band two level band won initially in covert they’re paused. Or the rescheduled and they’ve started to come back now and it’s being totally overwhelmed and working long hours and juggling this juggle between work, working from home and kids 24 seven, how do I actually lead a virtual team as well as all the extra policy stuff they have to do for COVID.

And They truly, and I’m saying this generally, not all, but I’d say the majority of them feel over the, in, over their head, So at a personal level, say a client that might’ve been working on, believe in herself, really. Being able to dial down perfectionism and knowing that, actually I can do this.

I can, I am confident. that just blew up a million times more during this COVID. So that’s been a familiar theme. I think the second theme at a team level is that, there’s a fear by some of the team leaders that some of these teams now that they’ve developed a new working patterns and the more freedom of having to be more self managing, more resilient, less control, less micromanaging, and many clients are talking now about God that there needs to be a reentry.

There needs to be aware of bringing them back after all, this is all over, whatever the new world looks like. And relaunching them because actually they’ve experienced something. And once you’ve seen something, you can’t see it. So

Pod: plastic bags

So I’ve had some exposure to some of the, frontline government departments who are dealing with, code and all its implications. And my overall respect for leaders in partying in the health and policy areas has just gone through the roof. In the sense of, as you said, and not only are they experiencing life in a different way, same as everybody else.

I walk in from home, managing families, managing out of school stuff at the same token, they’re trying to manage a pandemic in a way that we had no one’s ever experienced before. And therefore there’s no playbook. in a department that typically uses best practice as a way to manage stuff and then face up to the media every single morning with, here’s the newest, latest way.

And at the same token have to manage what would be seen as a normal mistake in any other environment. But in the current environment is seen as almost like a punishable process. So I want some of those leaders lead and some of these I’m working with who are working 80, 90, a hundred hours a week doing extraordinary work for society.

And then that’s the piece that keeps getting me it’s for society.

Pauline: Yeah. they’re amazing human beings and I have enormous love and respect for them. And My job is to help them see that if you take the finger off your own development that actually, you’re just doing what you’ve always done before,  gently nudging them to actually use this time to work on your edges because the edges are now very edgy and it’s when the GC work and this started, the there’s many of them starting to do that work.

They’re ready. and they’ve still got a distance to go to. they’ve got a lovely learning lab to practice in.

Pod: Can I take you back to something you said a few minutes ago, you talked about immunity to change. Before we jump into that, I’m sure there’s many folks who are very familiar with the process of a maybe new year’s Eve or new year’s day or the first week of January having a really big plan and a really great intention.

And then three weeks later, nothing has really shifted. And that then the repeat that a year later, and a year later,

Pauline: I can

Pod: relate to that. I can relate to that as well. And the, but the whole idea of competing commitments, the idea I’m committed to doing one set of actions and unconsciously, I’m committed to doing something that will actually be the opposite.

And then therefore there’s a neutralizing effect really is the underlying thinking behind this process called immunity to change. Can you, first of all, tell us what is immunity to change and where it came from.

Pauline: Community change is a methodology developed by Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey. And it emerged from years and years of research that Keegan has done on adult development and how to shift from one stage of development to the next.

And in this research, he said, how do I actually make this practical for practitioners to use, with them, with their clients and with themselves. So immunity to change is. Very unique helps to aluminate. What are the invisible barriers? What are those competing commitments as you spoke about that are holding you back from your improvement goal.

So think of it like this, you’ve all, we’ve all got like a biological immune system. So the purpose of your immune system is to keep you safe, but it sometimes gets it wrong. your biological system sometimes rejects antibodies or an organ transmit. It’s not sophisticated enough to know what to accept or reject.

Similarly, we have a psychological immune system that is our form of self protection. It’s there to protect us from dangers from bad things, but it’s also getting it wrong. Sometimes it’s protecting us from dangers that are not there. They’re simply not there. And so your psychological immune system keeps you immune holds you back from your improvement goals.

So if I was to roll with the listening coaching goal, this client, I want to listen more effectively. And when I get through the process, the client realizes actually. My form of sub protection. my competing commitment is I’m committed to being noticed. I’m committed to being seen as the smartest, most valuable person in the room.

So I end up talking more. And if I, it comes from fears and worries of off not being seen as valuable. And so you want to prevent those worries from ever realizing it’s actually, the psychological immune system is very clever because it brilliantly tells us that those dangers are going to happen.

And then it creates the counterproductive behaviors that goes against your improvement goal.

Pod: So that explains why many millions of us, have a regular pattern. Every January in the sense of part of us wants to reach for this new aspiration. And part of it also wants to protect ourselves from changing from the current.

Pauline: The protection is fear based. So it comes from our ego fears and our ego limitations. dieting is a billion dollar industry. And it is a billion dollar industry because I think in part we’re using technical means to solve it. So if you were to run immunity to change on that, my improvement goal is to be healthier and lose weight for whatever reason.

And you go off and you deal with the usual things, sleep better, stop drinking five nights a week, but when you stop there, We’re ignoring the bigger complexity that’s at play that actually causes us to, or not be healthy in the first place. And that’s what the immunity change methodology surfaces, because it says, okay, so imagine you were to say no to your partner’s desertion of Friday nights.

Oh dear or, yeah. And what worry would you have? And he, or she might say, God, am I in sold them? Or actually, I actually enjoy it because it means I don’t have to talk to them. Imagine you didn’t overeat when you felt sad. Ah, I would have to then deal with my own pain. And so on one hand, they want to help your lifestyle, but there could be a competing commitment I’m committed to not actually dealing with the pain.

I’m committed to nominate. I’m committed to not actually have an anonymous conversation with X, Y, and ed. And so until you actually work with what’s going on in terms of your beliefs, your assumptions, your fears. You don’t have the full picture. I

Pod: would imagine pulling that at a human level, forget leadership level, but at a human level pandemic that we’re all sitting in 2020 has unleashed a whole range of fears.

I might’ve been sitting at Bay or cause the environments we’re sitting in either at home or within our work environment or. Some of those fears get prompted louder than we might’ve expected. And then they impact us as a leader. Have you had any experience either for yourself or elsewhere the way you or you’ve noticed and it’s because of just the recent experiences as opposed to an ongoing development for the person.

Pauline: That old saying that, painter’s house is never, the paint is never the paintings never as great. There is.

Absolutely. And I had a first hand experience of all of this, myself this year. So when the first lockdown happened in Melbourne, I was just overwhelmed with. How topsy turvy my life became because the nature of management consultancy work. We’re very much out in the field face to face with our clients.

And, nevermind me that face to face with clients the work stopped or paused, or the cam got kicked down the road and then school came into our. Front sitting room and, kids 24 seven. So it was very overwhelming. And I find my whole mental system being attacked. Like I was. Feeling a lot of stuff that I thought I’d dealt with a decade ago and all of this just got resurfaced and I was feeling quite anxious and, had a lot of self doubt.

And how am I going to survive this? And then I said to myself, what would I advise my clients? What would I do with them? I actually would take an X Ray of what’s going on and I would use an approach like the immunity, she didn’t change. And so I did that on myself. I took out my four column map and actually I was just creating so many assumptions and allowing my inner critic to be in full flight.

And it actually, the beauty of ITC is that it just shines the torch on the nonsense. We can be actually telling ourselves. So it’s so for me, yeah. So for me, column one improvement goal was to believe in myself that. I actually just don’t want to survive. I want to thrive in this pandemic.

And then I realized in my column for my big assumption was that I assume I’m not enough for this moment. I assume that I can’t work. I don’t know how to do all this stuff virtually. And my competing commitment was actually letting go of the past. I loved my working life. I loved my family life pre COVID and I just didn’t.

I was resisting letting go. And so as a result of resisting, I was creating these stories that clients are not going to want my virtual development work. I don’t have the right technology. I don’t have the right office to set it up virtually it was just a hundred mile, a minute reasons for why this wouldn’t work.

And once I saw it, Then I started to run a safe to fail experiments, just taking really small steps. So one particularly around, that I’m not enough for this moment. I’ve just got beautiful clients in Canberra. There. They’re like family. They’re amazing. And I said to them, I run this, a couple of clients there.

I do, I run a program called the leadership breakthrough program and I said, look it up. I have never run this virtually. It’s always been face to face and we’re doing experiential work around a mass and we’re pulling we’re all in this together. Have a crack at converting this content technology into a virtual format.

And, we give you feedback on work. and so I started to do that and, I learned actually it’s working and this is good stuff. I think what was beautiful about that is a couple of things. One is that I think are our ego fears. They’re always with us. I don’t think we ever fully get rid of the stories we have about ourselves that are formed in childhood or in adolescence or reinforced in adolescents.

The arrow was there. There’s always seeds of them. And I think. We always need to be doing the work. So we don’t let those seeds grow into, plants and weeds that just take over our lives and our effectiveness, but we have to be able to see us before we can do anything about it.

Pod: Thank you for sharing this story because it’s a great illustration of a few things of the immunity to change process, but more important, I think right now is a great illustration of, there are so many of them who had worked really hard to develop the life that we wanted suddenly out of nowhere with no permission it’s been taken from us.

And indeed we could look at it like as being taken from us. and that’s where you were sitting at the time yet. Letting go of the picture. We had allows us the ability to create a new picture, which we have to anyway. Cause they, the world is shifting around us any in between is the hard part is when you’re sitting with your feet on the brake, as you said, that’s a lovely thing coming out of.

Most companies I’m having the moment is, are we coming out? And what does calling out actually look like in the sense of COVID, but, what are you starting to notice for leadership teams or leaders in the sense of how they’re getting ready to come out? Or what are they thinking about as they’re trying to emerge from this situation?

Pauline: I think by and large, a lot of them are still in it and. as one, for example, in Canberra, just as the starting to get some breathing space, Victoria’s numbers went through the roof. And so they’re back re trying to support Victoria. So the still feel very much in it.

But they have a greater appreciation how people’s worldviews their teams, world views, the behaviors, what they’ve experienced will change them forever. And I have had a few talk to me about needing to have some sort of, almost like a relaunch, relaunching the team, like some way of reentering it because they know because of this experience that.

It’s a golden opportunity to harvest those learnings. And it’s highly possible that you could go back into some cozy habits that are really not fabulous. like one of the things I’ve noticed clients doing really well is spending time check in at a personal level, not at a task level, So how are you traveling what’s on your mind? What did you love about this week and bring in some feelings into it? Yep. And so you could easily fall back into where we just. Have our sessions together, our meetings that are focused on the task. So I think clients really want to harvest the good stuff that has organically, sometimes emerged, or indeed has been more formally thought about and to hold on to that.

And then also to be thinking about, okay, come next year. And if it’s a hybrid model or whatever it is, What does our stakeholders now need from us? That’s going to be different. And so them to think about, they’re thinking about what’s our team’s brand now, how do we want what’s our team’s identity so that, so there are some of the focus areas at a team level.

and certainly at an individual level, the way pre COVID, there was a lot of talk about VUCA.

Pod: No, it’s that way.

Pauline: Now clients talk about that acronym, a lot of the time it was consultants that were talking about it, and it’s off the charts. Yeah. Volatility uncertainty, all of that is off the charts and so they’re now realizing actually, how do I match it?

How do I, I don’t want to just survive on certainty and volatility. How do I actually be resilient and be a match for that going forward? So the. There’s a huge willingness and appetite to learn and dig into their own development around that.

Pod: We’re coming to the end of our conversations today. And I’m going to link into the show notes. some of the books that you mentioned, the music change and in over our heads, from, Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey. But before we come to the end, it’s two questions I ask everybody is I’d like to throw them at you if I could.

one is what is your favorite song or band?

Pauline: I smile because I listen to a lot of music now with my two daughters, Aaron and Ashleen and we love Taylor Swift. And I have to say, I love her. I love her. I went to see her reputation tour last year, and it was ah, one of the most awesome life. Performances I’ve ever seen. So absolutely loved Tara, what, if I was ready to go back to my origins, which is the Emerald dial, I love the pokes and one of my favorite songs.

Yay. Love the pugs jam go. And he’s a genius. And one of my favorite songs is, if I should fall from grace with God, the tune is amazing, but the lyrics go to my heart because it’s about, campaigning for free Ireland, which is, my family we’re big on, so I love that one.

Pod: Oh, we’ll link that song in the show notes as well. That’s the question poly is, given all of your experience, given all of the wisdom you’ve gained over the years. what would you now tell the 35 year old version of yourself? And I was at your birthday party last year. So I know you no longer 35.

So what would you tell the 35 year old version of yourself?

Pauline: Lots, but the one that does stick in my heart is lean into where the fears are or. Some form of dance that I might have. So I often reflect on roles. I turn, roles. I didn’t put myself forward for or projects. I didn’t put myself forward because I douses.

I doubted myself. And then when I did actually jump into some of these things in life, That’s where the juices, when you’re on the edge out of your comfort zone, you’re leading over the cliff, but there’s a safety net at the bottom. You’d be fine. That’s where it all was. My grant is growth has been, and I think looking back, I would just say my advice to my 35 is golfer is like lean into is, if it’s reasonably safe, that’s, that’s where I can tap into that potential, that gold, that otherwise can take a long time to surface.

Pod: Fantastic. For anyone who wants to find you or what kind of websites should they be looking at?

Pauline: I got my own websites. So WW dot.  dot com and I’m on LinkedIn and the usual. So social media, things like Facebook and so forth.

Pod: the way we’ll have links to all those in the show notes for anyone who wants to reach out to you, Pauline lo lovely to catch up with you again, but thank you so much for sharing, not just your insights into trust and into.

The beautiful work that government teams do that often goes on NewFest and taken for granted, but also your racing experience of your own change and how you used your own work to help you figure out a difficult situation.

Pauline: It’s a pleasure. Thank you pod

Pod: for half a minute. Thank you for listening to another episode of the leadership diets.

We hope you enjoyed it. Head over to  dot com, where you can subscribe to the podcast, to our blog, retrieve a whole range of resources that we talk about in each episode. And if you are a visual, a bit like myself, there are a range of videos sitting in our YouTube channel that you might find helpful. If you’re enjoying all this a review on iTunes or Spotify would be much appreciated.

See you next time.

Or download as a PDF:

Ep 5. Moving from being frustrated to feeling freedom as a CEO and the impact that can have

Becoming a CEO of a country, a geographical region or a whole business is often an aspiration and yet a very difficult transition and role to hold. What happens when the leader style gets in the way of their desired outcome? How can that leader develop more impactful leadership that betters them, their own life and the business around them.

Stephen Keys, Vice President of IFS a global enterprise software company, talks to his development as a leader and the learnings he has had along the way.

We discuss:

  • Taking on his first expatriate role in Australia when he moved his family from the UK
  • Stepping up into a regional based role for the first time (Asia Pacific and Japan)
  • Understanding how his personal anger impacted those around him
  • What exactly is a ‘shittogram’ and the relationship with that and the English premier league!
  • Taking on a CEO role for the first time
  • The differences between CEO and Group CEO leadership
  • How poetry has helped Stephen
  • Integrating different aspects of his life
  • The IFS foundation and how it is helping people in Sri Lanka
  • What is Lockdown Live Aid!
  • Different types of motivation as a leader

Show notes



Favourite song

Make you feel my love, by Bob Dylan

Favourite poem

Everything Is Going to Be All Right by Derek Mahon

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.



Pod: Welcome Steve, to this episode of the leadership dies so great to have you here and. Thank you for joining us from Singapore.

Stephen: Thank you very much for inviting me along,

Pod: of course, is that keeping your locations to Sydney and Singapore, as opposed to all your usual ones? Steve is a president for Asia pack middle East and Africa.

So I would imagine right now, your travel is pretty limited, Steve.

Stephen: Yes. My carbon footprint is looking far healthier. I suspect

Pod: the fly part is, might be decreasing, but your carbon footprint is also following the same route.

Stephen: They keep emailing me saying it’s okay. My frequent flyer status is being rolled over for goodness knows how many months or years, but it feels good not to be flying quite so much.

Pod: I bet there’s so many topics I want to talk to you about particularly the ifs foundation, which is the one of the charity arms of ifs that you are. Responsible for it as leading from an executive perspective. But before we jump there, I want to take you right back to when you’ve left England, your voice has already given it away.

You’re a, you’re an Englishman. You left England for the first time and moved to, I think it was Australia. In fact, for our Primavera. And I’m interested in your first ex-pat role and looking back then some of the leadership learnings, and maybe even mistakes you made in your first time as an expert leader.

Stephen: I came to Australia in August, 2003, just in time to watching them win the world cup in case you’ve.

Pod: I don’t think we did

Stephen: no. I’ve always had an idea of wanting to live and work overseas. I learned French and German when I was younger at school and stuff, and always wanted to leverage language. I just had a fascination with traveling when I was given the opportunity to relocate with work.

It was a. Strange experience sitting there. I don’t remember ever feeling so small before, and it was very strong sensation of just being just it’s me. And, my oldest boy then, but there was only, it was only one of him around the other one came with him while we’re in Australia.


And, yeah, we just all felt very small in this big old world, settled into a job. So I left, I was running an international channel sales business for an American software company and then joined a private organization, private Australian organization to run their business, here in Australia

Pod: What were the first few months, like for you in that regard.

Stephen: Terrifying at first terrifying. Yeah, it’s very interesting. w the expat experience we will, first of all, looked after. I have to say there was a third party organization that managed our transition, helped out with visas. We had somewhere safe to stay for the first few weeks. They took us out to look at different areas, to find somewhere, to live on a more permanent basis.

they even took us round supermarkets to point out how things are, say, but different, all those sorts of things get back accounts, set up, all that kind of stuff. So that was fantastic. Incredibly useful. So I think it was for me easier because I could throw myself into work and I could immediately make connections through work.

And there was a sense of the relationships, a formal working relationship, and you’re going to be there for a couple of years. So you’re going to invest social capital. One of the problems. I think my wife subsequently divorced one of the, one of the things my wife at the time found really difficult was building relations.

And I think because we were originally on a four, five, seven visa, we ended up becoming permanent residents and then became citizens. But then on a 457 visa, a lot of people, you know what okay. Say, hello? Okay. To get to know you a little bit socially, but they weren’t really prepared to invest social capital because a lot of people are there for two years and they move on to another role.

So they weren’t too sure about us. And I think that would have been very hard for her.

Pod: Those people who don’t know a 457 visa is a visa in Australia used to sponsor corporate leaders coming from other countries. Into Australia to work at for a finite period of time. And the spouses is part of the visa.

When the work finishes, the visa finishes, therefore they have to leave the country. Hence the notion of transition and diva. as I’ve written a lot of books on next pet transitions and one of the key hardships, if you want to call it that are the difficulties with ex-pat roles is.

How does the spouse fit into a community, particularly when they know, as you said, they might be leaving the community two or three years later. And Australia is one of those areas that doesn’t have overt ex-pat communities like Singapore, obviously it’s a very strong expat community and it’s very visible Australia doesn’t so yeah, the families often find the transition more difficult.


You move from an international sales channel role into a sales leadership, or commercial leadership role. And therefore part of your skillset is going out, meeting people, setting up commercial relationships. So I would imagine for you setting up relationships of any kind was really the easier given your whole skillset.

Stephen: That part was straightforward. And I think my observation of the Australian business community is quite an open one. And I’d worked in Britain for a number of years. There is a dominant class structure. Still. You get a bit of that in Melbourne. They’re the Collins street mafia and all that good stuff.

So there’s a bit more of the old boys network from different schools, but in Sydney generally now, and largely broadly speaking across Australia, it’s I found it. Quite refreshing. I’m prepared to work hard in the hours and I’m prepared to just pick up the phone. and I found that if I picked up the phone, I could get through to people.

They’d give me half an hour of their time and quite refreshingly, if they liked what I was saying, that introduced me to someone else and the conversation would move on and equally, if they didn’t, they’d be quite upfront. No. Certainly that you very much. Bye. Okay. I respect that. That for me was a real positive about that transition to Australia, quite refreshing.

Pod: Great. I think when I first met you had left that original company. You joined a German enterprise company and your role was a senior vice president for Asia Pacific in Japan.

Stephen: Yes.

Pod: So you’d move into a bigger role. Commercially, I’ll see multiple markets as your first time covering multiple markets where you were responsible for the P and L et cetera.

What was that transition like?

Stephen: you and I met, I joined software IJ in 2006. So during that 2006, I ran Australia for three years. I was invited to step up to run the services business for a further three years across Asia, Pacific Japan. And yeah, just as a, as you and I met and I have to give credit to my manager at the time who was aware of that transition, that impending transition for me to actually step up to them, the whole commercial operation across Asia, Pacific, Japan, middle East.

And he recognized that I would need support maybe in a way that he wasn’t able to provide. Cause he was an incredibly busy role himself. So he gave me the opportunity to find an objective coach. It was a very interesting experience for me to go through that exercise of, identifying, coach that we could work with.



I have these strange fees of people coming in to the office every couple of days. And, I don’t know, maybe there was half a dozen of them and one walked up and asked me. What color I felt like today. And did I want to hug and look? No, not particularly. another one kind of came in and said, so how do you think I can help you?

Because I think I could help you in the following ways and then proceeded to tell me exactly how to do my job. And there was a whole bunch of very strange and different experiences. And then you came in and just started asking candidates, direct challenging questions. They did so in a way that for me, at least created it sense of psychological safety.

I never, whilst I felt the questions were challenging, I never felt that they were, invasive or aggressive. They were well intentioned. I could really sense that from our early interactions. And that gave me the confidence to open up and talk about some of the things that were really going on.

You didn’t promise any hard answers at that time. You said that Jodie, I think that’s worth exploring. I’d like to suggest that we leave cover on these particular topics. I think there’s more that we could explore there. And there’s some interesting ideas that we could touch on.

And I think you shared with me a couple, the idea is in the form of some articles and that whole sense of evidence based mutual learning, going for a kind of data gathering exercise, and then go, when I journey together like a kind of a form of guided. Self-discovery for one, a better perspective. I needed that.

I was about to step up into a pretty senior role. I was going to step onto the group executive board at the time you take on that new role. And I felt. maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, but certainly my manager at the time clearly felt that I was badly under, yeah, I really think you need this, but yeah, so that was incredibly useful.

That was an important part of my transition into proper leadership role.

Pod: Do you remember when you look back now on the, the, as you started realizing this is a bigger role is requiring me to step up, what did step up mean for you step into what is the different ways of being different ways of thinking different levels of doing what was it for you?

Stephen: Yeah, I certainly feel like prior to that moment, I had. We’ll let you label it on the opinion that I was supposed to have all the answers. If I was the leader or the manager that somehow I’m the one that’s responsible for providing all the answers. I had to be the smartest guy in the room I had to lead at all times by providing the answers, being the big, always rights being always there, always present.



There was one particular time when I first stepped into that leadership role at a newly Sherlock stepping up to the group executive board and just the sheer volume of work that came down when I was letting it all come on to me from above. And I was trying to deal with all the issues that were coming up from underneath me.

And it just was overwhelming. There’s just the sheer volume and that sense of, everything was obvious. I was probably micromanaging. I was obviously, it was highly centralized decision making, just really just relying on my myself. I don’t remember at least one clear experience. We were just at mine’s point, walking down blues point load.

I have to get out of the office. I could feel my heart rate going. I could feel I was feeling really hot and very stressed in the office. And so I went for a walk in the hallway, just kicking off and I’m just trying to breathe normally and wondering what the heck was going on. And yeah, that sense of just crushing weight on my shoulders.

I had a realization. I just simply cannot continue in that way. I cannot continue to think that I can take all of that on myself and continue to be successful. That to me was a, was, it was a pretty uncomfortable moment, but an important one to them, totally transitioned to a different way of thinking.

Pod: Let’s just clarify. You’re a very fit healthy man. You’re a very active athlete. So the crushing sense of physicality, you felt wasn’t a cardiac type event. It was a stress related pressure on myself, the way I’m thinking of it.

Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Yeah. I was always doing defense, the classic kayak event. I’m just doing ultra marathons and all sorts of things. And yeah, there’s nothing wrong fitness wise, but yes, an emotional stress, a burden. And that right was, it was entirely stress related that the heaviness of that sense of responsibility and obligation, it would crush him and suddenly there’s this sense of, I can’t.

possibly continuing that way since then I’ve looked back on. I realized that moment was a very important one. there’s a wonderful quote already when the things that Blake, that people get around to getting things done. But sometimes you have to really, for people to change or for there to be any form of change within an individual and organization level, you have to understand the consequences of doing nothing.

And to realize that consequences something is so very bad, that you are compelled to think radically about how you might address your situation. It creates a sense of crisis and the only real. Response to a crisis is radical thinking. I would say they’re feeling that crushing weight.

And it was like, okay, the consequences of me continuing to function, the way that I am, that’s, that is not going to be good for me. I’m likely have some kind of physical problem. I’m


certainly likely to have some severe mental health issues as a result of this, really beginning to feel that, and it presented as a form of crisis.

The only logical response to crisis is radical thinking. It forced me to pivot my thinking almost immediately.

Pod: Before we jump into how you developed and moved into a different way of thinking. If you’re able to remember now, what were some of the impacts of your leadership at that point in time, IAU under stress, you under burden?

How is that showing up to your team or to the folks around you?

Stephen: wow. That’s a bit proud of that. how has your presenting, I agree, definitely angry. Definitely arrogant. I think I was perceived as quite arrogant. I had a nickname. I only learned about a few years later called the killer in German, the German word for the killer.

yeah, two cores. And, that’s it, once you had that, once you’re in the, in the bath, but that’s it, so that would get the wrong side of him. So can you imagine. Are you thinking about how that affects other people, then don’t go to the wrong side of them, where they didn’t the doctor to say things that challenge you, that even if you’re plainly doing something wrong, no, one’s going to tell you all day.

Pod: There’s another word that you and I have discussed over time. Andy, we’ve laughed many times at this notion, but there’s a word that was around you in that period. And I’ve never heard of, since it’s called Shittah Graham, what is that?

Stephen: Yeah, I shoot to Graham is, is it, yeah, it’d be like, if you’ve ever watched old division one football from England in the seventies and you see some of the defenders the way they tackle and they go in very hard.

And there’s a phrase you used, which is when you leave something in the tackle, you get the ball. But definitely. Yeah. Now the plan now that they’ve just been tackled, so yeah. Yeah. So it’s hard and it’s firmness. Yeah. And so it shits at Grammy’s, it’s an email that’s heavily laid and dripping with sarcasm bites, or it delivers a message and they lesson, and it comes with a really big, giant slap.

It hurts. Yeah, it hurts and it’s designed to hurt and boy, it feels good. You ride them and you get all of that anger and stress and frustration out and all those types of things. And it’s it’s blind culture at its worst. It’s just, it’s just terrible. It’s just terrible. I used to be very good at it sometimes.

Yeah. I confess I still write them, but then I’ve learned to, I’ve learned to not just stick them in draft and then delete them. I don’t have any good, the learning there is to shift your perspective from the blame culture piece, always wanting to blame others. If something’s


gone wrong, though, the reality is that in some way, shape or form you as a leader, haven’t done something right.

And so now I try to shift my perspective, being a blamer to curious problem solver. What is it that I didn’t articulate properly? How is it that I found to support that individual and what they were trying to do? How else could I have addressed the situation? Yeah. Oh, there’s a million questions I would want to ask about.

So first, before then seeking to ask questions.

Pod: Great.

You’re walking down this point road in which is proud of Sydney. You felt this crushing weight of, I gotta do something different. You moved from the way where you shift your thinking, as you said, you shifted your thinking quite radically . And what was the impact?

Stephen: Yeah, there’s a realization that I did want to be that thing anymore, that I couldn’t inhabit that space anymore, but this sense of trying to take oughta myself, it just wasn’t going to work.

I wasn’t going to be able to be successful and being successful, mattered a great deal to me at that time. Of course he still does. You want it? You want it, you want to deliver results, but maybe in a different way. That’s why that lighter. Was it, you that talked about the YouTube thing. When they, before they make an album, they go and listen to a whole bunch of music and then decide what they don’t want it to sound like.

They’re not going to sound like this. Then they turn and say, if it’s not that, then you turn and you say what you’re gonna do. And it was the same thing in that moment. It’s I don’t want to inhabit this space. What space do I do? I want to have it with wine? Where do I turn to it? I think in very simple terms, it was a sense of, okay.

Accepting the vulnerability of saying, I don’t know, accepting vulnerability as a form of it and say, I don’t know, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how I’m going to get there. And actually I am prepared to let people know that’s how I’m feeling. I’d ask for the help. That was. That was very difficult to acknowledge that at the time, when I’d had such a fixed view about leadership, I allow them what I was supposed to be doing, but it was a profound moment in terms of creating the opportunity for the team to emerge for a leadership team, to emerge, to bring people around me that.

that could help the, can contribute that word, vulnerability, that sense of by saying, I don’t know. It’s also acknowledging my willingness to learn the reaction from people around me was really interesting at first it was like, okay, who are you? What have you done with Steven? No.

Yeah, right? Yeah. It’s also, where’s, where’s the punch kind of ducking a wave and waiting for it. and actually, I would have to say this no fault of the organization that I was working for, ultimately for me to fully present. As a leader in the way that I realized I now had to ultimately led to me leaving that organization for a whole bunch of reasons.

Finally, she started to start establishing a new set of values that were more grounded to who I felt I really was and who I really am. And then it was very difficult for some people to be able to adapt to that around me. They were so used to that. I’ve been with that organization for eight and a half years.

And then for the last year and a half of that suddenly presenting in a very different way was difficult. It was difficult for me also to inhabit that space. Cause a lot of people just expected the same things of me. And so a lot of friction points,

Pod: that’s actually a very interesting point. You raise there.

Steve, I’ve seen this happen many times when a leader is overtly trying to change the way they think change their attitude, change their belief patterns and therefore change their behaviors. This system around them is so used to a particular way because the system has that. Or indeed they’re used to the leader being like that.

The system often prevented happening. The leader eventually has to recognize that if I truly want to shift this, I may have to change roles. Sometimes that’s within the same organization. Sometimes there’s in your case, it’s leaving the organization. But I need to start a fresh, the beauty about changing your role is even if you’re in the same organization, you might move geography.

You have the ability to rewrite yourself. You have the ability to reorder yourself from day one, as opposed to trying to change the script. And in hindsight,

Stephen: yeah. we did some cool things. if you remember when we were working together during that time and we’d introduce them tools and processes to help build trust within that leadership team.

I said that was one thing. Trust was at an all time low, no one trusted anyone. That was a reflection of my behavior. And so we started with that idea. Didn’t worry about that. No, not trusting each other, completely just trusting each other enough to have a different type of conversation, enough trust.

Very powerful idea. I’ve used that a few times just to have the necessary heartfelt conversation that would enable us to talk about difficult, sensitive topics. Remember that one, should we did it at Q station? I do a couple of people try and those questions. Yeah. And, and I found that very hard. I’d walk away.

I’d go to the back of the room, but space around. Did I really want to just keep that down? Okay. Demonstrating vulnerability and I have to reciprocate and let you know, that was


really quite some powerful moments. And so we did, I think. I large, we took that as far as we could within the constraints of that organization, but yes, to your point, sometimes systemically an organization is set up to want certain things and certain outcomes.

And yeah, it got to the point where I felt like, through that process of self discovery, that a bet on food for working together with you, I’d say it’s a self process of self discovery, reconnected to a sense of who I really am for a series of quiet. Profound questions and challenging questions that you’d right.

I think one that you asked me was what parts of me haven’t met before. Remember that was something that really connected with me. That was, why I play music in my spare time, I play the guitar badly. I write songs occasionally, but that creative part is like very that’s my personal life.

And I never bought any of that. It’s my professional life. And You talked about that. How about I could bring more of that discipline that I was applying to my professional work into my creative life and make it much harder from a commitment to that in terms of practicing and rehearsing and getting better at it.

And then also bringing some of that creativity into my professional life. What would that mean? what would happen. what happened was I became a lot more grounded and centered as an individual. I no longer had two identities. I was just me and that in itself was a great unburdening, of that.

And I was able to just be me and there was none of those. so far fewer of those stresses and strains, you asked the question before, about how did it manifest itself? Before then I remember not only was I angry at work, I was also very angry at home and I remember very difficult transitioning for work environment, back to a home environment, some patterns and behaviors, and look back on now a off, but, once I realized and reconnected in that way, suddenly.

very sensitive around who I am. I’ve got a clear value system and it became so much more easy to operate in all aspects of my life. Cause it’s just me. That’s really important. The ability to ask beautiful questions that shape our identity as much, was that quite as much in the asking is as in the answering right now, that is a really important part of the coaching process.

I think.

Pod: yeah, I think you and I both enjoy poetry in general, but particularly David White, who is from Yorkshire and from Ireland. And, I think I would have stolen that quote from him when I asked you about what part of you, you  haven’t met yet. I suspect that’s one of his lines.

Stephen: I’d be curious,

Pod: And simple question that he raises and that you explored, which is if there’s parts of you that you love, how come it doesn’t matter, how come you don’t integrate that. And it sounds like the way that you talked about it, there was a degree of anger you were holding. Cause you weren’t quite getting to where he wants to get.

Despite the level of energy you are putting into it and you were. Racing faster and faster, and yet was getting more and more out of sight for you. And once you learn to stop and pause and actually go, hold on, I can do this differently and I can enjoy my music and I can join my creativity and I can bring in a community service into my life as well.

It doesn’t, I’m not separating them. I’m actually integrating them.

Stephen: If I think about the time, you know what, when I was first in that role, I was going through that stress for sure. I was trying to emulate an idea about what I thought leadership should be. and I was looking at kind of people around me.

I figured I should be like that and be like that. I think I was much more easily influenceable. And I think that probably manifested itself as well in the workplace when people look at it and go one day and be like this next day like that. And yeah, not really granted. I think people pick up on that one side, set it reconnected, got very sensitive about who I am, why value system.

It really enabled me to present. Much more effectively as a human being first and foremost. but yeah, it was a leader. No, I don’t always get that. But I’ve tried to keep that idea very close to me as often move forward in subsequent roles. and it’s proved to be just a gift that keeps on giving, it’s a wonderful female fighter.

I’m much more connected with the people around me and there’s a much. Brought a degree of trust there because people know that I’m consistent in my behaviors and my attitude and my outlook, and they understand who I am, the good and the bad. And I really appreciate that. That crazy. It’s a sense of psychological safety that’s so that’s a key idea, a sense of psychological safety where people know they feel trust enough trust policies between us that enables them to share ideas.

To be wrong, to make failures, to be able to contribute, to learn, to show their own vulnerability. And so therefore work together as a true leadership team to get stuff done. That’s not only more rewarding. It’s a lot more fun as well.

Pod: And liberating. It allows people to play to it, to experiment into play and into, to not that not live waiting for, eat or nothing or a slap or whatever the reaction might be.

Stephen: Yeah, of course

Pod:. Can I move us to a different conversation. you ended up leaving that organization and you became the CEO of a privately owned organization in Australia, where you eventually had to basically do a merger of from memory four or five different organizations into one, where you were taking a range of your effect with the group CEO that sat across a range of different businesses.

And in some senses, you play the role of a chair of a board. But actually as in the group, CEO setting are reporting to the, the ownership structure. What’s the difference as a group CEO, when you have all the CEOs reporting to you relative to when you are the precedent chart, it’s like, how do you have to lead differently in that regard, compared to other roles you’ve been


It was a fascinating transition on a number of levels. First of all, it was the first time I bet no C E O all. So in the previous role, it was okay. And there was a regional leadership, but ultimately reporting into group executive board. So some aspects of vision and strategy were established collectively.

Oh, I know I was asked to buy into that. So in this instance, type of doing in that prior to me coming on board, the company was very much a, I would say, almost a passive investor and these organizations. So yeah, it was, the company was a federated group of it, services businesses. The company had either a minority or majority stake in all of these different businesses.

And so it was very much so passive supporter investor sometimes, a bank guarantor type relationship, but not really having a meaningful input. And the reason to join that takes that load off was the sense of how we might actually be stronger together. We might be better off working and collaborating more closely together and leveraging our mutual strengths.

and the opportunities available to cross that an upsale and, to consolidate some of the back office functions and all that kind of good stuff. So there was some huge efficiency dividends we were hoping to realize, but as you could imagine, each of these organizations, the CEOs of their respective organizations were still part of the business, the founders, the owners.

That’s sold either minority or majority share for different reasons. And, they each had their own strong, clear sense of purpose and identity. So it was a challenge trying to create a new shared identity. That was a broad enough church for everyone to feel like they could be a part of whilst also respecting their, it was like trying to form the European union.

Pod: How’d you go with that one?

Stephen: it’s the color quality. We have a few Brexiteers that’s for sure.

Pod: Ultimately, over a three year period, it was a very successful process for you and the organization, but it wasn’t all, it didn’t feel like at the whole way through I’m imagining who, where were some of the moments where you had to lean into leadership and really try and pull it through?

Stephen: it’s successful in some ways and not in others. successful in that we established a group identity successful in that we established core common systems, that they drive massive efficiency, dividends, and visibility and transparency for the organization. We got really clear about, our purpose industry specialization.

It drove really good top and bottom line growth. as a shareholder community, there was that was a great set of outcomes. I think it was just part of the journey. So I can look back on that three year period and say, okay, we achieved, we treat quite a bit, there was so much more than I think could have been done.

If I look back on that, I think. There was a lot of good intent there to want to take that data to the next level and to potentially even list the thing and go on. There was a phrase and I don’t mean it in a negative way that you perceive yourself based on your intentions and others perceive you on your behaviors.

And whilst I think there was a lot of good intent within the organization. The behaviors were still of a federated group of companies and it did seem to ultimately suit everyone quite well. So I felt like I’ve taken it as far as I could within the boundaries that. That shareholder community decided to accept themselves.

Yeah, that was an interesting learning thing for me as well, actually, was this idea of what group CEO, that doesn’t empower you to make all the decisions, that’s not, there was a chairman, there was a board, there are founders and shareholders, and there are different stakeholders that manifest themselves in lots of different ways.

And ultimately one has to acknowledge and take all those things in consideration. I had a very clear vision of what I hoped to achieve, and then I had to make some compromise. It’s just along the way to align everyone around a common set of goals and outcomes. Everyone was fed signup to within that context, we did some pretty cool things.

Yeah, for sure. You always wish you could do more, but we had a good, but a good journey. It was a diplomatic role. It was a certainly a great learning opportunity for me to sit on lots of different boards to learn about what makes a good board function really well. And where are there when I were there some major issues. I think a lot of organizations can slip up on.

Pod: Let’s jump to that in a second, but there’s a point you raised a few minutes ago. That thing is really important. just underlining. And that is the perceived influence of the CEO role. Yes. I would suggest that a lot of folks who actually have never been in the CEO role assumed the CEO role has the ultimate power to get lots of stuff done and clearly the role.

Does enable all the stuff to get done, but there’s also one of the fallacies at the CRO, just because the CEO wants something to happen, doesn’t necessarily mean a will. And you’ve given a great example there of, you’re in an organization that’s set up, has got a structure, has got a context. It’s got shareholders, got multiple shareholders.

We’re still in the business and you are able to bring it so far. And the context you’re sitting in rightly or wrongly prevented. It going further along the path that you had deemed to be the right path and recognizing the CEO’s limitations, I’ve influenced things really important when you were in that role.

Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think it’s very, you are accountable to the board, a proper functioning board does set a strategy. There’s really interesting power play. Isn’t it? That a board is set up to represent the interest of the shareholders primarily. And as a CEO, you are both fair to respond to the guidance that you were given from the board to properly understand the shareholders in a directional guidance on what they’re expecting of you as a CEO, that’s the framework within which you operate.

But also I think a good CEO challenges. That board to acknowledge and respect the fact that there are many more stakeholders within an organization board. most traditionally, very, almost exclusively about the needs of the shareholder community. As a CEO, you have an obligation, I would say to make sure that the needs of the employee community, the workforce consideration stakeholders, like the communities in which we operate.

Gosh, our customers, partners a whole range of other stakeholders that whose needs I felt needs to be met. That’s an interesting dialogue. Ultimately, a director has given a framework, a set, and the CEO operates within those very clear guidelines. Yeah. So yeah, it’s not, it’s not, you don’t have the magic stick the whole time and you can wield, limit this power that’s for sure.

Just as well.

Pod: exactly right. Just as well. And indeed the modern covert experience, we’re all going through has taught us that none of us have ultimate power. the world can come along and shake you by your Rose and you least expect it. You mentioned, high-performing boards or boards that are, that can be functioning versus bores that haven’t differentiated for us and the bores that were more effective or what boards can do to be more effective than the ones that are less helpful.

Stephen: I think a lot of the role I’m now more in, I used to not sitting on so many boards or whether when I was on the group executive board of German by software company, I only devalued the importance of a lot of the channels. I didn’t necessarily understand how important that really was. Having said this.

We were a federated group of companies. I sat on six or seven different boards. The difference in an in board performance often depended on the chairman,

Pod: the strengths, meaning?

Stephen: what. I think the ability to spread to the board as a whole, in terms of being able to make clear decisions in a timely and effective fashion, to being able to acknowledge and openly talk about particular topics and issues to understand, and to qualify risk, to be able to talk about fundamental issues that relate to the kind of health and wellbeing of the organization.

In some boards, it was very operational, really stuck in the weeds. It’s more effective board. There was an elevated conversation. A lot of it related to me, actually, the more successful boards, I found that yeah, the board meetings themselves, for many of the theater of the engagement, That actually, you were just, you would just, through the process, all the hard work happened outside and around that, but it’s a form of leadership. I think back to what, one of the chairman in particular, he was incredibly good. Getting information out there, getting topics out there, having individual conversations with, with people, these short, intense one on one conversations, bit of feedback that a guidance, and then bringing that back, To the board at the appropriate time, if there was a particular topic, making sure that subcommittees were set up, making sure that they had a clear frame of reference within which they were supposed to operate.

And then when people did try to do things during the actual formal board process, being very clear about the governance and about the processes and not letting the conversation get distracted. So being, what’s your phrase from friendly and fair to chairman chair, people do that. Do that very well.

That was. Huge learning process for me. And I remember taking a lot of notes during that time as much about board meetings themselves. The other thing that good chairman did a citrus note takers. Yes. Citrus, no matter what the formal notes said. I remember going to this guy’s house one evening. We had, we were having dinner together.

I just saw all of his notebooks, all lined up. It was the chairman of the board of several companies all have separate shelves, personal notes dated. And I asked him about it and he said, let’s just use an example. He pulled it out. He showed me the notes and it was a, both the formality of what was happening and also informal remarks.

And it clearly divided on each page for more walks and informal marks of the way that people were acting and behaving as much as what was being decided and discussed. Wow. And for him, that was his way of. Coaching and mentoring and an ideation, and also getting a check on the kind of health and wellbeing and how well is this board actually functioning.

And then the things that he needs to think about in terms of him improving the interaction of the board, what are we missing? Are we not getting enough challenging questions? We’re not, it was a comprehensive process of observation and internal dialogue to help him be more effective as a chairperson.

I think it was fantastic.

Pod: That’s a, an extraordinary insight to someone who’s able to manage the strategic conversation, manage the process and governance that a board is to have. And he had take a helicopter view on all, are the dynamics happening as they’re happening and just be able to record it from memory.

he’s looking through his own lens, of course. So by nature of this, there’s a bias there, but he’s recording the events so he can stimulate his memory. Extraordinary.

Stephen: And it was very helpful, but I guess, he did say that he had one, one problem where someone had gone through a legal process and he was chair of a particular board and he felt himself being a little bit undercooked in terms of it is personal memory.

And he decided never to let that happen again. And subsequent to that was a big learning for me. I’m now an, a citrus note taker, I think not only when I’m sitting in board positions, but also just in any kind of meeting. I think it’s really important if one is going to provide, we talked about that intentional one on one conversation, you have to have meaningful examples to share with an individual.

And I find that to be such so much more of a powerful. Are we assess now from having short one on ones, I can refer back to specific things or at the end of each quarter, I might send out a short note that individual say, just wanted to thank you for what you’ve done. And instead of it being, it’s like a, Hey, we’re doing great arm weights.

Okay. I really appreciate it. What you do this, for these reasons, you might be a lot more effective if you were able to do it such and such. And again, back that up with examples of where I think that they might be able to improve. I’ve had a lot of good feedback from people going there just.

Grateful that you’ve paid attention. I felt like I am aware I’m not, I am actually witnessing them, and their participation and that makes people feel, I don’t know. It makes people feel good and makes people feel connected.

Pod: That’s an extraordinary contrast. And I don’t want to bring you back to history again, that’s an extraordinary contrast to what you describe Ariane in terms of sugar grams, in terms of the way you used to write growers, but the intention behind it, different, the intention behind this is to give clarity, to give feedback, to express gratitude, and to point the future direction in terms of here’s something else that we could do together.

The intention is to help.

Stephen: If I reflect on the paper that I’ve served, the, who I think was good leaders, they will do whatever it takes to help the team to be successful. both collectively and individually. Those ladies don’t really care about whether they get the credit or not.

Those leaders are willing to sacrifice. And I do these little acts of service, and I think of that kind of note taking as an act of service for members of my leadership team, to help them be the very best versions of themselves that they can write in my own way to coach and enable their personal development and success, and to be able to celebrate that.

I think that’s very important part of the leadership function. Very different to 10 years ago.

It was all about all, about me. It was all about me there and whatever it took for me to be successful. And I’m just so over that as an idea, I still care about the results, but I think I’ve got to the point. Through that process, where if I can generally look at myself as I’ve done everything I can, for what my socks off, the way I do, I’ve got strong work ethic.

And if I really put that in to help at night in my team and support my team and help them to do as best as they can. And if we really feel like we’ve put in a hundred percent of the effort, then I guess I can accept the results for what they are and not let that define me in the same way that I used to.

It used to define me. I didn’t use to sleep at night. And I used to think of myself as a failure. If we didn’t get quite the results I wanted to get, I don’t think that’s particularly healthy. And I feel better for it now that I can compartmentalize that a little bit. It still matters results still matter.

Of course they do, but it doesn’t define me in the same way.

Pod: That has moved to, I think, what may be not defining you, but certainly adding to your definition of who you’ve become. You’re now the president of APAC, at least in Africa for ifs, being a global organization. This sit on the sweetest stock market, in a software industry, Gartner referred to ifs as an inmate.

2020 magic quadrant for field service management, a multiple award winning organization. Now you’ve been in software all year, but you didn’t necessarily join ifs because of software. You’re trying to further that and more. did you want to talk us through why you joined Darren Rose? Was the CEO rang you, who he calls you guys worked together before he rang you with an opportunity that was more than just leadership.

Stephen: Yeah. Wow. It was a really interesting conversation. So sat down and I did work together quite a lot itself, and we kept in touch after, after we’ve colored for him. He left to join another organization and I left gosh, probably 15 months after that we kept in touch. Whenever I was in England would always catch up.

And, he reached out to me. It was, April, 2000. Gosh, I can’t remember. It was April, 2018, I guess it was when he called me and we might have been Singapore and I was quite curious because Darren and I were 40, quite similar back in the days that the company, we will both work at both quiet, quite aggressive and ambitious.

What kind of good stuff. I was very curious to see how he had evolved as a leader as well. He was taking his first was his first CEO. I know it’s something that he cried. I was very curious to see how the journey that had been on and learn and see how yeah. How he developed some of these ideas. I was really blown away.

First of all with his sense of humility in taking them the mall, clearly I’ve walked by that experience, which is genuinely excited. And I asked him about what he saw as his learning opportunity from this role. And he was able to talk about it, vulnerability, there, it was quiet. It was quite comfortable with that.

I don’t know these things I’m really keen to learn wow. Okay. that, again, It’s about psychological safety made me feel comfortable to open up. He knew full well. I was going to CEO long. I was enjoying it. And he was inviting me to for want of a better term, step back into a regional leadership role to look after AIPAC and middle East Africa, something I’d done before.

So there wasn’t necessarily same kind of level of learning. They’re of course, a different organization, different challenges. I knew it was a transformational growth story. A lot of the roles that I’ve been born into have typically been, I don’t typically get high cause everything’s going really well.

Pod: You’re not a da. You got

Stephen: no. I get brought in to drive transformational growth to create that sense of, that radical thinking in response to a crisis and drive transformational growth off the back of that. So of course we talked about that and some of those.

Challenges and opportunities, but he, again, you talk, we talked earlier about this kind of sense of being witnessed to being noticed. And he said something quite that connected resonated with me. He says, I’ve noticed a lot about on the last five years where things have been going on, you’ve taken up more of an active involvement in social activities.

I got involved in a bunch of community service projects, With, whether it was doing soccer refereeing, whether it was, I think you’re aware of this. so there is not a soup kitchen in Sydney or working with street work, a great organization that helps, helps kids in Sydney that had trouble with the law, doing a whole bunch of stuff like that, kids giving back.

And he said, I know that I don’t really mean to not to you. And I’ve been thinking about what kind of organization I want to need. And I want to lead an organization that puts service at the heart of what it does. I want to be part of an organization with a lead, an organization that wants to help our customers provide better service to their customers.

And I want to make sure that our technology is an enabler for that. And I want to think about how we can provide better service customers and everything that we do. And I want to be a better service to our staff, and I want to be a better services to the communities in which we operate. We have to do that.

If we’re going to be successful, if we’re going to, if we’re going to do all the things that I want to do, we have to service matters. It has to be at the very heart of everything that we do. And then he said, when it comes to community service, he would love for me to lead that he could see how much it means to me.

And he felt like that would be a really good learning opportunity. Give me a platform to test out some ideas and to try something different. It’s a lead something new. and of course, the signups is went off and it was like, that would be fantastic. So he had me at that moment, quite frankly, and sorry.

It’s a very good salesman as well.

Pod: Yeah, no, Steve, the charity guy.

Stephen: What really mattered to me. But again, I felt noticed, I felt like it acknowledged who I am and that meant something to me.

Pod: So what does the ifs foundation do or hope to do?

Stephen: Oh, wow. So gosh, we are a Swedish organization. We started out life in Sweden. We’re now a global company with a presence in over 60 countries around the world, about 4,000 employees.

But. A good third of them, 1300 or so are based in Sri Lanka. 22 years ago, the organization set up its research and development global support center for Lanka, very brave choice back then the civil war going on at the time. What a far reaching idea could have charged in India, where we would have been a very small fish in a very big pond with lots of other organizations looking for good talent by coming into shrank.

And we were really able to set up something very. Different, a much safer environment. We’ve been going at it as a cipher for 22 years, 1300 employees, RFS already had in place. It’s a scholarship program to help kids through the university. A lot of kids have the right skills, but don’t necessarily have the money to fund that.

Why for university? So I’ve asked, had this program in place. Where you would, instead of doing a degree over three years, you’d do it on a five years. You would work part time, but ifs you do your university degree part time with pay all the funds. And at the end of it you’d have a degree work experience.

And 80% of those kids went on to work with ifs. So fantastic. It was a little bit of a way of giving something back to that community as well. And the startup for the ifs foundation was okay. That’s all well, and good. We’ve got about 120. students I’ve gone through that scholarship site program so far, which is awesome.

But my starting point was okay to even get to the point where you can take it. The advantage of that scholarship means a whole bunch of things have gone your way throughout your life. Go back. let’s work backwards from that moment and figure out all the things that make a difference, the crazy opportunity for child you get to that point.

And when you went back, would you really get down to some fundamentals? Sanitation, having proper sanitary facilities, it prevents disease. It enables girls to continue to attend school. Even when they reach puberty access to fresh water. It means that parents and kids don’t have to spend hours walking to a source of fresh water and bringing that back, education, infrastructure, health, infrastructure, employment opportunities, start looking at those fundaments.

Okay. Alright. So how can we do that? So we went out and did a couple of field trips to Sri Lanka. We went out to some remote parts of the islands of beautiful country, peaceful, resilient, beautiful people. This have endemic poverty issues, serious problems. When you step out in your majors, it’s easy.

So we decided to set up the RFS foundation too, to help break the poverty cycle. Little parts of Srilanka why, as I say, it feels good to give something back to that particular community that serves us so well. Globally as an organization, we rely on what we do in Srilanka every day to support our customers.

So enables us to say, thank you. It’s a cause that can unite our global community. We feel like we can make a profound difference, a really meaningful difference in what we hope will be relatively short period of time. And an idea that we feel that could last something also that could unite our, take our customers and our partners.

And I bought a community as well. So yeah, we’ve been running it for about, we set it up in may last year. We’ve raised. Oh, the other important point. We didn’t want it to be an ifs funded thing. we, although ifs has given money to it, I just didn’t want it to be, Oh, aren’t we great. Cut a check. is that delinquent?

Isn’t it send your checks? The tax deductible charity organizations we said was all funds had to be raised by staff. So everything we did had to be activities that our staff would undertake to raise the funds, sausage sizzles, carwash days, golf events, quiz nights, gala dinners. We’re doing a virtual concert at the moment.

We’ve got that set up for next week where we’ve got ifs. Employees are going to come online and they’re going to perform a piano or sing a song with a guitar or

Pod: all over the world.

Stephen: All over the world, all over the world. So it’s employees anywhere around the world, in that particular event, but all sorts of events that we’ve done, we faced over a quarter of a million dollars so far, and that sense of doing it cause it’s cause it matters and getting people to really buy into it and really.

Taking ownership for that, it just creates a sense of meaningful connection. Let’s just put it that way. It goes beyond there being something that the organization says it must do it. Everyone goes, Oh yeah, pay lip service. So that’s great. It becomes something that we collectively I’d say the example. I know this is gonna sound like a very strange one.

I read an article in the economist, just as we’re thinking about the ISS foundation. And it was about the Swiss government was trying to figure out where it wanted to put a nuclear dump site in the country. And they were doing this research about where would be the safest place. They found two places where the safest possible place to dig a big hole, stick this stuff cover over stable, ground, stable rock, all that kind of stuff.

Anyway, these two, two social psychologists, opposed the government said before you make a decision, can we run a little experiment? And the experiment was this. They went to one village and said, right guys, we’ve done this research. Here’s the findings, here’s all the material. it’s near your very fact fate as a way and this other village, and we need to make a decision.

If you’re willing for it to be here, we’ll pay you $10,000 per household for it to be there. we think this is the buy side we acknowledged it’s not great. We’ll pay you $10,000. Okay. With the other village, they gave all the same information. But they said, we want to do this. We think we should be putting it here because fundamentally we think it’s the right thing to do.

It’s your decision, but we genuinely believe this is it. We’d like you to make a decision, please. We welcome your input village, where the money was offered. The idea overwhelmed with it. The village that was offered, no money accepted it overwhelmingly. In other words, the idea of introducing money, the idea of introducing some kind of financial recompense, undermine the civic and moral worth of what they were trying to do.

And so they rejected the idea that I felt dirty. Like they weren’t being told something that the village that said it is just part of your civic duty when. Okay. I completely buy into that and we will support that because it’s the fundamentally the right thing to do. That’s why we don’t want ifs to be given the money.

That’s what we want our staff to give them money because otherwise it would undermine the civic and moral worth of what we’re trying to do. And I know that’s so a high level concept is really important to me.

Pod: no, I love so much about what you say in here. And the word comes to mind more and more as you’re talking is integration.

at a personal level, as a leader for you. And we would discuss this over the last half hour already. You’ve learned the last couple of years to bring different parts of you together. And then, it just becomes a bigger version of you. So we know you’re a musician. So now you’ve got Steve keys version of live aid happening next week in terms of

But also you’re a big believer in buy in helping people to put, to buy into something and then unleash their energy. And what you as organization have done here through your leadership of the foundation is, many organizations, thankfully cut checks and give it, but that’s pretty much it you’ve gone though.

Do you know what? We can actually probably do a whole lot more by getting everyone involved and here’s how you do And, the notion of psychology of money can be a motivator, but can also be a detractor when people feel it’s the right thing to do. So stop rewarding me for what should be the right thing to do.

Anyway. That’s a far more integrated way of doing it. I love what you’re doing here. and more importantly, I love the fact that you were so excited by it. There’s a palpable on the screen here, down in Sydney. I can hear the energy coming through the airwaves.

Stephen: It’s awesome. It’s, yeah. People responding when they’ve raised money and they write me an email, they let me know and they say they want it to go towards a particular project or they’ve raised it to try and achieve something in that, to where it gets built.

And you get the photographs for on site and the feedback that comes from that sense of ownership of that. We’re doing this as a collective it again, it goes to the heart of the idea of being of service to others. Particularly important at the moment, with the pandemic and our funds got everyone’s got issues going on.

So it does afford us all a little bit of perspective as well. We try to do that. We also have at the same time, a volunteer day because some people said, okay, that’s fine. That’s great. But what about my community? Fair. So we’ve given everyone an extra day of leave as well, so that they could pursue social work in the open a project of their choice in their community.

And that’s proven to be highly effective. Again, this idea of service matters being of service to your community. The community enables us to survive and thrive and continue to operate. It’s wonderful to be able to be part of that and to facilitate and enable that as part of that kind of cultural fabric.

Pod: We’re coming to the end of this interview. And it feels to me that we, as soon as we hang up, we need to book in for more sessions. Cause there’s so much that it’s so much for us to talk about and share across the interwebs, but got two questions for you to bring this session to a close today.

You mentioned lockdown live aid, and I’m looking forward to the, the DVD when that’s released, wherever that is coming from

Stephen: Spotify. Look at Spotify.

Pod: I know you’re right. If you’re nothing, you’re a music man. Or band,

Stephen: I think you now have a big bucket of fat and I think, as well as that, so I’m going to perform as part of our lockdown live.

I figured that I couldn’t really ask others to do something I’m not prepared to do myself. I’m going to sing to make you feel my love, by Bob Dylan. And, I think it’s, It resonates with me as a solver, particularly now at this moment in time, everyone is feeling a lot of stress and pressure with the COVID-19 situation and it’s, and it does manifest itself in many different ways in the workplace, in particular, in our first start, you’re not able to.

They use connected with people. There’s those water cooler conversations are possible. We as leaders and as coworkers need to be a lot more mindful that perhaps everyone’s got their own story and their own stresses that going on in their background and their lives. And that might be affecting the way that they manifest themselves and behave at work.

We need to perhaps be, have a little bit more empathy. A little bit more kindness and consideration for others in the workplace at the moment. And so familiar to make you feel my love. And I went when the rain is blowing in your face and the whole world is on your case, I could offer you a warm embrace.

It seems to be particularly pertinent in these times. And the

Pod: last question, which is the one I ask everybody in this particular podcast, and that is now given all the experience you’ve gleaned and some of the wisdom you’ve cultivated over the last 20 years. What would you tell the 35 year old version of you today?

Stephen: I saw that the questions and I was struggling, I thought, first of all, I’d probably give a big slap,

give him a big hug. And and then I’d hand them a book of poems, we’ve you and I we’ve read some poetry together, whether it’s the work with David White or whether it’s wheelchair or what was the guy, if he everything’s going to be a white Derrick man, in fact, I’d probably give him that poem.

Everything is going to be all right, but there is it Derek man.

Pod: I’ll include a link to that in the show notes.

Stephen: You absolutely should. it is a beautiful poem. And, I’d probably read that to my younger self and, and hopefully that would land

Pod: Steve. It’s been a pleasure. It’s been a pleasure over a long period of time has been a pleasure today.

Thank you so much for sharing all of your insights and all of your learnings and in the transparent, honest to way that you always do, which I appreciate

Stephen: it. You’re welcome. Thank you for the opportunity. You take care. Thank

Pod: you for listening to another episode of the leadership diet. We hope you enjoyed it.

Head over to  dot com, where you can subscribe to the podcast to our blog, retrieve a whole range of resources that we talk about in each episode. And if you are a visual, a bit like myself, there are a range of videos sitting in our YouTube channel that you might. Find helpful. If you’re enjoying all this a review on iTunes or Spotify would be much appreciated.

See you next time.

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Ep 4. How does systemic thinking impact leadership ability and what the hell is it anyway!

When the world continues to get complex, how do leaders stay on top of their ability to think and be strategic?
Dr Paul Lawrence is a prolific author, teacher, change expert, a fan of obscure music and experienced international expatriate leader.
Paul talks with Pod on:
  • What was it like being an English born leader working in Spain, Japan and Australia.
  • Why receiving feedback can be useful but almost always difficult.
Paul outlines his research that led to the ‘Leading Change’ and ‘Tao of Dialogue’ books.
He explains the difference between being agenda-full and agenda-less.
We also explore how a leader (be it politician or corporate level leader) could look at the recent pandemic depending on which level of thinking they are deploying.
Paul expertly explains the actions and impact of each level of thinking and what the outcome might be.
His company site is https://www.ccorgs.com.au
Effective leaders will always outperform ineffective leaders over time!


Pod and Dr. Paul Lawrence


Welcome to our conversation,


Pod: Can I start our conversation today with your own career? So, given you left London where you did your PhD joined BP, and with them you worked across different countries, including Spain, including Portugal, including Japan, including Australia. From a leadership perspective, that’s multiple countries in trade, different continents.


Looking back now, what were some of the lessons you learned around transitioning as leader across different environments?


Paul: I think I think for me it becomes it was a piece around just recognizing who I was as a person recognizing and going into some very different cultures because the Spanish culture is very different to the UK culture and the Japanese culture is very different, becoming increasingly aware off who I am as a person and and and how I came to be who I came to be and recognizing the role of all the other people in my childhood and beyond who kind of co created who I am. And that was in a particular culture. And just being constantly curious about just recognizing that everywhere is different.

Pod: I’ve heard you use the word before tune in, so tune into both yourself in terms of what you think, understand, believe, maybe make sense of the world and then also tune into the environment around you. Do you have any moment in time when you look again? With hindsight, you started recognizing that you were tuning in a different levels and recognizing things differently.

Paul: Um, yeah, lots of remember the first meeting I have ever had in Spain? Well, I was with a colleague from the UK, and we used to the British way of doing things which is somewhat ordered and structured, and after five minutes, everybody in the room was shouting at each other. It’s just a completely different way of doing things, and he just would never happen in England. And so we’re looking at each other, going, Where are we? What’s going on here? Japan was again. I remember when we first arrived in Japan As we’re walking down the street and my wife and and if I’m really honest about it, I I was looking at all these people and they all kind of looks the same and that they look different to me physically. Um and it was a real epiphany when, about six months later, we happened to walking down the same street and I just realized I was seeing people.


Pod: So, the first time you went there, you were noticing the differences. Second time you, Francis from May from you, of course. Second time you start recognizing we’re all humans here together.


Paul: And, yeah, the similarities when people say to me, you know, which country did you most enjoy being in? I tend to go to Spain and Japan cause I had such a wonderful time in both those countries because those the people who I worked with were all beautiful, generous, witty, funny. They had things to say to a little. But when you when you first arrived in Spain, it’s brash and it’s noisy. When you first arrived in Japan, your or you know you’re very aware of all the rituals and what have you and, you know, in all the cultural space, I think all of that stuff, You know, you get this when you go to Spain, Japan, you get the book telling you how to sort of do this, how to do that. And that’s all very well. But at the end of the day. I think when you’ve been in those places and you’re curious, you you turn into where we’re similar because we are all very similar to each other. If I remember rightly, you your first expat role was in Australia. And then you went from there to Spain. I went to Australia back to the UK for years, then Spain, then Portugal and Japan.


Pod: Okay, so let’s let’s go to Spain. You were You had a couple 100 people reporting to you when you first times in the big division. Yeah, um, from memory. Part of the reason why I got the role because you could speak some degree of Spanish, but I think it wasn’t probably not a lot.  It was it was some Some people apply really applied for because I really fancied it. But my Spanish was I’ve been living in Brisbane said we live in Australia before he went to the UK, went to Spain and when I was in Brisbane I did this evening classes in Spanish at QUT. I used to ride a bike along the If we lived in Brisbane City. I’m not good at languages, actually.

I said I could speak Spanish, but they got parachuted into Spain and it was more than two because it was a return that way. It was like 500 people and the only other person in the whole none of my direct reports to speak English. The only person who could was this lovely lady who worked on the forecourt in a service station in Malaga. Nobody else could.


Pod: You were actually the foreigner in charge and you’re you were thrown in the deep end when you look back now what? What were some of the mistakes or learning you’ve had from that experience?


Paul: Well, Spain I hadn’t really, I’d sort of I’ve done a kind of really interesting sort of leadership role when I was in Australia first time around, because I was I was out there doing sort of territory management on deer was a leadership aspect. That was the first time I had direct reports and certainly that size. And yeah, I guess I had a model of leadership which said leaders ultimately are supposed to know what they’re doing and they’re supposed to know the answers and the reason why this ships and expansion here because supposedly because he knows what he’s doing did little. I’d say it was pretty directive, Um, hopefully sort of nudging towards authoritative. But it was It was, Yeah, I had a leader is expert model in my head in Spain is one of the one of the beautiful countries where feedback is offered very, very overtly and very often, whether you want it or not, I’m imagining as the expert leader you’re on the receiving in that on occasions. Well, I was very lucky because you know what we’re going to talk about. I think the leading change stuff and leading changes. Your research. You know, I spoke to 50 leaders around the world. What have you on what seemed to distinguish those leaders from others? Was they had they had built in feedback loops into their daily lives? So a lot of those CEOs and so on have seven or eight people all around the organization. They’re getting a feedback all the time, and you contrast that about your experience.


But my experience of, you know, working lots of people just don’t get feedback. I got lots of feedback, and it was very direct feedback. Like, you know why you being such a prick in e? Never Spanish. You know that word in Spanish now? And so it was You know what? Do you know why you’re doing this way? Doing that? And And it was it was a beautiful I was there for, like, 2.5 years, and it was a complete learning experience, thanks to the people that I was working with. When do you think you started recognizing how to listen to the feedback to understand it and then, you know, do something with it, as opposed to, you know, react defensively to it which is Imagine imagine is where you started. I thought, Well, I still do respond defensively to feedback, and I think I think most people do because, um, I have a story. I have a story about who I am, you know, if you ask me who I am, I’ll tell you who I am. It’s a story that I’m making up.

And it’s a story that other people have contributed to including yourself. So I have this story and I hold this story. It’s the way that I make meaning of everything that goes on. So, if you give me feedback and if the feedback doesn’t really what’s the word? If the feedback isn’t consistent with that story, I’m telling myself, then I then that’s yeah, I need to process that to decide for myself what to take from that, because any feedback you give me is not objective feedback. I mean, every thing is different. Different people will give you fever.


One person’s blunt and transparent and refreshing. A direct is another person’s rude and abrasive, so I’ve got a really process it and decide for myself. You know what sense to make of it, Onda that there’s a defensive piece around that and I don’t just go. Oh, yes. Thank you for the feedback. I need to process it. And then I need to decide what sense to make of it. What to do about it s Oh, that’s always going on. But I think over time this is again war. I think we’re going to come to in terms of the systems peace. If I If I see feedback as a non toe, it’s not on objective process online three sixties or not objective. It’s about people sharing with me how they experience May.


And if I can kind of just relate to that at a kind of meta level again. Well, this is how so and says, Well, I get that right, because I know that if if I I know I sometimes just get on a doing drive and I just want to get stuff done. And if I get sucked into a meeting where we’re gonna spend 60 minutes talking about systems and I’m gonna get cranky, they’re telling me they found me crank it. Of course they did, because that’s what’s going on here. It doesn’t mean I am in inverted commas. Cranky.


It means that’s the behavior they saw. That’s how they responded to it on. By the way, that other person in the meeting thought I was being really doing a great job in making sure that we just cut through stuff. You know, I’m seeing it from a lens that says this’d Zant about May just isn’t feedback isn’t about you. Feedback is about you, and it’s about the relationships between you and other people. I think it’s really insightful what you said, Paul, because given the work that you and I do, but also in terms of the role of leaders and leading teams and and and developing at teams towards whatever output they’re looking to develop towards, ah, feedback loops off many kinds is very, very helpful. Yes, we know that to your point, people automatically don’t receive feedback necessary. Always brilliantly, we aren’t always skilled at giving it, and the third point you just put in there is, and we’re giving feedback through our own bias of the world and therefore, by nature IQ, it can be pure. It’s a perspective. Yet without feedback, stuff doesn’t evolve or change, or at least it doesn’t involve a change in a direction as purposeful.


This is the I had this conversation with someone very recently. It was a coaching conversation, and she brought to the coaching conversation. I just don’t want feedback on DWhite. What what shifted in our conversations was she was, you know, with the whole process. It was a coaching call. It wasn’t. The lettering is a coaching thing. What what came out of that was she shifted from a perspective of these People are telling me what I’m like and this is terrible to know. What I’m hearing here is how other people are experiencing our relationships. That’s what it is. It’s It’s not objective, its’s beautiful, because the feedback that helps me understand, which again is really important from a systemic perspective, the the influence of the impact I’m having on people at any given point in time in any different context. That’s why you need to ask the feedback, this notion of doing on on line 3 60 once a year. What’s that? How’s that gonna help? That’s a very blunt you look at your your thing. This is your feedback. That in itself is an amalgamation of all sorts of different people telling you about how they experience you in different scenarios and you get it once a year, as opposed to a regular conversation all the time.


Pod: Let’s move to your first book leading change. Remember when I first read it? I was intrigued by a number of things, but particularly by your premise, there’s multiple multiple, probably warehouses on Amazon, full of books about change. They always have the authors perspective of change. Yet you went about it differently. You interviewed 50 leaders around the world, including 25 CEOs who had successfully led change in terms of identifiable success, and you interview them for their perspectives on what they had done. Talk us through that process and talk us through some of the outcomes that you learn from that process.


Paul: Yeah, so the premise. What I wanted to know there’s a lot of books that say, you know, the 10 pitfalls of doing change or the 10 ways not to do change, and I wanted to know Well, how should we do change on? I wanted to hear it from the leaders themselves. Books are very quick and easy to write these days, so there’s a there’s 100 different versions of it was. So who says So? I wanted to know from And then there’s a whole I’m not gonna go into the whole question of how to decide whether someone’s a successful leader or what’s the successful change process. There’s a whole other conversation, but I wanted to hear, you know, from these leaders what their experience here, what Finally number one no change models mentioned these people were not going about doing change. According to ah, change model, they actually was quite intuitive. And based on their own experience, which I think is S o for all the writers who spend hours and years writing books and change the least a sample you have you have spoken to didn’t reference those models, Not directly. That doesn’t mean they haven’t read them. It doesn’t mean they were influenced by them, but they weren’t kind of they weren’t. What they weren’t doing was managing reading a book in one hand while they went about reading. And that doesn’t mean those books like useful. It doesn’t mean they hadn’t read them, but But what? What? What I heard was people actually going about doing this based on their own intuition based on their experience. And that takes me to this whole definition of leadership, the Ralph Stacy stuff that says leadership isn’t about competencies and about whether you can exhibit these 12 competencies.


Leadership is about practical judgment. The world is far too complex, t say to a leader. Hey, you want to navigate their complexity? Here’s the 12 competencies doesn’t work like that, and Stacy talks about practical judgment. And that’s what I was hearing in all these folks on. I had all these wonderful stories and what I my job was to extract from all these stories the essence, the essence of how these folks were going about leading change. Or at least let’s not pretend I was a neutral observer. What I what I interpreted the essence to bay on. What was that, Really?


It was three things. It was number one there the way that they chose to listen to people number to their capacity to say what needed to be said. And if you take the listening and the voicing, we can call that dialogue. And third, it was their capacity to kind of view the organization. Let’s use the word system to view the system and be be really cognizant of who they needed to be in dialogue with and who else needed to be in dialogue with each other. Okay, so let’s go back to the three points. So he said, listening. Now there’s no phrase. You got two ears and one mouth, so let’s use that order. I think you’re suggesting something much deeper than that. He’s talking about these leaders and and what they meant by listening and why that was useful. Well, you again, the listening conversation, I think, is somewhat limited and that we talk about needing to listen harder or I’m not still not really sure active listening is, but the premise seems to be we need to listen harder. Theme The the premise here is there are different ways of listening, on which way you’re choosing to listen on the way most of us tend to listen. Certainly in an organizational context where we’re under time, pressure is we’re listening for what’s being said, and we’re straight away attack very quickly, attaching our own meaning to that. Oh, I understand we’re doing that, too, and it’s pretty much unconsciously without necessary recognizing it on Dykan. Listen, you you tell me I’m not listening. When I’m doing that, I’m gonna get cross with you because I can repeat back every word you just said to me. I’m listening hard as I’m listening. Actively. Right. But this is about listening beyond the content to what is this person really trying to say? Because you know, a lot of the time, especially when you’re talking about complex issues on I’m giving you my view. My view is kind of forming while I speak. So by listening to what someone’s trying to say, you can actually help them express what it is they’re trying to say. And then there’s another form of listening, which is Well, I can understand what you’re trying to say. Why you trying to say it? Who is this person?


So there’s lots of different ways of listening.


As I said, I think what most of us do when we go out there and we listen, we’re listening for what kind of? That’s what we want to hear. That’s what we don’t want to hear. And the metaphor that came up two or three times totally un unsolicited was this concept of agenda, less on agenda, full listening and so some. Some folks said, You know, my leader comes out and talks to me, but I wish they didn’t because they come out here, but, like, as if they really want to hear what’s. But I know what they want me to say.


They come out with an agenda. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they just came out without an agenda? And they were really curious about May and my perspective on what’s going on here. So it’s not a genderless and agenda fall. So the leaders I love that metaphor. By the way, I think I might rob that beautiful eso leaders who you interviewed who were relatively successfully, then change and appreciate efficient of success is not in this conversation. They were listening where the degree of agenda less they were listening to understand they were listening curiosity as opposed to listening with an agenda. And therefore I look like I’m listening to you. But in fact, I’m getting ready to answer. I’m gonna ready for a pause, put in my point of view. I am listening, Thio. I am listening to the words that you’re saying while I’m hearing the words, I’m deciding what I’m gonna say next. Don’t tell me I’m not listening because I’m listening to every word. But I’m listening in a different way.


Another way of putting it is I’m listening without fear. Agenda-less is listening without fear. Yeah, because I’ve shared this concept with some leaders and some leaders have said to May, um, yeah, but I can’t I don’t want to engage in that kind of conversation, because if they share all these perspectives with me, then I have to do something about it when you don’t have to do anything about it. This is This is you know, dialogue is not just about listening, Dialogue is about listening, and dialogue is about saying what needs to be said if people are presenting views with you that you’re really open to and you’re curious about, and when they’ve explained it to you, you’re going. I still don’t get that that that still doesn’t resonate with me. That’s fine. So I I think there are leaders out there who they don’t want to open the door that wide because they’re afraid of what will come through the door and what they’ll have toe deal with, especially if they’re conflict avoidance by what you’re saying is leaders who were successfully didn’t change. We’re open to the conversation. We’re open to being curious. And then what emerged emerged and that they dealt with that and they’re completely relaxed about what someone’s gonna say. Think about just giving someone think about just preparing, giving someone feedback, feedback that you don’t think they’re going to take very well.


One of the things they’re trying to do is they’re just trying to direct the conversation because they don’t want to get into that person’s perspective because they don’t agree with it, and they don’t wanna have that conversation where they disagree with it. This is what I’m talking about. It’s fearless listening. I don’t mind what you say. I I want you to say whatever it is you’ve got to say, because it’s gonna help me understand you. Andi is gonna help me understand this part of the organization.


Pod: The second part of what you said was saying what had to be said, Yeah, now, given that these are leaders and someone in half of your interviews, we’re CEOs. They have an opinion. They have a mandate. They have stuff to do. In fact, they actually do have an agenda. What does saying what had to be said mean

Paul:  it means, um any point in time. I’m thinking something and his thing, if you don’t share it, that doesn’t get appreciated. We know this right. If we’re having a conversation with someone and we sense that there’s something there holding onto and they’re not sharing it with May, I don’t generally appreciate that. And in fact it doesn’t help build trust. I want to know what is. You got to say one of the biggest things I hear, but most unhappiest people in organizations tend to be when there’s a restructure going on and senior leaders aren’t telling us what’s going on. When you talk to the scene leaders and they say, Well, we don’t know what’s going on We gotta wait until we got something to say through this lens. They want to know what you’re thinking. Yeah, okay, so it’s that saying that thing that needs to be said it’s intuitive, but the word out and it’s a really important word is respectful. You want it to be said respectfully.


So you’re saying what I need to say? I’m saying, Here’s here’s gonna CEO Okay, here’s the organization. Here’s what I’m noticing. Here’s what I’m reserving. Here’s what I’m being told. Here’s what I’m here is the sense that I’m making of that. And on that basis, here’s what I think we’re going to be doing next. But I’m leaving space for other people to have a different view, and I have to courage to elicit that view on. I have the courage to go. Yet I really appreciate that. Actually, this is what we’re gonna do next. That makes sense. And the combination of both of those is this dialogue just for those of us who haven’t an idea that dialogue might be. I’ve got my point of view. You got your’s. would just set into each other.


Pod: Can you just explain the difference between, say, a discussion or a debate and dialogue and what they mean? Thank you. So, um, Bill Isaacs, David Bohm and so on have distinguished This is a, you know, simplifying things, but they’ve distinguished different types of conversation on and keep this simple. His three types of conversation debate We’re familiar with debate. It’s where I’ve got my view. You’ve got your view and we’re creating a forum where we just want to get Get all those who’s out there. Prime Minister’s Question Time is a great example of that. It’s basically the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, just shouting each other basically and getting it all out there. What’s the purpose of that? I guess just to surface the views it off if it’s used purposefully and well, debate is great. That’s that’s its function. Then you’ve got skilled conversation and people get skilled conversation mixed up with dialogue. Skill conversation is where I actually have some parameters here, some non negotiables. So do you. So in this conversation, let’s work out what each other’s non negotiables are. And let’s find a solution that meets both of our non negotiables is kind of like a negotiation.


Dialogue is different because I’m doing my best to come to that conversation without without any non negotiables. I’m coming into this conversation and Isaacs use this lovely language. I’m suspending my noble certainties. My noble certainty is the thing that I’m sure is right. I’m recognizing it and I’m suspending it. I’m not getting rid of it, but I’m recognizing, for example, and we’re gonna have a conversation about how to respond to co vid and I have a belief that says everybody is accountable. So whatever we do here, we need to be making sure people understand that gotta wear masks. And they got to this and got to do that. I insist that’s what comes up in our solution. So I approached the darb again. I know this thing about myself, right? I know I believe in personal accountability, and I’m okay with that. But I’m recognizing it. That’s my noble certainty. I’m just going to suspend that, as I really seek to understand the other person’s perspective on the purpose of dialogue is. Then you are able to work beyond all of the non negotiables that people and create something made that may be completely new and creative. That’s why that’s why I often talk about dialogue in relation to innovation. I think if you wanna have innovation and create something completely new, you have Teoh. You have to create that space in which there are those absence of non negotiable. I think I think what you’re laying out for us beautifully. Here it is in any kind of expansive type conversation being innovation related. Be a generative, be it a complex problem solving where you need to get wider perspective. Dialogue is the most effective way off the conversation approach our mindset relative to debate or relative to whatever else right. But Allah is not easy. Well, dollars impossible is my belief. So, David Bohm said, You know this this idea and dialogue is lovely, But don’t try and do it in organizations because it won’t work. So there’s two reasons it’s It’s one reason it’s impossible and one reason why it’s just very, very difficult. The reason it’s impossible is if I’m going to go into a conversation on I’m going to suspend all of these things that I hold dear, including my values and my core beliefs. I need to know what they are, and there may be some people in the world who think they’re completely 100% self aware. But, you know, a lot of folks think if you read any of this stuff around self differentiation, self actualization would say, that’s just not going journey. So for that reason. I think dialogue is pure dialogue is impossible, but it doesn’t matter. This is about an aspiration to create a scree.


Thea Other reason is it’s certainly in organizations. And this is the This is the thing that people always pick on. They say I’m ready to have a dialogue, but how do I make the other person engage in direct? Because doesn’t it take to? Of course it does take Thio. And so what? What happens in in organizations is people don’t turn up without an agenda. They don’t turn up agenda less. There are all sorts of power dynamics that are playing an organization, and we recognize the positional power one very easily. So if the boss walks in the room were trying to have dialogue and the boss says, Okay, thank you. 15 minutes in. This is what we’re gonna dio. What the boss has just done is taking us out of dialogue and exercise his position or her positional power. Onda course. There are lots of other sources of power as well. Relation or network, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera Eso where you got those. This is Bowman’s point. You always in an organization got these power dynamics play. Therefore, you can’t engage in pure dollar. I kind of agree with that.


I mean, when we wrote the dialogue, book seven of Us sat together through the intention was to engage in dialogue for 2.5 days and hoping the book would emerge. We noticed in ourselves we couldn’t hold that pure dialogue space amongst seven of us for very long. It was almost is just done that we were in. We were out. We’re in, We’re out, we’re in, We’re out. You know, it would just take one person to just tune out because it is retiring or they were distracted and it impacted on the on the whole thing. So it’s really interesting.


Pod: So the book that Paul is referring to is called the Tao of Dialogue. It was second book that you’ve written our co written in this case, and it’s a really beautiful, easy access to the concept of dialogue into short book. It’s an easy trade book. It’s set up with character business, and it’s like storing fables. But it really illustrates, as you quite rightly said, the power and benefit of it. But also it takes access to it, and then it takes practice and you drop in and out of it.


I’m interested in our current times you were recording this in July 2020 and where the whole world is amidst the pandemic. Still, how do leaders who don’t have the answers? Because none of us have the answers right now. But leaders still have to lead, and the accusations are looking for leadership. And I think human beings generally understand this is really strange, But I’m still looking to my leader.


How does the leader manage their own emotions, their own inner dialogue in her voice, whatever to be able to communicate effectively?


Paul: And I think that’s a lovely point because I love all this stuff. As you know, I love this stuff around voices and multiplicity and the idea that we have different selves. The the piece I would say there is is I like the inner voices metaphor either. I think it’s riel. Here’s two ways of looking in the voices. So there’s a very popular book sold a lot of copies called Tame, Your inner gremlin. I think it’s called and colorful color on it. But the basic premise seems to be, How do you get rid of this gremlin? Um, Andi. Yeah, I’m not comfortable with that idea because there’s a lot of lovely stuff that’s come out of the Adelaide Center, which is a sort of capturing therapy space, which has manifested itself. I know I came across this in a critic stuff about 10 years ago, and then a critic stuff, says theater critic, is kind of comparable to your gremlin. I suppose it’s the voice that saying, Well, you can’t do that or you’re going to stuff that up or that was terrible and it’s not helpful a lot of the time, right, But the premises, actually, you’re in a critic is there. It appeared in your life at some point, and it appeared because you needed it. It’s there to help. Unfortunately, it’s kind of showing up at times when it’s not helpful, but it’s it’s intended to help. So I’m going to do a presentation in front of 200 people in the inner critic is really nervous that you’re gonna make a fool of yourself that say remember when you stuff that I don’t remember you stuff that don’t do that again and look at those people in the audience. They’re not even smiling it. You need to do something to get its on your side. But it’s not helping you in that moment. And so if you look at the world through this idea of multiplicity and there’s some lovely stuff written around this, it says, authenticity isn’t about being true to your single self. You don’t have a single self. Authenticity is about two things. The extent to which all your multiple cells know each other. They know each other and they appreciate each other, and they kind of work out who is the best self to show up at the best context.


So I’m going on to do a presentation. This is if I’m authentic, according to this definition, right in, a critic says, Hey, guys, watch out on the you know, call it what you because we all got our own invoices and give what every names we like right? But let’s say somebody could win in a voice. That was what was the aggressive librarian and I can’t remember the name but he wore a sombrero when he was wore Budgie smugglers. And that was it. And yes, And that self, um said no, we could do this. We’re gonna have fun here. I’m just gonna go out there and connect. That’s what I connect with people. So be still in a critic. Let let me dio out here now and you just kind of come with us, but just perhaps just take a step back and in a critic trusts that self enough to let that self do it so that cells got to know each other, so sort of that, I mean, I’m going off on a bit of a tangent now, but the purposes, it’s become back to your question as a leader, how do I manage my emotions? Get to know him. Maybe the multiple the multiplicity piece. A lot of people find that interesting. Some people don’t but get to know the emotion if if you’re gonna g o if you’re gonna go and work with your team and you want to help your team come up with the response to co vid and Europe and and if your objective is we need to come out of this aligned, then you know that some of the emotions you might otherwise taking to that conversation I’m not gonna be helpful. So you need to know them. You need to know where they’re coming from. You could talk about this through a CBT perspective. What are the automatic thoughts and do I know where they’re coming from and how do I challenge them? But what you laid out here really lovely is the role of emotions.


First of all, emotions are powerful. There they come from a deep, deep space. They have often have histories and stories attached to them. Somewhere we know some, we don’t know what all either way, they’re powerful. Three notion off telling emotion just to die away is not really helpful. Whereas recognizing us there and recognizing you just don’t have one. You’ve got multiple, which, as you said, feed your or your own authenticity anyway. But the notion of I’ve got multiple emotions how do I recognize them? How do I be become aware of them on how do I be mindful off that as I go into the meeting on that would allow me to potentially be ah lot mawr in tune with the conversations I’ve been chewing myself. Exactly. Great. That’s that’s that’s really, really helpful.



Pod: We’ll move our conversation onto a very different topic now. I read an article recently by the consulting firm McKinsey’s who have lots of great articles on on their resources section. Things particular one was around leadership teams on the ship, teams who were leading transformations and one off their statistics that caught my eye in their article was, they said, 33% by a third, off exactly 33%. Failed transformations were because the leadership teams behaviors did not support the desired changes on my initial response was what were they thinking then? My second response. Waas I wonder. What were they thinking? That led to those specific behaviors that led to that piece? You have an upcoming book coming out later this year that talks to different levels of thinking and the notion off. There’s different ways of thinking and if you understand that, you can actually understand in the behaviors have followed that because you look at the world through a particular lens or a particular order. So I like to dive into that little bit.


But before we before we dive into that, what do we actually mean when we talk about systemic thinking?

Paul: well, I think that was part of the reason for writing the book because if you get five people working the coach space for the leadership space because that that whole notion of systemic thinking is showing up a lot in organizations that moment I’m noticing it sharpen leadership programs and just the general narrative. What its’s. It’ll mean different things to different people. But but the most common meaning of that, it seems to may just through my own experiences of people is it means I stand back and I take a big picture perspective. Essentially, that’s what it seems to mean. Big picture and holistic.

Pod: Yeah, I’ve heard you talk about this is that various conferences or what you’re saying is that’s like an umbrella statement on within that there’s a whole range off levels of What do I mean by I? Look at the system bond. It’s almost. It’s not quite hierarchical, but each Each one has a It’s almost like a rings of a tree. Each ring a tree is a ring and a tree, but the more you the bigger ones, have a bigger part of the tree, they can see more of the tree. And in that sense, can you talk us through the five levels off thinking and given where we are in the world right now? Maybe explained each one and then how that relates to a team addressing situation in covert or indeed, maybe the government addressing covert.


Paul: Okay, so the first one is first order. What do I think about Covid? I’m a world leader and I have 10 cases of co vid, And so I stand up to the world media and I say we’ve got 10 cases of the virus right now, but we relaxed about this because it’s just 10 Tomorrow. If we did nothing tomorrow, it might be 20 the next day. It might be 30 if we did nothing for two weeks. We have 140. So this all feels very manageable. And that’s a very linear way of thinking about covert. If I think about my team again, I’m thinking about things very much in terms of linear cause and effect. What we do has a very predictable outcome. So we all have our role descriptions, and we have our KPI’s . And as long as we’re clear on what we’re all supposed to be doing, then the outcome will be pretty predictable and successful. It feels kind of mechanistic or predictable, maybe even simple. It’s in some senses. It’s certainly mechanistic because this is the This is the metaphor of the organization as a machine.

Pod: So cause if you can identify the cause, you can work out the effect and therefore manage it. So as a leader who looks at the world or looks at the situation or the problem through that way of thinking, they’re identifying the system.

Paul: Absolutely, but they’re identifying. We can manage this, and therefore decisions and behaviors will follow that. Okay, and you may find that team doesn’t the various leaders in that team. Team members, they don’t necessarily interact a lot. This is ours coaching team recently, actually, and one of the team members said, I don’t challenge you because challenge challenging people is something that a lot of teams wrestle with. I don’t challenge you because it’s your domain. It’s your expertise, and I don’t feel I have the right to challenge you on that. It’s this notion. Yeah, it is simplistic, simplistic, but its mechanistic. It’s predictable. You’re the expert. We don’t really need to interact because, you know, it’s all fairly straightforward.


Pod: Okay, so then first order, non linear. What’s the difference between those two?

Paul: Well, it’s still mechanistic because I’m still I’m still looking at the organization as a machine. But I’m recognized recognizing that cause and effect is not as linear a zai might otherwise things. So then I’m the world leader is saying, Okay, we got 10 cases. We need to be worried here, right, because every person right now is infecting 2.5 people. And so give it a week. We could have 10,000 cases if we do nothing. And I’m recognizing that cause and effect is can sometimes be a little. It isn’t the case that if I can get infected suddenly I come up with these predictable symptoms. If if we’ve got 10 cases, we might have 100 cases. So I’m noticing still the organizations of machine, but it’s much more complicated machine. And there’s other concepts here, like causal loops and what have you are not gonna go into that now, but that. And that’s how systems thinking was defined by I’m simplifying. But that’s how systems thinking was defined by singing about 30 years ago. This is what I mean. This whole were three systems. Thinking has lots of different meanings, but in that level, and if you want to use the word levels but that order of non in your first order the leader or be a politician, be a team leader is recognizing that it’s getting, um, there’s a It’s not straightforward linear. As you said, it’s not linear, but it’s still within. The system is still within control. We are intelligent. We’re smart. We can we can grapple with this. We will figure it out. That’s right. And so again, if you look at how much a team function, if a team was looking through this lens, it would value the intelligence and the smartness you might get Mawr collegiate behavior on that team to leverage whoever is perceived to be the clever people to help the other people kind of work out What’s going on here on that leaders? Probably likely, if you ask them their values. Intelligence is likely to be in there somewhere. Andi. It’s very common,. I did some work with a very big, massive organization. Was in the top five organizations in the world was terribly successful. And the CEO of that organization, when I read their autobiography talked about talked about how he just loved problem solving, and it was it was very absolutely

The value is around. It was an incredibly intelligent person, intimidating the intelligent person, and and that was kind of the value of that organization. But the problem solving notion was, you know I or we can solve this probably don’t need to go externally. It’s within our own control. It’s all about your complete your brain power.


Pod: So let’s jump over to second order thinking, and this goes beyond our individual capacity of brainpower to manage what’s in our control Talking to that?

Paul: Um so again, it’s actually still mechanistic, I think. I mean, there’s different interpretations on what everything I’m saying, so I’m just simplifying. But the second order perspective says yes, the organization is a machine, but it’s functioning is so complicated we can’t hope to really understand what’s going on here. So it looks like a black box theory. It’s a machine, but it’s not a black box recording an airplane. It’s too hard to even work out how this thing works, right? And so, But it s so we need to. The best we’re going to be able to do here is to come up with a hypothesis is toe how the system is working, and and we appreciate at the subjectivity of our in perspective that that’s another fundamental aspect of second order thinking. We know that we are not objective creatures, that we are subjective, and so we’re only going to come up with a really good hypothesis. If we get a number of different people all looking through their own different lenses to come together, and from that, then we’ll get a pretty good hypothesis that we can go and test by kind of do learn to learn, do that would be a second or hypothesis. So with covid again, first thing I’m gonna do as the world leader is I’m going to ring up Singapore or Indonesia, or  wherever else. So they mostly in Southeast Asia, I think and say you’ve done this before. What did you do? Help me understand what happened in your country. Help me understand what you did because I’m really interested to know I might be. Even in my own country. I might ring around the other in Australia, a ring around the other states and said, How is this occurring to you? So that that’s not a first order way of doing things. The first order way of doing things is this is a company. This is a really complicated thing. But I, as my definition of myself as a leader is, I need to know the answer and you look at the behavior of some world leaders. Some of these a bit obvious. Did they go reaching out to other countries to know they didn’t shut the doors, they shut the doors and they said we will work this out with our experts and started pointing the fingers at other you know, it got very, you know, finger pointing. That’s not a second order perspective.


So second or so those things you said that I think is really important, there’s the notion off. Let’s create a hypothesis because right now I know that I are my team or my country. We don’t know enough, so we have to bring in other points of view, other expertise, other experiences so we can create the best hypothesis for the moment. The second thing, he said, is the notion of experimentation because the hypothesis might keep changing. So in order to try and figure this out, we actually have to experiment and learn from that. Now I will imagine given if you’re a politician, can I just add There’s a really there’s a really implication for teams here, which is if that exchange of different perspectives is important, then we as a team have to be good at exchanging different perspectives and not all teams are good at that.


Pod: I was just gonna say I think I think this is a really probably one of the learnings is coming out of this experience around the world right now, four teams and four leaders and for politicians as well is particular politicians who have to go on to their daily news every day with a very clear opinion. Otherwise, at least traditionally wise there they were seen as being not not knowing what they were doing yet there in the world off experimentation with the unknown. And they have to experiment and therefore they have to learn. And Australia has done quite well in covert. But in the early days, I remember the hearing lots in the media about the politicians don’t know what they’re doing.

No one knew what they were doing wasn’t just them. I think over time the media has changed and it has become, We’re all learning together. But as you said this, the second order thinking requires the leader and the team toe. Understand?


Paul: They are subjective to their own opinions, and therefore that’s not good enough. You have to have a range of opinions and they have to develop hypothesis and they have to experiment and learn and and this is co created. I mean, like, if I’m a CEO of some organizations, I don’t think it is true, every organization at all. But as a CEO, if I turn it in front of my board, my bought is Tell me what’s going on here. And if I go well, I could give you some perspective on what’s going on. But I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on, because no one, no one could ever know that then that might not be accepted by the board. If it’s not accepted by the board, then then I’m kind of being firmly directed toward the first order way of thinking. As you said, politicians are not allowed Thio or haven’t really been allowed to get up and say, Hey, who knows the? Because people get really anxious. They want their politicians to be able to tell me the answer on one of the things I’ve been doing Covid, which really struck me, was when again, I was lucky enough to be privy to a member of the senior exacting talking to the broader organization and and she was saying, Yeah, here’s what we’re gonna dio blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, not saying that this is the right thing to do. I’m just saying, Given all the data we’ve got right now, this seems to us to be the best guess I thought. Wow. How often do you hear that? You know the senior team talking to the whole organization, saying we’re not really very sure. But this is our best guess. And so one I thought wonderful. Because that seemed to be that seems to me that then they indicated that had access that second order, way of thinking, which is in many contexts, gonna be useful. But secondly, we’ve talked about this before is, um I thought, Wow, it’s something shifting here on day and it does seem to me to be shifting in the in the kind of political landscape more generally where some leaders and we know who they are, who like to go out there and say This is what’s happening and it gives people assurance. Funnily now that seems to be actually not giving people insurance at all. That seems to be what’s worrying people. And some people are getting very worried by people who were just saying, Yeah, this is what this is coronaviruses. What’s happening because most of us know, especially if you’re going to second way. We weren’t supposed to have a second way. Wow, this is We are heading into an unknown here. Of course, you can expect anybody to know exactly what and in modern day multimedia and access to media from anywhere in the world. Everyone can pick up any newspaper online to find out what’s happening anywhere and be is equally informers and anybody else, and I understand that. So I was the leader of my team. How comfortable my showing up in front of my team and my team says, Hey, what’s going on? Boston I go. I’m not really very sure what’s going on here, but here’s what I’m observing and here’s what sense I’m making of it. Here’s my best guess. Is that okay or not? I was. I’m interested.


Pod: Your comment on your thinking that in the in the in recent weeks on again we’re both sitting here and sitting Australia, so therefore, influenced by what’s happening in our geography of the world. It’s not unique to our geography, the world, and noticing that the media who traditionally have taken ah politicians say and tear it apart and point out what’s wrong with it. like a lot. Like many countries, Australia’s debt level has risen dramatically. You know, we were in a potential surplus come into this year, and now we’re gonna be $180 billion debt in a few weeks time. So extraordinary change. And as the ministers were laying out the budget changes, um, one of the ministers said to the media, what was the alternative? And the media rooms went quiet, and it was palpable that everyone in the room in a live broadcast recognizing that actually, this is this is dramatically different. And therefore, you know, the notion off the government moving into debt was actually, it’s not a choice here. And I just thought it was really interesting about that for the media, particularly, which is a representation of all of us going. You know what? We’re actually old and something new together for the first time ever.


Paul: Yeah, And isn’t that sort of isn’t that covert is sort of lovely example of that narrative of us, you know, every time, just appreciating the complexity of something looks quite simple because I think when Kobe’s started did the task was simple. How’d you How’d you stop it now. I think we’re all in a place that says This isn’t a simple is that you’ve got the virus and you’ve got the impact on the economy and you can’t look at one divorced of the other might sound a bit inhumane, but there’s this massive, complex thing and it means you weren’t quite. I think we’re going a bit quiet because e think we’re all just a bit stumped. Eso level three seconds to think you level four.


Pod: Complexity. Let’s talk about that.

Paul: So the first three ways of thinking are quite mechanistic because they’re saying, Put crudely, the world operates like a like a really an engine, either a simple engine or engine that’s so difficult to understand, but it’s still an engine. What complexity theory says that’s not actually how change happens. What happens with change is people. They make meaning of stuff. So the example attend to use because it was really and it’s just a good one, I think is when I was doing a coaching skills program that this organization and at the lunch break we’re all out there and they sort of kitchen did a little and and someone said because what they’re all talking about an email that come out that morning. Andi, It had said something on the lines of your I know. We said that everyone would be getting a 15% pay rise. It’s now gonna bay 12%. Oops, Yeah, but it’s not a big number, right? I’m going 15 12. But then that’s just may so 15 to its own. Over here, a zero point of your right as a point to my right, there’s a group going. I’m seriously pissed off about this. You know, it’s like this is a matter of principle. They said 15% no matter what. If you say that, you have to stick to it. If that wasn’t the case, then don’t say it. So this is a matter of principle. There’s a group over here that are going pointing to the left. There’s a group over here that they’re going. This is so cool because this organization is not commercial enough. This this this whole thing about we can’t afford to pay 15. We’re gonna pay 12. That’s the lesson we just need to. Everyone needs to understand that over there, pointing forward. There’s another group that goes 12%. 15%? Who cares? That’s 500 bucks. I mean, I’m not gonna get worried about that. So you had all the different examples of different populations on there talking to each other, and out of that kind of collective process comes different meanings on then and then what happens when all of those views come together? Who knows? It’s going to be somewhat mysterious. And if I’m only looking at what’s happening at the high level, and I see this mysterious random think I go, that’s really random. Where did that come from? The only way. But it’s not random. It’s actually. But to understand it, I’ve got to go and understand what’s happening at the local level.


So change emerges from these conversations that are happening in the out there all over the all over the organization. And then what emerges is an overall action is could be somewhat mysterious. Now, if I’m if I’m looking at life through a first order lens or even a second order lens is a member of the senior executive him, I’m going. That makes no sense. What just happened. Obviously, why didn’t they just take the message and logical, rational. Do it well, they’re resistant to change. You know, hear that phrase a lot, a little bit stupid. And then you say to People will ask how change works here has. Here’s how a change which you do not get to control outcomes that is the scary. But you do not get to control outcomes. And then people say, What’s what’s my job as a leader? I just kind of It’s all it’s all just happens anyway. No, because the way change works is it’s an emergence off all of those conversations that are happening all over the organization. You can influence those conversations. You have to be in conversation because in conversation on that again, there’s the control bit. The other bit that this really challenges the leader who says I only talk to my direct reports because if I go and talk to people below, then I’m challenging their authority. No, remember, this is what one of the leaders said on the leading change thing. He said, No, no, no, no, no. I go and talk to people all over the organization, But I’m just careful about what I talk about. I don’t do anything to change their authority, but I go and listen and speak. Listen, seeds and listen. Yeah, great. Let’s move on. Toe met a systemic thinking


The fifth over here things is a quite a different view of the world. The first four. Yeah, and this says, Well, by the way, there is no such thing as a system, the organizations, and not systems. And there is no such thing as a team. And actually, there’s no such thing as an organization. These are all just mental constructs. Kind of scary. Yeah, it certainly is. And this is where I, you know, I’ve sort of had these conversations at conferences and so on. And this is the one which tends to elicit the most resistance and people. So what do you mean? There’s no singers organizations? Yes, there is. Um, of course there is. But it’s just a metaphor. There’s no such thing as a team. A team is this construct that we create for ourselves. So I’ve got eight direct reports. That’s what I inherited. We’re a team now. That’s a very nice idea. Very useful to an extent, can be useful. Could be used in all sorts of ways. It can remind us, too, get to know each other better. I mean, it can remind us that we actually need to communicate about this thing that we’re all supposedly trying to work toward. It’s a useful thing, right? But sometimes it can be not very useful. Here’s when it’s one of the one example of where it’s not very useful is Hey, you always coach your team. But you know you’re gonna make to people and you and I know this. But you know, two people are gonna be made redundant next month. You’re gonna have to replace them. So let’s leave it six months until this team gets stable. I don’t know if that’s very useful theme, and the other way it’s not useful is I feel all eight of us have to be in every conversation. How often do you hear people complaining about meetings and how boring meetings are? This says no, from from from a better perspective, you need the people in the room to talk about what you need, the people you that should be in the room with the people that need to be talking about whatever it is you’re talking about, and sometimes that might be those three people in the team and sometimes not. If you, if you look at it from a systemic perspective, people would say, You can’t You can’t have three people. What? You have to have everybody talking about it From that perspective, it says no, Right now, that’s the team. It’s Tuesday. It’s nine o’clock. Those three people we need, that’s inverted commas the team because they’re the people that need to be talking about this thing. A five o’clock. We got this other conversation. We need seven tomorrow at six o’clock, we got this other conversation. We need three people from the team in inverted commas, and then we need all these people who are outside the team, so notice the notion of the team can also limit our thinking sometimes.


Pod: Well, what I love about this notion, and I must say it took me a while to get my own head around it. But what I love about it is specifically for leadership teams. So you CEO, lead religion team or a a regional say, you know, Southeast Asia or Europe type leadership team on def. You’re looking at that through first order lens. You could easily have 12 or 14 people who are all direct reports of that leader who always have to be on the team and every single conversation. If you look at the Medicis Temic thinking, the notion of team well purely doesn’t exist. But let’s say it’s fluid. But it’s a metaphor that we’re holding, which is this is what we call. We don’t call this anti systemic. We call this meta system because what it’s saying is we’re just seeing the system and the team and organization idea for what it is. You really useful metaphor sometimes before that leader they can easily work with in order for to help this decision to be made thes core people are the perfect people there, a subset off what we call the team. There’s another subset of what we call the team who are best suited for these conversations. We want the whole group of what we call the team into these kind of conversations on that allows allows the leader as long as everyone else in the team understands that and there’s a bit of work to be done there. But that gives the leader a lot more scope to be flexible and agile with how they bring that group of people together.


Paul: It does, on the meta systemic perspective on the complexity perspective, a similar in many ways because their fundamental idea of how change happens is the same. All we’re doing here is, we’re saying, but just be careful. The complexity of respect because you still talk about the organization of is a system. Sometimes that’s not gonna be helpful. Otherwise, it’s quite a similar way of looking at things. And so, yes, that’s the leader’s job. But you know, of course, when you as soon as I listen to you saying that I’m just imagining I’m on your team, What are you talking about? That’s right. There’s an impact. You’re having a team meeting without me present. So to be able to manage this is a leader. I’m gonna have to be very good at managing those relationships, and I’m gonna have to think a certain way. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Absolutely not. None of this is easy as it sounds. Of course. Well, we are. We started by saying individual complex teams of complex and we’re in complex times.

Pod: I want to bring this conversation towards the close. Pretty soon, if I could. I got three questions to finish off with, and I bring it right back to you. In terms of where we started today. I’m I mentioned up front that you’re a prolific writer. Um, I didn’t actually explain you right in many genres, uh, leadership in teams, one genre coaching, supervision of coaches. And there’s another genre. Historical fiction. He’s a third genre. What does that do for you? Writing historical fiction. So I wrote a trilogy of book murder Mystery set in 17th century London. And they’re very gory. Andi, they’re just I was gonna say they’re great. They were great fun to write. They were great fun to write. But I’m not sure that there isn’t a bit of me showing up there that perhaps a zoo, no, sort of slightly confused figure in the middle of it all but Onda sort of general glorious of it. But it’s it’s a very self indulgent space. It’s a self indulgent space. When you’re writing on this fiction stuff, if you if you believe in that kind of systemic perspective, you know that you’re just kind of what you’re saying. and writing is just kind of is to assume most like a just an escape valve for for a very collective conversation writing fiction. You can just go and do that by yourself. You don’t have to touch base or anybody else. You could just do it by yourself. And it’s very self indulgent. And Ugo, you’re like and yeah, it’s very boundary less brilliant.

Pod: I know you’re also a music fan and in bracket today or any day bracket, What’s your favorite song today?

Paul: A couple of songs, and so this is all connected. Those of racist um so you and I I think you did is well, we have. We had tickets to go and see a band called The Fat White Family before they got the spoke with coronavirus. Yeah, and I hadn’t really sort of had a good looking, But I spent a lot of time because because we don’t get to go to bands now, one of the things that they’re doing Coronavirus was just going to find a new band every week that are like enough to go and buy their stuff. So I really got into the fat white family. And then there’s another band. So this is another story. So Lady called Maxine Peake, who was in a film called Funny Girl On and She One day this disappears because of the sort of 17th century stuff, because I’ve done a lot of reading into witchcraft, and she done a lot of reading into local witchcraft and was really appalled by it, because what she found Waas that actually all these women were tortured and executed On what premise? You know, basically, it was a way for males to go and torture and kill all the women. They didn’t really like very much in their community efficiently. Yeah, very efficient, not very nice. So she was. She was looking for to do a sort of musical thing around it, and and she found these two muses on Facebook, and they formed a band called the Accent Tronic Research Council, and they did an album called 16 12 Under Your, which is hard to find. But the song another witch is dead Eyes is on YouTube. It’s brilliant. And then the other song that I really like because you know you can’t invited me to be part of your little music group during Covid, where you listen to each other’s music. And one of the things I found was the rest of the group didn’t seem to be terribly fond of the fat white family. And there’s this particular song called Touch the Leather, which I think is more of the video than the music. Andi, that was funny. So so then. Then they’re connected, right, because you have fat white family and you have eccentric research council on. Then they thought they formed a joint venture called The Moon Landings on the Moon landings to this album. They’ve got a fictional lead singer called Johnny Rocket on the extent Tronic Research Council did another album, which was a kind of ALS through the lens of this girl who was believed she was the daughter of Margaret Thatcher on her imaginary love affair with Johnny Rocket. So all these three bands are connected and all the songs are connected.


Pod: Wow, most people want to ask that question to that gave me, you know, like what a beautiful day by YouTube. But Paul gives us this huge, extraordinary insight into his working in mind and to potential music around the world we’ve had a lot of insights into what do you what you’ve learned over your career path. Given all of that, what would you now say to the Let’s say, the 35 year old version of yourself, Given all the wisdom you have accumulated or insights over the years, why would you tell that person?


Paul: Yeah, and, uh, to me, my head goes, It’s really not about skills and knowledge, and wisdom is such I think it’s a theme that we’ve kind of talked about. I think you know, when we talked about the Emotions piece and I think I think it relates, not quite sure how, but it relates to the systems thinking, too, that that leadership and we talked about with the dialogue piece that our capacity to be super effective as a leader, relates Thio, the extent to which were self aware that we really understand ourselves. So I think if I was given access and I said, Well, yeah, I’m perfectly happy with the way my life turned out But but But, you know, I don’t know what the impact of this would be, but it would be, you know, I’d love to sit down with a 35 year old self and just in a short period as I could help that self just become more aware of himself.


Pod: Beautiful I’m I am delighted that you are who you are on, delighted that you’ve shared with us all of your insights. Well, actually, not all of your insights Lots of your insights today and lots of your learning for those who want to Nome or I’m going to include a link to Paul’s website, the Center for Coaching Organizations. And if you like reading, there is an abundance off White Papers, blog’s articles and even some recent podcasts that are pretty available off Paul’s website. Paul’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Or download as a PDF:

Ep 3. When mindfulness becomes a strategic skill with Gillian Coutts

Gillian Coutts is a Partner with The Potential Project. In this wide open and often intimate conversation, Gillian shares insights on how the practise of mindfulness helps senior leaders lift out of the noise and increase their ability to zoom out, see patterns and make better choices.
She shares;
  • What happened for her when she returned to work following maternity leave and then found she had cancer
  • Why did a Board member once comment that Gillian seemed to be getting more intelligent?
  • What is the empathy trap?
  • How she supported one CEO who leads a large healthcare company reframe the anxiety she was feeling when Covid first hit
  • Why did one CFO say the ROI he (gratefully) found after one of his programs was one second….
  • What has the Prime Minister of New Zealand being deliberately cultivating as a leader over her career?
  • What is the link between strategy and compassion?
  • Why is compassion without wisdom just folly?
  • What is Theory U?
  • How to start developing a practise of mindfulness or attention management
  • Research from The Potential Project from over 35 countries and thousands of leaders
  • Effective leaders will always outperform ineffective leaders over time!

Show notes

Key Focus Areas We Discussed in This Conversation

  1. Starting a mindfulness journey
  2. How mindfulness can improve the boardroom
  3. How to practice mindfulness
  4. 3 key learnings of mindfulness
  5. Making mindfulness strategic
  6. Wise compassion
  7. Mindfulness in the COVID era

Website links

Resources mentioned in our interview


Pod:  I remember when I first met you and we were talking about that; I was attracted to the idea of the potential project. Like, what is that? What does that mean?

You guys have written some great books, including One Second Ahead. Tell me more about the Potential Project.


Gillian:   The Potential Project is a global firm that really works with leaders and their teams around team, effectiveness, leadership development and really bringing this capacity. You talked about the book One Second Ahead – this idea that if we can insert a little bit of space between when things happen and how we respond, you’ve got a little bit more space to be able to choose what you do next. So, a little bit more space to be able to bring your wisest self to that in whatever way that is, rather than firing off with automatic corrections and all that sort of stuff. So the organization is in about 28 countries and there’s about 300 of us around the world at this stage, working with organizations.  Everyone from a multinational down to a small school kind of organizational solutions that really support, leaders and their teams in these times.


                Pod: I’m looking some of the stats on on the power of the program that you run, you know, increase of focus by 37%, job satisfaction increase by 23% , stress reduction by 37%. Work life balance increased by 17% and overall efficiency and productivity, 18%. They are pretty robust statistics.


Gillian: So, we have quite a large research department as well that does a lot of work to study the impact of what we do, as well as some partnering with universities to really understand, What are the one of the affect mechanisms that we have and how do we maximize these?


Pod: Mindfulness is not new, it’s been around, some would argue, since the days of Socrates and variations of that, yet it has become really in vogue and very much a mainstream conversation I would think of the last five or six years, particularly in the leadership writings and discussions. Gillian can you tell us, why would a leader want to embark on a practice of mindfulness given it takes practice and it takes time, and they’re usually pretty time poor anyway.


Gillian: Yeah, it’s so interesting, isn’t it? I may be able to best answer that question by telling you about how I got into it, it’s kind of a very, a good example of how people often fall into these things. If you’d said to me 10 years ago that I’d be sitting here talking to you about it, I would have said, You’ve got rocks in your head, right? I am not that sort of woman. So, I started my journey after my son was born, he is now 10 and at the time I was in sales and operations at Pacific Brands.


Pod: One of the biggest brands in Australia for appearal lovers, I know my wife loves them!


Gillian: So, my kind of experience I had James, my son and then just after he was born, was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I kind of had that double slap to my head. One was becoming a parent. The other was having this disease emerged and my answer to kind of the existential crisis that evolved from that, you know, What the hell am I doing? My life and I had a meaningful impact, all of that stuff was I just had to go back to work to work harder, get promoted faster so that I could create the human centered organization that I really saw the potential for there to be, like in the people that I worked with. And of course, you know, when you’re in a publicly listed company whilst deeply under pressure, you can imagine just how that actually worked out.


So I’m back at work, I’ve got chemo brain up the wazoo. I’ve got a toddler under one arm and this big new job, and someone said to me, Look, you seem a bit stressed out. Thanks for noticing that. Have you ever thought have you ever thought of like meditating on doing some mindfulness, and I said, Have you ever sort of sticking it up your taxi like that is not the time. It was where you probably use much more colorful words of the time. But it was really interesting because I’ve got a bit of a science background. So, I thought, well, what if I just didn’t experiment? What if I did 10 minutes a day for 2 weeks and just see what happens. As a result, I can you know,


Pod: This was before the head space program


Gillian: But there was a lot of research starting to emerge in. Google was already doing it. There was a bit of that, and so I’ve done my 10 minutes a day and I start to feel more calm and in control, which is lovely. But what was really interesting is after two more weeks, I said, right, I’ll do another two weeks of this experiment, and then my husband said to me, do you realize you’re easy to live with? Wow, that’s really interesting



Pod:  So you so that’s interesting on many levels. What a great gift he gave to you by giving you feedback, but also how courageous he was to say that


Gillian: We’d had a pretty tough time and had other family pressures. It was needed. It was


Pod:   What was he noticing that made it in his eyes You’re easier to live with.


Gillian: I think I was less of a bitch, Right?


Pod:   Glad you said that. Not him.


Gillian: I was less reactive. So, I was more able to, bite my tongue – at the time, I probably would have described it is biting my tongue, but I would describe it differently now, but I wasn’t as reactive to the things that were really annoying me.


Pod:   And so now you look back in that at that time and you’re able to think that the practice of the mindfulness that you had started undertaking was allowing you to either be less reactive, less angry, or just to manage it in a more proactive way?


Gillian: Yeah, I’m not sure that I was less angry but I wasn’t noticing myself being angry and having just a little bit more space to choose what did I do next as a result. But the thing that really got me very curious about the whole journey – I kept going with this experiment and I’m, you know, up to at the end of month three and I’ve been doing the practice most days I wasn’t perfect, but most days., I sit on a couple of boards and so after a board meeting, one of the guys lined over to me and said, Look, but I don’t know what’s going on with me, but it’s like you suddenly smarter and I’m like in my head I’m like dude that is not a thing that you say out loud, but thanks very much.


Pod: This is a board that you’re sitting on, obviously board being a hyper governance and hyper responsible entity for any organization he leans across to you. It says you’ve become smarter. Wow. So how did you mindfully accept that compliment?


Gillian: I’m really curious. And  I asked what was it that you see that’s different. And it basically boils down to that. I talked more and what I hadn’t unto understood until that moment was I in that board context was a bit of a diversity hire. So, I’d started five years earlier now been on involved in an organization 15 years. But so, I had started reasonably young, and I was used to feeling like I had to have the perfect interjection before I would make a comment at the board table. And what that translated into was that I would be so busy trying to get the perfect interjection that the conversation would move on and I wouldn’t speak it all. And so, I was contributing. It wasn’t that I wasn’t speaking at all, but I was living in my head as opposed to listen to the conversation rather than speaking


Pod:  Yeah, and just to clarify for the audience who may not know what you mean by I was a diversity hire. What kind of diversity were they hiring you for?


Gillian: So, I was a relatively young woman. I was 35 at the time, and they that was mainly older, retired men and women. But there were mainly men.


Pod: They hired you for your youth and for your femininity and I imagine you know, one stage you worked strategy for a pretty serious organisation, so you bring a lot of intellectual lends to an otherwise for-profit environment. Yeah. And so, what’s going back to his comment on what’s really interesting is here you were they hired you for all of that, and and you weren’t bringing it. But after a few weeks of practicing mindfulness, it emerged naturally for you.


Gillian: What I noticed was it became really obvious to me when I was thinking too much. So, I was starting to observe my thoughts and when I noticed that I was getting tangled up in trying to get it perfect, I’d go just say it. So, it became a mantra of just say it. And so some people who start practicing mindfulness might actually speak less because the, noticed they speak too much and they can pull it back. For me, I started to notice I was thinking too much, and I just need to just say something. And so, I was starting just to contribute whatever I was experiencing, whatever I was thinking at that time and and not in it. Look it in a in a curated way. I wasn’t just a firehose, but I was contributing in a way that I hadn’t done before. And that just made him think I was smarter. I hadn’t changed, but I was contributing differently.


Pod:   How amazing is that? Can you get a bit granular with us in terms of what actually was that 10 minutes practice you were doing? Like what actually does ig look like or sound like for someone who doesn’t do that?


Gillian: What I now understand that I was doing what I didn’t understand this at the time is what’s called a concentration practice. So, it was a breath awareness practice where you focus on your breath and you could use any object of focus for your attention. But the breath is a pretty good one for a couple of different reasons, and the idea is that you focus on that breath, and where were the physical sensations of breathing? And then when your mind wanders, which it inevitably does after two or three breaths, when you notice that, you bring it back, and so there’s kind of three core muscles you’re developing as you do that practice. The first is the ability to actually stabilize your attention on something you choose, which, strangely enough, was much harder than I expected at the time and remains a challenge today.


But you develop the new pathways to be up to sustain that focus as you do more practice. The second muscle you’re developing as you do the practice is your ability for awareness, which is really foundation of self awareness. And by that, I mean that moment when you notice that your mind is wandering, is you observing your capacity in your thought, which is something we very, rarely do. We tend to think what’s going on in the heads all the time. It’s almost like we are thinking in them or through them rather than actually observing them. And so, it’s like when we talk about that difference between being able as a leader to act on the system rather than in it.  I think once you can observe your thought in that way, you can act on this thought rather than in it. It gives you that little bit of perspective.


Pod: I’ve heard this phrase called the third eye. The idea being is an imaginary third eye in your forehead that just observes yourself and so does nothing other, then observe yourself. Is that what you’re talking about? That notion of meta awareness is you’re watching you being you in you.


Gillian: Yeah. Yeah, it’s interesting. We associate with a third eye, that word. But no, that’s not in terms of that perspective of almost like being on the balcony? Yes, of yourself, watching your moment, but not in a kind of forensic, or kind of scary way. And don’t get me wrong. I would not spend my time all the time being able to observe myself because you inevitably come out of that. But your ability to notice it sooner and sooner is really powerful. So a really good application for me and coming back to my husband realizing that I was being less of a bitch was your ability – so often will say, like people who are really calm are people who never get rattled by something or never get angered by something or would never become impatient. What I’ve started to observe by seeing myself and in the leaders I work with now is that people who are calm, it’s not that they never get upset by something but they are lightning fast at noticing the very first moment that impatience or frustration start to arise and and then responding to that appropriately, rather than it becoming kind of a bushfire in their brain like, it’s easy to put out a spark than it is to put out a bushfire, right? So, if you can notice the very first moment when you start to become agitated about something, you can go well, look at that. This is starting to really annoy me. What do I need to do now? So, then it means there’s less rumination, there’s less unnecessary effort. There’s more acting in the moment of what matters, rather than coming back and going ‘I could’ve Should’ve would’ve’.


Pod: There’s a story in one of your books and not sure if it’s  One second ahead book or the The Mind of the Leader book but it’s Jacob Larson who is the president of the Finance Group, and I’ve heard you tell the story at a conference  so tell us about that. The notion that he is a finance leader whose undertaking some of your mindfulness programs and at the end, the program he’s asked what’s the biggest thing he got from this? And it is the least expected answer you’d hear from a finance leader.


Gillian: He says one second. And he’s had to pay for the program, he had to do 10 minutes a day of coaching every week over a period of eight weeks. Um, and so in the researchers were interviewing him and asked, what did you get out of it? And he said, I got one second and when the researchers talked about it, you could feel their jaw drop and he said that, no you don’t understand. I’ve got this one second of space between whenever anything happens, within me or around me and the moment and I need to respond. It’s really interesting lately. It’s a metaphor. Sure, one second it’s not like (pause) now I’m going to respond. It’s I can observe and then choose, as opposed to being overcome by whatever it is. You know, the phone rings and I immediately pick it up or, you know, someone walks into my office and immediately I am angry because of interrupted my flow. It makes it more conscious a choice about what he does next with the intention of being a better leader.


Pod:   As, you know, I specialize in coaching, typically CEOs early C level suite executives, and they’re some of the smartest people I know are in those roles by their mere nature they are very clever and they work really hard. And then they were in those positions. But the better off those group of people have a notion off optionality. How do I keep my options open to me before I make major decisions? And the really clever investors I’ve met over the years, our masterful at maintaining Optionality. What I’ve realized in the last couple of years is part off their ability to become good at Optionality is they develop a practice such as mindfulness or something it might be a physical exercise and might be reflection piece, but it is geared towards helping them not jump into a decision too fast or a reaction too fast. Is that Is that something you believe noticed in your work?


Gillian: It’s really interesting. I think this kind of three key skills we’ve seen in the leaders that are managing really well, leading really well and the first is this ability to maintain mental agility. So, this ability to zoom in on what’s needed as a priority the ability to zoom out and see a pattern as that arises, but also your ability to switch between things. So you might, as a CEO, be needed to be dealing with the decision about, um, workforce cash. We had this cash flow issue with a workforce that we need to stand down. You might be having a conversation with investors, or you might be needing to console an employee that doesn’t agree with the situation or whatever it is. You’ve got to switch so many different contexts. But not only that, you probably also and frankly in this moment at home and dealing with your family and any of the complexities that arise there.


So this is this ability to zoom in as needed, the ability to zoom out and see patterns and the ability to choose is that that’s kind of been one really cool thing. We’ve seen the leaders who I’m moving towards thriving during really well, I think the next piece has in the context of so much suffering. Although everyone’s impacted by what’s going on, it is definitely, uh, there’s been some leaders we’ve worked with who have really leaned into what we call the empathy trapped like. You can see that people are suffering and what’s interesting neurologically about empathy is the way that we know someone suffering is that we take on what we experience is their situation and run it through our own pain networks in our brain, and if we come up with ooh that hurts, then we go ooh they’re hurting. So literally what we do is we resonate with someone’s pain and we feel that pain as we empathize people.


Leaders who stay in that space burn out really quickly because what they will tend to do is then become. Apparently, we had one leader we were working with who was unable to write a piece of communication to the employees because they were so overwhelmed by the pain that they were going to inflict in the communication. That’s not helpful in that moment for the leader or for the people. But what we tend to do then what we noticed latest into two is then dissociate so they will dissociate from the experience and so almost become kind of calculating, strategic, but very dismissive of people’s pain. Go yeah that’s there and I’m I’m not going to feel that. So it’s almost like they squash it down because it hurts too much. Whereas the ones we’ve seen really adapt and really leverage this moment for culture building for shifting focus. Those that have been up top right?


What would say from a place of wise compassion. Interestingly again, if I stick you under name for my scanner and ask you to empathize, certain areas of your brain will light up when I ask you to connect with your intention that another not suffer and start to think about what you could do to help them. Actually, the areas of love and reward in your brain start to light up. So, as you start to connect with an intention that you don’t want another person to suffer, and you want to be of service to them. This different, every area of the brain’s engaged. And so, leaders who are able to leverage in that capacity, then can operate in a really strategic but very caring way that sends enormous signals to the organization.


Pod: I suppose this was on a public stage, the Prime Minister of New Zealand is someone who displays that really well and has been called out all of the world for her ability to do that. It would appear so,


Gillian: Yeah. I mean, she’s really, really interesting. I, um, having read one of her biographies, she has been deliberately cultivating herself for many, many, many years, both as a skilled political communicator, but her foundational mantra is kindness. She will, as a default come from a place of how do I help people not suffer? What can I do for people in that way?


Pod:  It’s really intriguing. The word compassionate and strategic in the same sentence because that’s not something that a lot of us would think about naturally. And I know in my own development is a leader in my own development as a human being I use the mindful leader app from the Potential Project and the notion of cultivating compassion is part of that practice. I’ve noticed in my own development when I’m sitting in that pause moment. But now I’m thinking of what’s going on for that person. Where are they coming from? what might be happening for them as my starting point, which it wouldn’t have been a number of years ago and I can certainly say that some of the decisions I make these days are now coming from that place than before and I would suggest that in terms of complexity, they are definitely better. Decisions are disturbing, felt in a better way them in the past. So, I’m pleased to hear my egotistical brain’s pleased to hear that I must become more strategic, becoming more compassionate.


Gillian: We talked about this idea of wise compassion because I think compassion can have a bit of a bad rap, particularly in businesses, around being overly caring and so we make a distinction around, you know, compassion without wisdom, without business insight and intelligence is really folly like because you’re not actually serving the broader good in that way, just the same as wisdom without compassion is and can be manipulative or brutal. And so that sweet spot where you can be both wise and compassionate- I mean, it’s a sweet spot but it is a hard spot because I think even myself, you know-I can remember when I’ve needed to run redundancy programmes and think that I remember they’re shutting off of, What would it feel like to go through this experience, having been made redundant myself?


You know I remember having to physically shut off from that experience because I didn’t have these kind of practices, all kind of ideas available to me at the time, and we made some terrible decision to, you know, not allow people who had been working for us for four years to return to the desk after we after they’ve been told that they had to leave. That was heartbreaking. That was the feedback that I got was that there was the most cruel thing that I could have possibly ever done to have allowed that decision to unfold in that way. And I hold that today, like I I think there’s still the right thing that needs to be done. But how do you do it in a way that’s doesn’t cause unnecessary suffering to other other beings?


Pod: Yeah, there’s something in that isn’t there? I’ve also being at the receiving end of actions like that? And logically, you can understand making the decision for the business, and I think most people accept that. But the way it makes you feel on the way out the door can be dramatically different that I know for me personally I feel like a pariah after having given my heart and soul to this particular place. And there’s no need for that. You know, the logical decision can be, it could be done with compassion and you leave feeling good. You talk well about the organisation for a long time afterwards.


You talk about your condition about practicing kindness and wisdom, as a foundation reminds me of. I spoke to one of my clients in maybe April or so is a CEO of I’m guessing I’m about a $15 billion business. He has about 6000 people who ultimately report into his function. And so the notions of jumping from strategic decision to strategic decision is not new to that level. The notion of doing it from your kid’s bedroom and the cot in the corner with his six month old baby that’s very new. And what he said to me was, I am doing this, this and this this. I’ve done that every day for last 10 years. But I now have my the six month old baby in the corner of the room. Thank goodness I’ve been practicing for this. He realized that the work you’ve been doing himself is getting him ready for moments like that.


Which brings me to a different conversation. You can practice that you can get ready for it, and that the same token complexity comes hurtling down the road out of the blue, and it can knock you over, no matter how well practiced you are. Have you seen that? Have you experienced yourself and if so, what was that like?


Gillian:  It’s really interesting. I found at the start of COVID and when we became towards the end of March, a real issue and obviously being involved in health care organizations. I I can remember we had a board meeting and I found myself not wanting to read my board papers. And I was kind checking with myself, going, What’s going on? Like you’re really avoiding this good few 100 papers that need be read. So it’s like it’s something you want to decide to do early on, and what I found was it does a lot of work around theory. You and stuff from MIT in the States will talk about one of the responses we can have to Complexity is a desire to turn away and freeze, and I really identified my desire to not even pick up my board papers in that moment was I was overwhelmed in this environment, particularly within health care. At that time, we didn’t have the proper protective equipment that we knew we needed. To be able to support the hospital if something happened now we could rely on government sources and all of that sort of stuff. But as a board member, when you’re turning govern within the boundaries of what you can control, I think we were really hyper aware that we just didn’t have the protection that if something happened, we would be asking our employees to put their lives at risk and that’s not okay. And so I had that kind of bubbling in the background. And then I’ve also got the who the hell am I, to be involved in a conversation about this at this time. I have come to the board for a different reason other than healthcare and so I was having this kind of- subtle because it wasn’t obvious to me at the time, kind of feeling, which was I don’t know that I can contribute anything here. So there was this kind of sense of, of overwhelm and wanting to turn away and freeze. And so, luckily, dear Otto, I was reading something of his at the time and it said, you know, this distinction: turn away and freeze or lean in and engage and I’m like, I have no idea what lean and engage looks like right now, but I’m gonna read my board papers so I read my board papers and I turned up. But I’m going I’ve got no idea what I’m ready to contribute right now. But I’m here and I’m prepared. I was really interesting because it was it was a meeting where these meetings go for four or five hours and the CEO was at one point was describing the situation, particularly around the PPE, the lack thereof, and she started to tear up. And it was really interesting, because just after that she said I’m really sorry I broke down. And she would have said maybe three or four more times during the board meeting. Look, I’m really sorry, but I’m fine. I’m fine. We’re under control here. I’m really sorry I brokedown, and she said it right at the very end is we were just finishing the board meeting and I felt compelled in that moment to say ‘look what I see in in that moment where you had tears, was that you’re not breaking down. You were stepping up. What you were doing in that moment was stepping up to the responsibility that you feel for people’s lives. That even makes me want to stop way, talk about it now. But that is not breaking down. That is taking responsibility. That is proving that you are human and that you care about other human beings and we trust you to go on and make logical decisions. We trust you to have, you know, and yes, there’ll be moments when you don’t feel like you’re under control, you will feel overwhelmed. We all will feel that. But that is not a moment of breaking down. And I think that was what was interesting to me on reflection of that as well was the feedback I got was, that was exactly what needed to be said in that moment, which was really ironic then, given that I’d felt like whatever I got to contribute, who am I to be, here like all of that. And yet, when I talked about overthinking at the start, all of the stuff that we have in their heads, when we can start to notice that and then choose what happens next and just show up and engage, we have far more likely to bring the abilities that we need for that moment. Then we give ourselves credit for.


Pod: It strikes me that this experience we’re in with COVID, I mean, there’s there’s a lot of massively negative impacts of this clearly and although we have yet to understand that will ripple for many years, I suspect. But there’s also an emerging positivity and you know the stuff on the environment, and your family’s having more time together, less travel etcetera. I know for myself, I haven’t been overseas since October, and I’m typically one who’s on an international plane every three weeks. I’m loving that right now, but I’m also noticing there seems to be- and your story shows it’s a taking down of the armour, to allow in, let’s say humanity and you recognizing that this particular leader and the team that she leads, were doing the extraordinary best in circumstances they’ve never been in that. No one has ever been in – at least not at the whole world at the same time. And her honesty allowed a feedback mechanism for you to go, actually, what you’re doing is exactly what we want you to do. We want you to step up into leadership.


Gillian: Yeah, that if you’re not affected by this at this time, what are you exactly?


Pod: I was working on a different team and they had their leader, the CEO had only joined the organization like three months earlier. So was still very new to this organization. It was a big organization than the one they had come from before. And then suddenly now they’re in COVID. And everyone’s looking to the new leader and in the early days of their experience, I think it’s right to say that the team this leader stepped into lead was dysfunctional before the leader got there, so the team and three months in hadn’t enough time to bring the team together into a functional team. So suddenly a crisis comes along and teams typically go either way. They either band together as in we’re all in this together, or it fragments the team even more so.It looked like it was starting to do the second option and her question to the team was, ‘What if we don’t do this together as this team, who’s going to do this?’ Reminds me of a story from Intel, and I’ve heard you tell this story as well around selfless innovation. If a different team came into the situation that we’re in, what would they be doing?


Gillian: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great story. The idea that there was -I’m always gonna get the words wrong because the technology is so old, Forget it. But I think it was, microchip versus microprocessors and Intel was making a decision in the early nineties about which investment they should double down on going forward. And there was a leaning towards continuing microchips because that was what they already had invested in and where they were already at. And the founder at the time really turned the CEO and said, ‘look, if we got sacked and someone great came in tomorrow, what decision they would they make’? and everyone around the table, we unanimously said microprocessors. That’s what we need to do. We have to be so invested in what’s already gone because we built this or we can’t see possibility. So this other skill, which we’ve seen one is about mental agility, one is about wise compassion. The other skill we’ve seen is this ability for selfless innovation, this ability to pivot as Organizations have had to do to find new ways of doing things that where you can begin again. We bring in a beginner’s mind.


Pod: Yeah, I noticed on one of the blogs on your website, it talks about the opposing mindsets, the challenge versus threat mindset and I talked about three shifts cultivating self compassion, Beginner’s Mindset, what you just referred to and also moving from a fixed to growth mindset has been really important right now. So a question, I notice on this one is given the complete lack of time everyone’s on Zoom calls from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., or whatever variation of Zoom you’re using there’s a real lack off physical contact because we’re not the same office and therefore that kind of ad hoc, tacit sharing of information just is not happening other than on email or telephone. What are you noticing from either leaders individually or leadership teams, that their ability to grow that mindset during this time, what are they doing that is helping that? That then lead to the pivoting that you talked about. Is there a degree of practices? A degree of questioning techniques? Is it a degree of whatever to allow that to happen?


Gillian: It’s such a good question. The analogy we’ve been using is this idea of bees wax that in crisis bees wax warms up. So when bees wax is cold, you try and bed it and it cracks -like it just it snaps. But when beeswax warms up, you can mold it into a new shape. And it’s kind of this potential we have at this time that when things are in crisis, we’ve seen massive shifts that organizations have been able to make working from home or to completely retooling their plans to be able to create a different form of PPE, because that’s what’s been needed by society or something that they would have said would previously take months, if not years. Really decades to get to where it needs to be. I think there’s a few different things. One has been the different voices that are invited to the table.


So, One leader was telling me about how, um typically, if they were strategically trying to think about something for when they had plenty of time. They would have the usual suspects around the table, and they prosecute the case. In this environment, they pulled in people from all different places because they didn’t have time to kind of brief the senior leaders about it. And he was saying that he was astonished by the capacity of the people lower down in the organization to bring fresh thinking, to bring new ideas. So I think there’s a little bit about who he paying attention to asses the practice like, How did who you invite into the conversation? So those that are navigating really well are seeking multiple voices and at the same time there’s a bit of, you’ve got to be prepared to listen. So how do you create the space within yourself that the first impulse you have, which is, you know, that we talked about this- Selflessness is your ability to transcend your own ego impulse, which is to go ‘oh no we tried that before. No we did that.  Whatever it is that the brake pedal that we tend to put ourselves around ideation and and thinking. So that ability to even know that about yourself and allow a bit more space.


Pod: I hadn’t even thought about that at all and the analogy to bees wax is a fantastic one. I’m going to steal that, thank you very much. But I was interviewing some board members of an organisation last week and one of their observations around COVID was their usual board meeting Exco interactions had changed because now everything’s on zoom for them. But what it had done was it had allowed an opportunity for everybody on the executive team to present in a way they hadn’t done before on a very frequent basis and suddenly, levels of expertise that sat on the exec team became apparent to the board that they hadn’t been used to for a range of different reasons. It wasn’t necessarily Machiavellian or on purpose. But they had suddenly realized, a whole depth of talent here that we hadn’t even noticed that’s existing within our leadership team don’t mind the theam beneath that, and that’s allowed them to develop. Let’s call it the word committees for the sake of a better word, but new task forces or committees to target different ways of thinking and different strategic plans for the future of this organization in a way that had been sitting on the strategic plan but never had actually been done. And it’s only through the emergence of seeing different people speak to, they realize we don’t need to go externally. We have all the talent here, which I think goes to your point of who you’re listening to.


Gillian: Absolutely. And at the other thing. I mean, Zoom, particularly on our board meetings is that people show up differently. There’s something about being able to -we have less than 25 people who would be in the board means you can see everybody on Zoom at the same time. Um, introverts talk more is what we’ve noticed or or there’s an equality of voice maybe that you don’t necessarily get in the physical space, which is really interesting


Pod:  Because you commute everybody, you control that. We’re coming to the end of our conversation. I’ve got a few questions I’d like to throw at you, which I throw at everybody, if I could. You’ve had an extraordinary career in the sense of you started at Shell, you moved into SOCOG which the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympics way back in 2000, yet have been in your logistics role. There you moved into head of strategic projects for Rail Corp, a large infrastructure organization within Australia. And then you work in the apparel organization, which is now part of Haynes. 60,000 person organization. You’re on various board roles as well as your Potential Project role. When you look back at all of that, a question without notice for you, Gillian. What would you be telling, say, the 30 year old version of yourself from a leadership learning point of view? What’s all the wisdom that if you could impart to them, you do? So from the point of view you have today.


Gillian:  the first thing that comes up to me is chill the hell out. I would use a different word. But I think there’s one thing that kind of happened for me when I was around 30 was I’d come, had been doing a lot of kind of process, re engineering, kind of change leadership roles. And I was used to always having a logical answer as to how you got to everything like that. You know, you proved that you were gonna save this amount of money and then you execute and you’d make sure you you actually delivered on that. And I can remember being tasked with some big what at the time sounded “highfalutin”, but its strategy job within a retail organisation, which was really just a cost cutting exercise, and I hadn’t grasped that in its political dimension and one of the things I went through, what I would I would call now a bit of a mini mental breakdown to be honest.


Let’s say it was I was tasked with finding $5 million worth of savings, which wasn’t insignificant for the patch that I had to play within within the organization. I can remember coming back to the table and saying ‘look I a can find really logically 2.5, I can’t find the other 2.5.’ And the answer at the time was Speak to the hand, Jill, the answers five. And I literally drove myself nuts trying to solve for ‘How are we gonna find 2.5 more? And the answer ended up being a little bit of Machiavelli and political shenanigans on behalf of my boss at the time. But that was always the answer. But I never saw it if that makes sense. So I would say to myself, Is there’s multiple ways of solving problems, and by definition, you won’t know even a quarter of them but keep your eyes open, but chill the hell out. It’s gonna be okay.


Pod: My last question for you. I know you’re a bass player. I know you are a classically trained pianist and a choral singer. I know you create cabaret type shows and then all the things like that. The most important question of the day is what is your favourite song?


Gillian: Today? Because I think it changes on a day to day basis. My today, my favorite one. Good. I’m gonna fall apart on the who actually think that. But it’s These boots are made for walking.


Pod: It has been a complete pleasure to have you in this episode today. We’ll have links to the Potential Project in our show notes and links to your the mindful apps that you guys have. But thank you so much for coming on the show and thank you for the work that the potential project do because it’s I think could appear has being under the branch of soft skills, but actually what you’ve said to us today, it’s actually strategic, and helping the leader to have the space helps them to be more effective. And that’s effectively what this podcast all about.

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Ep 2. Shocks for new CEO’s with Allan Tillack

What happens when a leader finally makes it to the CEO role? Whatever the level of CEO (Country level, Regional, Business or Global) a number of shocks always await and surprise.

We talk with Allan Tillack on his transitions into a range of roles including Board Chairperson with several other CEO’s as Board members. Hear why learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable is an important asset.

Effective leaders will always outperform ineffective leaders over time!

Show notes

Key Focus Areas We Discussed in This Conversation

  1. Entering your first CEO role
  2. Working with and coordinating your team
  3. Successfully transitioning into a new role
  4. Prioritising tasks at work
  5. What is a Stop it Month?
  6. Becoming a Board Chair
  7. Overall reflections.

Website links

Resources mentioned in our interview


Pod: Welcome Alan to the show.

Allan: Thanks very much, it’s great to be here.

Pod: Now for the purpose of this conversation, let’s use the title CEO as a uniform title i e. the title to give to the person who is the most senior executive in the organization at a country level or a regional level or global level, just for uniformity of conversation.

So, let me take you back to your first-time experience as CEO. You were hired to head up the Abbott Nutrition Organization in Australia and New Zealand, you were hired externally, it was your first time in that position. What was that like?

Allan: Well, it was a real revelation. I had been through the recruitment process, which was an exciting process to go through, fantastic to be appointed to the role. But I still remember my first day in the office and I suddenly realized that it’s great to sit in the office, the corner office with the big disk, but there was a big job to do, and I suddenly realized that, well, I had a reflection of a discussion I had with my previous boss when he had said, ‘You know, Alan, when you take the step into the mostly in your role, it’s a lot different than what you’re doing now. He said that the biggest difference is there’s nobody down the corridor that you can go to when you’ve got a problem that’s very complex, and you don’t really understand what the answer to that is.

And in the very first day, I lived that experience.

Pod: It hit you.

Allan: Yep.

Pod: I am the person now.

Allan: That’s right. The buck stops here and never a truer word spoken.

Pod: So, in that role, you were reporting into a head of a geographic region. It was Asia Pacific or a Middle East or what?

Allan: It was a subset of Asia.

Pod: Right? So, you see, your boss was effectively in a different country, different time zone and effectively want you just to run the business

Allan: Very much so. And you touch upon a really important point there because the relationship I had with my boss was really quite different. He wasn’t in Sydney, he was in Manila and whilst he was very open to canvassing the challenges of the business, there was an underlying -an incredibly clear expectation that I had done a lot of the mental heavy lifting, done a lot of the conceptual thinking around problems, and that I was coming to him predominately, with a range of solutions and a recommendation, as opposed to being able to workshop solutions and work together and collaborate together in terms of bringing these really challenging issues to, an ultimate conclusion. And I found that really, really challenging initially that I didn’t have somebody to bounce ideas off. It was really somebody that I took ideas to, and very clear recommendation and rationale ‘Why?’. This was my recommendation.

Pod: Okay, so you’re moving to this role for the first time. You also moved externally as in you were recruited from a different organisation into this organization. It was your first-time joining Abbott and Abbott has a very strong performance orientation, as many companies say they do. But you told me in the past it was another eye opener in terms of how performance could be managed and the lens that they looked through. In that regard talk me through what your experience was of standing in that position?

Allan: Well, I think chalk and cheese was a great way to describe it. And a really interesting point that you make. If you speak to anybody from any organization today, that was so yes, We’re an incredibly performance driven organization. We’re financially focused. The financials are really, really important. There’s a big difference between that being verbally espoused and living that, and what I found when I moved into Abbot is that there were very, very much a financially driven company.

I think one way to describe that was when I would go to Singapore for the regional reviews, we were looking at the next year budget with the slide deck of at least 100 pages and it wasn’t uncommon to have questions like, “why is the number on slide number 22 not correlating with the number on slide 57?” or “it certainly doesn’t triangulate with the number that you’re putting forward on slide 99” .

So, you know, it was that sort of forensic financial approach, which, which is great in terms of learning how to run a business. But it was in stark contrast to a more nimble, flexible, directionally driven experience I have had leading a business unit.

Pod: It’s very much an action oriented, performance-oriented organization

Allan: Without doubt.

Pod: So, you’re in the role starting to know your team, starting to get to know the local business. You go overseas for your first internal meeting with, say, vice president level. What’s that like?

Allan: Well, that first meeting was our latest estimate meeting where we’re putting forward how we thought we were going to go to plan for the remainder of the year. And again, it was it was a focus purely on the numbers, very little comment around strategy or what is the operational plan? Only in as much as how that was going to impact on what was the financial performance of this year.

So, it was my first exposure to the area via a VP and a very, very action oriented guy. He was a great businessman, but very, very focused on what is it that we’re doing? And what does that mean in terms off, are you going to deliver? A higher number than plan or a lower number than plan? And interestingly enough, what I learned that variance was an issue. Now, even if you overachieved, that was that was a concern, because that was a signal to the regional office of ‘did you have your fingers on the pulse of this business or not?

Pod: So good planning was deemed to be paramount.

Allan: Absolutely.

Pod: A lot of leaders when they move into the most senior role, like CEO the first time. They really underestimate shadow. Shadow meaning everyone watching the more senior executive, for hints as to what the direction is or what the leader is thinking, and when the leader makes a comment overtly, they take that as a direction or a someone said to me once and I realized that my utterances became someone else’s orders. Did you have that experience? And if so, what was that like for you?

Allan: Yes, I certainly did. I can remember one specific example where I was having a meeting with our marketing team, and we were exploring the pricing strategy on a particular product, an important product for us.
I left the meeting thinking we really haven’t concluded. What’s the right pricing strategy to do here that my understanding is everybody was leaving the room was that there was some more work to be done outside of myself. The last person that left the meeting room was our head of marketing and I just mentioned to him off the cuff.

I said, ‘Listen, had you approached this in this way, or maybe in that way, that might have driven us to a more constructive conclusion in the meeting’. Three days later, what I had said to him, which I thought was an off the cuff remark on my behalf was actually executed and put in place and launched in the marketplace.

Well, that’s not what I said, and particularly that’s not what I said to his boss. So, I expressed my displeasure to his boss who reported directly to me and said, you know, I’ve been taken out of context here and I feel like I’ve been played. That’s the way I felt about it. I was really, really annoyed and very very miffed by it.

But it was only sometime later, and you talk about somebody’s suggestion being somebody else’s order. I had the good fortune to attend an executive program in Dartmouth College, now the Tuck Business School, and Marshall Goldsmith, the author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was presenting for half a day and he said something which was really, really powerful to me. He had been coaching the global CEO of GSK, the really huge pharmaceutical company, and had been coaching him for I think was an 18-month assignment. And at the end of it he asked the question to this gentleman who said What have you learned over these 18 months?
And the CEO of GSK said I’ve learned that my suggestion is somebody else’s order”.

That really struck a chord, so I actually then reflected on the experience I had had with the with the marketing manager and suddenly my perspective changed 180 degrees. I did feel very, very aggrieved that what had happened at that time and then suddenly I realized ‘what? Hang on a minute.

He heard from me an instruction’ and it just highlighted to me how imperative it is that as a senior leader, that you be very, very careful about what you say. I find that really challenging because from a human perspective, I’m inclined to be quite flippant, but that’s a really red flag in terms of, if people don’t understand that you’ve got a dry sense of humour or what have you. Is what you say taken on face value?
The consequences could be significant.

Pod: Absolutely. I remember working with an Australian based CEO who then moved into the global CEO role, and I caught up with her three or four years later just to catch up and talk about her experience and she had two major insights. The first one being what you just said, that it took her quite a while to realize that her external thinking of her commentary or indeed, her facial expressions sometimes portrayed messages that she had no idea that they were and sometimes the messages were amplified because of the room she was in or because of her status as the CEO.

Her second biggest learning was she realized that in her organization, let’s say they had 5000 staff. That means there is at least 6000 families tonight discussing over dinner the way that person was treated at work today. I want to make sure the experience of work is really positive so that the dinner conversation is a positive one.

The second experience came from the first experience that she had in terms of ‘how does she influence the messaging, the thinking and then the day of the overall experience? sometimes directly, sometimes inadvertently.

Staying with your first year in this role, a lot of people talk about what kind of start they need to make in terms of speed or focus. You look back now and your first time in that role, how would you describe to start off your CEO in the way you took on that role?

Allan: Well, I think it was an inglorious start, and it was because I didn’t really understand what was expected of me. So, in my mind, I approached the job as ‘wow, this is a fantastic opportunity, but it’s a significant step up, so I’m gonna have to learn the ropes here, and I’m gonna have to re acquaint myself with the business medical nutrition. I’m gonna have to learn about the people here. Once I have that information over time, that will give me the confidence then to set the direction for the for the business. So, when I say it was an inglorious start, another way of describing that was it was a slow start, and I think if I had our area VP in with us to heat a day, he would be saying my expectation is that you would have hit the ground running, that you would have actioned the changes much more quickly than you actually did, that you would have set the direction and, you know, build the momentum within the team far more quickly than what I actually did.

So, in some ways, I spent the first 9 to 12 months spinning the wheels on the hamster wheel, as opposed to actually getting any real traction.

Pod: We’re going talk about your next goal soon and see if you change your thinking or learn from that as you know, into a different role, but nonetheless, by the time you left that role, the overall revenue for the association had gone up by over 60% and over a three year period, your profit and change went from 40% 266%. So, nonetheless, the slow start didn’t end up in a poor failure at the end of that career. When you look back of that role now, what are you most proud of?

Allan: Well, I’m proud of the fact that once I realized what my role was and I had the clarity in terms of, you know, I really did set the tempo of the organization. I then took the step to put myself out there and say, well, this is what I stand for. This is my aspiration for the business.

In fact, at a January kick-off meeting, my update of the business presentation had one slide on numbers and then I went into talking about my aspirations for the business, and I expressed my views more clearly and more succinctly and more openly than I’ve frankly ever done before, because not only did I say “this is the aspiration for the business”, I said “here are the possibilities we can shoot for these aspirational goals. It’ll be exciting but a lot of hard work. This is not gonna be a 9 to 5 exercise for any of us if we do this. Or we can continue to plod along as we have been.”

I said, “I don’t want to be part of that. And I’m asking you today to consider whether you want to be part of it or whether you don’t want to be part of it and either way, your answer is okay by me.”

It was really interesting the impact of that, because at the morning tea break, one of the people who had been in the Sales Force for a long time -I’ll call him an old stager- he came up to me. He said, “Wow, that was a really interesting presentation, wow you’ve really got me thinking”. And I can tell from the edginess in his voice that that was not necessarily a positive thing for him personally.

Within three months, he had chosen to leave the organization, and there was a good example actually of, what I was really asking people to do is to make a choice, stay with us and then from there, we instituted a couple of major programs, not least of which was a change in distribution model.
Moving from an internal model, which was very, very high cost to an external model had marvellous impact on the on the P&L. A lot of what you have highlighted there had an impact in the beginnings of the decisions we had to make. And it was really good.

Pod: It sounds like once you realized your own pace, you say you started slow. Your own pace was mirroring where the business was, or indeed maybe even leading the business at the pace it was at when you kind of decided for yourself. I need to shift my pace.

You articulate that to the whole organization and you also gave them permission to join this or it’s OK not to. That means you’ll be choosing to leave. Either way it’s fine, I’m giving you permission to stay and I’m giving you permission to leave? A that’s quite liberating for a lot of people I would imagine.

Allan: Yes, I think so. And for those people who decided to stay, it was energizing. This was the first time that I had personally delivered a message of that clarity and publicly, and I was not sure where it was going to go.
I thought something needs to change here, and the impetus for that was, what the company did do that was really supportive was give me access to an executive coach and I can still remember the first meeting I had with that gentleman.
Early on in that discussion, I can’t remember the question, but I can remember my response to the questions, and he asked me some questions about, you know, my leadership.
And as I’m hearing the question, I’m going through this thing “Oh, dear, I don’t have an answer for this and oh dear, I should.” and that was the tipping point for me to say, Well, there’s something in me that has to take pride in that. I would have said to you the issues in the business, all external, that’s already powerful insight and it’s called a square moment, as a technical term to describe a new experiencing.

Pod: But it forced you to really look at your ability or your ability at that point, it really the obligation towards the desired outcome. Any realizing I’m coming up short here, so I have to shift and then the ordination will shift.

Allan: And it was a rude awakening for me. A very rude awakening because I thought, Well, it’s been my great leadership that has got me to where I am now. So why isn’t it working?

Pod: To paraphrase Marshall Goldsmith what got you here may not get you there.

Allan: Absolutely. Never a truer word spoken.

Pod: You left Abbott very successfully, as we’ve already discussed the results and you joined a much larger organization. You joined Sandoz, which is part of the Novartis group.
Talk us through the interview process because I seem to remember you telling me that it was quite a long and drawn out process, but quite an intense process as well.

Allan: Yes. So, for me, it felt like I was playing Survivor. I was the last one on the island. So, I had many, many interviews and it was really, really interesting that every single person that interviewed me asked me two questions. One was what were my impressions of Sandoz and number two was, they wanted me to explain to them my views on the Australian psyche around leadership and the Australian psyche about, you know, work and work life balance and what have you.

The first question was quite easy to answer. I said, well, you know, Sandoz is a great company on when I had seen the dimensions of the company in terms of the number of people employed the annual turnover, I said I was very, very pleasantly surprised.

But my impressions are that from a commercial perspective, they just sat under the radar. They were not very strident in the marketplace. In terms of the second question, I was really fascinated by the fact that everybody who interviewed me asked me that question and I explained to them I said, you know, the Australian approach to leadership is that your title doesn’t really mean anything.
You have to earn your right to lead. Australians are very, very happy to follow a leader that they believe in, but you need to earn your stripes as opposed to the mere fact that you have a title of CEO or title of general manager, managing director does not then bestow upon you the right to be the leader.

Pod: I completely agree. I’ve written a series of books called Foreigner in Charge. Foreigner in Charge Australia, Foreigner in Charge Hong Kong, Foreigner in Charge Singapore, etc. They’re written for expat leaders who are moving from one country to lead a team in a different country- hence Foreigner in Charge. One of the premises of expat leaders coming to Australia is almost identical to what you just said and that is they come to this country, it’s a peaceful place to live, social life is easy, and it’s quite a high standard of living in many regards. It’s a very stable government in the economy sector, etcetera and in many regards is a very mature country, and the first six or seven weeks are beautiful. That’s exactly what they had imagined when they were sitting in their home city wherever that was.

And then somewhere around between Tuesday and Thursday in week seven, the reality hits. They’re going “Oh, the team that I’m leading are challenging me big time. I don’t know why that is. And I’ve been promoted to this role. So, why they challenging me? Yes, that’s exactly what you just said. Australians are very, very happy to be led if they deem that leader to be credible. If that leader has taken a role that someone is in the team was hoping to get and they don’t show that they actually good leader, the team can then sabotage that in incoming leader.

It’s quite a difficult process to understand and go through. So, your interview process sounds like was pretty intense and drawn out. What was the experience of the organisation before you joined? i e. there must be some reasons why they were delving deeply into your understanding of leadership, because there must have been some history before you joined for that to happen.

Allan: Yes, there was. Exactly. So, they had, from a head of country perspective, had a revolving door on that had like six or seven leaders over as many years and on. And so there was, ah, battle weary element to the leadership team and I think from a regional and a global level, there was a realization that this particular appointment was going to be pivotal to the ongoing success of the Australian business because they had been through other external appointments had been through internal appointments. The previous head of country to me had only lasted seven months, and that was followed by a seven month and gap as they went through the recruitment process. So, there were very, very cognizant of this appointment being a very important one. And they wanted somebody that was going to be around for some time.

Pod: And they chose you. So, you walk into the business or the first couple of weeks? How did you find the business? And how did you find the leadership team? Because I would imagine a leadership team whose leaders kept changing every 7 to 10 months would be battle weary and were waiting for the next person just to last for seven months before we caught another one.

Allan: So, what was interesting was that they had seen a reasonable amount of turnover in the leadership team in the previous 6 to 9 months. And so, I think nearing a third, possibly a little bit more of the leadership team had changed, so there was a new element to the leadership team. But there are all very, very hungry for direction. They’re all very hungry to know that they were going to have a leader that was going to be there and be there for some time. So, my initial impression of the leadership team was at that as individuals, for the most part, they were highly competent in their area of expertise. But they certainly were not acting and behaving as a team. They were a group of leaders who were functionally oriented. That’s the way they were behaving. Their team was their functional team. Certainly, they had no perspective in terms of that group being a team. Now, to be fair to them, that had started a dialogue around ‘team’. But it certainly hadn’t manifested in any behaviours that would be, but we considered to be team behaviours today.

Pod: So, what you do to galvanize that and to shepherd the conversation into the outcome that you eventually got?

Allan: Well, so there were a number of things that I looked at, but first and foremost, I did have some time to reflect on the early experience that I had with Abbott and think about what did I want to do differently this time. So, one of things I did was before I actually was appointed, I had a start date for the first of December, but in the week or two prior to that, I went into the office and I met with each of my direct reports for about an hour, one on one and just asked them general questions about the business, what their perspectives were on the business, what did the business need? What did they need from me? What did their area within in the business need and what have you. So, I got to meet everybody before I started, so that helped a lot.

Pod: Almost like an unofficial starting date.

Allan: Yes, it was. This was suggested by my coach, and at the time, I was sort of thinking this is a great idea.
Once I did it, and certainly in the first week where I was officially on board, I thought, what a great investment of time that that was. And so, my orientation was to start fast and to show that I had a strong customer orientation. So, there was plenty on the plate.

But I was also ensuring that I was going out to key customer meetings in the first 2 to 3-4 weeks and I just wanted people to realize that there was a strong action orientation and that I was prepared to roll up the sleeves and get in and get done. So, I wanted to start fast and so I did. I did have that start on then after the first 2 to 3 months, that’s when I got a better hand on feel and I can still remember, not only with my direct line manager of the head of commercial operations for Asia Pacific, but also the head of HR for Asia Pacific, they both individually wanted me to step through my assessment of each of the team members, and again if I contrast my experience with Sandoz versus how I started in in in Abbott,
I think it would be fair to say that my assessment of people in Abbott was, you know, I’m taking on a sort of a plain vanilla approach you know nothing controversial, or oh yes, this person’s doing well here and, you know, I think they’ll be fine.

But, you know, platitudes. Whereas I was far more succinct and to the point and prepared to make early judgements when I was starting my role in Sandoz and it was really interesting.
Broadly, my assessment seemed to resonate with both the head of commercial operations and the head of HR because they had actually lived with this team for obviously a lot longer than I had. But the important thing was, as I was engaging in those conversations, I knew that the expectation on me as the new leader was that I was making some assessments and I was making judgments, not necessarily any pressure from on top to take people decisions straight away.

But they were very, very interested in what my perspective was

Pod: Yeah, this a fair degree wisdom. You look at the whole literature and what’s being written around leadership transitions, particularly into the CEO levels role. But yet head of country head of region or indeed head of global, and that is in your first three months, you take time to look, listen and learn at what’s going on, but also take time to judiciously assess where your team a rat, not necessarily to change them out, because the team you inherited had a very poor experience prior to you and therefore world on tested in terms off.

If given some support, where could they get to, but least within your for three months understanding, what’s your assessment of the capability and the orientation and the mindset and then, after about three or four months, been able to go ‘now we’re moving towards some degree of outcome or direction. And like your first experience, here’s the train is leaving. Are you on board? And if not, then that’s perfectly fine. But we’re moving.’
Does that sound like where you got to?

Allan: Yeah, I think so. Again, I think the underlying principle here was to drive action, to drive the business forward and what you’ve just outlined there was a critical part of doing that, and I understood better that this was the expectation of that role.

Pod: In our preparation for today, you also mentioned to me that in that period, you undertook an exercise called a New Leader Assimulation, which was to help the team, to get to know you really fast and really well, as early as possible. Tell us more about that.

Allan: Yes, so I did that when I joined Abbot, and I did it again when I joined Sandoz. But again, I think the orientation that I brought to that was more focused in the Sandoz experience. So, the team got together the head of HR facilitated the session without me being in the room saying, you know, ‘what is it that Allan needs to know?’ What questions do you have for Allan? What does he need to understand about the history of where we’ve been? Why it is where we are’, these sorts of things and, you know, some of the questions were, you know, how do I like my communication style, even from a technology perspective, what’s my preference for communication? How do I like to take decisions? Things like that. So after that session of the head of HR and I without the team, they get to go and get a coffee, and I would go through all of these questions with the head of HR and then bring the team back in and I would give my answers to those to those questions.

So, I thought it was a really powerful exercise because I got then in the context of their question, to deliver some of the key things that I wanted to get across. So, you know, things like I’ want this team to be action oriented. It’s really important that we deliver to our promises, things around decision making and say, you know, I want to be clear on this because I know who I am, and that is that I prefer to have time to think about key decisions rather than you bring to me a critical issue at 4 p.m. on Friday, and the deadline is 4:30 p.m. on Friday, I will give you an answer, but it probably won’t be the one that you want. It will be status quo. No. You know, if you put me under that sort of time pressure, that’s what I’ll do. Alternately, you give me a day or two or even just overnight, we’ll have a far more constructive discussion.

Pod: And that insight to your own decision-making process obviously came out of your whole career, but also your experience in your previous CEO role. We had learned how you were making those decisions and how you’d like to make those decisions.

Allan: Yes, exactly. I think it’s good to be able to clearly communicate to people that this is your preference.

Pod: I completely agree. The new leader simulation process and for anyone who’s listening, who doesn’t know what that is, we’ll attach an information document around that in the show notes here, because it’s a simple process. It was generated, I think, out of Honeywell or GE or one of engineering type companies. But you know, the thinking behind it is very simple. How do you accelerate the understanding of working with new leader as quick as possible? Typically, it can take up to eight months to really understand leaders thinking patterns on decision making, processes and preferences, and indeed, for the leader to learn the same of all of their team. And if you could achieve that in your first month, everyone’s accelerated. The speed of competency is increased.

It strikes me that you came into the new role. I understand he wants to go faster, understanding to a fair degree what was important for you and how you like to lead. And you give yourself, like a three- or four-month timeline to get all that set before you then drove the organization to where you wanted to go to.
So, let’s move forward a few months. So, you have set the team up. You’ve articulated where you want to go. You’ve got you’ve got buying and process around that What were some of the signs to the wider organization that you took to signal? Hey, we’re going somewhere. We’re doing something as different and yes, the organisation is used to leaders leaving every nine months. But I’m here and we’re doing something for also what kind of things that you do or say to give that sense of confidence to the organization.

Allan: So, recently, before I started the organization that got into this tempo of having monthly a town hall meeting. So, we continued the town hall meetings and what have you, But I started to think about how can I use these town hall meetings to communicate some of the key themes here in addition to that? Early on, I’m thinking it for maybe five months into my tenure, we had an important offsite meeting as a senior leadership team, and I wanted to communicate to the broader business some of the key themes that had and messages that came out of that off site. And what had become very, very clear to me is that the business was operating at a very, very high tempo.
Lots of people doing lots of work, doing lots of hours, and this is not unusual for a prescription generates company. But people were working to do things heroically, rather than necessarily doing things smarter.

Pod: And we say lots of hours. That doesn’t mean they’re worthwhile narrative. Just lots of hours, yes

Allan: So lots and lots of busywork, lots of not so busy work, and so one of the things that came out of that off site was we agreed as a leadership team that we would have what we called a stop month, and I launched this at one of the town halls and basically I said the team, We’re doing lots of work, right throughout the organization, no matter what function people are doing, lots of work, lots of hours. And I said, I want you to take time just to do a critical assessment of the work that you’re doing and if you don’t think it’s adding value, I want you to stop it.
I want you to stop doing what you’re doing. If it’s not adding value now, there a couple of caveats here. Number one, I said. “We cannot compromise the good governance off this business”, I said, “I’m absolutely committed as an individual that with the results that we deliver, are delivered in the right way. So, we want to behave properly in terms of the way we address the market and the way we do business. So, if it’s not compromising good government within the business, and it doesn’t have on a flow on effect of somebody else. As in, I’m not going to do a B and C, but that means that somebody else is picking up the load somewhere”. I said, just stop it. And so, we did that for a month.

Pod: So, you announced to the whole organization?

Allan: Exactly.

Pod: What was the immediate reaction?

Allan: Well, stunned silence, because I don’t think people fully understood, so I related a story to the organization to try and get them to understand where my thinking was coming from. And I said, in my two roles previously, I said, I can still remember when I had my sales managers in for a meeting and it was one of these rare occasions where they were pouring out their hearts and truly telling me what they thought. And they said, We’re just so incredibly busy. It’s just, you know, we’re all overwhelmed. So, my response to that was to say, I completely understand. I can empathize with you, but here’s the reality. It doesn’t matter whether you worked 168 hours a week, you would still be too busy. You’ll still have work to do.

So, I said we must focus on those things that are actually going to deliver a tangible impact to the business and forget about those other things and actually become comfortable with the fact that you’re not going to get everything done. I said It’s about priority sitting, and it’s one of the hardest things to do. But that’s what we need to do. And so that’s what I was sharing with the Sandoz business.

Let’s set some priorities, and it is difficult to do. But I wanted to do something that was symbolic.

Pod: Wow that’s symbolic, that would grab everyone’s attention. What strikes me as you’re talking is everywhere you go everyone you talk to everything you read around being busy. Somebody gives the wise advice of stop doing something. What you did there was get a guideline going. If it’s not adding any value, if it’s wasting time.

Allan: And within these caveats, as long as we stuck to the caveats, you got for permission to just stop it. And one thing that happened that I showcase, which was this was a really powerful outcome. But ahead of supply chain uh had a dotted line reporting to the head of supply chain in our Singapore office, and he was saying to me he couldn’t believe the demand, the reporting demands that were being replaced, placed on the local affiliate. There was one report that they wanted every month, and it took 3.5 days to compile the information for the supply chain team members. And so, we discussed this at some length, and I said, Well, you know, when you’re dealing with the regional team, it’s not really productive to say to them, No, I’m not going to do this. So why don’t you frame the discussions differently and share with them that the report takes 3.5 days, 3.5 days of man hours to deliver because he had also shared with me that I can give them 80% of what they want in about half a day. But that extra 20% is an additional incremental three days. So, he posed that question to the head of supply in Singapore and said, I can give you what you want in 3.5 days. I can give you 80% of what you want in half a day. And lo and behold, they said, give me the 80%.

Pod: Three days, saved straightaway every month, every month. Forever. Were you ever able to calculate how much time you saved by saying to people to stop doing it?

Allan: So, we did a check in after we did the stop month and we saved around 200 man hours per month.

Pod: Wow, that’s the almost 2500 hours per year for the organisation

Allan: And save doesn’t necessary mean we just stopped working. We refocus that time and prioritise the things that matter, things that matters.

Pod: That’s great. It’s a simple idea, and a very profound idea, but I love the caveats you put around to give people guidance. I would imagine people felt they were given permission to be an adult in their role by what you did.

Allan: Well, it was really interesting when we got to the Q and a session of that town hall where I launched this. The nature of the questions gave me a very clear indication that they were not used to being given some headspace, given some leeway to make their own cause here. And so, I had to be very, very clear as to what you just said. You have permission to act on this, you know? So as long as you admit those caveats, you have open slather. You have to do this. It sometimes given people for permission, is also is overwhelming when they never had it before.

But again, as you said, you put some guardrails around that and then therefore give you permission to walk through. And indeed, because it’s your job, let me see me. You know your job really, really well, and I’m giving you permission to be an adult discerning about your job.

Pod: Fast forward to the end of your role there at the time you finish. Sales are up
100% year on year of when you started, profit had increased by almost 160% The year you finished there, the team you led on the whole organization that won the highest performing country in the region.

And you also won the most Collaborative Leadership Team award on extraordinary changes over that time period. If you take the team that you were leading when you won those awards and contrast it to the team that you walked in on some of the members with the same people, some weren’t for some contract. The difference in how the team worked together at the end of that three years to when you first met that team and then therefore, why they got those outcomes in those awards something off alluded to part of it already.

Allan: And that is that the team that I inherited was a team of broadly, very competent individuals and very competent in their functional area. And that’s where their focus was- in their functional area. What changed and certainly what impacted both collaboration and performance was an increasing orientation towards the leadership team. Their first team as opposed to their functional team being their first team. So that was really important to get this shift in mindset to say, Well, I’m part my first team and it is the team that oversees this entire business and so a move towards an enterprise type mindset, and what I saw in some of the interactions was an increasing capacity and increasing predisposition to contribute to challenges that one team member was experiencing in their area of the business, even when that contributor didn’t have functional expertise or a great level of experience in that area. And that helped a lot that that started to break down some of the set ways of looking through set perspectives, of looking at problems and to be introduced a more creative way of addressing these issues. What was also really important is that when you know, when you make changes and address problems, there’s invariably flow on effect throughout the business. And if we’re aligned as a senior leadership team, when some of the potentially unintended consequences came to the fore, there was less pushback as a consequence of the fact that we had taken this decision.

Pod: Collectively, it sounds like you’re able to elevate the level of thinking amongst those leaders from when you met them first, for all the reasons you have explained, and you know it’s understandable.

Allan: In hindsight, the level of thinking was, I’m protecting my function and I keep my head down because who knows what’s gonna happen next time? Just take care of that on your next level. We are the team. We lead the business together, and the next level was not only a way the team, we are co responsible for what happens even if it’s not our mistake. Outcomes inadvertently were part of our wider ecosystem. Therefore, we’re leading in a bigger system than ourselves. And one phrase I shared with the team, which sounds a little hackneyed. But I said, you know, our responsibility as the leadership team is to lead this business. It’s not to take care of my function. It’s not to be just the technical expert. It is our responsibility to lead this business on that subject. Subsequent to the offsite that we had early on in my tenure, I would share this at town halls to say, you know, we have committed as a leadership team to lead this business, and it is quite okay for you to call us out if we’re not doing that

Pod: So very open, very vulnerable to the wider organisation. What happens when someone on that team doesn’t make it? Not everyone does for a range of different reasons. Sometimes people choose to leave as per your earlier example. Sometimes people tap out with their capability or more whatever. Have you had experience off someone on the team that you wanted to stay? But for whatever reason, that it didn’t make sense. He had to take action.

Allan: So, I think one of the things for it’s true for CEO roles. I think it’s actually true for every level of people leadership that you have is that in many instances where you have to make that difficult people decision, that means that the person’s going to leave the organization. In hindsight, I think most leaders will say that they were able to come to that conclusion much more quickly than they actually came to make the formal decision and act on that decision. And that would be true for me in many incidences as well. And what I found interesting is, you know, I learned that early on in my career that if you know you prefer people decisions, it’s not going to change the fact that ultimately at point in time you’re going to need to make that decision.

So, I think there I contracted the time between when I felt in my bones that this was a decision that had to be made and acting on it. But I also found over time that it was a cyclic thing and that there were times where I was good at contracting that time, and then I might actually let my myself back slide a little in terms of that. So, it’s really difficult. I suspect that for most leaders, they’ve got plenty of examples where they haven’t made the decision as timely as they would have liked to in hindsight, and that’s true for me as well.

Pod: I in a previous career, as you know, I worked in corporate head hunting, where I interviewed leaders for specific roles in other organizations and I was predominately working at country CEO level or a regional based level type role. On over a four-year period, I interviewed about 4000 leaders across the whole health care sector. One of the most common questions that I would ask everybody is what your regrets in your career are to date, I would suggest about 95% if not 99% of the answers were always the same, and that is as a leader I regret not taking action faster on the people based decisions when I already knew what the answer was instinctively I just didn’t want to take action.

Allan: Yes, because it’s hard.

Pod: It is very hard, and particularly if you’ve been through the trenches with some people over a number of years, you might have even grown up together in the same organization. For whatever reason, yes, and in some cases, you might have grown up together and your kids are in the same school because you’ve seen in the same village in 10 years. It’s very, very difficult.

But that’s the biggest regret that came through, was not acting faster, indistinct when they instinctively knew what the answer was. Way. This stage of transition into your first-year road in a new company transition to a different company, a second see a role, and now you’ve transitioned out of corporate life. To a degree, you have a portfolio career where you’ve went away into the master’s degree in executive coaching, and you also chaired the board off the industry association board that you came out. Let’s not let’s start with the chair role a second. What’s it like chairing the board when you have a CEO reporting to you? And indeed, the membership is your former competitors?

Allan: Yes, yes. So, it really is quite an interesting dynamic in some respects leading the CEO and it’s true for the other members of the board, the principles of leadership actually hold true. Now some of the personalities may be more challenging because 80 you know, the each typically in the association, the members sitting on the board were the most senior commercial person within the organization. So, these people with very strong opinions, very strongly held points of view and have no problem in expressing those views stridently. So strong personalities and what have you but really the same principles of leadership held true but maybe the best way to describe the difference is it was just scaled up a bit, dealing with very powerful personalities and people who had the power to make some pretty important decisions, so I would say that that was probably the biggest challenge for me.

I guess then the other thing that comes into this is that it took me a little while and I knew I had to do this was to establish my credibility to lead that team because, you know, who am I? I’m one commercial leader versus another six commercial leaders and a person with the title of CEO. So, what gives me the right to lead that team? And it was important that I established that credibility pretty quickly.

Pod: Most board chairs that I’ve met over my career. But I will say that the biggest skill that they have to learn when working with either group CEOs like you did or indeed their chairing a public company is the art of facilitation and really learning to facilitate dialogue, to get lots of opinions around the room, understanding that intellect and arrogance often come from the same place and therefore how do you shape that into a worthwhile dialogue? That was your experience by sounds of it?

Allan: Yeah, and I think one of those things I did to try and accelerate that was that I would be in touch with these CEOs from other organizations in between board meetings, not only to get a sense to check where their head were that on certain issues, but also to prompt them to participate, to contribute and you’re right. One of the things I thought my role was to do was to ensure that equal voice was had around the table and, you know, because even at CEO level, you have different levels of forceful personalities and what have you. So yes, getting the contribution from everybody was really, really important. And that actually accelerated the collaborative approach within the board. And the impact of that was really quite palpable cause during my time is chairing the GBMA.

We were going through to very, very significant negotiations with the Department of Health and the Ministry of Health, where we were negotiating incredibly important policy settings around the generic prescription market and also the emerging biosimilars market, and the feedback that we got from these external parties was very much pointed towards the cohesion and the alignment off the GBMA board.

Pod: Excellent. Your last transition was moving into the space of executive coaching, and you had previously done an MBA in your career. But you chose to do a Master of Business coaching at Sydney Business School and then move into a full-time role where you now are coaching CEOs and GMs etcetera. What’s that been like for you?
Allan: Well, it’s been a really interesting journey. Probably the backdrop to making a decision of this nature was that if I was to continue in the corporate world, the next step would have been for me to move to a regional role that could have been Asian, it could have been European, North America, something along those lines. From a personal point of view. It’s really interesting. How about how have you some of your long-held beliefs challenged from time to time and proven to be wrong? And so, for me, what that meant was, I had always wanted to work overseas when it became a tangible opportunity, shared that with my wife and she said, No, I don’t want to leave, our kids are in Secondary School. They’re doing very well, and I realized that the preceding three years of her telling me that she didn’t want to move overseas was telling me that she did not want to move overseas. No means no.

So, that Penny dropped quickly over this three-year period and then so that that forced me into a period of reflection to say, Well, what is it that I really like doing on what you want to do for the next 10 or 15 years? And I realized it wasn’t really, you know, I’ve been in the CEO role for about 10 years, and I didn’t really want to do that for another 15 years. So I said what is it about the work that I’m doing that I really, really enjoy and occurred to me that over the last sort of four years had really got a kick out of seeing the senior people who reported to me develop and either move up the corporate ladder or expand the breadth of experience, and that was a really energizing and exciting thing to see happen.

So that’s what got me interested in the in the executive coaching. So, I then asked the gentleman who was my executive coach, what might I do to prepare for something like that? And I was expecting him to come back and say, well, here’s a two-day workshop that you can do, and I ended up doing a three-year master’s degree.

Pod: Wow, that that sounds like it was not only three years long in duration full on master’s degree but would be a deep insightful understanding of your own leadership, as well as learning the whole range of techniques to help you in your new role.

Allan: It was three years of deep reflection, really. And what I found really interesting was I wasn’t sure how I was going to ring, embrace and engage academic learning after so many years of not doing it. But the power in this particular course was the theories, the frameworks, the models. I had an opportunity to overlay the academic nature of all of that with my own experience as a senior leader. So, I feel very, very privileged to have been out to do that, and I was able to explore the good the bad and the decidedly ugly of my own leadership.

Pod: Never, never a perfect time for that whole process over three years. And yeah, I got two questions to had to bring it to the end of the other two questions that I love to ask almost everybody. The first one is what is your favourite song? Well, my favourite song is My Way by Frank Sinatra. I’ve always liked that song; it’s resonated with me for quite some time.

Pod: Is it something you pull out at karaoke nights are Christmas Eve parties or anything like that?

Allan: Well, I can tell you that I was in a karaoke bar in Manila one time and having sung that song at the end of it, I had a standing ovation as people got up to the dance floor. They were going to dance, but I thought it was my ovation.

Pod: You have spent so much time in deep reflection, particularly in recent years. With all that that you’ve learned now, with all the wisdom you’ve gained an old experiences you’ve been through What would you now tell the 35 year old version of you the 40 year old version of you who’s still aspiring to move into the senior roles?

Allan: Become comfortable with being uncomfortable and lean into that discomfort.

Padraig: On that note, you definitely have done it your way. There are not many people I know who have moved into one CEO role followed by another CEO role, followed by a board role followed by full time master’s degree into executive coaching, there’s a few, but not many. You’ve definitely done it your way.
Allan this has been a powerful and insightful conversation today, much appreciate you being here for anyone who wants to contact you and find out more would have links to your website and LinkedIn pages and anywhere you are on the interwebs in the show notes. But I much appreciate your insight.

Allan: Pleasure’s all mine.l

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The Leadership Diet Trailer

Ep 1. The Leadership Diet Trailer

This is the introduction to The Leadership Diet podcast. Tune in to hear who this series is created for and why it will be impactful. Pod OSullivan, your host, outlines what series 1 will be covering, who we will be talking to and why.