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Do words limit our experience?

I have Essential Thrombocytosis.  It’s a rare type of chronic cancer.

I rarely say ‘cancer’ to describe it though.  I say ‘blood disorder’ because it feels less likely to limit my – and other people’s – perceptions of the experience.  The words matter.

I drink real coffee.  Not instant.  In my mind it is obvious that the difference is a) clear and b) important.  The words don’t matter.

I have a job description which includes words like management and leadership.  Often when the two are discussed, managers emerge as transactional robots while leaders are empowering, equipping visionaries.

I’m not a fan of comparing the terms or reserving them for people in roles defined as managers or leaders.  Everyone leads someone or something.  And everyone manages stuff.

Leading and managing is part of who we are as humans, just as having a chronic condition is part of who I am.

Words help explain the experience, but aren’t the limit of the experience.

Except when it comes to drinking coffee.  I was wrong earlier when I said the words don’t matter; there is distance the size of the Nullabor Plain between the experience of instant vs real coffee.

That limit is real.

coffe pot

Anzac Day – a hat tip to our grandfathers

Putting aside my navel-gazing opinions...I don't actually do the Anzac service for any for any social or political reason.

I do it because my grandfathers served in WWII. Their service and this day mattered to them, and they mattered to me....

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Coffee and core values

Instant coffee compromises my core value.

It goes like this:  I believe people matter.  If people matter, they deserve the best.  Instant coffee is the opposite of the best.  Ergo, I could never offer instant coffee because it violates my prime directive.

It’s a non-negotiable.

Our non-negotiables show us what we value.  They guide how we lead ourselves and others.  They provide the sieve through which we filter information, and clarify how we view situations.

Whether we’re experiencing difficulties or opportunities, the way through is to leverage our strengths.  Often though we are weakened by doubt, distracted by other people’s actions, rendered inactive by fear.

If this sounds overly simplistic, that’s because it is.  So is the solution.  Sometimes simple is what we need.

Knowing our strengths and understanding our non-negotiables helps us to move effectively.  If they’ve never been articulated, think about what they are.  And continue to just be.

While we’re thinking and being – this bit is important so pay attention – let’s not drink instant coffee.

We matter too much for that.

green cup

A lesson from linen…

I'm aiming to be grateful for what is, rather than grumpy about what is not.

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What inspires you to do better?

I recently told a colleague if they were coffee they’d be a single-origin, freshly ground, long or short black.  It was a compliment (in case you were wondering); there seemed no better way to convey how valuable they are.

I’m quite fluent in coffee as a language of appreciation.

I’m also quite surrounded by moments and people for which I’m thankful.

Recently our team facilitated a large, most excellent gathering of our region’s volunteers and paid staff.  I spent a lot of that day listening and observing with interest as conversations developed, questions were asked, problems solved, new ideas explored, and relationships strengthened.

The organisation for whom I work – and the people with whom I work – inspire me to be a better version of me, so I can do better for them.

I’m not aiming for perfection; just improvement.

Because they are valuable.

I mean, if they were coffee…

greek coffee

 

 

Adding value by doing nothing…

I had a boss once who said my greatest strength was an ability to think strategically.  He also said even I – as directionally-challenged as I am – could learn to use a compass.  He was, therefore, not always right.

That aside, living with a chronic condition like Essential Thrombocytosis (ET) reminds me that thinking strategically isn’t complex. It’s simply choosing actions which will achieve a clearly defined objective.

Because of the fatigue associated with ET, there are days the stairs in our house nearly defeat me.  At the point where – literally –  crawling is the only way I can make it upstairs, I am forced to implement the ‘refill energy’ strategy.  This includes, among other things, a blend of gentle exercise and lying on the bed doing nothing.  When I get to the Doing Nothing bit, I spend my time complaining about how I don’t like the fact that I need to do nothing.

The complaining doesn’t help.  The doing nothing does.

My personal and professional objective is the same:  to add value.  Some days this looks like facilitating a meeting, working on an assignment, hanging out with my family, drinking good coffee.

Occasionally it looks like doing nothing.

Pre-ET, my strategy for adding value was about doing things.  I’ve had to adjust the strategy to include doing nothings; adding value doesn’t look so frenetic anymore…and I’m more effective than I’ve ever been.

Whether running or walking or crawling, I always conquer the stairs.

stairs2

Maybe I don’t know everything…

I like to think I like to try new things…but I’ll (inflexibly) prefer dark chocolate with coffee.

I like to think I’m open to new ideas…but I’ll (close-mindedly) assure myself I already know a lot and that what I know and believe is – almost always – Right.

At the end of last year I travelled with colleagues to Malta and the UK.  I expected to enjoy the usual travel-related edge-stretching of new experiences.  What I didn’t expect was to realise I’d been wrong in how I’d started to view leadership conceptually, my leadership abilities specifically, and accompaniments for coffee gastronomically.

I knew I liked ethical, strong, visionary-and-at-the-same-time practical leaders.  I knew I wanted to be that kind of leader.  I knew on some days I could stand on my tippy toes, stretch high and nearly reach it.

But I didn’t know – until I was exploring new places and organisations, sharing meals, coffee and conversations with other people – that I had settled into a kind of complacent, comfortable discomfort.  Over time I’d taken the path of least resistance.   Leading well was risky and took more focus than just ‘doing my job’.  Objectives were met but I wasn’t leading myself or others as well as I could.

It’s like the difference between a coffee made with freshly ground beans and one made with packaged pre-ground beans; they both still taste good but the latter is somehow, ever so slightly, lacking.

Our band of merry travellers shared a meal together recently, and discussed how we were implementing what we’d learned on our trip.

The exploration of our organisation’s history reinforced for me the need for value-based leadership.  I don’t know if they meant to, but while we were away – and again over dinner back home – my fellow explorers reinforced the importance of listening, observing, and when necessary taking action.

I’ve returned to the freshly ground beans of value-based, outcome-focused leadership.

I’ve re-learned I don’t know everything, and that’s okay.

I’ve newly-learned that salted caramel brownies or salted caramel gelato work extremely well with coffee; this is almost as life-changing as the Not Knowing Everything and the Value-based Leadership things.

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Critical filters

Leaders at all levels of all types of organisations are often the target of criticism.

Sometimes it's warranted. Sometimes it's not.

...The frame of reference by which we analyse input is important...

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Don’t mess with the recipe

Anzac biscuits are a truly delicious, memory-rich, taste of childhood holidays at Nanna’s house.

There is debate over whether they were invented by Australia or New Zealand, however – much like the pavlova which both countries also claim – I don’t care where it hails from; it tastes good and therefore I’m happy it was invented at all.

The flavour I remember was all about the brown sugar, golden syrup , butter and oats.  Nanna stored her chewy-but-kinda-crunchy Anzac biscuits in gum-leaf green tupperware containers on a shelf above her stove.

I’m domestically indifferent and not a fan of cooking, but occasionally the muse descends to eat a certain thing which must taste a certain way.  I forget how easily bored I am with baking and off I trot in search of a recipe.  Such was the case with Anzac biscuits.

I wanted to recreate the magic of Nanna’s kitchen.

Until today, I’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful. 

I had become distracted by recipes with ‘clean eating’ and ‘wholefood’ variations.

All attempts were unfit for human consumption.  My dogs thanked me.

The problem was a loss of focus on the original goal and consequent unnecessary change.

Sometimes changing is important; doing things a certain way because That’s How We’ve Always Done It can be counter-productive to growth, improvement or achieving objectives.

However, the Great Anzac Biscuit Debacle of 2015 has reminded me that sometimes change is not helpful.

Before implementing change objectively analyse the situation and required outcome.  If change is required, be clear about why and how.  Make sure the process will achieve the desired result.

Above all, know this:  Anzac biscuits don’t need changing.  Ever.

cookie3

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.

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