As you may be aware already, for the past year or so I have the privilege of leading a passionate committee in the Canberra region to help inform and promote the local program of events and member engagement that is aimed at cultivating excellence in leadership.
But I’ve also been involved with several of AIM’s national program, and was one of the National Networking Week’s National Ambassadors in 2016 where I could draw on my deep understanding on how to leverage that crucial skill and activity as part of the week long program, including being interviewed for Business Insider and the Huffington Post.
So I was thrilled to be invited to be one of seven expert guest speakers at the upcoming national conference, Leadership Matters: 7 Skills of Very Successful Leaders.
This major conference will be held in Melbourne on the 24th March and I’ll be showing how to integrate professional networking into a contemporary leadership setting.
To learn more about the program, and how to register your place, please follow the link.
I hope to see you there!
‘All’s the world’s a stage’ wrote Shakespeare, and I think that’s especially true for our work life.
We’re selected for a role, or we shape one for ourselves; and with that comes responsibilities, behaviours, and a defined place in the workplace culture.
If you’re a subject matter expert, then that role can be clearly defined, and for many people it’s comforting.
Most people want clearly understood parameters of their place at work: what’s expected of them, what’s makes for good work, their responsibilities + outputs and their reporting paths.
Not many are fans of ambiguity.
Many of us really just want to do good work, feel ok, or better, about it – and go home without it hanging over our heads.
For others the scope of the role can have fuzzy boundaries, especially in a leadership role where your accountabilities include managing people and team cultures, which by their nature are fluid and imperfect.
The role we play at work is intended to shapes our thoughts + skills to a particular end that serves the organisations goals. Collectively the workforce should bring to bear all that’s required for the collective to succeed.
But we’re more than out job title clearly.
We carry in us life + work experience, skills and qualities that are not always brought to bear in our daily work. Especially over time in a role, many behaviours become routine or unthinking, and those other parts not directly relevant gather some dust.
The downside of this is that the organisation can miss out in a changing world and market place the skills and experiences in their teams that can be useful for it to adapt and thrive.
Ever had those chats at work, at a lunch or after work drinks, where you discover the other facets of a colleague. ‘I didn’t know you had done that!”?
Usually, we’re pretty shy of talking about our expertise unless prompted. Once in the job, after the interview, you just tend to get on with things.
But by creating conversations at semi-regular intervals in the workplace that can reveal these experiences, skills and interests you can reveal hidden talents that don’t see the light of day when people are immersed in their roles. It could be that rather than a new hire, you’ve the skill set you need sitting next to you. Another mechanism could be an intranet with a person’s resumes (even their LinkedIn profile) and achievements outlined that could be used when forming a new team for a project.
By creating a way for a person to reveal their skills, contacts and insights outside of their main role you can tap into a powerful resource and perhaps enrich the team members experience of their work.
In December 2015 I had the honour of being on stage at TEDx Canberra to end the event with a talk about my pet subject, the Martini.
My alter ego, the Martini Whisperer has been about for a few years now and has evolved into the go-to blog for reviews on Australian + imported craft spirits, particularly gin, and Martini culture. I also offer master classes and Martini experiences and have been invited to speak in a range of settings.
But a TED talk is something else again, and I thought it may be interesting to share the preparation I undertook to get ready for one of the most important days of my life.
Whilst its possible to pitch to be part of a TEDx event, organisers will usually reach out to people they think can shine and bring something genuine to the stage. The ethos of TED is that of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ and is strictly non-commercial. They want it to be a platform for ideas and inspiration that can enrich lives.
So while I was mindful that my topic was at the frivolous end of the spectrum compared to what normally appears on the famous red dot, I took the invitation very seriously.
I wanted to do the opportunity justice, and since it was (to my knowledge) the first ever talk about the Martini, I wanted it be credible, informative and bring the subject to life. I also had the responsibility of being the light relief after a program of serious topics like domestic violence and so it had to be entertaining. Plus, in the back of my mind was the slight possibility that if good enough, my talk might be curated as part of the TED.com YouTube channel for a global audience of millions.
So, no pressure at all then!
But here’s the thing, beyond the strict parameters of TED talk (18 minutes max, no commercial sell, etc) there is a balancing act in the delivery: you have to be yourself and natural, and also conform the expectations of what a TED talk is.
I’m a firm believer in a strong structure in a talk, both in terms of narrative and topics covered. I wanted to do the subject justice TED wise, so any facts had to be accurate, no dodgy anecdotes and I couldn’t really ad lib. So I delved into multiple sources to check any historical things I was going to mention.
Also I had the idea of coming to the cocktail from multiple perspectives, to show how it was the culmination of many things: the evolution of craft spirits + distilling, the martini in popular culture + film, my own experiences, famous martini drinkers, etc culminating in making one on stage in a theatrical setting.
I then road tested these ideas with the TEDx organiser to check that it sounded good to them and fitted into their vision for the program.
Some tips on TED talks mention things like 10 hours prep for every minute which is a bit much in my opinion is a bit much. But once my script was settled the next step was to memorise my talk and internalise it.
I broke my talk into six sections and focused on each in turn, then practiced them together. Every day for an hour I would do my talk several times, plus annoy people at dog park or in the supermarket muttering phrases to myself constantly to embed them in my brain.
I drafted my talk six times and kept refining it as I spoke it every day for several weeks. Obviously reading and speaking are two different things, and I found I had to simplify my language so it was both easier to say and remember.
Plus I had to keep in mind the time limit.
So I would record my practice sessions to keep an eye on the time, I was aiming for less than 18 minutes to allow times for accidents on the day and performance issues. As it turned out I landed at exactly 18 minutes on the day!
It was a only a couple of weeks out that I added the images to my talk so that I could use them at the right punctuation point, in theory.
I did find that each time I did it that I missed a point, or sentence. I resisted the urge to beat myself up about it though, and just did it again. I realised that no-one else knew what I was going to say and if I missed a phrase, they’d never know. Also my talk was structured in a way that I could move things about, by accident perhaps, and it would still work.
The TEDx team are all volunteers and support is pro bono. They are also super supportive and positive and would do anything to ensure their speakers get what they need to be comfortable and confident on the day. They are so there for you.
They also said something that turned out to be very true about the audience which is particularly TED it seems. They are incredibly positive and engaging: they really want to be there, and really want you to succeed. I could certainly feel that.
You’re encouraged on the day to mingle with the people, not hide in the green room, and anything I needed was only an ask away. They were marvellous, a real delight to work with.
I should especially thank the performance coach provided by the TEDx Canberra crew, the lovely Katrina Howard who was my coach throughout the process and would check in frequently to see how I was feeling, and offered lots of tips and advice that was invaluable and made all the difference.
As I said, the deal with TED is being real. Yes, there are plenty of arch and earnest talks out there by people out to make the world a better place, but I wasn’t a rocket scientist or doing social work, I wanted to shed some light on a great cultural icon and cocktail and the elements that make it possible. So I was realistic about where I stood in the scheme of things.
But I knew that for my talk to work I had to a) be myself, and b) deliver the talk in a way that people could connect to unpretentiously.
So I ensured there was some vulnerability, self-depreciating humour and that it was a talk from me to the audience without artifice. Whilst the early versions of my talk were sounding a bit like a Wikipedia article, once I started doing things like saying ‘I believe’ and ‘I think’ and more anecdotes on my own experience then it finally came to life.
This is where I struggled a bit. I have a tendency to talk quickly when excited, and whilst I’d be mic’ed up I had to ensure that each word landed coherently in the audience. I gave myself a lot of concepts to cover in my talk, including a part at the end that included live music and making a Martini on stage.
My delivery in practicing was still stilted and sounded like a lecture.
Where was the passion and animation that I normally had when talking about cocktails? I had to find a way in to animate myself and put the (paradoxically) whole TED thing out of my mind.
Now, I’m a big Michael Caine fan, and do a dreadful impression of him, and some friends were daring me to include him in my talk. I didn’t do that, but I figured I had to get into character somehow from the get-go. Once I done that I figured the rest of the talk would flow.
So a few days before the event, I came up with the idea to have his voice in my head as I said my first few lines, “My tale, is a, head-mix of geo-politics...’ This worked and helped me find the rhythm I needed and opened up my cocktail persona that enabled me to relate my talk in the style I was aiming for.
So my talk was coming to together and a few weeks out I chose the 10 martini images I had taken to illustrate my talk. I was going to use them to punctuate the different sections of my talk, partly to keep my thoughts on track but also provide some visual eye candy.
I had my cocktail wagon and ingredients organised, and had put the key dot points for my talk on postage stamp sized notes for emergencies in my pocket. A colleague, John Black, had graciously agreed to perform for a few minutes during my talk for some showtime magic, and I knew what I was going to wear. But I had a lot to think about: the timer on the stage counts down from 18 minutes, remembering my lines with no notes and hoping the cocktail wagon was brought on at the right time, and everything chilled as instructed etc etc.
I had certainly made life interesting for myself!
The live rehearsal a few days before was invaluable. The ending was terrific as planned, and my images looked super on the huge screen behind me, but I did muff my lines and timing was too quick, but it enabled me to get familiar with the space, how much (or little) I could see from the stage. I wasn’t happy with my delivery, but I felt more confident that it could come together fine on the day, hopefully.
So the day arrived and I did my best to stay busy and distracted. No more rehearsals, just double check my outfit, props (including back up glasses and booze in case of breakages) and did my best to stay calm.
As I mentioned, I was the last speaker, and got on stage about 5.30pm at the National Film and Sound Archive. I genuinely was having difficulty remembering my talk.
I had my emergency notes in my pocket, but really didn’t want to use them and only at the last moment put them back in my pocket.
Being last really strung out my nerves: not just the expectation of going on stage, but seeing all the other amazing TED talks (both live and recorded that were screened) got me thinking of my own modest skills in comparison. But one advantage was that by the time it was my time I was so emotionally exhausted and tired that I could ‘t get nervous any more. I was spent.
So that actually calmed me and I was able to walk up on stage and give the performance I was hoping for. You can laugh, but I did think of that scene in Star Wars when Luke is told by Ben Obi Wan Kenobi to ‘use the force’…. and so I did.
Of course things didn’t quite go as planned. The monitor that showed by pictures to me didn’t work, so I couldn’t time easily my images at the pace I wanted, as I need to face the audience not look back, and I did miss a sentence here and there. What was also vital was to finish my talk at the 15 minute mark to allow time for the theatrical element, so I kept an eye on the countdown. Again, the preparation was key here, knowing how long I could talk for at the different sections.
But its true what they say, time slowed down and if I landed at a place not in sequence I could think ahead in my mind and bring up a passage needed to bring it around without anyone knowing. The practice had made all the difference, and all the phrases were imprinted in my head.
I figured that the key to the success of the talk was going to be the delivery and that’s what I focused on, they didn’t know what I was going to say or do, but as long as what I did do had the right quality of genuineness, coherence, pace and a light touch then all would be well.
And so it was.
In any organisation that relies on proactively seeking sources of funding its common to engage someone in the role as a fundraiser. Whether the title is fundraising or development, or giving manager or similar the focus is the same: the bottom line.
Its all about attracting money to fund operations or some other aspect of the organisation.
The role itself might be funded by a grant has to fund itself through donations or some form of fundraising and under a short term contract.
This in itself puts pressure on the person to succeed, and whilst common, is not an ideal model as the person may be very successful in many areas of their job but may fall short of fundraising targets at no fault of their own.
The rules may change for a grants program, or funding withdrawn by the government due to a change of policy. Or perhaps they get sick, or a promised donation falls through due to no fault of their own.
Another factor that goes against meeting targets is that cultivating donations, especially recurring or significant donations is that it takes time. Time to find the right contacts, make the connection, educate + inspire the prospect, build trust and rapport and then convert that into a donation.
If the contract for the fundraiser is for six months or a year, then in many cases the conversion of a prospect, particularly in the case of a high net worth individual.
So they can do everything right and still not land their targets.
There are many factors that can influence success or failure for a fundraiser that are outside of their control, and its no wonder that there is often high burnout rate for people in those roles due to the uncertainty and stress involved.
Another factor that can impact success in fundraising is lack of support by the rest of the team. At times the attitude can be: that’s their job, not ours, we’re the admin/ creative / finance team et alia.
So often the result is the person is out there on their own, doing their best, but they really need the support of the entire organisation in some form.
This is essential not just as a risk mitigation strategy, but can also be a catalyst to get the energy of the team to help drive fundraising activities in an coordinated way.
So at all levels of the organisation there is a role they can play from Board level, to management, to rank and file staff. Itis important they have a shared understanding of the fundraising activity or specific campaign and given the tools and rationale to help it along by the fundraising manager.
They can have a role in lots of ways that don’t necessary take them away from their own responsibilities, but it give a multiplier effect to the activity. Some of the activities can include:
- Contribute to the development of the fundraising strategy and offer to assist in its execution
- Being available to test messages and tactics before the launch
- Raising awareness of the campaign through their own networks including social media
- Leading by example by promotion of the opportunity to give, giving themselves or reaching out to people that can donate, the old ‘get, give or get-off’ mantra!
- Turning up and showing solidarity especially at fundraising events
- Create introductions or open doors for the specialist fundraiser to start the conversation or follow-up with their peers once an initiate contact has been made to help convert the prospect, especially at the senior level
- Ensuring their doing their bit to ensure the organisation is as attractive as possible to a potential donor
- Amplifying the key messages that have been developed about what the organisation is looking to achieve with the funds raised, and the results of what’s been done with donations to date.
- Help celebrate the wins and reflecting back constructively how fundraising initiatives can be improved for next time.
No one person can be solely responsible for fundraising for an organisation, everyone has a role to play in some way and can contribute materially to its success. There needs to be a go-to person who can design the strategy, create the opportunities, cultivate the leads design the activities and be the point of contact.
But by leveraging the whole team, then it not only multiplies the potential of the fundraising activity, but shows potential donors that the organisation as a whole has a team spirit, is invested in its future and is a good investment of their support.
Most of us don’t want to be challenged or provoked on a daily basis. We just want to do a good job, work reasonable hours in a positive workplace, go home, get paid.
Strong and effective teams are often those who share the same vision professionally, been forged through common experience, and feel they have each other’s back.
But the reverse of that strength are teams that reinforce complacency, or accept less of each other’s professional standards because it gives them permission to ease off too.
They’re comfortable, and assume the default position of ‘good enough’.
Sometimes that’s the result of no leadership, or having a leader whose become their friend, and cannot exert any challenge else risk the good vibes they enjoy. Perhaps they’ve been together for years, and without realising it they’ve created a space that reinforces mediocrity.
With poor motivation, members of the team in turn feel they’re only going to expend the minimum effort, because that is all they feel the job (or their pay) is worth, or how they’re valued.
Then there is also ‘this is the way its always been done’ culture. It speaks of inertia and a team that is no longer challenged to be better, or wants to learn from its experience.
Another feature of this way-too-comfortable culture is a lack of accountability and candidness with each other. There isn’t the feeding information up the governance ladder. They’ve stopped caring, or feel that their superiors are disengaged with the reality of the workplace, so they tune out.
One of the common cures for these scenarios is the appointment of a new leader to be the ‘new broom’. They’re appointed to rev up the team, set new standards and hold the team accountable.
More often as a result there is an attrition of team members who move on, and new people brought in and that can make a positive difference. A healthy purging.
Alternately, consultants are brought in when there is a manager or leader in place to provide a fresh perspective, but not every organisation can afford that luxury.
A third way is having a team member who has the perspective of an outsider. They might be a contractor or consultant to do a particular job, but rather than get cosy in the workplace culture, they are there to speak truth to power and reflect back constructively on workplace performance areas that should be challenged.
The role needs to be overt and their place understood in the organisation, so that any feedback, usually critical, isn’t seen as a negative or destructive tone for the sake of it. It is their job to retain to a perspective and help hold the organisation accountable to its own values and goals.
This may be mean some distance in workplace relations to help retain objectivity, but they are not there to be a spy or white ant team performance.
Their role is to have the best interests of the organisation at heart and help identify blockers that stop it realising its potential. They can also be a catalyst for change by challenging the team to higher performance, including the leadership team.
Over time as successes are achieved and recognised, the culture of self-reflection as a team may be embedded and the appointment may become redundant, its mission accomplished as the team becomes accountable to each other.
Alternately, someone in the team adopts the role for each project in turn and can offer ‘black hat’ perspectives in a constructive way.
But whatever means are used, all teams + workplaces can gain by having a perspective that challenges them to better performance + standards.
In 2015 the idea of directing every detail of a team’s work reeks of micromanagement and a sign of a poor performing team.
Of course each workplace and role is different, some positions require more direction that others, workplace organisation differs, and the experience of the person in the role will impact the level of management support required. In a knowledge economy the ideal is a team that gets on with the job to the required standard without the need of a supervisor, along with the expectation of a work-life balance culture.
In theory if you recruit well, and have good systems in place, then shouldn’t the appointment be perfect for the role and apply themselves with diligence? Of course its not that like in the real-world, we all being imperfect creatures and variable on a daily basis.
How far done the ‘hand’s off’ management road do you go before the leader is so absent that its every person for themselves in the workplace?
Having consulted across all sectors, there is no particular ethos for the public, not for profit, association or private sector. Sometimes the management style is laissez faire because the manager is simply too busy doing their own job to manage their team, other times its the culture of the workplace, sometimes its intentional and nearly always well-intentioned, but the results can be the same.
A few years back in conversation with a director of a a very busy commercial SME I was told that their management style was to allow their staff to get on with their job without their input, as to direct them daily would reflect a lack of trust on their professionalism.
There was no overall direction, no pulling together of the team on a daily or weekly basis, no reflection on a job well-done or not, no vision or goals described, no motivation or accountability conversations unless asked.
There was just the annual performance review, or the opportunity to grab them for a decision or input on the fly.
The director applied the same approach to themselves, the result being the team not knowing if they were going to be in the office, and needing to manage upwards to get the input or decision point required, with a lot of energy second guessing what may be required on a daily basis. This resulted in a lack of relevance + authority of the leader to the team.
There was also a strategic impact on the organisation: with the workers acting independently, the potential of all the teams intellectual and professional capital being harnessed collectively to a goal was a missed opportunity.
The upside of this scenario was that the workers did collectively form a sort of accountability over several years. They made up for the lack of strategic + tactical direction themselves, with a token reference to the leader, which was admirable.
There was also a strong team culture formed by a core group – solidarity you may say. The work ethic was strong, and this was just as well, for the workplace flexibility could as easily been abused.
But there was no overarching goal being worked toward, the focus was tactical, daily, weekly or project driven. Like most organisations, I think, the only time anyone referred actively to the business or strategic plan was for governance reasons as a tick the box exercise.
It is said that most people want just a few things from their work:
- Clear boundaries of what’s expected of them
- What the professional standards required are of them: so they know when they’ve done a good job
- Pride in their work and recognition
- A positive work culture and association with their work
- The opportunity to develop their careers and professionally
- Reasonable work conditions, flexibility and renumeration.
Without an active and present leader in the workplace these norms cannot be established or applied consistently, and the vacuum is filled by subjectivity, personalities and short-term fixes, albeit often well-intentioned.
To my mind, its great to have professional autonomy in one’s work-life, and be treated as an adult who know’s what one is about. But without a collective vision of what the team is working towards on a daily, weekly or longer term basis, plus the accountability to ensure standards, the multiplier effect of a well-led team is lost.
Yet when seeking a successor to a manager or director, its usually the executive team or Board that both define the skills, qualities+ experience they are seeking and conduct the selection process.
But the people who have to actually work with them day in day out are rarely, if ever, consulted. They are the ones who have to executive the directives of the new leader, know better than anyone the realities of what it takes to get the job done and are the ones most impacted by the skills + personality of the new leader.
Certainly management isn’t a popularity contest, and its rare a company can institute a Maverick/Semco solution where leaders are voted for, or key decisions are voted for via employee democracy. But it seems to me a missed opportunity if the team are not consulted with when designing the selection criteria, or considering the qualities required in the workplace.
The appointment of a new leader is a risky and delicate moment for the organisation and team. The selection team or employer want to make sure the time consuming and expensive process sees the appointment of someone who can drive results quickly and see the organisation prosper. They often take the opportunity to reshape the strategic direction or set new KPIs.
The staff naturally hope the appointment allows them to keep the things about the job they like, and improve on the ones they don’t, and the new appointment wants to shine and make a difference. Everyone wants to win. But those ‘wins’ can be quite diverse and rarely shared with the main stakeholder groups.
With any appointment the risk is always there that there will be attrition from team members who don’t like the appointment for various reasons, such as personality, new workplace culture or the KPIs put in place as the new leader wants to put runs on the board.
I don’t think the risks are any greater or less if the appointment is from within or without. With the former there will be team members who are not fans of the appointment, or are too familiar for them to exercise effectively the new authority. So whilst they may seem the one who can step up easily with minimum disruption, they may come with baggage.
With an external choice, they may have a mandate from the people they report to make changes, or drive results that may be at odds with the current culture. But to carry that off they need to bring the team with them and attune to the workplace culture quickly. With advance insight from consultation as part of the process that can be done so much more easily.
By taking the team into their confidence and asking for input the selection panel can mitigate some of these risks as part of the overall mix. The team can provide insight into the workplace, the key needs of the organisation as they see it, and the qualities they see a new leader needs to have as part of the selection process.
As a group I suggest they will be mature enough to know that they are not going to get their next best friend by coming up with a wish list. The fact they are asked at all sends a powerful signal too that they are valued by senior management. Most people want the best for the place they work for, and understand that the next appointment will have responsibilities to answer for and there will be some changes they can expect.
The caveat, of course, is that they would have to understand that by presenting a shopping list of their dream boss will not result in that coming about, but at least they’ll have been heard
Through this consultation process those involved will have gained insights into the organisation they may not have otherwise received, had a chance to be listened to, and the new appointment can be well briefed on the team’s perspective, leading to a well-informed appointment.
This post was authored for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Pharmacy Business Network.
What comes to mind when you think about leadership? A risk taker, a role model, a sound manager, an innovator, a trail blazer? Perhaps a combination of some of those attributes.
To search the web on the subject you can quickly drown in information and videos on the shopping list of qualities that make a great leader, but a list doesn’t make for change, nor convert you into an exceptional leader in a flash.
To know that a leader needs to be a visionary, inclusive, trustworthy, communicative, emotionally aware is all fine and well, but one aspect that is often overlooked in this well-intentioned advice is the context of where this leadership is to be exercised.
The qualities of a leader in one profession may not be appropriate in another. For example, what the military looks for (and they spend more time, money and effort than anyone on the subject) and cultivate may not be what a small business needs, no matter how admirable those standards may be. A TED talk may be very inspirational, but not everyone needs to be the next Steve Jobs or similar.
In the Pharmacy setting the qualities of leadership can be applied in several ways: as a staff manager, a clinician, as a business person, in the community, and involvement in the professional generally. So for each ‘leadership mode’, different qualities may be required or perhaps ‘dialled-down’ so their intensity is lessened and more appropriate for the team member or situation.
But one thing that is constant in the application of leadership is self-awareness and a commitment to ourselves to learn, improve, self-reflect. Just like any professional skills, being a leader is something that has been cultivated, learnt, and practiced. A job title doesn’t make us a leader, and in different moments staff members can shine as it allows their own leadership qualities to express themselves.
If we want to be an effective leader, then we need to seek out those opportunities and stretch ourselves and reflect on the experience. If you’re in a role that can delegate authority, then perhaps part of that role is to create the space for your team members to test their own leadership skills.
We all bring a range of strengths and areas of lesser ability, and different modes or situations can help those to come to the fore. To the old question of whether leaders are born or made, I would say they are made, and we each have the capacity to be leaders in different ways and circumstances.
In the Pharmacy profession a commitment to leadership isn’t just about trying to stand out from the back or being the boss, it is part of the ongoing work of being the finest professional we can be.