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What’s The Question?

If you peruse the business literature, or even just business posts on social media, you will eventually come across the phenomenon of “meeting bashing”.  It seems no-one likes a meeting and every commentator has a three, four or five-step process to address what they see as the downside.

I offer one step.

Frame the outcome of the meeting as a question that needs answering.

“In today’s meeting, we will seek to answer the following question: What / Who / How / When”?[i]

I once had a boss who was a great guy. He had a heart of gold and was always trying to do what was best for our stakeholders. The team loved him. He would, however, walk out of team meetings frustrated because there were very rarely any clear outcomes.

The problem was he always started the meeting with, “I want to talk about issue X”.

And so, we would discuss it. We would offer our opinions and our version of solutions. We would agree and disagree based on our perspectives. In the end, exasperated, the boss would say something like, “So what? What’s the decision?”

My sense always was, nice guy that he was, he was rarely clear on the question he was trying to answer. If he had, he would have been able to shape, guide and facilitate the discussion to answer that question. 

What’s the question you’re trying to answer? Understand that question and you may be able to make meetings useful. 

[i]And, very rarely, “Why?”

What Does The System Reward?

For those who watched Insiders on Sunday, 14 Jul 19, you may have seen a brief discussion on Australian federal politicians’ Electoral Allowance.  This is an allowance of between $32k and $46k for sitting members of parliament to spend in their electorate as a discretionary fund.  There are a couple of key features of this fund, as highlighted in a Sydney Morning Herald report on 3 July 2019:

  • The allowance is paid directly into the bank accounts of the sitting members;
  • The sitting member is not required to declare how the fund is spent;
  • At the end of the financial year, any unused funds may be retained by the sitting member as additional taxable income;
  • In 2017, the two major parties blocked a move by one of the minor parties that would have required politicians concerned to prove how the money was spent.

The SMH article highlights concerns by some that this money is being misused.

I make no comment on whether the reports in the SMH are accurate and I want to outline there is no political bias here. I want to use the case-study above to talk about systems.

I suspect that when the electoral allowance was originally instituted it was done so with good intentions.  It was designed to allow money to be spent on areas in the electorate where a need was seen but where existing policy did not meet that need.

Culture, however, is built by what the system rewards, recognises or rejects.  In this case, there is a potential personal financial reward to the politicians concerned for not spending the money as it was intended; on the electorate.  The system has also rejected the need for accountability around how this money is spent. This means the system is potentially set up to build a culture where corruption is rewarded or, if not present, there is a perception that it is.

Other examples where the system creates second or third-order effects on the culture are:

  • When people are rewarded for higher sales figures over their colleagues a culture of completion may develop;
  • In a call centre, if the KPI is quick resolution times for callers, then there is an incentive to get customers off the phone quickly rather than a focus on resolving the problem properly;
  • A focus on people being at their desks for defined working hours, rather than focusing on getting the job done, may lead to demotivated employees;
  • Assigning funding to schools based on test performances may encourage teachers to the test rather than the curriculum.

What is your system rewarding, recognising or rejecting?

Good or Bad? Hard to Say.

Good or Bad? Hard to Say.

How do we know if something is good or bad?

I would like to relate a parable that may shift your thinking on this question. I first heard this story when I watched a Ted talk by Heather Lanier a few weeks ago. Since then I have been pondering the meaning behind the story.  I’ve even told it to a few coaching clients when they were talking about things in their own lives that were good or bad. The resulting discussions revealed new insight for both of us.

In researching this parable, I discovered many variations; however, the version I first heard goes something like this …

The Parable of the Farmer

One day a farmer went to inspect his paddock only to find that his only horse had escaped. The farmer’s neighbours came to console him. “Your horse escaped. That’s bad”, they said. The farmer’s reply, “Good or bad? Hard to say.”

The next day the farmer’s horse came back followed by seven wild horses. The farmer’s neighbours were very happy for him. “You have seven new horses now. That’s good”, they said. The farmer again replied, “Good or bad? Hard to say.”

On the third day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses. After a few attempts, he fell off and broke his leg. Again, the neighbours visited the farmer. “That’s bad,” they said. Again, the farmer replied, “Good or bad? Hard to say.”

On the fourth day, the army marched past the farmer’s land. They were drafting young, able-bodied men for an impending war. Seeing the farmer’s son with a broken leg, they passed by. The neighbours commented, “That’s good that your son will not have to fight.” The farmer again replied, “Good or bad? It’s hard to say.”

What does it all mean?

Sometimes we are very quick to label the events in our life as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  What I think this story is trying to tell us is that we need to let events unfold before we make a judgement. I have previously written about taking the longer term view when looking into the past and measuring our achievements. Perhaps now it’s time to take the longer view forward.

We all have a lot of complexity in our lives. ‘Black or white’, ‘right or wrong’, or ‘good or bad’ thinking may limit our ability to understand the nuances of that complexity and deal with it effectively. On any given day there will be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ things that happen to us. When this happens, perhaps we should take a moment and ask ourselves, “Good or bad? Hard to say.”


Do you tend to think of events in your life in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’? If so I would encourage you to reflect on what this story might mean for you. Please share your reflections in the comments section below.

If you know someone who tends to think in concrete terms, please feel free to share this story with them. Think about how you might use this story to coach them through a particular issue they are struggling with at the moment.

If you would like to discuss this or any issue relating to leadership, culture or being human in a complex world, please feel free to contact me at Campbell Leadership Solutions.

Until then, thank you for reading and leading.

Image courtesy of Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay

Campbell Ramble # 3 – Seeing another perspective

Campbell Ramble # 3 – Seeing another perspective

I was talking to a client this week about taking the perspective of others.

I’ve written about this beforetwice.

At one point he gave me an example that drove it home for me. It was such an obvious example of the importance of taking other’s perspectives that I can’t believe I hadn’t heard it, seen it, or thought of something similar before.

He told me the story of the airline hostess and the passenger.

If you’ve heard or read this one before then bear with me, please.

I don’t know how many flights in a day a member of an airline’s crew does but the way the story was told to me this particular hostess was not on her first. She was tired. She had been dealing with passengers all day, and she was a little irritated.

The customer had rung the attendant call bell and asked for something. Not being completely on her game the hostess had been a little short with the customer.

For the customer, this was her first flight … ever … and she was very excited about it.

Take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of both those people. How would the behaviour of each have impacted on the other?

Imagine the enthusiasm and expectations of the passenger.

Imagine how much the hostess must have been longing for home after a long day at work.

What might you have done in either of their situations?

There are many interpretations of this story and many different scenarios you could apply this type of situation too:

  • The experienced lecturer and the eager student.
  • The restaurant waiter and the patron who has had a booking for a month for this particular restaurant.
  • The tired parent and the excited child.

What examples do you have?

For me, this brought home, again, the importance of taking other people’s perspectives. We deal with people every day, and we have an opportunity to leave a lasting impact on people. This was reinforced as I listened to the Tim Ferriss podcast interview with Adam Robinson this week. They talked about how “Suffering is an excessive focus on ourselves.” When we focus on others, we are the happier for it. And when we take other people’s perspectives we learn, and we develop our ability to deal with complexity by expanding our world view.

We make interpretations of events based on our experiences. Those experiences shape how we judge others. Once we have formed judgements, it then becomes difficult to suspend those beliefs and see things from others perspectives. But it can be done.

I’ve talked before about being curious about people. What does that look like? Ask yourself things about the other person like what jobs they’ve had, what their family circumstances might be like, what’s important to them, what might have just happened that has shaped that behaviour.

What other questions would you ask?

There are a couple of points to note when doing this.

  • Firstly, come up with multiple options. Your first answer may or may not be correct. A variety of answers gives you more information with which to form your understanding.
  • Secondly, consider options that are radically different to your world view. Allow yourself to be inclusive. Have new ideas.
  • Finally, prepare to be wrong.

If you follow the steps above you have will have a hypothesis and a mindset that will allow you to engage with people, learn from and about them, and increase your ability to connect.

Curiosity will lead to connections which can increase our ability to build relationships. If we have a relationship with someone then we can influence them. If we can influence them then we can lead.

And leadership is the key to thriving.

So, that is my ramble done for this week. What do you think? Do you agree, disagree or does your opinion lie somewhere in the middle? I would love to get your feedback and your thoughts.

If you would like to discuss the concepts discussed in this article, or any topics relating to leadership, please feel free to get in contact with us here at Campbell Leadership Solutions.  We would like to talk to you about how we may be of assistance.

And finally, thank you for reading and leading.

What I want you to do is … Surf the Complexity

What I want you to do is … Surf the Complexity

Do you feel like you are drowning in information? Are you struggling to see what the second and third order effects of your decision making might be? Are you baffled by the reasons behind why people make certain decisions?

Chances are you’re suffering from ‘complexity.’

“Complexity?” I hear you ask. “What is complexity and what is the cure?”

Well, there is no real cure. Complexity is here to stay, and there is no simple answer to it. You cannot make it go away.

What you can do, however, is manage it, navigate it and learn to understand the effects of it. Want to know how? Then, read on.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn

The introduction above is a little flippant. However, the truth is that these days there is a lot of talk about complexity. You may have heard of the term VUCA. VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It’s a term originally used by the U.S. military following the end of the Cold War. It has gained more common usage in business circles to describe the challenges of an interconnected and globalised society. We now have access to information more than we ever had in our history. The data feed, however, is not linear or straightforward. The number of channels by which data can be accessed, or pushed to us, has multiplied. The world is far more interconnected and what might seem like simple decisions can have wide-ranging effects.

In their book ‘Simple Habits for Complex Times’, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston discuss three techniques, summarised below, that can help you start to understand complexity. They do this through a mix of theory and parable, telling the story of an organisation dealing with a complex issue and describing how they go about dealing with it. The three techniques are:

1. Ask different questions. Typically, we look to our leaders for answers. The stereotypical view of a leader is someone with the solutions to all our problems. This view implies a certain amount of predictability.  However, in a complex world uncertainty is one of complexity’s bedfellows. The other issue with this image relates to what happens when the leader leaves. If the leader has all the answers, how do the junior leaders learn? Garvey Berger and Lawson offer that we should start asking questions about things we genuinely don’t know the answers to and try and generate questions we haven’t asked before. Doing this with a curious and growth mindset allows us to see opportunities for problem-solving. It also gets others thinking and developing their capabilities.

2. Take multiple perspectives. A complex environment means you will, most likely, have multiple stakeholders. How those stakeholders react to your decisions will depend on the pressures applied by and the diverse influences of their respective stakeholders. You are but one. Additionally, most people are not coming to work each day with the sole intention of making your day worse.  Like you, they are likely trying to do the best job they can. Clashes occur when your view and theirs about what the ‘right thing to do’ differ. When we start to see where the other person is coming from our capacity for relationship building increases as does our ability to work together and achieve goals that are mutually beneficial.

3. See systems. We don’t work in a vacuum. We come together in teams, or teams of teams, to achieve goals and outcomes. At the very least we interact with different organisations, customers, cross-functional groups, our families and the public. All of these elements form a “complex system of policies, people, relationships, experiences and histories.” If we can start to look at the system and see how the interrelated parts are interacting and influencing one another we start to see how the conditions are being created to either succeed, fail or achieve something in between.

A different application

When I work with clients attempting to deal with complex issues I will sometimes use a modified approach to Garvey Berger and Lawson’s work. The aim of the exercise — and this is an important point — is not to come up with answers. In most situations, the client is wrestling with an issue and has hit a brick wall. Or maybe they’ve tried to come up with a solution, and it hasn’t worked. What this activity is designed to do is to expand the thinking and open up the mind to seeing opportunities.

To get started, find yourself a blank piece of paper and a clear space. Allow yourself about 30 min to run through the exercise for the first time. As you practice it more and more, you should be able to reduce the time. Indeed as you become further practised, you won’t need the paper, and you will find this process will become a habit.

Step 1: Draw a Network

Think of a project you are currently working on and where you feel that you have reached a dead end. Perhaps there is a particular individual who is being obstructionist or oppositional to your task. On your piece of paper start mapping out all the stakeholders. It does not need to be a work of art and it does not need to be entirely accurate. It just needs to be a rough map that includes as many of the stakeholders, policies and other relevant factors that you can recall. At this point, it is not necessary to analyse the connections but just draw lines between those factors that are related, those stakeholders that are influencing one another and those factors that are impacting you, others and the issue.

Once you have completed the diagram ask yourself, “What do I see here that I was not aware of before?” What connections have you made on paper that you hadn’t been aware of previously? It could be a relationship between two people or two groups of people. It could be a link between an organisation and a policy or market factor. The important thing is to approach the activity with an open mind.

Step 2: Take a Different Perspective

Take a look at all the stakeholders on your network map. It is now time to put yourself in their shoes. What is driving them to do what they do? What are their priorities? What is influencing them? On your network map place one to two words that describe your perception of their perspective around each stakeholder, node or relationship line.

There are three notes of caution around this step:

  1. Your comprehension doesn’t need to be perfect. Just come up with a couple of options for perspectives that make sense based on the person’s behaviour. For example, you might say something like “Person X opposes the idea of Y because he fundamentally believes that Z is the best outcome for all concerned.”
  1. Don’t limit yourself to just one perspective option. Try to come up with 2-3 possibilities that make sense. Maybe even try one or two that don’t.
  1. Make sure the mindset you use when adopting the perspective of others reflects the belief that person is genuinely trying to contribute in the best way they know how.  This is especially important for someone you see as oppositional.  Most people are generally not being a pain in the … just for the sake of it!! Remember, everyone is trying to add value in their own way.

As you complete this step, again, ask yourself, “What information is new here? What patterns am I seeing?”

Step 3: Ask Questions

Here comes the fun bit. Look at the diagram and challenge yourself, “What don’t I know and what am I genuinely curious about?” Assign a question to each node, person, relationship or link. Preferably this is a question that you haven’t asked before. “Why did they do that?” is too cliché. Sorry people. “Noting this team’s possible perspective, what are my opportunities to engage with them?” is getting closer to the mark. Challenge yourself to come up with a different question. For more about asking different questions, please see my blog here .

The significant thing during this step is that you don’t need answers. You have a couple of options here. You can finish your reflection, approach the people on your diagram and engage them in conversation specifically around the questions that you have. Or, if that’s not appropriate and a bit too confrontational, just ask yourself the question, allow the question to sit with you a moment and trust that in time insight will come. By doing so, you prime a section of your brain called the Reticular Activation System to see opportunities and answers as they arise. You can now approach your tasks and conversations alert to new knowledge and ways in which you can work together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

The aim of this complete process is not, as I’ve said, to come up with answers or immediately solve problems. Complexity doesn’t work that way. What it is designed to do is to start to broaden your view of a situation and allow you to recognise opportunities to work together and achieve common goals as they emerge.

So, what I would like you to do is …

Over the next week, identify some issues that you are finding troublesome. Are they complex problems? Do they have multiple stakeholders? Does your current list of questions remain unanswered? If so, try out the process above. You might just start to see connections and opportunities you had failed to see previously.

When you do try it out I would love to hear about how it went for you. What worked? What didn’t? How would you modify the process? I have a few ideas about this and, as members of the Campbell Leadership Clan, we are all learning together. I want to learn from you as much as you learn from me. Please leave your comments and suggestions in the appropriate section below.

Is there someone that you know who could use this tool to deal with a complex problem or issue? Please feel free to share this article with them or challenge yourself to coach them through using the process I’ve outlined above. Again, I’d love to hear how that went.

If you would like to discuss this, or any leadership related issues, please feel free to get in contact with the team at Campbell Leadership Solutions (link).

Thank you for reading and leading.

Interlude: 2016 Leadership Blog Review

Interlude: 2016 Leadership Blog Review

As we begin the new working year I thought we’d kick it off with a brief summary of the leadership thoughts published by Campbell Leadership Solutions in 2016. If you continue on with these behaviours and tips that you started with last year, you’ll be sure to make an easy segway into 2017. If you want to revisit the concepts in full, just click on the link to go straight to the article, or feel welcome to contact us here at Campbell Leadership Solutions for more information.


From The “What I want you to do …” Series


Make It Safe To Fail

It is so important to allow members of your team to make mistakes. You can create an environment where experimentation is encouraged and your team know that they are supported at all times. Providing this environment allows your team to learn from mistakes, removes the fear of having a go and builds trust between your team and you.


Consider How Others Are Seeing You

Progressing from building trust by creating a safe to fail environment, awareness of two key factors will help in building successful relationships with others. The first, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of various working styles can help constructively develop team dynamics. This will help you understand how others want to be treated, so you can then apply that knowledge. Secondly, how you see yourself is not necessarily the same as how others see you. Seek feedback and hear it without judgement, you’re sure to learn a few things about yourself!


Believe In Yourself As A Leader

Remember, leadership is not a position. It is a series of behaviours. Anybody in any role in any organisation can demonstrate leadership behaviours. If you are working toward something you believe in, you are a leader, whether your job description says so or not – you already have the ability to motivate others to follow, so believe in yourself and continue to refine your leadership skills.


Overcome “I don’t know.”

This article provides a simple, four-step, problem-solving process to help you overcome those times when you have a block. It helps you identify what you already know (it’s usually more than you think), what questions you need to ask and how to build a plan to tackle the next steps of your project. It’s an easy way to continue to move forward and re-energise that challenging mindset we all get when we’re seemingly stuck with something.


Have Your Head In The Same Place As Your Body

Inspired by one of my clients, this article puts a different spin on the work/life balance discussion. Rather than aiming for more time at home and less time at work, what if you were to pay attention to where you are, right now? At any given moment, this technique would go a long way to improving the quality of your time rather than trying to change the quantity, which is something not always possible. Mindfulness is a great way to take control over what you can, rather than being frustrated at what you can’t.


Reduce Your Frustration And Acknowledge Your Achievements

Work with another client inspired this post as well. You may be surprised to know that I learn as much from you as you from me! Taking time to reflect on your achievements over the longer term can reduce the frustration we feel in ‘not getting anything done.’ In fact, revisiting this blog is helping me do this by allowing me to see what I have achieved during 2016.


Learn. Don’t Compete

Competitiveness with people in your own organisation is counterproductive. Rather than trying to “win”, or be “the best”, adopting a learning approach can reduce the pressure you place on yourself, help with achieving results and allow you to enjoy work more all while developing your skills.


Eyeball Your People

This one is simple. Get out from behind your desk and go and talk to your people. Have an easy, informal conversation and find out what’s going on for them. You will learn things about them you didn’t already know and you will build relationships with them. Building relationships allows you to establish trust and influence, which in turn allows you to lead more effectively.


Don’t Ask The Same Questions

Asking the same questions will get you the same answers. Challenge yourself to ask different questions, ones you may not have asked before, or have been afraid of asking. Doing so will give you access to new information and provide opportunities for better decision making. If you really want to set yourself a leadership task, get through the day without asking the same question twice. This will allow you to really analyse your thinking and questioning techniques and help you find out what you really need to know.


Lead Up

This article proved to be one of the most popular. It provides ideas on how you could influence those in a position of authority when you may not be in that position yourself. There is a simple framework for getting your voice heard within your organisation, and is another great demonstration of how anybody in any position can lead effectively.


Get Curious And Deal With Workplace Conflict

Dealing with workplace conflict is not something we necessarily enjoy doing but is an essential skill for leaders. Adopting a curious mindset can help. This is another way to challenge your thinking and questioning process and establish positive relationships through leadership.


Live Your Values

We’ve all been told to ‘live your values’ but how exactly do we do that? The answer is simple. Find some small actions that you can do each day that accord with those values and communicate to people what you think is important. Values identification is an effective way to get people on board, chances are, there will be at least one value that is common to everyone in your workplace.


Ask Yourself, “What is in my control?”

It’s easy to be frustrated by things that are outside of your control, and it can take a daily toll. Understanding what you can control and what you can only influence can go a long way towards reducing those frustrations. So if you can’t control it, let it go and find another way to manage, so you can put your energy and focus into something that will reap a positive outcome.


Take A Different Perspective

Are you having difficulty convincing others of your ideas in the workplace? Taking their perspective might just help you understand why. Understanding others can help you to be adaptive and flexible, which in turn, can help you to influence and lead. It’s important to be able to see a situation from a number of different perspectives and understand the impact a single decision can have on a range of people.


From the “Interlude” Series


Why The Lighthouse

This article describes the meaning behind the Campbell Leadership Solutions logo. The lighthouse is symbolic of guidance. My role as a teacher, coach and mentor can help you to develop your leadership ability and achieve results in the complex environment that you operate in. You are already the subject matter expert, but even the Australian Cricket Team has a coach. Who is yours?


Why I Do What I Do

I love coaching, mentoring and helping people provide quality leadership. This final article for 2016 describes a little of my own leadership journey and how I came to be where I am today. I believe in growth and I believe in change, and I am ready to support you through your own personal journey.



What’s next?

I believe 2016 was a great year, despite what social media might have us think. I see 2017 as a further opportunity to engage with clients, friends and followers to achieve even more goals in the leadership space. If you would like to receive early access to the new releases on leadership, mentoring, performance and other related topics then head to our website to join the Campbell Leadership Clan.

Please feel free to share any or all of these articles with your colleagues, friends or followers. There is, I believe, something in here that is useful for everyone.

Also, please continue to share your leadership experiences on the website or social media (links to various social sites are on the website). We all have great stories to share and can all learn from each other. We have a great opportunity to build a community of leadership learners.

If you would like assistance with your own leadership journey or would like to discuss any of the concepts detailed in these articles, please contact us at Campbell Leadership Solutions. We stand ready to assist you.