learning to trust my own opinions and expertise
I’ve been challenged to think of a Top Five, and whilst the initial brief was more along the lines of personal favourites, in keeping with the theme of this blog I have chosen to reflect on my professional life, and in particular the big influences on my behaviour as a leader and a manager. And if you are more interested in the fave songs/movies types of lists, scroll to the bottom of the post as I couldn’t really resist the chance to share just a little bit more of the not-at-work me!
My Top 5 Professional Influences
5. Having Nice Things
Doesn’t that sound poxy? But it’s true. Working and continuing to take on roles that pay more, mean that we have more cash to spend on nice things. When my husband and I take on a hobby, a sport, or any hankering hits us, we can afford to buy the stuff that goes with it. And sometimes it is actually the really simple things that motivate: When I think about cutting back hours (in the pursuit of that elusive work-life balance) and tightening our belts, I know that one of the areas under threat is takeaway, and I just can’t bear the thought of not being able to buy dinner whenever I can’t be arsed hunting around for something at home to whip up into culinary ordinariness. Truly, the idea of not being able to eat chips whenever I want is just devastating. Yes, I am that shallow/greedy, and the main reason takeaway is generally limited to one night a week is because my husband has infinitely more discipline than I do (and also because he couldn’t bear to hear me whinge about how I’m soooo faaaat any more than I already do)
I’m not a crazed AFL fanatic – I can’t name all the players on my team (most of them are well serviced by the moniker dude), or tell you who is leading the Coleman Medal count, or even who is top of the ladder – but I do really enjoy the footy season, and I draw a lot of inspiration from the game in general and some individuals in particular.
Last year, watching the Fremantle Dockers play in a Finals game, their star player, Matthew Pavlich, was everywhere – tackling, kicking goals, turning over the ball. It was just such an impressive display that on the back of that game I developed the mantra of ‘if Pav can do that, then I can do this’. To me, his performance was an example of what an individual can achieve. That our bodies are fundamentally the same – I may never have the strength or skill of Pav, but I can choose to train my body to run, jump, kick, tackle and endure, and it would. It is a matter of choice, and doing. So much in life can simply come down to making a choice and following through with action.
Stuck to the wall next to my desk at work is a well-worn post-it note on which I have hurriedly scrawled ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you set’. When I came across it, this saying struck me very clearly as something that I truly believe and try to live by. That is why I wrote it down and kept it. When I saw Adam Goodes call out a racist comment from the crowd a couple of Friday nights ago, I felt that it was the very embodiment of refusing to walk past and set a standard so low. Lots of people won’t agree, but for me, Adam’s actions and that saying are about having the courage to stand up for what you believe to be right, and to expect others to rise up to that as well.
And as one last example, before I let all you non-AFL fans off the hook, the Sydney Swans team has long been famed for their strong leadership and teamwork style, and it has been a source of fascination and inspiration for me since their 2005 Grand Final victory. After learning a little bit about about their leadership program I hunted down the book ‘Team Work’ by Ray McLean, who worked in establishing that model at the Swans, and I made a start at applying some of those principles to my own team. It was the first time that I took determined, self-initiated steps towards building a strong team culture in my workplace, and without a doubt, represented a big step forward in my self-confidence and willingness to take a leadership risk.
3. The Good/Bad Boss
My first job out of the Navy was working for a strong female manager with whom I ended up sharing a close working relationship that spanned six years and two organisations. I was her Number Two, her Main Man, and she showed faith in my abilities, challenged me with complex projects, and shared the inner workings of a senior office and its decision making processes with me. One of the greatest things about working with her was that I was the person that she bounced ideas off, vented her frustrations to, and consulted about problems. Her political nouse, working in a large, complex organisation, was fantastic to behold. I learnt and learnt and learnt from her.
But I also came to recognise that her leadership & management style was deeply flawed – with incessant power games, bullying and empire building impacting on her large team in an incredibly negative way. As awful as it was to witness and be a part of (even, if I am honest, a complicit part of), I take the silver lining of this behaviour having taught me what I do not want to be, and how I do not want to treat people. Towards the end of those six years our relationship was very strained – I felt pigeon-holed as “nothing-but” her offsider, and I imagine that she felt that I had nothing new to offer – a situation that fed on itself in a self-perpetuating cycle. It was a very positive thing to break out from under her wings to a new role and organisation, but even with bitterness rising in me, I cannot fail to acknowledge the influence that this boss had on my skill development and overall experience.
It is of absolutely no surprise to me that the Navy has had such a massive impact on my professional development – it was my life for 10 formative years, from the age of 17 – 27.
One of the most obvious legacies from my time in the Navy is the way that I view the relationship between leaders and their teams. In the Navy, officers are officers and sailors are sailors. You can be friendly with each other, but you are not friends. There is a difference, a gap which no-one has any thought or wish to bridge. It is this gap that allows you to give orders and hold sailors to the discipline that is a part of this life. That sense of the importance of holding myself somewhat apart from the teams that I manage and lead has stayed with me, and although it has relaxed significantly, I believe that it holds true. I give a lot of myself to my team, and I share a significant chunk of my personal life with them, but I feel that by keeping myself just a little bit to the side (and yes, above) the team, I allow them the space to create their own team bonds, and it means that when I choose to socialise more fully, or confide in them, it has a more significant meaning for, and impact on, my team.
Another thing that has stayed with me is the idea of “playing the game”. In the Navy this means doing what you are expected to do, regardless of your feelings, and playing the part of whatever role is required, regardless of how it meshes with your natural self. I am lucky that as I have progressed in my career there has been less and less need to play the game – I enjoy my work, and I have more confidence in what I am doing. But there are still times where I have to put on my gameface and get on with things. Networking is definitely one of those times, or delivering criticism or performance counselling. I take a deep breath and say to myself “OK Katyberry, here we go” and then the switch is flicked and I am whoever I need to be, and I do whatever I need to do. (a bit of a side note, because it strikes me as amusing: this is really truly what I say to myself – and my name is not Katyberry, and I don’t go by Katy or Kate – the nickname is just something that I started calling myself back in those early days of officer training under the stress of exactly these “playing the game’ scenarios. It surprises me that I have stuck with it, and also that now I choose to use that name online! Ha! Does this mean I am playing the game right now?)
1. My Mother
When I was brainstorming for this topic, my mum was the last idea that came to me, but she is easily the most significant element in how I view my career as a part of my life.
My mother returned to work, at least part-time, when I was in early primary school, because she went and saw a Dr about feeling depressed and flat and he told her in no uncertain terms that she needed something to do. She was working full-time by my late-primary school years. And you know what, I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this. I am sitting here reflecting on it and there is nothing in my mother’s choice to return to work that I can think of that affected me negatively – not then and not now. In fact my experiences of being home alone with my brother, making my own school lunches and sorting out my own shit has left me with a strong desire that my children experience the same. That’s right, I want my children to grow up as Latch-Key Kids. I want them to experience that freedom and responsbility.
So my mum showed me, from the very earliest age, that juggling a family and rewarding work could be done, and could be done well. And more than that, she became a trusted mentor for my own career. Our weekly phone calls (Brisbane to Perth) always include a catch up on what I am doing at work, and bouncing ideas off her and venting about troubles, and vice versa for her before she retired. I am proud of what she achieved in her career, and I respect her as a professional.
She is not a bad mum, either, although as a grand-parent I feel that she should move to Brisbane so she can take on some baby-sitting load.
So I hope that hasn’t bored you to tears. I’ve found it a really rewarding process to work through what my influences have been. I hope one day I can say that I too have played a small part as a positive influence for some of the people that work around me. Now here is the promised personal favourites:
Favourtite TV Show The Wire. Yo. (I am reading David Simon’s ‘Homocide: A Year on the Killing Streets’ right now, and even though it is back breaking to lug it to work and back each day it is riveting train reading). Honourable mentions to Breaking Bad, The West Wing and Friday Night Lights.
Favourite Book A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Due to its overwhelming size I have never been able to convince a single person to read it, but please change that. It is brilliant. Honourable mentions to Midnight’s Children and The Remains of the Day.
Favourite Movie I don’t get to watch movies enough. It used to totally be my thing but now I rarely get the opportunity so my vote goes to Sally Potter’s interpretation of Orlando, which completely changed the way this unsophisticated 16yo Perth girl viewed the art and possibilities of cinema.
Favourite Song Like most people, there is no definitive one song. But at the moment I am loving Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’, coz I’M A 90S BITCH! (in the sense that I partied HARD in the 90s, not that I was born then!)