Get to know Suzi Finkelstein

Suzi Finkelstein is the CEO of the Australian School of Applied Management (ASAM), which is the parent company of Women & Leadership Australia and Women & Leadership New Zealand. We asked her a couple of questions to get to know her a bit better as she celebrates six months in her new role.Tell us about your role as CEO of ASAM?I have just celebrated my 6-month milestone as CEO. Stepping up into this role at the beginning of a pandemic was an epic decision!  ASAM delivers leadership education under six separate brands; Women & Leadership Australia, Women & Leadership New Zealand, Women & Leadership International, National Excellence in School Leadership Institute, and Government Public Sector Learning.What do you love about your job?I am passionate about social equity. I believe there are many systemic challenges, particularly in Australia, but one arena that can build capacity and opportunity is via leadership education and social capital. This is the foundation of all we do, and our purpose is to affect positive change.What is your greatest achievement?Stepping up into this role during a pandemic is an achievement that I’m really proud of. I am relishing this dedicated space to influence and build a culture that is constructive and deliberately developmental. I am committed to people and purpose and I truly gain from the mutual recognition and reciprocity that this cultivates.  Thankfully I am surrounded by good people and I don’t stand alone.If you weren’t in your current career, what would be?I would like to be the SBS host of Insight, one of Australia's leading forum for debate and powerful first-person stories. Weaving stories together whilst respectfully highlighting the differences is appealing because of the dynamic complexity which unfolds in real-time.What is the best advice you’ve ever heard?I often share these wise words from Madeleine Albright, the first female United States Secretary of State: `Women can have it all, just not at the same time’. On a daily basis, I witness the fatigue of women trying to achieve so much all at once. I also witness the frustrations and the disappointments, often followed by disengagement when it all becomes too much.As women, and as a society, we need to recognise our individual life stages because they impact our capacity. If I could speak to my 21-year-old self, I would reassure her that there is a time for everything and to respect the natural order.If I could have any superpower…It would be the ability to hear others thoughts. I am an incorrigible people watcher, fascinated by reactions, interactions and altercations. To understand what makes people tick would be fascinating. I have an education background which led me to coaching and facilitating, all of my work is underscored by my belief in people. Getting inside their head (literally) would take me steps forward in increasing compassion and capacity.

You know your values, but what about the people you work with?

Values are a very personal, important thing to a lot of us. Ensuring that we both know our values, and are true to them, is incredibly important- particularly for leaders who are aiming to be authentic.However, how do you know that your values are coming through in your actions and are demonstrable to the people you lead? It can be hard to step out of your own actions, thoughts and feelings and instead think about how others perceive you. One of the ways we tackle this in our leadership programs at WLA is to look at the front and the back of our T-Shirt.The premise of the model is that you take the front of your T shirt, and write your values down. They might be things like honestly, equality, trust, calmness, fairness- the list goes on. Then you think about your actions, and HOW you lead. What actions do you take, what response do you give, what is your tone of voice, your body language? And then you ask the question; what would the people I lead, see on the back of my T shirt?As you walk away from these interactions, if the people you lead had the opportunity to guess your values and put them on the back of your T Shirt, what would they write? Would they match the front of your T Shirt? Would some of them match? None of them?Of course, you can never really know. But it is a useful lens to view your past actions through, and also an impactful tool for planning actions, decisions and interactions that come up during the day. Activities like open ended ‘walk and talk’ sessions with people you work with can also help you to find out how your actions are perceived, if you create a space where you are comfortable to ask the question and your colleague or friend is comfortable to give a truthful answer.Being an authentic leader is so important. Authentic, consistent leaders create a culture of trust, honesty and openness, leading to increased team cohesion and better wellbeing for your team members. Taking the time to ensure that your actions match the front of your t-shirt gives you and your team confidence that you lead with integrity.

Wellbeing tips for leaders

Wellbeing was already a big challenge for leaders before 2020. And when a pandemic hit, every industry and workplace was thrown into disarray, causing chaos and uncertainty for every employee in New Zealand.The pressures on leaders have been magnified 1000x times and seeking help is more complicated than ever. The feedback we are getting from our programs is that there is pressure from employees, bottom lines and industry groups and all are calling on leaders to give input, advice, security and assurance. It’s exhausting, frankly. These wellbeing tips are designed to be a bridging solution for until things settle down.1. Establish a sleep routine. We know this seems basic, but in the midst of a pandemic, all sense of time and place seems to have more or less gone out the window. If you have slipped into some unhelpful sleeping patterns, or simply disposed of routine all together, try your hand at getting into a good one.According to sleep experts, adults should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Things like limiting screen time before bed, turning the lights down and reading something that isn’t backlit or work related is a good way to encourage your body to start producing melatonin.2. Speaking of tech, turn off your emails We all have that one client or colleague who thinks they can email at all hours of the night and expects a response asap. Update your email signature with your work hours and once those have passed, turn off your work email notifications and screen parent calls. You aren’t getting paid to mediate issues, give advice or contribute to workplace projects at 8 pm at night, so don’t.3. During the day, reconnect with your purpose We all know that one of the rewards of being a leader is seeing great outcomes- not just for the bottom line, but for your team and clients as well. Try to find an opportunity each day to connect with an employee or staff member who is getting great results and take a moment to celebrate that with them.4. Connect with your peers It can be hard to explain to someone who isn’t a leader, the challenges that come with it. Find 20 minutes one night a week to jump on a zoom with a few peers from other organisations or industry sectors. Share your best and worst of the week, toss around some ideas and have a general chat. Not only is this connection good for you socially, but it can be comforting to know that other people are having similar challenges to you. Plus, you get the benefit of being able to help and support other leaders as well.5. Build up your emotional resilienceBeing proactive about looking after your physical and mental health can increase your resilience in tough times. Free yoga classes and meditation programs are rife at the moment. If you are in Victoria, you can also access up to 20 sessions with a registered counsellor or psychologist under temporary changes to the mental health care plans.Putting aside time on the weekend to do something you really enjoy is a good way to make sure you have something to look forward to. Sometimes, it’s the little things that help.  

Why human connection and self-reflection are essential for any good leader​

Human connection is our number one intention when we bring groups of leaders together. When we look up and connect with others, wonderful things happen to our brains. It is one of the things I hold most dear when doing leadership programs with groups in Nepal. Most humans naturally love being together. We enjoy the lovely chemicals that we share when we are together to feel connected and a sense of belonging. Spending nine days with a group, we start to synchronize our brains too. With the development of shared values, the group builds cooperation and understanding. This builds trust, compassion, creativity and bravery. Our programs in Nepal are designed to shake things up a little and give participants a new take on their work and lives.Imagine it: no emails, phone calls, notifications, WiFi, electronic diaries, online distractions and social media. A digital detox is a brilliant way for leaders to experience Nepal, to reconnect with what is important to them and to reconnect with humans. Our participants enjoy it so much that they are slow to reconnect again when they are again allowed to. Spending time living and trekking in a mountain village at 2,600m above sea level humbles you. We live structured lives, but nature is always changing. Out there, mother nature is in control and you need to respect the mountains. She will have the last say.Our leadership programs are designed deliberately on a broad framework rather than a strict day by day agenda. Initially, some people find it hard, but with encouragement and time, they learn to surrender control, live with fewer expectations or agendas and go with the flow. They learn to trust our team and then thoroughly enjoy the surprises. There are no disappointments as there are no expectations. How often do you feel disappointed because your expectations were not met? Did you stop to consider if they were realistic and achievable? Surrendering expectations is a wonderful skill to develop. In Nepal, you are not a mother, wife, colleague, CEO, manager or friend. You have no role to play except to show up in the present moment. No cooking, washing, housework, shopping, school drop-offs, homework, social events, meetings, interruptions or work. Just you. Who are you without all these distractions? The opportunity to disconnect from all of this and rediscover yourself is a gift. Each leadership program provides time for daily group reflection to allow participants to realise what is important and to think about where they are at in life. We live and bathe ourselves in nature in a mountain village for three days. Nature clears your vision, changes your attitude, and makes you think of the real worth of living. In fact, nature therapy is now being prescribed by doctors as medicine. Participants come away from the mountain time feeling a little happier, a little healthier and can breathe better. We also focus on building spiritual literacy. In the western world, we are in spiritual poverty. So many of us seek more clarity on our life meaning and purpose and want less of a focus on materials and job titles that bring short term satisfaction.Throughout our programs, we meet and learn from a selection of Nepali people that inspire leadership for the greater good and display values of humility, courage, love and kindness. Participants are also encouraged to turn down the voice of judgement, fear and cynicism and draw on the strengths of compassion, courage and curiosity. We run workshops with Nepali women to deepen our connections, find our human commonalities and add value to each other. It is these human connections and opportunities for reflection and development that give leaders the time to heal, develop spiritual understanding and become more awakened leaders. By Katrina WebbAs a sporting legend, Katrina Webb is no stranger to a Gold medal podium or a star-lit stage. She has received awards and medals most athletes only dream about. Despite this success, her journey hasn’t always been easy. Katrina is an international speaker, leadership and personal mastery consultant, trainer in wellbeing and resilience, and a physiotherapist. 

HOW TO STAY ABOVE THE LINE OF CHOICE​

Have you ever heard of the line of choice? It’s a really impactful tool for leaders and organisations to measure both where you sit, and where your team and organisation sit in terms of accountability, ownership and teamwork.Below the line thinking usually manifests itself in organisations with cultural issues, where teams or individuals don’t feel comfortable, or don’t want, to accept shared or singular responsibility for the outcomes they produce. There is a lack of willingness to take personal responsibility. This is particularly true where the outcome is less than desirable. It is also really understandable; as Brene Brown explains in her Ted Talk, ‘blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain’ by putting it on to another person. On the flip side, individuals and teams who sit above the line are usually in an environment where they as a team and as individuals are happy to accept and be responsible for the outcomes they produce- not just the excellent ones, but the not so good ones as well. In these environments, colleagues usually experience a high level of psychological safety and are able to work collaboratively with each other. Antony Maxwell, Senior Leadership Facilitator at WLA, said of the model: “Staying above the line is actually really challenging for most individuals and teams. Personal responsibility can be really challenging. You also see different individuals, pairs and groups working above and below the line depending on the project and the interpersonal relationships at play. “For example, you might have two members of your team who work really well together and consistently operate above the line. But when those two individuals are part of a bigger group, they fall below the line due to the interpersonal relationships at play. “It is really important to acknowledge that everyone falls below the line, if not every day then certainly most days. It is about psychological safety, personal responsibility and a feeling of insecurity and inadequacy. Leading by example and actively reaching out to support team members who consistently display below the line behaviours can really help to bring the entire team above the line.”Recognising and addressing below the line behaviours: Below the line behaviours will fit into one of the following categories or personas; Defend, Blame, Justify, Quit, Victim, Deny. These can manifest in a number of ways; for example, if you are in a meeting with a member of your team and discussing a project that perhaps wasn’t managed as well as you would have liked, they might say ‘I could have managed it better except I didn’t get the support that I needed from (team member/department.)’ That’s an example of the employee making an excuse or justifying the outcome, and in the process, blaming the other person or department involved. In this example, you also need to see personal responsibility being taken by every member of the team in order for everyone to be working productively; both the team member who is tempted to blame another department and the department that they believe didn’t contribute to a good outcome. Some coaching questions can be helpful in this situation; countering that response with something along the lines of ‘Okay. What could you/we do differently next time to better manage that team so that you work better together?’ or ‘What are some things you could do to help them to be more involved or take more ownership of the project?’ Hopefully, this will encourage your team to take more ownership by empowering them to think about how they can take more personal responsibility for the outcome.Recognising and encouraging above the line behaviours: In terms of recognising above the line behaviour, it is summarised by the acronym OAR: Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility. This can manifest in a number of ways; for example, if you are working with your colleagues on a project and someone in the team has not met a deadline, they will feel comfortable to put their hand up and say something along the lines of; ‘sorry, I didn’t get that done in time. I know this will have an adverse effect on the project. Once it is done I will try to support the team in other ways until we are all back on track.’ That’s an example of an employee feeling comfortable within their team and organisation to take personal responsibility for their actions and the compromised position they have put the team in.In order for the above to happen, your team has to feel supported and psychologically safe in the workplace. An employee or team who feels they are not valued, that they are in a precarious position in the workplace or that they are not well-liked by their team or manager is far less likely to feel able to take personal responsibility for their actions and the outcomes they produce. It has to be said that one of the most important things you can do as a leader to encourage above the line behaviour is to demonstrate it yourself. As good leaders we know that our employees aren’t perfect, and neither are we. We also know that at least once (probably more) we have been guilty of demonstrating that below the line behaviour. By demonstrating to your team your willingness to own your own mistakes and take responsibility for them, you create a culture that makes it easier to do the same. Identifying where you sit on the line of choice: Antony is a strong advocate for teams utilising ‘walk and talks’ to connect with their fellow colleagues and to identify where they are perceived to sit on the line. “I would recommend that you start with people you are close to and work your way out from there. People are far more open to receiving feedback from people that they have a close relationship with and feel psychologically safe around. Focus on identifying one thing you could work on in the next 30 days and then really actively focus on it.Over time, expand your conversations to other people that you work with, your supervisor and even people in other teams. Knowing where you are perceived to be is really important.”​

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Catherine Fox, WLNZ's Director of Diversity, on the importance of women coming together. 

three pictures, one of a woman giving a speech at a lectern, one of three women talking on a panel and one of two women having a conversation at a table

By Catherine Fox.

 

On the same day the Australian Prime Minister recently explained to a Perth forum that we don’t want to see ‘women rise only on the basis of others doing worse’, I was wishing a happy International Women’s Day (IWD) to an audience of more than 450 Women in Construction Victoria members on the other side of Australia.

Sure it was an afternoon tea. But the discussion was far from the ‘cupcake feminism’ that critics have dubbed these kinds of gatherings. In fact the talk about the history and success of women’s solidarity which is celebrated on IWD drew cheers from most of the audiences I spoke to around Australia.

These were not simply token efforts in the face of daunting gender equity issues nor were they a bit of corporate box ticking. In fact the women I spoke to, from all kinds of sectors and jobs, seemed fed up and were vocal in a way I’ve rarely seen before.

A few years ago the organisers of these presentations were struggling to fill a room. This year many sold out. Something has changed.

That doesn’t surprise me. The reboot from #MeToo and women supporting each other while standing up to poor behavior, such as the brave few who called out the bullying in the LNP, has put women’s rights back into the spotlight.

There was much more open acknowledgement of the barriers and less appeasing than I’ve seen before. This dialogue had moved well beyond the old theme of whether discrimination exists and was focused on working out how to tackle it.

Speakers on panels at several events were talking about the need for uncomfortable conversations to make change; some blokes were challenging power structures that remain male dominated at the top and making opaque networks and patronage visible; of many leaders with a blind spot when it comes to how traditional masculine styles are self-perpetuating; the depth of the backlash and ways to debunk the argument that if women have ‘merit’ they will get ahead.

There were women who told painful stories of their lives to help understanding of how race or disability combine with sexism in devastating ways. Aboriginal women spoke of the extra hurdles they face at every turn; and why younger Aboriginal women don’t take hard won women’s rights for granted because for them there are virtually no obvious signs of change, much less role models who look like them.

I heard a visually impaired woman talk about being patronised and of having her husband constantly mistaken as her carer when she is out; and that she is not ashamed of her disablilty because it’s what has made her the person she is.

And at Macquarie University the story emerged of a concerted push to fix the system, not the women (partly inspired by my book Stop Fixing Women) by reviewing rules and practices. At the School of Engineering, once dubbed the ‘man cave’ on campus, a different approach to identifying and promoting senior academics led to increasing the women at senior levels from 5% to 25%.

There’s been a real spike in the number of women asking why they are blamed for outcomes of bias in the workplace; many who grapple with inflexible attitudes and double standards. They were figuring out how to identify and address bias in areas such as recruitment and promotion to change the landscape.

One other observation from the week was about men – both as speakers and in the audience. Some on the stage were clearly trying hard but failed to come to grips with the causes of discrimination and defaulted to well-worn advice about women being the problem – either not studying maths at school or failing to speak up more in the workplace.

This didn’t go down well.

But some urged other men to step up and tackle the entitlement of the boys’ club, use procurement policies to ensure suppliers have gender equity strategies, hand the microphone to a woman at events, and push the envelope on flexibility by taking paternity leave.

And that’s why IWD remains a potent rallying point and of course keeps me busy – and I obviously have a vested interest in supporting it. But as an advocate for change over several decades, I am pragmatic too.

IWD allows public conversations to unfold that might not happen otherwise. It takes women’s concerns seriously and celebrates the enormous steps forward in the last century: winning the vote, the right to education and a fair wage (in theory if not in practice).

There’s no denying much remains to be done to deliver fairness for women and improve understanding of what is at stake – as our PM’s comments reveal. But I think we have to remind ourselves of not just what has been achieved but how it happened.

I came away from a few days of celebrating IWD without eating a single cupcake but with a surge of optimism at the wave of energy from women working together just like the suffragettes did a century ago. That’s why we need to keep loudly and proudly celebrating IWD.

 Follow Catherine Fox on Twitter.

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