That Philiping ‘Sound-Bite Wisdom’

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I haven’t done a blog so far in August and yet I smashed out six in June and two in July. The reason? Well partly a dearth of material, but primarily because I have got into very short-form posts to LinkedIn. They are pithy (some might say pissy) little truisms or nuggets of wisdom that pop into my head from time to time; sometimes at the most random moments. I write them on a flipchart, take a photo, post it and Bob’s your Uncle. I call them #philiped chart – a play on the word ‘flip’ and my name ‘Philip’. Clever huh?

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So over the weekend I paused for breath and had a moment to reflect. This reflection time had me pondering the sort of nano-second world we now live in. Everything seems to be about speed and expediency, meaning activities that are more contemplative in nature tend to get relegated to the ‘too hard basket’ or ‘can’t find time basket’.  We’ve all seen examples of the glib sound bite wisdom, especially LinkedIn memes with some words of wisdom, be it for life and happiness, or how to manage our company or make a million in a week. I’m dismissive of such banality but over the weekend it dawned on me (somewhat late you might think) that I’m caught up in perpetuating the very thing I dislike.

So instead of just lamenting the near demise of long-form and considered written matter, I thought it might be worthwhile considering the implications of the new normal and how it came about.

It probably started before texting and Twitter. The beginnings of this demise can probably be charted back to the advent of television where entertainment was brought to us in a lazy fashion. At least with radio there is the engagement of the imagination. Less books began to be read and before long newspapers – a very good example of long-form journalism –  were flirting with the idea of shortening their pages. First cab off the rank were the tabloids in the belief that their readership wanted their news in more bite-sized chunks. You are hard-pressed today to find even the quality newspapers (broadsheets) produced in the old large format. Necessarily this means more considered long-form journalism is less evident.

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With texting came the expediency of getting a quick message off while the thought or conversation was hot. The days of the well-penned letter well and truly behind us at this stage. Then Twitter forced us to be deliberately succinct to the tune of 140 characters although 280 are available to some. In business there is a tendency to applaud such focus. No-one likes a meandering meeting with no real purpose right? Caution is needed though because not only can little thoughtful communication be conveyed in such a few characters, but the compunction to be brief can deliver dire consequences. The infamous Trump tweets have wreaked havoc across the globe with traditional allies often getting flamed by him. Were Trump to pen his thoughts in a broader manner and expound on his reasoning for the position he was taking, then no doubt the end result would be less inflammatory. As a result of the current trend to brevity, world tensions are now much higher.

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Then came the memes and LinkedIn which was my starting point. A few words placed beneath a  picture of a tranquil lake, while on the face of it harmless enough, can often  be anything but calming for someone experiencing grave difficulties in their life. A glib line that pays no homage  to the travails, scars and complexities of difficult situations does little good and is patronising at best. Knowing that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ for example  is not really that helpful. It kinda suggests to me that the person dispensing this ‘wisdom’ has actually got that sorted and is reaping all sorts of benefits from doing so…a certain smugness comes through. What would be more helpful is a detailed exploration as to how one might get strategy implementation through developing and nurturing a culture whereby everyone knew the strategy, and was clear in their role to achieve it and worked assiduously to make it happen. Sure longer words but, more importantly, a lot harder to make happen.

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Recently I saw on LinkedIn the employability skills required to make us thrive in the age of digital disruption. Rather surreptitiously they all began with C. They were:

C – creativity;

C- critical thinking;

C- collaboration; and

C – communication.

That’s how this whole sound-bite wisdom works. There has to be some short sharp pattern. Like they all begin with ‘C’ for example. Life and management are much more complex than that, but perhaps that upsets the narrative and pattern too much. That had me thinking. Perhaps other letters of the alphabet might also be applied to the skills of the future. Here’s what a quick bit of procratiworking got me:

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A  – agility (agile’s very much on trend right now!);

A – adaptability;

A – ambition; and

A – awareness.

I got on a roll and then thought ‘hey what about B’. Bit tougher this one but came up with:

B – bold;

B – businesslike;

B – big data; and

B – build partnerships.

C’s already been covered so what about ‘D’

D – diplomacy;

D – decision-making;

D – delegation; and

D –diligence.

So you see it’s not that hard to be glib. The fact of the matter is that the complex nature of managing in an organisation, or leading it, requires just three things (isn’t this me being reductionist?):

  • A complex battery of skills, competence and experience;
  • Self-awareness of your own shortcomings to be able to recruit to cover these; and
  • A mix of determination, sheer luck and creativity.

As suggested, this incorporates a huge array of skills and experience that cannot be contained within one letter of the alphabet.

If we are to achieve in improving our business delivery and leadership, it is unlikely that this will occur as a result of a nano-second eyeball capture on LinkedIn. In fact, most genuine entrepreneurs will talk about the hours of hard work and risks taken in order to become the ‘overnight success’ from their ‘genius’ idea. The same is true of effectively managing people and strategy. This can only be done effectively through life-long learning and having a raft of theoretical and practical skills that are constantly added to and updated. At times LinkedIn appears, in management terms, to be the equivalent of classified pages of old newspapers that carried remedies for everything from baldness to hearing loss. There are no simple one silver bullet fixes all ailments here. There ain’t no Rawleighs for management ailments!

The best solution to improving your business outcomes and managing your people for mutual advantage is to have a means by which best practice is available to you in long-form. Having peers with whom you can discuss issues and challenges with face to face, rather than a ‘like’ or ‘comment’ from one of your 800 odd connections, is much more enlightening. That’s why I have joined the Institute of Managers and Leaders and that’s why I sought the Chartered Manager status. The access to quality advice, peers, long-form research and insights provides a great opportunity to keep current in a world increasingly bombarded by little snippets of ‘wisdom’; not unlike what I contribute to most days that distract and dumb down the complexity of modern management. Sometimes too much condensed wisdom makes me want to ‘philip my lid’!

What to Eat and What Knot to Eat

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We’ve all been there. In fact its de rigueur for the first speaker after lunch at a conference or seminar to make a particularly threadbare comment about the graveyard shift’. The implication is you will all be nodding off after stuffing yourself on the hearty food gulped down during the lunch break. This is generally aided and abetted by those delicious and tempting pastries served at morning tea. The fact of the matter is the speaker is right on the money and sure enough the audience will be dotted with people whose bodies jerk awake as they have caught themselves nodding off. It doesn’t have to be like that though. Imagine then, this phenomenon happening in the workplace every day outside of the conference circuit. Imagine it happening when high risk plant is being used on a site, precision manufacturing, or air traffic control. Imagine trying to learn key life-saving information on a training course.

An interesting article appeared in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) this week on companies (NAB, Bupa and KPMG all got a mention) who are getting rid of sugar rich food in favour of healthy options. A big part of their rationale is productivity and wellness. If you think this is just high paid HR people running out of ideas think again. It has been estimated (AFR) that the cost of absenteeism and presenteeism (at work but not fully on the case) costs the Australian economy $44 billion per annum. Put that into perspective – Queensland spends $17.3 billion on its public healthcare system.

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As many will know CTC has had a focus on worker well-being for some time. We are pretty proud of the initiatives we have introduced:

  • 24/7 gym;
  • Mindfulness training for staff and tenants;
  • Relaxation and sleep centre; and
  • Fitness classes.

In fact we were recognised for our efforts in 2016 winning the State Government’s Best Workplace Wellbeing Award. Our efforts have focused lately in the areas of nutrition and mental health and alertness. As I write this we are holding our very first Keto Klub where we will impart information and provide support to those wishing to explore the benefits of a new approach to diet (as opposed to dieting).

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There are those who will argue that obesity isn’t a workplace issue, but I’m not sure I can subscribe to that view. With respect to our own position we provide an on-site café and from here we feed our tenant staff, our CTC staff, students, visitors and course participants. We have a captive market on our Precinct. What we serve everyday has an on-going positive, or not so positive impact on people’s lives, depending on menu options we present. Things are getting worse at a population level for Australians.

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The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare who know such things state that one quarter (26% to be exact) of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2014-15. Alarm bells not ringing yet? They also estimate that two thirds of adults are overweight or obese costing our economy an estimated $8.6 billion in 2011-12. At the very least this is a health and social policy issue of huge significance so it’s easy to see how this could impact on the business world and why the business world may wish to intervene. Regular readers of my blogs will be familiar with my argument of businesses and corporations acting ‘in loco parentis’, as it were, with respect to what used to be the sole domain of governments.

As it happened we have changed our Café operator recently. While we were sad to see our previous operators depart after a number of years running a successful enterprise, that did provide us with an opportunity to re-think our approach to what we offer. How can we sheet home responsibility to the government to fix the obesity epidemic if we keep providing food that runs counter to a healthy diet?

Before selecting a new operator we sat down and worked through an ethos. We sought opinions from our tenants and the main building and construction Union. Guess what? They reported that they we grappling with exactly the same issues of the need for healthy food options for a workforce that traditionally has been eating food of lower nutritional value. Our thoughts can be distilled as:

  • You are what you eat;
  • Providing a range of healthy food that is both nutritious and able to sustain those workers who have manual jobs and who burn off significant kilojoules of energy through manual labour;
  • Recognition of the fact that very few attendees at CTC actually undertake the physical work where they do the high burn of kilojoules. This occurs after they finish their course and leave the Precinct;
  • Students are with us to learn – in many cases to get tickets for high risk work. We want them focused while training not drowsy from stodgy food;
  • Offering healthier options may provide the customer with that ‘light bulb moment’ that may see them want to explore better diet options going forward;
  • Buying local is better from a sustainability point of view and supports local businesses;
  • Reducing food waste is a good thing (Australians waste nearly $10b per year with the average household chucking out 14% of food bought (Huffington Post Oct24 2017);
  • Fresh food is better than frozen;
  • Sugar is the hidden killer so less is more across the food and beverage range; and
  • Fair trade is preferable because we know the provenance. Many attendees on courses belong to companies who have reporting obligations in the very near future under upcoming Modern Slavery legislation currently going through Parliament.

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I just want to dwell on sugar for a moment. Advocate group That Sugar Movement tested 291 employees recently who had no known health issues and found around half (52%) had blood sugar levels out of range. Clearly added sugar in our food is a major culprit and the area that needs most immediate attention. Even if you think you have pared back by having a healthy meal you may just find yourself trapped by a -on the face of it -healthy drink. Common place in our industry are energy and re-hydration drinks, many of which are loaded with sugar. Even pure fruit juice drinks will be high in sugar. The rule of thumb I use is 4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon…round it to 5 if your maths is not great! Let’s take Powerade or Gaterade, two popular sports drinks. Both contain 21 grams of sugar in a 375ml (12 ounce bottle) around 5 teaspoons of sugar. That’s probably the value of your hard workout gone before even leaving the gym!

So if you do want to provide food at a function/seminar/conference/training session, or be attentive at a session, what works and what doesn’t?

DO:

  • Have breakfast. Certainly NOT the most important meal of the day but it is if you want to be alert after lunch;
  • Eat smaller quantities;
  • Colourful vegetables;
  • Whole grains;
  • Nuts and legumes;
  • If rice make it brown;
  • Blueberries and walnuts;
  • If providing a sweet option consider sugar-free slices e.g. paleo treats;
  • Lean proteins;
  • Smaller portions; and
  • Water – lots.

DON’T:

  • Turkey;
  • Soy;
  • Eggs;
  • Cheese;
  • Tofu;
  • Fish;
  • White bread;
  • Cherries – yeah go figure!
  • Starchy food;
  • Chips, wedges etc.;
  • White rice;
  • Pasta;
  • Sugar intensive sweets;
  • Too much coffee – might keep you alert at the cost of dehydration; and
  • Big portions.

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 For longer-term alertness in your day job, outside of the conference circuit, there are a number of rules of thumb.

  • Don’t be pressured into having breakfast – being the most important meal of the day is propaganda – indeed intermittent fasting rather than being bad is good for you (seek medical advice first). It’s called autophagy and worth Googling.
  • Don’t eat el desko! You spend enough time there, your meal breaks should be just that; breaks from your immediate work environment. Employers are required by law to provide lunchtime amenity to enable you to escape your particular chicken coop!
  • Lots of water;
  • Moderate coffee intake.;
  • Green or other herbal teas;
  • Oily fish like salmon;
  • Citrus;
  • Eggs;
  • Beans;
  • Avocados;
  • Walnuts;
  • Berries especially blueberries;
  • Leafy greens – perhaps avoid Kale if not organic as this ‘super food’ has an uncanny ability to absorb bad toxins from the environment;
  • Bran cereal;
  • Dark chocolate – really? Yes but has to be real dark i.e. ultra-high cocoa component;
  • (this is my own particular addition to the list) left over food in your fridge at home. Depends of course what it is – a Domino’s pizza from Friday night may not do the trick – but we waste way too much food in Australia (see above).

Of course sometimes stress makes us less productive, so if you want to eat to combat stress add these to your list:

  • Asparagus;
  • Avocados (again!);
  • Blueberries (again -these babies are amazing!);
  • Cashews;
  • Camomile and green tea;
  • Garlic;
  • Dark chocolate (again!);
  • Oysters (not that practical unless you feel stress coming on in anticipation of how you might pay the bill);
  • Walnuts (again!);
  • Oatmeal; and
  • Oranges

The transition from a poor diet to a healthy one is not one that will occur over night. Drastically removing sugar out of the food chain is a similarly long road to haul, but the UK has already introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks. Alison Watkins, CEO of Coca Cola Amatil, has recently acknowledged (AFR June 7 2018) that this lies ahead for us in Australia too. Change is never easy; there will always be resistance to it because what we know is a great comfort to us. We get used to certain things like our diet and our chips at lunch time for example. It will take a while before our new offerings in our CTC café are fully accepted by all.

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We know one thing though and that is we are on the right side of history. Employers and those providing food into workplaces (as opposed to on the street food outlets where ultimately the free markets decides) have a duty of care to employees for their well-being. In fact, it’s a statutory requirement under our Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Everyone wants our workers to return safely to their families or friends each night. We should also want that they return home healthy so they are able to participate as fully as they wish physically, mentally and emotionally. A sound diet plays a key role in enabling this.

I also think, as a society, we want one more thing – that those who are attending courses to learn critical information, knowledge and skills to undertake high risk work activities have been alert all day and haven’t dozed off in that difficult first hour after lunch. Excessive secretion of insulin from starchy, sugar-rich food floods the brain with serotonin and melatonin and we inevitably succumb to that urge to join Noddy and the rest of his friends in la la land. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to us as they are demonstrating tying that essential safety knot!

The Lyonhjelm, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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A couple of things have happened in the last two weeks that on some strange level seem linked to me. There was the outrageous slur by Senator David Lyonhjelm against fellow Senator and Green Party member Sarah Hanson-Young. Then the other day we woke up to the news that the World Cup qualifying basketball game between Australia and the Philippines had ended in farce after a massive on-court scrap. The link? Well both were asymmetric responses to a provocation.

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That had me thinking about how drama -and those two events certainly were laden with drama.  It appears to be a much greater factor in society and the workplace right now. More than ever – and certainly not helped by The Donald – we are fixing our positions on subjects and then hanging on to that anchor point, often without much research to ground our position. Too bad for you if we aren’t in accord with some other person. Not only will they take issue with you on that issue, but they’re highly likely to write you off altogether. To some degree, I blame Facebook with the concept of ‘unfriending’.

Remember the same sex marriage debate? I listened to a podcast where the subject of unfriending somebody if you found they were on the opposite side of you in that particular debate, was the topic du jour. The ‘panel’ was millennials and their consensus was that you should unfriend without much regard and move on. Why waste time on people who don’t share your beliefs and attitudes was the commonly held opinion. It’s called tolerance that’s why!

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I also blame reality TV. Let’s face it, the younger generation have had a pretty strict diet of reality shows as the backdrop to their upbringing. At least the dramas of my generation with the likes of ‘Lost in Space’ and High Chaparral were easily recognizable as fictional. A consistent feature in each and every reality show is the concept of drama – more often than not fabricated or confected. In some shows the drama gets resolved within the arc of the episode, but you can bet your bottom dollar it will be there again in the next episode. Add to the mix that we are told we need to create a brand for ourselves and constantly create a narrative – read as dramatic story – and you can see how drama is now a constant in our lives. Your chances of being successful on a music talent show appear to be lessened if you cannot magic some story to pluck the heartstrings of the audience – whose phone/text votes keep you in the competition. No wonder our younger generation is seeking drama. It’s like oxygen to them.

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Back to the Senate. Without a doubt, both houses of Parliament are theatrical and all too often there are polarised viewpoints that are argued ad-nauseam at the expense of good policy, manners and tolerance. It’s as though, sometimes, we want to create the mayhem and havoc to belittle our opponent, or wind them up where their loss of control causes them to overstep the mark. Having watched a lot of sport, it is a tactic used in that arena sometimes to great effect to create provocation that results in a sanction against the provocatee and seldom any sanction for the provocateur. As we are currently in the midst of the World Cup football this brings to mind the response of Zinedine Zidane for France against Italy when he head-butted his opponent, Marco Materazzi in a World Cup final no less!  A classic example to prove my point. The provocation…. a racial slur, the response over the top and pretty much what everyone remembers from the event.

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In the basketball match I’m advised that the aggression by the Pilipinno players was as a result of constant jibes about the loss of their ‘super hero’ boxing champion Manny Pacquiao to Aussie boxer Jeff Horn. The response by Daniel Kickert, leading with his forearm, when a fellow player was roughly dealt with was clearly inappropriate and fair play to him he has since said he regretted it. Heaps of drama though right? 1,069, 294 views of the fight on You Tube to be exact and climbing!

And so it was with Lyonhjelm, who delivered a metaphorical verbal forearm to Hanson-Young. Excessive, inappropriate and not at all helpful. Why he hasn’t expressed regret like Kickert is beyond most rational folks but he is a wily politician and perhaps he is thriving on the drama of it all? What he missed with his vulgar riposte was the opportunity to focus on the provocation by Hanson-Young which as a result of the furor he created in the media has slipped well and truly under the radar. To label ‘men’ or ‘all men as rapists’ is inflammatory and does not one jot of good in improving the lives of women who are subject to sexual harassment, family and intimate partner violence or inequality.

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Hanson-Young may use in her defense that she was speaking her truth. She might argue she was raising awareness of issues of violence against women (especially in the immediate days after the death of Eurydice Dixon – read my previous blog). Raising awareness without taking action though is merely storytelling. It’s actions that really count. Caroline Myss put it really effectively at a seminar I attended a few years back. Someone asked her a question about their personal relationship and how the person could get their partner to listen when they were speaking their truth. Myss, in characteristic fashion, upbraided the person and commented that speaking your truth is pure BS. Concentrate rather, she bluntly stated, on living your truth. There is a great lesson here for our politicians.

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In society, and therefore the workplace, we are in danger of letting polarized views taint relationships that should otherwise be based on mutual respect, valuing skill sets of others, team effort and the achievement of common goals for the benefit of the business and thereby everyone within it. It is possible to retain friendships with people whose values may have diverted from yours. The danger all too often is we take one ideological perspective and extrapolate it for that person entirely, without checking first their views on a range of other issues. For example, a less than liberal approach to say same sex marriage may well lead someone to believe their old school friend is also anti-assisted dying without actually ever finding out. I’m forever surprised by the rich tapestry that is people and finding that within conservative perspectives there are often flashes of liberalism and vice versa.  Case in point is George Brandis who recently departed from the Senate. His  politics are of the right but gave one of the most effective and moving speeches against One Nation leader and fellow senator when she wore a Burka into the Senate to make her race-laden point. Go figure!

Let’s have more good manners in our political arenas, work places and communities. Taking satisfaction from being victimized and amplifying it to create drama is not where our energies should be going. Let’s hear less of the S words (‘slut’ and ‘shag’) and more “let’s agree to disagree on that” Lets focus on addressing real concerns within both the world of women and of men. Let’s reach out. To quote C S Lewis:

‘Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory, or one of unthinkable horror’.’ If we could just give a bit more emphasis to the former, we are much less likely to become the latter! Less witch more lion please!

 

Eurydice and the Confront of Modern Slavery

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Sounds like a Greek tragedy and in many ways it is. The outpouring of grief and outrage at the brutal rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon in Princess Park in north Melbourne has been remarkable. And rightly so. The response was partly assisted by Lisa Wilkinson’s emotional piece to camera on The Project making her point that women have the right to walk at night without fear of violence. Confronting stuff indeed.

So that was one of two things that happened last week that left an impression on me. The response at the vigil, which my daughter who now lives in Melbourne attended, made sure that this event will linger longer in both my and the public consciousness.  The other was attending a seminar about modern slavery. It might seem strange to link the two but in doing some research on Eurydice I discovered that in her stand-up routine on the very night she died, she quipped.

“I’m trying to be more optimistic, so I’m like ‘a slave society … that means no one has any rights. We’ll finally have gender equality. Equally shit – still equal.”

Funny, edgy; it was by all accounts how she lived her life.

The modern slavery seminar I attended was a precursor to legislation that will come into force later this year in Australia that requires companies with turnovers greater than $100m to report on modern slavery through examining their supply chains to ensure that slavery does not feature. It’s based on the lead taken by the UK recognising that slavery didn’t die with Wilberforce. In fact, around 40 million people today live in some form of slavery. Confronting stuff indeed.

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Like most Dad’s I’m sure, after the news of Eurydice Dixon’s tragic death I checked in with my daughter to ask her not only about her safety, but also how she feels when she is confronted with being out at night in public. It’s not the first time we’ve spoken about this, but this time her answers seemed to pack greater punch. My daughter has been followed at night to the point where she has been genuinely fearful on a number of occasions. She has been openly approached for sex a number of times including being offered money. These events have occurred in those transition areas between public transport and the streets beyond, a known danger area and a place where women start to feel on edge. They have occurred in public toilets they have occurred on a university campus. Confronting stuff indeed.

When you do not feel free to walk through parks, be it in the day or night, or are wary knowing you may be approached by men with inappropriate intentions on or around public transport, then to a degree your freedom is being curtailed. In a philosophical and arguably actual sense there is an element of slavery here. Confronting stuff indeed.

Some, particularly the Victorian Police, argued that women need to be more vigilant especially in our public parks at night and this drew the ire of Lisa Wilkinson. Not so, she passionately opined. Rather, she said it was time men stood up and spoke to their sons to tell this that this behaviour towards women is unacceptable. No-one can argue with this. Some of us are doing that and trying to lead by example and we should ensure that this gets recognised and modeled by others. Let’s not have this as a divisive gender debate where the agenda isn’t firmly fixed on a solution. In that sense the diatribe of Dr Caroline Norma from RMIT does not appear to be overly helpful in this space, in my opinion.

Not only though do we need to show right-minded leadership to our young men, but as fathers and, yes, employers – where we manage young women- I think we also have a responsibility to mentor young women so that what happens to them on a frequent basis doesn’t become regarded as some sort of norm. The old adage ‘nothing was meant by that, it’s just the way we are around here’ holds no validity.

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While we may not be able to police the streets, we can manage the corridors -as it were – of our workplaces, where behaviour on a misogynistic spectrum can and should be stamped out. Melbourne-based feminist Clementine Ford put it in her very straightforward way.

“It isn’t up to women to modify our behaviour in order to prevent violence from being enacted against us. It’s up to society to work together to dismantle misogyny and the particular kind of male rage that informs these acts of aggression.”

I’m a fan of Ford’s. In fact when young women leave our employ her book ‘Fight Like A Girl’ is my departing gift to them. It is no longer acceptable to have what used to be euphemistically called ‘locker-room talk’ in our workplaces. Long bow maybe, but this exists on the same spectrum that ends up in aggression and violence against women.

As I have often blogged about before, you cannot just leave matters of cultural shifts and norms to our political classes. Employers are now playing a much greater role in setting value standards, mindful always that reputations tarnished have direct impacts to the bottom line. Look at the recent spate of sexual harassment claims against partners in the big-end of town law firms for example. In fact many times the business world is in front of our law makers and social reformers. Take the case of ex Deputy PM of Australia, Barnaby Joyce where he had an affair with a staffer in his office. Such behaviour has been ‘outlawed’ in many businesses for quite some time before the government brought in its own policy. Funnily enough this hasn’t impacted on the level of sexual harassment though in firms with those policies around office affairs.

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Looking inward to raise such standards is always good, but we should be mindful that our behaviours through recruiting and procurement might well be adding to modern slavery another toxic form of abuse. I just want to bring to your attention some of the stark facts with respect to this issue that many thought had gone away:. Currently in the world:·

  • There are 15m in forced marriage;
  • 25m in forced labour;
  • 5m in sex slavery,
  • 4m in state imposed slavery;
  • 16m in private sector imposed slavery; and
  • It is the second most profitable criminal industry to the drug trade.

There are some industries that are more vulnerable to having modern slavery in their supply chain than others. These are:

  • Retail;
  • Fashion;
  • Construction; and
  • Beauty.

Fortunately, in general, the national rate of murders is in decline at around one victim per 100,000 people. Still this is one too many each time and we need to do all we can to ensure that we are not part of the problem. Unfortunately modern slavery is on the rise so we again, as business leaders, have a responsibility to interrogate in an authentic and thorough way our supply chains to make sure that there is no exploitation of workers. Maybe one can learn from the other.

Perhaps one of the ways of improving the culture and environment for the young women in our cities and towns is to interrogate our own ‘supply chains’ identifying those areas that are falling below society’s expectations and bring about changes at each level? As I heard at the modern slavery seminar…”be impatient – there is much to do”. I think this is apt for violence toward women as well.

In her final clip Eurydice has some lines where she says ‘I can’t stop worrying’. Until we stop worrying these problems won’t go away. Confronting stuff indeed.

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!