Never paddle alone

Never paddle alone

I gaped as my friend Sandra told me of her near-death experience paddling on a river. She fell in, got hypothermia, had no effective communications, and had to crawl out of a canyon to find help. It could have ended very, very badly. I shuddered at what may have happened.

I’m all for adventure. It is one of my core values and I have lived all my life following its call. Solo adventure can be done safely, with plenty of planning. In my experience though, adventure together is better. It’s safer, easier, and way more fun.

Likewise, strategy together is better. None of us is as smart as more of us. We can challenge assumptions, test ideas, and explore creatively together.

Here are some key principles to make it work well for you.

Why experience at work is critical for your business results

Why experience at work is critical for your business results

Have you ever started your work day by sitting in the car park crying, dreading to go in the office? I have. It is a dark and miserable feeling to steel oneself against the work day.

I'm reading the book Culture 101 by my friend, Penny Nesbitt. In it she describes the common experience of people driving to work Monday in tears. It’s the feeling of being trapped, stuck.

How does it get this way? How do workplaces become prisons?

Signs Your Leadership Maturity Is About To Shift

Signs Your Leadership Maturity Is About To Shift

Human development is no picnic. We come face to face with who we are and realise there is likely a better way of being in the world. We discover that we might be better, and by correlation, who we are now might not be as awesome as we once thought.

Self awareness is like seeing a video of yourself and realising the picture in your head does not match what is being shown back to you. It’s the painful precursor to growth, if you decide to embrace something different.

Mid-Year Reflection: Time to take stock

Mid-Year Reflection: Time to take stock

One of the keys to being an effective leader is to embrace a reflective practice. This is why I give each of my coaching clients a journal and some regular reflection questions. It's one of the best ways to develop self-awareness and increase insight.

I do two major big picture reflections per year – one at the end of the year, and one on my birthday. This kind of reflection is useful periodically to take stock, reassess, and course correct if required. And the clock just ticked over another trip around the sun for me! So I'm sharing my process with you so you can add it to your own reflection rituals.

Employee engagement and experience: here's something else better

Employee engagement and experience: here's something else better

Wikipedia defines employee engagement as, “a property of the relationship between an organisation and its employees. An "engaged employee" is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organisation's reputation and interests.

There are over 1795 results on Amazon for book titles on the topic. They talk about ‘pillars’, ‘fundamentals’, ‘frameworks’, ‘strategies’ , ‘rules’ and ‘guides’ for getting people to like their work and therefore get better results for the company.

Speaking Up: why it's so hard and what to do about it

Speaking Up: why it's so hard and what to do about it

Toni Hoffman was a senior nurse at Bundaberg Base hospital. In 2006 she was awarded the Order of Australia medal and the Local Hero Award.

She went through hell. She was the whistleblower on the Jayant Patel case, a surgeon who was convicted of manslaughter and grievous bodily harm. (These charges were later quashed and a retrial ordered. In 2015 he was finally barred from practising medicine in Australia. Her actions likely saved many lives and caused improvement in the hospital’s systems.) She was shunned by her peers, unsupported by the administration. Her health suffered.

Stop These Nasty Cracks In Your Culture And Build Something Awesome

If you’ve ever worked somewhere with culture problems, you know the telltale signs of cracks: closed door conversations increase, hushed conversations that end abruptly when someone walks by, a few more staff departures, long lunches, early clock-offs at the end of the day, and a revolving door of staff bringing problem after problem to your attention. Then there’s the general vibe. People seem stressed out, bummed out, weighed down.

The tendency of many leaders is to look for the rotten apple. Who’s the detractor that is causing the decay? 

While there may be some negative energy vampires, chances are these are a SYMPTOM rather than a CAUSE of culture chaos.

Culture is a dynamic system, much like the play of a football game. It’s not a simple case of set the plan, execute the plan, and all is well. The game needs careful management and nimble responses. Frequent checks on the play and the state of the players edges the team towards victory. Little things can cause major disarray.

Here’s what to check for cracks:

The Players

Do you know how happy and satisfied each team member is with their role and their work? Do you know how aligned they feel to the vision and purpose of the organisation, their team, and their role? Do you have metrics to measure cultural health of the organisation?

The Leader

Yes, that’s you. As the leader, everything you do is broadcast as if through a megaphone. How are you showing up each day? What mood are you inflicting on others? How much feedback are you giving each day to people around you? How effective and heartfelt is it? How often are you celebrating success - for yourself, and with your team? Do you have daily practices and rituals that set your positivity signal on high?

The Systems

I notice in many organisations that systems drive unwanted behaviour. I’ve written previously about rewards andrecognition that create poor, unintended results. Systems are meant to allow and foster play and success for the people that work together. Too few leaders take the time to review their systems for friction points and challenge whether the systems are serving or detracting their mission and means of getting there. When was the last time you paused to audit what is working, what is not, and most importantly, why you have chosen to do something a particular way? Does it still serve you, your team, and your clients?

The Love Factor

You don’t hear that word often at work! When I think of the teams I enjoyed leading and being part of, there was always a great sense of LOVE at play. I loved the work, I loved the mission, and I loved the people I worked with. And it’s love with a deep caring and respect for each person, even the ones I wasn’t closest to, or had much in common with. My experience is that when a leader shows up with love and compassion first, it smoothes out cracks, and builds a solid foundation.

What cracks do you notice first in culture at work? What are your tips and strategies for building a culture worth belonging to?

Why silos creep into culture, and what to do about it

“The staff don’t think outside of their own departments. They don’t think strategically about what is best for the organisation, just for what is best for their group. They have a real turf mentality. I really want to break the silos and get them being more collaborative, entrepreneurial, innovative!”

Geoff grimaced. This was a key frustration for him and the leadership team since the major re-structure last year. He thought that with new leadership, new direction, and new organisation that the teams would gel and jump in to the future, gleefully holding hands. Likely he was not that naïve, just hopeful.

Here’s the thing:

The capacity for individual contribution is directly proportional to past wounds and current care by the leaders.

We are tribal by nature, and defence is our default. If we feel threatened, we will rally to our team. Survival shrinks perspective. We don’t elevate to the greater good, we narrow to the common denominator.

Think of #PittsburgNotParis. This is survival mode in action: when you are facing the loss of your livelihood, and all that you have known for generations, and wondering how you will put food on the table, then you are unlikely to think, “The Paris Agreement is for the greater good of humanity and the future of the planet. I’m ok without a job.” It’s just not going to happen. Not without A LOT of gritty leadership.

So if you’re facing silos at work, likely you have your own #PittsburgNotParis situation going on.  Your first priority is to allay fears, and then put your leadership savvy to work.

Firstly, check your Purpose is visible, measurable, and achievable. This creates focus.

Next, check your Leadership hygiene: make sure you are accessible, congruent, and transparent in all that you do and say. This builds belief.

Next, scrub the decks. Check your systems are smooth and don’t cause undue friction. This frees up capacity.

Check the work environment and its structures stimulate rather than stifle energy. This uplifts spirits and unleashes creativity.

Check your people have the skills to do what you need them to do. Do they have the communication, delegation, management, creative thinking, and strategic thinking skills required to spark innovative ideas and share them with those in authority? This ensures capability.

Lastly, what are you doing to build YOU as a leader? Do you have an A-Team outside of your work and industry that can give you frank feedback? Do you have a curation system to stay on top of trends affecting your industry? How are you expanding your perspective and maturity as a leader? What are you doing to build your capacity and courage? Are you growing or stagnating?

If your organisation is to thrive, you need to lead with an appetite for learning and the humility to show you need it.

Have you experienced silos in a workplace? Why do you think they happened? What worked, and what didn’t in trying to break them down?

Do you want to stand out or fit in? The key influence hack to help you feel powerful

I have a Gold Star syndrome. As a kid I always wanted to be first, to win the prize, and to be the best student. I was thrilled when I got called out as an example for others. This competitive edge served me well in terms of academic and career achievement: I worked hard to get good results. It caused endless suffering when someone else did better than me, usually it was my school aged nemesis, Susan, and I was no longer the star. This drove me nuts.

I also have a powerful need to belong, be part of something, a member of a tribe. The need to stand out sits alongside the even bigger need to feel like I belong. This too can be paralysing, even as an adult.

Every three months, I meet up with my peers at the Thought Leaders Business School community. There are 150 highly successful, fiercely driven, confident business professionals in the room. And every time, this triggers all of my inner child pathologies: “Will I fit in? Will they like me? Where is my place here? Will I be the star pupil?”

There’s a paradox that exists in human social dynamics: the simultaneous need to both stand out and fit it. It harks back to basic social drivers: to belong to the family, and to feel cherished and prized at the same time.

Feeling like we don’t belong can drive us in to a shell, shrinking our visibility and hence our influence.

Wanting to stand out can push us to objectionable behaviour: pettiness, arrogance, and grandstanding. This alienates others.

When it comes to influence, if we let our basic human needs turn in to pathologies, we sabotage ourselves.

The single best cure I have found for these ailments is this:

Help others.

If we are trying to stand out, or feeling left out, we are immersed in our inner world, disconnected.

When we reach out, our focus shifts to others. The kryptonite of selfishness and self-obsession drops away, and we become immediately more compelling. If we help others, we also get the bonus effect of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. We do good, and we feel good. When we feel good, we emit warmth. Warmth is one of the key factors in charisma and influence.

If we get known as someone who gives support, we get valued. We both stand out and fit in, not because of performance, but for heart. That kind of influence uplifts all.


Zoë is on a mission to encourage big thinkers with big hearts to make a big difference. She is passionate about showing leaders how to improve their ability to connect, build unified teams and expand how they serve in the world.

With over 30 years experience developing leaders, she has published “Composure: How Centered Leaders Make the Biggest Impact” and “Moments: Leadership When It Matters Most.” 

Reward or Punishment - Don’t tell me you’re still doing THAT?

As a business owner who depends on the quality work of my team, I face the perennial question of, “How do I motivate and encourage my staff to do their best?” I try and do all the right things: I pay well, I offer encouragement, mentoring, and feedback, I focus on creating a fun and engaging culture that has at its heart our mission to show big thinkers with big hearts to make a big difference.

And yet even as a small team of three, we run the risk of falling in to the common reward/incentive traps that corrode culture lickity-split.

Let’s look at these common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Using extrinsic rewards alone.

Extrinsic rewards of the carrot and stick variety drive poor behaviour. Daniel Pink highlights the challenges of traditional management strategy in his book, Drive - The surprising truth about what motivates us. Targets can create performance anxiety and actually decrease outputs. Targets and rewards can also drive corrupt behaviour as people fudge the numbers to get their results.

Pink says that what is needed instead are the opportunity to get in to ‘flow’, (being able to focus on something one is passionately interested in), work that has meaning, and the ability to be independent and autonomous.

As the business owner, it is my job to help the team do the work they are best at, have the right resources to do it, and help them have a sense of development and progress.

Mistake 2: Making it about the money.

Whenever the boss raises the targets, it can feel like they are simply trying to line their own pockets. Disproportionate effort by the staff and reward mostly to the boss can create resentment.

Simon Sinek expounds that what sets successful companies apart is their ‘why’ - their cause, their beliefs. By simply making a bigger revenue target, we may be ignoring the bigger ‘why’ of the company. Biggertargets needto be tied directly to the overarching reason for the business. In our case, bigger revenue targets are tied to our intentions to serve more organisations and more leaders. We focus on building business so we can reach more leaders with our message of global consciousness and integrated leadership thinking. Revenue is both a symbol and reward of this work.

Mistake 3: Measuring people not systems.

Stacey Barr, performance measurement specialist, has a favourite gripe: organisations often default to measuring people, instead of the results generated by the people in a system. Focusing on targets and therefore individual performance, is a blinkered view of how an organisation actually works. There are many reasons why an individual might not be performing: the IT system keeps crashing and they can’t access their files, the stock-take was delayed because the stock-taker broke their arm on a ski trip, the accounting process is laborious and bureaucratic. And yes, the individual may be unskilled, lazy, or unsuited to the role. Why do we jump to the last conclusion first?

I recently hired an assistant and then let them go. Why? I worked carefully through the causes of the underperformance: some of them were due to our clunky induction process and systems, some challenges were due to the heat where she lives, some of it was due to her busy, distracting home office environment. We tidied up our systems and gave her a chance to operate within these, making allowances for the heat and a nagging cough.

Ultimately we decided she was not suited to a very detailed, process-oriented role. She would be much better off with simple back office tasks without deadlines. Unfortunately we did not have a role that matched her lifestyle, home office environment, and professional skills.

We changed the systems we could, and still found there was a mis-match.

How then should we approach rewards and motivation?

Daniel Pink says focus on the intrinsic motivators.

Simon Sinek says focus on being purposeful.

Stacey Barr says focus on the systems.

Here’s my suggestion:

Focus on the above, AND be collaborative while doing it. Success and reward at work should be a SHARED experience. Use these questions to focus you and your leadership team:

As a leadership team, share your individual and collective WHY. How much money do you want to make and why? What are the results you want to produce for yourself? For your family? For the staff? For the organisation? For the community? For the cause your business supports? What’s important to each from a lifestyle perspective? What do you value most at work? What irritates you and causes resentment? What does reward look like for each of you?

What are the systems that support and detract from the collective results you want to achieve? What are the results in the system that could be tweaked to improve overall performance? How can you make progress visible? How can you make each other accountable? How can you support each other if you are not getting the results you intend?

I would love to hear your thoughts! What incentive and motivation strategies have you experienced? What worked? What didn’t?