We are Value Creators

I recently had a great walking catchup with a trusted colleague. I shared with her a challenge I have been struggling with. She listened and shared a few insights that painted an alternative perspective – instantly filling me with optimism. It was an incredibly valuable conversation. It unlocked the resilience I need to keep working on the challenge and the mindset I need to solve it.

This experience got me thinking about the many ways we each create value within the systems in which we operate…and how this value extends far beyond delivering on the responsibilities contained in our job descriptions.

When we are engaged and inspired at work, when there is trust and when we are given the freedom to harness our strengths – the total value we can each create is enormous.

Much of this value is hard to measure – it may never appear on an agile board, as a ticked “to-do” or on a project plan – but I would argue that it’s cumulative value may exceed the outputs of ‘doing your job’.

When we create the culture and mindset required to see each other as value creators we unlock our full potential.

Great leaders inspire us to keep on doing wonderful, creative, valuable, immeasurable things that extend far beyond the narrow construct of ‘doing our jobs’.

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A New Dawn

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I am encountering more and more senior executives across a range of industries who are starting to appreciate the connectedness of Customer Experience and Employee Experience.

Here are some of snippers from the recent events I have attended, or posts that I have read that fill me with hope:

`We knew that if we nailed EX, our CX would improve` (Carsales.com)

“Employee Experience is a real thing. We must find better ways to better enable employees to do their job” (KPMG)

“If we take care of our people, they take care of our guests and business takes care of itself” (The Clubhouse)

“Your customer experience will never be higher that your employee experience – full stop. In this world of CX, if you don’t have a EX strategy, you are just not going to win.” (Optus)

“If your employees are not engaged, you will not be able to deliver a good CX. All the efforts you have invested into understanding and improving CX must also be applied to EX. Your employees determine the quality of your CX” (Forrester)

The Mind: A Beautiful Servant, A Dangerous Master

brainDid you know that you have between 25,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day and around 85% of your thoughts are negative and around 95% are repetitive?

So basically, we all have old stories and self-limiting self-beliefs playing on repeat day after day.

The Indian guru Osho was really onto something when he described the human mind as a beautiful servant but a very dangerous master. 

In my case, the thousands of daily negative and repetitive thoughts often relate to achievements (or more specifically frustrations related to achievement being difficult or slow).

I suffer from a long-held belief that my achievements provide proof that I have value.

I have come to understand that this is not an uncommon pattern for “high achievers”. It is quite easy to spend an entire lifetime being propelled forward by a urge to prove your worth through achievements. Always striving, never really feeling content with just ‘being’. Always ‘doing’.

In my mid 30’s I started to notice how this belief pattern was holding me back from living a fulfilled and happy life. Now that I am in my 40’s working full time in the corporate world with two young children, it is essential for me to continue to learn how to cultivate sustainable happiness and feelings of worthiness. I understand the strong connection between my wellbeing and the health of our family unit.

I have learnt the importance of prioritising self-care without guilt or apology.

A big part of my commitment to personal wellbeing revolves around the practices of mindfulness and an ongoing quest to understand the workings of my monkey mind.

What exactly is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is focusing on what’s happening right now. It’s stopping to smell the roses. Mindfulness is not being mentally preoccupied about the dirty laundry, your inbox or the mistakes you made yesterday.

James Baraz described mindfulness as “simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it was different”.

Others have described Mindfulness as the ability to step behind the waterfall of our thoughts into position of observation where you can see thoughts come and go without being swept away with them.

Victor Frankl the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor famously said;

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

My quest to better understand my monkey mind has provided me with some wonderful experiences.

I have done headstands at dawn, chanted in an Ashram, done ancient shaman meditations for each chamber of my heart, listened to the Dali Lama speak, attended retreats, read dozens of books and completed Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” programme.

I am still firmly in the beginners group when it comes to mindfulness. It will take time to cultivate the skills and awareness to pull my mind out of the whitewash of long held beliefs and deeply entrenched auto-pilot reactions and into the tranquillity that sits behind the waterfall.

I have tasted just enough of the deep contentment that arises in this stillness of ‘being’ to know mindfulness it is the most important life skill I need to master.

Cultivating more awareness of my thoughts has been a big first step in loosening the grip of my monkey mind. I am starting to notice frequently reoccurring patterns of unhelpful thoughts that previously had been hidden from my conscious mind. I have also noticed that I am able to shake off negative feeling associated with “old stories” more easily by gently guiding myself back to a mindset of abundance, acceptance and gratitude.

I find it helpful to think of my brain as the hardware and my mind as the software and to recognise that I can rewrite my brain’s operating system if I can to see that the functionality is no longer serving me

Ruby Wax shares captures this concept brilliantly in her book “Sane New World – Taming The Mind”.

“The reality is that the demanding voice in our heads is not who we are, it plays a very small part in the big scheme of things. What’s really running you is a million, trillion gigabyte-powered engine room in your brain managed by your DNA (…) and not that stupid inner monologue about why you’re to fat to wear tights. If you learn how to self-regulate your moods, emotions and thoughts, and focus your mind on what you want to pay attention to rather than be dragged into distraction, you might just reach that illusion thing called happiness”

The trick is to loosen the grip of your mind just enough to see that you are in fact in its grips. To do this we must become a curious observers of our software’s wacky functionality.

The first step is just to start to notice.

For example, have you ever noticed when we experience physical pain the language we use to describe the, describes it as something separate from ourselves? We think “I have a headache”. In contrast, when we experience psychological pain we describe it as all consuming? For example we might think “I am a complete fraud” See the difference? When we think “I have a headache” we are separate from the pain but when we think “I am a complete fraud” we have become consumed by the pain.

This skill of separating from our thoughts is called cognitive defusion. When we are in a state of cognitive fusion we see thoughts as true and important, we take them seriously and give them our full attention. By contrast, when we are in a state of cognitive defusion, we see thoughts are merely words and stories passing through our heads. We understand that thoughts may or may not be true, we don’t automatically believe them and we understand that thoughts may or may not be important. We pay attention only if they are helpful.

The goal is to get to a level of awareness where you think; “I am having the thought that I am a fraud. Ah, welcome back Imposter Syndrome, my old friend. Now, please be quiet, I am working on something important”.

With practice, patience and a spirit of playful curiosity I am getting better of noticing when I have been in the grips of unhelpful thoughts and from that perspective, I have freedom to decide that perhaps it is time for a operating system upgrade.

Want to learn more?

If you are curious to learn more about mindfulness there are many great resources available.

Here is a link to a very comprehensive Waking Up podcast (episode #111). In this episode Sam Harris speaks with Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson about the current scientific understanding of meditation and mindfulness practices. They speak about the history of introspection in eastern and western cultures, the difference between altered states and altered traits, an alternate conception of mental health, “meta-awareness,” the relationship between mindfulness and “flow,” the difference between pain and suffering, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and other topics.

There are also a number of App’s that can help you create the habit of weaving mindfulness practices into your day. My personal favourite is Insight Timer, home to more than 3,400,000 meditators and is rated the top free meditation app on the Android and iOS stores.

Mrs Mindfulness list of book recommendations is also really great place to start!

 

 

 

Leading with Heart, Head & Guts

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Given the complexity and ambiguity of the current business environment and the high levels of employee disengagement, the traditional “smart and gutsy” model of leadership is no longer adequate. To maintain leadership positions into the future, leaders must be willing to harness all three sources of wisdom; heart, head and guts Organisations can no longer just look good – they must be good.  It is time to take a much more expansive and pervasive approach to our ‘duty of care’ as leaders. In this post, I explore the importance our connecting with the wisdom and compassion within our hearts and integrating this wisdom into our leadership and decision making.

Heart, Head & Gut Connection: An Overview

“We are at the very beginning of this rapidly unfolding journey of scientific discovery. […] We’ll need to move away from the dominant yet outdated ideas of the body as a complex machine of different parts, and toward the idea of highly interconnected ecological systems.” Dr Emeran Mayer

Our understanding of the complex systems operating within our bodies is continually evolving. Over the last decade, research in the field of neuroscience has expanded our understanding of the neural networks in our heart and gut regions.  Some researchers have gone so far as calling the neural network around our hearts the “cardiac brain” and the network in the gut the “enteric brain”. The research in this area is in its early stages and is still controversial.  I am not a doctor or a scientist, but I here is my summary of some of the research claims that I find most interesting.

The heart-mind connection takes place both by electrical signals (via the vagus and the spinal chord nerves) and through chemicals (the heart is also an endocrine gland). One small study to understand how the heart processes and decodes “intuitive information” claims that the heart receives intuitive information before the brain.  Other researchers have claimed that the heart has its own organising intelligence network, enabling the heart to act independently, learn, remember and produce feelings. The electromagnetic signal produced by a person’s heart rhythms has been measured in the brain waves of other people near them.

There is also a growing body of research on the mind-gut connection. Dr Emeran Mayer,  executive director of the Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience at UCLA specialises in this field. In his book, “The Mind-Gut Connection” Dr Mayer explains that the connection between the mind and the gut is bidirectional: the gut talks to the brain and the brain talks to the gut.

“We now know that your gut mirrors every emotion that arises in your brain […] The brain is tied to the gut like no other organ, with far more extensive hard wired connections. Because people have always felt emotion in their gut, our language is rich with expressions that reflect this. Every time your stomach was tied up in knots, you had a gut-wrenching experience or you felt butterflies in your stomach, it was the emotion-generating circuits of your brain that were responsible. Your emotions, brain and gut are all uniquely connected.”

Another perspective on our three “brains” come from the work of Grant Soosalu – mBraining.  Soosalu describes the highest expressions of each of “brain” as compassion (heart), creativity (head) and courage (guts). Here is the how Soosalu describes the key functions of each “brain”:

Heart; processing emotions, values and your felt connection with others

Head; cognition perception, reasoning, abstraction, analysis, pattern recognition and meaning

Gut; core identity, self-preservation, boundaries, hungers, aversions and the impulse for action

Dotlich, Cairo and Rhinesmith have explored the roles of these three sources of wisdom in their book “Head Heart and Guts”.  Here is their overview of the role of the heart, head and guts in leadership.

Heart

  • Balancing people and business needs
  • Creating trust
  • Developing true compassion
  • Creating environments where people can be truly committed
  • Knowing what’s important
  • Understanding and overcoming potential derailers

Head

  • Rethinking the way things are done
  • Reframing boundaries when necessary
  • Understanding the complexities of the global world
  • Thinking strategically without losing sight of short-term goals
  • Looking for ideas inside and outside the company
  • Developing a point of view

Guts

  • Taking risks with incomplete data
  • Balancing risk and reward
  • Acting with unyielding integrity in spite of difficulty
  • Tenaciously pursuing what’s required for success
  • Persevering in the face of adversity
  • Not being afraid to make the tough decisions

The Case For Change: Why We Need A New Approach To Leadership

“The significant problems we have, cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Albert Einstein.

There has never been more challenging environment to navigate as a leader. The much-discussed forces of VUCA (volitivity, uncertainly, complexity and ambiguity) are very tangible, and these forces are compounding and accelerating around us. The pace of change we are experiencing today with be the slowest pace of change we will experience for the remainder of our leadership careers. The capabilities that ‘got us here’ as successful leaders today will certainly not ‘get us there’ as successful leaders in the future.  The leadership challenges of today and tomorrow demand new ways of leading and different ways of being.

The opening paragraph of “Head Heart and Guts” paints a compelling case for change.

“Complex times require complete leaders. Partial leaders struggle during an era of paradox, ambiguity, and unpredictability. To employ a one-dimensional leadership approach may have worked in simpler times, but in an environment of moral complexity and rapid shifts in attitude, social and political circumstances, economic conditions and technology, leaders must be capable of using their head, their heart and the guts as situations demand.”

Let’s consider the significance of just one important facet of the changing environment – the shifts in trust and customer expectations influenced by Gen Y.  Here is an extract from the recent EY report The Digitisation of Everything.

“Organisations that have succeeded in engaging with Generation Y know that, as well as accelerating the take-up of new digital technology, this generation poses additional challenges due to their evolving expectations. […] They are today the catalysts and the incubators of change, but each day their influence is growing in consumer and corporate environments, meaning that organisations must learn to engage effectively now, or risk being shut out of the game. To attract these young people, both as consumers and as employees, a company cannot just look good – it has to be good. […] Generation Y want to ensure that the organisations they engage with are authentic and not a hologram or mirage with a marketing ‘front’ that belies their reality.”

The significance and complexity of environmental, political and humanitarian challenges we face are immense.  Now more than ever, we need to take an expansive definition of ‘duty of care’ as leaders in business.  Leaders in business today have a responsibility to influence organisations to take a broader perspective. The world of business needs to lift its sights to lock into something bigger than narrow legacy definitions of performance and success. Willis Harmon, co-founder of the World Business Academy captures this imperative beautifully.

“Business has become, in this last half-century, the most powerful institution on the planet; it is critical that the dominant institution in any society take responsibility for the whole”

Global levels of employee disengagement are disturbing. OfficeVibe publishes real time employee engagement data from over 150 countries and 10,000+ organisations. At this time of writing this post 57% of employees surveyed would not recommend their organisation as a good place to work. The common-sense concept of the Service Profit Chain is still absent in many organisations – if you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers and performance will take care of itself.  I love Simon Sinek’s take on this concept:

“There is not a CEO on the planet who is responsible for the customer. CEO’s are responsible for the people who are responsible for the customer. Get that right and everyone wins.”

More and more, employees also want to do work that has purpose and meaning. Brene Brown’s Leadership Manifesto is an eloquent call to action for leaders, asking that we embrace vulnerability and ‘dare greatly’.

“When learning and working are dehumanised – when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform, we disengage and we turn away from the very thing the world needs from us: our talent, our ideas and our passion”

A New Model Of Leadership: Heart, Head and Gut

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”   Theodore Roosevelt

In order to future-proof our a leadership, we must consciously shed some of the conditioning of our past. In the past, leaders were rewarded for “head smarts” – being logical, calculating data-based decision makers. Creative problem solving skills has been added to the mix in more recent times. In some organisations “guts” make it into the mix. I believe that this “smart and gutsy” model of leadership is incomplete.

In the article ‘Neuroscience and the Three Brains of Leadership’ Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka share their perspective why we need to engage in all three centres of wisdom.

“Without heart intelligence, there will not be sufficient values-driven emotional energy to care enough to act on or prioritise the decision against competing pressures […] Without head intelligence, the decision will not have been properly thought through and analysed. […] Without gut intelligence there will not be enough attention to managing risks nor enough willpower to mobilise and execute the decision once challenges arise.”

I believe that leaders of tomorrow need to make important decisions first with their heart, through the lense of compassion, values and integrity, then use their head to figure out the “how” (using logic and creativity) and harness their gut courage and instincts to execute.

Care and compassion also needs to extend to how we look after ourselves. Too many leaders today are failing to prioritise and protect the “non-negotiables” that safeguard their own physical and mental wellbeing. Instead of flourishing, many leaders are struggling and wearing “stress and busyness” as a badge of importance. Lack of self-care in leaders creates dangerous cultural signals.

My Personal Journey: Connecting With CompassionIMG_3129

“Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’. Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’. They just use your mind and you never get the credit. It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it. 9 to 5, yeah they got you where they want you. There’s a better life, and you dream about it, don’t you?. It’s a rich man’s game no matter what they call it. And you spend your life puttin’ money in his wallet” – Dolly Parton

As a child of the 70’s, I grew up with the Dolly Parton song “9 to 5” playing in the background of my formative years. For me, this song became a kind of subconscious anthem for the working class, creating (at some level) an acceptance that work involved suffering.  I have spent the last 21 years in 18 different roles across 9 different organisations. During that time, I have had the honour of witnessing a great deal of human triumph, however I have also seen and experienced a heck of a lot of unnecessary human suffering.

I once reported to a senior male leader who gave me some feedback that I “cared too much”. He attributed his career success to “learning how to care less”. He advised me that if I had aspirations to climb into C-suite roles, that I also needed to learn to “care less”.  For I while there I actually bought into this idea – there was something alluring about the idea of being a bit more “numb” to the human struggles of the people you serve and lead. I suppose it felt like that might be an easier ride. On paper, my manager was a very successful corporate leader and had managed to climb his way into some very senior roles and very impressive job titles. However, over the years I reported to him (and later worked with him as his peer) I realised that I was very wrong to entertain the idea of “caring less” as a way to progress my career. I realised that caring deeply was vital to leadership success, the key was to “round out” deep care with logic, creativity and courage.

Using the VIA “Values In Action” tool to understand my signature strengths was a key turning point for me. Understanding that kindness and compassion was one of my “signature values” helped me to understand that to be an authentic leader I needed to embrace my kindness. This was incredibly liberating insight for me, as I had experienced many moments in the corporate world where “kindness” has been wrongly associated with being naive or “soft”.

Being good “on paper” is one thing. In the real world, the aforementioned leader with the “care less” strategy failed to garner deep loyalty across the organisation and as a result did not have a strong reputation for true delivery (the type of delivery that exists beyond PowerPoint and significantly and measurably shifts customer and employee experience). People simply did not trust him and the very first job of a leader is to inspire trust. Trust forms the foundation of our ability as leaders to lead through change and deliver sustainable performance. In the words of Stephen Covey “The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the key professional and personal competency of our time.”

Dotlich (author or Head, Heart & Guts and former executive VP of several large companies) has worked with “smartest CEO’s” and believes that the key to their long term success and ability to earn respect and commitment was “their willingness to do what was right rather than take the easy or politically expedient course of action.”

This idea of heart, head and gut leadership deeply also resonates me because of my career experience in the area of customer-led transformation. I have spent many years leading and guiding dozens of Six Sigma and Lean process improvement projects and I am a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.  In my early years applying Six Sigma, the impact we achieved often fell short due to the somewhat “elitist” nature of Six Sigma. It is an approach grounded in uncovering the statistical relationship between input and output variables and can easily create a divide between those trained to interpret a “R-Squared” value and those who are not. When I introduced Lean into my toolkit I was able to achieve far more significant shifts in performance. At its core, Lean is grounded in inclusive problem solving, harnessing the wisdom of the people who live and breath the process and demands that leaders “gemba walk” to go and observe where the work is done. More recently, have taken on roles leading  Human Centered Design functions.  Human Centered Design take the importance of emotional attunement to a whole new level, requiring leaders to develop deep empathy with the humans within the system. Empathy and compassion are the ‘tickets to entry’ for HCD  and the methodology demands that leaders deeply understand the unnecessary human suffering that bad design creates. Through this connection and understanding comes a desire to participation in the creation of a better way.

In Summary…

It is my strong belief that leaders today need to care more than ever before.  The ability to extend compassion to ourselves, our employees, customers and the communities in which we operate has become a critical success factor.  Leaders who continue to operate with an over reliance on cognitive skills are not equipped to deal with the complexity and ambiguity we face on a daily basis. The fear, ego and reactivity of ill-equipped leaders is a risk to healthy organisational cultures. We must harness the wisdom of our heart, head and guts to function in a connected, healthy and effective way.

 

The Shadow Side Of Being A High Achiever

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I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Women’s Leadership Retreat. It was a pivotal experience for me, but not for the reasons I expected.

During the retreat I had the privilege of spending several days with a group of highly accomplished senior female leaders. The cohort consisted of incredible women doing difficult and noble work across a broad spectrum of industries and government departments.

Over the course of the retreat as trust grew, many of the participants shared that they secretly wrestled with feelings of low self-worth.  For these women, the inner critic was an ever-present force and the imposter syndrome a constant companion. They struggled to reconcile these feelings with their high profile positions and as a consequence this was something that was really hard for them to admit and to talk about.

It deeply saddened me that many of the wonderful women at the retreat felt like something was “wrong with them” and so, they were suppressing their feelings or beating themselves up about them.

The teary confessions of one of the women there who was working in medicine and was literally saving lives every single day will always stay with me. She had the courage and vulnerability to share that she felt like she had no value in the world.

I started to wonder whether there was a connection between low self-worth and being a “high achiever”.

Is it possible that many highly successful leaders who rise to the top of their professions are propelled by “high achiever” attributes fuelled by a hidden shadow of low self-worth?

According to Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. there is a strong link between low self-worth and being a “high achiever”. In her book The Undervalued Self Elaine explains this link and provides guidance on how to navigate towards a new way of being.

“We all have an undervalued self buried deep inside, a part that can make us feel worthless. It may rise to the surface now and then or, for some of us, it may be a constant companion. It makes us doubt ourselves or feel shy, anxious, or even depressed. It results in “low self esteem,” the most common problem addressed by psychotherapists and self-help teachers and the root of most other psychological issues. It is not always easy to know when we have fallen into ranking and undervaluing ourselves even to the point of feeling worthless, because we each employ largely unconscious self-protections to keep us from feeling shame. (…) We have six main self-protections: minimizing, blaming, noncompeting, overachieving, inflating, and projecting. These self-protections sometimes allow us to stay unaware of, or avoid, our worst feelings. (…) They are attempts to fool ourselves, and perhaps others, about our rank. (…) You will have to strip them away before you can see, feel, and eliminate your feelings of worthlessness.”

Driving home from the retreat I made a commitment to play a role in helping leaders make sense of that voice inside their head that tells them that they are not worthy and that they are not good enough.

Most of all, I just want them to know that they are not alone.

I have written this article to start a conversation about this important topic and to share what I have learnt so far about self-worth and it’s connection to being a “high achiever”.

You can take this short quiz to understand whether you undervalue yourself. Building self-awareness in this area is foundational work on the journey to becoming a Connected Leader.

 

What Is Connected Leadership and why does it matter?

Connected Leadership-4

My personal purpose is to let my light shine in order to help people thrive and reach their full potential.

I believe that we must thrive in order to unleash the creativity (head), compassion (heart) and courage (gut) required to work together to navigate the complex challenges of our times.

Feeling connected is key to thriving. The concept of Connected Leadership acts as a “north star” for leading through the challenges of the current business climate, with the forces of volatility, uncertainty, complexity & ambiguity compounding and accelerating.

My understanding of Connected Leadership is continually evolving. I believe that the concept of Connected Leadership acts as a vital “north star” for leading through the challenges of the current business climate, with the forces of volatility, uncertainty, complexity & ambiguity compounding and accelerating.

I want to share my current thinking around the concept of Connected Leadership. This thinking continues to evolve and builds on the work of Harold Jarche.

Connected Leaders are grounded in a strong connection to themselves, others and the “bigger picture”.

Element #1 – A strong connection to themselves…

Connected Leaders have a high level of self-awareness and are clear on their “why”, their values and strengths. They are very clear on their personal purpose and this purpose acts as a daily guide. They feel comfortable dealing with ambiguity and complexity. They have the skills and confidence to handle the discomfort of “not knowing”. They are able to resist the pull of simplistic solutions when navigating complex, adaptive challenges. They harness and combine their head, heart and gut intelligence. They recognise and resist “busy work” and make time for important work.

Element #2 – A strong connection to others…

Connected Leaders are fantastic listeners and seek to understand before seeking to be understood. They work and learn out loud. They test their ideas with others and share things that would be helpful and do not let fear of judgement hold them back. They use compassion, empathy, transparency and trust to influence networked people. They hold space instead of taking up space. They are comfortable with vulnerability. They understand the importance of kindness. They build and nurture a strong network to stay informed about relevant issues and innovations within their industries and in the broader landscape. They have a tribe of trusted people and use this tribe as a source of energy and inspiration.

Element #3 – A strong connection to the “bigger picture”…

Connected Leaders are critical thinkers and highly curious. They are continually seeking, sensing, sharing, listening and scanning the horizon. They are also systems thinkers. and have a good level of awareness of the systems in which they operate and have a clear understanding of the roles within that system. They recognise patterns to make better decisions. They have the skills to talk about cultural forces in a way that keeps them out of the “too hard basket”. They can recognise and describe the cultural forces that help or hinder the strategic aspirations of an organisation. They talk openly about the “unspoken rules of play” in a constructive and kind way. They possess the wisdom and the peace of mind to hold all of this, whist maintaining a healthy perspective on what is really important.