Empowering leadership

I have spent much time lately contemplating what makes a quality leader.

I was recently awarded a scholarship from Woman & Leadership Australia to undertake the eight-month Executive Ready program. This course comprises 25 percent of the Master of Leadership at Monash University. The program starts in May and I’m super excited about it.

As my friends know, I’ve been considering a plethora of postgraduate courses recently – everything from psychology to counselling to leadership. But there’s nothing like a scholarship to make a woman’s decision!

It is such a wonderful privilege to be selected, supported and developed as a female leader. I’m hoping this program will enable me to contribute more value to my team.

Across the globe right now, it seems the future is, indeed, female. There are incredible women who inspire me every day. Emma Gonzáles, Penny Wong, Jacinda Ardern, Michelle Obama, Rosie Batty, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Oprah, my mum… to name but a few. I’ve admired Ita Buttrose for many years and was thrilled to meet her in 2011.

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” Sheryl Sandberg

But the most influential leader in my professional world is Shirley Leitch. In my experience, quality managers are rare in the corporate life, but Shirley is brilliant. She remains the best leader and manager I’ve experienced my entire career.

I worked for Shirley as a PR Executive at Swinburne University seven years ago. We’re still friends today. Shirley developed me through trust, fairness and integrity. She supported, encouraged and empowered me. I try to lead people in the same way. Despite being a Professor of Communications – far more qualified than me – Shirley genuinely respected my expertise. As a result, she valued my advice and was willing to take risks. And because she trusted me, and believed in me, I worked extra hard to ensure her success.

Empowered women empower women.

Shirley supported me to attend the 2012 International Social Media and PR Summit in Amsterdam, which took my career to the next level. She even dedicated an academic book to me – after asking me to contribute a section, which I never did – a lovely gesture that touched me beyond words. Shirley is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. But her gentle presence is powerful and commands respect. I am grateful to have experienced what quality leadership feels like as a team member.

In my scholarship application, I was asked to respond to this question: What does effective leadership mean to you, and why is it so important in organisations today? This was my answer:

Effective leaders inspire people to follow their path and come on the journey. They are egalitarian, respectful and empowering. They lead by example. Great leaders come from love, not fear. They treat people fairly and equally, regardless of position or title. Good leaders command respect, rather than demand it. They create and enable a high performing team by bringing out the best in people. Effective leadership is important today because research shows employees leave managers, rather than companies. Poor management can have a negative impact on overall performance, team morale and employee wellbeing. Quality leadership enables higher team performance, job satisfaction and personal fulfilment.

All this I learned from you, Shirley. Thank you. And I hope to do you proud.


Nine ideas for inspiring writing

Mum and I are both authors – she writes fiction and I write non-fiction.

In deciding what to contribute for a guest post, I asked mum what subject she would find most useful. She answered that her greatest challenge was coming up with new ideas.

I can certainly relate. I often struggle with generating ideas for my blog. In today’s world, where we self-publish online in blogs and social media, producing fresh content on a regular basis can be quite challenging.

So, mum gave me the idea of writing about… well, ideas and how to get them. Here’s nine to start the conversation, I’d love to hear your ideas too.

Ask your audience.

It may be helpful to ask your target audience – for me, that’s other writers – what they would like to read. If an audience member suggests a subject (like my mum did) other readers will probably relate too.

Tell the story again.

American journalist Barbara Grizzuti Harrison said: “There are no original ideas. There are only original people.” Even if a subject has been covered a thousand times, you have a unique voice and perspective. As a writer, your voice is your greatest asset. So, be yourself, feel the fear and do it anyway.

Start tweeting.

If you’re a writer, you have to be on twitter. Twitter is like Disneyland for us. There are so many wonderful people and so much great content, it’s a virtual treasure chest of ideas.

Share a secret.

In her autobiography, Australian publishing icon Ita Buttrose disclosed she was once so angry with a former boss that she wrote his name on a piece of paper and stuck pins in it. This confession not only surprises the reader but shows Ita’s humanity. Readers empathise with human frailty. The truth is very powerful.

Think like a journalist.

If you generally write opinion in your blog – and most of us do – get inspired by journalism. You could produce a feature about a local event or interview a person relevant to your readers and write a Q&A piece.

Explore a new genre or medium.

Writers are artists, we use words like a sculptor uses clay. Experimenting with a different genre or medium can be fun and produce some interesting content too. If you usually write non-fiction, why not try fiction? How about photography or producing a video? You may even discover a hidden talent or passion.

Voice your views.

Share your thoughts about news and current affairs. Even if everyone is talking about the Royal Wedding, for example, you bring a distinctive voice to the conversation.

Find inspiration in the everyday.

French author Anais Nin said: “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.” A poem on a fridge, a conversation with a friend, a sentence in a book – all have inspired ideas for my blog.

Don’t Google it.

The first thing writers tend to do is research. But if you Google your idea, you’ll find it has already been written about. So, just write from the heart. Even if the idea is unoriginal, you are an original person. Your writing will be original if you write first and Google later.

This post was originally written for American publishing house Our Little Books. Our Little Books is dedicated to producing educational, inspirational and fun little books with a big message. You can follow @ourlittlebooks on twitter or like Our Little Books on Facebook. Here is the orginal post: Nine ideas for original writing


For the love of technology

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.” Steve Jobs, Wall Street Journal, 1993

I’ve been thinking recently about the late Steve Jobs and his contributions to the world. Following his sad passing on October 5, much has been written on the subject of his legacy. So, I’d like to add my voice to the conversation.

I was born in the 70s and grew up in the 80s. The threat of nuclear war was very real to me during my childhood. It seemed all it would take is one press of a button and we would all be gone. At school, we read classics like 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Well, it was 1984 now and that brave new world was on its way.

It was a time before Microsoft, before the Internet, before mobile phones. We had the most basic computers in high school. Black screens with green text that you could program with simple commands. Enter ‘cat’ = show ‘meow’, or something to that effect.

For me, the 80s were all about – forgetting Madonna for a moment – the ‘greed is good’ ideology, the birth of the yuppie, and scientists mentioning climate change (or global warming as it was called then) for the very first time. I moved to Sydney in 1992 to work for Greenpeace and try to save the planet from capitalism. Technology seemed like a very scary thing. Like something I didn’t want. One day robots would take over the world. And ultimately us with them.

So, fast forward to 2011 and it is surprising to find that I can’t live without technology. I am excited to see where we take technology into the future. And robots? Love them.

What I believe Jobs contributed to my generation was to move the masses from a place of fearing technology to embracing it. And not just embracing it, but adoring it. It was a revolutionary shift. For me, Jobs changed technology from something sinister and evil into something I wanted. Very much. Like right now, if not sooner. And keep it coming, please.

When my service provider offered me the first iPhone in 2008, I initially said no thanks. The sales representative sounded shocked. So I rang my Generation Z son to check I’d made the right decision. “Do I want to upgrade to an iPhone?” I asked him. “Um yes, of course you do, is this a trick question?” he asked.

So I upgraded. And through this sweet little gadget, Jobs made me fall in love with technology. Now, I had used technology before in my work, of course, but I never loved Microsoft Office. I used it because I had to. But through the iPhone, I started to appreciate technology’s power, its beauty and its potential. The online world, especially social media, was suddenly much more fun.

As a writer, with a print background, I entered cyberspace with trepidation. But now I live in it. We can self publish and that’s amazing. We can interact and connect with our readers like never before. I can sit in a train and read a blog post by a writer on the other side of the world. I can edit my blog, share my posts and respond to your comments on my iPad. On the move and anywhere I choose. And it’s really only just begun.


Meeting Ita

Cleo and I were born in the same year. Cleo was born in Australia in 1972, her mother the now iconic Ita Buttrose and her father the late Kerry Packer. I was born in New Zealand, the love child of two teenagers. Suffice to say it didn’t last and I was raised by a single mother.

I grew up in hippy communities in Western Australia where the women grew organic vegetables, baked and sewed everything from scratch, and helped each other raise their children. The men, in contrast, seemed to pass their days smoking marijuana and living the ‘free love’ philosophy with abandon.

People tend to imagine hippy communities were all about peace, love and lentils. And to be fair there were some wonderful people – my mother and her close friends all had considerable grace and integrity. But in my observation, these communities were littered with lost souls on a road to nowhere. I wanted out.

My mother was a ‘radical feminist’ and a powerhouse. She was intelligent and well-read, with a fiery temper and a heart of gold. She encouraged me to chase my dreams.

I’ll never forget the day one of the hippies asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was about 10 at the time. “I’m going to work in public relations, live in the city and drive a fast red car,” I snarled at him. He almost choked on his hash cookie. Well, I actually drive a blue car now but it was pretty close.

I recently attended the PR Directions 2011 conference in Sydney and Ita gave the closing address, ‘Does media change society or society change the media?’ During her presentation, which was sharp and insightful and very funny, I actually felt like I was falling in love. So it is when you meet an icon.

I am one of a generation of women for whom Ita was made relevant again by the ABC mini-series Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. My mother didn’t buy Cleo but, as Ita pointed out at the conference, radical feminists were not the Cleo reader. Middle class women were.

As a young woman I would escape into magazines. I wanted to write for them, I wanted to be in the pages of them, I wanted to be part of them. My first regular reads were Girl and Dolly and I moved onto Cleo and Cosmopolitan as a teenager. I remember Mia Freedman from Cleo and Cosmo, of course, but I only knew Ita as the editor of Australian Women’s Weekly.

Paper Giants opened my eyes to the incredible influence and impact Ita had on my life. Everything from how I perceived my sexuality to my choices in life has been informed by Cleo and debated in its pages. But it also made me realise that Ita was both an editor and a single mother.

I was one of a handful of delegates who milled around after Ita’s address hoping for a few words and perhaps a photo. During my brief conversation with Ita – with me panting like an excited dog and her spectacularly warm and gracious – I blurted out, “I’ve always wanted to write for a magazine full-time!”

“Well, you know what to do,” Ita said. “You just keep on going, you know how it works.”

And so I do. My career has been a study in delayed gratification. Married in 1996. First article published the same year. My son is born. Separated in 1997. Began a journalism degree in 1998. Divorced. Raised son, studied and worked. Graduated in 2005. Son is now eight. Worked full-time as a journalist. Moved into public relations. Met wonderful new man. Son is now 15.

Is it time to chase that dream of being a magazine writer yet? Well yes, actually, I think it might just be.