Monday, September 19, 2016

Coaching, coaxing or counselling?

Kind of freaky but three clients in the space of a fortnight asked me if I’d seen an old Harvard Business Review article by Steven Berglas on “The Very Real Dangers of Executive Coaching (June 2002).” One client was particularly interested in my reaction to the article’s contention that coaching services provided by people who were not psychologically trained, experienced or skilled, could be destructive. It was only later that I realized our discussion around that issue had parallelled the coaching process. He set the agenda, I asked questions, we switched from a discussion about the article to a discussion about our coaching relationship and reaffirmed our “permissions” to communicate with each other at any time if either of us were not satisfied about how things were progressing. My client made a final observation about the spontaneous fear that surfaced as he’d read the article being possibly associated with a negative experience he had with a school counsellor in his teenage years.  It is unlikely that he would have otherwise made that connection simply by reading the article. It took the coaching process to help him identify his feelings of disquiet and how he might address them constructively. The coaching had made a difference.

What is Coaching?

Corporate Coaching (with executives or others) is defined by the International Coaching Federation as “an ongoing process driven by the client which focuses on taking action towards the realisation of goals or desires.” These goals might include business improvement, leadership, workplace change, career , work/life balance, or personal development. I have coached both clients who wanted unashamedly to focus on themselves and those who were focused on job performance, organisational transformation and team relationships. Many, of course, make the appropriate nexus between self development and people skills, leadership and change because they’ve decided that if they work on themselves, the rest will follow.

Why get a coach?

We live in an era where we are time or resource poor. It is common nowadays to commission external providers of service. Engaging a coach however is not like engaging a domestic cleaner who performs the service for us. 

Coaching enables the services of an impartial facilitator,
· not a friend (who can get offended),
· not a boss (to whom you may not want to display frailty)
· not a mentor (where a power imbalance may exist or career may be the primary focus) and
· not a therapist (who is oriented to work with deficit and dysfunction). 
Coaches are engaged because of their capacity for objectivity and certain skills that we (or others close to us) may not have. Coaching is often subtle, yet direct, confronting yet affirming, provocative yet non judgmental, intimate but not tender; ultimately empowering of the client whilst constantly calling for rigorous self examination.  

Coaches must be aware of their own baggage, be aware of their limitations, must work within the highest ethical standards and dare not seek to work with others in order to work through their own issues. That is not to say that coaches ought not seek to improve themselves. Most of the impressive coaches I have met, have coaches themselves.

Is everyone a candidate for coaching?

Coaching can support the development of those who are highly motivated and also those identified for coaching who may not otherwise be enthusiastic candidates for change.  

To coach the so called “uncoachable” the coach has to help the client identify their reasons for maintaining the status quo, what homeostasis does or does not do for them and therefore what they stand to gain or lose by letting something go. If you think this sounds like a process with a psychological underpinning – you’re right. I believe that a good life coach or corporate coach has to work within a knowledge framework that goes way beyond ethics and empathy. That coach has to understand cognitive dissonance, defence mechanisms, patterned behaviour; be able to tolerate ambiguity and welcome, even foster ambivalence at times. 

Importantly also, the professional coach must have the insight and the humility to know when they have a client who should be referred elsewhere, perhaps because of burnout, excessive anxiety, clinical depression, mental illness or severe concurrent stresses that may be impinging on work performance.

There is undoubtedly far less stigma, and even arguably more prestige associated with consulting a coach than a therapist. If one considers that 20% of the population will experience some depression in their lives, then it is surely on the cards that some individuals who want or would benefit from therapy find their way to a coach. Can one manage a dual role? Can a coach be a therapist? I say yes, but four criteria must apply. The coach: 
· has to have the expertise to do both
· has to be clear on which hat he/she is wearing and when
· has to have a client contract that allows for it (or the client has lost control of the process) 
· must not be breaching an understanding with the person or company who has paid for the coaching; for example, a coach being engaged by a company for leadership coaching but spends all their time helping the client manage their grief over a failed relationship or a looming child custody battle with their ex-partner.

Choosing a Coach

Obviously word of mouth helps but as a prospective client, you should be clear about the questions you ask someone being coached and what outcomes they have sought or you may find that you’ve inadvertently engaged a personal fitness trainer or a business strategy specialist when your objective is to develop your emotional intelligence!

I would recommend that a responsible coach meet with a prospective client at least once on a no fee basis to determine the ‘fit”. The fit is not purely or even about, likeability.

To establish a coaching partnership, both parties must be confident they have:
· sufficient rapport to work together
· shared understanding of the goals and the process
· negotiated the frequency, cost, duration and format of contact time (how often, how long, minimum charge, ratio of face to face, email and telephone etc)
· resolved issues around confidentiality, personal and corporate goals and progress reporting (absolutely critical where the economic buyer of the coaching is not the coaching client) and also
· the circumstances under which coaching might adjourn i.e. at what point might it be acceptable for one party to express a desire to discontinue

I attended an international coaching conference some weeks ago and met some fantastic people. Many were undoubtedly highly skilled; all excited about making a difference but to whom? Many had solid backgrounds in marketing and business.  I can only hope they coached people in …marketing and business. Some were personal trainers, some touted themselves as life coaches. A few had business cards that testified to this but when I chatted with them over coffee it became clear that they had been a financial accountant or a Reiki instructor some four or five weeks previously. In other words, some of these people were in transition themselves and saw coaching as a way of reinventing themselves. 

Coaching can be a wonderful tool, a source of competitive advantage for organisations, a retention strategy, a change management strategy, a stimulus for visionary leadership and a way to increase emotional intelligence in an organisation.

We have examples all around us of coaches who’ve enabled their charges to achieve more than they did when they were still competing – Jose Higueras who coached Pete Sampras never achieved Sampras’ stature as a player – and therapists and counsellors may not have experienced divorce, depression or eating disorders but are able to help clients with those life issues. In other words, the coach does not have to have “been there” to be credible and helpful, but the coach has to know how to help clients work out where they want to go and facilitate a process that helps get them there in good shape. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Change Management "Ipanema" Style

Ten years ago there were very few genuine change manager or culture transformation roles. Change was something you did to enterprise architecture, software and processes. We all now know that was only ever half the story at best.

It's the 2016 Olympics and Rio de Janeiro has been "transformed"; yet not without its problems and the bad publicity it has attracted. And while I know some of you "just want to watch the shooting" and are complaining bitterly about the "colour" stories, the pre-occupation with the Mitch (Larkin) and Emily (Seebohm) relationship, the beautiful adoption story of Ellia Green, one of our superstar women's Rugby Sevens players and anything covered by Neil Kearney or Bruce McAvaney, I found myself struck by the timely reminders unearthed by the Opening Ceremony.

The rumours abounded. We knew Giselle was coming. We knew it would likely be her last catwalk ever. We heard the rumours about her getting "mugged" on stage to reflect the honest and seamy underbelly of one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I admit I was shocked to learn that of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, 21 of them are in Brazil so we're not being uncharitable here. We knew the ceremony budget was one fifth that of London's. Even the ceremony director told us it would be low tech, yet creative and beautiful.

So back to the ceremony. We heard the music. We saw the dancing and the parkour up and down the Brazilian skyscrapers. We enjoyed the visual magic of hundreds of people collaborating in breathtaking synchrony and how something so low tech as holding up and rotating a few shimmery foil dooverlackies could be powerful in its tight unity.

We heard the strong thematic message about climate change and the environment. We could argue this is riddled with hypocrisy given the tragic way in which Brazil and its eight neighbours have plundered one of the most remarkable ecological wonders of the world - the Amazon rainforest - but the country doesn't hide from that if you read some of their press; they're full of shame and remorse and seemingly committed to doing what they can to try to arrest this.

So the lessons for our change messages...

1. They need to be Giselle Bundchen cat walking the stadium. Have the right people doing what they do best and keep it simple and elegant. Don't overcook it or confuse the message.

2. Beware the rumours of possible muggings or other critical incidents. Quash false rumours early or show quickly that people's worst fears about the change are not going to happen.

3. Manage expectations and tell people what will happen and what won't. Think the Ceremony Director's message - low tech, yet creative and beautiful.

4. I know. Some of us just want to watch the shooting. But others are kinaesthetic and will want their emotions stirred. It's for them we need the stories. The performer of Girl from Ipanema sitting at his piano alone on Saturday night was the grandson of the lovelorn artist who wrote the song back in 1964 about a girl he met on the beach.  

5. Be honest about having made mistakes - even big ones - like ruining rainforests or rampant squandering of company revenue on failed ventures. Fess up. Don't cover up but show what you're going to do to try to ensure that negative history will not repeat itself.  

6. Focus on the why (think the Olympic spirit, peace through sport), not just the what (international sporting meet with no prize money and possibly the Zika virus at no extra charge).  

7. And finally, demonstrate the wonder of collaboration and unity, celebrate volunteerism and affirm people. Don't just expect they will come along for the ride because you're excited. Recognise they make a choice and never take it for granted. As soon as you assume that near enough is good enough when it comes to meeting people's reasonable needs, the "Head of Delegation" in your workplace might just pointedly and publicly draw attention to everything that's not working.      

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mr Rudd clearly very UN-happy but was he wronged?

I understand, Mr. Rudd. I really do. You wanted the job, possibly even more than you ever wanted the prime ministership (We're just a small island in Asia after all). You hoped for endorsement from the government of the day. You needed it to have any chance of being appointed to the top job at the UN.

You didn't get it. You're sore. Totally understandable. 

So sore that you sat down to write what we might call the "WorkCover letter" which can often be genuine and necessary. You chronicled your beefs, the conversations that took place; at least how you recall they went down. There was the selective recall of significant events and the evidence base, all of which led to your incontrovertible conclusion that a) you should have been picked b) you were wronged and c) that you're very aggrieved/stressed/shocked.

Please don't  misunderstand me. It is possible Mr. Turnbull did indicate over previous months that he would support you. In one of your leaked letters, Mr Rudd, you confirm you understood the decision would have to go to Cabinet so no-one lied there. You may have imagined the decision was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps Mr. Turnbull really did believe you'd get the nod and overreached in his assurances. Perhaps he did a poor job of managing your expectations. Perhaps his language was "careless". The Libs now admit the matter could have been handled better.  

It seems clear that Mr Rudd, much of the media and certainly a large number of readers assumed the PM was simply being spiteful... and that he made the decision alone. It's a juicier story and certainly easier for Mr Rudd to rationalise that it was one man playing party politics vs. the notion that Mr Rudd wasn't a great candidate and maybe lots of people thought so. 

What does a good leader do when they have failed to manage expectations? When they exercise their assertive right to change their mind? When they re-examine an issue/belief/mooted change some time later in a shifted context? When they consult others and examine said issue with fresh eyes only to receive compelling contrarian views? In other words, when they are given genuine cause for pause? They don't hold steadfast to the previous position if it now makes no sense (if indeed it was that fixed in the first place). The good leader has to be prepared to wear the backlash and to accept that in any of those previous conversations, the psychology of ego and self-belief  - and those who seek and accept jobs like Prime Minister tend not to be short on self belief - means that people will have heard what they want to hear and seen what they want to see and are even capable of unethical (even unconscious) reconstructions of events to suit their own purposes. In this case, this could equally be said of both Mr Rudd ("But you told me you'd support me") and Mr. Turnbull ("But I never told you it was a done deal"). Remember, the human brain doesn't need to be logical, but it needs to be right. 

I will never know whether or not Cory Bernardi really did get all those text messages and phone calls from Labor frontbenchers thanking the government for determining Mr Rudd would reportedly have been a bad choice for Australia. We can be sure Mr Rudd will not choose to publish any of that correspondence if he could obtain it! 

A decision based on merit is never the wrong decision. 

A leader who consults, weighs up the input of trusted advisers and then has the courage to make a final call in light of that feedback, is a good one. A brave one. 
As I teach often in EEO training, the "unpopular" decision is not the same as "unlawful". Just unpopular. In this instance, the Cabinet didn't say: "We have someone better." It gave Mr. Rudd the same unsuccessful message managers have been giving since the year dot. "You weren't well suited to the job." The PM could have have crafted a more politically astute message. That there was a lot of depth to the field this time. That Eastern European nations would likely hold sway. That actively supporting Mr Rudd's candidature would absorb a lot of time and energy for a low probability of success etc etc. Indeed, the feedback was unflinchingly honest, albeit not very comprehensive and I respect that honesty even if Mr. Rudd doesn't.

The construction of Mr. Rudd's "WorkCover letter", probably designed to hang Mr Turnbull for misrepresentation and megalomania (#irony) was a most human but the least emotionally intelligent thing Mr Rudd could have done other than stick his foot out and trip up Mr Turnbull on the pavement outside Parliament House.

Perhaps his decision to publish his letters constructed after the fact was the ultimate validation of a decision not to recommend Mr. Rudd for the job.

According to the United Nations website, the role of Secretary General is "equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO".

Mr Rudd's "WorkCover letter" is a fair indicator of his comfort for advocacy. And he has experience as a former CEO of Australia. But diplomat? Hmmm.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Latest Challenger Disaster: When we repeatedly fail to challenge (c)overt bias

 “You’re obviously very technical”, said Rob. 
 “Thank you. But why do you say that?” I asked with some degree of (well, actually considerable) surprise in my voice.
“Well, you just seem to know your way around technology” said the editor of my new speaker reel. 

Now, I wrestled years ago with Sony Vegas ahead of my son’s Bar Mitzvah as I desperately wanted to make him a slide show but looking at all the equipment around me yesterday, I knew in that moment that iMovie would have been a challenge too. 

Rob clearly believed in my tech prowess as I said I’d try to retrieve my “shot list” spreadsheet from The Cloud; and yes, I’ve come a long way in the last few years as I have very intentionally sought to build preference in left brain thinking (to balance my passion for the right!).

I troubleshoot lots of complex technical issues on the computer (like how to create a new email signature) with my secret weapon (YouTube how to videos).

Without wanting to show off, I export QIF files using my online banking app to my accounts team to keep track of business expenses. 

I even had a breakthrough recently by investigating a possible port number for the outgoing mail server on my MacBook Pro (one of the true loves of my life apart from my family and a few significant others) to finally enable me to send emails when I’m interstate and overseas without having to dial into Webmail.

Now many of you will have worked out by now… I ain’t that technical! Not compared to someone who cuts code, builds their own computer or monitors the progress of space shuttle launches.

But in the editing suite yesterday, amidst jump cuts and backing track selections and studio close-ups and periodic lamentation about the vision of my blow waved air that seemed to be collapsing on set by the frame, Rob got me thinking.How easy is it for us to take a small shred of evidence or a brief moment of observation and infer things (albeit sometimes complimentary things) about others?That’s what we do when we stereotype. And is it always complimentary? Not so much.

Having listened to a podcast on this story (The American Life), I can only deduce that’s what must have happened in America when white police in Tennessee saw an African American riding across a bridge at night with a nine year old white boy balanced on his handlebar. They were sure they were on to something when they made the cyclist sit on the ground with his feet in the gutter while the boy was interviewed separately so that he could admit without coercion and collusion that the motives of his black adult companion were no good. They were dubious when the boy said Cleve was dating his mother and became hysterical when he realised the police insinuated in their questions that perhaps Cleve was molesting the boy because the boy did not want Cleve arrested again just for hanging around with a white boy. The police meant well. Their "crime" was surely a simple example of pattern recognition based on prior policing experience mixed with a dollop of unconscious bias and perhaps even a hint of racism.

The primitive ability we have to make decisions on a shred of data is why some women (and men) have their hair dyed every few weeks to ensure there is never any grey showing that would remind their executive boss they are over 50.

It is why many people now truncate their work history on LinkedIn so they can’t look as if they have 30 years’ worth of valuable experience.

And while I blogged recently about unscrupulous recruiters and will not rehash the same post, it is why some candidates are being invited enthusiastically for interviews and then find the recruiter cools considerably towards them in the first few minutes of the interview. 

Now of course most employers won’t even know about the systemic discrimination going on. They can conveniently hide behind the recruiter's seemingly youthful shortlist. Better not to ask any questions because a shred of data contained in the answer might prove very uncomfortable.  It is why some people are made spontaneously redundant, regardless of merit, because they are perceived to have been just too loyal to the outgoing manager to be perceived as willing to commit to someone else. I see. So now it's a crime to get on well with people. 

It is even why, in my opinion Adam Ladell who sings pleasantly but is no Jordan Smith (UK X Factor) did so well on The Voice this season. Because having a significant challenge (in his case Tourette’s syndrome) meant we made an automatic assumption he probably couldn’t perform and certainly wouldn’t be able to suppress his tics whilst doing so. If we hadn’t defined him by his Tourette’s - only one discrete aspect of this delightful young man - would anyone even have been as inspired as so many people claim to have been? He is courageous and I do believe he came on the show to make a point and to inspire others. He’s well and truly done that.

But what’s the aim of the hair dying applicant? To get a job. To put food on the table. To enjoy the psychological fruits of meaningful work and the important social benefits of employment that are denied anyone on the basis of a single attribute – their gender, their sexuality, their religion, their age or any other protected attribute that is elevated beyond reason and any semblance of ethics to be used as the sole criterion for acceptance or rejection.

What is the latest Challenger disaster? In my opinion it is the absence of challenge to overt bias in ourselves and others. 

We're so focused on big data in 2016. What are we doing to stop small data sets from wreaking havoc on fairness, justice and the diversity payoff?

It did feel nice to be told yesterday I was technically savvy. But what singular judgment will we make about someone today and what will be the myriad of outworkings of such selective attention?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Election Nightmares: When both sides fail to clear the bar

Those who will take up broadsheet and digital column inches analysing voter sentiment today in terms of beliefs, quite frankly, will be missing the mark.

The young woman who I saw run 200 metres to catch her train and gave up with 30 metres to go didn't change her beliefs when she stopped. She'd reached that spontaneous split second trigger in decision making between struggling to breathe and her assessed probability of catching the train – in other words physical discomfort against the likely payoff. Perhaps it was factoring in the rummaging around in her handbag for the Myki that did it. But her belief that it was important to be on time for work didn't change in that split second. Just her behaviour did.

Let’s exclude for a moment those who would always have voted Labour or the Coalition, because they're not relevant in this election mayhem (or this blog post). Perhaps all those who were in love with Malcolm Turnbull 8 months ago had reached their threshold. Yes, you could argue they changed their beliefs about him but I've not heard one person suggest that to me. The job of trying to stay in power and please everyone is seemingly harder than first thought. Just ask all recent PMs! Sending up test buoys on new policies and registering the voter impact turned them into crash test dummies. You can try to stand for something but if you’re imprisoned by the fatal flaw of politics (get in power, stay in power), you end up standing for nothing much more than flip flopping on important stuff. And leaders exist to make sense of things. Not to create confusion or doubt.

Some of those who thought Bill Shorten engaged in unethical "Mediscare" mongering, voted for him anyway. If they thought he sat on the questionable side of ethics, it didn’t deter them. More interestingly to me, some of those who had previously believed they could never turn on the Coalition may have reached their threshold of tolerance and fear on Medicare and superannuation. That’s not to say they switched sides and voted Labour. But there was a tantalising array of independents, wasn’t there?

The Threshold Model of Collective Behaviour was first postulated by Mark Granovetter in 1978. Intellectual tradition until that point explained our behaviour as being largely driven by deep-seated beliefs. But, Granovetter said: Get enough low threshold typically non-violent people to turn up to a demonstration, and they may just turn violent if enough other people have done so. And that decision is made on impulse, not belief. So if lots of my friends are talking about switching sides or more importantly lots of “undecideds” are leaning towards Labour and my threshold is low, I might act uncharacteristically for me at the polling booth.

Rick Barry was an NBA basketballer and Hall of Famer with an extraordinary shooting record. His free-throw style meant that he averaged a .9 record on free throws for his career. His technique was legal, albeit unconventional. Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis of why Barry was willing to throw underarm from the free throw line to crowd taunts that he was “throwing like a sissy” (the underhand style is also called a “granny shot”) pointed to a low resistance threshold, that is, having a willingness to do it differently if it brought about a better result. He was more intent on the result than how he was perceived. The fact that he was not hugely popular and was often branded “arrogant” adds strength to the theory. This can't happen in politics if your primary objective is getting in/staying in power. It automatically dictates the need for an acute sensitivity to others’ perceptions and, as an extension, to their likely behaviour. That’s why Malcolm Turnbull begged Australia not to “waste” their vote on independent candidates. Bill Shorten also knew that when he made Medicare an issue. Fear and mortality are primary motivators even if the fear may turn out to stand for False Evidence Appearing Real. Not that it can’t work on both sides of the political divide. John Howard dined out on a fear strategy (border protection) for two successive campaigns.

Politicians aren’t exactly up there in voter perceptions as pillars of community. We are sceptical borne of vast experience. So what they’re prepared to do to meet their strategic objective – get in, stay in (and possibly do some good things) is to be anticipated even if we’re not impressed by it. But our reactions to their actions are far more interesting and unpredictable.

Shaquille (Shaq) O’Neill, rated one of the top 10 NBA players ever, said he’d rather never score than take free throw shots underhanded. Neither of our two main political parties was prepared to throw the granny shot, so maybe that’s why no one has won. No mandate. And little focus in the foreseeable future on running the country.

We’ve heard in the last week about Brexit regret. Will our nation with a rejuvenated dose of One Nation live to suffer our own full measure of “bet regret” because our collective thresholds on healthcare, superannuation, immigration and refugees were well and truly triggered.

Comments on the thoughts expressed in the post are soooo welcome but no rants for or against any side of the political divide, please.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Maria 'Shriekapova' shirks the truth of the real issue here

Maria Sharapova says she is relieved she was not found to have intentionally deceived anyone even though she suppressed her use of Meldonium from people close to her.

No, it wasn't a banned substance until this year but the experts say it gives someone a physiological edge - therefore it was performance-enhancing. The issues seem therefore to be issues of integrity and ethics rather than legality.

It is not unlawful to emit noises when one is playing tennis. But tennis aficionados tell me (and the closest I've ever got to a tennis ball was to stand on one and break my foot) is that depending on the shot played, the sound coming off the racket is different. Now my mind boggles at the thought someone could listen for the sound of the ball and adjust their stroke-making accordingly, but I’m not a top 20 tennis player. I am the best player to NEVER play the game.

But just indulge me. If, let's say, it’s not illegal to make noises when playing sport, but you shriek loudly enough (at 101 decibels) to suppress the sound of the ball coming off the racket, might that give you an unethical advantage?

And then let's say Meldonium is mostly used by angina sufferers but as far as I know, this young elite athlete hasn't ever admitted to suffering from angina.

And then let's say that for those usual users, the drug improves quality of life capacity. Exercise capacity? Hmmm… I suppose that could be useful to an elite tennis player either in training, competition, perhaps in tournaments played in high altitude locations. Hmmm again…

And then let's try to be fair and remember Meldonium was only banned from 1 January this year and is prescribed entirely legally (again mostly for those with heart conditions) in Eastern Europe.

But the American Food and Drug Administration in the US has never approved Meldonium as a medicine.

And Shriekapova has been living in the US since 1994.

In equal opportunity law and OH&S law, our intent is irrelevant. It is our impact that counts. And if tennis wants a clean reputation, then intent shouldn't rate.

I took some rare time out this morning and went shopping with my beautiful sister. Luckily she managed to brake, swerve and avoid hitting the clearly drug affected woman who stepped straight into a busy intersection with her frightened, angry and verbally abusive partner following her instinctively into the chaos to grab her. It doesn't matter that we desperately wanted to avoid injuring this young woman and braked hard to miss her. Had we unintentionally hit either of them with our vehicle, the impact on her, her partner, and yes, for us, would have been devastating.

Some of the sponsors have stayed with Shriekapova because any publicity is good publicity. Others have abandoned her and yet another high profile sponsor has curiously reversed its position and continued to “partner” with her.

You get the culture you deserve. You get the behaviour you’re prepared to tolerate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Leicester the losers - but not any more

I can hear the comments now. You couldn't write a script better than this one. The most extraordinary comeback in the history of sport. Ever. They've worked out the odds. 1000 times less likely than Essendon winning this year's flag.

How does an English premiership team facing relegation at the end of 2015 get up the next year with a brand new coach and win the league?

All the high performance keys some of us have been carrying on about for years (if not decades) seem to have helped.

*True intent (not wishful thinking)
* Commitment to being a team (they did not have marquis players like Chelsea or Man United)
*Shared goals
*Role clarity
*A (blooming) good strategy

And presumably a good coach. But guess what? He was sacked from 6 other Clubs over his career prior to taking over Leicester City. No one rated them to do anything. But it appears no-one told the Club that.

You know what? On second thoughts, you're right! They couldn't have written a script better than this one.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Harry Potter and the Dark Art of Shooting the Messenger

It was certainly an interesting way to begin my journey to Gladwell's 10,000 hours to become an expert. What did the local Community Centre have budget for way back then for me as a mother of a sleepy and somewhat boring but delicious baby? An alcohol education program for convicted drink drivers! Thus began my journey into the world of tough audiences that meant any group I ever had after my three years of Wednesday nights in East Bentleigh were always going to seem easy.

As they often do, my four week evening course (I didn't leave the baby home alone) would begin with introductions around the room and a "How I came to be here" care/share moment. Well, I've already told you how I got there. Then one participant proceeds to tell his story of the "bastard cops who pinged me (that's him) down a side street". His righteous indignation given that he never disputed his blood alcohol concentration reading was somewhat shocking to me, but I had the sense to remain impassive and tell myself I was not there to judge but to shift attitudes if I could. 

The anger, the rage and the justification of such wrongdoing (by the drink driver, not the police who caught them) was one of those recurring sliding door moments for me in the dark art of shooting the messenger. Severus Snape would be proud.  Over the past 25 years I've seen it so many times in business; the bullying of the whistle blower, the isolation of those who protest bad change, the hiding or reframing of bad news because of those Colonel Nathan R. Jessup moments when we "can't handle the truth". 

It is not for me to say whether or not we need a royal commission into banks. The Labour catch cry is certainly "populist"; an easy election promise to understand and catches the wave of bank-hating fervour. Others would say if banks are engaging in questionable practices, is that not for ASIC and its increased powers and budget? If banks are price gouging or colluding with competitors on interest rates, is that not for the ACCC?  

The unnamed IOOF whistle blower or protected disclosurer (I make up language as it suits me) is smart not to be named. Could they ever get a job again?

The single biggest case of gender discrimination in this country involved Mark McInnes. I watched with interest to see where he would bob up next. He wasn’t the victim or the whistle blower. He was the alleged perpetrator. But Solly Lew was happy to hire him and he seems to have done a great job if we judge by financial metrics. Where is Kristy Fraser-Kirk now? Did anyone roll out the red employment carpet for her? She was the alleged victim.

As long as we can hold on to the "bastard cop" mentality, regulators have a tough gig. Can we be regulators and business partners? The police certainly think so. They have no choice. The police force must garner trust and confidence from the community as a clear strategy to solve crime (both current cases and cold crime); that is, the police must collaborate with and educate the community and the police must also be the enforcer when required. This is what we're asking of ASIC too but they've chased lots of alleged foxes down rabbit holes without a lot of success in the 80's and 90's so guess what? Now they're risk averse!  My last gig with them was a decade ago but I'm sure Karen Chester of the Productivity Commission is right.

Our collective ability to defend the indefensible and justify the unjust goes something like this.

I/We did nothing wrong.

If I/We did anything wrong, it wasn't that bad.

If I/We did anything wrong, it wasn't anything more wrong than anyone else's wrongdoing.

If I/We did anything wrong, it's the "bastard cops" who should be blamed for saying so.

And if we DO find out who the protected disclosurer was, we should exclude or isolate them for causing us so much trouble.

Of course, the conversation we are really having here is about ethics. Companies have to select employees at all levels who want to do the right thing and know what that looks like. You can't teach character.

Moreover, organisations must create a culture where people know they have to do the right thing; where people can "speak truth to power" and finally, where we don't shoot the messengers or the passengers who get tarred, or more likely, whacked with the same (hard) brush because their "crime" was to refuse to defend the indefensible.   

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

60 minutes of fame and much longer misfortune

The drama unfolding in Beirut with a Channel Nine crew formally charged on kidnapping, not respecting local authority and causing harm is sobering, confronting and potentially a life changing lesson for anyone affected by the alleged kidnapping gone horribly wrong.
Snide comments were made by other media outlets in the first few hours after the story broke as they pondered just how well Nine would have rated in coverage of the story. But now we're left to ponder how any of what we believe to be true was allowed to happen.
Who in Australia wouldn't have compassion for a mum if it turns out her children were whisked away from her under false pretences and now live in another country?
Who couldn't anticipate the compelling vision and the ratings potential for Channel 9 in a sensation-hungry world of sound bites and competition if the children were "rescued" and reunited in a heist worthy of a Jack Bauer episode of "24"?
But who considered the legal ramifications of chequebook journalism gone askew?
Who gamed out a scenario where the crew may be found in defiance of local laws?
And who worried enough about the risk to the children of getting hurt if it all went horribly wrong.

The lessons for us closer to home?

In this very sad and frightening story, we see the intersection of moral dilemmas, poor decision-making and failure to take account of unintended consequences. Rarely is a situation clear cut. Rarely is there one clear moral path. On a good day we can justify anything. We can rationalise everything. But in our attention seeking world, and ratings are a bid for attention, the end doesn't always justify the means.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Surprising Nobility in Restricted Mobility

Everyone wants to know how it happened. With not a shadow of a lie, I tell them.
Think Roger Federer. Australian Open. Tennis ball. Fractured foot. They were all involved. Just not the way you might imagine.
Roger was warming up. It was the Australian Open. He was on the television screen at the time. I stepped out into my back garden... onto a tennis ball and fractured my foot. Not exactly a sporting injury but it has certainly put paid to my exercise regime...and driving...and jogging... and five rhythms dancing.. and for a while the ability to carry anything when on two crutches doing an astronaut impression in a moonboot.

I've kept telling myself lots of people have so much worse, and I mean it but the biggest lessons for me in my enforced character building moment are these:
1) We take things (in this case my mobility and my independence) for granted. Until they're not there.
2) Showing faith and confidence in others can be a growth experience for all (my kids cook more  and better than before).
3) Challenges make us inventive. You wouldn't believe what I've done not to starve when no-one was around at home to feed me!
4) With all the terror and tragedy in the world, only ever a mouse click away from our consciousness, there are so many good, considerate and empathic people out there quite happy to perform random acts of kindness such as when you stand up and knock your crutch away out of reach during a facilitation. We need to soak up that goodness in a scary world so as not to slip into despair.

All of this has reinforced things I knew before but about which we all need reminders. An attitude of gratitude makes us happier. Empathy is essential to relationships. Empowering others usually allows people to step up. Being vulnerable even as strong confident people is not a sign of weakness. Ask for what you need and don't expect busy people to be mind readers. And we are far more change resilient than we often give ourselves credit for.

I've got to be honest. I'm so impressed with myself and my capacity for self- awareness and growth through adversity. But if they tell me next week I'm not as young as Dane Swan and not to donate my crutches and moonboot to charity yet, I may even cry. Then I'll pick myself up, re-apply my eye liner, call myself a taxi, head off for a consult with a wonderful client and remind myself that my work and my world rocks!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Much Ado About Nothing (according to the offensive)

In no particular order but highly interchangeable:
"It's a total overreaction."
"It's political correctness gone mad!"
"I was quoted out of context."
"It was just one of those things. (You know what) happens."

And my personal paraphrased favourite by none other than Barnaby Joyce, future leader of the National Party is that "it would be a shame if we became a sterile nation."

We can all do it. These are highly credible, scientifically validated and potentially useful psychological devices to justify and rationalise things to ourselves and others. Sometimes we believe them. Sometimes we pretend to. But we're all capable of it.
We obfuscate when we're scared.
We exaggerate when it suits us.
We trivialise when we're defensive.
We tell people they misunderstood or just plain got it wrong.
We tell them, the targets or victims it's no big deal and they should lighten up.
We are sometimes crueller or more subversive. We tell them they are misrepresenting the facts or even that they outright lied.

And then when they come out of the woodwork and say this happened to them some time ago (think Bill Cosby), we attack them on social media and say if it really happened why didn't they complain about it at the time?
If we can defend the indefensible then perhaps we can also do the following as victims or targets.
We can convince ourselves we've overreacted.
We can be convinced (perhaps justifiably) if we complain we'll be labelled "problem children" or "litigious".
We can fear pushing back will mean potential talent (e.g. high profile sports stars) won't ever agree to be interviewed by us and for a journalist that's career suicide.
Our own colleagues may become wary of us. Perhaps they'll label us "precious" but not to us directly unless we get sent the text accidentally!

So in the past week we've seen it from a federal politician and a gifted cricketer.  We've seen the victim shaming, tolerating, obfuscating and explaining away. Others have weighed in and some did to condemn. If a footy player over-celebrates a goal or does the handcuff jail thing, the commentators jump, but if it's about race, religion or gender, some are just plain scared lest they fall out with the wrong people. And the fear of falling out with the wrong people is sometimes why targets of inappropriate  behaviour don't say anything at the time. But it doesn't mean it's not offensive in a Hong Kong Hotel or after a cricket match.

The senior journalist labelled an effing witch by a hapless/careless politician has the same right to decide she wasn't bothered as Mel McLoughlin had to decide she was.

Chris Gayle is exciting to watch. How about he lets his cricket bat do the talking?!

I can only hope that those poor attractive female journos sent to the airport yesterday to get a sound byte from Chris Gayle and who looked clearly uncomfortable if not repulsed to be be there holding a microphone in front of him, weren't sent by their editors hoping to get a repeat of what Gayle dished out to the professional and gracious Mel McLoughlin just because that would have been another story. It would also have made them cannon fodder. The healthier and more wholesome story would be that sending them was a truly "gender blind" decision on the part of the editor who saw neither gender nor physical attractiveness as a criterion for decision making.