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Value in opposing forces

I had my knee bent and ankle resting at the top of my thigh while I bent forward, balanced precariously on the other leg.

I looked like a drunk flamingo.

Find balance working with those opposing forces

My thoughts moved between contemplating how fabulous I was for beginning to move my body into a tricky balancey pose, pondering the happenings of my day…and thinking about how not to topple over.

Then these words from Yoga with Adriene floated off the iPad: find balance working with those opposing forces.

It shifted two things:  mostly importantly at the time, I applied the statement to my body and it created a stronger foundation for the balance pose. I was – gratefully – less likely to face-plant in a tangled mess.

It also created a calm, clear focus in my mind’s eye as I applied the concept to leadership and management.  Opposing forces don’t have to be obstacles to be overcome or battled; they can be strengths we leverage to achieve goals.

Opposing forces can be our greatest asset.

In leading and managing situations, finding balance working with those opposing forces might add value for everyone.  That matters.

In standing-on-one-leg situations, it might add value to my balance.

That matters too.

Follow the leader

Chocolate biscuit base. Ice-cream centre. Chocolate fudge top.

The combination is a powerful magnet for me; I'd follow that dessert just about anywhere.

......The pie story matters; it's not just about a rich, remarkable dessert. It's also about leading.

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Leading when life is forever changed

I can’t imagine a world without coffee.  Conceptually, I understand some people don’t or can’t drink it.  I just can’t picture me being one of them.

A year ago, I hadn’t imagined a world without my father.

In the week following his death emotions were deep, days were long.  We were at times overwhelmed and dazed, and yet I watched my brother lead our family with strength, humour and respect.   We gave Dad a cracking good send off, and then there it was.  Life without him.

Incomprehensible change had occurred but no other externals shifted: I still had objectives to meet, teams to participate in, a family to love, dogs to walk, friends to hang out with, and coffee to drink.

Leading self – and others – consistently and with grace always matters.  It’s a bit harder to do when significant change has occurred.  And I think then it matters more.  When the wind blows outside during a storm, I’m secure knowing my home’s foundations will keep me safe.

People need reassurance when there’s a metaphorical storm altering the landscape.  They don’t need to be told; they need to be shown.

That’s what my brother did.

That’s what matters when life is forever changed.

That, and coffee.


Planning to be flexible

‘Hiding behind doors and jumping out to surprise Mum and Dad’ was one of my son’s Favourite Things To Do when he was a kid. He was pretty bad at it.

He has inherited a genetic inability to move quietly or keep a surprise. At 14 he still occasionally enjoys the aforementioned Favourite Thing To Do. He’s now 180cm tall and moves with the grace of a startled giraffe. He is gifted and brilliant in many areas, but stealth is not one of them. If he surprised me it would be…surprising.

This morning I realised Essential Thrombocytosis behaves in a similar fashion. It’s not always obvious but it’s always close by, and occasionally it bursts through a doorway knocking me on my butt for a few hours or a few days.

I’m not surprised; it’s not good at hiding either. I feel it every day.

It is, however, easy to camoflage. I’ve refined my strategies for successfully managing the symptoms, so at times I’m surprised and frustrated when it slips through my carefully crafted management plan.

Chronic conditions are excellent teachers.

Strategies and plans for achieving objectives are key to success. If, however, we are too focused on implementation that we forget why we’re doing it we become ineffective.

There are always factors out of our control. There will always be unexpected challenges or opportunities arising which interrupt or surprise us.

Keep focused while scanning the horizon and periphery. Plan to be flexible.

Planning flexibility sounds counter-intuitive but it works. I’ve found the broader perspective and flexibility enables me to be more effectively responsive. Sometimes it results in avoiding falling back on my butt. Sometimes it means I don’t stay down for too long.

Sometimes it means what knocks me down helps me back up.

As would my son.

If his ‘hiding behind doors and jumping out’ thing ever actually resulted in surprising me.

Giving thanks for people…and coffee

I left for work early this morning.  After seven hours driving, 540 kilometres, two coffees, and one gathering with a group of dedicated paid and volunteer staff, I returned home weary but thankful.

I was not thankful for the coffee; it was barely adequate.  I was, however, thankful for the people I spent the day with.

I will be profusely, profoundly thankful for good coffee when it’s in front of me.   I’m deeply committed to keeping coffee in my life so I’m automatically specific and generous in my praise for it.

The meeting I participated in today refreshed the importance of doing the same with praise for, and appreciation of, people.

So here’s what I appreciate right now:  I’m thankful our paid and volunteer staff are skilled, professional, and compassionate.  I’m thankful this state has a strong culture of community engagement and volunteering.  I’m thankful that our organisation is actively involved. And I’m thankful to be part of it.

If there are people within your sphere of influence you appreciate, don’t assume they know this.  Give thanks for them (whatever that looks like for you), and give thanks to them (in a way which is meaningful for them).

Given it is an inanimate object, I’m almost certain coffee doesn’t care how much I show my gratitude.

Almost certain…


Caffeine-free me

It’s been nearly four days since my last coffee.

This isn’t a conscious choice. I’m not detoxing, raising money or awareness of a noble cause, or trying to save the environment.

Nope.  I simply have a cold and the idea of drinking coffee makes me gag. The last time I was too sick to drink coffee was 15 years ago when I was growing a whole other human inside me. I’m not pregnant now so this must be worse than a common cold; it must be ManFlu.

I’ve been coughing on my colleagues and sighing dramatically at my family. I can’t decide if my body aches because it’s sick or because it’s in caffeine withdrawal.  I am jet-lagged, flu-ridden, and have an overflowing inbox.

All of which I would accept better if I could just drink coffee.

I’d like to say this involuntary caffeine exile has made me attain a Yoda-like state of acceptance and peace, or zealously declare, ‘Hallelujah; life is better without it!’

Again, nope.  I find life without coffee is fundamentally flawed and categorically, well, meh…

While I haven’t developed a keener appreciation for a caffeine-free life, this experience has highlighted the following important leadership lesson: no matter what is happening in your sphere of leadership, keep the (literal or metaphorical) coffee flowing.

Our team stops work and gathers for half an hour each day for Coffee O’clock. Sometimes we talk work and sometimes we don’t.  It’s not about the content of conversation, or even – and it pains me to say this – about the coffee.  It’s about the team.

A difficult journey is made easier, a celebration more joyful, when we are connected.  When there is a place to pause in the activity.  When there is Something Good to experience, no matter how trivial it may seem.

Like coffee.  Everything is better when there is coffee.


It’s over but it’s not…

Our two weeks of fact-finding and history-exploring is done.

It’s too soon to identify in detail how our experience might positively impact our roles and the organisation as a whole, but we know it will.

At the very least – and in fact at the core – we increased our appreciation for the world-class ambulance service of which we are a part; we will add value simply by integrating this with our current practices and sharing it with our teams.  That’s a good starting point.

We laughed often, learned much, and drank (mostly) excellent coffee.

Everyone’s already kicked a goal and the game isn’t over yet…



Moving through the mud

I think I've learned how to master meandering in mud.

In seemingly - but actually not - unrelated news: I've got a crush on Yorkshire. It's people are generous, the scenery is moodily enticing, and when things are a bit tough folk carry on anyway.
....Yorkshire has reminded me success and beauty won't always look like blue skies and smooth paths.

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Leadership legacy

Something rare and unsettling occurred in Malta;  I was, on several occasions, lost for words.

Actually, that’s not quite true.  I wasn’t always speechless.  There were times I graduated to incoherent.

Faced with the grandeur of the architecture, the magnificent scenery, and the history of the Knights of St John interwoven through everything I found myself muttering things like, ‘it’s just…wow…’ , ‘I can’t…even…huh?’, and ‘I mean…how?…yeah’.

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Travelling with a team of equally curious – and sometimes more articulate – people has helped me find my words.

Over many coffees and much delicious food, we’ve discussed the application of what we’ve seen and learned.

It would be easy to polarise the Knights’ rich, proud and at times turbulent history as either totally irrelevant or vitally important.



I think it’s more complex than that…and at the same time it’s profoundly simple.  Sometimes we ask how history applies to us.  Maybe that’s not the right question. Their legacy is one of value-based leadership.  Maybe the question is about how we apply the values.

The Knights of St John maintained their core values in difficult political and social times, and they set a standard for health care which at the time was unrivalled.  Through all this, they created community.  They were committed to something beyond themselves.

The Knights of St John put values into action.

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The application of the core values of St John is not just the privilege or responsibility of organisational leaders.  Everyone leads. We do what we can within our sphere of influence.

I can feel enthusiasm beginning to brew.  It’s possible awe-induced mutterings are about to trip off my lips again.

I may need more coffee, tasty meals and meandering conversations with my colleagues.

That seemed to help last time.



Diving in with coffee

Imagine it’s a warm spring day. You’re dangling your feet in clean, clear water and thinking a swim might be just the thing. A refreshing dip will add to what seems like a perfect moment.

You dive in but it is too cold and you swear-gasp-swear as you climb out of the water. The moment of perfect is gone in shivers and drips.

Metaphorically speaking, such was my experience of coffee this morning at Dubai airport.

It appears our band of merry travellers appreciates caffeinated goodness.

Our first coffee together was at Dubai airport. It was savoured and devoured with pleasure, so a couple of us dove in for a second. Sadly, we didn’t check the temperature of the water (metaphorically speaking; the literal temperature of the coffee was fine). I emerged slightly bedraggled and disappointed.

It’s possible I had an overly positive perception of the first coffee because we’d just stepped off an 11 hour flight and had another 11 hours until we reached Malta. Was it good or was I just desperate?

There was no objectivity in my decision-making process; it was entirely impulse driven.

Clearly this experience is not noteworthy for most or serious for any. It is, however – like all things coffee – useful.

Leadership and management decisions require the same balance of emotion and objectivity as caffeine-related decisions.

Enthusiasm and wonder are necessary. So too is critical analysis.

We need the sunshine on our shoulders to inspire and energise.

We need ideals of excellence to which we can aspire.

We need to test the water; analyse actions, input and outcomes to continually improve.

We also need coffee.



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