On Wednesday 7 April we held the first of our Future-Fit Forums, a suite of ACE New Zealand workshops designed to help you develop and explore new ideas that will lead to improved business performance. Dr Paul Wood delivered a keynote presentation to a live Wellington and online audience, followed by a workshop with Wellington attendees. Through his unique story of a troubled childhood leading to imprisonment, Paul taught us how it is through challenge and courage that we can bring the best of ourselves to the table, navigate ambiguity, and thrive in a changing stressful world.
Paul promised to deliver gold nuggets, and he certainly did that.
Starting with the silver fern. We often think of the silver fern as a symbol for New Zealand, perhaps as a mark of our sporting prowess. But as Paul noted, in pre-European times one of the everyday uses for the silver fern by Māori was as a navigational tool. By simply snapping, over-turning and exposing the silvery-white underside of the silver fern leaf and pointing it like an arrow in the bush, it was a ready-made trail pointer to help others find the way in an otherwise dark bush environment. We should think about leadership in this way as a non-linear process of experimentation through which we find the path for others to follow and we show them the way. In today’s world, our navigational tool is not the underside of a fern, but a series of questions we should regularly ask ourselves:
- Am I present?
- Am I open (to the world, and with the world – am I curious, interested, and prepared to be challenged)?
- Am I doing what matters / what’s important now?
While these questions help navigate us in the right direction, we all still have those distracting voices, anxieties and emotional responses that try to derail us. So how do we make sure that doesn’t happen? Here are some tips we picked up from Paul:
- We experience stress and anxiety when we step outside of our comfort zone. But just outside our comfort zone is our growth/stretch zone. Growth comes from being courageous enough to step outside of our comfort zone into the growth/stretch zone, even though it is uncertain and we feel anxious out there. Read the next bullet point to find out why …
- You’ll grow because the formula for growth lies in stress and recovery (stress + recovery = growth). If you need to paint a picture of this, think about sports training to get stronger/faster/better, a sportsperson will balance pushing themselves with recovery. Stress isn’t inherently negative and when we couple the stress of stepping into our growth/stretch zone, with the discipline of self-care, we increase our growth and wellbeing, and we’re far less likely to derail and burn out. Just remember, one size doesn’t fit all, and your stretch zone might be someone else’s terror zone!
- Spend some time getting to really knowing yourself. The better we understand ourselves, the better equipped we are to help others, as leaders. This is why we took some time in the workshop to identify what a good day looks like for us, and what a bad day looks like. And we did some stress exposure training where we talked about situations that create stress in our lives, how we react, and what our strategies for responding are (whether it is self-talk, exercise, pausing and breathing). We can use that knowledge to be strategic about our lives, the choices we make, and how we respond to events that cause stress and anxiety. Because the only thing we have total control over is how we think, respond, and react. The best way to influence others is to focus on what’s in our circle of control, and that is ourselves.
Paul also challenged us to think differently about our roles while we often describe ourselves as problem solvers, Paul noted that problem resolution is not necessarily the world of the future; because the problems of our future will not be static. Rather, perhaps we need to frame our role individually and as a sector as being about making progress.
At an individual level, Paul challenged us to be goal focussed on “getting better”, not “being good” or “being the best”. And understanding that getting better means having a growth mindset. It’s about risking and embracing failure and having the courage to try again. And it’s about focussing on what we can control; being the best version of ourselves. Using these simple techniques will grow our business performance.
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