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Leading with gloves on

When I was twelve I wanted to be Australia’s first female Prime Minister. I dreamed of making the world a better place.

I also dreamed of living in a palace. In said palace would be many magnificent staircases down which I would sashay while wearing stylish palace-ish clothes.

My plan was to change the world and look fabulous while doing so.

Julia Gillard’s already done the first-female-Prime-Minister thing but I haven’t given up on the better world or palace-staircase-clothes thing.

Last year I spent a day at the Palace of Versailles. I still clutched the idea of gliding down splendid staircases, wistfully gazing out ornate windows, elegantly strolling through cavernous hallways, and draping delicately on sumptuous furniture.

(I am in fact a clomper not a glider, I have never mastered wistful, and I’m only elegant or delicate in my imagination).

Thankfully the palace itself was everything I’d anticipated. The day was abundant with awe-filled moments.

It was also exceedingly, remarkably, stingingly cold. There was more shivering and speedy striding than there was swanning and sashaying. Then halfway through the afternoon I lost a glove. The truth of a European winter was not included in my adolescent fantasy. That glove-less hand made the rest of me icier than I had ever envisaged.

The reality was different from, yet somehow still exceeded, the vision.

So it is with leadership specifically and life generally. There are days when I feel like I have sunshine on my shoulders, I’m moving with ease, working to my strengths, and achieving things for the Greater Good.

Then there are days I feel like the temperature’s dropped below zero, I’m distracted by the cold, and accomplishing nothing of substance.

But that’s okay. Either way I’m still me. I know my abilities and experiences. I know I sometimes choose badly and often choose well.

More importantly I know the ideals I hold and the value I contribute; they’re like those gloves I was wearing in Versailles. If I lose one, everything else is out of kilter.

Our edges are sometimes stretched when we change, or when situations change. We are impacted by the decisions and actions of other people. Regardless of what’s going on around us we can choose to lead ourselves effectively.

Be prepared. Rug up. Know that you matter.

And the gloves. Don’t drop the gloves.

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Being grateful during loss

Last night my father-in-law passed away. I’m grateful for him; he was a good man who raised a good man who is raising a good man.

Six weeks ago my husband and I separated. I’m grateful for him; he is the aforementioned good man raising a good man.

This is a season of change and challenge for our family. Gratitude is key.

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Leading toward sustainability with coffee grinds…

I’m not particularly good at environmental sustainability, but I think it’s a cracker of a concept.

I would like to be the person who has no waste in their house, reuses everything, and grows their own vegetables. The truth is I’m more of an occasional visitor to sustainability than a permanent resident.

It is not place in which I lead myself well. I’m excellent at reading articles and pretending that I’m somehow contributing to The Greater Good by doing so. Considerably less excellent at walking the streets or speaking the language.

Occasionally, though, I DO something.

A month ago, inspired by Box Garden, the muse descended and I instigated a revamp of our courtyard, with a grand plan to use the garden beds for an actual garden. Thus followed two frantic weekends of digging, paving, and striding purposefully (but cluelessly) down the gardening aisles of Bunnings. I learned the difference between a trowel and a hoe, created a fire pit, started keeping food scraps for compost, and planted six herbs in two pots…then the muse returned from whence it came.

The empty garden beds have provided our dogs with fabulous digging spots and I keep forgetting to water the herbs.

In the world of sustainability I’m more of a sprinter than an endurance runner.

So today, after I read a blog shared by The Wasteless Pantry, I chose to do something which fit my knowledge, ability, and attention-span. I covered my face in coffee grinds and coconut oil.

I did it because Wasteless Pantry inspires me. I did it because it seemed like a good natural exfoliator. I did it because I needed to feel like I was increasing my fluency in this area.

But mostly I did it because it’s coffee.

I lead myself well with coffee, and it’s important we all lead from our strengths.

coffee scrub colout

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.

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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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