What a year.

Usually, looking back on a year is something I leave to the bloggers and the self-absorbed. This time feels different. So, at the risk of being a self-absorbed blogger, let me just say that 2018 sucked in so many freaking ways. Completely.

In December 2017 my 84-year-old father was put on a new chemotherapy treatment, which did not work. He had lymphoma with a life expectancy of 3-5 years. The chemotherapy paralysed him with muscle weakness, disoriented him, destroyed his appetite, and in a final insult, literally stripped the skin off his body. By January he was in ICU and on 10th February he passed away. I got the call at 5am NZ time from my sister at his bedside in South Africa.

I had known the end was near and had been applying for a passport and visa, as it would be my first trip outside of NZ as a naturalised NZ citizen. The passport was delivered to me in 1 hour, and the visa took 2 days. Both of these are miracles in their own right, but tragically the visa process was started on a Friday and competed on a Monday, and my precious father passed away on the Saturday in between.

The loss of a father is a bitter thing. Trying to be there for final goodbyes, and missing it by 3 days, is hard. 10 months later it is still a difficult thing to process for me. Part of the pain was its unnecessariness. The chemo regime was “new”; a bit of an experiment. My dad was in the unlucky tiny percentage for whom that experimental regime was toxic. He had a good life, and we were all grateful, but it was cut short in such a horribly painful and hurtful way. I don’t at all blame the oncologist – he was and is amazing; and was doing the best he could. Doctors like him strive to bring life to impossible situations; he is a hero, regardless of this tragedy.

This was compounded by a difficult work place situation. My boss was encouraging me to go back to South Africa (I wasn’t sure I could go, as financially we were at our limits and I had already travelled back two years earlier to say goodbye). He knew my situation, and told me that no matter what the finances that would be required, he felt there might be huge regrets if I didn’t go. He kept pushing for this, and at the time I felt he was being very caring, so we found the money by maxing out our overdraft and credit card, and I went.

When I got back after 3 weeks (I think it was the very first day back) he wandered over to my desk and handed me my notice of redundancy, owing to an impending merger and restructure of the executive team. “I had this in my desk before you left, but I thought you had enough on your plate” he said. Fair enough, but with all our finances maxed out and knee deep in debt, redundancy was a very, very hard situation to find ourselves in.

Finding the grace to be ok with the sense of betrayal in the midst of my grieving was a very hard ask; I am not sure I always got it right in the early days. I was never unprofessional, but I was hurting so badly…

So, by April, I had lost my father and my job, and had taken a complete and devastating hit financially. In all of this, I was 14,000 kms away from my mother and sister, who were of course struggling with their own grief (my mother’s grief was unimaginably immense after 55 years of marriage) and we were unable to care for each other meaningfully.

The following months of unemployment were devastating for me. The NZ HR market was tight, and living in Wellington, a government services dominated city, the opportunities for private HR work was very limited. Living on benefits is humbling. Truly humbling. Beneficiaries are all in the same boat together financially, on the bones of our butts and just trying to feed our families, keep a roof over our heads and prevent credit ratings going south. Sitting in seminars with every possible down and out sector of society, from recent ex-cons to drug-wasted middle aged ladies and homeless people, inspired me to appreciate that even in time of great need, I was still blessed in so many ways. But it was hard, and hard to be gracious in that time.

I found work in July, but a week after starting a young friend I had met through each of us owning a husky, unexpectedly committed suicide. I had been at his house the night before; we had chatted long into the evening about everything and nothing, until he got a call from some friends in need and went to help them restart their car somewhere.

The next morning, before 10, I got a call that he had hanged himself in his garage. I was devastated, and so lost. How had I spent 4 hours with him the night before and not seen a thing, felt a thing, anything at all? I still don’t have an answer to that. We care for his husky now, and the old boy is a constant reminder of that young life gone.

At the same time, I needed new glasses in July but by August the prescription was wrong again. I went back twice and was diagnosed with aggressive cataracts in both eyes, causing huge vision difficulties for me. With such a rapidly changing prescription, new lenses were decided to be a waste of money and I am still awaiting possible surgery to have my lenses replaced. My vision is now the worst it has been in 20 years and is getting worse every week. This will be a further, and huge financial cost on us. I have difficulty working and struggle to drive at night.

Marriage and parenting have been hard this year too. Most days have been an emotional drain on both of us. The financial strain has not helped, and at times we have been hard on each other too. It’s tough to find grace for the ups and downs of parenting, when balancing job stress, financial stress, grieving, vision difficulties. I have not always had the reserves I needed for these stresses. My wife has not had the best of me, not by a long shot. There has been very little to give, and that must change.

It’s good to build up reserves for tough times by looking after ourselves in advance, and having some steadying disciplines that keep us grounded. I will do this.

I guess through all of this, I have been running on empty for a while.

Like I said, 2018 sucked. But it didn’t take me down. Not even close.

So, 2019, bring it. I don’t have any resolutions. I just don’t. But I have some realisations; some ideas of making each day count more than the one before. I will try to love better, care deeper, and to guard my heart. I have kept myself from bitterness and anger, I will continue to do so. I will work hard, I will rest better and get back to nature. I will connect with people, and find the beauty in small everyday things. I will find time, space and grace to replenish.

I will love the Lord. He is worthy. With every breath that He gives me, I will praise Him.

Posted in Family, Marriage, Personal Growth, Spiritual, Work | 2 Comments

Healing from our Hurt

A well known story:

“A teacher was teaching her class … and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper. Then she told them to crumple it up, stomp on it, and really mess it up but to be careful not to rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it was.

She then told them to tell it they’re sorry; and try hard to make it completely smooth again. Many children smoothed it out, then turned it over and tried again and again to return it to its original state. She pointed out all the scars that remained after all their efforts. She asked them, “Can this paper ever be smooth again?” The children shook their heads.

A person may say they’re sorry, but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.”


This story helps to make a point, and it’s a good point, but it obscures a deeper, more meaningful truth. More on that later. Much of this story is good, and accurate – the wilful behaviour that hurts, scars and crushes; the lingering damage that is done, and the failure of “Sorry” as a healing act.

“What?” you say. “The failure of sorry?”

“Sorry” cannot heal anything. “Sorry” is “I apologise”. It connotes a recognition that our behaviour has hurt someone, and that we are repentant, or sad, or maybe even embarrassed at what we have done. But it is NOT healing, not by a long shot. And let’s face it, on its own, it’s just a word. Pretty meaningless. We all know what words are worth.

I am pretty good (opinions are divided on this) at saying sorry. I am not the best (opinions are not divided on this) at DOING sorry. DOING sorry is so much better than saying sorry. What does “doing sorry” mean? Doing sorry is the art of being sorry through our actions. Of seeking healing for the one we have hurt, by choosing to do things that restore their trust and their ability to believe in us.

In delivering hurt; in crumpling up another person’s soul, for whatever reason may have possessed us at the time, our actions (or our words) have revealed that we were, for a time, uncaring about someone else’s heart. Someone else’s happiness. For a time, it was more important to us, like an immature child, to deliver pain and hurt to another; to inflict harm. Maybe as a childish way of avoiding our own failings, or reacting to our own embarrassment, whatever. We chose inflicting THEIR hurt over feeling our OWN hurt.

There are three parts to restitution. Doing sorry is the first. This is the choice of the hurter.
Time, is the second. By the grace of God, this is inevitable. But “time” is not neutral. Its inexorable, yes, but it does what it does by the choice of the victim.

Do we want healing? Real healing? Or are we so broken that the desire for vengeance, retribution and grudges are nurtured and developed? If we are, then time, instead of bringing healing, brings the cancer of vendettas, stored up pain, an arsenal of hurts we throw in each other’s face the next time we are in pain? Maybe, though, we could be simply incapable of the vulnerability needed. I have met some people like this; simply unable to lay down their weapons long enough for peace to come; to allow others to approach safely. Too afraid of losing control, being dependent on someone else. This is a deep tragedy that can be so damaging to everyone – the hurter cannot do enough to say or do sorry, and even if they could, the victim cannot receive it.

If we want real healing, if we want restitution and reconciliation, not retribution, THEN time can be a healer. Our resilience and our hope restores us back to health. But to want this, we must want relationship more than vindication. Vindication is “I’m sorry I hurt you, but I am right anyway”. Reconciliation says “WE are more important than ME. I will give up ME, for US”

And the ability to heal – resilience – is the third. This also belongs to the victim. All the hurter can do is sorry. The rest is out of their hands. If the victim wants healing, then time will help. If the victim wants healing, then they will have resilience – they will be able to choose to return to health, to trust and to hopefulness. Resilience is the ability to return to your own shape.

The other day I was building a fence. I spend a great deal of time hammering in nails, and on more than a few occasions, the hammer missed the nail, or on the last blow there was a bit too much force, and the result was a semi-circular dent in the wood. There were quite a few of those. I looked at the fence, and it was good. But I looked at the wood, and it was not so good. I was definitely going to get a nail gun next time round.

A week later, after some sun, and rain, and warmth and cold, I went out again and saw that the dents were gone. The natural resilience of the wood, helped by some moisture, and expansion during the day and contraction during the night, had healed the wood.

The Irish have a lovely saying “The shape of you” as in “I like the shape of you” It’s a colloquialism that speaks to the way we present ourselves. I love it because it talks of our “shape” perhaps our physical form, but also our attitude, our passion, our preparation, and our self image. We all have a “shape”. And we choose whether we keep our shape, or whether we give it away to things around us.

I am reminded of another saying, that “We judge ourselves by our intentions, others by their actions”. If we mess something up, but we meant well, we give ourselves credit for what we were TRYING to do. But if someone else messes up, we generally ignore their intentions and evaluate them by the chaos they have created.

For real healing, we need to judge others by their intentions too. And make room for the very human reality that everybody fails, sometime.

Posted in Marriage, Personal Growth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Absolutes. Non-Absolutes. Truth. Love.

Today I spent an hour with a trans person. I am not sure whether they were transitioning, or intersex. No matter.

They were learning a new job, and I was the “guinea pig”. So we sat together for a while, and I watched them work. They were tentative, as to be expected, but I caught a few subtle glances, and I realised I was being watched, not just by them but by their supervisor, who was coaching them as they learned on the job. I guess, thinking back, that the learning might have been more than the skills for the job – it may, perhaps, also have been about how an openly trans person would be received. They got things done, and off we both went to our next project.

On the bus into town, I was thinking about this brief encounter. It changed me. I live in a world that used to be black and white but is increasingly grey as previously hidden or suppressed voices are finding their courage and their place. There are pockets of black and white, right and wrong, but they are less pervasive. This, I think, is a good thing. Very few things are worthy of absolutes.

But, that said, some things are. So this was a moment for me, of reality confronting ideas. Let me explain – and this is not a post about trans people. it is a post about truth. And love. I am not a philosopher, not even close. Every time I am tempted to think I am a disciplined thinker along comes someone light years ahead of me to remind me that I am not.

Christians, especially our dear religious caricatures in the U.S.A., and the odd cult here in NZ, trade in absolutes. It’s right, or it’s wrong. More usually, I’M right and YOU are wrong. In a nutshell, this is why a faith built on love, kindness, and sacrifice, is so despised. Even some denominations, self-praising their magnanimity, will find, underneath their facade of tolerance, an intolerance of those unlike them. An intolerance of intolerance, if you will.

I am a Christian. Not just any Christian, either. I’m one of those “sola scripture” ones, you know, the ones that really, really believe the Bible even if it makes them unpopular. The ones that reject other influences on their faith as far as possible (no-one is perfect, neither me nor those other influences, so why muddy the waters?) – things like tradition, and the writings of others (especially where those writings are clearly not in line with scripture, no matter how well threaded together the arguments are)

No apology, that is just how it is for me.

What does this have to do with our chance meeting this morning? Well, quite a bit. I was thinking about our two worlds, and how they are “supposed” to clash. My “religious bigotry” vs their gender fluidity. My black and white, vs their grey. And yet there was no clash. No fear of what was different. No judging. No questions. No offense.

Except I am not a religious bigot, as far as I know. My faith is not founded on “I’m right, and you are wrong”. Not terrified of different. Not uncomfortable, even, in the presence of different. I want to offer you something if your experiences have taught you that that is how it is likely to be. To all my many non-Christian readers, I want to offer you this.

Believing the Bible, completely, and accepting it as the truth for all life and living, does not make a person unkind, or exclusive, or unloving. Or intolerant, or judgemental, or biased. Or a bigot, a racist or a chauvinist.

Really REALLY believing the Bible, guides us towards kindness, gentleness, inclusivity, and love. Towards, hope, and well-wishing, and interest, and curiosity. Not idle, gossipy curiosity, but humble, teachable curiosity. Not like a “magnanimous” person dispensing “niceness” from a self-proclaimed pedestal of righteousness, either, but like a servant, a friend, a student, a co-exister.

A fellow traveller on life’s sometimes very rocky road, with its valleys of evil and death, disappointment and hurt. And mountain tops of joy. Sometimes we can’t read the map either. And if our faith makes us anything but humble, selfless and kind co-travellers, we are doing it wrong.

Feel free to hold us all to account. And feel free to quote me. 🙂

Posted in Personal Growth, Spiritual | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Me and American Politics.

This is pretty long. No apologies, read or do not read, as you wish. It’s a sort of a “mea culpa”, and also a challenge to myself and others. I’m OK with that apparent contradiction.

My interest in American politics has been quite a polarising thing amongst my friends (and family). Some of my opinions appear to be anti-Republican, which brings out the worst in my dear Republican friends, and their many friends, who do not know me but assume, usually incorrectly that I am anti-Republican and that I am judging them. Their very vociferous name-calling and abuse is centred on my apparent disagreement with their political position (and occasionally with my errors).

For the record, I lean towards neither Republican nor Democrat. It is unacceptable for me to be one or the other because I am not politically interested in either standpoint. Both are inadequate. I have no interest in winning any debates (true, but probably surprising. If that makes me a troll to some, so be it), I do not particularly care who is right or wrong, right or left. I am not “political”. I am reminded of Bertrand Russell’s sardonic but insightful comment that “War does not determine who is right, only who is left” In a slightly less “final” way, political disagreement will also never reveal who is right. It will simply reveal what motivates people and what their core values are. This is where my interest lies.

My hope is – always and only – to draw fellow believers to a closer examination of whether their political views, and comments and positions taken up publicly are aligned and synergistic with the Scripture we share and claim to be subject to.

Let me be clear, my interest in American politics has nothing to do with my position on any political spectrum. I simply do not have one. On any particular issue, it is possible to say I resemble a democrat, or a republican, but I think independently and here in New Zealand, I am neither national or labour, but my perspectives can at times and on specific issues resemble either. And both. And neither.

I have one compass, and one North Star that guides me. The Word of God. I am not perfect, and so my perspectives are an approximation of what I can see and understand of Scripture. And in this regard, I am simply it’s servant, not its self-appointed protector. Some may say “So what?” and they might be right. But others may say “It’s important that someone asks questions, and it’s OK that you do that.” They might also be right.

My conscience, and my position as a Christian, leaves me with no choice, in this sense only. If someone who calls themselves a Christian makes public choices or takes up a public moral – even an intellectual – position that does not resonate with Scripture (as I understand it), I want to debate this for a number of reasons, and if I do not agree with it after careful consideration, I WILL call it. As a Christian, I have a responsibility to be my best self, and (as accurately as I can), represent Christ and to call others to their best selves in their own walk:

– One, I am flawed and being exposed to other perspectives and being shown how and why they accord more with scripture than mine, is fundamental to my growth and spiritual maturity. Not only do I test preachers and teachers as per the Bible’s clear instruction, but I test myself regularly as well!
– Two, the other person is also flawed, and I expect the same rigour from them as they journey towards Christlike-ness. This is Biblical, as I understand it.
– Three, each of our perspectives has an impact on the world around us, as we touch those close to us with our thoughts and actions. With Facebook, Twitter and the like, our reach is exponential. It is unthinkable that the opinion of the average Joe could reach the POTUS, or the Dalai Lama, or the Pope, but since anyone can tag or hashtag them, it is possible. Our opinions may not carry much weight, but they certainly have reach. And to some they DO have weight. We must therefore be considered.
– Fourth, Most people are driven by a desire for comfort, and an appeal to base emotion, less so than intellect or even their moral compass. In that regard I treasure and respect the discipline of philosophers who deny themselves comfort and rest as they seek truth. I wish that more Christians denied themselves similarly and searched as hard for truth. It would add deeper integrity to their perspectives.

So I am drawn to the American political situation for the following reasons, and no-one has to agree with me or even respect it.

– It has exposed a deep divide in the interpretation of scripture. The same Scripture that I read.
– It has exposed a deep challenge in the link between, or the division between “Church” and “State”.
– It has exposed parts of the Christian faith in America as a political tool for votes.
– It has exposed the political ideal of America (democracy) as a malleable tool where the vote is subject to the power of money and influence, and it is thus more an oligarchy than a democracy. There are hidden, manipulative power bases in American politics, which no doubt exist in every democracy, but they are increasingly and more unrepentantly and blatantly on display in America. Manipulation is, in my opinion, very very evil. Sadly it seems part of the church has taken up a role in this evil.
– It has exposed what appears to be a deep hypocrisy in the American Church (if we read the same scriptures) in that the pursuit of social power seems to have become an end in itself and they appear to have sacrificed scriptural integrity to attain this power.
– It has exposed the danger that Americans do not vote for their future but for their past, (I think Trump correctly called this as a key element in his victory) and in America’s past, the plight of the oppressed, the weak, the widow and orphan and the foreigner amongst them, were not regarded highly, were not protected and they were discriminated against and exploited. (to be fair, this is a universal condition, but we (I) do expect more of a culture and society that regards itself as iconic). My understanding of Scripture prevents me from ignoring this, where ever I find it.
– There appears to be idol worship in the Republican expression of faith, and it centres around the worship of the constitution – a man-made, and provably flawed document. Amendments to it are also worshipped, but have been shown to be flawed too! Idolatry is generally agreed to be somewhat “un-Christian”.
– It has introduced a ”the end justifies the means” mentality into the American expression of faith, where neither the end nor the means can be found in Scripture.

I seek to explore these ideas with Christians in America who differ from me. I do this because I love Scripture, and I love Truth. And I love compassion, and kindness, and gentleness, and generosity, and I EXPECT the same from Christians everywhere. Not just towards ones who are like them but to everyone and especially to the different, the disempowered, the weak. I expect differently from non-Christians as they do not subscribe to the same authority Christians do. I expect non-Christians to be the best they can be in their world view, and absolutely Christians do not have a monopoly on these good values. We do however share a common REASON and rallying cry for our values, and that is the Word of God.

So there. To repeat: My hope is – always and only – to draw fellow believers to a closer examination of whether their political views, and comments and positions taken up publicly are aligned and synergistic with the Scripture we share and claim to be subject to.

Posted in Personal Growth, Spiritual, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment



It’s what happens!

If you are breathing, you are probably in some kind of confrontation with someone somewhere.  A manager, a colleague, a competitor, a sports person, family member etc. If not today; then probably tomorrow or next week. Confrontation happens. Its life.

I myself am not confrontation averse, if fact, given the right environment, I relish it. That may come across wrong so it’s probably important to explain what that “right environment” is.

I believe in the concept of confrontation as vital to human growth and development. I do not seek out confrontation unnecessarily, but I am always willing to embrace the positives of what confrontation can achieve, if it happens in a healthy, mutually respectful environment. It’s the mutual respect bit that is important. In the trial of Steven Biko, the State Prosecutor was pushing for an admission that confrontation equals violence and conflict. Mr Biko’s response in the courtroom setting was “We are in confrontation now, but I see no violence here”.

Powerful, mature words.

In my lifetime, I have been a soldier, a lawyer, and an active citizen of a really broken, really hurting society. I have been on the safe side of a gun, and I have been staring down the barrel, a trigger click away from death. I have been forced to watch as vehicles burn and precious people I know, get killed, as Trade Unions used mob violence to make a point. I have comforted rape and abuse victims and people who have lost their homes to senseless violence and animosity. I am no stranger to conflict, and violence.

As a lawyer and an advisor, though, I have also seen civilised and intellectually driven confrontation where sometimes violently opposing ideas (The same ones the Trade Unions killed for) have been tested, argued, compared and resolved by reasonable humble people with not a raised voice or fist.

Being in confrontation is not often a matter of choice, but our attitude in confrontation is ALWAYS a choice. I believe we should only engage in confrontation when we and the other party can maintain a strong focus on coming out the other side better, wiser, more aware, more connected and more informed. If neither party is willing to do that, or only one party is willing to do that but the other is not, then confrontation will likely lead to unnecessary conflict.

This is simplified, of course, but the more I think about it, the more I think there are only two real approaches to confrontation, broadly speaking. The one is “feral”; the other “cultivated”, or at the very least, civilised.

Feral confrontation is instinct driven, fear driven, insecurity driven, and it is about self. Self-protection, self-justification, self-preservation. It is survival driven, and reflects something of a “poverty mentality” – the belief that there is not enough to go around and that winning and coming out on top, is the only way to guarantee survival. It’s usually about control, about needing to be right at the expense of someone or something else. The word feral comes from “fer” the Latin word for “wild beast”.

So, for me to win/eat/survive, something must lose/be eaten/die. Generally, it’s a world of opposites. Live or die. Win or Lose. Succeed or Fail. Me or You. it is evidence of a world view where “I’m right, and you are wrong” or “for me to be right, you have to be wrong” is the default setting, and that sometimes means that its proponents are unaccustomed to or oblivious to the concept of mutuality.

Its what children do.

Cultivated, or civilised confrontation is the kind of confrontation where two people can use their differences to become more self-aware, more empathic, more connected and more constructive as a result. The word “cultivated” does not, in this case, refer to the deliberate creation of confrontation, but rather to the style, sophistication, discipline and habits of those who engage in confrontation. It refers to the civility and mutual respect of the protagonists, and their ability to choose a response, choose behaviour aimed at the eventual good of each other, as opposed to succumbing to the instinct for personal victory and a win/lose outcome.

It’s a world of synergy, of mutuality. Of “and”, not “or”

Win and win. Live and live. Succeed and grow. Share and share alike.

Basically, and bluntly, it’s about being an adult.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Random Glimpse of Excellence

Yesterday I witnessed something beautiful and worthy of putting out there.

Life takes many turns and we all go through some difficult stuff at times, and there are no exceptions. But occasionally the gods of providence allow us to overhear something that restores our faith in each other, and we can look at the world with less jaundiced eyes.

This is no great, world-changing blog post, and the conversation that inspired it is not particularly world-changing either. But I am a firm believer in the little things, like conversations over coffee, so if you like little things that can make a difference, this one is for you.

So I was sitting having coffee with a friend, who stepped out to take a call. As a result of that, with my phone off, I was looking around, watching and listening to the random events happening around me. I overheard this (summarised and anonymised, of course)

I heard two business people talking about a difficult situation. One, a client seeking advice, and the other, what turned out to be a prospective service provider.

The client says “I’m having some difficulties with my existing service provider in the area of ___, they cannot deliver what I am asking for with the flexibility I need. Can you help?

The prospective service provider says “I can help, but please tell me more about the situation”

The client then details to the prospective provider what has happened, and the provider listens and then says “Listen, I could easily help you. But I feel like that would be professionally inappropriate. I am not in the business of taking bread from the table from a colleague in the same industry as I am. We are all people of integrity here and we all deserve professional courtesy. What goes around comes around. Can I discuss with you what I think could be a better way?

You need to talk to X if you haven’t already, and make sure X knows how you feel and what could happen. You need to show X the gap between expectations and reality. You need to be open and transparent with X. What I would rather do is come in for a short time and provide support and mentoring to help X. Then I will move on, and we will all be better off. You will have the service you need, I will have some income, and X has a chance to continue the relationship with you at the level you expect. If it doesn’t work out, we can obviously talk again.

The client said “Thank you, that would be a fantastic outcome. I was really at a loss how to handle this without being a bastard but I feel that this way will be the best outcome for everyone”.

A handshake later, someone’s relationship with their manager, and therefore their career was safe, and probably back on track. Because of one person, and their mindset of integrity and grace.

The reason this conversation blew me away was because I recently had the misfortune to witness the actions of a person who exemplified the exact opposite of what I saw. The example of that sad individual has stuck with me, and seeing the opposite, completely positive example, I could not help but be inspired.

In this scenario we saw a person act not out of greed, or personal power, or to fulfil their need for affirmation and recognition. We see kindness, empathy, integrity and a strong sense of self-worth. We do not see backstabbing, self-interest, narcissism, manipulation, or any of those other things people do to each other to get ahead.

Now that manager was thankfully advised wisely and shown “a better way”. He reached out for good advice, and he got it. Good solid, wise advice. He is better for it. THAT is where us HR people hold great power. We are influencers, guides, motivators and directors of energy and values. In this conversation, we saw a consultant (not HR, by the way) lead his client to a higher path, even at personal cost to himself. He deferred personal gain to make a real difference in an organisation, and in some individuals life, when he clearly held the power, in that moment, to create an opportunity for himself, but on the flip side, hell for X and their family.

That manager has built the values of his organisation up. He has associated with a positive role model, and he has taken his advice and will now influence corporate behaviour towards creating a higher values base. Equally, in reverse, if the consultant had acted selfishly, the organisation taking his advice would have been led away from its values base.

We can read about a companies values anytime we like, we just have to Google “Volkswagen” to see an astonishingly good corporate values statement, for example. what we cannot Google as easily, except when it surfaces in the headlines, is what companies BEHAVE like internally. Lets face it, we all know that values statements do not create values. Intentions do not create values. BEHAVIOUR creates values, and values are REVEALED by behaviour. Accurately, all the time. Google Volkswagen again, but add in the words “emissions fraud” and see what pops up.

Someone once wrote “Show me your checkbook and your diary, and I will tell you what your priorities are”. Ouch. But those two things do not lie, and they DO reveal exactly what is important to each of us. In the corporate sense, it is very right to say “Show me the behaviour you permit and reward, and I will tell you your true corporate values”

I look around me, I read the headlines,  and I see a world poisoned by narcissism and hate, by people seeking opportunities out of a sense of poverty, of fear, to gather resources towards themselves at the expense of others. And then, yesterday, I looked around me and I saw professionalism, integrity, kindness, generosity, wisdom, grace and humility.

It was a good day. And it made up – more than made up – for the time when I saw the opposite.

Posted in Personal Growth, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The “Murmuration” of Change

I have to admit, I’m always a little surprised at the degree of confidence with which companies enter into change or realignment programs. The statistics clearly show that a huge proportion of change programs fail, either completely or at the very least partially. Despite this, most companies embark on change programs of one sort or another with very little regard to what will make them succeed. In New Zealand, especially, change programmes and restructurings are ubiquitous. They are everywhere, and all the time, and the stats are no different!

I have spent a great deal of time in my advisory capacity during change processes trying to get leaders to reassess the timeframes which they expect change to take place. I remember one change process but I was asked to do, where I was given a deadline of three months, over Christmas to completely realign an entire business – in fact, to merge two completely separate businesses and find them new offices. And fit out the new offices. And implement new logistics systems. And find a warehouse. And implement new warehousing software. And get rid of 40 people. When I spoke to the CEO about timeframes, he felt that he had assessed things correctly and that three months should be more than enough.

I promise you, this is true. I couldn’t dream this up.

Needless to say, 12 months later, and long after I left, the change process was still underway.

That’s just one example amongst many where the hubris of the executive team has been an important factor in the success or failure of business-critical transformation. I honestly believe that the two biggest success factors in any transformation process are the humility and patience of the CEO.

And by humility I don’t mean self-deprecation, or a lack of confidence. That’s not what humility is. Humility is, simply, seeing one’s self correctly. Neither underestimating one’s worth, nor over estimating one’s worth. And on the flipside of that neither underestimating the worth of others in relation to onesself, or over estimating the worth of others in relation to onesself. But a CEO or an executive team which remains distant from the change process is abdicating their critical role in its success. It’s not enough to deliver a resounding motivational speech about why, or to post up an impressive PowerPoint presentation on the process. Anyone can do that. Getting down and dirty will enable much clearer vision, much closer understandings and much better sensitivity to the fluidity of the process.

If you want to change your company, you can’t do it from the corner office.

And by patience, I mean the ability to move as fast as your slowest member, without losing inertia. We see this in nature all the time, and it’s surprising to me that we do not identify this dynamic as incredibly powerful in change management. Coming as I do from Africa, I have spent a great deal of time in the African wilderness, walking or driving near huge herds of animals – buffalo, elephant, wildebeest etc. Without fail the progress of the herd is determined by the speed and endurance of the youngest and the weakest. As a result, the journeys are planned for the safe arrival of the entire herd, not just the strong ones.

With elephants, the matriarch leads, but the second animal is always the young one. It’s for protection, and it’s for pace setting.


That is not to say that if we let the “slowest and weakest” in our corporate herd determine the pace, we will be doing a good thing. No doubt it is important to set a pace that will get the job done in a reasonable timeframe; and letting oneself be directed in that regard by outliers (whether weak, or strong!) is unacceptable. I would say that it is reasonable that in the change process there might be some casualties; or put another way, a process of culling, where people who are unwilling to change are presented with the ultimate choice – “come on board, or don’t come on board. Both choices will have consequences”. That is very OK, as not everyone HAS to make it through.

A leadership team invested in successful change will understand that they are trying to shift the direction of a large body of individuals. In a team made up of 150 employees for example, the change process should consider not just “the team”, but each individual member of the team. That is not to say that there will need to be 150 different change processes from companies point of view but without a doubt, there will not be just one. To some extent it’s possible to rely upon the dynamics of birds in flight (anyone remember the “murmuration of starlings” phenomenon?), where birds were described as behaving like “magnets in flight” – each bird affecting the behaviour of the 7 around it, to create an amazingly unified pattern of flight amongst many hundreds of birds.


But it is not possible to rely on this entirely, without making it a deliberate strategy, and that is a major factor in failed change processes. So in such a change process, I would suggest that the leadership team should understand that there might be 10-20 individual change processes that need to be deliberately embarked on in addition to the overall change process. These individual change processes would be targeted at key individuals who have high influence, both positive and negative, within the organisation. When they influence their immediate circle, the “murmuration” begins.

Like ants, who are trying to carry things that weigh many hundreds of times their weight, they work together to achieve the goal. They distribute the load, share the load, and get it done. The danger with hubris, is that a leader might believe that by decreeing change, or conducting a surface deep exercise, that they have done enough to initiate successful transformation. But the personality of a CEO is not sufficient to create change. Maybe for a Richard Branson or an Elon Musk, but most CEO’s are not them…

So it’s about paying attention, about getting help, about deliberately creating change agents whose influence one has nurtured and established in a positive way, or whose negative influence one has diminished or neutralized. About deliberately creating a “murmuration” using key influencers. And about making sure that the individual journeys of employees are respected and that resources are allocated to partner and assist.


Posted in Work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment