Thought 8: How much do you care about “failing”?

Many of us have a lot of self value vested in delivering the best we possibly can – that is in “not failing”.  And when it happens we can take it to heart, overwork and ruin our health and relationships.

Is it really your fault when your software is implemented with bugs because the requirements were not known until too late and the project testing could not be completed before a delivery date that was not shifted?  Is that failing?  Or is that an experience for the whole organisation to learn from for next time?

Quality is an attribute that is a shared responsibility.  Yes if you had more time you would have delivered better software.  No doubt.  Ultimately though, as team games go and IT is a team sport, you can do your individual best and the outcome is less than optimal.

Please don’t take it to heart. 

Instead, encourage an open conversation with all parties to learn from what happened and how it could be better next time. 

If your organisation can create a safe space for honest feedback to be heard and acted upon, then it is an opportunity for everyone to grow.  It is not failing.

Thought 7: Delivering technology is complex…. So have an open mind, ask questions and experiment

You are on track to delivering exciting new technology capability for your business.

You have been working your team hard to build the capability – develop the software, stand up the infrastructure, test the integrated solution, validate the security.  The list goes on. 

You have drawn on your experience and best practice to deliver quality.  And you can see the end in sight.  How confident are you that your product will actually be used?  The way you have designed it?

Delivering new technology successfully calls for more than technology expertise – it all about how you work with people across business and technology domains in your organisation and how much you know about the people who will use your product.  This stuff is “complex” and it pays to keep an open mind, be curious and ask lots of questions.  Because when complexity is involved, the system is not predictable and it is not possible to have foresight.  It is only with hindsight that you can see which decisions worked.

So don’t be afraid to try small experiments throughout the project. Experiments that optimise your decision making - whether they “succeed or fail”.  Experiments that are low cost – even thought experiments or scenario testing that can reveal your unknown assumptions or unconscious biases about how people relate to the system you are working with.  You may not need to “build” anything. 

Better to find out early that the design needs to be changed rather than waiting until delivery and a less than successful result.   

Thought 6: Listen deeply when women speak up, to overcome your unconscious bias

Being willing to speak up in team meetings is a defining behaviour of emerging leadership – especially when you are offering ideas for improving the work of the team, as opposed to talking about problems.  In doing so you are likely to be seen as someone who can serve the team by helping them change positively to achieve their goals.   You are likely to increase your influence in the team, and gain respect from your peers.  To become an emerging leader.

We all like to think that we listen equally to everyone.  However recent research by Elizabeth J McClean et. al. have found that while “men who spoke up with ideas were seen as having higher status and were more likely to emerge as leaders, women did not receive any benefits in status or leader emergence from speaking up.”  This was regardless of whether the listener was a man or a woman.

What does this mean for team managers?  And team members?  Especially in technology and engineering contexts where women are significantly outnumbered by men?

It means that each of us needs to be aware of this unconscious bias and learn to really listen to women when they contribute in meetings.  Really listen deeply and consciously.  Only then will we be giving emerging women leaders the leadership voice they deserve.


Source: McClean, Elizabeth & Martin, Sean & Emich, Kyle & Woodruff, Todd. (2017). “The social consequences of voice: An examination of voice type and gender on status and subsequent leader emergence.” Academy of Management Journal. amj.2016.0148. 10.5465/amj.2016.0148.

Thought 5: Intent and Impact - Pause before you react

Someone has startled you.  What it something they said or did?  Did you feel the shot of adrenaline through your body?  Your heart beat pick up?  Did you catch your emotions as they rose up?  The shock, the fear, the anger?  Where are you feeling it in your body?  The pit of your stomach?  The tension in your shoulders?  

When this happens, before we know it we have reacted: we may have fled the scene, or we may have shouted, or we may have blamed someone.

Better to become aware of this as it happens and pause if you can – take a breath, centre yourself and turn to gaze gently at the person.  Calmly ask a question to discover whether the impact on you is what was intended.  Most often it is not, and it is better to seek clarification before reacting.

Thought 4: Using powerful poses to speak with confidence

How can it be that when we adopt one or more power poses that we are more likely to also speak confidently and be more successful in getting our message across?  

Recent research has shown that when we use our body to strike a powerful pose, it can trigger an increase in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol - meaning that we are more likely to be calm in stressful situations.  Like giving a presentation or speaking up at a large meeting.

It all goes back to our primitive brain.  After all, we are primates and we unconsciously recognise powerful poses and submissive poses.  Think of the silverback gorilla for a powerful pose!

Why not try it for yourself?  When  you looking to enhance your presence at a large meeting, for example, become aware of your body - are you hunched up? sitting back from the table?  caught up in your own thoughts?  If so, take a few deep breaths, feel your feet firmly on the floor, sit up tall, pull your shoulders back, soften and relax your face, and then listen carefully to who is speaking.  

You may find that when you do that, you will be more easily able to speak clearly and with confidence to get your point across when it is time for you to contribute. 

Thought 3: Delivering disruptive technology

We are often being asked to do more with less in timeframes that you wouldn’t think were possible.  How do you do it?   Through your people.

Cultivate a team culture where every team member can contribute their best to the project every day – their drive to succeed, their technical knowledge and skills, and their team building capabilities.  Invite your team to share proposals to deliver the project - backed with evidence. Embrace a passion to learn and be always learning, by being open to feedback from others and sharing your views. 

Also key is self knowledge.  You need to know where your limits are.  You need to know when you have moved from a challenge zone to a “too much” zone and stayed for too long, and need to step back to maintain your productivity - getting enough sleep is 101.  Teams and people that burn out don’t achieve their goals. 

Thought 2: Why I stayed so long?

I worked in the Australian Public Service for over 25 years, and when I left recently people asked “Why did I leave?”.  For me the real question is “Why had I stayed so long?”.

And as I look back I realise that I stayed because the Service offered a professional work place where I could use and grow my technical and “soft” skills, and it provided challenge and meaning through working with others to deliver government services for Australians through innovative technology.  On top of that I had a couple of truly brilliant managers who believed in growing their people and was fortunate to work alongside fantastic teams of committed and skilled technology professionals. 

Sure it was not all roses.  There were times when it was really hard.  I was stretched delivering business technology change in ambitious timelines and building collaboration across silos.  Yet these were the situations where I learnt the most:  about how to build team cultures where people can offer their best and lead complex change at scale.  I learnt alot about myself - what matters most to me and about how important it is to set boundaries to protect my health, to be there for my family and friends, and to foster my own creativity.

These stretch opportunities are gold – seize them if they come your way.  They will help you find your voice.

Thought 1: Why share thoughts?

Regularly making time to reflect and share your thoughts with others is one way to hone your leadership skills.  Too often we are so busy "doing stuff" that we don’t take time to step back and think deeply about the things that matter.

This year I am embarking on a project to share my thoughts about leadership in snippets of around 200 words.  Brief reflections on topics that are arising from my work with my clients and conversations with colleagues.  Insights into the latest research about how to deliver complex technology-driven change sustainably in a disruptive world.  And the importance of investing in adult development in organisations that seek to excel.

I invite you to join me in these conversations by subscribing at the right sidebar. 

I wish you well! 

kind regards