Who cares matters

The profound Margaret Wheatley says, in her book Finding our way, “invite everyone who cares.” By that she means when we are planning a change of any kind we should involve everyone who cares about it.

In this situation we usually go through the organisational chart and work out who is affected by the change by their position in our organisation. Wheatley suggests this is one of the reasons our change efforts so often fail because we haven’t involved the people who care most.

The most obvious impact of failing to involve these people is they resist the change and sometimes even sabotage it. Even though this is a powerful reason for involving them, it is not the most important. The people who care bring both passion and imaginative solutions to the hurdles we have to overcome in order for our initiative to be successful. They see problems we miss altogether. They often also protect the very thing we want to protect – the very essence of our organisation.

So next time you are planning a major change project – find out who cares and invite them. Even if they don’t have a formal position in your organisation. You’ll be surprised at what they bring.

10 reasons you need a fool

The single greatest threat to effective leadership is hubris – that is, I as a leader, or we as a leadership team develop an exaggerated belief in our own power. That we only have to speak and it will be. I don’t need to regail you with examples of hubris embedded in corporate communications. You know it all to well.

This danger has been recognised for as long as we have had leaders. Throughout history there has been only one character seen as suitable to guard against hubris – the archytypal fool. (See some examples here.) Apart from the leader, the fool is the most important person in the organisation. It is no accident that the demise of the role of fool has coincided with the greatest examples of corporate folly.

This role is so important I have a whole section of my blog devoted to it here. Just to whet your appetite, here are ten reasons you need a fool (thanks to David Firth for this list) :

1. Alienator: The fool challenges you to expand on your thinking to welcome unconventional – and therefore potentially creative – ideas.

2. Confidante: The fool provides a “safe space” where leaders and teams can talk from a place of emotion and instinct without being judged.

3. Contrarian: The fool challenges norms. Whatever you say, the fool will say the opposite. This makes you think why you are doing what you do.

4. Midwife: The fool is in charge of bringing new ideas into the world – with care, gentleness and wisdom.

5. Jester: Ivan Illich said “real revolutionaries are people who look upon their institutions with a deep sense of humour.” The fool makes sure we retain our revolutionary spirit.

6. Mapper: The fool knows who knows. So often the problem is not that nobody knows. The problem is nobody knows who knows. But the fool does.

7. Mediator: The fool enables us to re-connect our fragmented businesses in a meaningful way and get beyond our easy misunderstandings in order to renegotiate past perceptions.

8. Satirist: The fool looks around the organisation and sees all the inflated balloons of ego and deflates them. Pomposity is vulgar and silly in any self-respecting workplace. Perhaps more importantly, it is an outward show of utter certainty – and in times of tremendous instability we cannot afford to be that sure about anything.

9. Truth-Seeker: The fool knows that truth is a very simple solution to most business problems. But we don’t use it. And then the project collapses and everyone crawls out of the wreckage and says “I knew that would happen.”

10. Mythologist: The fool holds the mythology of the organisation – why Esther Jones was hired five years ago when everyone else has forgotten. Why the colours in the logo are blue and orange. All the things that were once done for a good reason but no-one else remembers why. The fool also busts myths that endure but are counter-productive.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.

Also, if you’d like talk about your personal purpose power and performance, sign up for my next breakfast here.



After writing my piece on Sunday, I have kept quiet for the last 24 hours trying to give myself some time to step back from the immediacy of the issue and reflect. We sent our four girls to MLC and spoke to Rosa on many occasions. That makes it hard for me to evaluate the issues calmly. Regardless, I’ll give it a go.

In psychodynamics there is a phenomenon called “splitting.” This is where people in stressful situations “split” the world into “good” people and “bad” people. That is “You’re either for us, or you’re agin us.”

Splitting is a classic phenomenon in public debate. We take sides. Think Lindy Chamberlain, Shapelle Corby or Julian Assange. In public debate it is particularly destructive because we take sides on the basis of the barest of facts.

In the case of the very public sacking of MLC Principal, Rosa Storelli most of the public commentary can be categorised as “Rosa is good and the Board is bad.”

Splitting is always counterproductive. It reduces the range of options open to us. We get locked into “I am right, you have to change.” This is how wars start. There is alway good and bad on both sides. Both sides always have a right to feel misrepresented. And both sides can never be proud of every one of their actions.

In this case the Board’s public handling of the issue has and continues to be appalling. There are a lot of stakeholders here and they all need to know more than they are being told.

On the other hand Ms Storelli doesn’t help herself when she describes this as an “execution.” When you’re outside a Board it’s easy to think of it as hard, uncaring and profit (or ego) focussed. When I think about it, it’s only boards I’m NOT on that are like that. The ones I am, or have been, on are made up of real people like myself. People who struggle with issues and their consciences as they try to balance all the competing pressures. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been on boards and leadership groups which have fallen foul of groupthink and I’ve been part of that process. But this is a constant danger of groups operating in levels of high ambiguity.

Looked at in this context, I’m starting to wonder. Who is most intransigent here? From a public point of view, neither side appears prepared to budge a millimetre. This makes rational analysis hard. From this perspective I have no option but to say “I don’t know” and remain impartial. This is really hard for most of us involved in any way in the issue. Most of us know Rosa Storelli at least by reputation. Few of us know much about the Board members. Our natural reaction is to side with the person we know and many would say “love.” Of course Rosa must be right and the Board must be wrong. Our natural reaction though, while an admirable expression of loyalty, is not useful in resolving the dispute.

I call on both the Board and Ms Storelli to show good faith and start by publicly admitting their mistakes in this affair.

A case study in leadership

I continue to be astounded by the way the sacking of Methodist Ladies College principalRosa Storelli has played out. From where I stand it appears to be both a complete PR disaster and a sombre lesson in leadership. Of course PR, real PR, and leadership are intricately linked.

Good PR requires courage – think the Longford gas explosion of 1998. Esso, a company not particularly enamoured of the wider public, had a senior executive give a press conference every day (at 2pm if my memory serves me correctly) during the crisis regardless of whether there was anything new to report. He took pretty much every question the gathered reporters wanted to ask. He answered every one calmly and politely with facts as fully as he was able. People wanted to know what happened and when they could expect their gas supply to be restored. Esso gave them as much information as they could in each case.

For another example, just as emotive but with much less import, take the sacking of long time Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy in 2007. The Essendon Board decided on the line it would take – for better or for worse the Board had decided it needed a fresh face in the coaching box – and stuck to it. In the face of a strong campaign by Sheedy and his supporters, the board never wavered from this position. It refused to enter into a slanging match with the former coach and publicly (at least) pleaded with him to respect his own brand and continually reiterated he would always be welcome at Windy Hill. Interestingly, the Essondon Board took this action knowing that it would face an Annual General Meeting a few months later – something the MLC Board does not need to fear.

Neither of these approaches appear evident in the MLC episode. Everyone outside the Board itself is being drip fed information  – rumour and innuendo abound as the Board seems unwilling to give its full reasons for its action. The parents and students, far and away the most important stakeholders in the school are left completely in the dark and are, understandably outraged.

Once again I reiterate I am, like every one else I know, without full possession of the facts. So my statements here are made completely as an outsider looking in. I disclose that Judy and I sent our four daughters to MLC and Rosa was Principal for most of the time they were there. We have great admiration for her albeit with some qualms about the corporatisation of the school that occurred on her watch.

That said:

The chief PR disaster in this affair appears to be Louise Adler. If I were advising the MLC Board I would suggest they lock her in The Dungeon (a basement room at MLC were the IT staff work) and not let her out until all threat of a storm has passed.

Her contributions seem to be, to say the least, unfortunate.

The Board “has not accused Ms Storelli of any dishonest conduct or fraudulent behaviour.”

First therewas the initial letter to parents. (As a past parent who personally contributed about half the amount in dispute to the school, I have not received any correspondence from the school so I am relying on press reports.)  Ms Adler said the Board “has not accused Ms Storelli of any dishonest conduct or fraudulent behaviour.” Well! That hardly needs any further comment. If there is a wrong way to start this affair, that surely is it. She has not engaged in any dishonest conduct of fraudulent behaviour. Presumably no one is suggesting she has “lost her mojo” as a Principal. Has she been unethical? Has she acted outside the bounds of her authority. Quite possibly she has. But surely a parent paying more than $20,000 per year per child – largely on the basis of Rosa Storelli’s reputation – deserves to know more than this.

“The international search for a new principal had begun.”

Oh dear. This would have be one of the worst PR blunders of all time. As if you can rip the heart out of a school and just transplant another one in. How about “The Board will now take some time to reflect on the College’s requirements and will begin a search for a new principal at the conclusion of this process.”

Rosa may wish and hope for divine intervention…”

Someone I presume to be Ms Adler is reported in The Sunday Age this morning as saying “Rosa may wish and hope for divine intervention…” Well I suspect that a lot of parents at the school and certainly the Church whose name it bears would find that phrase offensive as if divine intervention was a fair tale.

“Moderator Dobson stated publicly on Thursday evening that she supports the board’s right to terminate Ms Storelli”

This was an appalling and potentially libellous statement. I believe this misrepresentation alone is grounds for Ms Adler to resign. It was quite clear that Moderator Dobson acknowledged she had no authority to intervene and that the Board had the legal right to terminate the principal. However, to suggest that she “supported” the right was mischievous at least.

“There is money in Rosa’s bank account which is parents’ money”

Sorry but this is just a translation of the old phrase “this is shareholders’ money” which is used by Boards and senior executives whenever they want to do something unpopular. EG: “Oh sorry we can’t do anything else [but for e.g. sack 1000 workers] this is shareholders’ money we’re talking about.” Several millions of dollars of “shareholders’ money” paid to these same senior executives seems never to be a concern of theirs.”

And, excuse me, the school made a profit of $3.6 million last year. This is plain and simple overcharging of parents and represents a figure approaching $2000 per child. If the Board was really concerned about parents’ money this could have been returned to parents bank accounts but was not. To parents working two jobs struggling to meet the fees, this would have made a real difference.

Finally, how much of parents’ money will be spent on

  • the “international search” for a new principal
  • legal fees
  • lost enrolments
  • lost donations
  • lost staff productivity?

Oh, and I expect the Deloitte “forensic analysis” cost a pretty penny.
Communication to Stakeholders
As I said above, the parents and students are far and away the most significant stakeholders in the school. However, there are others. Past parents and students certainly have some claim to being stakeholders having contributed (through fees, donations and their own time) to the development of the school. I would have thought the Uniting Church had some right to be regarded as a stakeholder as do donors and benefactors. Finally some 20 million or so people (as Australian taxpayers) contribute financially to MLC. Surely they are stakeholders as well.
With a decision of this magnitude, these stakeholders deserve to know much more than they are being told.
For one, the parents and students should be given a chance to publicly and collectively grieve what has happened. Rosa was principal for 15 years. Right or wrong, this is like ripping out the heart of the school.
Those parents who work two jobs and sacrifice so much to send their daughters to the school need to be told why this was necessary. I doubt we would have kept our girls at the school had this happened while we were there.
Sure there are confidentialities here. However, it seems a great deal of it will come out in court anyway. It doesn’t mean the Board needs to get into a public slanging match with Rosa. It would be very difficult to manage but a meeting of all interested (past and present) parents and past students would demonstrate extreme courage on the part of the Board and go a long way towards alleviating the concerns of these stakeholders. It could be done though. It couldn’t be worse than a public company’s AGM.
We are left in this whole affair with a number of unanswered questions, both in relation to this matter and to this particular incident in particular:–

Who owns MLC?

And the related question “to whom is the MLC Board accountable?”

Some of the smartest corporate people in the land make mistakes. The Telsta Board appointed Sol Trujillo for goodness sake. The Kennedy Administration authorised the Bay of Pigs invasion. When a the Board of a public company makes a decision of this nature it has to satisfy a number of probity issues. It would have to make a statement to the ASX. It would probably discuss the matter with key institutional shareholders. It would certainly have to face the heat of shareholder wrath at its next AGM. Imagine the Apple Board trying to sack Steve Jobs. By all accounts he gave them plenty of reason to. He treated them as reporting to him rather than the other way around. Some of his arrangements were suspect and the Board had to do some fancy footwork to protect itself. But the shareholders would have lynched any Board that tried to sack him. They benefited hugely from Steve Jobs as CEO. The Board had no option but to accommodate him. The best leaders are often idiosyncratic and are frustrated with rules. A good board knows when to reign the leader in and when to give them free reign.

The MLC Board on the other hand is accountable to no-one. It does not believe the Church has any jurisdiction over it – not even in a moral sense. It seems to believe the Uniting Church is irrelevant to the running of the school.

It is certainly not accountable to its parents.

It is, apparently, accountable to no-one. All other issues of good governance are swamped by this single issue. A non-accountable board is simply not good governance in any sense at all.

There are, I suggest, ways the current board structure could be held accountable by establishing several conventions.

Firstly, it could establish a convention of sounding out previous board members – especially chairs, on major or contentious issues. This is not giving away any of its authority it is simply seeking as wide a range of perspectives as it can get.

Secondly, it could involve the parents association in such decisions. By this, I mean once again seeking the counsel of someone outside the board. Of course this would have to be in utmost confidence. But a good relationship could achieve this.

Finally, to continue to use the phrase “A school of the Uniting Church of Australia” it must involve the Uniting Church at some level. Once again this is not to give away its authority. It is not to say the Uniting Church should have the final say, but it should be consulted and its views taken into account.

These conventions would establish at least some level of board accountability.

The Board’s own fiduciary responsibility

If Rosa Storelli has indeed been overpaid by $700,000 then someone at board level has been asleep at the wheel and should be called to account. If not the current Treasurer then certainly Treasurers past should be called to account. It seems extraordinary that a person who seems to be in no way involved in these errors is the one to fall by the sword.

Risk Management

Most corporate boards would have a risk management committee. Regardless management of risk is a key governance responsibility of boards. Risk is not only measured in financial terms. It is also measured, amongst other things, by the organisation’s ability to continue performing its major functions. It would seem the sacking of a principal has exposed the College to significant risk on a number of levels. It is hard to see from anything we know any serious analysis of these risks by the board. If the board has indeed failed to analyse all the risks associated with this action then I suggest it has no alternative but to resign.

Breakdown in relationship

Reading between all the lines in this sorry affair it appears the key issue here is not about the money. It appears the relationship between the Board and Rosa Storelli has completely broken down and this is the reason for her dismissal. The first thing I want to say about that is a breakdown in relationship is two sided. There are two parties involved. And two parties responsible.

Now it may well be that Rosa lost all sense of appropriate behaviour in this episode. She may have acted reprehensibly towards the board and its members. She may have acted without any sense of respect for their responsibility and the task they are charged to carry out. She may have said and done very hurtful things. Without diminishing my respect for her one iota, I suspect she is capable of all these things in the heat of a confrontation – passionate people always are. Again, without diminishing my respect for her, none of her great achievements and skills would excuse such behaviour.

However, it is hard to find any reference to the Board seeking outside assistance in resolving any breakdown in the relationship. It may well have done. If so, for reasons know only to itself, it has kept it very quiet. Given the time frames that have been reported, it seems hard to believe that sufficient effort was put in to use some form of outside moderation to resolve the situation.

Finally, I would like to say I know many of the Board members by reputation. I have no reason to believe that they are anything but rational sane people who have acted in what they believe to be the best interests of the school. Nothing I have seen or read changes my view of any of these people. I believe them when they say this was a heart wrenching decision for them and involved a great deal of soul searching.

Nothing I have said here is a reflection on the Board members individually. However, I have seen all too often situations where a group of sane and rational people acts completely irrationally – ie it is the group that acts irrationally, not the individuals. Those of us who really care about MLC need to know if this is what happened here or not. To know this we need to know a lot more than what we have been told so far.


To whom is the MLC Board accountable?

The MLC Board vs Rosa Storelli stoush raises some interesting questions regarding governance of our large private schools.

I was a parent of daughters at MLC for eleven years and I never got to terms with how the Board was appointed. (Although I must say I had absolutely no qualms with the board at the time.)

I know of a colleague who, as a parent at another large private school, was approached to join the board. From what I understood of the situation, the Board itself chose replacements when a vacancy occurred. I stand to be corrected about this, but that’s how I understood it.

It makes some sort of sense in a way.

I am currently in the process of setting up a “company limited by guarantee.” This company will be a not for profit organisation to provide educational services as it happens.

To form the company we need a group of people who will be members. We COULD say the members are the directors or another group of people altogether. Whatever, we would have to have some mechanism for replacing both members and directors when one of them ceases to occupy the role for whatever reason.

We could do what it appears the other private school discussed above. Whenever a member leaves, the remaining members could appoint a replacement. The members then appoint directors.

There is no in principal minimum number of members apart from the legal requirement of (I think) 2.

There is no reason MLC could not do the same thing. Just because it administers tens of millions of dollars each year makes no in principal difference.

So it is possible the MLC Board is accountable to no one but itself.

We don’t know. But given we, as taxpayers, give the College millions of dollars each year we should know.

Our greatest fear

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Often attributed to Nelson Mandella, this quote was originally penned by Marianne Williamson

Don’t predict the future — create it!

“Futurists always measure their batting average by counting how many things they have predicted that have come true. They never count how many important things come true that they did not predict. Everything a forecaster predicts may come to pass. Yet, he may not have seen the most meaningful of the emergent realities or, worse still, may not have paid attention to them. There is no way to avoid this irrelevancy in forecasting, for the important and distinctive are always the result of changes in values, perception, and goals, that is, in things that one can divine but not forecast.”

– Peter F. Drucker

From: Joe’s Journal

What makes a million dollar coach?

Some of you may know I’ve just started a group on LinkedIn called Million Dollar Coach. You might ask “what is a million dollar coach?”

The title is deliberately chosen to conjure the vision of a coach charging a million dollars a year in fees. Haven’t we all had that dream, however fleetingly, from time to time. I’m serious about this though. I want to see coaches earning high six figure incomes running a single person practice with a practice manager. But that’s a by-product of being a million dollar coach. It’s not the definition.

A million dollar coach, first and foremost does million dollar work. Who, regardless of the actual fee, always acts as if the client is paying them a million dollars. They never take shortcuts. They never think “this client doesn’t deserve my best.” They continually look for ways to improve their practice. They reflect on every coaching session and ask themselves:

  • what went really well in that session?
  • what could I have done differently?
  • is there anything I missed?
  • how was my client today?
  • was there some hidden message in what my client said?
  • did I deserve my fee today?
  • did I provide value to my client?
On a wider scale they reflect on their practice over the last day, week, month and year and ask themselves what themes they are seeing.
  • What value have they provided to their clients in that period?
  • How are they developing as a coach?
  • What are they doing better now than in the previous period?
  • What do they need to learn?
  • What are the world themes coming through in their coaching?
  • What part can they play in responding to those world themes?
  • What professional development do they need?
  • Who do they know who can help them be a better coach?
A million dollar coach has an unremitting focus on the value they provide to their clients. That doesn’t mean only monetary value but it should include it. It doesn’t necessarily mean every client gets value from working with them. The client is responsible for outcomes. But if no, or only a few, clients are getting significant value then the coach has to ask themselves how they can continue to charge fees.
Think of a doctor. Not every patient gets better. But if no patients get better (or experiences a better quality of life) then there is a problem.
As you start out today, tomorrow and every day ask yourself “How can I be a million dollar coach today.”

The business cost of profit

We don’t often think that profit has a cost. After all, profit is what is left after all the costs are accounted for.

However, I’m not thinking about the traditional relationship between income and expenses. I’m thinking about what we lose when we make a profit. Or at least when we are perceived to me making a profit at the expense of all other values.

Essentially we lose trust. And that trust costs us. It damages our brands.

I was prompted to think about this when reading this HBR article by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (of “Why should anyone be led by you?” fame.) They argue there is a general deficit of trust in our community. The food company puts too much salt and fat into their products and the pharmaceutical charges too much for its drugs.

We are seeing the same phenomenon in Australian politics at the moment.

So my question is “What’s the business cost of this phenomenon?” Most directly our customers will do everything they can to purchase goods and services from anyone but us. When they get to the point where there is no-one left they will take it out on us with higher support requests or return everything they can. If they get a chance to screw us they will. They think we’ve been screwing them for long enough.

On a wider scale, distrust in our political systems leads to instability and that costs us dearly.

Perhaps if we demonstrated that we are motivated by a much broader range of factors than pure profit, we might start to win some of that trust back. And then we might just make more profit!