Archives for category: World perspective

This well-known saying often attributed to French lawyer and politician Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, highlights the balancing act required of politicians in our society but the behaviour of some, begs the question;

Are they truly our representatives or do they dance to their own tune?

In a representative democracy, politicians are sent to parliament or congress to put forward the views and aspirations of the people who elected them but once there, they must make laws for all citizens and there is where the problems can begin.

In most countries, elections are only held every 3-4 years so there is an inevitable lag between voter intent and political action, yet in the 21st century, the mood of the public has never been more evident to those in power. There are polls almost daily that seek to take the temperature of the electorate and these have shown that in most Western nations, the broader public has consistently proven to be ahead of governments on key social and even geopolitical issues, so why it is that more than a few elected representatives seem to be actively pulling in the opposite direction?

The 2016 election ‘circus’ in the US was ample evidence of this phenomenon with some candidates putting enormous effort in to being as far from the ‘mainstream’ (i.e. rational thinking) as possible but it is also apparent in Australia at present, where polls indicate that an important civil rights issue due to be put before a national referendum will pass with a significant majority, yet a number of politicians have already announced they will vote against the proposal, even if the nation votes in favour of it.

In a country where voting is compulsory and participation is close to 100%, the intent of the people is rarely in doubt, so how does their personal agenda even warrant a mention?

Notwithstanding that post the next election these folks will likely be unemployed,  there is in their behaviour, a cautionary note for us all. The GFC has painfully brought home the lesson that when people are entrusted with our money or granted authority over us, we must actively take an interest in what they are doing and saying and if they seem to be acting in their own interests rather than ours, we must hold them accountable.

As the old Russian proverb goes: “Trust but verify”. To do otherwise is asking for trouble.

The message for leaders? Staying in touch with your customers and your people is critical. If you are not paying attention they may change direction and you will be left running after them, trying to figure out what went wrong…



This personal extension of Descartes’ moment of illumination has begun to be more apparent to me as the years go by.

(Make yourself a coffee – this is going to be a long one)

Over the last decade, I have become more acutely aware that we are being conditioned to think less and less or at least, to avoid thinking critically and this enables all manner of injustice to be perpetuated with little outcry.

Case in point: At present in my state, the government has begun a ‘war on motorcycle gangs’ and has banned many such organisations from gathering together. Mind you, they don’t have to be gathering to commit a crime, just getting together.

This, according to some media, has widespread support in the community and clearly the government has ‘shown leadership’ by taking action to curb a crime wave initiated by these individuals.

As my personal motto is ‘Question everything’ I decided to explore for myself, what surely must be some significant justification for the government to pre-emptively remove the rights of some of its citizens. Surely the widespread fear of these rampaging violent criminals so frequently reported in the media, must validate all possible methods to keep us safe?

Unfortunately, it didn’t take very long to realise that this appears to be another case of A war on….(insert distraction of the month here)’  Yep – another ‘war on terror’ which turned out to be a tragic farce built on falsehoods which made the world a much less safe place.

Bur please don’t believe me, according to the state police’s own statistics[1] these ‘gang members’ account for .04% of the crime in the state.[2]

So let’s do a little thought experiment and use these numbers to look at an activity that these ‘violent criminals’ are most likely to be involved in.

According to official statistics, there were 5338 reported ‘violent acts’ (not convictions mind you) in 2011-12. Now applying the governments percentage of crimes carried out by ‘outlaw motorcycle gangs’ we can deduce that these individuals could accused of – wait for it – 2 violent acts’. That’s right 2.

Now of course this is a statistical average and a portion of total crime but even if we allowed 10 times this rate there would still only be 20. If we multiplied this rate by 100 there would still only be 200 alleged violent acts and even police admit that this is usually amongst clubs, not with the public. 

Even if this 100 times multiple was true, it would still be 200 alleged acts in a state population of 4.5 million. Yet the current government has cleverly manufactured a climate of fear where a citizen’s right to freedom of association can be removed based on who their friends are… Fear is a powerful logic anaesthetic.

Crime wave? It’s not even a ripple but someone wants you to believe it is… Why is that?

Was P.T Barnum right? Are suckers really born every minute? Unfortunately yes…

Why? Because as humans, we react much more quickly and with much more vigour to our emotions than to logic. It is part of our survival mechanism that evolved over aeons but in the 21st century should our emotions still be leading us by the nose, even subconsciously?

What’s the harm? I mean really – logic is such a party pooper, a spoiler, a wet blanket. It is the person who sits behind you in the theatre and whispers “Vader is Luke’s father” or “The kid sees dead people so Bruce Willis must be dead” or “Red John is….” (just kidding).

What’s wrong with reacting emotionally? Well nothing – if it is for entertainment or fun or love or kindness or any other of the wonderful experiences that allow us to fully experience the richness of life but what about when weighing up truth or falsehood? Or seeing though media hype (If it bleeds it leads) to realise that what is happening is wrong? What about when administering justice or ensuring fairness?

That’s when we have to take a cold shower – even more so when we hold leadership positions. Leaders have the leverage and opportunity to promote a personal agenda or demonstrate our dislike of someone if we choose. This is because employees are vulnerable and not all leaders are objective.

As an employee, when we go to work for a company we exchange certain freedoms for a salary. This is a normal contractual type of arrangement and of course is voluntary. If we don’t like it we can leave. However, the unseen leverage begins the moment we become reliant on the financial security that a job often provides. This ‘security’ quietly permeates all areas of our lives and relationships and over time, particularly if we have children or do not have a partner earning enough to support the whole family, begins to open a door through which all kinds of nasty things can enter.

If we didn’t ‘need’ our jobs, bullying would be almost non-existent. We could invoke the vernacular cry ‘take your job and shove it’ and walk out.

In the real world however, this is often not an option. Unscrupulous, immature or low EQ[3] leaders can use all kinds of methods to ‘control’ their employees, to their satisfaction. For example, if the leader prefers quiet, they can insist that all the team whisper or pass notes in order to communicate. Sound ridiculous? I know someone to whom this happened. Team morale plummets and work becomes like a prison. You hate it but you can’t escape.

If there is one who stands up or protests, the same leader/s can describe this person unfavourably to other leaders and generally poison the well. Pretty soon an environment is created that is emotionally hostile to this person and because a number of others now share this opinion (not based on experience but hearsay) it makes the environment intolerable and what would ordinarily be an outstanding employee leaves or becomes ill with stress.

That is why we leaders we have both a practical and moral duty to think critically and clearly about everything we hear and see, in order to remain objective.  We must remain, (as I have said for many years in Naked Leadership sessions) The Coach and the Umpire’ – in this case the Umpire function being critical.

If we are told unfavourable stories about an employee we are inheriting, it is tempting to accept these as ‘real’ experiences from another leader’s perspective and treat them as accurate because as humans we are wired to enjoy a gritty story or scandal otherwise those Kardashians would be unemployed!

As the great 20th century philosopher Henley once observed: “This year notoriety got all confused with fame” and this is because gossip strongly appeals to our emotions and feels ‘real’.

In reality though, I have found that the people spoken most unfavourably of by their former manager, inevitably turned out to be my best most productive team members when give a fair chance.

People described as ‘adversarial’ ‘unprofessional’ or ‘difficult’ usually turn out to be the thinkers who can add real value to the organisation by exposing the ‘dumb stuff’ or at the least prompting a fresh look at what we are doing and how. As I relay in Naked Leadership®, whether I am consulting to or working within an organisation, I will go to the ‘whiners/whingers/complainers’ first and ask them to tell me all of their issues.

Often they are the only ones with the courage or relative freedom (they don’t need the job) to do so.

I can confidently say that in the vast majority of my experiences over the last decade and a half, it has turned out to be the leader, not the employee that is the problem

So how to deal with this and other issues where things that appear to be ‘facts’ are nothing more than distortions, myths, fabrications or simply lies?

Well personally, I rely on the cornerstone of the Naked philosophy which I nakedly adapted from Socrates. Ask questions then shut up and listen.

When someone uses a non-specific term like ‘adversarial’ ask them specifically how the employee demonstrates this. If the term ‘difficult’ or the like is used, again ask for a specific list of actions and situations so you can understand what is actually occurring.

Keep going until you have asked for detailed descriptions of every alleged behaviour. It will usually become clear after one or two questions that the leader is the problem and often they will suddenly have other things to do rather than stay and ply you with tales of miscreant employees.

Our world has changed. News has changed from reliable information into ‘infotainment’, the Internet both provides information for critical analysis and a platform for loonies and these days a whole range of media outlets can be owned by one person or corporation who decides to which viewpoint the journalists conform.

So do we give up or become hermits?

No. But rather than ranting at the perpetrators, when we feel our emotions being engaged unproductively we can snap out of it and ask ourselves:

”Why am I watching/listening to/accepting this crap?” Change the channel, stop reading that paper and practice being thoughtful about everything that is important.

Humans should have embedded in our DNA somewhere the impulse to question everything until we are comfortable that we have looked at all points of view, discerned what is accurate and what is not and made an informed judgement. (That’s why I don’t let my university students use Wiki as a reference!) Then keep an open mind and seek things that challenge your beliefs, so you examine them often.

A word of warning though; many people are comfortable living in denial or blissful/wilful ignorance or being complicit in injustice by ‘keeping their heads down’ and those leaders who use manipulation and oppression to rule, do not want you peeking behind the curtain to see the truth.

If you seek objectivity, honesty and fairness, you may have trouble finding a company you want to stay with.

Perhaps that is why most thought-leaders, philosopher/authors and creative champions (people like Godin, Pink, Gladwell, Ronson and others) work for themselves or only with other likeminded people and consult to companies in the hope that some of what they say may stir change for the better.

I am very grateful I have a beautiful and intelligent partner who seeks to understand people and their actions from a critical and objective viewpoint and also seeks to right wrongs.

Until I met her, I thought therefore I was lonely…

A long time ago, someone (almost certainly not Edmund Burke) said words to the effect that “All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”

While this sentiment has probably been used to justify all kinds of horrors (as it is dependent on the definition of ‘evil’ in the minds of the initiators), there is much to be said for a thoughtful approach to this concept.

How many leaders have failed to challenge the clearly inappropriate behaviour of a more senior person due to fear about their own job security?

How many times have we rationalised away this obligation with a ‘nothing will change’ mental salve?

To be an effective leader you must embrace a certain amount of risk to yourself in order to ensure a safe and fair working environment for your team. It takes courage and a healthy dose of persistence but despite a degree of risk, it is almost always worth the effort.

As another another saying of uncertain parentage puts it; “Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you” but this should not stop us from trying to right a wrong or stop harmful behaviour. You can climb a tree or hide in a hole to avoid the bear but it will be uncomfortable, you can’t do it forever and it’s a bit hard to maintain the moral authority of a leader from the bottom of a pit.

I mention numerous times in NAKED LEADERSHIP®, the essential truth that as a leader, your job is not about you – it is about your team. If you won’t stand up to improper treatment of your people, who will?

This however, can be a personal and professional challenge because it requires us to be objective in an often emotional circumstance and that can take some doing… It is for this reason (and perhaps it is fitting as I write this on Remembrance Day) that we also consider how easy it is to portray people unfairly. Leaders and employees can demonise each other and often battle lines will be drawn, giving the grievance a life of its own. Work can become like trench warfare with each side dug in and mentally hardened to any thought of compromise.

This is why war is for the most part, predicated upon convincing the public at large that ‘those people over there’ are evil or ‘not like us’, so let’s get rid of them. The mob mentality must be energised and people’s thinking brought into line for our own internal ‘moral compass’ to be overcome.

Facts and reason must be avoided at all cost.

Yet conflict, whether in a relationship, at work or in world politics is often engineered to hide our own inadequacies, to divert attention from more important issues and deflect responsibility. A manager who is insecure, fearful or inept can lash out and look for ‘victims’ upon whom they can unload the blame for their own failings. They can quite deliberately set the conditions for failure in order to ‘get rid’ of someone they dislike. Often this person may be more skilled and capable than themselves. They can exaggerate the ‘threat’ posed by the employee in order to engage others’ emotions and give weight to their claims.

As thoughtful humans, Naked Leaders need sometimes to say: “This far and no further.” If we are not willing to take some heat to protect our people then we are not leading – we are merely administering resources.

Importantly however, there is no point ‘hurling yourself against the wire’ you will only remove from yourself, the ability to help your people. Over the years, I have learned (at some cost) to first, disengage my emotions and carefully and quietly gather and examine the evidence. Reportable incidents need to be verifiable or at least credible. (No sane person would go to war on the basis of dodgy information. Would they?)

You may be angry about what is occurring but to be effective, you cannot let this cloud your judgement. You MUST Disconnect because make no mistake: It takes planning, thoughtfulness and patience to defeat destructive people.

After verifying the evidence, my preference is always to approach the ‘offending person’ and ask a series of careful questions that will reveal their motivation and if appropriate, manoeuvre them into realising that what they are doing is having a negative impact on people and importantly, that it will stop them getting the results they need. In effect, I try to engage their ‘self-interest’ gene. If I receive a negative reaction and they don’t alter their behaviour, it’s time to move on to Plan B.

The key is to use the system effectively to escalate the concerns without appearing to be on a ‘mission’. You may be surprised how often things can be solved when a more senior person is informed. If this doesn’t work, at least more people know about the problem. Keep going up the line. If you do not follow the procedures, this can come back to bite you as you will be seen as unnecessarily adversarial.

If you persist, something will usually be done to correct the behaviour because it becomes too widely known for senior leaders to do nothing. They will appear weak if they sit on their hands.

Fixing problems most often can be achieved by using the system effectively. I have had some experience in winning HR battles on behalf of clients or friends by taking this route. In fact, we won-every time and a big part of it was doing the homework and knowing the rules/policies (often better than the HR people).

You can put the company in a position where they either act on their proclaimed values, policies or procedures or they don’t. If they don’t they can expose themselves to legal action, and they know this. It’s a bit like a game of chess. It takes patience and persistence but you and your people will most often be the victors without going to war…

And isn’t that a better way?

Well it looks like it is safe to blog again.

The Australian election is over and the US has managed to kick the can down the road again with the debt ceiling and budget.

In watching the spectacle facing our cousins in the U.S., it struck me how challenging is can be for a leader dealing with intransigence.

U.S. President Barack Obama, having convincingly defeated his opposition in the last election was faced with a far-right faction that had taken control of the Republican Party.

Republicans, seemingly hostage to its ‘Tea Party’ members whose spokespeople such as Congresswoman Michelle Bachman have perfected the non-sequitur, the logical fallacy and just plain bizarre behaviour (witness her patronising comments during a visit to Egypt) apparently sought to re-run the election they lost by imitating a 6 year old.

“I’m going to hold my breath until you say I won!” (and repeal Obamacare!)

Most moderate Republicans were aghast at this behaviour but seem to be able to do little about it.

In some ways, (ironically given their position on the political spectrum) this seemed to mirror the rabid Union organisations in 1970’s Britain who seemed to have a strike every other week because they could and never mind the damage.

As someone who lived and worked in the US for nearly a decade, I am somewhat familiar with the US political system but for most outsiders this behaviour was simply incomprehensible.

Despite some of the silliness in our own recent election, Australia really does have a benign system – mainly because it is compulsory to vote. In having this law, we basically marginalise the fringe elements while still allowing them a voice. It is simply not possible for an extreme faction like the Tea Party to function in our system in the same way as they do in the US. They would be drowned out by the majority of us who live more or less in the middle of the political scale.

So how is this leadership issue?

Well it was fascinating to me to watch President Obama stay out of this fight. Rather than giving the extremists legitimacy he basically ignored them and through his intermediaries, called their bluff.

Gutsy but it worked… After all he had a mandate from the electorate and more specifically, a mandate for the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) which was front and centre during the election campaign.

The subsequent Government shutdown with all its consequences forced moderate Republicans to face their extreme elements and force a surrender to common sense. While in disarray, they now have a chance to rebuild the party as one that can work with the government to actually get things done.

As anyone who has read Naked Leadership knows, I advocate actively seeking common ground, parking your ego and working with people but sometimes after hard negotiation or solution seeking, and having come to a decision for your organisation, you have to stay the course.

Winston Churchill, a very conservative (and often wrong-headed) leader who did many things right in the crucial moments, once declared:

“Never give in, never give in; never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in –  Except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

Sometimes people forget that last bit.­

When faced with unreasonable intransigence, a Naked Leader will make an assessment as to the value of further negotiation, consider the overall good of the organisation, regardless of the personal or political cost – and do the right thing.

Doing the right thing can be the hardest course and can cost a leader much stress, anxiety and even their job – but it is always the right course.

We can attempt to rationalise away selling out to extremists but the damage we do to ourselves and the long term health of our organisation and its people is immense.

Sometime No means No and you must stand firm and hang on for the ride…

It is why you’re a leader…


An essential requirement for a leaders (or any thinking person really) is the ability to have our minds changed by new experiences. A recent blog I read referred to this as being ‘Interested’  (  I believe that too many people are only interested in what is immediately in front of them. This is understandable to a degree, as we all have busy lives. Between work, children, friends and household tasks there seems little time for other outside world. However, if we find ourselves immersed in the immediate to the exclusion of all else, we lose the opportunity to explore context.  We live in a big world and there is much going on. We (and more importantly our children) have information available to us of which previous generations could only have dreamed. The internet can bring us to any part of the world in seconds. In an ever more interconnected and multi-cultural world we can access information and perspectives that were only previously available to the very wealthy and well-travelled. Where once we were isolated nations in a big world we are now a global village and we will only become more interconnected as time moves on. That is why expanding our sphere of interest can be not only exciting but life changing. Whether you are travelling via aircraft, cyber-space, international TV news or documentary, exploring other countries, regions, cultures and languages can be extraordinarily rewarding. This is also crucially important for the generation following us. We need to expose our children to as great a variety of experiences as possible in order to bring up thoughtful adults and probably the best way to do that is by travel. Openness to a different point of view, even one that challenges us or makes us slightly uncomfortable is a very healthy thing and of course the best way to experience this is by immersion. Over the years, I have observed that the most bigoted, critical and ‘one-eyed’ of people – those who are willing to see the worst rather than the best in other people,  cultures, countries and traditions, are usually those who have not travelled. Travelling allows us to be out of our comfort zone, in someone else’s environment, perhaps not understanding the language or the culture and to have to survive and get by. It is positively mind expanding. The layers of colour, texture, emotions (including fear, uncertainty and wonder) can fundamentally change our view of the world and ourselves.  I have been fortunate to experience visiting and living in other countries and it has changed me in significant ways.  When in another country I have taken pains to be ‘interested in as much as I can absorb. Whether on horseback in the amazing rift-valley city of Petra in Jordan or being escorted by armed guards through the teeming cities of Pakistan, stuck in a Paris traffic jam or wandering in a Malaysian market, I have endeavoured to make sure that I take in the detail, the faces and the background with which I am confronted and to ask myself what would it be like to be at home here? What are they thinking? What is their world really like? How do they see us? The other amazing part of travelling is the kindness with which I have been met. The one lesson I have taken away is that the world is an amazing colourful and intriguing place populated by people who want the same things as we do. So the next time you hear aggressive accusation, generalisations, bias or bigotry or less obviously the subtle misrepresentations in some of our news media, remember two things- the real story is always in the background and – you can change the channel. As John Kennedy famously said after the Cuban Missile crisis… ”in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Perhaps the simplest way to start expanding your perspective is to look around you as you walk or drive around the city or your suburb. Take time to observe  people, listen to random conversations and pay attention to the world of your fellow humans. There are, as they say, 7 billion stories.

Are you interested?

I have just been to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie which apart from being very enjoyable was a richly layered visual feast for a period adventure film. In fact it was the kind of film that you need to see more than once in order to pick up the many levels of detail. In discussing it afterwards with my partner, she reminded me of one of the concepts I have used for many years in my leadership work. To encourage leaders to avoid living, working and making decisions based on a surface appreciation of the workplace (or the world at large), I encourage my participants to watch a favourite DVD but rather than focussing on the main actors and the ‘A’ story, to focus on the background, the sets, the extras and so forth. It’s a bit tricky at first but once your brain gets used to it, it is remarkable what you can pick up. In contrast, our fast-paced world with its instant news and endless commentary makes it easy to be swept along with the tide of uninformed opinion (which is one of the reasons I avoid watching commercial television news). It seems that the sensation of every situation is ‘amped up’ in order to drive the viewer to the required conclusion. Current affairs programmes are worse. That tabloid newspapers are even worse still goes without saying but in essence, they seem to me to be hard at work to prevent us asking enough questions to challenge their presumption or conclusions regarding the subject being discussed. The move to ‘infotainment’ almost drives me to despair. Radio ‘personalities’ spout their (often factually incorrect) opinions and when their most egregious errors are pointed out – their excuse is that they are ‘commentators’ not journalists. Too late- damage done… The thing is, that life is always less simple than it appears. In this complex world we need more critical thinking. We need to teach our children to question what they are told and to ask for proof. We must set the example for them by questioning when they voice strong opinions, by offering alternative viewpoints and by challenging absolutes when offered. When I am confronted by a strong one-sided opinion, my practice is always to ask questions like ‘”Is that always the case?” or “Are you saying they’re all like that? All 1 billion?” or “Exactly how many times does that occur” or “Where did you find those statistics?” Very often it is obvious that emotion has supplanted reason. This is fine when watching a movie but not when living as a responsible human in the world. Conflict in most forms, results from assumptions, fear, stereotypes and a lack of rational thought. When people offer “That’s just what we believe” as a justification, I walk away. Living a superficial, unquestioning existence is not for me. The 99% that is hidden and that requires exploration and interest to enjoy -now that’s the juice. The exhilaration of discovery, of an opinion changed by a delicious experience; of the magnificent texture of an alternate perception that most miss – now that’s for me… So if you go and see Sherlock Holmes, focus on the background every now and then-you will see why…