RESPECT – More Than A Song







You may be thinking Aretha… I’m thinking Louis!

“I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more,
Than I’ll ever know.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.”

When I hear this song it helps me to think on what is noble and lovely and right about the world. I think most of us remember the lines about trees of green, skies of blue and the colours of the rainbow but the words “They’ll learn much more/Than I’ll ever know” are the ones which resonate most strongly for me. They remind me that whether we are parents, teachers, principals or adult friends, we teach who we are; and those we teach are learning more than we’ll ever know from what we say and what we do.

Here is the connection to RESPECT. For ours to truly be a wonderful world, we need to have due regard for the innate dignity and worth of every human being (regardless of whether we like them or agree with them) and we need to teach this early and teach it often.

Campaigns in both Australia and the US which target violence against women, make clear the connection between adult words and actions and the development of respect in children. I think perhaps we need look no further than the child seats in the back of our cars, the shared jokes in our classrooms or the exchanges in some Twitter and Facebook feeds to get the same message.

Respect is an issue of the heart. It comes from a place of security in our own identity and manifests itself in an abiding focus on the value of others. Respect turns to wonder ahead of outrage, to kindness ahead of cruelty, to empathy ahead of mockery and to love ahead of contempt. These are the gifts we need to be offering the children in our homes and classrooms so that they in turn can offer them to others in both their present and adult lives. Perhaps then we wouldn’t need Sesame Street or our governments to do the job for us.

7 Things I’d Tell Anyone Unexpectedly Captaining the Whole Ship







In April last year, I posted a piece about what it was like being new to senior leadership. While I didn’t know it at the time, the analogy of the ship I used in that post has come to signify something deeply important as I have journeyed through a period of transition and of significant change in my world of work. It’s been a bit like sailing in a storm. The ship’s not yet at the shore but I can see land on the horizon. So here, I write about 7 things I’d tell anyone who unexpectedly finds themselves captaining the whole ship!

Take Your Sea Sick Tablets – the non drowsy kind…

Sometimes unexpected change can be traumatic for a community. Because communities are made up of people and because people are enormously feeling and caring, unexpected change can bring anxiety, anger, fear, uncertainty and distress. People express these genuine emotions in a range of ways and sometimes, in their confusion or hurt, they can be a bit mean. The adage, ‘hurt people hurt people’ is pretty accurate.

Here’s the thing; if you take it personally, it will make you sick. So don’t. Know that sudden change may bring rough seas and be prepared. You may find yourself pushed from pillar to post and back again. There are sure to be times when you’re not sure which way is up. It’s unpleasant but it will pass.

Batten Down the Hatches

Any good captain sees the storm building and commands the crew to prepare. This is not usually done with any degree of double mindedness. It involves strong, clear and specific directions. Faffing about will only make people more anxious. The message is that we’re well prepared. We know how to do this. We know our jobs. We trust. We have each other’s back. We’re committed to everyone’s success.

Don’t be surprised or alarmed by the first wave that crashes over the deck. It was inevitable. Brace yourself and follow your plan with conviction.

Empower Your Crew

Any captain who tries to navigate his or her way through a storm alone is an idiot. Any captain who doesn’t know the skill set and the potential of his or her crew is ignorant. Any captain who fails to release others to do what they do best is incompetent.

Your crew have skill sets. Create opportunities for those skills to be exercised. If you try to do it yourself, you will end up exhausted and your team will feel redundant.

One of the greatest joys for me in these past 12 months has been to give permission to those who lead with me. They have such clever ideas. I dare not limit them. Nor should you.

Keep Your Eyes Above the Waves

When your community is in distress, the waves appear to overwhelm. In truth, waves come and go. They do not last forever.

I grew up on a farm and in our family, we used to say, “If you look up, you don’t notice the pooh on your shoes!”. The same applies to waves. Look up. Look up. Look up!

I have an enduring memory on Wamberal Beach (NSW) growing up in the early 80’s. There was a storm. My sister & I stood in the surf holding hands as the water was sucked from beneath our feet. The wave looming above us appeared huge and overwhelming. We were frightened. We looked each other in the eye, determined to never let go, held our breath, then looked to the horizon. The wave crashed down. We tumbled. Our faces got smashed in the sand. Our arms and legs were akimbo… but we survived. We came out the back of the wave.

You will too!

There is no guarantee you won’t get knocked about but look to the horizon. Looking at the height and power of the waves will only terrify you. Keep your eyes above them.

Know That Storms End

No storm lasts forever. A storm can be hard to endure but in truth, it will pass. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Eventually your ship will pop out the back end of the storm and you will find yourself staring about in wild eyed wonder at the stillness of the water, the calm of the breeze and the colour of the horizon – but pay attention. You may not know whether it is a sunset or a sunrise that you see. Take the time to discern the difference.

Anticipate the Squalls

When I  described my year to a friend, he encouraged me to think of it in terms of earthquakes and aftershocks – the main event followed by smaller and less devastating events. Storms still sit with me and the image I have of a boat and waves is so strong, I can’t let it go. Rather than aftershocks, I think of squalls – sudden, violent, high pitched whiney things that have little strength but the power to scare those who listen to the noise.

Don’t listen. Look up, look out, point to the shore. Everyone on board needs this.

Remember it’s your job to bring the ship to shore

In this season, there is little room for the pity party or a victim mentality. Sorry, but it’s true. If you are a leader, too many people are depending upon you to bring the ship safely to shore – here and now, there is no time for the ‘woe is me’. Certainly, you will need to pay attention to your physical, spiritual and mental health – no question – but don’t indulge the describing or reliving the storm you have encountered. Once the ship makes it to shore and you have disembarked, there will be plenty of time for reflection. Raul Armesto says, The world isn’t interested in the storms you encountered, but whether or not you brought in the ship.

Personally, people’s journeys and the storms they face do interest me – I am overwhelmed with compassion for them – but I understand his point. There’s an end goal and it’s the safety of all on board. When that is what drives you, you will find energy and drive as you have never known. Leaders all, bring your ship to the shore and when all have disembarked, raise your glass to the horizon and declare, salut!

Tackling Tin Gods

I took the plunge and read the book!

After all the hype and the “Don’t think I can bear it if it’s not as good as To Kill a Mockingbird!” I jumped in anyway. Last week on the day of its release, my husband presented me with a copy of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s second novel. I was so excited I squealed out loud and proceeded to display my gift to anyone within a 2 mile radius.

“Look!” I said. “I can’t wait to get home and start reading it!”

Those within 2 miles seemed less impressed. Either they thought I was weird for squealing over a book they’d never heard of, or, and this was the majority, they were scared to read it. That’s right. Scared.

I was agog.

“What do you mean, ‘scared’?” There was even a late night email exchange between teachers.

It seems that those who had read and loved To Kill a Mockingbird were afraid they would be disappointed – disappointed either in the plot or the quality of the writing but, more than that, they were afraid that Atticus wouldn’t be Atticus. Now those of you who have either read the book or watched the film know what I mean. For those who don’t, Atticus is the father of Jean Louise Finch (Scout). A lawyer living in Southern Alabama in the 1930’s, he’s a wise, good and noble man who defends a black man wrongly accused of a terrible crime. The jury is all white. The world loved Atticus Finch even before Gregory Peck sealed the deal, performing the lead role in the 1962 film version of the novel.

Without causing any spoilers, the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman is indeed different but we do need to bear in mind that while the novel has been publicised as a sequel, it is in fact a first draft in which the publishers saw a different story. While I believe they were right to urge Lee to re-write, I don’t believe this makes the story inferior and nor do I believe readers will come away believing Atticus to be the dreadful bigot we begin to suspect.

The title of the novel comes from Isaiah 21:6 in an oracle against Jerusalem. In the novel it alludes to Atticus’ role as the moral agent of his time and Jean Louise’s disillusionment with the man she saw as a god growing up. Jean Louise’s journey is the reader’s journey. She turns and tackles the ‘tin god’ she had made of Atticus and readers must do the same. He is neither a god, nor Gregory Peck (sorry girls!)

So what’s the point of a novel review as a blog post? Simply this. After finishing the novel I was reflecting on Atticus’ humanity in all its flawed reality. I questioned whether I had made a tin god of my equally wise, good and noble father (a true and absolute gentleman by the way). I wondered about my expectations of others and how unrealistic and unfair some of these might be. And I was reminded that I am no man’s (or woman’s) judge.

What’s great is that in the end, Jean Louise chooses to see the good and chooses to love despite the imperfection. What an example to us. When we are disappointed, even shocked, by the flaws in others we have never been previously aware of, by the raw and sin affected nature of humanity, let’s choose to see as God sees – as hard as that may be. Not the disappointing and unreliable but the redeemed – the restored – perhaps even the reconciled.

6 Things I’d Tell Anyone New to Senior Leadership


6 Things I’d tell Anyone New to Senior Leadership.

Life is a great teacher.

When I was pregnant with my first child I used to wonder what on earth people did all day when they were at home with a baby. “How hard could it be?” I reasoned. Sleep deprived and feeling victorious if I made it out to the letter box before 4 in the afternoon, I had a completely different understanding some weeks later! There were many pieces of advice people gave to me in those weeks, some of it helpful, some of it not, but the life journey itself taught me more than I could otherwise have known. As I draw to the close of my first term heading a school campus, while I feel a bit like the chipmunk in the picture, I am again reflecting on what I have learned from this particular life journey… things I couldn’t know outside the act of stepping into the role. These are the 6 things I’d tell anyone new to a senior leadership role.

Walk in the authority you have.

Your people want you to lead. Don’t let them down. This is not about lording it over them or behaving in an autocratic, non-consultative manner. It is about being secure in the job you’ve been asked to do – caring more about the people you lead and leading them in the right direction than you do about what people think of you. Have you game face on. Be strong and just do it.

Go down on the deck but remember you need to steer the ship.

Don’t be ‘Captain Fluffy’ (West Wing fans will understand this). While it is important to roll up your sleeves and get involved, to be a servant leader, it’s not the job of the ship’s captain to be scrubbing the decks. By all means, grab a brush and get in and help from time to time but if you stay there failing to set the direction and steer the course, you’ll either end up on the rocks or face a mutiny. You need to be where people expect to find you when they need you the most. Be there. It’s your job.

Speak truth into the negative thoughts that tell you you can’t.

Sometimes things can feel so overwhelming… or can BE so overwhelming… that self-doubt creeps in. Thoughts turn to the negative – “What were they thinking asking me to do this?” “I have got no idea what I am doing!” “Any minute now, someone is going to see what I’m really like and then everyone will know I’m a fraud.” “I can’t do this!” The truth is, you can and you must. Senior leadership is about doing the hard stuff. Negative self-talk is paralysing. Don’t indulge in it. Speak the truth over it, out loud if necessary – I am not a fraud. I have skills, talents and the passion to do this. I am learning to do the things I’ve never done before. I’ve been asked to do this. I can and I will.

Make decisions. Period.

Being indecisive is one of the cruellest things you can be with your team. It leaves everyone confused and everything undone. There is an extraordinary scene in the mini-series, Band of Brothers, in which a poorly appointed leader can’t decide what to do in the heat of battle. He vacillates and cowers in the face of making a hard decision and in the process gets himself and many of his men killed. In the end a decisive leader gives a command with such strength that those carrying it out do so without fear and with success. Sometimes, even a poor decision can be better than no decision, because after all, we learn from mistakes. We don’t learn anything from nothing.

Your leadership will rise or fall on two things: character and judgement

All leaders need a good moral compass. There is no place in senior leadership for cowardice, dishonesty, misplaced loyalty or insincerity. When you act on principle, speak with candour, deal honourably with others and determine to take the path of incorruptibility you win respect and earn trust. Seek wise counsel to help you make judgements based on what is just, with the big picture in mind and the best interests of all uppermost in your thoughts. This is rarely easy. It is often costly. It is essential.

Conflict in Inevitable

Conflict is confronting and uncomfortable. Sometimes you will need to do and say things people don’t like. Early on in my leadership, my husband gave me a mug. Emblazoned across the front are the words, “Put your big girl panties on and just do it!” Learning to take the hard road, the right road, the necessary road can be painful but the health of your community or company may depend on it. Sometimes it may only be your conscience that knows it was right and that needs to be enough. Know this and be prepared.

Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps via Compfight cc

We teach who we are – Parker Palmer