Resilience and how to stay 'hefted' in tough times


I was pretty pleased to see one of my favourite Twitter account people on abc news last weekend. If you don’t follow James Rebanks herdy shepherd then get to it now. He’s even got a book and movie deal off his stories and images of life in the British highlands.

He was talking about the Herdwick sheep that he farms and how resilient they are. It’s a word I’ve become more familiar with over the last few years ….resilience.

The sheep are able to sustain long periods of time in severe wind and cold rain. It’s not just the cold-there are sheep that can sustain colder, but the fact they can stand on a hill and put up with extreme driving rain and cold wind for three months at a time. The Herdwick are Viking sheep, an ancient breed that has survived hundreds of years and stuck around long enough to get their photos on Twitter.

I was looking at the images of the Herdwick sheep and how they just stand there.

In the high country, the sheep are “hefted” to the hill rather than fenced in. Hefting means that the sheep know where they live and what they are about so they don’t wander away.  Imagine if we lived our lives hefted in our situations.

It made me think about some of the cold wind and rain we have to put up with in our everyday lives where the best response is probably just to stand there -be hefted and not run away.

Just stand there.

If you are having a bad day at work…just stand there. If one of your relationships has broken down..just stand there. If someone keeps sending cold wind and rain in your direction…just stand there.

It’s in our nature to want to do something to get away from the uncomfortable conditions but it’s this scrambling that gets us in trouble.  It won’t feel comfortable and you probably won’t enjoy it but this is how we become resilient and hefted like the Herdwick sheep.  Three months of icy blasts sounds like a long time but I guess that’s the Viking resilience that’s kept them around for the long run and I think we can all learn something from these hefted sheep and their wise shepherd.


Three ways of curing yourself from people pleasing at work

I was talking to someone who had a meeting with one of the most highly regarded business men in the world. One of those private jet globe trotters you read about in the Wall Street Journal.

“So what was he like? Did he have a presence? What did he say?”

The meeting went for two hours and was all business. Famous business person spent the whole time checking his phone and barely made eye contact with the others in the room who had prepared for weeks and were all working hard to impress him.

I had to laugh.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in the last few years is don’t work to impress people or seek other’s approval. It’s been a hard fought battle for me as my nature is to seek external approval-make people rate you-that sort of thing.

There are many times over a working week I have to remind myself not to enter into the no-win game of competing with other people and trying to get the pat on the head. I often wondered why I never got the pat on the head but now I realise it’s been a blessing in disguise…so I don’t need it.

That’s the no-win game. The praise that you seek will probably make you crave more of it anyway and it will never be enough. So bow out. Choose not to be the star. Choose not to be the fastest email returner or the one who works till 9pm or the person who produces the most magnificent Excel spreadsheets because in the big picture..nobody cares and you’ll only make yourself stressed out and feel insecure.

But how do you train yourself out of this praise-seeking behavior?

1.     Praise others. Most people are starved for encouragement so become the praiser rather than the praisee.

2.     Remind yourself regularly that it’s not a competition. Many workplaces foster a competitive culture and it can be challenging to resist but mutter under your breath “I’m not playing this game. I don’t compete with others”. Seriously—it works and you’ll be amazed at how many train wrecks you avoid by not engaging in competitive behavior.

3.     Go low and go slow. This is something I’ve learned from the great Mozambique missionary Heidi Baker on community building.  Adopt a “slow and low” mindset and approach. When everyone else is trying to elevate themselves and hurry around and compete, you’ll stand out and be more effective by bowing out and not working reactively.

Everyone likes their moment in the sun and it’s natural human behavior to want to be liked and rated but it’s fleeting and the negative behavior and stress you can put on yourself in the process is not worth it. 

The famous business man got in his private jet and went on to his next round of meetings where he’ll probably check his phone continually and not make eye contact with another group of people all trying to impress him. Aren’t humans funny. 

5 ways you can stop being that micro manager that everyone hates

Of all the frustrations in work life, micro management would have to be top of the ‘most complained about’ list.

 So why to people become that thing they detest so much and how do we stop the sneaky little worm from infiltrating our work life? I’ve tried to battle the micro manager and failed.  But I’ve made the decision to not become one so here’s my 5 tips on keeping yourself from becoming the dreaded micro manager.

1.Go to less meetings. 
First of all, I’m very pro meeting and I think face-to-face communication is work and I don’t agree with a lot of the anti meeting sentiment that’s around at the moment. But you don’t need to go to everything and if someone else in your team can go, then let them go. Chill out and be selective about what you do and don’t go to.

2.You don’t need to be cc’d on every email
I see this all the time “can you please cc me on this”. You don’t need to see every email from your team. If you need an update, walk across to the person and ask them for an update. It will clear your workload and that of your team. Also, it can create a parent/child relationship where people don’t take responsibility. Let the emails flow freely without poking your nose in.

3. Brief and walk away
We have a cleaner for our apartment and I always make sure I leave the house when she arrives. Why? Because it’s annoying having someone looking over your shoulder and watching everything you do. Apply the same thinking to your team. Brief them on what needs doing and walk away. Don’t hover and pester. Let them know they can come back to you with any questions. Give time and output deadlines and leave them to get on with it.

4.Play the long game
I once worked at a place where it was a bit of a status symbol if you went up to the ad agency meetings.  People would lobby for why they ‘had’ to be there and tried to put themselves at the centre of big campaigns like the TV ones. I remember one day thinking “”I’m going to work in marketing my whole life and I don’t care if I get to go to the agency or not-I’ll get plenty of opportunity over my career” (which is even more funny now I work for one). Play the long game and let the other silly people jockey for meeting spots.

5. Change from ‘do’mode to ‘teach’ mode
Your job as a manager is to equip other people to do things, not to do everything yourself. I remember writing a press release for a media company and being very nervous about all the top journalists who would see my writing.  The press release was scribbled over and destroyed in red pen by all the executive team –except for one person-the Head of Editorial. He wrote a very polite note in the margin in tasteful, non-threatening pencil and made a small tweak to one paragraph. His was the only feedback that I took and cared about. His respect for my work and empathy as a writer has stayed with me and that’s the kind of manager I want to be.

 It’s tough working with other people and you can’t control everyone but you can make some decisions to control yourself and not become that manager that drove you up the wall. Chill out and play the long game, put people ahead of tasks, get out of everyone’s email and you’ll find you’re a lot happier and less stressed too.

Why I had to break up with New Zealand to settle in Australia

Darling Harbour, Sydney

I remember checking into my hotel at Darling Harbour and asking the receptionist where the water was. I’d just flown in from a freezing cold 4am start Wellington to Sydney flight.

It was like an epiphany. I walked through the palm trees and fountains of the harbour with the warm sun and had a sudden realisation that I was home.

From that day I made the decision that I was moving to Australia for good.

People still ask me how long I think I’ll stay here and look a bit surprised when I say ‘forever’.

Here’s why I say that.

First of all was the overwhelming sense of home that I felt and continue to feel in Sydney.

But you can’t run on feelings forever and, as part of my new migrant zeal, I read a book on the history of Australia.

One of the chapters detailed how there were two types of early settlers to Australia from England: the shipped convicts and those who chose to immigrate.

The author’s theory was that the convicts actually made a better job of settling in Australia because, once they were freed, they had nothing to go back to and made a better go of the new opportunities and adapted to the new conditions.

The voluntary migrants harked back to Mother England and didn’t settle as well. They tried to recreate the life they had in England and didn’t adapt as well.

I decided that I was going to adopt the convict strategy and force myself to forge a new life in my new colony. I banned myself from New Zealand media and old connections. I saturated myself in Australian news and read lots of books on Aussie history and politics. I went on tours of Canberra and the New South Wales parliaments and followed Mike Baird on Twitter.

I even tried to convince people that I was ‘from Sydney’ but my accent betrayed me so I was, and always will be a Kiwi. Making new friends and social connections was one of the hardest things but I’m glad I pushed through the pain barrier and the seeds I’ve sown are bearing fruit now.

My Mum and I at Darling Harbour Convention Centre

Slowly, as I’ve got more planted, I’ve allowed more ‘’New Zealand” back into my life. I still listen to Radio New Zealand at work any my family recently visited and we did all the tourist things in Sydney which was fun.

I go to a physio from Auckland and one of the other physios says he can hear us in the treating room ‘talking Nuw Zeelund” and it’s like a dull mumbled hum.

Someone asked me the other day if I identify as Aussie now and I surprised myself by saying no,  I am a New Zealander. We had to break a few things off to move forward but we're good now. 

How Auckland City Council actually works

It seems a bit weird to be writing about Auckland City Council from Sydney, where I now live. Maybe I’m feeling  a bit nostalgic today but I want to explain a couple of things about how the council works because it was a big eye-opener for me when I worked there.

 I worked at Auckland City Council (the un-super city version) in around 2006 on the Queen Street Upgrade project. One of the biggest surprises about working for the council was…I loved it.

 Whatever the opposite is of a disgruntled employee, that’s how I feel about the council. I worked with fantastic, intelligent, hard-working and good hearted people who genuinely loved Auckland. I went in on a three month communications contract and ended up staying for about four years, across various projects.

But enough about me.

Here’s the main thing you need to know:

There is an elected level and an operational level

-All the interesting and useful things happen at the operational level

-Lots of interesting things but not much useful happens at the elected level

So who’s who?

The elected level is the people who were voted in; namely the Mayor and councillors.

They operational level is people (like I was) who are hired and paid to do stuff.

The operational level is lead by the CEO and there is an executive team. The head finance person is actually a very important person because they allocate budget to projects.

The elected level looks like it’s lead by the Mayor but it isn’t really.

 That’s one of the big myths. That the Mayor is the boss. The Mayor actually only has one vote so they don’t have any more or less power than any of the councillors.

So on my project, Queen Street Upgrade, I had an elected spokesperson (at that time ,it was the Mayor Dick Hubbard) and an operational spokesperson, who was the project lead from the executive team. Most tasks are divided up this way.

The elected level is usually quite fragmented and divided across party lines. There is the blue team (National, Citizens and Ratepayers) and the red team (Labour, City Vision).

There is a lot more interference from Central Government than what you would think, especially in Auckland as it is such a strategically important city. So when you look at candidates, it’s important to figure out if they are red team or blue team, it follows the same pattern as Central Government. In saying that, don’t assume that everyone in each coloured team is aligned. In my time, Mayor Dick Hubbard was red team (City Vision/Labour) and he was constantly voted against by his Deputy Mayor Bruce Hucker who was also red team (City Vision/Labour).

Average Councillors don’t have a lot of power and I have spoken to many who left after one-term because they were so frustrated by the lack of real activity they could generate.

Back to the operational level.

If you want to have some impact or give feedback on something that is happening in your neighbourhood, engage at the operational layer. Many think that bureaucrats won’t have a lot of impact but this is not necessarily true because they are working at the front-lines of the project. 

For example, if you have noise complaint about a construction project in your neighbourhood, most projects have stakeholder managers and communications managers. Talk to your stakeholder manager rather than a councillor if you want some traction.

 I would also add, if you have the chance to give a submission or feedback on something, do it through the approved channels. The operational staff will often be there and they genuinely want to hear from private citizens rather than lobby groups or the assorted regular colourful characters who turn up at community board and council meetings.

People who work for the council have a strong sense of democracy and equity and you’ll be surprised at how much you can achieve when you engage with them.

 The elected level is the one that you see the most in the news but there is a lot of factionalism and red team/blue team stuff you don’t want to get caught up in if you just want your footpath upgraded.

 Auckland is a great and complex city and the machine behind it is fascinating so I hope you learned something and engage with your neighbourhood.

PS: When you write something like this, people think it’s politically motivated but it’s not I just find this stuff interesting :)

How do you learn to be more content? Here's some things I've learned.

I’ve been working away on my own contentment lately and I must say, it’s a challenging but rewarding experience. It’s probably one of the hardest processes you can go through because it refines your own wants and desires and forces you to see the world as it is. 

St Paul wrote this on contentment about 2000 years ago: 

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I think Paul gets a lot of things right here. First of all, contentment is something that you learn. You have to learn to be content and it’s not something that naturally comes to humans. 

Secondly, it is not dependent on your circumstances. So Paul has learned to be content in every situation. If you aren’t content single, you won’t be content married. If you aren’t content in the small apartment, you won’t be content in a mansion.  I’ve been around people who are super wealthy who are constantly discontent and those who have hardly anything who are the most content people on the earth. 

Here are a few things I’ve learned about contentment:

Gratitude fuels contentment: If you want to boost your contentment, start being grateful for what you have and where you are. Thankfulness and gratitude anchor you and curb the craving of discontentment. 

Contentment and happiness are not the same thing: You can be sad and be content. If your cat gets run over you will be sad, that’s normal. Not every day is going to be a box of birds and it’s important that you don’t repress your emotions and try to be happy all the time to make other people like you. I regularly state my emotions out loud as a way of processing them. For example, I went for a job the other day that I didn’t get. The emotion I experienced was ‘disappointment’. So I stated that out loud in my room “I am disappointed” and for the rest of the day if something was annoying me I knew it was because I had the feeling of disappointment still rattling around in me. By anchoring in contentment and being honest with myself about my emotions, I didn’t vent to other people or eat a big piece of cake or do something else to try and change my state. 

Discontentment is selfish: You owe it to yourself and the other around you to become a more content person. I used to have a friend (note -used) who constantly complained at cafes and restaurants. She would always want to sit somewhere else and continued to harass the waiters with requests for obscure sauces and amendments to her meal. It ruined the whole experience for everyone else because she wouldn’t sit and be grateful for the meal in front of her. Discontented people destabilise the people around them and put their needs ahead of others. Other people aren’t responsible for your happiness. 

Don’t make complaining normal: I worked with a CTO once who had an IT team of complainers. They were overly dramatic and always threatening to leave. There were tears and tantrums and the response to everything was a whinge. I commented on this once to someone as I couldn’t understand why the experienced and professional CTO would buy into all their nonsense. He replied “yes, and you should meet his wife, she’s the biggest complainer on the planet.” Suddenly it made sense, the CTO thought this type of behaviour was normal and kept pandering to the childish behaviour of his team. He was always trying to make everyone happy by coddling people rather than getting them to communicate and work through the real issues. 

Contented people serve others. Discontented people use others: If you are content in yourself then you don’t need to feed on other people for attention, happiness, entertainment or prestige. If you are discontent you tend to be very ‘flavour of the month” with people and discard them once they don’t fill your purposes anymore. Some of the most contented people I’ve met are others focused. They listen to others, don’t compete in conversations and try to help and build rather than tear down. If you are feeling discontent, try and shift the focus off yourself and on to others. 

Have I put too much value on that? This a a questions I ask myself if I’m feeling discontent or dissatisfied with something or someone. Allow a job to be imperfect. Allow a person to be imperfect. Your house , your car, your wife, your dog, your online shopping; all these things can’t fulfil you as a complex human being so don’t put too much value on things. Chill out and allow things to be imperfect- including yourself. 

Make a decision, like Paul, that you are going to learn to be content. You owe it to yourself and the people around you. 

It’s pretty simple why there aren’t more woman in business leadership

There’s a very simple reason why women are underrepresented in business and I don’t hear it talked about very much.

 Here’s my logic:

-Baby male executives don’t look like senior male executives. There’s only been one person I worked with (at Woolworths) and thought “gee that guy is really going somewhere “and that person is Richard Umbers who is now the CEO of retailer Myer but he’s a freak. But seriously, look around at the 25 year old guys in your office and try to see them on the front cover of AFR. It’s a stretch because they are young and immature and unprofessional and not necessarily people you want to follow. They are little acorns who don’t look remotely like oak trees.

 -Baby female executives will never grow up to be senior male executives. That seems pretty logical but it’s from this that you start to see the disconnect.

-Baby female executives don’t see people who look like them on the cover of AFR or in the company Board meetings. The few women they do see are different from them as well as they have become hardened hybrids in order to survive in male-dominated environments. Baby female executives begin to question “do I want to become one of those hardy business women?”” “do I have what it takes and even if I do, I will never be one of those big, male oak trees so what’s the point?””

I’ve only had one person see potential in me and she happens to be a very successful business leader who basically said that I reminded her of herself at the same age. She saw my immaturity and lack of professionalism and Nike sneakers and prescribed another 10 years of solid business in good, fertile soil.  I’m still an acorn (well maybe a seedling) and I need more time to grow and be pruned in the right conditions.  That’s the boring reality of oak tree propagation and I think too many woman give up and stop growing.

So what’s the answer? Stop dismissing the acorns and pulling out the seedlings and be wise enough to fertilise and prune the baby trees and you will get a harvest. Embrace your seedling-ness and be OK that you're not a tree yet but you have the potential packed into your little acorn. 

If you're tired from leaning in you can now be seated


Much has been written about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In mantra and I don’t really want to add to that. Or maybe I do.

I read the book (audible audio book to be exact) and I was impressed with the tough road that Sandberg described. But on reflection I don’t think leaning in is my problem. If anything, I probably over-lean and the thing I need to work on is of a different nature.

 TD Jakes cracked my code with his own posture statement: Be Seated.

Be Seated gives you permission to take the position that has been given to you and function in that place.

Over the years I could never understand why people seemed to want to move me out of my position all the time. People questioned my authority and would look puzzled when I turned up to meetings “are you the brand manager?”” “”they used to hire more senior people to be communications managers…”’ and the seed would be planted that I wasn’t really meant to be there and I would start selling and justifying my position to other people.

I guess it is related to the ‘”imposter syndrome” that Sandberg says she still suffers from but I really like how Be Seated provides an answer. Don’t be surprised if people try and steal your seat  -it happens-and the more valuable your seat is, the stronger the winds will blow to try and move you.

I did a little Be Seated experiment a few weeks back at a conference. I was allocated a seat at a round table that just happened to be next to the keynote speaker. He was a Silicon Valley tech advisor and we made friendly banter about the weather and his sightseeing around Sydney. Suddenly, the seat attacks commenced. People hovered around and tried to push into my conversation “can I just get passed you?”’, “can I just get my chair in there?”

I remembered to Be Seated and ignored the swooping. The keynote speaker started showing me a new SIM card that’s being tested by the US military. The swooping intensified. All I was doing was sitting in my allocated seat and chatting to my neighbour but I started to realise that the activity had nothing to do with me

They wanted what I had. I had a good seat.

Then I started to realise "I've always had good seats and that's why I've always had people trying to unseat me.""

If you are currently experiencing swooping and elbowing in your allocated position remember, it’s a positive sign. Other people have seen what you have and they want it. Be seated, chat to your neighbour and enjoy your good seat. You might learn something about US military SIM cards and it's less tiring than leaning. 

A change in season

This is a very important painting to me. It’s the first time someone has ever painted something and given it to me and it has a promise attached to it that has been very encouraging to me. 

My friend Tia painted it. She is a very talented designer (you can see some of her stuff here) and one day, she said she was feeling a bit down so she decided to start painting. The more she painted and created, the more she took her eyes of her circumstances and frustrations with life-as we all have- and thought about the beauty in the world. 

When Tia had finished the painting, God told her it was for me and the blossoms were Japanese sakura blossoms. Sakura blossoms bloom in March/April and that was the time that I was going to bloom as well. 

Today is the first of March, and I’m very much looking forward to my blossoming season. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at the the painting during my own times of waiting and frustration and remembered that a new season is coming and how fortunate I am to have nice friends who do lovely things like paint thoughtful paintings. 

We all have tough days and frustrating seasons and I love how out of her own struggles, Tia motivated me to continue and stay positive in my own. If you are going through a tough or confusing season at the moment, can I encourage you to do something nice for someone else and take your focus off your own circumstances. Buy someone a coffee, say something to someone that builds them up or send someone a nice card. 

You can even borrow a look at my beautiful Sakura painting for inspiration and remember that everything has its season and today is a new one for everyone. 

Just hit the ball - a change in direction for my blog

I was out at dinner with some friends last night and my friend Ashley (that's her in the front in the flowery top) randomly said “you write hey?” I said yes.. sort of.. I have a blog. 

She said “I read that last thing that you wrote about leadership. You should write more stuff like that, it was really good.”

Hmmm. 

Then when we were walking home I started burbling about the great revelation I had after reading the Andre Agassi biography Open and Ashley said to me ‘have you written this stuff down anywhere? There’s real wisdom in what you’re saying.”

Me? Wisdom?

I went home and thought and prayed about it and the truth is, the social media and marketing stuff I usually write about has been great but it’s very fluff and surface level for me to write about. Writing about leadership and people means giving more of myself and opens up a whole lot of insecurities about being a good enough writer, my authority to talk about such things and whether it will all just come out as vain self help. I’ve always been a student of Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, John C Maxwell. Brian Tracey and other great motivators and I never consider myself as being at their level. And I’ve thought the only other way people will listen to you if you talk about such topics is if you are the CEO of Hewlett Packard or a former Super Bowl coach or the like. Maybe it’s all a bit try-hard. 

Hmmm. 

So anyway, do you want to hear my Agassi story?

After winning the US Open and reaching number one in the world, Andre was burnt out and his ranking was crashing out to around 150. Agassi hated tennis and everyone had written him off - he’d peaked and was over the hill at age 30. He met with a former player and coach Brad Gilbert who destroyed his game and basically told him he had to start over playing satellite tournaments (now to give you some perspective, I was a pretty rubbish high school tennis player and even I played satellite tournaments- they are a couple of kids hitting up in a public park on concrete courts). 

Gilbert told Agassi his perfectionism and win at all costs outlook was making him lose and that he had to just go out there and hit the ball. 

Just hit the ball. Put the pressure on the guy down the other end. Just hit the ball. 

Here’s one of the greatest shot makers, a world number one and a US Open champion and he’s being told to start over on concrete courts and just hit the ball. 

So Andre turned up to some high school tennis courts in his private jet and started over. He lost badly to unranked players and had to put up with jeering on the sidelines of how the mighty had fallen. His coach Brad was elated. The more Agassi lost, the more his perfectionism was being crushed and the mental work was being done in him. The more he fought his urge to hit big winners all the time and ‘just hit the ball’ the more he developed the mental discipline to endure the pressure of big points. 

I was burbling this story to Ashley (who is an architect and very high achieving person herself) and realised that many of my stresses and bellyflops had been caused by trying too hard and trying to hit winners all the time “we just need to learn to turn up each day and hit the ball. It’s not that you won’t ever hit winners or that you are passive and uncompetitive but by taking the mental pressure off yourself, you develop the endurance.”

Losses are actually healthy and necessary because they make it OK to not win all the time and you then have the mental strength to climb higher. Agassi told sports reporters at the concrete courts he was on his way back to world number one. They all laughed at him. He regained his position and went on to win all of the four major grand slams. 

I went for a walk this morning and suddenly it hit me… I was doing an Agassi. I wasn’t writing about the things that really mattered to me because of my own perfectionism and thinking my match play wouldn’t be good enough and the sports reporters would laugh at me. I needed to - just hit the ball. 

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to write about social media and marketing stuff so much and I’m going to add value to people by giving out all of the good stuff and learning and wisdom that has been imparted to me over the years. I’ve got many mental demons telling me how ridiculous that is but I’ve had enough doors closed on me to not be as afraid of failing as I used to be. 

I’m going to get out there and just hit the ball. 

PS -thanks Ashley