Donald Trump and Meryl Streep locked horns last week — turns out we can learn a lot from that whole kerfuffle about leadership and criticism...

MS DT.jpg

That's Meryl getting a big-swish award; which she then used the opportunity to have 'erself a fair crack. Then Trump went berko on twitter. In the aftermath, it turns out Trump and I actually agree on something! We obviously both weren’t fans of Bridges Over Madison County. But beyond that, I'd suggest his handling of Streep's criticism is worth putting under the microscope...shall we?


I get around on the tweeting space in rather a sporadic fashion. But one tweet in particular sent the whole 140-character brigade into meltdown last week.

Meryl Streep, one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood…

That was part of a tweet put out by the US President-elect Donald Trump. Very soon to be (as in a matter of hours) the most powerful man in the world. Wow.

I made mention in my newsletter from last week that this invites a very interesting discussion…so let's dive in.

Now I should caveat that in writing this newsletter, it is my intention to explore something eminently more useful than a political debate. I want to explore the role of a leader when criticism comes your way.*

So let’s use Trump’s remarkably thin-skinned** twitter retort to Streep’s politically-charged, strident acceptance speech at this year’s Golden Globes as a useful catalyst to explore an important set of questions:

As a leader, what should we do when faced with criticism from others?

Should we react? Should we remain quiet?

How do we determine which approach might work best?

That’s a conversation worth having, don’t you think?


It’s like the tide; you won’t stop it

Look, let’s face it; once you step into a role as a leader, especially an appointed position, you’ll face criticism. Without any doubt whatsoever, it’ll happen. You know it, don’t you?

Despite your best intentions and most devout effort, people will say and write things about you that at best are professionally challenging and at worst are deeply personal in the worst way. You’ll lose sleep over some of that criticism; you can bank on it. Now this newsletter could explore the reasons why others feel the need to react in such ways; but that’s probably a whole other piece for another time. A veritable Pandora’s box that we’ll leave shut…for now. Rather than discuss the antecedents for their behaviour, let’s focus on your reactions as a leader instead, shall we? Great.

This whole dealing with criticism thing, well, it’s a terribly complex problem to explore —largely due to the emotions at play— so let’s introduce a simple critique hierarchy for you to filter criticism through.

That hierarchy? Ignore. Interpret. Investigate.


Ignore - this doesn’t/shouldn’t matter to me

Put simply, if the criticism comes from someone outside your circle of influence, e.g. they have no direct relationship with you, nor are they a peer or mentor of yours; my strongest advice would be to ignore it. You’re a leader and it’s not your role to win a popularity contest. Capisci?

Just delete it immediately from your inbox. Politely but firmly hang up the phone. Block them on social media. Turn off the chatter and don’t buy into it.***

Now some might suggest that such immediate deletion from your consciousness could be running away from an issue, but they’d be wrong. I’d argue it’s simply setting up important boundaries. Dr Brene Brown (who I believe is truly a voice of our times) suggests that some of the most compelling data she’s uncovered about vulnerability and shame in leaders led her to an irrefutable conclusion: the most compassionate and trust-engendering leaders are the ones who establish clear boundaries. In basic terms, they determine what’s OK and what’s not OK and hold themselves and others to it.

By not setting these type of boundaries —who to listen to and who to ignore— we effectively let the world set our boundaries for us.

So, stuff ‘em. Turn them off and in doing so, turn off the noise in your head. (Even better if you have the most incredible Executive Assistant in the whole world, Tracy, to do it for you :)


Interpret - to dig a little deeper (and then choose your action)

There are going to be times when simply ignoring criticism isn't going to work for you; in fact, it’ll actually do the situation more harm.

But rather than move directly into action (based on the criticism) you need a middle step, otherwise you can find yourself just reacting to anything and everything— sometimes you’ll need to interpret the criticism to see what underlying drivers are at play.

The truth is not many people are skilled in giving good critique. In fact, most suck at it. Just awful. As a consequence, the data they are trying to provide you may be well-intended but it’s often skewed or inaccurate.

To interpret criticism well, a crucial first step is to ask a question. Sounds ridiculously simple, right? And it is, but far too many people tend to engage by heading down a process of justification and explanation; and that’s a mistake.

As a leader, your job isn’t to constantly justify your decisions or choices, but rather, have people understand them better while leaving a window available for change if you have indeed, stuffed up. By refraining from justification — which is just continuing a narrative that isn’t working — and asking a question, we get a chance to understand where any confusion or miscommunication might have taken place.

Typically, the times you’ll decide to choose interpret rather than ignore will be when there is an existing relationshipthat needs to continue in some way, shape or form. You’ll need to see and work with this person again, or require their services or custom. It could be an internal stakeholder or a customer, perhaps a peer at work in another department.

Dig a little deeper — by asking good questions — to gain an understanding of whether you either choose to take action based on the criticism or move on from it. Got it? Awesome.

So, our last option is to react to criticism, but possibly not in the way you might think.


Investigate - make a change or enter the conversation

Our third stage in the hierarchy of processing criticism is when someone close to you; be they a trusted colleague or mentor, a long-term customer, one of your direct reports, or your boss; gives you criticism. What do we do in this situation? Good question; I’d suggest you investigate.

Make no mistake, this is your problem. If it’s someone in your inner-circle giving you this critique, you’ve undoubtedly played a role in the environment to this point and you need to change the dynamic in some way.

I should clarify this though; you need to change the approach, not necessarily the decision.

If the source of the critique is close to you and there’s a deep relationship that exists that needs to continue, you need to shift the focus off them (as we would in interpret) and in the early instance put the focus squarely on ourselves. What could I have done differently? How could I have managed this message better? How can I explain context from a different angle to help them understand? You’re 100% responsible for your own actions. Sure, they are also 100% responsible for their actions too, but again, if they’re close to you, you need to take ownership of what you have complete control over: your own actions.

The problem is if you don’t show discernible effort to either make a change in your own behaviour, explain things another way (which is a change of behaviour) or enter the conversation deeper, then you’ll be seen— by the closest people around you —  as a leader who is closed and indifferent. Not a good platform for future engagement.

So, how do these three steps look in real, understandable terms?

Ignore: I don’t look at it. Delete it from your space.

Interpret: I ask questions to then make a decision to act (or not)

Investigate. Where could I do it better? (and in doing so strengthen the relationship)

Hope this helps you as you lead your teams in 2017.


Alf veeter sayin



*Look, I could easily write thousands upon thousands of words on why Trump is a disaster on so many levels but I guess time will tell just how big a catastrophe we’ll see unfold. We could also list Meryl Streep’s list of awards and achievements providing a compelling case that she is in fact, not overrated, but arguably the finest actor of her generation, male or female. But I’ll settle for this little footnote to give you a pretty good idea where my thoughts on this lie.

** I can’t imagine Mandela, Gandhi, MLK, Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama (or any other great leader) getting into a slanging match on Twitter can you? It just seems so reactionary for someone in such a position of authority. What if Trumpy had tweeted “Congrats to Meryl on her award at the Golden Globes. Perhaps we could meet to discuss how we can both make the US a better place for all. My door is open to someone of such influence.” That sounds like a leader worth following doesn’t it? BTW I know he would’ve had to split that over two tweets —140 characters ’n all.

***I’m the first person to put my hand up to say I’ve engaged in good slanging matches on Twitter, Facey and the like. It’s one of my best/worst skills and I enjoy the sparring…but if I’m in a leadership capacity, then the vast majority of the time I realise to best to stay above it. No matter how much you see it as ‘sport’. (I’m also writing this as a reminder to myself).)

º BTW, if you’re a person that just loses their mind over someone suggesting Trump pulled the wrong move with the whole Twitter thingo, or you wanna rant about left or right, or that Streep is an elitist blah blah…rather than have an intelligent conversation about leadership, then please save both you and me a bunch of time by not writing a vitriolic email to me. Actually, I guess you can if you really want, it’s just I won’t read it. I promise you I’ll follow the themes of this piece and just ignore it. Seriously. I’m like greased lightning on the delete key these days. Ninja-like even. Granted, a Ninja that ate way too much Christmas cake and beer, but still pretty damn fast. So, if you’re a bit worked up, best to just go shout loudly at a brick wall. You’ll get a better response. And unsubscribing is always a good option if none of this sits well with you. Again, probably best for both of us, and I wish you a genuine and heartfelt farewell and good luck in all life has to offer you and those close to you. Big love. 

If on the other hand you loved what I’ve mused on, then feel free to put it up on your fave social media channel or send it onto a mate. Sharing is caring, y’all.

Let's explore why some people make massive changes while others stay the same...

So we've been inundated via email, text and PM's on social media with the response to last week's newsletter. Actually, inundated is probably not entirely accurate. Inundated would be Meryl Streep's inbox. Or Trump's twitter feed after his response.

Cue Daz thinking: hmmm, actually, I might muse on that next week. Topic: how to take criticism as a leader.

Anyways it's not like we had to hire an assistant to sort through bags of fan mail or security guards to walk me too my car or anything like that. But there were a few dozen comments, hat tips and general compliments; my Mum even said she liked it if that counts for anything...

So it did seem to hit a nerve or strike the right cord for plenty of people —sharing my lament of the long-term (longish) disappearance of my relationship with words. It was a rally cry to step back into the space in 2017 — and I'm happy to report the writing has been pouring outta my fingers. Go me.

Now as typically happens, when our filter changes, or confirmation bias kicks in, or perhaps even it's ole fashioned luck, there are often signals to confirm our pathway. That was there in spades for me at the fillums on Sunday.

If you, like me are undertaking a creative renaissance in 2017, bloody hell, do yourself a favour and get along to the flicks to watch La La Land. This one is perfect fuel for the bashed, battered and bruised creative soul that is summoning up the fight for another tilt; the creative taking the chance to again, dare greatly. Oh, and it has Emma Stone in it.* 'Nuff said.

Oh, and make sure you check out the links at the bottom of this newsletter. Some cool stuff coming up including Ali running a Think Club at University of Queensland. It's a cracker. We'll be exploring  the biases that are holding back our pursuit for gender equality at work. Big topic, big crowd. It's free and we'll have 200+ of the smartest peeps in Brisvegas at it. Get on it.

Now on with this weeks newsletter...'bout the year we're entering.


New Year, New You

Twenty-seventeen. So good.

A new year always brings a sense of anticipation, change and expectation, doesn’t it? Well, let’s face it, the excitement generally comes after the New Year’s hangover, of course. Unless you have young kids. Then, like Alison and I, you’ll have been in bed by 10.30pm, giving yourself a mental high-five that you made it that far into the evening. But I digress.

New year, new spirit of change and all that. It’s cool, right?

Not really. For too many people, in too many years, all that early anticipation amounts to little action and nary a change to be seen from the year previous. But a rare few, the new year brings a new experience and it’s wonderful.

So, it begs us to consider a big, beautiful and bold question;

Why do some people genuinely change the game for themselves in a new year when others stay the same?


Times they are-a-changin’

Before we delve deeper into that question of why people have stunning years of reinvention and yet their mate —right alongside them— fails to change, not one iota, let’s actually explore some facts.

The 100% inescapable truth is everyone, at the material level, is a different human being each and every year.

We all reinvent ourselves quite regularly. The vast majority —and we’re talking >95%— of the molecules in our bodies — all those clusters of atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen — are not the same as the year before. We produce a small intestine lining every four days, such is the rapid regeneration and turnover of cells. Our skin cells last about two weeks or thereabouts, whereas our red blood cells stick it out for nearly four months the stubborn little blighters.

Make no mistake, we are different. Every year. Without fail. And yet, at another level, everything is the same.

The quantum mechanics and cellular memory within our DNA arranges our system to follow certain rules; we arrange our cells in such a way that even though we’re in constant regeneration, we essentially keep producing the same result. Those new molecules and atoms absorbed through food and our external environment align themselves according to certain patterns, and largely that’s a good thing.

As Homo Sapiens we produce two legs —with this new bone and tissue material every year— and yet we don’t randomly produce a third leg. Thank gawd, because that would need a pretty considerable re-work of the wardrobe wouldn’t it?

Umm, don't suppose you'd have a pair of those Nudie jeans out the back in an extra leg would you? Damn!

Our body’s cells arrange themselves time and again; whether it’s our beating heart, or our ability to see, hear, or smell. We keep our opposable thumbs and for far too many of us, a love for the Kardashians. That last point, I guess, shows we can see that the system as almost-perfect as it is, is also still deeply flawed.

So, whilst basically everything is new every year —at a material level— the organising principles and smart intelligence that exists at a cellular level often stays the same. Producing largely the same results.

And therein lies a potential answer to our big question of why some people change and others don’t in a new year.

Because everyone changes. But the ones who achieve the elusive ermahgawd change, well could they have possibly changed the deeper mechanics that drive their material plans?

In 2017 I guarantee you’ll see some people undertake impressive physical and environmental transformations. They’ll lose weight, get fit, take up new hobbies, dedicate themselves to new pursuits, change jobs, start businesses, form new and fulfilling relationships — if you open your eyes to it, you’ll be astonished by the transformation that some people will undertake this year.

And yet others will have their very own groundhog-day type year. It’ll look and feel almost exactly the same. Same life, same house, same body, same routines, same crap boss, same shitty job; while they might have a new cellular experience — remember almost every single atom in their body will have changed by this time next year— the organising principle that shaped the constant rebuild remained the same, so the result is the same.

A confronting reality is that the biggest impact you can achieve to change things in your life is to work on the deeper mechanics that in turn, create the plans that organise you as your system continues to constantly regenerate itself.

Having said that, I doubt you’ll change those opposable thumbs of yours anytime soon. Which is good news for all those glove-makers out there.


Change the blueprint

The mechanics I speak of — that arguably are the biggest driver for change in our daily behaviours — are our core beliefs. Challenging our perceptions, filters, mindsets, world views, values — all these belief systems — are how we can truly achieve meaningful change.

If you want a new work experience, change your core beliefs about what work can be. If you hate your job, try finding something to love about it and to be grateful for. I’m one hundred percent aware that this sounds condescendingly simple. If you want to lose weight or get fit, change the relationship and perceptions you have with food and exercise. If you want to achieve a level of financial freedom, then start by viewing your belief systems around money. If you want to overcome your clicky knees, lower back pain or your sore thoracic area then look at how you believe you’ve contributed to your current situation. These are hard mirrors for any of us to stare into. And for many, myself included, we’ll often choose to look away.

I should point out that this isn’t simply positive thinking or god forbid, manifesting your destiny. Cue vomit-in-mouth in three, two, one… This is not more clap-trap-speak like the godawful written-diarrhoea that pervades the world in the form of The Secret or The Power of Positive Thinking.** If you want my honest opinion of this literary garbage, best to read Mark Manson’s roast of 'The Secret'. It’s sensational reading that better encapsulates my views than I could possibly write.

Changing your core beliefs isn’t via thinking happy thoughts and skipping through the tulips. It’s hard, gritty and sometimes immensely painful. It requires asking huge questions of yourself and demanding we often let go of the things that have served us well.

If you are, perchance, a victim of something horrific —including physical or psychological distress of the worst kind— the accepted way that you’ll change the behaviours associated with victimhood is to change the belief you hold around the circumstance. Until that point, the perpetrator still exhibits control over your life. Most credible psychological support strategies in this type of instance are pointed towards re-shaping identities and beliefs.

So too with the most debilitating of physical disorders. The growing evidence base that supports lifestyle-based treatments having profound effects upon various forms of cancers is far too weighty to ignore. While extreme proponents — usually commercially driven — might think that bone broth will cure your arthritis, mastitis and any other ‘itis you can think of (modern day snake oil anyone?) the majority of the argument, that we can prevent and in some cases even heal ourselves through healthy lifestyle choices becomes more salient with every year that passes. The cornerstone of this whole approach is that many forms of cancer (and it’s continued presence in your body), in some cases might not be done to you but be because of you, well that’s some heavy consideration. Especially for most of us who’ve had our closest family members battle and ultimately lose the fight against this insidious group of diseases #fuckcancer #ihateit

Think of it this way: if you have the notion that the raw materials to build say, a house; that they had to be put together a certain way and you couldn’t envisage any another way, it makes perfect sense that you’d keep getting the same building over and over. But just like bricks, wood and tiles can be shaped to form many different types of houses, there’s a huge evidence base around placebos to suggest the molecules in your body —the composition of building blocks of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen— can be re-shaped through our thinking rather than at the environment’s behest.

So back to our latest trip around the sun. This year that is going to be 2017.


Let’s all dig a little deeper, shall we?

Be forewarned this post is much more than a warning shot across the bow. It’s just the first volley in a full-scale assault as I explore personally (and take you with me) on a very cool quest this year. My longer-term goal is to explore the deeper beliefs that drive behaviour in the workplace and team cultures along with individual behaviour too. You’ll find this stream constantly through my work this year largely driven because of my word for 2017, Pentimento.

Yep, like a growing number of people I tend not to get too caught up in resolutions or too fixated on yearly goals, but I do like to place a ‘filter’ on the year in the form of a word. I first heard of the concept over 7 or 8 years ago from my mate Rowdy and also through Matt and Jason. Wonderful words such as ‘Pirate’, ‘Wisdom’, ‘Magnet’ and even ‘the year of NO’. A word for the year has now become quite the fashion, with notable bloggers such as Mia Freedman in this post and others now jumping on board in recent years.

Alison is one of the best` at this game. Her words are always killer. In years gone past she’s picked ‘Unleash’, ‘Warrior’ (not worrier) and a year of ‘Flirt’. Curiously, I was a big fan of that year. This year she’s gone with ‘Aperture’. Alison’s intention is about how much exposure, light and control she wants over the picture that is her life. Way cool, right?

So as stated earlier, my word for 2017 is Pentimento. Penti-WTF?

Pentimento is a term used to describe a painting that has aged to the point where the surface artwork has faded or cracked; then revealed underneath is an underlying work from the artist that was painted over. So cool right? In effect, over time the painting reveals other layers of itself.

My word for the year is my filter to explore the hidden or deeper meaning on the canvas that is our life and work experience. What are the beliefs and hidden drivers that are in turn represented in the behaviour we see?

It’s going to be fascinating, revealing, confronting, and in some cases I truly believe it’ll verge on being terrifying.

But what started me to thinking about exploring this deeper, oft-hidden space, was a conversation about potential. A dear friend of mine Michael Henderson shared one of his wife Shar’s quotes that stopped me in my tracks.

To be twice the person you want to be, you’ll need to leave half of yourself behind.

The smart question is which part do you choose to leave behind? Where can we choose to change the blueprint and in turn, change the results?

That’s why I’ve chosen Pentimento. I want to be a better version of myself and I want my family, friends and clients to do the same. To do this, I’ll need to challenge the belief systems that drive all that behaviour.

It’s a game I’m up for, and I hope you are too.

Just remember, it is materially impossible to be the same person in 2017 as you were in 2016. How you choose to reinvent yourself is in a large part, up to you.


Terry marka see


*And some other joker by the name of Gosling. Alison thought he was OK.

** You’ll note I haven’t put in a hyperlink to that rubbish. And if you wanted one, give yourself a stern talking to. You’re better than that.