Small Synchronicities

Two Fridays back, intending to write this note but weary, I turned my laptop off for the day.

A train ride took me to Newtown with a vague idea to walk and browse, maybe watch a movie, sit in a cafe and discreetly observe passing life.

At the Dendy I smiled to myself and rolled the dice, asking for a ticket to the next movie showing.

I confess to a momentary pause on discovering it was titled, ‘On The Basis of Sex’ … too early in the day for eros?

With half an hour to wait, Elizabeth’s second hand book shop called me.

Where a Leonard Cohen biography stared from the centre of a trestle table. An aunt who came of age in the sixties, once said he was a better poet than Dylan and more deserving of that Nobel literature prize. So the $14 seemed a bargain for me to decide for myself.

I notice my curiosity turning toward the ways art in all forms can stimulate and sustain a human spirit.

The film was excellent, telling of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early legal career fighting sex discrimination. However, what caught my attention and really moved me was the portrayal of Ruth’s relationship with her daughter Jane. Clearly it was a mirror I needed to look into that day.

Afterwards sitting with coffee, feeling a little out of place on bohemian King Street, I skimmed my new book.

Refreshed by a day of small, unexpected finds.

A Wise Word


At another 50th birthday lunch, another milestone was also celebrated, his mothers 80th.

Close family and a few friends chatted over the meal; laughter and light memories.

(You know how it goes, the deeper, fraught family matters are parked for a while)

In a quiet moment, I turned to his mum, a few seats away and asked if she had some wise words for the table …


Point. Blank.

In that instant, I retreated into myself. She must be shy, evidenced by her gregarious husband holding centre stage.

And felt awkward about my clumsy attempt to draw her out and even a little chastised for unintended impertinence.

The day passed, as they do, and yet on the drive home from the mountains, I noticed that her ‘No’ remained.

And returned to mind in days that followed.

Until I asked myself.

What if her emphatic ‘No’ was in fact her answer to my question?

Tempus Fugit

Around me, my friends are passing 50.

As a gift, last Saturday I trawled through more than 30 years of photos, digital and pre-digital, collating images of an old mate.

What an absorbing and enjoyable activity, traveling back in time, revisiting shared adventures, mischief and life’s milestones.

In all this looking back, what struck me was how quickly the years roll by.

The inexorable and most obvious metric being the sprouting upward of children …

Our past time is spent, invested, splashed and frittered; who can really discern in the midst of all the living?

Only later on reflection, the accretion of choices and how we used our allotment maybe makes sense.

So I ponder out another 30 years (touch wood), how quickly will they pass?

And what will be the view in looking back from then?

Perhaps like gazing upwards through leaves into the sky …

On Plateaus

I grew up on a plateau, literally.

A strong formative memory is of sweeping views across hills to a saddle-backed mountain range.

These days however, reaching a plateau in your studies or career or business or personally, is typically viewed as a negative, we’ve stalled.

Isn’t progress an ever upward, straight line to mastery?

Perhaps it takes a while, but eventually we may notice that life and growth are non-linear.

Periods of success, learning and gains are often followed by dips and regression as things get hard or old habits re-assert. Two steps forward, one step back, if we are fortunate and persistent.

But what about times when nothing much changes? When we circle in one place? When ennui or staleness haunts us? When we reach a plateau?

Shouldn’t we be cracking on? Breaking through? Figuring it all out and innovating relentlessly?

How exhausting …

On a plateau we are granted time to look around, to take stock, to consolidate, to noodle on the side gig, to rest and regenerate.

Old salts know that when the wind doesn’t blow, it’s time to attend to the small jobs neglected when sails are full.

We can count on it, the next burst of activity or challenge will appear.

And in this way, we are ready.



by Ruth Feldman

I took a long time getting here,

much of it wasted on wrong turns,

back roads riddled by ruts.

I had adventures I never would have known

if I proceeded as the crow flies.

Super highways are so sure of where they are going:

they arrive too soon.


A straight line isn’t always the shortest distance

between two people.

Sometimes I act as though I’m heading somewhere else

while, imperceptibly, I narrow the gap between you and me.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know the right way,

but I don’t mind getting lost now and then.

Maps don’t know everything.


We’re All Adults, Right?

When exactly do we become an adult?

Is it at 18 years old when we can legally vote and fight and marry? Or in our early 20’s when we move into a career and relationships? Or is it later, perhaps when we begin a family (but what if you never do)?

And once you reach adulthood, is that who and what you are for the remainder of your life?

Well, no. Not necessarily.

In fact from a psychological perspective there are now thoroughly researched stages of adult development.

Of the various models, I prefer Beck and Cowans version called Spiral Dynamics. But for simplicity, Kegan and Laheys model (diagram below) gives a clear indication of the maturation continuum which exists and is potential in every one of us.

  • By early adulthood we are at Socialised Mind, where we are largely moved by and oriented toward external forces. We are reactive and dependent, we perceive problems and threats, we seek safety and to fit in with the group. Some 70% of adults are associated with this stage of development.
  • For some, the next stage of development, the Self-authoring Mind emerges, whether through attraction, disonance or crisis. Here we are more independent, creative, oriented toward living from our own values and goals. Perhaps 30% of adults mature to this stage.
  • Beyond the masses arises the Self-transforming or Integral Mind. Here risk, ambiguity, holistic vision, scale, volatility, tension etc are appreciated and embraced as interdependent elements of life. Less than 1% progress to this breadth.
  • Posited to exist even further along the development continuum is Unitive Mind … but I’ll leave you to research that for yourself 😉

So yes we are all adults; but we are not all adults at the same stage of psychological development.

Given that, it strikes me that the lifetime challenge we each face is to keep on ‘growing up’.

That is, we are never fully and finally ‘adult’ … isn’t that a refreshing idea!

Deliberate Practice

Practice and repetition are vital elements in learning.

We know this is true for our children. Whether learning to crawl and walk, to read, to remember the times tables, to play a musical instrument or to bowl a cricket ball. Practicing over and over, what is awkward and difficult at the beginning, becomes tested and understood and eventually second nature.

However if your children are like mine, the discipline of practice is an acquired skill!

As adults, parents and leaders we draw upon our learned self discipline and determination in taking on new challenges.

When the challenge faced is working at our own maturation and growth, I notice a multitude of competing priorities and demands on time, doubts and fears, inertia and resignation, difficult colleagues, old habits and even past successes all colluding to undermine our commitment and our will to practice.

So many excuses.

Just do it.


World Class Leadership

Toward the end of Leadership Formation, each participant selects a world class leader for immersion study.

Criteria are intentionally vague and as a result we’ve explored the lives and leadership of people such as Steve Biddulph, Kelly Slater, Sir Winston Churchill, Marie Forleo, Pastor Brian Huston, Steve Jobs and John Quincy Adams.

The unusual diversity creates a rich base for leadership insights to emerge.

At the most recent Leadership Formation Retreat, we heard the stories of four inspiring people.

  • Elizabeth Broderick AO, who recently completed 8 years as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner and is a committed advocate for improving gender equality.
  • Louise Voigt, former long-serving CEO of Barnardos Australia whose advocacy on behalf of foster children helped introduce Open Adoptions to Australia.
  • Norman Borlaug, winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. An Iowa farm boy, his later research into wheat produced high yielding, disease resistant varieties introduced to Mexico, India and Pakistan in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He was credited with saving many millions of lives worldwide.
  • David Griswold, founder of Sustainable Harvest, a company bringing transparency into the coffee supply chain, helping farmers move from subsistence to sustainability.

It is very confirming to see how closely their stories align with the ‘follow your bliss’ road map:

  • Notice what you care about whether it’s gender equality, or that every child deserves a safe home, or helping people feed their families and rise from poverty, each leader has commitment to something they care deeply for, over a long period of time.
  • Get started anywhere, it’s all connectedtracing back through the lives of those who eventually make significant contributions, their origins are generally humble and modest, but easy to connect to their future impact. A young female lawyer, a social worker, a farm boy or a social entrepreneur, in many ways each continued the same ‘work’ as when they started, only on a widening platform.
  • Learn as you go of course, no world class leader arrives fully formed. Whether it’s from early experience, a failed business, listening tours, or a South American farmer, every leader continues to learn and grow and to demonstrate a life-long curiosity.
  • Perseverance being courageous; willing to be unpopular in pursuit of what you believe is right; persistence in the face of institutional (Indian bureaucracy) and cultural (foster child rights) obstacles; bending rules and breaking new ground; grit, determination and even stubbornness.

The stand out insight is that leaders generate power by connecting to a deep sense of purpose or calling.

The work of Leadership Formation challenges us toward this clarity.


When Less Is More

A great friend and fine chef first introduced me to this paradoxical idea when we were making pizzas in his brick oven.

Instead of piling toppings on an inch thick as was my habit, he suggested using less and even leaving spaces where the crust was exposed, so the whole pizza would bake crisper and taste better.

Of course he was proved right, as evidenced by my soggy pizza.

I noticed this ‘less is more’ philosophy infused more than just his cooking. Whether in selecting ingredients for simplicity and quality over quantity; the manner in which he used a light touch with his staff; or in serving smaller portions leaving guests slightly hungry but with an enhanced appreciation of the meal.

Over the years I’ve experimented with ‘less is more’ as a leadership principle.

Some of what I noticed … scarcity can draw out creativity and ingenuity; reduced busyness returns the invaluable commodity of time; less force and pressure allows natural self responsibility to develop.

And crucially, less verbiage in a blog offers more clarity!

Proximal Relationships

It’s ofteTree on Mountainn said that leadership is lonely.

And I’ve said as much myself, but now I wonder if this maxim is true.

Or whether loneliness is a misnomer of the essential aloneness we inevitably feel as we each find our way in life?


This question came to me after spending the evening with two friends … though calling them ‘friends’ hardly does justice to the depth of relationship, experiences and worldviews we share.

We did not talk about sport or politics or weather!

We are mentors to each other, good enemies, agents in each others growth. We talk about the blessings and the difficulties and the insolubles in each others lives. We listen and encourage. We care and disagree and digress. We are irritated and refreshed.

And then we part ways and may not meet again for weeks or months. We are on our own, yet we carry the relationships within.

I think of these as proximal relationships.

And they are arguably the most vital element in our development as humans and as leaders, of at least ourselves.