Five Blogs in Five Days…I Can Relate to That

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Well I got to day five of my blog-a-day for Men’s Health Week. There’s lots of areas I could cover in the last episode but I wanted to make some linkages to what I have covered this week, so am going to discuss relationships. We know from research that relationships are important in our lives. Good relationships are instrumental to our physical, emotional and mental well-being. The ‘big four’ relationships (in no particular order for reasons you will discover in a minute) are:

Our relationship with:

1)     Our self;

2)     Our family and intimate friends;

3)     Our manager at work; and

4)     Our GP.

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I was going to concentrate on the relationship with your General Practitioner (GP) – and I will get to that – but I went to a master class this morning and it broadened my horizons like all good master classes should. It was conducted by Rasmus Hougaard of The Potential Project. Rasmus has just co-authored a best-selling book, published by Harvard Business Review Press no less, entitled ‘The Mind of the Leader’. Based on extensive research across many countries, where senior executives were interviewed, (open disclosure – I was one) Rasmus found that there are three key components to extraordinary leaders who get extraordinary results. These can be summarised as:

1)     Being mindful;

2)     Being selfless ; and

3)     Being compassionate.

I would strongly recommend getting a copy because it really does provide great insight into how to be a better leader of people and thereby improving business performance. In chatting with Rasmus after the masterclass, I mentioned my blog and he emphasised the point that THE key relationship in terms of  our physical and mental well-being is in fact our relationship with our boss. Clearly I had to touch on that in my blog!

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Given the amount of time we spend at work, our boss can have a direct impact on our mental and physical health. This certainly aligns with what noted management writer and Stanford Business School academic Jeffrey Pfeffer talks about in his recent book called ‘Dying for a Paycheck’. A toxic workplace he argues comes at a huge cost in terms of morbidity and mortality and is a clear work health and safety issue. Managers as leaders in their respective areas have a very strong bearing on the level of toxicity in the workplace, given the culture is either set by them, or allowed to flourish by them. Clearly it’s an area where more focus is needed min addressing men’s health concerns.

The ‘accidental manager’ is often the problem. Frequently technically gifted, they lack the insight to realise that the skills that make an effective leader and manager are not technical at all, but rather the ‘soft ‘ issues like emotional intelligence, insight, reflection , calm, poise, diplomacy etc. Quite often these new managers don’t want to reveal their vulnerability, so fall back on the ego that gave them great succor as content and technical experts. Humility is the key here and the insight to know that it’s good to ask for help. No-one can drive a car without getting driving lessons. Believe me you can do way more damage in charge of people than you can in charge of a vehicle. Learning is paramount and it should be lifelong. Like for me today…I learned new stuff and I do every time I am in the company of people like Rasmus.

The second relationship I want to give some focus to is our relationship with our GP. This is particularly important to us blokes because we under use this incredibly important service. We will get our car serviced within a week of its due date but will put off regular health check-ups. Let’s face it, most of us have less knowledge about what’s going on beneath our skin than we do about what’s going on under our car’s bonnet. Seems the wrong way around somehow.

What if we had a GP with whom we shared a good rapport? I suspect we would be willing to engage with them on a more frequent and earlier basis if they would engage better with us. This is an issue I raised recently with the peak body for General Practitioners, the Royal Australian College of GPs. They have been advertising a lot lately promoting themselves as ‘your specialists in life’, quite possibly mindful of the fact that Ai is already out performing them in terms of diagnosis and treatment choices. So far I haven’t heard ‘boo’ back. A shame really because they must have conducted research in terms of how to engage effectively with their customers, especially men who are a business opportunity just waiting to happen? Before a GP has a practice, first and foremost they have a business. I would encourage all GPs that they need to think long and hard about how they engage with their customers, particularly men to avoid disruption. Ai and machine learning is here and if lawyers’ days are numbered, GPs can’t be far behind.

This would be a great shame because it strikes me rapport with a robot will be much harder to establish than with a human. This got me thinking as to how you might build rapport and get to a level where you have a friendly and trusting engagement with ‘your specialist in life’. Unless you are a contestant on ‘Married at First Sight’ you don’t get married without first building a relationship with your partner. The first step on this journey starts with rapport. If you can’t build this, the marriage is doomed. So it seems counter-intuitive to me to end up with a GP without having some sort of selection process. Otherwise it’s no better than those faux relationship experts who put the MAFS contestants together – and we all know their success rate! I think the best approach if you need a new GP is to draw up a list of what’s important:

  • Would you be more comfortable with a male or female doctor?
  • What age demographic would you feel more comfortable with?
  • Do you need a specialism? e.g. asthma or diabetes – many practices have a sub specialists who cover particular areas in greater depth.

Armed with this list of requirements then, I think the next step is to shop around a few local practices identifying those who might fit your criteria. Asking who specialises in Men’s Health is the next action to be taken. Once you know this you can see whether that GP or those GPs meet your earlier criteria i.e. age, gender etc. Most likely some will.

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The next step, I believe, will be some of the best money you can spend to live a longer, more active and fulfilled life. Book appointments to meet with your shortlist and simply chat with them. This will quickly identify whether they are someone you could establish a long-term trusting relationship with. If you need help narrowing the field, tell them what you are there for i.e. you are interviewing them to see if they will make your short-list. Those interested and understanding of what you are doing should make the list. Those who take umbrage should not. There is no place for ego or power gradient differences with your GP.

If you really want to turn the heat up in the interview, move the patient chair from next to the Doctor’s desk to the middle of the room and get them to swivel their chair towards you. This changes the power dynamic and disrupts what is known as the ‘sociology of illness’ where the patient feels like the child in a parent-child relationship. If they can get through this without batting an eye, they might just be the one for you.

Next you should really dive deep into what does their self-professed interest in men’s health mean for you and what does it look like? If I’m having a GP who specialises in men’s health I need to ‘feel and touch’ the difference. In my experience quite often there is no appreciable difference between a GP who is a men’s health specialist and one who isn’t. This surely can’t be right.

The final clincher is can you see yourself liking this person? Will you build rapport and trust such that you can will be able to tell them anything that may be bothering you no matter how squeamish or embarrassed you might feel? If you can get all these issues covered in an appointment then you are building a key cornerstone into your long-term well being. Be prepared to book a double appointment (GPs love those) and don’t be worried about not finding your ideal match on the first ‘date’.

We know that relationships are key to good health. They can help us avoid anxiety and depression. They can intervene before issues build to a point where suicide might be considered an option. They help us build resilience and nurture us through times of hardship and suffering. Relationships at work can help us flourish or flounder depending on culture and how good the manager is. Relationships play a pivotal role in our physical and mental health. As humans  we want to live longer and be healthy and happy. We can all relate to that!

 

Waisting Away

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In the run up to Christmas last year I caught myself doing something that was at once alarming but also strangely comforting. I was sitting in a slouched position in front of the television and with both hands gave my belly something akin to comforting slap. It was almost as if I had some contented pride in how round my belly had become. I reassured myself up to that point that my particular frontal protrusion was not a beer gut like most other blokes my age but in fact a diaphragm issue. If I just got my core a bit stronger my belly would be taut like in my twenties.

Hopping on the bathroom scales a day or so before New Year when those last minute new year’s resolutions are compiled – like – I’m going on a diet – I was aghast to find that I had blossomed to 91.1kg. Lack of a patent diaphragm and being naturally big-boned – my two escape clauses to explain being overweight- didn’t really cut it as genuine reasons for my weight gain anymore. There’s neuroscience in this space. As a protective mechanism we tell ourselves that we aren’t as heavy as we really are and we also use cognitive filters to protect us from the harsh reality that being overweight comes with some heavy penalties in the longer term especially strokes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes. That said, you can only delude yourself for so long before reality finally cuts through.

I carry my weight in a couple of obvious areas – around my neck and around my belly. Shame my fat collection centre for my body isn’t around my shoulders and arms. A shame firstly because I’m a bit puny there. Having a large set of ‘guns’ is something to aspire to and if hidden beneath a shirt the fact that it’s flabby and lacking definition isn’t noticed. The real issue though is that these two areas of carrying your fat are the danger zones, especially the area around the waist known as visceral fat. Fat that gathers around the middle – particularly for men – has traditionally been passed off as ‘middle aged spread’ or a beer belly as though there is a sense of inevitability about it. Medical science tells us that it is particularly bad. Unlike fat under our skin (subcutaneous), visceral fat lies in and behind the abdominal cavity. Lurking there it:

  • releases fatty acids and pro-inflammatory chemicals;
  • Releases these chemicals rapidly into the liver due to proximity;
  • Taints the blood causing problems in the liver including insulin resistance and steatosis, which is the abnormal retention of lipids within our cells

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Medical science tells us that our girth measurement is key to our long-term health outcomes. Carrying excess weight around our middle is a concern because that is where some of our major organs are, including our liver, kidneys, pancreas and intestines. Having excess fat attached to these is bad news. So my fourth blog for Men’s Health Week, as you will have guessed, is about our waistlines. Armed with the knowledge that visceral fat is a major health risk, the next step towards improved health is doing something about it. This is where there are no short-cuts. Dieting and exercise are the keys to reducing overall weight and in so doing eliminating your visceral fat. It isn’t quite that straightforward unfortunately. While diet and exercise are your choice and you will lose weight when you do this effectively, you don’t get to choose where your fat will be reduced. For me my weight comes off around my neck almost straight away but much slower is reducing my visceral fat.

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Today, as part of Men’s Health Week we invited Body Plan to bring their ‘body bus’ to work to measure a range of physical attributes (Weight, BMI, visceral fat levels, resting metabolic rate etc). Despite now hitting the scales at a more modest 74kg (yes over 17kg lost in 5 months!!) my visceral fat levels are still above the recommended level. I am now looking to focus my exercise regimen much more around my waist to see whether this stubborn fat can be burnt off. While not guaranteed it may be helpful to undertake the following to get your/my visceral fat level under control:

  • Cut out all trans fats from your/my diet because studies show that they store preferentially as visceral fat (foods like donuts, cookies, biscuits, muffins and cakes – all the good stuff right!);
  • Drink less alcohol – it is a beer gut after all but a better way to describe it may be an alcohol gut;
  • Do resistance training;
  • Do high intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Reduce stress because it produces cortisol which skews your fat towards the abdomen
  • Maintain good sleep hygiene which just means get adequate hours of good quality uninterrupted sleep. Less than 5 and more than 8 and your stomach will start to protrude!

While I’m not there yet, there is good news. Once I do have a visceral fat level that no longer constitutes a danger, I get to choose thereafter where my fat may accumulate if and when it starts to go back on. Visceral fat accumulates very quickly from two key things – sugar rich foods and alcohol. If these two visceral fat enablers are kept within reasonable limits it should be possible to maintain a healthy waistline going forward. Little did I realise all those years ago that getting wasted meant I was getting waisted! Now I know better my gut and health will thank me for it.

Health Warning: Isolation is Detrimental to Your Health

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One of my vivid memories of picking my children up from school – a pretty rare event I have to own up to – was observing the different waiting patterns of men and women. What stood out was that the women were clustered in groups and there was a gaggle of conversation and laughter while the men pretty much stood alone, silent with arms folded across chests. Women just seem to do this ‘tend and befriend’ stuff better than us guys. There’s a world of evolution that sits behind it of course. With men hunting on the savannas of Africa we would be either alone or in small groups often in silence or words seldom spoken. We would be alongside one another and not face to face. Women on the other hand, tending crops and child rearing, would sit around in groups talking and laughing constantly providing an audible warning to foe that they are a bigger group than their actual numbers might suggest. It’s a phenomenon I noticed when picking my teenage children up after dances and parties. With my daughter the car was full of conversation, everyone seemingly talking at once. Picking my son and his mates up was the exact opposite.

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So the third of my blogs for men’s health week is focusing on social isolation. In my first blog I concentrated on suicide and the notion that sharing your feelings and getting issues off your chest so they don’t fester, is part of staying mentally healthy. Perhaps the gender disparity in suicides (more men than women) is partly explained by our lesser ability at interacting and sharing feelings? But social isolation isn’t just about mental health. There is a growing body of evidence that is suggesting that social isolation has a detriment to our physical health and well-being as well. I was listening to the Big Ideas podcast from the ABC delivered by Alex Haslam who is Professor of Psychology at the University of Queensland. What he said was quite startling and worth repetition here. He claims that if you are over 50 and join just one social group/club today you will reduce the chances of getting depression by nearly a quarter. Wow. Sign me up!

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Haslam goes further claiming that being socially isolated could be worse for your physical health than smoking or eating junk food. Hard to believe so I thought I would check to see if there is any meta data to support this. Sure enough there is. Peer-reviewed research undertaken by Holt-Lunstad, Smith and Layton called ‘Social Relationship and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review’ published in 2010 concluded across the 148 studies they reviewed, that the influence of social relationships on risk of mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality. In other words, right up there with bad diet, smoking, drinking to excess, lack of exercise and high blood pressure.

Clearly these factors become more of an issue as we age and particularly if we lose a life-partner through divorce or bereavement. So one mate consoling another when advised that his partner has left him by saying ‘mate get over it – it won’t kill you’ might actually be factually wrong! Leaving the establishment of social networks and community until the back end of life is problematic for a number of reasons:

  • Established networks might already have been established making it hard to break into already tight-knit groups;
  • Your social skills may well have been severely blunted by this time;
  • You will have had to ‘survive’ until that time with little or no social contact meaning that you haven’t been enjoying the benefits that could accrue over the intervening years.

 

Many of us, and I think this is a gender bias here for men, run the risk of defining ourselves through our jobs and building social networks through work. The trouble here is they can finish very abruptly when the person leaves that workplace, or the workforce. It used to be a common phenomenon for men to retire and be dead a short time later from heart attack or stroke. Perhaps the causation was a sudden loss of social contact? There is another shortcoming of the work as essential social contact approach. Oftentimes the work social contact is a by-product of a working relationship where the focus remains primarily on the work, meaning the depth of the social connection is shallow. The ability to feel emotionally engaged and share thoughts, fears, feelings and aspirations are less likely to occur under such circumstances.

Then there is the issue of time. Where long work hours are commonplace there is little time for establishing and nurturing good social networks. Compound this with men being less able to forge relationships with other men anyway and there is a bit of a recipe here for shortened life expectancy. And sure enough men don’t live as long as women. Perhaps this is why?

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There is one thing knowing this and quite another doing something about it. One sure-fire way to address the issue is by joining a men’s shed. The Men’s Shed movement is amazing and a great example of men (mates) helping each other out. If we do see a closing of the gap in gender-based life expectancy I suspect the Men’s Shed movement will have had quite a significant role in it. For more information on your local men’s shed look here.

Best not to leave it for our twilight years though. At CTC we recognise that, so we have recently introduced an initiative called Social Isolation Prevention Scheme (SIPS) whereby you can take time out during the working day (up to three hours) a week to attend an established club or classes. That way, especially in the run up to retirement, these connections can be well-cemented. Many clubs hold classes during the day which would otherwise be unavailable. Having a common goal like learning wood work, or say lead-lighting, creates a foundation for subsequent social interactions, engagements and friendships to flourish.

The by-products for our business are pretty straightforward. A more contented worker is a more productive worker. A worker with social networks is healthier and more resilient in the face of stress and mental illness and the skills learnt , albeit in cabinetry or woodwork, have elements of creativity, working with others, taking instruction, supporting and problem solving all of which are transferable and high valued in the workplace. If we care about men’s health we should care about men’s friendships.

That Pesky Prostate

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Second in my Men’s Health blogs this week is a discussion about the prostate.  This walnut sized gland seems to have more mystery and myth surrounding it than any other part of the male anatomy or perhaps for that matter the human anatomy. Part of the reason might be it’s hard to get to  located in a pretty crowded spot down there. It’s our semen producer which is the transporter of our sperm and it’s alkaline assisting our swimmers to survive in the acidic environment of the vagina. Clever huh! As a possible ‘pub quiz question’ the base of the prostate is located at the top of the gland and the apex at the bottom. That is by no means the end of its quirkiness.

Let’s first look at the stats. In 2018 it is estimated there will be just under 18,000 new cases of diagnosed prostate cancer which constitutes around 23% of all new male cancer cases. Regrettably around 3,500 men will succumb to the disease this year. New diagnoses of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women are roughly the same each year, but more men will die this year from prostate than women of breast cancer.

Where the disparity really kicks in though is the spending on research. While broadly speaking death rates are similar between the sexes for prostate and breast, the research spend does not reflect this  ratio. In fact according to Business Week there is a huge and statistically significant disparity in both research dollars by two to one. In other words, around twice the number of dollars goes to breast research than prostate. It is reported that for every prostate cancer drug on the market, there are seven used to treat breast cancer (US figures in both cases).

We all know about lies, damn lies and statistics so it is worth pointing out that the mean age of deaths from breast cancer and prostate cancer are different with the latter being a more late-onset disease thereby being responsible for deaths in older men rather than younger men when compared to breast cancer. Also worth pointing out is the agreed efficacy of testing for both types of cancer. It is fair to say that there are now well-established protocols for testing breast lumps that may be breast cancers and some exciting genetic therapies are on the horizon. Not so much for prostate cancer where the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test is acknowledged as a pretty blunt instrument for indicating the presence of cancer, plus the actual diagnostic tool – a prostate biopsy – is still somewhat mired in controversy with how many holes to drill. The higher the number the more likely cancer that is present will be found, but so too the possibility of septicaemia and potentially death.  That said, there is good news on the horizon according to Harvard Medical School with multi-parametric MRI (MP-MRI) being a preferred substitute in place of some biopsies

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We could sit here and bemoan how men have drawn the short straw, or do something about it. Perhaps the key factor in the larger research dollars for breast cancer is the activism of women who decided something needed to be done and just got on and raised awareness and money along the way. There are seemingly no end of runs and walks for breast cancer. There are even breast cancer rounds of our national rugby league where the teams wear pink. There is a pink day for the McGrath Foundation supporting breast cancer nurses at the cricket test in Sydney each year. These red-letter days are in men’s sport no less. And yet, confusingly, there are no prostate rounds or prostate days at the cricket. Time that imbalance was righted methinks. Plenty of people are sticking up for the breast, but I cannot recall many advocating for that little old walnut thingy.  Perhaps Ray ‘Rabbits’ Warren or Darryl ‘the big marne’ Brohman at one time, but nothing much appears to have come of it. Happy wearing those beanies for brain cancer though! Time we took a stand!!

So here are some helpful hints about what to do. I’ve used the Harvard Medical School as a guide but, as always, seek medical advice as required.

Not surprisingly the advice to reduce the risk of prostate cancer is pretty much the same advice for good health:

  • Improve your diet;
  • Watch your weight;
  • Become physically active; and
  • Have regular check-ups with your GP.

I’ve always thought it was a good idea (all flaws aside) to have a baseline PSA done quite early. This means over the years you will be able to track how your PSA score is going. Always ask for the score from the GP and get them to describe the details of it so that you know what’s what. They can explain the difference and meaning of PSA and the free-t-total PSA ratio. This way you have your own record. Early 40s is my suggestion, but be guided by your GP. If there is family history then earlier testing may be wise.

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What if your PSA level is raised? Well first off you should have ensured that your bloods were taken some time (24-48 hours) after anything that could have caused an elevation e.g. sexual activity, digital rectal examination (DRE), aggressive bike riding etc. Once this criteria is met then the doctor may then suggest a DRE. I am always reminded of Andre Romelle Young (aka Dr Dre) when I see DRE written down. Believe me it’s no scarier! Quite possibly this is where the squeamishness associated with the prostate comes in. I’ve been at plenty of prostate related functions where there is a schoolyard titter when DREs are mentioned. Compared to what women go through for PAP smears, the occasional rectal examination is nothing to write home about. Lying on your side, knees brought to chest to allow the doctor to enter your back passage with a finger to feel the shape of your prostate gland, it is a slight discomfort for a very short space of time. You’ll be a lot more prodded and probed if you choose not to get tested and then find out later you have prostate cancer. A change in your sexual orientation after being administered this procedure has never happened ever. You can relax.

A DRE does not happen each time you ask to check your PSA score, in fact there is evidence to suggest that it is not helpful outside of those practiced in knowing what the various enlargements or normal prostate mean. You really do need to know what you are doing, so an occasional DRE by a GP may not be that well-informed an examination. An enlarged prostate does not necessarily mean prostate cancer and especially in older men may be benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). After 50, guys, our prostates are growing regardless of cancer. By 80, over 80% of us will have BPH. That’s a lot more trips to the toilet to look forward to!

Our best chances of avoiding death by prostate cancer are by leading a healthy lifestyle and ‘man-up’ and get tested on a regular basis, as agreed with your health care professional. That doesn’t mean you can leave it to your GP. You should at least co-manage your own health and medical care and being on top of things like prostate health is just a part of that. Later in the week I will blog about one of the most important relationships in your life – you with your GP. So lay back now – prostrate – and absorb all the wonders and marvels of your prostate.

TALKing about Suicide

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It’s men’s health week and I thought I would try to knock out a blog each day focusing on a men’s health issue. Why do we focus on men’s health you might ask? Well the fact of the matter is that women in the developed world outlive us blokes by almost 5 years which should be a human rights issue but isn’t. I guess we are too busy smoking and drinking and eating to excess!

One area where we as men fare particularly poorly is in the suicide figures. The profile of suicide has been raised lately, of course, with the news of the passing of both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. If you are a music fan, our world is all too often tinged by the sadness of suicide.  A little while ago there was news of the passing of Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Audioslave…the list sadly goes on.

So alarming are the stats that my team at work – myself included – attended a suicide awareness half-day course last week. It’s called Mates Connector and is run by the excellent team from Mates in Construction www.matesinconstruction.org.au Their aim is to makes the necessary connections and ask the hard questions to help prevent someone taking that final fatal step.

What was striking from the training was the ripple effect that suicide can have on families,  friends and broader communities. No participant in the room was untouched in some way by suicide, either within their family group, or some other connection. The statistics are quite stark and bear repeating. Broadly speaking Australia features very high on the OECD charts for suicide rates – particularly youth suicide. Construction, as an occupation is right up at the top, and our glorious and sunny State of Queensland has the highest rate in Australia. Get’s you thinking….

Statistics are sometimes revealing, so diving a bit deeper we know from the ABS that in Australia in 2016 there were 2866 reported suicides. Those knowledgeable in this field advise that this is under-reported by anywhere up to 25%. Much greater than the reported rate (anything up to 100 times greater) are the numbers of persons who report having had suicidal thoughts. This number of believed to be one in twenty.

Clearly there are serious issues we need to tackle in society. I don’t have the time to fully delve into why this is the case. Perhaps it’s the epidemic of anxiety or our lack of connection? This is the view of Jerry Reed of the US Centre for the Study and Prevention of Injury, Violence and Suicide who says men comprise around 75% of all suicides. He partly attributes our fast-paced 24/7 always switched-on world, as well as economic factors, loss of job security and lack of connectivity as significant causal factors.

Allowing others to postulate the cause gives us space to learn prevention and intervention techniques. The tools are at once easy and hard. We learnt the acronym TALK which stands for

T – Tell

A  – Ask

L  – Listen

K  – Keep Safe

The TELL is providing an atmosphere where someone thinking of suicide feels they can be open about this. Having mates, trusted colleagues, EAPs and a means by which we can identify when someone is doing it tough are essential ingredients in the mix here.

ASK is simply (and most challenging at the same time) asking this straightforward question – ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ This one direct question could be the difference in saving someone’s life. The advice we received was not to pussyfoot around it, not to take the edge off by calling suicide something else…just come out and ask. The research shows that asking this in a direct way does not encourage a suicidal thought to be acted upon. Quite the contrary. Of course coming out rapid-fire with this question is not the best approach. Asking should be done on the basis of noting worrying behaviours (or invitations as they are known). A really good means to broach the subject I found at the course was prefacing your comments by saying ‘I’ve noticed….’ That way there is a segue way to that key question. It could go something like this.

‘I’ve noticed you’ve not been your usual self lately and with losing your job and the breakup with your girlfriend…well I know people can sometimes think about suicide when things get overwhelming like this. Are you thinking about suicide?’   

LISTEN involves finding out more about what the challenges are and the mental state of your mate. It may be before or after the ASK. After the ASK provides an opportunity to show empathy and move to the next phase which is KEEP SAFE.

KEEP SAFE is about connecting the person to extra help. It’s not about solving the person’s problems. As life coach Barbara Sher advises use human are absolute experts at solving everyone else’s problems. This is NOT the time for this. It may involve ringing 000, dropping the person at Emergency, calling an ambulance getting a referral to a GP, a call to Suicide Callback or a connection to the Mates in Construction helpline.

Key takeaways  I got from the training are that you don’t need to take on the person’s problems directly and neither should you promise secrecy. A better option here is to say that only those that need to know will be told. It’s a difficult area but we should not be afraid of tackling the issue when we suspect. It’s important to have the awareness of the ‘invitations’ so that we don’t miss them, or dismiss them as being not serious or attention-seeking. Finally we owe it to workmates and mates to not avoid the chat because it’s ‘too hard to go there’.

As with any issue in the workplace, and our lives outside of it, there is a vernacular that can get us through difficult social situations e.g. when a person has suffered a recent bereavement. Having practiced what you are going to say is a sensible approach I find. Practicing that question ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ in front of the mirror, with a loved one or work colleague may well be one of the best things you can do. How often can you point to a sentence that can never do harm but can often save a life?

If you are seeking help some of the numbers here may be useful:

MATES in Construction 1300 642 111

Lifeline 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service 24/7   1300 659 467

When Winners are Sinners…

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It strikes me that a couple of the by-products of our self-obsession are this overwhelming sense of entitlement I’m noticing lately and this ‘win at all costs’ culture. We can’t necessarily call it an aberration because there are a number of factors that individually may not give rise to it, but collectively may just be significant causation. I can almost track it back to the selfie stick! Social media, and particularly LinkedIn, in the business context, has had a significant role to play. Everywhere nowadays we are told that we have to have a ‘narrative’ and be conscious of ‘brand self’. LinkedIn is, by its very nature, a form of selling yourself and with this comes the danger of self-absorption. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was desperate to get to the 500+ connections to prove that I’m no slouch in the networking game. How many do I actually know well, trust and cherish as colleagues or business partners…I’d be stretching it at 50.

You might argue that this is all a bit trivial and doesn’t really harm us in business or society.  However I think it has potential to do great harm and here’s why. With self-absorption comes entitlement and arrogance. A comfortable bed fellow with this is the ‘win at all costs’ culture. Nothing wrong with winning you might argue. We need winners. No-one wants to be backing a losing horse. No-one wants to be backing a CEO and Board whose company isn’t winning on the stock market. But there is a line we must draw in business and life where the pursuit of a win has to come secondary to other issues. The delivery of shareholder value at the cost of say allowing or turning a blind eye to modern slavery is but one example.

You don’t have to look far to see the unfettered pursuit of winning at all costs in our everyday lives and the world of commerce. Three significant events related to Australia have happened recently and while distinct and seemingly not linked, do, I think share a common thread of ‘win without conscience’. Firstly there was the ball tampering incident by the Australian men’s cricket team in South Africa. I’ve held off blogging about this until the heat has died down. There was too much emotion flying around in the direct aftermath for reasoned analysis. Of all the commentary I read I found that very little focussed on the ‘win at all costs’ culture as a causative factor. In short an absolutely mindless act was undertaken on the field of play using sandpaper to alter the texture of the ball to try and win a test game. Sure it was to get one up in the series but there are few clearer cases of a fixation on the target of winning, with all other considerations out the window, than this. All rational thought appears to have been missing, especially by the leadership team. What in itself would have been foolish in the days of radio, was clearly a complete brain explosion when the game is telecast in 4K definition live! When considering why they did this, you have to think in terms of risk and reward. Why would they risk so much? The answer lies I believe in the notion of both entitlement and ‘win regardless of how’.

Our players clearly have been told they are the best and they have a firm belief that the ‘crown’ is theirs by rights. At its mildest it manifests itself in the over the top celebration when a wicket falls or a century scored. At its worst players doctor the ball to gain an advantage. Underpinning this is an on-field tirade of abuse against the opposition called ‘sledging’. In junior sport if you caught your child doing this you would chastise them. We don’t tolerate it in the business workplace so it’s hard to see why we even encourage it in the business of sport. John Buchanan, the ex-Australian cricket team manager and now leadership coach, was early to hit the media decrying what happened and the parlous leadership that allowed the situation to arise. What was missing in his critique was the fact that the toxic culture that gave birth to this was very much in evidence when he was the coach.

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The second event happened at the Commonwealth Games. It was important to our nation’s pride that we won the most medals and ‘bossed’ it over everyone. So much so that at times I felt a little bit like we were living in a post war Germany – where the GDR used to dope up their athletes because winning meant so much. I’m not suggesting for a minute we did this but the fervour and ‘we’re better, stronger, faster than you’ zeal which is a disguised xenophobia was certainly tainting the air. But let’s not get too hung up on the Games. They are the friendly games after all where sportspersonship and comradery are the most important aspects. And yet I’m not sure that this was so. The marathon was a case in point. It was painful to watch the exhausted leader of the marathon, the Scotsman Callum Hawkins collapse just 2 kilometres short of the finish line. What was even more painful for me – at the friendly Games remember – was the sight of our Australian runner, Michael Shelley, powering past him prostrate on the ground as he stormed off to win the much vaunted Gold Medal.

My contention is that if we weren’t so self-absorbed with winning then he would have done the reasonable thing and at least stopped to check his fellow marathoner was OK. Not a hanging offence for sure and not worthy of the trolling he got some time after on social media, but still there is something there that got in the way of basic humanity and compassion. I can’t help think it was the same mindset that brought the sandpaper into play in the Third Test in South Africa.

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So what’s all this got to do with business, aside from sport being big business by any measure? Well my final example of entitlement and ‘win at all costs’ is now on display in the Royal Commission into Banking. CEOs, Chairs and Directors from the finance industry are being paraded in an almost gladiatorial fashion (at last many might add) before the Commissioner and what is being revealed is jaw dropping to say the least. Think of it as another sandpaper incident…every single day! We all suspected that things weren’t good in the sector and the remuneration structures incentivised bad behaviour, but to see the depths that have been plumbed by our elite strata of Directors and Executives is beyond comprehension. If you shook your head at the sandpaper on the cricket ball, your head must be spinning Exorcist style now.

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What we have witnessed and heard is layers of hubris, entitlement, arrogance and there is no finer example of a win at all costs attitude than this. In such situations it’s best to ‘fess up’. Strangely though, the cricketers didn’t straight away. In fact they concocted a half-baked story that didn’t hold water for even 24 hours. For Executives and Directors they too have been less than forthcoming, lying even to the regulator ASIC. They have deliberately misled us for years showing one face to staff and shareholders, and a different face to customers; yes even their dead ones! Every night we are blasted with TV advertising showing just how friendly the Banks are, how they help small business, or rescue us from the waves in what is confusingly presented as their helicopter. Their values statements on their websites are exemplars of how true values-based organisations should act…and yet it is a huge deceit.

The exhortations to be winners and promoters of ‘brand me’; quite often perpetuated by the obsession we have today with entrepreneurship have made us morbidly self-absorbed. We need to get away from winning without conscience. We need to become less ‘me, me’ and more community and customer focused. We need humility. We need less ‘super star’ Directors and CEOs who seem to be lionised in some media as though they are the new David Beckham. No exaggeration if you recall Alex Malley! Get over yourselves fellas and shielas – you ain’t that special or interesting. We can only hope that our sporting heroes and our business leaders learn the subtle art of winning and losing. Come at one through humility and the other through wisdom. Choosing which is which is the key. We should all work hard on doing the right thing. No-one really wants the stain of sinning on their consciences, surely, even if a gold watch, parachute or medal are on offer!

Hangin’ with the Next Jenneration.

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In the 1992 movie Scent of a Woman the main protagonists Slade and Charlie played by Al Pacino and a young Chris O’Donnell form an unlikely bond breaching their significant age and life experience gap. Each ultimately learns from one another. It wasn’t always thus. In times gone by the young learnt from the old – the basis of modern universities was established on the basis of learning from a master. The modern day apprenticeship system still holds strictly to this concept. About the time of the VCR remote control (Google it if you are a Millennial) the pendulum moved ever so slightly to the younger generation as the early shoots of being ‘tech savvy’ started to emerge. Nowadays it is as though the younger generation, our Millennials and those coming up behind them, have the knowledge and the older generations seek their advice in some strange real life version of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Not experienced that feeling yet? Try queuing at the Apple shop to get some issue with your iphone sorted and you know exactly what I mean!

The digital/social media generation are becoming much more influential. No recent issue brought this into harsh relief more than the news I caught on Bloomberg that a single message on Twitter by celebrity Kylie Jenner of the Jenner-Kardashian clan helped erase US$1.5bn off the market value of the Snapchat parent company. She didn’t tweet out by saying she had looked at the Snapchat fundamentals and thought it is over-valued, or their downstream growth forecasts are exaggerated, or anything of that ilk. She in fact said:

‘sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me…ugh this is so sad.’

Bloomberg went on to write ‘Whether it’s the demands of her newfound motherhood, or the recent app redesign, the testament drew similar replies from her 24.5 million followers. Wall Street analysts too have begun to notice, citing recent user engagement trends noticed since the platform’s redesign.’

In other words this next-in line generation of leaders, celebrities and opinion formers are starting to impact on the market. When a random tweet by a person, whose only claim to fame is infamy (and oodles of social media followers – 24.5m), can shift the market it is maybe time those of us who have responsibility for investment portfolios, both big and small, wake up and take notice.

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So I tried to do something very difficult – I tried to channel my inner Millennial. I asked Siri ‘how can I behave like a Millennial?  Not surprising perhaps – and in typical Millennial style – Siri just flicked me to some random websites with features like ‘Don’t Act Your Age, Act Like a Millennial: 5 Lessons to Leverage’ Realising I might have to dig deeper I gathered my Apple products around me – my iphone, Apple watch, ipad, ipad Pro, Apple TV latest generation and Macbook looking for inspiration. Still nothing. Then it dawned on me – if I could take one of the worst performing shares in the portfolio I manage and look at the company, not through the eyes of a seasoned investor, but with beginner’s eyes – in other words using mindfulness -I might just be able to morph my thinking to that of a Millennial. That’s just what I did and the results were profound!

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iSentia are a media analysis company. Remember the old Media Monitors? Well that is now iSentia. It has a current market cap of $241m (total number of shares by current share price). With headquarters in Sydney it has five offices in Australia, two in New Zealand, two in China, one in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Manilla, Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chi Min City, Seoul and Taipei. It was founded by Neville Jeffries in 1982, its background in the sale and publication of classified advertising and clipping services. Jeffries died in 2007 and it has grown pretty aggressively through acquisition ever since. At least seven I counted since 2006. Slipping out of Millennial mode for a second, any good business school course looking at M&A activity will tell you how difficult they are to manage and to derive true value from. Wesfarmers acquisition of Homebase in the UK, for example, (the subject of my previous blog) is testament to that fact. The share price of iSentia has fallen 50% in the last 12 months….enough said!

OK Millennial beanie now squarely back on. So what’s the first thing that greets me when I interface with iSentia through its shop window to the world – its webpage?  Keep in the back of your mind that this is a media intelligence and data technology company. You might expect the bar to be set quite high. The David Jones Christmas window looks a tad better than your local newsagent for example. Same principle. Well prepared to be totally underwhelmed. The opening page that is meant to entice a ’click through’ and further engagement leaves me cold. I get no sense of connection here. The font looks like Arial and the logo looks like the work of a year four student just learning cut and paste for the first time. Not an auspicious start. I’m a tenacious Millennial (a rare breed!) so I push on. Oh before I do a lesson from old school marketing 101. The key factor here should be not what you do but why you do it. It’s called your proposition. It must be up front and centre. It’s simple stuff – get the eyeball owner to ask a very basic business question – how can iSentia help me? They haven’t worked this out yet. The homepage below is what you get. Not a USP in sight!

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The ‘Our news’ is always a good place to click-through to. But wait there’s no news here. To get news updates I have to scroll to the bottom of the page below the fold in the website menu area to find a link called ‘newsroom’. It would appear that the latest real iSentia story relates to September 2017. Hey I’m a Millennial, we need to be fed more often than this. Surely something exciting has happened to the company (aside from its inglorious decline) since then?

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Just a personal thing but I dislike photostock photos which headline web pages. What you don’t have enough money to bring a photographer in to do a real job? Surely a company involved in media would get this more than most? Also why do I see this same person pretty much headlining the top of every tab page? It’s as though the budget for stock photos wasn’t big enough to get different pictures.  If iSentia is trying to present a multi-national look and feel there is no sense of the diversity of their workforce. Big oversight. OK let’s dive down into Australia. Not very promising…the font’s changed and it has a completely different look….physician heal thyself! It looks like internet 1.0 in here. Uninspiring and cluttered. Still no USP. More of the same ‘What We Do’, ‘Who We Are’ etc.

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Ah… I see a ‘Careers’ tab. This might be interesting. When you are in the tech and media intelligence space you must compete hard for talent. I’m special so what can you do to entice me to commit to you? Not much if you look at the screen shot above. A strange blend of pictures from photostock to what looks like a somewhat awkward smartphone photo taken at the rear of a bus…let’s hope it doesn’t reverse or some of the top talent will need replacing.  I’m assuming the tuxedo isn’t de rigueur for the office either – not even for dress down Friday!

Ok last shot let’s go to where the big boys are (and I’m using the word boy advisedly) – the Boardroom. I’m a Millennial so I’ll admit I’m not there yet…perhaps in six to eight months… Four dudes and a woman. Font’s different again of course but the most striking thing is the Chairman’s photo is different from the others as though an afterthought. Doesn’t inspire confidence. You guys are in the media business where looks are everything. At least get a corporate look ffs. As for the C-suite read above but only more so. One last attempt to dredge some value here I might click the ESG Report for October 2016 under the Corporate Governance headline. Oh no that entire page and all its hyperlinks are broken. I feel an emoji coming on….

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You could argue that iSentia is too busy getting on with business and turning around their ailing fortunes to spend money, time and effort on the store front. If Kylie Jenner has taught us anything it is we need to pay attention to style and detail. Millennials have their own way of looking at things and when they act the market can shift. It’s time to take off the beanie and loosen the top knot and settle back into my Boomer body…well almost. I’m not ready to give up the sneakers just yet – they are real comfortable. Rad man!

 

Going South with Wes farmers

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It’s not like me to do a purely business blog as my regular readers will know. But hey it’s a new year so let’s break with tradition. In a rare moment of foresight in 2016 I spoke to our brokers about our holdings in Wesfarmers (one of Australia’s best performing publicly listed companies) when I heard they were contemplating a foray into the UK DIY market. I don’t profess to be much of an analyst, but having spent literally years of my life in DIY stores in both the UK and Australia I can say I am something of an end-user expert in both markets. On hearing of Wesfarmers ‘ambitious’ plans for Bunnings in the UK I put our brokers on watch. When it was confirmed, a sell order went in.

News recently of the write-down of the UK division of Bunnings (a Wesfarmers subsidiary) finally vindicates my position. I’m ok, but by no means could you call me  a savvy investor, but I spotted the problem when very few others did not. Certainly Fairfax media didn’t (publishers of the Australian Financial Review). I wrote an email to Michael Smith of the AFR on this very topic in January 2016 and got the response back that then CEO Goyder is ‘notoriously conservative  with acquisitions…and I tend to think they have done their homework..’

Turns out they hadn’t. This had me thinking about cricket and our recent Ashes win over the ‘Poms’. At first glance there may be few parallels between cricket and retailing but let me argue the counter-point. In cricket barely any nation wins away from home. Pitches are prepared (doctored – is that too harsh?) for home players who exploit their superior local knowledge. Same is true for retailing. Local retailers know local markets and consumer patterns best. While the drive to do DIY might be a universal one, the patterns of buyer behaviour vary nation by nation. To think you could supplant your Australian based stores ‘lock stock and barrel’ into an already well serviced market thousands of miles away is folly.

What troubles me as an investor is that this now pretty apparent folly went unnoticed or unchecked,  begging  the question about what layers of defense were breached permitting this foolhardy decision to slip through the the keeper as it were! Firstly the proposal must have gone to the Wesfarmers Board. How on earth the proposal could have been given the green light by this august body of men and women with decades of experience in the business world between them is beyond me, and I suspect millions of Australian superannuation holders who each have a stake in Wesfarmers performing well. Wesfarmers has a Board of nine and by no means could you call this lot ‘knuckle heads’ despite making a ‘knuckle head’ decision that wiped squillions ( well in excess of $1bn) off the value of the business. I can only speak for my company but that would have me at home on seek.com.

Every Board of repute, and certainly my little old Board, has an enterprise risk management framework which is a risk blueprint for how the unhappy bedfellows of opportunity, safety and  compliance can get along. Nestled in this lengthy tome will be a couple of key nuggets – risk appetite and risk tolerance. By all accounts these were not considered at Wesfarmers and it alarms me as to why not. It would appear that this fundamental tenet of governance (governance 101), whereby the Board has a pre-determined risk appetite and this informs decision making, was absent. To have entered the UK DIY market against the strength of B&Q in a country in the northern hemisphere known around the world as a nation of shopkeepers beggars belief. To get that through surely their risk appetite was set at ‘we’ll give anything a crack’.

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There are a couple of possible reasons why the Directors (representing us as shareholders no less) were asleep at the wheel. The first place to look is neuroscience. Aside from ‘group think’ which most people are familiar with, there are a number of other strategic decision making traps that I would assume the Directors are cognisant of and  have strategies to ensure don’t arise. If optimism bias arose how was this checked? Did the Directors all wear the de Bono black hat on the UK Bunnings expansion idea? If so they can’t have worn them for long.  Did they snap shut the window of realism too soon because each Director thought that the others must know better if they were all speaking for the motion – a  phenomenon known as pluralistic ignorance. This is social psychology 101 which was exactly where I learnt it. Was there, what Karl Weick of the University of Michigan calls, consensual neglect? Or diffusion of responsibility perhaps? These are smart people. There are at least 16 Bachelor and Masters degrees in the mix according to their profiles (with the exception of Tony Howarth  AO who doesn’t include his qualifications). Come to mention it there are three Directors with Australia Awards (two AOs and an AM).  So I think I would be doing a disservice to them even suggesting that they don’t know this neuroscience and psychology stuff.

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There must be another reason. That took me to the Wesfarmers website and the Directors’ own profiles and I think I might just know how this so called ‘debacle’ (AFR 9 Feb) came about. A quick glance there will show that this is a very busy group of individuals. In fact their corporate governance must occupy much of their working lives and beyond. A rather startling fact for me was that between them they share 45 Directorships, or roles I would equate with being a Director and 11 Chair roles. Take out one performer who seems to have a light, but you might consider appropriate workload, and the average Board/advisory involvement rounds to 7 each! The US Glass Lewis Policy has a limit of 5. Rules of thumb around this in Australia seem hard to find but I recall Governance Australia saying once that three was a maximum figure and only two if you had a Chair’s role. Well under the Wesfarmers average.

I would have thought the cognitive capacity to consider and properly evaluate complex proposals brought to the Board table is diminished by the complexity and involvement in other governance activities. Putting the obvious question of potential conflicts of interest aside, it is hard to understand how the right amount of fresh thinking time can be devoted to complex, time consuming tasks that can impact the lives of everyday Australians when pulled in so many different directions at once. By the way there is a legal duty under the Corporations Act 2011 to certain obligations and fiduciary duties apply.

If Wesfarmers is to get this right and get their ‘swagger back’ (a la Andrew Formica) a good place to start might be delayering the amount of distraction that the Directors, whom we entrust as Shareholders to do what’s right by the Company, have in their governance portfolios. Let’s be honest we all want Wesfarmers heading north not south. Oops that’s what got them in trouble to begin with!

 

Cleaning Up Our Act

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Three years ago today Adelle lost her life; brutally murdered by an estranged partner who had been stalking her online and in person in the lead-up to the tragic event. Mother of two she was ordinary and exceptional in equal measure. She was also for some time my Personal Assistant and then an administrator in a quite remarkably creative and uplifting workplace before I left to pursue other opportunities. In such a happy place where imagination reigned supreme her light shone brightly.

Today I announce that while it has taken me three years to do something meaningful I am in the process of establishing a social enterprise for women who have suffered domestic, family and intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault. It is a business designed to provide empowerment back to the lives of those who have been made to feel weak and disempowered through the action of physical, mental and sexual violence – most often by those they know intimately.

Like any social enterprise it will start slowly and in a small way – the scale is important to allow those who participate in it to flourish as they determine it, best fitting their needs and the needs of their customers. It doesn’t need an overly strong hand on the tiller but we will be around to mentor and provide advice and guidance to give it the best possible chance of success.

So what is it? It is a cleaning company owned, managed and run by women for whom violence has been part of their reality. It is hoped that once it is up and running it can scale and offer opportunities for many who wish some financial independence and work in a business model free from ‘Weinstein worries’. ‘Ah women cleaning’ might be your reaction thinking that it reinforces some sort of misogynistic stereotype. We don’t think so and here’s why.  Cleaning offers the opportunity of flexibility for its workforce. For us, we don’t particularly care when the work is done, just that the place is clean. Those delivering the service can tailor when they do the job to fit around parenting responsibilities, appointments with their lawyer and court appearances as required etc.

There is a lot of work to be done to get it underway. Policies, procedures, selection, training, social media and other marketing to get lined up. Books need to be in place and all the other hard work that is standard before an enterprise hits the streets. We are there to lend a hand and I’m hoping other businesses will lend a hand too. Very shortly we will be starting to crowd source some of the capital costs of getting this venture off the ground. We hope you can help there too. Every small donation will have a huge multiplier effect.

So what has this got to do with business? Well quite a lot I think. Leadership in the realm of business cannot be solely isolated to the confines of business operating hours. I’ve blogged about this before; particularly given the distrust the public has in our institutions. Sometimes you need to give back in a way where others get to bask in the glory and benefit from the fruits of their own hard work. It was reassuring to read an article in the Australian Financial Review this week (6th of February) lamenting the decline of the public’s trust in organisations but noting that CEO’s have risen up the trust scale. The role taken by Alan Joyce of Qantas over the marriage equality issue was a shining example they pointed to. If Joycey can do it so can others and many do!

Taking on a social enterprise in a workplace that might otherwise be commercially focused can be highly affirming and demonstrate that when we pull together we can achieve remarkable things. Lessons learned and achievements in one area easily permeate to other business areas making the workforce more motivated and focused -two essential elements in managing an enterprise. In fact longstanding and respected CEO Andrew Formica commenting on the recent calamitous foray of Wesfarmers into the UK DIY market is quoted as saying that Wesfarmers failed management 101 by not engaging with their workforce. What better engagement than getting your teams to work on a common cause for good.

Sometimes there are issues that as business people – particularly male champions of change – we cannot ignore. With one woman dying each week from domestic violence in Australia and a hospitalisation every three hours it is right and proper that we make a stand in the workplace.

Wouldn’t it be great to see women invigorated, in control and feeling whole again, as if touched by the ‘magic’ that Adelle generated around the office seemingly without effort. You too can help make this happen. If you want to know how to help, email me though my LinkedIn page www.linkedin.com/in/phil-diver-a052575/

 

Woo Woo – the Mindfulness Train is Leaving the Station

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I attended the Mindfulness Leadership Forum in Sydney recently put on by The Wake Up Project. It’s my third time in three years so what has me going back out of free will to this and enjoying it? And why is it so much more appealing than the dirge of say attending the Green Cities Conference which I have to, to keep my CPD points up? There’s a few reasons and I thought it might be worth exploring these, especially if you are a conference organiser.

Firstly it is a good feeling to be at the leading edge of something. When things are developing fast (and mindfulness leadership is one of those things) then conferences are a sure fire way of finding out what is going on and in what direction sideways thinking is taking us. In my experience there are nuggets in them there tangent ‘hills’. Where the industry is more mature there are very few ways to present fresh approaches. Oftentimes in such cases the speakers are doing less startling stuff than you are.

Secondly and on the topic of speakers, the mindfulness ‘mob’ seem to be really top quality folk not only in their insights but the way they conduct themselves. They do not appear to have been in the ‘in crowd’ at school unlike many other conferences where there is a definite feeling that the popular kids ‘get the guernsey’. There is often a cookie cutter approach to the speakers with the insights shared being of a low value. Contrast this with the Mindfulness Conference where attendees appear to be somewhat in a rapture and pens are scribbling in the groovy provided note pads at some abandon. The authenticity, depth of shared experience and the baring of souls is what sets this group apart.

It could be easy to think from outside that the speakers are down from Byron Bay for a day or too and the attendees are sociology graduates who have joined a not for profit organisation. Quite the contrary. The attendees at the Mindful Leadership Forum are a mixed bunch but with so much in common; a sense that there is a better way to run organisations and that in using mindfulness and presence there is actually a formula for more successful companies. And they would pretty much be right. A survey of successful CEOs in the US recently found that they all meditated. What might surprise you is the Companies that send their people to this conference are the big banks, big pharma, big insurance, government, local government, lawyers, accountants, Virgin Australia and some NFPs too. The list goes on, but word is getting out: mindfulness works.

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To give a flavour of who spoke in Sydney there was Lawrence Levy (ex Pixar and Steve Jobs collaborator), neuroscientist and New York Times bestseller Dr Heidi Hanna, Britta Baumann head of C2C at eBay Australia, Richard Mogg from the Australian Army, Michele Bousquet head of Org Dev at GoPro in the US, Leisa Trestour Global HR lead for Accenture, Olly Bridge head of health and well being at Medibank.  In terms of putting on the conference, the advisory team draws from persons high up in the following companies – Novartis, Commonwealth Bank, Toyota Financial Services, Atlassian, Herbert Smith Freehills, Optus, Suncorp, Smiling Minds, Australian Unity and  Westpac. If it looks like I’m labouring the point I guess I am. This is not Mike’s Hemp Emporium or the NSW Buddhist Congress being represented here, although I am sure there were hemp enthusiasts and Buddhist practitioners in the audience! This is mainstream Australia advocating for something currently outer mainstream to come into the light.

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Jono Fisher

A hallmark of how Jono Fisher, CEO of The Wake Up Project organises the conference is that there is mindfulness in the way the speakers have been brought together and how they interact. Most conferences I have been to the speakers pass likes ships in the night and often their presentations will cut across one another content wise. Not so for the Mindful Leadership Forum because the speakers have a get together a day prior to the Conference to build rapport and share their hopes and wishes for their own presentation and for the audience. The respect built is mutual and I am sure the bonds established in this short time are often lasting, further cementing business and personal relationships built on the common thread of mindfulness.

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Chip Richards

The final standout is the way the day is MC’d. This time round it was Chip Richards, Creative Director of UPLIFT.  Unlike your run of the mill conference with a starchy introduction of the speaker read hurriedly off a cue card, Chip and MCs before him create a narrative using their own experiences, interwoven with insights from each presentation, linking, highlighting and bringing together the day as a sum greater than its parts. A rare thing but easily done if you take a mindfulness approach. If the day is about sharing honestly and authentically to advance mindful leadership, why wouldn’t you put the audience right at the centre of your thinking. As a pretty avid conference attender over the years seldom have I seen this done with such aplomb. In fact only The Design Conference comes close.

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We know that there are over 6,000 peer reviewed academic articles that point to the value of mindfulness practice for personal health and well-being and overall improvement in company culture and performance. As the concept of mindfulness and a focus on holistic well-being becomes more mainstream in the workplace so too will we see an uplift in creativity, productivity and stress reduced workers. Meditation as a core component of mindfulness builds resilience, boosts emotional intelligence, enhances creativity, improves your relationships and helps you focus according to Emma Seppala in Harvard Business Review (Dec 2015).   Fulfillment at work will become within reach for many rather than a vaguely ill-defined concept sitting impossibly high on a Maslow pyramid.

The challenge for The Wake Up team is to keep the content constantly evolving and the audience engaged as mindfulness and presence become more de rigueur. With my past experience to go by I have no reason to believe they will not rise to the occasion. Mindfully of course.