Sally talks Self-Leadership with Dr Caroline Hart

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Associate Professor (Law) Dr Caroline Hart

Associate Head of School (Engagement), University of Southern Queensland

As the Associate Head of USQ’s School of Law and Justice, Caroline work with law students, our Alumni, law firm owners and the public sector to build capacity and value in a dynamic and volatile environment. She partner with education leaders, government and private enterprise to create linkages and foster tenacity, resilience and adaptability.

Her research and teaching centres on the changing dynamics of the legal profession including the importance of culture, the impact of technology, and the central role of Owners in creating and building successful small and regional law firms. 

She is the author of many publications into the legal profession and successful legal practices, including The Seven Elements of Successful Country Law Firms (The Federation Press). Caroline is regularly invited to speak at national and international conferences. 

Caroline’s focus is on the power and benefits of people engaging with legal education (in all its forms) to contribute to providing access to law and justice.

 #leadership #courage #confidence #influence #selfleadership #education #law #justice #tertiaryeducation #usq #australia

There is actually nothing wrong with failing. I think that people only equate leadership with the sense of success. It’s okay to fail.

 

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Interview Transcript

Sally Foley-Lewis

Hi, Sally Foley Lewis here. And we are about to dive into another amazing conversation with a senior leader and this is the Spark video series for self leadership. You are in for a treat because I am sitting here with Dr. or let me say this properly, Associate Professor Law, Dr. Caroline Hart, and she is the Associate Head of School engagement for the University of Southern Queensland. So I am so excited to welcome you, Caroline to this conversation.

Dr. Caroline Hart:

Thank you, Sally. I am really honoured and delighted to be here and I can’t think of a better way to be spending this morning than to have a conversation with you. So, thank you very much.

Sally:

Thank you. Look, let’s just dive right in. I really would love to hear your perspective, your thoughts on what does self-leadership mean to you?

Caroline:

Thank you, Sally. I love the fact that it’s called self-leadership, because everybody should be a leader of themselves and I think that that should make people feel excited. What does it mean to me? I think it’s actually been, I actually think it’s fun, it should be one of the most motivating… the biggest adventure is actually leadership over yourself. It’s a whole thing about a journey into finding out about yourself, not in any self-centered way but just about finding out about your strengths, your weaknesses, it’s about engaging with other people that are going to give you some genuine feedback.

Caroline:

And I often think you want that feedback, if it’s a little bit, not wonderful, if there’s a sense of humour in it, then I just think it has truly been the biggest adventure of my life is probably feeling as though I was a very frightened, nervous child. And then, express. with yourself, where you can view self dispassionately. But also, be kind and gentle to yourself and just find out, as I said, what your strengths and weaknesses are because that’s where you’re actually going to have your impact with other people. If you can have that sense of what you can contribute, how… it’s quite liberating. And, it then allows you to have conversations with other people that springboards their ability to foster their own self leadership. So that’s some of the things that it means to me, and truly, it’s just been a great journey.

Sally:

Wow. And I love that you said it should be fun and an adventure. I haven’t heard that before from others. So, I really love that you’ve added that to the mix. And I think one of the things that I hear you saying is that with self-leadership, you get that courage. Yeah, and I love hearing that.

Caroline:

I heard a great statement that somebody said to me the other day that you’re actually need five seconds of courage or bravery in a difficult situation. And it’s true. It’s that whole situation that is really confronting. Your heart is pounding. You don’t think you can think straight or speak coherently. But then, when you think, look, I just have to hold it together for five seconds and confront a particular situation and before you know it, you use the phrase, let’s dive in. You’ve dived in and all of a sudden, you’re in there and it should be a sense of exhilaration. It isn’t about controlling everything. I’m not big on feeling that you’ve got to control everything in terms of any form of leadership. It’s about actually responding. It is about listening. It’s listening to yourself to your own intuition, your own judgement and it’s also listening to other people and responding to what they’re saying, whether that’s what they’re verbally telling you or it might be what their body language is telling you. So, it’s actually really engaging with all of your own senses, but also, the other person in front of you.

Sally:

And how they respond to the way you’re behaving is what you’re saying, is that right?

Caroline:

Yeah, maybe giving a little bit of a space where you can emanate a sense of, look, this is going to be a safe conversation. I’m not going to have all the answers. But, right now, you feel almost metaphorically that I got you in some emotional, not a hug, but almost that sense and let them express something and I’m talking about where situations can be quite, seemingly negative but then, when you provide that space, all of a sudden, the situation can turn around, and you wind up with something that’s really powerful.

Sally:

Yeah. So you’re creating that psychological and emotional safety that the intent of this conversation is to fix or resolve or to clarify, it’s never to diminish or humiliate or anything like that.

Caroline:

Gosh, no.

Sally:

I love it. Love it.

Caroline:

Just on that, then. So well, self leadership is about, obviously, leadership over your own emotions, your own thinking, your own what you’re saying, I think that what then happens is that you can then guide other people, mentor other people into having confidence to find their own self leadership experiences.

Sally:

Absolutely. And just last year, I did a programme on how to be a confidence coach and one of the things that I learned in there and when I heard, it was like, of course, so obvious but you need someone else to plant that seed sometimes. But it was a case of when I’ve got confidence, and when I deliberately decide to improve my confidence, it’s like a habit. I’ve got to work that habit and keep building it and building it. But another element to having greater confidence in oneself is actually showing confidence in others. And so, when we give it away, we get it back. That really resonated with what you were just saying. So, I think what we do and what we build in ourselves, it’s like a colander, it’ll seep out through the holes on to others, I think so.

Caroline:

Yeah. That’s a great analogy.

Sally:

Yeah.

Caroline:

I like that.

Sally:

Thank you. So, I guess then, as we’re talking about the impact of self-leadership, what’s the value or in other ways, other than courage and confidence that self-leadership has as a leader for a team or the work or any other aspect?

Caroline:

Well, I’ll just say a few things around that. I think that that question about what impact does self-leadership have on say, confidence, influence and courage, which I just think are such great words, I love the choice of those words, Sally. I think, first of all, the impact is that you realise that we are all stronger, we will achieve much more operating as a team. And I really love this idea about collaboration over competition. I frequently talk to people about that. And I say, we are so much stronger, if we are collaborative.

Caroline:

And, I think one of the things that I have found is that, just going back a little bit to the self-leadership, what it does, I think, is we talked about courage. We’re talking about really deep emotions. And, I think that when you’ve got self-leadership, and as you’re saying, that spills out through the colander, it actually allows us to be able to express our emotions in a way that lifts ourselves up, but also lifts other people up. I wouldn’t say permission, but it gives people a sense of actually, it’s okay to show your emotions.

Caroline:

It’s okay to feel as though I’m really frightened in this situation. I will just share an experience that I had quite recently. I was invited to MC an event that there are about 200 people at it and I’d been offered that… it was quite last minute but the people that invited me were very, very caring, supportive, they were fabulous. One of the speakers at this event, it was a very highly emotional topic. The afternoon session was very emotional and I’d introduced this particular person, I went and sat back down and it was quite harrowing. And when I got to, I just really have been sitting in my chair, I had tears. The entire audience had tears.

Caroline:

And then, I stood up to continue the MC-ing and I literally just stood there. And I could not articulate the sentence. I stood there and I was totally overwhelmed. And it was wonderful. I just thought, I’m not going to fight it. This was quite… just went with it if you like. The audience, they were equally… it’s quite an amazing experience. And somebody in the audience called out and said, Caroline, do you want a hug? And again, humour. Broke, everybody, then, it was a way of breaking the sense of this has been a really monumental moment, the entire previous session that had moved everybody. And it was almost as though the 200 people were connected through this incredible sharing of emotion.

Caroline:

If you like, let’s pause, let’s go with the emotion. Let’s not try and fight it and pretend that… going into MC mode. Let’s actually be human beings and interact with each other as human beings and I think that leads into the question that you’re saying about in the workplace, about influence, courage, is that I think we need to allow each other to be human beings. We don’t have to have this whole thing about this is my work persona. This is who I am at home. This is who I am with various people. I mean, obviously, there are different parts of us that we show to share with people that are closer.

Caroline:

And, I think one of the things that I’ve always strived for is this sense of I wanted to be an integrated person with integrity and I didn’t want to feel fragmented. So, in terms of how I operate at work, it is actually quite similar to how I operate across all… there isn’t a different Caroline here and one over here and I like the idea that we all can have the ability to be who we truly are. The word authentic is not really one of my favourite words but I think it’s just, just be who we are because, and I do want to say, this element that in terms of my role with people it’s about it’s about nurturing.

Caroline:

That person is who they are, whatever they’ve got within them is exactly, magically how it’s meant to be. They don’t need to buy something in or do something. They’ve got it completely within them and then, our role with each other is to bring out the beautiful flower or whatever it is that they are, whatever variety of beautiful bloom, let it bloom because it’s all there within them.

Sally:

Yeah, I love that analogy and I do want to acknowledge you for that experience that you had on the stage. I mean, I’m a professional speaker and I totally went there with you and to actually give yourself permission to hold the room for the room. Because I don’t know, I wasn’t in your head in that moment, necessarily but when an MC doesn’t quickly just step in and even if they do it with a bit more empathy to try and transition to the next part of the program. The fact that you held it and I think you just gave 200 people also permission to just sit with it just that little moment longer and process and get ready for the next. And I think that that needs to be acknowledged, then and so thank you for sharing that. That’s heartfelt. And so, thank you very much for sharing that.

Caroline:

Thank you.

Sally:

And yeah, I do agree with you, as well about that point of collaboration will beat competition any day of the week, you’ll be so much stronger together. And when we do tap into what’s already inside of people and help nurture that, so it does bloom, then, the collaboration is far more authentic, it is an overused word. I like the fact that you used integrated. I think that’s actually a better word because who I am here is exactly who I am there and that space and that space, through me are integrated. And I really like that as a better word for authentic. So, thank you for sharing that. I really, my gosh, my heart’s just singing for you. And, I can just imagine being in the audience and thinking, good, she hasn’t brushed it off. I’ve got a moment.

Sally:

They’re probably not consciously thinking this, but they’re probably just sitting there going, God, I got to stop crying. I’ve got to just get myself back together. And then, the MC steps up and says, you know what? Let’s just breathe for a moment. And then, you know you’ve got the audience when that person yells out, do you want to hug? How beautiful is that?

Caroline:

And I think it was, we both do speaking for a living and you get used to being very confident, and it was almost going back to being my 13 year old self. The voice was quavering, and just the emotion was… I felt it and I think everybody was probably a little bit on the edge of their seat for me and it was just this moment, I just thought, look, I’m just going to go with this. There was nothing thought about it, it was just this, there was really no choice for me and I think it was just this mark of respect to the speaker who had shared the most traumatic time.

Caroline:

And it truly was just a sense of his bravery, his courage. And, I think that’s how I eventually… that’s how we moved out of it was, can we just please give it up? Can we please just acknowledge the bravery and the courage of this amazing man who has shared this incredible story. And then, obviously, he had gone on and I think it was a rawness. And I think that was it, the rawness of everybody’s emotion. And, we all clapped and everything. And then it was this sense of, well, it felt fitting that we didn’t just, as you were saying that we didn’t just, go on to the next… our business as usual.

Caroline:

And I think, in terms of come back to self-leadership about influence, and it’s about giving people that dignity, respecting them as human beings. And, I think that is actually the most powerful thing we can do for each other. And, I think that that is something… it doesn’t matter in terms of what job somebody does. I don’t care what job someone does or what if they don’t have a job, I think that we are, I feel very passionate about we must respect and give every human being their dignity. And, we can do that every day. In all these tiny little ways, it’s about acknowledging people. It’s about holding open a door for somebody. It is about helping and it is the tiny things.

Sally:

It is the tiny things.

Caroline:

It is the little kindnesses.

Sally:

Yeah, it is. Yeah, definitely. To me, I’m hearing what you’re saying, but underpinning that is, I see you as someone with a strong sense of emotional intelligence, because the alternative would be as an example, imagine someone who’s got very limited emotional intelligence, they’re really going to fumble through those moments, they’re really going to not necessarily, deliberately be disrespectful or not necessarily handle their emotions so well and acknowledge them and understand them from the stage. As well as in everyday life with some of the examples you’re just talking about now with dignity. So to me, that level of emotional intelligence is quite strong. And that’s part of your self leadership. So, I know you keep talking about other people but I want to acknowledge that you, yourself… I don’t want that one to slide by.

Caroline:

Okay. I’d also make a comment on that, Sally and thank you. It’s lovely that you say that, but I think, I’ll come back to this phrase, a journey. And I think that, yes, you might come across somebody who seemingly, is not performing very emotionally intelligibly but it may be because maybe something has happened on that particular day on that moment. And this is why I really come back to the small kindnesses and the small expressions is because I truly believe we can all learn from each other. And we need to give each other, if you like that, give them a sense of all right, well, I don’t know what’s going on for you today. Maybe there was a reason why they snapped or whatever, but we need to keep lifting each other up.

Sally:

Yeah.

Caroline:

That’s how we’re truly going to change… I do think we can change the world in that regard because I do think that the brain is the most amazing… well, the entire body is, just truly amazing. And I think that we’re all capable of learning. We’re all capable of actually having that moment where we come across, we have an interaction with somebody and all of a sudden you think, my gosh, that’s just totally changed how I view the world, we can all inspire each other. And very often, the inspiration almost can… sometimes it can occur without our knowing, and equally, other people who’ve inspired me might not even know that they have had that impact.

Sally:

Yes. Yeah. And we definitely don’t know necessarily the impact we have on others and I guess that’s lending into another question I had about, if we think about the pandemic and the impact it’s had, did it dent you in any particular way and did you have to reignite your self-leadership in any way as well as then for your team and the people that might report to you or at least, you have some program authority over, how do you get them back up as well?

Caroline:

I will speak to the COVID in terms of some event, I’m actually, naturally, an introvert, I am very happy, most academics really enjoy sitting in their office so in one way, COVID was good for me in a way because I could actually just enjoy writing, all those sorts of things, researching. A really good friend of mine uses this phrase, never waste a good crisis. And I totally agree with that. I love that phrase. I don’t want to sound like a pseudo-psychologist but I do believe that in life, it is not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with it. And I think with COVID, not for a single second, would I… COVID had a deeply negative impact on health, finances, on a whole range of things that really, I just think was has been a terrible, terrible situation.

Caroline:

But in terms of the impact on me, yes, I clearly remember coming out to the university at 3:00, 4:00 in the morning, packing up my stuff, because we’d had about two weeks of uncertainty. And then, all of a sudden, we were told we had to get off campus and I thought, I’m going to get out there packed my stuff up. And I was one of the classic people that went out and bought tins of tomatoes, pasta, I didn’t go down the toilet roll track but in terms of igniting my spark, what I found was that there was about a two week period where everything went quiet, everything went quite silent. And, I got involved in some really serious research projects that were about what could I do to help regional communities to do with legal practitioners who do provide an amazing community support?

Caroline:

I did a lot of ringing around to ask, how’s everybody going? How’s this impacting on you? And, I got offered to do a research proposal that was about looking at serious research project. So I found that it was about all right, this is this terrible thing that’s happened, what can I do to help? In my capacity as involved in legal education and my connections, what can we do? So, I got a project on with the university and a particularly large society, their work ground to a halt… I said, look, I know Sally, you and I were talking about what USQ do, which is fabulous online. I said, Let’s take what we do online. And let’s get you guys online. So, we did that.

Caroline:

And that was the big picture stuff. But on the smaller, which I found really amazing. I’ve got all these networking events set up for face to face, and we couldn’t do any of them. And then, like everybody else, we discovered Zoom. That has transformed my life. I just found that we connected and I think that what COVID did is that, after we got through the festival, the panic and fear. It was quite frightening. All of a sudden, you had people that were beaming in to my study and from my little study at home, I connected with people throughout Australia.

Caroline:

And, I set up these networking events. So every person who’s inspired me, I got them on a networking event, got all our students so we’d have 16, 17 students who were all so worried, didn’t know how this is going to impact on their career and it connected, we got these connections, and those connections totally bloomed. And I do like that word. I have to come up with… they flourished, they flourished. And so, in terms of reigniting my spark, and what lessons did I learn? I think the lessons that I learned is, first of all, in a crisis, reach out to other people, and what can I do to help you and that probably goes back to my brief background in nursing. I did nursing before I did law.

Sally:

You’ve got nurture and care in your nature.

Caroline:

And I think that as soon as you start saying, what can I do to help you, you immediately stop thinking about yourself and your own fear and I think it allows you to step out. And to use that phrase, talking about being brave and having courage, I think that when you actually say, look, what can I do to help you? You’re not even thinking about yourself. You’re not even thinking about if you’re feeling nervous, or am I going to offend that person? You just send, what can I do to help you? And I think that everybody starts relaxing and we solve the problems together and it comes back to, in a crisis, let everybody just stick together.

Sally:

Everything you just said totally resonated with me because in March last year when it hit in 2020, I was being awarded a speaker award and so I laughed when I received it because it was the exact weekend we were told to go home. And I… don’t think I’ll be speaking much for a little while. But Zoom popped up, which is great but similar to you, I came home and went, now what do I do? I’ve just lost all my gigs for the next few months. And so, that was total income gone. What do I do? And I went to my list and my clients and I just rang and emailed and said, How are you? How can I help you be the best leader you can be for your people right now? What do you need from me? And they would say, I don’t have any money. It’s like, no, it’s got nothing to do with money.

Sally:

I’m very lucky to be in a situation where I can be supported for a while, and I’ve got savings and all that sort of stuff. How do I help you be the best leader you can be right now so that your people are okay, and you’re okay. And so similar to you. And it was great, because I just automatically went into that mode, without really realising until probably two months later where I went, in hindsight, I think I’ve just inadvertently helped avoid my own crisis and inadvertently didn’t realise it but I could have spiralled down. I could have really been a little bit quite unwell, emotionally and mentally about this had I not really just stepped into that serve mode and thought about, what can I do for you? And you’re right, you get out of your head, don’t you?

Caroline:

Yes.

Sally:

It truly is a valuable tool to have in your toolkit as a means to carry on, as a means to connect and when we are able to just be present with others as well, it fills up our bucket too.

Caroline:

Yes. And I bet, out of that, Sally, that you probably got some, I wouldn’t say connections, I’d say something deeper than that. But you really sort of created some friendships or purposeful friendships that probably will stick with you. And so, now I think that’s the only way to operate. I mean, what’s the alternative? Our mothers probably used that phrase, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry and it’s like, if you don’t reach out, then, that’s right, you are much in your own head but I think that’s great. I’m glad that we’re on each other’s radars actually.

Sally:

Yeah, definitely.

Caroline:

I think that’s right.

Sally:

That line, I used it in a few of the emails I sent out, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, and I would put something… because typical Australians, we go straight to humour, almost too soon with the humour. And so I said, humour is healthy. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. And so, I put all these really bad COVID jokes, and bad Zoom meetings and I put everything at the bottom of the email and I had someone write back to me once. She said, I know you keep offering to help me, but I’m loving your emails. It’s all I need. Don’t stop. They’re keeping me sane. Please add more jokes.

Sally:

So, just like you said before, you may never know just actually how much of an impact you have on others. I mean, I was lucky that they shared but sometimes you never know how and you never know if, so, because it’ll be something sometimes people will just won’t share it with you. They’ll just be on the receiving end of your goodness. But we are coming up to time and I want to respect your time. But, I one of the last questions I want to ask you, Caroline is what’s the one thing you wish you knew about self leadership, when you first stepped into a senior role or a leadership role in your career?

Caroline:

I think one of the things that I think is, there is actually nothing wrong with failing. I think that, yes, people equate leadership with the sense of success and I like the Albert Einstein approach to life. I’ve got two approaches that I share with my students. One’s the Kylie Minogue. And one’s the Albert Einstein. What I love about Albert Einstein was that he… everybody remembers him, what a brilliant guy. Albert Einstein. Yes, he had some brilliant, great ideas, theory of relativity. He also had huge failure. A lot of his stuff did not get off the ground and I remember reading about Einstein and the fact that he didn’t get everything off the ground. It wasn’t all the theory of relativity. There were a lot of failed ideas.

Caroline:

And I think that as leaders and as people as human beings, I think that that’s one of the most reassuring things that it’s actually okay to fail. And a lot of what I write about is that, from failure, we actually learn and that’s when we go on to, to become stronger, adapt, develop resilience, we find out more about ourselves. And that’s when we actually achieve more. And my Kylie Minogue theory of life is I like calling it that because I think she is someone who… she just keeps going. And I just love the fact that she just keeps on doing things.

Caroline:

If you stick in something for long enough, I don’t know what the cycle is. But yes, people love you, and then, they’ll criticise you but you’ve just got to keep on being yourself and you’ve just got to keep powering on. Because eventually people will then come back to love you and they’ll actually, admire the fact that you have had that resilience, the fact that you’ve just been a real soldier. And I think we probably need to, sometimes in life, sometimes we’ve just got to be a soldier, we’re not always going to be the colonel leading the army. Sometimes we’re just a bit of a foot soldier slogging away, doing things in the dark. It’s unrecognised. It might not be popular.

Caroline:

Trust your instinct, trust your judgement , surround yourself with close friends that love you. And, as we keep saying, we’ll have a bit of a joke with you, tease you not let you get too big a head. And so, those are the things in terms of wishing that I’d known about self-leadership and if you think it’s all about being confident all the time and the success, I don’t think it is.

Sally:

It keeps you humble, doesn’t it? And I think that’s one of the greatest things that if failure can keep us a little bit humble and also great analogies, Albert Einstein, Kylie Minogue, great mash up in my head. It’s brilliant, but I also love about that foot soldier. Just do the work and it may not be seen, but it’s the foundational work, it’s going to set you up for something. And it’s going to serve you long term. And like you said and I totally agree with you, this is a journey.

Sally:

I used to be the CEO of the Duke of Edinburgh’s award and we’d say to the young people, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Yu can’t rush this program. This is not a badge collecting game. We want to see a bit of a commitment in every element of the program that you’re doing. And of course, kids are like, but I want it now. And I was a kid… that was me. But it’s a marathon. It’s a journey. And so, that work will pay off. So, I love those Albert Einstein and Kylie Minogue. Thanks, Caroline. That’s brilliant. Any last words, before we sign off?

Caroline:

Just to say, Sally, thank you so much for inviting me to speak. It always really surprises me when people ask me to talk about leadership because I just think, look, I’m just being little old me but I’m very happy to share, what little stories I can and I just love seeing my students, my graduates grow and achieve great things. I would think, look, at the end of the day, I’m a bit of a gardener. And I just love seeing all of those beautiful graduates go on and do wonderful things and I’m sure that you probably have the same feeling with the people that you work with. It’s a privilege. It truly is a privilege.

Sally:

Absolutely.

Caroline:

Thank you.

Sally:

Absolutely. And, watching your people bloom, which I love the analogy you’ve used throughout the entire session. So thank you. Associate Professor Law, Dr. Caroline Hart, it’s been an absolute honour and a privilege and thank you for sharing the stories with me and with our Spark self-leadership video series. Thank you and bye for now.