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. 

Seven leadership tips from Queen Liz

While the whole notion of blue-blooded humans really doesn't sit well with my egalitarian sensibilities, I have grown to admire Queen Elizabeth II as a leader.

I watched an excellent documentary the other night 'Ten days that made the Queen' . Here are a seven points on leadership I took from it.

1. Leadership and experience are two different things

Young Liz was only 25 when she was crowned Queen. She always took her role as a servant of the people very seriously and immediately asserted herself on affairs of State and as leader of the Church of England. While she may not have had the experience, she has always possessed the wisdom and sureness of self to stand alone and not be puppeted by the old hands. Quite extraordinary in a post-war kingdom that was more powerful than the USA, USSR or China.  

2. Don't forget the power of your rank

In 1957, the Queen appointed Harold Macmillan, Chancellor of the Exchequer, as successor to Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden. The Queen's endorsement sent a very clear message to the people of England that the aristocratic classes were still only giving jobs to those in their polo clubs and that Parliament was not entirely democratic.

The subsequent Suez Crisis (under a  Eden/Macmillan leadership) is credited with triggering the
fall of the British Empire and the rise of the USA as a superpower. The invasion was a disaster and the Queen's trust of reliable yet incompetent leaders took her empire down on the world stage. The people of England weren't happy and the monarchy was threatened. Post-Suez, the Queen vowed to never get involved in 'king-making' parliamentary or commonwealth leadership.

3. Sometimes, it pays to keep your opinions to yourself

The Queen won't comment on any of the portraits that are painted of her. She won't publicly comment on the governance of Commonwealth states or the British parliament. What did she think of Kate Middleton's dress? Who knows?

She knows that her opinion holds a lot more weight than the average Joe and she uses her powers for diplomatic good.

4. You have to be superhuman and human all at the same time

The only time the Queen was seen crying publicly was when the royal yacht was decommissioned. She didn't cry when Lady Diana died. The Queen's handling of Diana's death received a brutal backlash and showed a monarchy completely out of touch with its people.

The Queen prides herself on high standards of morality but the lack of emotion and empathy when simulcast against streets of wailing housewives and children with bunches of flowers showed an evil mother-in-law who didn't seem to understand that her grandchildren had lost their mother. 

The subsequent, Tony Blair prompted, Diana tribute video shows the achilles of the Queen who has been trained her whole life to maintain a stiff upper lip. It looks like a terrible hostage video and, in some ways, the public outcry really did put a gun to her head.

5. It's the quiet ones you have to watch

The Queen is surrounded by lots of deferential, curtseying, gift-giving types that want to be in her favour. Some of her most trusted advisors openly disagree with her and refuse to get mesmerised by her sparkly crown. Conversely, she is famous for ignoring the advice of her many pandering minions. I've yet to meet a good leader that doesn't encourage healthy debate and Liz is known away from the cameras as "talking strategy like a machine-gun."

6. Take it on the chin and learn from your mistakes

"1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis" Queen Elizabeth II 24 November 1992.
(The "sympathetic correspondent" was later revealed to be her former assistant private secretary, Sir Edward Ford).

In one year, the Queen had three of her children in divorce court, an uninsured fire at Windsor castle, a scandalous tell-all book from Diana and a British public that was sick of paying for the circus.

No point in candy-coating it when you have a shocker.

7. Anyone can get knocked off their perch

As my mother always says "one day the ass that you kick will be the ass you have to kiss."

We've seen the recent falls of Mubarak, Hussein, Gaddafi and Bin Laden. Steve Jobs got bumped out of Apple for a bit and who can keep up with who is at the helm of Yahoo? JFK was assassinated and Lady Diana was killed in a car crash. Nelson Mandela was eventually President of South Africa, Iceland melted and now, everybody wants their economy to be like China's.

Any seat of power worth having will always attract leadership challenges. Whether it's Charles or William or Harry or someone from China that eventually sits on the throne, I think we can safely say that the new democracy we're experiencing won't afford a monarchy in its current form for too much longer.

Queen Elizabeth II is an impeccable leader with a wisdom and perspective on world history and people that we can all learn from in the get rich quick iPhone app business world.