When leading gets risky.. (and why it’s a good thing)

Cynthia Carrol

Time to read: 2 mins

I have been building on the habit of writing daily. Not only to write, but to write with risk.


It’s easy enough to first learn about a topic and then write about it, but there is very little risk in that. You know that it won’t fail, because the ideas that you are presenting have worked before (for the previous author). When you are regurgitating ideas that are not your own, chances are no one will say that you are wrong.


What’s harder to do is to think and reflect and come up with your own idea, link that to other ideas, examine the reality of the world and then challenge them.


To come up with your own conclusions and not look for something that has already been done and proven is a risk… In essence, this is what it means to lead.


When we do anything to stand out and introduce something that is different from the norm, we stray from the herd and become vulnerable and an easy target. This is not only true of writing but for any other endeavours that we choose to follow.



Followers and leaders

When we follow, there is no fear of being rejected or being called a fraud and there is some comfort in that. Leaders, on the other hand, are constantly fighting off the lizard brain. They work along the edge and try to push the boundaries.


The boundaries are around what is perceived to be our ‘safety zone’ (i.e. what is good enough’) and our ‘comfort zone’ (what we are willing to do).  Think about that last sentence for a minute before reading on.



The amazing Cynthia Carroll

I recently finished reading Seth Godin’s book The Icarus Deception. In the appendix, Seth told the story of Cynthia Carroll, the first female CEO and the first non-South African to head the 100 year old company, Anglo American, a multibillion dollar major mining company that employs over 150,000 staff. As one of her first act as CEO, she visited the Rustenburg mine.


Cynthia found out about the dangerous work conditions (where on average 40 employees die a year) and opted to shut down the mine for 9 weeks; a mine that was the most profitable platinum mine in the world. After a multiyear battle with unions, government and other mining companies, a year later, fatalities dropped by half.


Cynthia (illustrated above) did something that no other CEO before her had ever done, she shared stats, provided options and made herself vulnerable.  She pushed the boundaries of what is good enough and what she and Anglo America were willing to do.



When to lead

It’s important to understand that we don’t need to be a leader in every aspect of our lives (nor should you try). But there are times and places when you should:

  • When you have the passion
  • When you have the expertise on a particular subject and
  • When it’s your duty to do so.


Leading is risky, it’s sometimes scary and can be painful, but as we have seen in Cynthia’s case, anything that is worthwhile, anything that will make a real difference and anything that creates a lasting change will involve some level of risk (most of the time, it’s on a personal level).


But when we have a noble enough cause, trying and failing is not such a big deal and the risks that were once seen as obstacles, after moving forward, are now viewed as trivial.

Parenting Success


Noah - Drawing 1
Time to read: 2 mins.

After spending the entire weekend alone with my son, I not only realised how much he has changed and grown but how adults are also in a constant state of change and growth.

The habits that a 4 year old adopts are no different to the habits that adults adopt, in that they both change our behaviour and who we are as people.


Our Children

As parents, we view children as our responsibility. It is our responsibility to set up the right routines, habits and instil morals that we believe are essential for them to succeed in life.

We sometimes battle with our children and diligently try to explain to them the importance of listening, cleaning up after themselves, going to bed on time and other important skills, tasks and rituals that can sometimes seem a little trivial (especially at the age of four).



In our minds, the same battles occur, only they are happening within ourselves. We try to explain why we need to look after our health, work out more often, eat better, complete a particular certification or qualification, get promoted and network more efficiently.


Our Parents

But what happened to our parents? Once we became adults, did they just concede and say ‘well we did all that we could’. Do they assume that we just won’t listen anymore and stop giving advice? Do they assume that we know the world better than they do?

Kids need parenting, once a kid becomes an adult, it is assumed that they can parent themselves and from that point, the parents are no longer responsible…

The question is, are we grown up enough to parent ourselves into being a better human being in the same way that we instruct our kids?


Parenting ourselves

Selecting the right words and techniques to motivate children is a skill. Even more a skill is knowing the right words and techniques to use on ourselves. After a while, it’s easy to see the patterns in behaviour in a child, but we fail to see them in ourselves.

Correcting patterns of behaviour that we see in our kids is sometimes difficult. We sometimes choose to defer taking any action and wait for them to ‘grow up’ so that they are more attentive, are able to concentrate, process more complex information and make better decisions.

Unfortunately, adults don’t have same luxury.


Measures of Success

When we see good or even great kids, a significant factor is parenting. The parents have mastered ‘the skill’ that we discussed earlier.

They have put in enough time with their kids and know the right words to say and which techniques to use. The measure of success is how their kids have turned out.

Correspondingly, when we see good or great success in other adults (or even ourselves), they too have mastered ‘the skill’. Adults who devote enough time to themselves know the right words to say and the technique to use to move them into action.

How they live their lives (all aspects of it) and the legacy they leave behind is a measure of their success.

Psychological Safety & Microaggression

Laszlo Bock

Laszlo Bock

Time to read: 4 mins


A colleague recently recommended that I listen to an interview with Google’s Lazlo Bock (the company’s VP of People Operations) on the Hidden Brain podcast.  Towards the end of the interview, Lazlo mentioned two terms that most of us may be unfamiliar with.  Although we have an understanding of them and may have even experienced the phenomena.  The two terms were:

  • Psychological Safety; and
  • Microaggression.

Lazlo’s interview delved into topics such as how employee reviews are done, how employers decide which staff members receive a pay increase, the hiring process, and other HR-related topics.


Unless you’re working in an extremely progressive workplace, most of these topics are somewhat outside our control and influence.



Psychological safety

The topic of psychological safety is intriguing because it’s something that can be observed in smaller teams and in organisations as a whole. It may even exist within your own family.


It’s something that’s hard to describe in words. When psychological safety exists in the workplace, we say it’s a ‘really nice’ workplace; when it doesn’t exist, we hear the workplace described as ‘difficult’ or just plain ‘bad’.


What are we trying to say with these generic adverbs and adjectives?



What it is

Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe from interpersonal risks. ‘Safe’ teams are teams in which members feel accepted and respected.



A practical example

I recently joined a new team, and during our first retrospective I was asked how I transitioning. I responded by saying that I found all of the team member to be very open and friendly. The scrum master added:


“The thing I like most about this team is that there is no one dominant personality within the group.”


Despite the defined roles and a certain hierarchy, everybody made time for each other, and no one was too proud to admit a mistake or say that they missed something. To me, the level of transparency was what made the team great and enjoyable to work with.


People felt safe, and no one was criticised.



The majority and the minority

Our team produced better results, they were generally more relaxed, got more work done, and in a lot less time.


Because our team consisted of more senior team members, an assumption was made that this was the reason our team ran so well. And so, in an attempt to improve other teams, two of our most senior staff members were swapped for ‘newbies’. But this didn’t improve the results of the other teams or diminish our own. That’s because the working culture of the majority influenced the minority.



And microagression…

The other topic in the Lazlo interview, microaggression (one word) is a topic everyone should be aware of. Microaggressions happen every day. When they occur, they’re usually done unconsciously and without intent.


There is an interesting website where microaggression is explained through photos. While some of these photos are blatantly offensive, others make you stop and think. Putting yourself into someone else’s position and understanding how the words we use can be hurtful is an underutilised skill. I implore you to give the article a quick look.



Stretching out the group

Microaggression has a strong association with race and ethnicity, but microaggressions can (and should) be applied to other minority groups associated with gender, sexuality, age, those with disabilities and religious beliefs.



The Freeman approach

Because microaggressions usually happen without conscious bias, what can we do about them? I like Morgan Freeman’s approach, which is to ‘stop talking about it’. There is no need to point out a person’s race or ethnicity (or any of the groups mentioned above). Just talk to a person as a person. Again, I implore you to check out the article to understand what a microaggression is.


We’re more likely to see microaggressions in casual social settings than in a professional working environment.



Be the change 

Looking at my example of psychological safety, we can see how the majority in a group has a strong influence over the minority.


Trying to change the majority is not easy. It’s even more difficult when you’re in the minority. But sometimes it’s the only option that we have as individuals. Eventually, if enough individuals change, then the majority will change and the way to start is with those within your own circle of influence.



Comparing the two

Microaggressions can destroy a psychologically safe environment. A psychologically safe environment encourages and demonstrates how we should treat others – that is, by relating to others without prejudice, by always giving them the benefit of the doubt, and generally having a positive and understanding attitude towards them.


It also works the other way around. By looking at the benefits of psychological safety, we can logically conclude that psychological safety inhibits forms of microaggression.

Obtaining Charisma


Elon Musk

Time to read: 5 min

On the 31st of March, Elon Musk stepped out on stage to introduce Tesla’s first mass production electric sedan named the Model 3. That day I watched Elon present to an excited and enthusiastic audience.  While his delivery was not the best, the Model 3 did not disappoint and as a result has had 300k pre-orders to date.

Musk has a long list of incredible achievements from co-founding Paypal and building innovative companies such as

With an amazing track record of success, its obvious that Elon must be a great leader.  And as with all great leaders of magnitude, he possess the elusive skill of charisma.


The charisma link
We often associate charisma with those who are in positions of power, who dress well and have a job title to match. But today this is not enough to tick the charisma box.

Businesses operating in an environment controlled by a culture of fear and authority alone will not last (at least not in the long term).  Our expectations of what a workplace should embody have changed and as a result more leaders and less managers are needed.

You may have seen this table (or something similar) on your LinkedIn feed:

Management Leadership
– Controls + Empowers
– Authority + Goodwill
– Takes credit + Gives Credit
– Uses others + Develops others
– Fear + Enthusiasm


From the table above and using Elon as an example, leadership requires a different set of skills that we traditionally associate with charisma and which are more personal.

Elon is an interesting example, as I mentioned earlier Elon’s delivery was not the best, he stuttered through his presentation and at times struggled to find the right words to purvey his ideas.  If we assume that Elon has a high level of charisma, it lead me to think:
• What is charisma? And
• Can charisma be demonstrated in different forms outside of speeches and presentations?

The belief I have is that charisma and leadership are tied closely together.


Charisma defined

“Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others”

By examining the definition alone, its easy to see why charisma is synonymous with leadership.  The good news is that displays of charisma can happen everyday in the interactions we have with our friends, family and co-workers.  And who wouldn’t want to have a number of devoted followers!  😃

Charisma can generally be categorised into four groups.  Two of them are immediately accessible to everyone, so we’ll start with them.


The Focus Charisma
The focus charisma is easy to access and is highly effective.  It requires you to be completely present, free from distraction and be able to fully absorb what others are saying.

The focus charisma demands giving someone your full attention, this can be achieved by not doing other tasks, fidgeting and letting your mind drift while listening to someone else speak.  Keep strong eye contact in short bursts.  The outcome is to make people feel heard and understood.


Kindness Charisma
The kindness charisma is expressed entirely through your body language.  The kindness charisma will make others feel cherished and embraced;  as result this charisma style is heavily reliant on your ability to show warmth through your face.

Those who are genuinely caring and sympathetic towards others are easily able to express warmth through their eyes and avoid signs of tension, coldness and criticism.  For others who don’t have this natural tendency it may take a little more effort to bring up those feeling of empathy.


Using the visionary charisma takes a little more skill… The visionary is able to motivate others, show passion and is able to deliver their message with a level of conviction that sheds away any self doubt that others may have.

There is a tendency to associate visionaries with popular figures like Steve Jobs or a Martin Luther King.  But visionaries can be used on a small scale too, it alss helps that the message being delivered has some level of altruism in order further inspire others.


The authority charisma has to be earned through position, job title and status; consequently it is not directly accessible to everyone.  Those with the authority charisma have the ability to affect our world in some way or form.

The authority charisma is displayed through high level of confidence and is used as a means to get others to simply listen and obey without questions.   Earlier in the article I noted that working on authority alone is not enough and this is due it’s supplementary effects.

The authority charisma:

  • doesn’t invite feedback and
  • inhibits critical thinking in others

It therefore should be balanced with other types of charisma styles to avoid the ivory tower syndrome.


Where to from here..
Its fun to go out and try on a particular charisma style or see if you can identify a charisma style with others that you work with.  Choosing the right charisma style will depends on a few factors:

  • What you are comfortable with (i.e. you own personality)
  • What you are trying to achieve (the goal) and
  • The situation you are in.

As it turns Elon Musk is a master of the focus charisma.  In the workplace he sits in the corner of the office and hides behind two giant monitors.  He uses this as a way to shield himself from the rest of the office.  But when he emerges behind those monitors he is completely present and 100% focused on who he is listening to.

It would be fair to assume that Elon is super focused on everything he does, including his people.  And that’s where it all starts and where it all finishes; its all about the people you know (in work and in life) and how you can touch them.

Where will you lead your ‘devoted followers’ ? and how you can influence them towards something bigger or direct them onto a better path?

You can read more on the topic of charisma in the book The Charisma Myth by Oliva Fox Cabana.

Two types of Dreams

Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill

Time to read: 2 minutes

Last night while I was in the shower (where all great ideas come) I was listening to Lauryn Hill’s album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’. Track no.4 ‘Zion’ came on with the guitar strumming, the lyrics can be found here.


The song is titled after her first born son (Zion) and follows the theme of choice. The choice of giving and nurturing a new life or the choice of nurturing an already successful and exploding music career. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill went on to receive 10 Grammy nominations, winning 5 in total and selling 19 million copies world wide.


Since that time Lauryn has been semi retired and the world of music (especially hip hop)  not only lost a great artist but someone that added diversity and value to the genre. It was like small piece of integrity was gone and has never been replaced.   I say integrity because her album was beautiful, it was about real issues, things that mattered, story telling and parables through song. It was poetry (listen to album for yourself).


It’s hard to find album with the same themes today; there are less people willing to speak the truth about their own reality and their dreams.  Which is the topic that I want to bring up today.



A dream
Firstly let’s define what a dream is. In this context a dream is a desired future state which hasn’t yet been realised.  Commonly these can be around:

  • Material items, things that we want
    Wanting to possess physical items on a grand scale  
  • How we are perceived
    Wanting to be admired and appreciated  for a particular skill or talent
  • Being in a better position
    Wanting to have easier and more enjoyable lifestyle 


Such dreams are usually depicted as being a little selfish but they don’t need to be if they have the right intent.  Spending too much time fantasying about your dreams without a plan for its attainment can lead you to be close to delusional…

Despite whether your dreams are selfish or selfless (or something in the middle), when there is no plan your dreams fall into the two clear categories or two types of dreams.



Two type of dreams
There are two type of dreams that we all have:

One is used to escape our current reality, the other has the potential to change our reality.

One denies our current state, the other uses it as a catalyst for change.

One (dream) is superficial the other is significant.

One is fantasy the won’t come true, the other comes to fruition with time and perseverance. 



The altruistic path 
A better dream is something that is a little harder to obtain, where the road map and steps to take are not so obvious. It is a path that you do not follow but pave for yourself. If you were to use Maslow’s hierarchy we would be moving towards the higher levels around esteem and self actualization. Its the altruistic path.

As our lives continue to get busier, through our growing work commitments, family and other personal pursuits; just like Lauryn we may find out that we do not have room for both…









Confidence through Writing

Ryan Reynolds

Time to read: 4 mins

This article is for those who have ever wanted to start writing, keep a journal or the brave soul who wishes to persuade an audience through personal essay’s (i.e. starting your own blog).


Van Wilder

For better or worse last weekend I went to watch the movie Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds.  The last memorable movie I saw Ryan star in was Van Wilder, way back in 2002 (14 years ago!).

Van Wilder is a comedy/romance about a university student who comes to realise that he may be scared of graduating after being in school for the last seven years.  I found the movie to be really funny, although at the time I would have been in my early 20’s and what I found funny back then may be classified as cringe comedy with some scenes being more disturbing than funny  (You have been warned).

In the movie Van had an assistant who he mentors named Taj.  Taj would follow Van around campus and every time Van would utter some words of wisdom he would point to Taj and say ‘Write that down’.


Reasons to write

When I first heard Van repeatedly say that line, I assumed the act of writing would aid in remembering those words of wisdom.  But now that I am in the habit of consistently writing both personally and professionally (as a Business Analyst) I can definitively say there is so much more to gained from writing than just being an aid to recall information.

Below I have adduce all of the reasons, benefits and states of writing. Keep in mind that they are not necessarily done in this order.  In fact I don’t believe there is a ‘correct’ order at all.

Just like the mind, when you write freely you may go from one state (e.g. reflection) to another (redefining an experience) only to return back to the first state.  Hopefully this will all make sense to you by the time you finish reading.  Let’s begin.



Writing allows you to reflect upon your thoughts and actions.  Your thoughts and actions make up your experiences that you have had in your life. Writing gives you a tool to make your actions more purposeful.


Redefining or reinforcing experience

Writing enables you to redefine or reinforce what your experiences mean to you.  Positive experience should be reinforced, negative and unpleasant experiences can be redefined. Your life experiences make up your identity.



The sum of all your experiences make up your identity.  Your identity defines:

  • your beliefs
  • what you think you are capable of
  • the bearings on your moral compass
  • how you judge what is good, right and fair and
  • how you act and react within your life situation.


Who you are

To piggyback off my last point, knowing how to act and react to  life situations stems from your interpretation of past or similar experiences in your life.  Just scheduling the time to think independently allows you to clarify your own thoughts.


Clarifying thoughts 

Clarifying and understanding your own thoughts and biases is an important precursor to all good decisions making.  Examining decisions helps you to understand where you are today and what decisions need to be made to:

  • obtain a certain life style or
  • pursue a future endeavor.



Having the right reasons ultimately give you confidence because by this time you have a clear and deep understanding upon the ‘why’.  With having the right reasons you can take the steps to move forward in your thinking, decision-making and actions.


Making sense of all it

As I mention earlier there is no sequential order to follow.  But as you write you will undoubtedly go through one or more of these stages.  As an example:

your thoughts –> finding reasons –> understanding past actions 

or maybe:

reflection –> on experiences –> creates identity –> determines who you are –> creates future actions 


Still waters run deep 

Each stage will serve you and will slowly transform you into a more grounded person, someone who is not easily shaken and someone who truly grows wiser with every experience that they go through.


Where to start

Start by examining how you write at work, appreciate how the simple act of jotting down a to do list keeps you focus.  How saying thank you in a reply email shows your character or how adding a smiley face emanates warmth.   If your job involves problem solving, try writing out the problem before figuring out a solution.


Back to Van Wilder..

Whatever you are thinking, whatever you feeling, whatever hopes and dreams you may have of the future, a life worth living is worth recording. So in the words of Van Wilder  ‘Write that down…’


Thoughts on Leadership

Coach K

Time to read: 5 mins

Last year I had a close friend of mine (Ryan) recommend a book called “Leading from the Heart” by Mike Kryzyewski (illustrated above).  Ryan has completed his MBA and has spent some time as a consultant, he described the book as one of the best he has read on the topic of leadership.

So with such a glowing endorsement I purchased and finished the book late last year.

Unlike some of the other topics that I have written about, leadership has a major element and without it that topic does not exist. That element is other people.  Leadership needs people, without it you are the leader of nothing.

What determines a good leader from a bad or incompetent one is the people that they lead.

With that being said I thought that I’d take some time in identifying the attributes and characteristics of a leader.  You can use these six characteristics to do a self-assessment or an assessment on those that have a leadership role.

And because we are all people, the position or title we hold in the work place is irrelevant.  We should all be able to identify these leadership qualities within ourselves and our co-workers.


#1.  A leader uses inclusive language

A leader will use inclusive language, when acknowledging a job well done.  The goals that a leader sets are not his own, or by higher management;  a leader has the ability to create and convey goals so that they become shared goals among each team member.

When things don’t go to plan, a leader won’t single out individuals, instead ‘if one person fails, then we all fail” approach is adopted.  This line of thinking shifts the focus on helping out other team members as opposed to just looking out for themselves.


#2.  A leader admits their own mistakes

Leaders can sometimes make the wrong  decision or set the team off in the wrong direction.  In these circumstances a leader should not make excuses or blame others (by the way blaming others is the quickest way to destroy trust).

A leader has the humility to admit mistakes as their own and openly and honestly apologise for them.  Unlike making up their excuses and blaming others which only creates hostility, this vulnerable act builds trust between them and the team and shows that they truly have the best interests of the their team before their own interest.


#3.  A leader make time for others 

A leader makes time for others because they understand the importance and value of the people who work for them.  They understand that people are most effective when they are working ‘for someone’ and towards a shared goal.  Connection is important, it’s hard to be engaged with someone you can’t relate to or to something that you don’t believe in.


#4.  A leader shouldn’t have too many rules

Another aspect of leadership is decision making, which is sometimes avoided for multiple reasons, here are a few that come to mind:

  1. It’s time consuming
  2. Requires effort and investigation
  3. Has consequences
  4. Requires someone to take responsibility

Generally when you see someone that implements and advertises a lot of rules, they generally do so to avoid making decisions, which in turns allows them to avoid responsibility and avoid consequences.

Clearly avoiding the decision making process for such reasons does not conjure up images of a modern day Gough Whitlam or Tim Cook.


#5.  A leader is always positive and motivates others

A leader has the ability to stay positive. Which is easy enough to do while everything is smooth sailing and going to plan but it can only be demonstrated when things go wayward or when unplanned events occur.

I remember working on a small team as a Business Analyst.  It was a Wednesday and on this day we were planned to do a production environment update for the first time. There was quiet a bit of planning leading to this event.

And so Wednesday morning came and we heard  that the Release Manager (who plans and manages the days proceeding) was sick and would not be coming into the office.  Our immediate reaction was:

‘What are we going to do… Who will manage the deployment… (and finally) We will just have to postpone, there is no other option’

We waited until the project manager came in and to my surprise he took all of the news with a smile and said:

Well, this is a good opportunity to test our contingency plan.  We will have a lot more of these deployment in the future and our Release Manager may not always be available’


#6.  A leader treats his team like family

I have left this one till last, because it’s only on the rare occasion that these situations exist and even rarer that you have the opportunity to be a part of.

If this can be achieved it is the pinnacle of any team.  A lot of businesses ‘talk about’ this concept but few will actually ‘be about’ this concept.  So much can be said about the benefits of having a family type environment in the workplace that it deserves to be a topic on its own (maybe for another time).

Leading into my the final thoughts take a moment to think about your own family and the lengths you go to ensure their happiness, well being and safety.  Think about those that have done the same for you, most likely it will be a parent or maybe your partner or sibling.


Final Thoughts

I know (like our workplace) we can’t always choose our family but we can choose our behaviour and how we choose to treat others.  Most of the points made in this article (e.g. making time for others, not having too many rules, being positive)  are naturally associated with family.

Adopting such behaviours is what makes family important and something that we want to be a part of, which leads me to think:

Is there any reason why we shouldn’t try to bring the same behaviours into the workplace..?   Or maybe it’s someone else’s job to think about.

A job for a leader perhaps…