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.

The hardest change management I've ever done

I swore (literally volcano of expletives) a number of years ago that I would never do house renovations ever again. Last week, I broke my vows in a sweary deluge of ‘I AM PAINTING IT OR I AM SETTING FIRE TO IT’

I literally barricaded myself in the toilet with a wall sander and some paint I found in the shed and started painting. I did the toilet, the bathroom, the kitchen, living room- I just kept going and hoped like hell that it was going to look OK. True disruption is an unglamorous business. 

So what changed?

My parents are getting older. I’m getting older. 

What to me was a simple decision ‘paint the house yourself or pay someone else to paint it’ for them was 57 Doha Rounds of discussions about the future and retirement and where they want to live and get buried and life and the universe. Big time feelings. 

It was an admission that they are getting older and can’t do the things they used to do. It forced them to break their routine and romantic ideas of former house builds and renovation projects. It forced them to accept that all of that stuff was probably behind them and the tough decisions they had to make for their parents, I was now making for them. It was also going to make a huge mess. 

I needed to crowbar them into the future by putting the feelings aside and acting on the reality that:

-the house needed painting

-hiring a contractor to do it was overwhelming for them and not going to happen

-they had no vision for the next five or ten years; only what had been, so small decisions about redecorating seemed huge

-they had not been part of the renovation I’d done on my own place so they didn’t trust me to take the lead and make decisions about what needed to happen

-I had to break the inertia, even if it required threats of arson

Proper painters will tell you 'it’s all in the prep' and I did none. After the first coat locked in the toilet it looked terrible and I had done more damage and broken the toilet seat by standing on it to paint the ceiling. The random acrylic paint from the shed wasn’t covering. My parent's greatest fear -“Courtney will just paint everything white”- had come true and in a very ugly way. Never mind, that could be the undercoat. 

I went to the paint shop desperate for a better idea and was given a magical enamel paint called ‘Creamy Vanilla’ (thank you Wattyl) that was pretty expensive but the opportunity to bomb the whole house with it appealed greatly at that point in time. Plus, it’s not white, it’s vanilla.

I did another lap of the interior and went to bed hoping for a miracle but also defiant that the house wasn’t going to paint itself so worst case, I got the ball rolling and it was more undercoat. 

After the second coat, I finally unlocked the doors and let my parents look at whatever I had terrorised their house with. It looked amazing. The magical gloss enamel paint had rejuvenated the whole house overnight and covered my cyclone of bodgy brush work. Other than the obviously broken toilet seat, they just sort of stood there and gaped at it for a while. By lunchtime, all had been forgotten and they were phoning carpet layers and appliance places. Seven years of talking about what to do next was over and although there was some initial sulking (it’s not white, it’s VANILLA) the relief at breaking the inertia was much greater than any massive mess I had made. 

It was the hardest piece of change management I’ve ever done not because of the task, but because of the feelings. Much like Milton (pictured- Office Space 1999) actions speak louder than words and sometimes, you have to just lock yourself in the toilet and paint your way out.