Category: Uncategorised
Managing yourself

So much of leadership comes down to being able to manage yourself.

A number years ago I observed a person collapse under the stress of the leadership role he was in. You could tell when he was under stress. He would storm back and forth from the photocopier, muttering things under his breath as he went. He would express his views on the management of the organisation openly in his work area. He would be working late, but make it very clear that it was because the others weren’t carrying their weight.

It didn’t end well. He resigned, stating that it was all the organisation’s fault and the demands placed on him were unreasonable.

Why does it go well for some and not others? I reflected on this.

Leadership does place demands on you as a person. You are taking on extra responsibility. That isn’t easy. But you cannot begin to lead unless you know, and can manage yourself.

The best leaders never let on that they are stressed. They create a sense of calm that pervades the culture of the organisation. This helps people know that everything is, or will be ok, even in a crisis. Leaders who can do this well engender trust in them.

Great leaders are able to manage three areas of themselves:

  1. They can manage their emotions: Great leaders know themselves implicitly. They know what ‘pushes their buttons’ and how they respond in difficult situations. They have learnt to regulate their emotions like they can regulate their body temperature. They recognise when they are under stress, when they are not well, or are tired and have the wisdom to defer a decision, or empower someone else to step in if they are not at their peak.
  2. They manage their health (including sleep): Great leaders know that eating well, getting enough good sleep, and maintaining a good level of fitness helps in the management of stress. They know that a bit of time out exercising helps put things in perspective and creates some thinking and reflection time.
  3. They can manage their ego: Great leaders realise that leadership is not all about them; rather, it is about service. They know what they value and what their purpose in life is. They know that if those values and purpose are inward looking, i.e. all about ‘me’, they will never rise above mediocrity. Instead, if their values and purpose are based on a higher being, they will achieve greatness.

The last area, managing ego, is easier said than done. What does it mean to manage your ego? It means being willing to completely forgo the attention, the affirmation and the glory and readily offer it to another: true humility. In Jesus’ words, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:39).


When trust is gone

What do you see? A kind face, a gentle man with a radiant smile?

When you see this man what do you see? A bum? Someone who has wasted their life, addicted to drugs?

Which of these men would you trust? Who would you leave your son or daughter with?

Suspend your judgement for a moment and listen.

Listen to their story.

Listen to their whole story.

Listen to their whole story first.

Suspend your judgement until you have.

The first man, the kind looking gentleman—his is the face of evil, the source of immeasurable shame, suffering and pain. Did you see it?

The other man is a person destroyed by trauma, an act of evil committed against him when he was a child. Did you see it or were you so afraid and repulsed that you didn’t stop for a moment?

Who would you trust now?

As I sat in the back row of an empty tram in Adelaide the derelict boarded. A dishevelled, unshaven, filthy man carrying a small backpack. As he boarded his eyes locked onto mine.

He took decisive strides towards me.

Please don’t sit near me.

But he did, right next to me.

He was looking for conversation. He is studying ‘human ion transfer’. His mind filled with conspiracy theories. The government is tracking him because he has uncovered their secrets, secrets of how they control the population.

“I smoke a far bit of pot you know,” said Anthony.

Suspend my judgement.

He loves studying.

He left school in Year 7.

He’s been living on the streets for years, travelling from place to place to study ‘human ion transfer’.

What happened to this man that he never finished school, that he became addicted to pot?

I look into his eyes, beyond the manic behaviour and see the deep sadness he carries. But as I see it, that hollow emptiness where joy once resided, my reaction is “mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere try to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched” (A Little Life).

I see in this man the same I see in the lives of so many others I have met. The impact of trauma on a child; trauma that permanently altered their path to a life filled with joy and flourishing.

I have seen it in the man who has been drinking since he was 14, who now has full time carers because he cannot function on his own. I have seen it in the eyes of the man obsessed with his career but has lost everything else important to him.

I have seen what happens when a child is robbed of their innocence. When the evil selfish desires of an adult manifests itself as a heinous crime against life itself.

I have seen what happens when a person is robbed of their willingness to trust others, their deep human need to be in relationship with each other and with their creator.

Suspend your judgement.


Listen to the whole story.

Trust in the goodness of humanity, but more so, trust in the Grace of God.

Life can so sad, and yet we all do it. We all cling to it; we all search for something to give us solace.

Christ is the only place we can find it.


I’m the busiest!

Here is my medal to prove it! I am officially the busiest person in the organisation, and therefore the most important! Notice me as I wear my medal proudly around my neck.

Don’t you love watching people? It is always fascinating at conferences. At every break there is invariably the rush to the door, mobile phone to the ear, just checking in. “Are you sure you’re doing ok without me; you can’t be, surely?”

What do truly great leaders actually occupy themselves with? What takes their time, what do they prioritise, what should be important and why?

I heard a good phrase this week, “I’m not busy, I’m distracted”. I hear that the average Australian now spends 10 hours a week on social media. How on task are you really and how truly productive are you?

Contrary to the popular myth, leaders don’t have to the the busiest people in the organisation, the most stressed, do the most hours, do the work for others, be the hero against whose everyone else’s measures their worth. It isn’t a competition–the actual prize isn’t worth it. Instead they should be good role models for a healthy work-life balance.

Leaders should never be too busy that they become inaccessible: the person that no one wants to disturb because their issues would seem too trivial or insignificant in comparison.

I like to set goals for the things I would like to achieve in a day. But I have to constantly remind myself that sometimes the distraction may be far important than the goal, particularly if it is to do with the people you serve.

The staff member who comes into your office wanting the vent, or who is just in need of a sympathetic ear. It is in fostering these relationships, the giving of your time, that a leader is doing their most important work. It is then that they are building trust, and ultimately trust is far more important to an organisation because it unlocks the huge potential of the ‘we’.

The moment you set yourself goals that can only be achieved behind your desk you are moving from leading to managing (unless it is to prepare an inspirational speech that articulates a compelling vision for the future). Of course these things have to be done, but not in the name of leadership, rather in the name of necessity to ensure the smooth functioning of the organisation.

There is nothing wrong with being extremely busy, but what you are saying when you place that medal around your neck is that you don’t have time for others, you don’t have the time to cultivate what is the most important task of a leader. As a leader one of your key jobs is building the capacity of others and empowering them to do their roles so you can achieve the organisation’s vision together.

Take the medal off. Pop it in the draw. Remember, you should never be too busy for the people you serve.


Leading or managing?

We often throw around the words leadership and management as though they are interchangeable terms. They are not. Leadership and management are different.

Blanchard offers what I think is one of the simplest, but best definitions of leadership. Anytime you are seeking to influence another person you are leading.

Covey paints a wonderful illustration to explain the difference between leadership and management. Imagine, if you will, a team of people clearing a path through a dense jungle. The only tools they have are machetes, axes and saws. The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree and yells, “this way, clear this way.” The manager is the one organising the people, creating rosters to ensure the work gets done as efficiently and effectively as possible. Together the destination is reached.

Both leadership and management are necessary, but they are two different sets of skills. Some people are excellent managers, but are not leaders. These people make excellent 2ICs. Some leaders are terrible managers, but they can effectively garner the trust of those people following them in order to achieve a vision. It is the rare few who have both sets of skills.

It is funny how the marketplace is filled with leadership development courses, but few on management training. Somehow the concept of management isn’t as appealing. We forget that without brilliant managers, a leader’s vision will never come to fruition.

To be truly effective and credible, one who has empathy for the people they seek to lead, I would argue that you need both sets of skills. Your passion for leadership will be shaped on the factory floor where you learn the trade and observe how leaders before you effectively influence the people around them.



This is what I have learned and try to practise: Being controlled in every circumstance

Organisational and leadership author, Stephen Covey[1], has identified the ability to ‘establish, extend, and restore trust’ as the ‘key leadership competency of the new, global economy’.

According to Covey, the number one role of a leader is to inspire, build and sustain trust. For organisations, the effect of trust goes beyond leadership; it has significant impact on a company’s ability to innovate.

Consider the following account of a person who was publicly berated by his boss:

In one sense, the experience reminded me of military training: the drill sergeant yelling obscenities in the face of the new recruit in an attempt to break him. In some weird way that behaviour has an objective, this experience left me feeling humiliated. I felt like a small child being told off in front of his siblings. It had a crushing and lasting impact on both me and the other people present.

For my boss, the concept of leadership was about control, wielded in such a way that we were left with no doubt as to who the person in authority was. She had control, but she didn’t have respect, and certainly didn’t have the trust of her staff.

Fortunately (hopefully) this kind of behaviour is not the norm in workplaces. But nonetheless, it highlights an important lesson for any leader, regardless of their concept of leadership: Trust is key and trust is gained by always being calm and controlled.

Once lost, trust is very hard to get back. In the above example, the leader chose to throw trust away by treating people abysmally, but trust can be lost by less extreme leakages such as incompetence, poor listening skills, poor decision-making, and a whole host of other reasons, but essentially through what can be summed up as poor leadership.

When I go to see my boss it is usually because I have a problem that I am having trouble solving. Sometimes it is because I need to confess that I have ‘stuffed up’, and as a result a complaint might be coming their way.

While an awkward situation to be in, I feel a sense of trust because I know she will calmly listen to me. I know what I am getting every time. She is predictable, calm, controlled.

It has been a tough week for me as a leader. I have had little sleep. I know when I am sleep deprived my ability to control my emotions becomes compromised. Knowing this about myself is the first step in ensuring that I remain calm and level-headed. I need to take more breaks, walk and get some fresh air, eat well and not rely on coffee.

How do the people who to look to you for leadership describe your demeanour? Are you predictable? What are your triggers? For me it is a lack of sleep, for others it can be a fear of making a mistake.

The first step to developing trust in your leadership is knowing yourself and what your triggers are. With that knowledge you can create strategies to ensure that you can always be controlled in every circumstance.

[1] Covey, S. (2006). The speed of trust. New York: Simon and Schuster.


Education for Peace

Last night I had dinner with a fellow Head Teacher. As we sat in a local restaurant in down town Shinjuku, Japan, he told me about his life growing up in Hiroshima. We had just visited the Atomic-Dome the day before, where world’s first nuclear bomb was detonated unleashing a fireball of 1000 degrees Celsius and winds over 1000km per hour.

While Hidenori wasn’t born when the bomb that annililated 75,000 people in an instant, and killed another 75,000 in the following weeks, his mother was. Her brother was amongst the casualties. She lived some 40km from the epi-centre. After the blast she walked the 40km to try and find him and offer what little help she could to the victims. What she saw was ever etched into her memory: the vision of a young mother walking towards her, her young baby fused to her body, the burns so bad.

This extra-ordinary Head Teacher had recently retired. For the past 37 years he worked for an International School in Tokyo, leading it for the last 10. The School isn’t an International one for expats, but for Japanese, created with the vision for a global education, underpinned with the belief that a greater appreciation and value for different cultures will contribute to a world of peace.

We talked about the importance of education in a world that is constantly traumatised by man’s never-ending greed. Amidst news of yet another terrorist attack and the release of Britain’s Chilcot Report, he spoke about an education that gives students opportunities to make friends across cultures and countries, an education that promotes understanding and peace.

Wise words this retired Head Teacher shared, “We only have a hundred years, we only have one life. We should teach our students to live each day, to be grateful for what they do have, finding beauty, joy and contentment in the little things. We should never allow language, cultural differences or alternate values to be a barrier to friendships that can rest on the beauty of life itself.”

Education should not just be about a country’s economic strategy, but about our humanity. Education should primarily be focused on raising the next generation of people who will inherit the world we leave them. Will that generation repeat the mistakes of the past, or will they truly seek peace?