I had the pleasure of connecting with Lisa Forrest, who is speaking at the Authentic Leadership Conference on November 30th in Sydney.
At age 16, Lisa was the captain of the Australian swimming team at the 1980 Summer Olympics as well as winning
two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. Here is a short video where she shares her perspective on what authentic leadership means to her and what is the biggest lesson she has learnt in her career as an Olympian.
What struck me when listening to her perspective, was the importance of compassion in the workplace. Not just with our work colleagues but for ourselves.
Being so passionate about my work, I can sometimes forget the importance of having compassion on myself and relax a bit! It’s easy for me to work in the evenings and weekends because there is “so much to do” and give myself a hard time when things don’t go to plan.
I’m now learning that to truly be compassionate with my stakeholders, I need to be compassionate to myself first. I need to remember to indulge in some “doing nothing” time during the week to truly balance out all the extra time I put in. I need to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can and that fun time is equally important as work time. And most importantly, I need to learn from my mistakes rather than be too hard on myself for making them.
Becoming more aware of how I treat myself when the pressure is on, I’m able to better understand how hard it must be for my stakeholders to deal with the pressures they have. And as I get better at accepting my mistakes, it helps me accept the mistakes of others and understand what they are going through.
With so much to do at work, what does it mean to be compassionate to yourself? Have you ever taken an hour off and went for a walk in the park? Do you have such high expectations of yourself that sometimes you struggle to meet them? And is your expectations of your stakeholders based on the standards you have imposed on yourself or based on what they can do?
Having facilitated over a 100 round tables with senior IT executives, I observed that a lot of them were really challenged with being authentic. Saying “NO” to stakeholders was very challenging for a lot of them. Even though they were already stretched for resources, they would really struggle to push back when stakeholders or a senior exec approached them for a new project or request. That would then result in project delays and scope creep.
I used to struggle with the same thing. I didn’t want others to think poorly of me so I would say an ‘indirect’ yes without actually saying no but not really meaning yes! I would then find ways to get myself out of the responsibility or ask someone else to do it.
As I became more aware of why I couldn’t say NO, I realised it was to do with a lack of paternal influence on my life. My father was not around much and so didn’t really have someone to give me feedback and help set my boundaries. This made saying “NO” quite hard. Now, I have learnt that saying NO is fine as long as I can give an authentic response as to why it can’t be done. I’ve learnt that being open and vulnerable about my fears or inability to execute, has helped me communicate and engage with my stakeholders more effectively.
The challenge is getting the balance right between being vulnerable and being strong.The best leaders I’ve met are very know when to be vulnerable or authentic, and when to be strong.
So what does it mean to be authentic with your stakeholders? Are you able to admit your mistakes to them? Can you say what you really feel at meetings? Do you have the courage to say NO when you are overwhelmed?
I was thinking about what gets me out of bed every morning. Before it was the alarm clock but now I have a mission.
Our mission is to create highly engaged and sustainable businesses by supporting and developing purposeful leaders. We need great leaders to help employees be the best they can be, so they can create sustainable organisations that make the world a better place.
On days when I’m feeling down, I dream of what it would be like to have
every company in the world led by a leader who is passionate about people
and planet. Imagine if every CEO was driven to help make the world a better
place? Imagine if every CEO was like Harish Manwani, the Chairman of Unilever in India.
What kind of world would that be? It might not happen in my life time, but still enough to get me fired up and take the challenges in my stride.
My friends wonder why I don’t look for another job to ensure some financial
security but for me, anything else will be a lie. This is what I”m born to do and
for me, this is what I stand for.
Having a higher purpose and mission has made my work enriching and more meaningful, My engagement has gone through the roof as I don’t even mind working on the weekends!
It might be harder for some companies to have such an obvious mission as mine but every company is helping stakeholders in some way but may not have made that their mission. We seem to have lost our way by focusing too much on the goods or service we are selling and not enough on the person who is consuming it!
I’ve seen great leaders always focus on adding value to stakeholders first and then how they are going to make money from it. They are passionate about helping their stakeholders and make that their mission. Inspiring leaders are always seeking collaboration opportunities for win-win outcomes.
So what is the mission of your company and what do you stand for?
How do you make a difference to your customer’s and stakeholder’s lives?
And if you do know your mission, how often do you share it with your stakeholders so they can be a part of your mission?
I recently chaired a CIO Summit in Queensland and was talking to one of delegates in attendance
about the challenges of leading change when he reminded me of the importance of empathy in making change happen.
I used to find it very hard to be empathetic when a stakeholder was not buying into an initiative I know was going to add value to them. What I used to do is keep emphasising the benefits of my strategy and hope they would buy in to it. It was very
frustrating not knowing why they would not engage.
This recurring frustration, forced me to take a good look at myself to understand what I was doing wrong.
I spent a lot of time over the years getting a better understanding of my leadership vulnerabilities. I realised that to really understand other people’s leadership challenges better, I needed to understand my own first.
Mindfulness played a big role in this process.
Being mindful has helped be more empathetic about the challenges others face in their leadership.
By having more empathy, I’m able to get a better understanding of what is REALLY going for someone
who is having to buy in to what I’m asking them to do. I literally have to close my eyes and put myself in their shoes and imagine I’m trying to do their job, with the pressures they are facing.
What would it be like to ask them to take on another new way of doing things?
What issues will they come up against with their stakeholders?
How will the change impact other things they are doing? What are other fears that might show up which they might not be
telling me? Do they have the capacity to take it on?
I’ve learnt that when I take the time to have a deeper understanding of what they have to go through, it helps me understand the resistance better thereby informing me of what else I need to do to make it easier for them to engage in the change.
So how much effort do you put into truly understanding your stakeholders?
Do you spend enough time with them to get to know them better and their challenges?
Do you know what keeps them awake at night?
How much do you actually care?
Timothea Goddard will be sharing the benefits of mindfulness at the “Leading Happy Workplaces”
event next month. Check out this video where she share’s her perspective on happiness at work and mindfulness.
After watching this short clip of Andy Fell, who is
the GM at Westpac and one of our speakers
at the “Leading Happy Workplaces” conference,
I was reminded of the importance of taking
responsibility for how we want to feel at work.
But more importantly, being honest and open to
others when we are not feeling happy at all and
how that is impacting our work.
I do struggle sometimes to be positive at work every
day and found that communicating that to someone
who I’m close to at work really helps cheer me up
I’ve realised the importance of having empathetic
colleagues as I feel I can share what is
going on for me without being judged. They also
know that they can share things openly with me so
it builds a close, trusted business relationship.
The idea of sharing personal challenges in most
workplaces is still very alien and the idea of being
vulnerable is seen as a sign of weakness.
Having met some great leaders over the past years,
the best ones have no fear of being vulnerable.
They see it as a strength of their leadership because it makes
them human and enables their teams to relate to them.
Like everything, the key is finding the balance between
being vulnerable and being strong.
So what happens when you are not happy at work?
Do you have someone you can share it with? Or do you
‘suck it up’ and get on with it? And if you do, how does
that impact your productivity?
We have just over a month left for the “Leading Happy Workplaces”
event! Hope you are still joining us!
Thank you for taking time to read my note! 🙂
Here is a great article from one of our speakers of
the “Leading Happy Workplaces” conference, Simon
Rountree, CEO of Camp Quality.
One of his tips to create a happy workplace is around
being mindful, which really resonates with me.
For me, being mindful is one of the keys to success for
any executive as self awareness is the hallmark of great
The quality of my thoughts really determine my day and
how productive I am because they determine where I focus
my efforts and how I react to situations.
If I let myself be carried away by fearful thoughts of what
could happen if my initiative doesn’t work or is not well received,
I create a level of anxiety which causes my energy levels to drop.
I then look for things to cheer me up such as a chat with
someone or going out for a coffee to help shift the anxiety.
By then, I have lost at least 30 minutes.
With regular morning mindful exercises, I’ve been able
to separate the thought before it becomes an emotion.
So I now notice the thought, acknowledge that it’s not real
and shift my focus away from it to something I like doing
and do that instead.
Mindfulness has definitely helped me be happier – both
on a professional and personal level.
I’ve been reflecting about the importance of compassion in the
workplace and what that means when it comes to engaging
I recently referred a candidate to a consulting firm who
was successfully placed as a contractor. The terms of the
referral was a payment upfront, plus ongoing monthly
payments for the duration of the six month contract.
Being a start up with limited cash flow, I requested if they
could make an exception, and pay me the monthly payments
combined into one payment upfront. I did know that the client
was happy with the contractor so there was a very low risk of
the contractor leaving. I also did say that I would refund the amount
if the contractor left before his contract was over. Most importantly,
I have a good working relationship with the consulting firm. I thought
these factors would be enough to allow for bending of the rules a bit to
demonstrate compassion to a stakeholder that could do
with the funds and for the sake of the relationship.
But it wasn’t. They had very valid reasons of course, as
to why not, but lack of money was not one of them.
All the reasons were very well justified – they always are!
But that made me think of where does
compassion and empathy come into play? My request
was not based on business rules but on compassion.
If there is trust, shouldn’t compassion be easier to
offer? Would you bend the rules for someone who you
trusted, who you knew would continue to give you more
business opportunities and whose request was very low risk
to your business or role?
If they had agreed, I would have gone overboard to create
new business opportunities for them and a better
long term outcome. As we know, sustainable business is
about creating stakeholder value not just short term profit.
I will still refer business to them if someone comes to me,
but will I go out of my way to find them new business?
So, my question to you is, how much are you willing to
bend the rules or be flexible for your stakeholder to engage
What will it take for your stakeholder to go out of their
way to help your initiative succeed?
I’ve been reflecting on the idea of what freedom and empowerment
looks like for me in the workplace after watching the video posted
by My Holland, who is one of our speakers and the co-creator of the
“Leading Happy Workplaces” conference,
What I really like about entrepreneurship is the idea of being your
own boss and the freedom it gives me, to do what I need to do
whenever I need to do it. When I was working as part of a larger
organisation, I really respected the business owners because
they just let me get on to do what I had to do to deliver results and
more importantly be empowered to fail. For me, I trust my team
unconditionally and don’t really care how and when they do it, as
long as the work gets done. The flip side of working for myself
is that I don’t give myself enough freedom to not work and spend
more time on the beach!
So what does freedom look like in your team? I knew a leader
who used to feel anxious if team members spent too much time
With all this talk about agility in businesses, how empowered
is your team to make a call on something not within their remit?
How much freedom do they have to move away from “The Plan’
to be truly agile? What does freedom to ‘think outside the box’
look like? And most importantly, do they feel free?
As a leader, do you give yourself the freedom to step away from
work to take a walk in the park so your team can do the same?
I know I need to spend more time in the park because I know
that’s when I will get the best ideas!
Here is a short video from Simon Rountree, CEO of Camp Quality
who will be running a workshop at the event on “Leading Happy Workplaces”.
Camp Quality has invested a great deal of time to create a framework
called “ORANGES’, which stands for Optimism ,Resilience , Attitude,
Now, Gratitude, Energy and Strengths.
This initiative has been so successful, that it has created a new revenue
stream for them! Hope you can join us to be part of his practical
What really resonated with me from Simon’s video was about creating an
environment where failure is accepted. With every organisation
talking about the importance of agility to meet the challenges of
disruption and competition, what does it mean to allow for failure?
What impact does it have on the person and the team? How do we
encourage and empower them to try again?
I know when I fail at something new, I get irritated with myself and
fearful of what others think of my failure.
Two years ago, I launched a subscription service for a leaders
which did not get any traction. I was sad that it didn’t work out
and it took me a few weeks to get over it.
The emotional recovery was a bit harder because I was doing it alone
and did not have a team to help me move on.
I now realise how important that failure was to help me not go down
a path which I have already been!
So how do you cope with failure? Do you have team mate who can
support you to deal with the disappointment? How
do you create a safe environment for people to be open about
Servant Leadership Guide: Definition, Qualities, Pros & Cons, Examples