8 Characteristics Every Leader Should Have

Can you skip along your office corridor without inhibition? Do you think in questions, not in statements? Have you earned the right to a legacy?

If so, you’re well on your way to leadership success.

JN editorial at Future of Leadership conference

Future of Leadership conference 2017

Granted, these are not the conventional parameters of successful leadership. We’re more used to our leaders described in terms like visionary, committed, accountable, inspiring.

Times are changing.

There is a new leadership benchmark, as defined by a respected roll call of Australian leaders presenting at the Future of Leadership 2017 Conference.

Where once leaders commanded attention by authority, leaders now must earn it. Where once job titles bestowed respect, instead talent paves the way to success.

As the conference does the rounds of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, we are hearing fresh insights into what it takes to be a leader in a changing world. Here are my top picks from the many valuable gems of advice I heard.

1. Be conscious of your why

“If you lose sight of your purpose, you stop making progress”, says Alison Hill, Co-Founder of Pragmatic Thinking, a behaviour and motivation strategy company with a client list that includes Pepsico, Sydney Water, Siemens, McDonalds and Sydney Trains.

It’s not only the big picture purpose that Alison is referring to, but your daily purpose. Each day, ask yourself why you are taking this course of action or making this decision. Even when holding a meeting, think about why you’re having it and how it should align with your purpose.

The Gallop study of employee engagement has spotlighted the high level of disengagement among Australian workers. A powerful antidote to this disengagement is your ability to find your team’s why.

2. Design systems to make failure difficult

“Don’t rely on discipline or motivation to drive your team. Instead, make it easy for people to feel competent by designing the right systems”, says Dan Gregory, panellist on ABC’s ‘Gruen Transfer’ and marketing consultant to global brands.

Work out the friction points in your processes and find ways to make things run better, explains Dan. Let performance drive engagement.

The more you help your team be good at what they do, the more they will enjoy doing it. Engagement and productivity will skyrocket.

Future of Leadership 2017 energy management chart

3. Find the 1%ers

“Find the little things that make a difference – the 1%ers”, says Dr Sean Richardson, performance psychologist for St Kilda Football Club and consultant to the Australian Ballet Company.

Don’t think you can fix everything at once, Sean urges. Look at what marginal improvements you can make. If you’re working long hours at a high intensity, what small changes can you incorporate in your day to manage your energy?

How about cutting 5 minutes out of the end of meetings to recharge by listening to your favourite music. It’s a small change but it’s a start.

There is more chance of making a change in your life by starting out with a 1%er and creating a habit that sticks.

4. Celebrate effort, not outcome

“Find out what motivates your team and what they are proud of”, says Darren Hill, behavioural scientist and culture change consultant with a client book of Fortune 500 and ASX Top-20 companies.

Leadership is all about motivating your team, but how can you do this well if you don’t know enough about them. Don’t assume that what motivates you is the same as what motivates them, Darren cautions.

Ask your team members to write down three things they have been proud of at work. Tell them to think about the journey, not the outcome. Their responses will give you a powerful insight into how you can keep their interest and motivation.

5. Write down your legacy

“Constructing your legacy in written words makes you think deeply about what you have earned the right to say about yourself”, says Tricia Velthuizen, a leader in education and honoured with CEO of the Year 2016.

Look ahead to five years from now and write a story about what you will achieve, urges Tricia. Think about what you hope to be able to say about yourself. Perhaps you want to be brave enough to try new ideas or optimistic enough to have fun along the way.

Use this story to lead your team from a place of hope. Inspire those around you by your honesty and forward-thinking approach.

Skipping with Lisa Mcinnes-Smith

6. Take up skipping

“There’s something about the childlike action of skipping that makes us laugh”, says Lisa McInnes-Smith, global keynote speaker and expert on peak performance.

Next time you’re walking down the corridor at work, try it out for yourself, take a few skips and see what happens. Lisa predicts that you’ll feel happier, more energised and ready to meet new challenges.

At the Future of Leadership conference, Lisa had the whole auditorium skipping. We took a few skips on the spot and then progressed to imaginary skipping ropes – forwards, backwards, crossover skips.

It’s extraordinary how much laughter and heart rate pumping a minute of skipping can generate!

7. Think questions, not statements

“Statements close up possibilities, questions open them up”, says Dan Gregory, a behavioural researcher and ABC Gruen series regular.

Questions like ‘why this’ and ‘what next’ should inform your everyday decisions, explains Dan. Ask yourself: “what are the questions I am not even thinking to ask”.

With a curious and inquiring mind, you’re more likely to consider all perspectives, not only your own.

Gihan Perera speaks about outsourcing

8. Source outside talent

“Look outside your office walls and source talent from around the world”, says Gihan Perera, the world’s No.5 social media influencer in his field.

Don’t let the physical confines of your office restrict your talent pool. Seek the best and brightest, knowing that they can connect to you from virtually anywhere.

Justine Northcott, JN editorial attends leadership conference

6 Signs that your Pet is the Boss

It’s 5 am and you’re awake. Cranky bad-tempered awake. The kind of awake that has been forced on you because your pet decides it wants to eat, exercise or go to the toilet.

How do you react to this unwanted early morning awakening?

Do you:
(a)    leap out of bed and do exactly as your pet asks?
(b)    force your partner to leap out of bed …and do exactly as your pet asks?
(c)    bury your head under a pillow and refuse to budge a muscle?
(d)    lock your pet in the laundry overnight so it has no chance of waking you in the first place?

Your reaction gives some insight into who is top dog in your house: you or your pet?

Here are a few signs that may reinforce the possibility that you are not in charge. That perhaps your pet has you wrapped around their little paw.

1. Your pet likes to wake you up

When my lovable fluffball cat wakes me in the early hours because her cat bowl is empty, my reaction usually moves through these phases:

Phase 1 – cursing expletives inside my head (I’m too half asleep to speak) for forgetting to put enough food in the cat bowl the night before.

Phase 2 – politely nudging cat off bed each time she headbutts me to get up.

Phase 3 – violently kicking cat off bed each time she headbutts me to get up.

Phase 4 – sadly realising that cat is not getting message. That cat can simply jump back up on bed each time I push her off. That unless bed is higher than cat jumping height – over 1.5 metres – there is no chance to evade cat.

What I do next depends on just how tired and annoyed I’m feeling.

Some days I dutifully get up and put more food in the cat bowl.  On those days, I know that I’m a sucker – the cat’s the boss, I’m a mere player. She’ll be doing rounds of the neighbourhood, meowing to pals about the owner she twists around her finger.

On other days, I push my husband out of bed to feed the cat. Then I take a deep breath and know I’m not a sucker, I’m in charge. Back to sleep I go.

If it was my husband’s job to fill the cat bowl the night before and he forgot, then I skip phase 1, 2 & 3 and go straight to pushing him out of bed.

2. Your pet likes to hog your bed

Does your pet understand the importance of sharing equal bed space? Or do they simply take as much space on your bed as they wish and leave you with what’s left?

I know it’s winter in my house when the cat is no longer content with lying at the end of my bed. She must now lie under my doona, preferably squashed right up next to a living, breathing human being.

While there’s enough bed space to happily accommodate two humans and a curled-up cat, our cat decides it wants more than its share.

Under doona, winter cat no longer needs to curl up to keep warm. She can become stretchy, twitchy cat. She can spread her body as wide as possible and splay her legs. In other words, she can take up the equivalent of a person’s share of the bed. The humans have what’s left.

Doesn’t take much to work out who’s in charge there.

3. Your pet has finicky food habits

Maybe your pet will only eat a certain (premium) brand of food, from a certain bowl, at certain times of the day, when presented in a certain way?

According to the Roy Morgan research poll “Fussy Felines and Picky Pooches”, 52.1% of cat-owners and 23.4% of dog-owners believe their pet is a fussy eater.

So, are our pets born fussy or have their owners allowed them to develop finicky mealtime habits?

The consensus of pet expert sites like Purina is that fussy eaters are made, not born. I know this is true for my cat because when I stopped pandering to her, she eventually quit her fussy ways.

My cat used to refuse to eat unless her bowl was full to the brim with food. The dry food had to be stacked like a pyramid, the pointier at the top the better. She must have like the symmetry.

If the bowl was half full and flat, she refused to eat it.

Yes, I did try leaving the food in the bowl to see how long it would take before she gave up and ate it. It simply earned me nips on the toes and sleepless nights while she relentlessly demanded full bowls of food.

In the end, it was a trip to the vet that did the trick. It appears my cat was overweight, unhealthily so. The vet said to change her eating habits pronto.

With this incentive, I took charge. I borrowed some tips from Weight Watchers to educate her about the joys of flat lines. That food did not have to be stacked high to taste good. That a little bit can be as good as a lot.

Eventually she got it. I chalked up a victory. I’m now king of the food bowl.

4. Your pet knows how to get on your good side.

Your pet has chewed up your shoe, or scratched your lounge or done a whoopsie where they shouldn’t. You know you should be mad, but one look at their adorable little face and your heart melts. Sound familiar?

My cat has the unfortunate habit of vomiting up hairballs on the new carpet. It’s the kind of crime that would see the kids banished to the dog house for, yet the cat gets away with it.  She leaps up to my lap for a cuddle and all is forgiven. Just like that.

5. Your pet gets more cuddles than your partner

When your pet wants a cuddle, there’s no mixed messages. They simply jump on your lap and don’t move – no matter whether you were planning to stay put or not. If you attempt to stop rubbing their belly or tickling their chin, you’ll get a headbutt or side-eye. So, you keep going.

I’m not getting myself into trouble on this blog by admitting that I cuddle my cat more than my husband. Let’s just say it has been implied.

If the boss of the house wants a cuddle, who am I to say no.

6. You are a sucker for cute cat videos

Videos of cats have overtaken selfies as the online content we love to post the most. Search YouTube for cat videos and you’ll find over 85 million, which is four times more than you’ll find for public figures like Donald Trump.

Does it follow that if you love watching cat videos, you are going to let your pet be the boss? Absolutely. If you go weak at the knees watching cute cats do adorable things, you have little chance of asserting your authority in a cute pet household.

Let me know what your pet does that makes you think it’s boss of the house.

How to achieve a bucket list with kids in tow

Run a marathon; drink cocktails on a beach in the Seychelles; write a successful novel…

These are the kind of wishes that fill my bucket list. Millions of people all over the country have lists of wishes for their life, yet I wonder how many of us actually achieve them?

Maybe you procrastinate; get bogged down by the daily grind; lack the resources? Or maybe you are like me and can’t conceive a way to achieve your bucket list with three kids in tow?

Bucket list + kids = challenging

I’ve thought long and hard about how to get going on my bucket list but I’ve decided that being a parent to three delightfully time-consuming children stacks the odds against me.

Sure, I know what you are thinking, what about all those amazingly capable mothers who have achieved great things? There’s retired Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly, once ranked by Forbes as the world’s eighth most powerful woman. She has four children, including triplets.

Then there’s JK Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series, one of the most popular book and film franchises in history. She started out as a single mother on welfare.

And not to be forgotten, Angelina Jolie, award-winning actress, humanitarian and mother of six.

No doubt these amazing mothers have achieved their bucket lists and then some.

So I concede it may be possible to make incredible achievements with kids in tow, it’s just you may find an extra few obstacles in your path, hurdles to jump and walls to climb!

Choking on visualisation

Experts say that visualisation is an important step in achieving your goals, in other words, imagine it’s going to happen and it will happen.

But what about when you choke? When you try and imagine something beautiful and other thoughts drift in that cloud your vision.

Take a look at these scenarios and see if any ring true.

  • Scenario 1: Run a marathon

bucket list with family running picBefore you run a marathon, you first have to train, and train hard. And it is here, during the training phase, before the race has even begun that my visualisation starts to go horribly wrong.

According to the Blackmores Sydney Marathon Training program, to prepare for a marathon you should be out pounding the pavement six times a week, building up the intensity and duration over a four month period.

A quick calculation and I’ve worked out that marathon training would require a 50% increase in my current exercise level. Easy to achieve maybe if it doesn’t have to be squeezed in between work, chores, sleep, little people demands, meal preparation, and did I mention ‘little people demands’?

Yes I have tried getting up at 4.30am to squeeze in training before the day starts but the side effects of having to keep my eyes open with toothpicks by the early afternoon were having an alarming effect on my work productivity.


  • Scenario 2: Drink cocktails on a beach in the Seychelles.

bucket list with family cocktail pic

Let’s say that a family trip to the Seychelles has been paid for by winning the lottery (I have no trouble with this visualisation).

Reclined in banana lounge by ocean, husband at side, cocktail in hand, I relax, ready to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of tropical island sunset.

Next moment:

“Mummy, I’m bored. Can’t you play with me, haven’t you finished lying down yet?” (4 year old)

“Mummy, why does the sun set, can you explain what makes it go down?” (9 year old)

“Mum, can I taste your cocktail?” (12 year old)


  • Write a successful novel

writing novel family bucket list with family in tow

Writing a successful novel is a popular dream among writers, but my vision is slightly more demanding than most because the novel must not only achieve critical acclaim, it must also sell millions of copies and be reprinted in 10 different languages!

To achieve this ambitious goal I need quiet. I’m not talking whisper quiet, but let’s say that anything above 50 decibels gets my goat – so that’s the dog barking, the garbage truck, talkback radio and of course the arguing, moaning and bickering of children – the decibels of which you might be interested to know, rise alarmingly when a third child enters the fray.

Multiply this quiet by the number of hours required to write a critically acclaimed best seller and try to achieve it in a household I endearingly refer to as the ‘zoo’. Perhaps you can see where my visualisation starts to go pear shaped?

A family bucket list solution

making a  family bucket list

So if you are like me and having trouble getting your bucket list off the ground, you might be interested in what I consider the perfect solution: a family bucket list.

That is, instead of making your bucket list all about your own wants and desires, how about you make it about your family – the things you can all achieve together. This way, not only is there more chance of getting some action, but it draws everyone together as a family unit.

It was through a friend that I got the idea when she told me about a family she knew who has formed a list of 100 things to do together over 10 years. Everyone in the family sat down together to nominate ideas and the list is laminated and displayed on the wall with a tick next to each completed item.

My family recently sat down to form our own list and I’ll share with you what we’ve come up with so far.

  1. A Pyjama day. Stay in PJs from sun up to sun down (hopefully also stay in house and have no unexpected visitors)
  2. Sports camp at home (20 different sports up the driveway, kids vs parents)
  3. Horse riding weekend away
  4. Chopsticks only. No cutlery allowed for a whole day.
  5. Hike NZ’s Abel Tasman coast track
  6. Movie marathon. Watch movies at home all day (yikes!)
  7. Trip to Disneyland
  8. Play in the snow
  9. Go on a cycling holiday in Tasmania
  10. Host our own Masterchef day at home
  11. Watch a sunrise
  12. Volunteer at a homeless shelter
  13. Have dessert for breakfast
  14. Trip to Gold Coast theme parks
  15. Visit Uluru
  16. Go on a road trip around Australia
  17. Ride in a helicopter
  18. Visit a castle
  19. Ride a camel
  20. Campervan trip along the Great Ocean Road

We need lots more ideas so I’d love to hear your suggestions for things we can add or any bucket list experiences you have had as a family.