We have possibly the oldest freezer in the country.  It’s a small freezer that is the twin of our fridge. They would be about 20 years old, and they perfectly fit into the spot that was designed just for them. There is no way we could find a fridge and freezer to fit into these spaces in our kitchen, so we will need to put in a new kitchen when either the fridge or the freezer dies.

But this is no self-defrosting freezer. It’s so old that we need to defrost it every few months.  When I say we, I mean my husband, Graham, defrosts the freezer. Somehow this task has fallen to him, and I am very grateful.

The exciting thing about defrosting the freezer is that we get to go through everything in there and throw out the old stuff and re-organise the items we are keeping.  It’s quite cathartic to throw out things that have sat in the freezer for a few months; all placed there with the intention of being eaten at a later date. But we have moved on, and those leftovers are not so tempting any more.

Every organisation and workplace needs to have a clean up every few months. You need to slow down to speed up. Every few months, possibly quarterly, it is good to review what is working well and what is not. To “throw out” processes and procedures that don’t serve you any more.

We need to refresh our work environment constantly. We need to challenge our thinking; we need to stop hanging on to “we’ve always done it this way” conversations. This will help us keep the energy up and ensure that we keep our teams engaged and looking forward.

Defrosting the freezer is a bit of a yucky job. It takes a bit of time, and you have to do it in one go. You can’t do it bit by bit. You either defrost the freezer, or you don’t.

But the benefits are so good. You can easily open the drawers; you can see what is in the freezer, you don’t have old foodstuffs taking up space. You feel energised by the prospects of all those new empty spaces in the freezer.

Keep your team energised – renew and refresh your workplace every three months.

The other morning I was walking my dogs, Doug and Margaret. It was pretty early, about 6.30 am.

We were nearing the end of the walk when I saw a woman with a biggish dog on a lead walking towards us.

Now, I am a terrible and irresponsible dog owner, my dogs are not properly trained, which is why I walk them very early in the day or very late at night. That way we are less likely to run into anyone. They will sit on command most of the time but that really is the extent of their training. I know, it’s not good.

So in order to prevent a scene with the dog walking towards us, I crossed the road.

On the other side of the road were two big dogs behind a fence. The fence was made up of thin metal poles about 8cm apart.  The big dogs were aggressively barking at Doug and Margaret and Doug and Margaret were being typical annoying little dogs yapping at the big dogs.

Doug then lurched at the dogs and he got too close. Suddenly Doug’s head is in the mouth of the big dog and the big dog would not let go. I started hitting the big dog and screaming for help. Doug is screaming. I let go of Margaret and keep my attention on Doug who is bleeding profusely. I am terrified this dog is going to try and pull Doug through the fence.

All I can think is that Doug is about to die.

A young woman runs out of her front door.  She is screaming too. She starts hitting the dog. She is apologising and saying her dog has never done anything like this before.

Then miraculously the big dog releases Doug. It’s all over. I don’t know how long this nightmare went for, but it felt like at least two minutes. Doug is bleeding profusely and he’s all ripped up, but he’s still got a stupid grin on his face. He seems quite normal. I love this dog so much.

Doug required surgery. The wounds around his ears were deep.  He nearly lost an eye. There were lacerations in his mouth. He had to wear the cone of shame. He got quite down during his convalences.

And it was my fault.  

The chance of a conflict arising out of this situation was high. It would have been easy to blame the big dog behind the fence. To blame the dog’s owner for allowing their vicious dog to roam their front yard so aggressively.

It would also be easy to blame Doug for being a yappy little dog that took on the big dog. It’s easy to just blame anyone but me.

But, I know that I am at fault in this situation.

Because if I had trained Doug and Margaret properly, then we wouldn’t have to walk in the dark, we wouldn’t have to try avoid other dogs and people, we wouldn’t have had to cross the road on that day.

It wasn’t planned. I didn’t mean for it to happen. I love my dogs so much and yet I have allowed them to live their lives without proper training. I could not expect my dogs to train themselves.  You reap what you sow.

It’s not easy to take responsibility for this horrific experience; but no-one else can be held responsible. It was me.

I have done a lot of great things in my life. I am not a bad person. I have taught my children a heap of valuable life lessons and they are good people. I have helped thousands of people over my life. And this one incident does not suddenly mean that I have “turned bad” or that I need to “bash myself up” for a long period of time. But in that moment I felt terrible shame, because I knew it was my fault. I had to take responsibility for what had occurred.   

Leaders always take on enormous responsibility when they stand up and say “yes, I’m up to this role”.  In that moment, you have to take responsibility for everything that occurs. The good, the bad and the ugly.  In some way, your hand is all over how well the business or organisation performs and it is, at the same time, all over any mistakes or stuff ups that occur.  Whether it be a lack of training, a lack of trust or faith in your team, poor systems or processes. A failure to recognise a risk. Whatever it is, the buck has to stop with you.

Make sure your team has the training and support to be able to cope with the day to day trials and tribulations of your work environment.

I finally got my car serviced. It was overdue for a service by a couple of months and a few thousand clicks.

I kept putting it off. I didn’t have time. I had other more important things to do. It was going to cost a lot of money. I’m not a car person. These things are a low priority for me.

But my car is 10 years old. I knew I was pushing it. I even checked the oil and topped it up once because I knew that it was so overdue for a service. But still, I dilly-dallied.

And then I offered my car to our daughter and her family to use when they were coming to Adelaide for a few days.

Suddenly I urgently needed to get my car serviced. I had to ensure that the car was safe for my children and grandchildren. There was no way I would let them drive my car unless I had had it serviced. I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to my family due to my negligence.

But sadly I didn’t care enough about my own safety and wellbeing. I wasn’t important enough.

How often do we put off doing something that is important but not urgent? How often do we wait until the situation is dire?

I often see bosses putting off having a difficult conversation or dealing with a conflict situation until one of the parties lodges a formal complaint, has lodged a Workcover claim for stress or threatens to take legal action.

We don’t have to put ourselves under so much stress. Dealing with conflict situations early is so much less stressful for both the boss and the parties. Waiting for things to deteriorate to the point where you need a mediator or the involvement of another third party agency means that the situation has deteriorated to a point where it might be difficult to salvage.

Prevention is better than cure.  It’s also much cheaper and easier to achieve.

I can help you with that.

 

I was speaking to this guy the other day who does random drug and alcohol testing in workplaces. He talked about being called into work places and testing people and the different way people react to being caught out.

Some people run away, some people cry and some people are incredibly stoic.

In that moment they are done. They can’t hide. They have to face the music.

This could be a life defining moment.

This could be the beginning of a fast downward spiral, of deteriorating mental health, of increased use and abuse of drugs and alcohol, of terminal family relationships.

Or it could be the day that they decide to do something differently, to turn their lives around, to get the help they need to deal with the issues that have resulted in them turning up to work affected by drugs or alcohol.

In part, how they respond is in our hands.  If we write people off as being bad, chances are they will live up to that title, to that reputation.

If we show compassion and care in that moment, they might feel that they do have some value, that it is worth the effort needed to get help.

We can’t and shouldn’t rescue people. We can’t and shouldn’t even try to change people. But we can be respectful and we can care about people.

There is a reason why someone has turned up to work in that state.  If we aren’t curious and if we don’t care, we will never know what that reason is.

Care about people and be part of the solution; don’t contribute to the problem.

Our family has had a long association with Ron.  Do you want to keep that for Ron? Do you want to do that Ron? I think you will find it in the Ron Box.

Who is this Ron you keep referring to?  His full name is “Later On” or just Ron for short.

The Ron Box is the best!  It’s a big box full of items of that you urgently need when you run out of them. It’s full of toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, small packets of tissues, deodorant, dishwashing liquid, batteries, candles, wrapping paper.  Stuff.

I created the Ron Box a few years due to my poor memory.  I would go to the shops to buy the items on my list which we desperately needed and then I would forget the list and forget to get them. Doh! One day I realised life didn’t need to be that complicated. That we could have the backup items at home all of the time and then the replacement of same wouldn’t be so urgent.

It has generally worked a treat.  

The Ron Box is a treasure trove of items. There is a heap of things I have bought for Ron that I forget about. So every time I go looking for something there’s a bit of excitement to rediscover the items that I have bought over the years for Ron.

I’ve also worked out that writing my shopping list straight into my phone gives me a much better chance of not losing my shopping list each week. Who knew!

Ron goes to two important business concepts – Culture and Stress Management.

Culture

People love to feel that they belong. One way you do that is to create an environment or use some terminology that is special to your team. It needs to be fun, inclusive and easily applied.

Our family has a few ways of creating a culture that is unique to us. We have adopted orange as the family colour, we name ordinary things in strange ways and we have a close relationship with Ron; to name just a few of the things that are special to our family.

In many teams, there are often special words, actions, a song or protocols which are special them. It’s an inside joke or practice, it’s something that unites them. The team doesn’t use these things to be exclusive but as a way of creating a real sense of belonging.

Find the fun little things that happen in your work environment and exploit them. Exaggerate them, formalise them, diminish them – but make them special to your team.  

Stress Management

The Ron Box helps us manage stress in the household. When we run out of items, we have a replacement all ready to go. I am sure that lots of families do this.

Planning ahead and having things in place for anticipated stressful periods such as high workloads, can significantly reduce everyone’s stress levels. It sounds obvious, but so often I come across teams that rarely take the time out to plan for the future. The business may have grown so fast or they are always so busy, so stretched that they really struggle when things really go up a notch or if something goes wrong.

Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. Planning and having a strategy as to how you will deal with the various stresses placed on your business will pay off many times over.

I’ve learned a thing or two as a parent of adult children.

As parents and leaders, we need to teach our children and our teams how to do things and to be clear about what we expect of them. We need to set boundaries and to enforce those boundaries when the need arises.

People need to know where they stand. It helps them to feel safe.

One of the greatest challenges is working out which boundaries are absolutely non-negotiable and which ones are less important and a guide only.

Because when we enforce rules and boundaries that don’t make sense, seem unnecessarily punitive or are condescending we will get push back – I guarantee it.

Our children (particularly our teenage children) and our staff are not robots; they do not exist to please us or to do what they are told. They have feelings and thoughts and their own belief and values systems. They are less likely than ever before to do what they are told because you are their parent or their boss.  We live in a world where we all have a lot of information at our fingertips, where we can share a story in the blink of an eye. Our society is less hierarchical than ever before. People expect to be treated fairly and with respect.

So it is most likely that they will challenge your ‘dumb’ rules; they will act out and rebel.

And you will probably respond strongly. You will be frustrated, angry, insulted and stressed by their “terrible behaviour”. Chances are you will impose further penalties, turn to some form of disciplinary action. A mini-war will ensue.  

Your charge will probably be thinking about you in the negative. You will return the favour.

You will be watching out for them to do something else that is against the rules and they will start playing with fire and daring you to challenge them further.  

The relationship will deteriorate or go into a stalemate.

So how do we stop this all too familiar pattern of behaviour?

 

  • We develop the rules with them as much as possible; or we give a clear explanation as to why this is the rule, why it needs to be a non-negotiable

 

That way your child or staff learn that the rule wasn’t created just to make their life difficult. And we can test out some theories with them. Get them to consider the risks if this rule wasn’t in place. Get them to problem solve a related scenario.  Importantly, you might learn something at the same time. And you might, through this process, even recognise that the rule is over the top.

This process will also make our charges feel valued and respected. They will feel included in the process, and they are way more likely to abide by a rule or a boundary that they have developed.

 

  • We focus on the behaviour we want

 

We make a fuss if our child or employee does what we want the way we want them to do it; we don’t give energy the behaviour we don’t want.

For example, we want our employee to complete the Occ Health and Safety forms in a certain way to make sure the documentation meets legislative standards. The employee believes this task is onerous and stops them from getting on with the job. They regularly “forget” to do it or they do it poorly.

So every Monday at your team meeting you give a chocolate frog or make a fuss about the person who was best at completing their paperwork correctly the week before. Let them know how this has added value to the company because they would pass any audit. The staff member might not have done it perfectly but you have to start somewhere.  In due course, you will train all of the staff that this is a non-negotiable and they will do it because they recognise the value of completing the paperwork, even if it is onerous.

Despite everything we know, I constantly see parents and leaders use discipline to change behaviour. It rarely works.

It’s so easy to punish people. To deprive them of their rights and privileges, to dock their pay or whatever nasty thing you can think of to “teach someone a lesson”.

I challenge you to think differently; to bring your people with you. To be on the same team and working towards the same goals and outcomes.

I accept that there are times when it is necessary to impose consequences; particularly if someone is deliberately breaking a non-negotiable rule. We do have to keep people safe, and they have to be standards.

But in the main, our lives and the lives of our children and staff will be significantly less stressful and far more enjoyable if we focus on the positive.

Most leaders care about their people, but they don’t know how to lead because they have ended up as leaders almost by accident.

They are usually so good on the tools or in their area of expertise that they suddenly find themselves setting up a business or being chosen to lead a team.

But leadership requires its own skill set. Most leaders are not taught how to lead people.

So many leaders become incredibly stressed out and scared because they don’t know how to get their people to do what they want them to do and as a leader, they are expected to get results (often make money) to keep the business going. As a result, they often become critical and punitive. These leaders are always on the lookout for problems and encourage their staff to tell them about what’s going wrong. They then unintentionally create a culture of dobbing and gossip.

Chances are that these poor stressed out leaders will then blame their team when things go wrong. They might end up yelling and screaming at their people, micromanaging them or using the silent treatment on them just because they are so stressed out. These leaders will probably have a high staff turnover as a result. Their team may not be telling them important information because they are scared of the consequences.

This situation will often put the business at risk of being sued for unfair dismissal or unsafe work practices because they are unintentionally disrespecting their people’s rights or they don’t set boundaries so that their team feels safe and supported.

Their team will be unproductive, disengaged and disconnected.

The way to turn this around is for leaders to take responsibility for their leadership style. They need to learn to be vulnerable with their team; acknowledge their mistakes and provide a safe environment for people to speak up. They need to have a clear vision, clarity around people’s roles and responsibilities and expectations of their staff. They need to learn to manage their stress and their fears so that they can focus on all the good work being done by the team; not on the mistakes.

So many leaders are misunderstood good people struggling with overwhelming levels of stress and fear.

I am on a plane travelling to Melbourne. We are sitting on the tarmac.  The plane has pulled back and just as you think that we are about to get going the captain comes on over the speaker and says that due to some unforeseen circumstances we have to go back to the airport.

We are asked to stay in our seats with our seatbelts on. We are all obedient and continue to play on our phones whilst the flight staff do whatever they have to do.

Then suddenly three police officers walk up the aisle of the plane.

Well, this is highly entertaining.  So we all distract ourselves from our phones to get a look at what is happening at the back of the plane.

Next minute, they are walking a fairly good looking, clean cut boy of about 22 down the aisle and off the plane.

Well, we all look at each other and breathe a sigh of relief that we have been saved from this 20 something year old misfit.  The captain makes some light hearted joke about the little issue now being resolved and we are on our way. No-one tells us why this young man has been escorted from the plane.

My brain goes into overdrive. What has he done? Was he really a baddie? Is there another reason why the police would have to escort him from the plane.

Then someone behind me says they overheard the flight attendants saying that “he” (again I assume the baddie who was taken off the plane) was shooting up something illegal before we took off.  He had asked to use the bathroom before we took off. Apparently his eyes were like “golf balls”.

Titbits of information; lots of gossip. You can imagine that nearly everyone on that flight will go and talk about that young man to someone they know when they get off the plane.

I don’t know why that young man was escorted from the plane. But I do know that my mind went into overdrive creating lots of assumptions about his circumstances.

Three police officers entering a plane before take off is an unusual and unsettling experience. It makes you wonder whether we were all at risk of some harm if we had flown with this gentleman all the way to Melbourne.

Where we don’t know the facts we fill the gap with assumptions. We can’t help ourselves. We need to know stuff, to know what is going on. It makes us feel safe.  

We then talk about our assumptions a lot. Suddenly they feel like the truth, despite the fact that we know nothing more than three police officers got on our plane and escorted a young man off.

If you want your team to feel secure; to speak truths and not assumptions then tell them what is going on. Otherwise they will come up with their own truth based on assumptions and they will talk about those assumptions; a lot.

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were staying in Port Elliott, our favourite place in the world.

It was a wet and cold weekend but we somehow missed the rain every time we went for a walk.

On one of our walks we noticed a family and their dog near a pond in the local park. All of a sudden there was a lot of noise and yelling.  We looked over to see the father yelling aggressively at the dog who had decided to go for a bit of a paddle in the water.

The dog was as obedient as our dogs and he kept paddling in the water despite the man’s desperate attempt to get him to come out of the water.

Eventually the father dragged the drenched dog out of the water, getting soaked in the meantime. He then cruelly picked up the dog by his collar, basically choking the dog and then hit the dog hard.

Suddenly the man noticed that he was being watched and he stopped his cruel punishment of the dog.

The man was furious. Furious that the dog was disobedient. Furious that the dog was now wet and would make his car both wet and smelly. He was furious that the dog was so disrespectful to him.

But on some level I anticipate that he was furious with himself.  Furious that he had not invested the time and energy into training the dog. Furious that he had, in some way, contributed to this mess of a situation. And embarrassed. Embarrassed that he had lost his cool. Embarrassed that he had been seen by strangers behaving in a manner that was totally unacceptable.

In that moment, that man was so stressed and agitated by the situation that he became so self absorbed that he didn’t even notice that there were other people around.  

I do not condone his behaviour but I can relate to it. I know that there have been times, particularly with my children, when I have behaved totally inappropriately. Where I have yelled and screamed because I didn’t feel respected; I had lost control of the situation.

I have not generally behaved like that at work. Somehow I can restrain myself from yelling and screaming at work. However I have been heard to swear at work.

I have worked with a number of leaders who struggle to hold it together at work. Who do lose their cool. Who are known yellers. It’s very hard for their staff to respect them; when they are unable to behave appropriately in the workplace.

These leaders lash out. They blame, They attack. They don’t take responsibility for the mistakes that have been made, the lack of adequate training, the mess that they have set up. They blame their staff.

And the more they blame, the more they attack their team, the less they are respected and the more stressed they become. A recipe for disaster.

The buck stops with the leader. Always. So the leader needs to calmly take responsibility for whatever is going on and learn from each situation; so that it is less likely to happen again.

Take care…

A while back I watched the latest royal wedding. I thought Meghan’s dress was stunning. I thought the music and gospel choir and Meghan walking up the aisle by herself most of the way was awesome.

But I have to admit that I felt very uncomfortable when Rev Curry spoke.

Not because of what he said. But because of how he said it.

I could see that the Queen and some members of the Royal family were uncomfortable and I felt uncomfortable for them.

I grew up in the Anglican Church. My dad was a priest. I know the service backwards.

My dad was not a traditionalist by any sense of the word but he couldn’t stomach Evangelical preachers and the excited ways they spoke about the “faith”.

So as soon as I heard Rev Curry’s excited and exuberant speech on love and then on fire, I felt stressed. My dad’s voice in my head kicked in. It was matched by the discomfort of the Queen and I just wanted him to stop. I wasn’t listening to his words. I was listening to how he said those words and I let it affect me.

At the time, I was aware that I was feeling very uncomfortable. I knew my feelings were completely irrational. Like as if I care if the Queen is feeling comfortable about an Evangelical preacher from the US using this opportunity to promote the power of love! I don’t even know the Queen (really!)

These feelings can also happen much closer to home. When someone new joins a group or a team and immediately challenges the dominant leader’s suggestions; when someone says something in a group that is the exact opposite of the status quo (don’t you know we’ve always done it this way!) or when I watch people eating snails or frog legs!

We can become very comfortable in our norms. They make us feel safe. They can unite us. Then a stranger enters. They don’t know our norms. They don’t know the rules. If they are brave and confident they will often speak up, say things that are different, make us think, make us revisit whether we had it right in the first place.

Rev Curry’s sermon at the Royal wedding was such a gift. It rocked the boat – big time. People haven’t stopped talking about it. He made us feel uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. He was excited and exuberant and he challenged us to remember that love is so incredibly powerful. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. In fact, it’s good for us.