SPARK: Video Series

Fire up your confidence, influence and courage through self-leadership

Sally talks Self-Leadership with Julie Garland McLellan

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Julie Garland McLellan
 
Julie works with boards and directors to maximise their impact.

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Image source: Ronnie Khan – ICMI

I wish I’d known how hard it was and how seriously you have to focus, not on being a leader, because that’s the external perception, but on living as a leader, which comes from within, and it’s that inner core.

It had never occurred to me that it wasn’t about what I did or even about what I said it was about who I was. And so the question that I wish I had learned to ask earlier was who am I being right now? And who do I truly want to be, to be effective right now? 

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Interview Transcript

Note: This is an AI generated transcript, accuracy is not guranteed

Sally Foley-Lewis

Hi, Sally Foley-Lewis back again with another fantastic conversation about self-leadership. And today on the spark and video series, we are joined by Julie gallon, McClellan, who is the CEO of the directors dilemma. So welcome to the, to the video.

Julie Garland-McLellan

It’s a pleasure to be here, Sally.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Now, Julie and I in full disclosure, we asked, speak about buddies. We, we, uh, we do travel the speaker circuit. Um, well, since COVID a lot around zoom, um, but before that, around the world, and I have always admired, uh, Julie’s work when it comes to working with boards and helping people be board ready and helping boards be better boards. So, um, instead of me trying to work out and explain what you do, how about you tell us what you do. Like slowly, we’re doing a great job.

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

I work with boards and with individual directors to really help them maximize that impact so they can build the sorts of companies they aspire to lead.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Oh, I love that. Nice, nice tight statement there. That’s fantastic. Which it, which is a good segue then into this whole idea of self-leadership and, um, I’d love to know. So two fold, what in your view is self-leadership and then why is it important for board members to have a good level of self-leadership?

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

Um, okay. A two-pronged question to start with. I, my view of self-leadership is if you can’t lead yourself, you really can’t claim to be a leader because the chances of leading anyone else have gone from quite low to absolutely miniscule. Um, so I think self-leadership is the foundation of all leadership and it’s that ability to recognize a situation and step in and change the course of events that separates leaders from other people. And if you can’t do that yourself, when nobody’s watching the chances of doing it, when the stakes are high and everybody’s eyes are on you … it’s not so good.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Mm. Yeah. I like that distinction. Yeah, definitely. And so I think that’s a lends itself as to why it’s important for, um, a board as well. So, uh, what are your thoughts? Uh, you know, let’s expand that a little bit further around, um, the impact around board members’ self-leadership in the context of feeling confident in speaking up or being influential, or even maybe, uh, posing a courageous decision.

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

Yes. And we’ve, um, we’ve seen the examples of directors who ducked the courageous decision to very bad effect. Um, so I think with self-leadership, there’s always that choice in the boardroom of do I contribute or do I not? And once you’ve made the choice to contribute or not, then there’s the choice of how do I contribute? And whilst you look at some directors and they seem so perfect and so natural, when you talk with them privately outside the boardroom, you find that almost invariably, there are conscious decisions going on about what to do. And the first one is the, do I contribute or not? And we sometimes jokingly refer to it as the WAIT model. Why Am I Talking? Um, but if the discussion’s going where it seems to be needed to go then jumping in and contributing, just so that everybody knows that you’re still awake is, is really a waste of air space.

 

And board meetings are never long enough. So everyone in the room has to have the ability to lead everyone else when the time is right. But if you’re being led in the right direction and you’ve got nothing substantive to add, the WAIT is a very good consideration to have. So these directors, they’ll, they’ll read their board packs on their papers and they’ll choose not which items they pay attention to because legally you have to read every single word of every single board pack, but which ones do they want to contribute to? And they’ll come to the meeting with an open mind, not an empty mind. So they’ve read it, they’ve thought about it. And they’ve made a conscious decision that if this goes in the way they see it going, their contribution, other than a few nods and a couple of murmurs of ascent, um, is not required when they think about, okay, I’ve got to make a contribution on this.

 

This is important. Or I can see that management is setting it up in a certain way. That’s when all of those other skills come to bear, how do I make my contribution? When do I make it, do I call the chair and position it so that the chair asks me to contribute as soon as the forum is open for us to start speaking, or do I just turn up and blurt it out? Um, do I wait for the conversation to get to me? Do I bring the conversation to me? What tone of voice do I use? Do I use a question or do I use a statement? And some of the best and most natural directors will have spent an hour or so I agonizing over exactly how they make their contribution on those one or two items that are of exciting interest to them on the agenda. So that whole situation, or that give and take of leadership, um, requires a lot of self-awareness ;requires you to be aware of what your colleagues are good at and what you are good at and how those mesh, um, but it also requires you to know how best to position your contributions.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. I love that. And, um, I love the open mind, not empty mind, and I think so important and, and, and also WAIT, what a great metaphor, what a great analogy. I mean, I think that asking yourself that, and not just in the boardroom, I think any leader could ask themselves that, you know, I think that’s brilliant and we’ll trademark that to you and

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

No, no, don’t I, um, I got one from Ralph Ward, so,

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

So it’s not yours. Okay. Right, right. Thank you, Ralph. So Ralph, the boardroom insider. Hi Ralph. Okay. Fantastic. And, and I think that it just it’s it’s, to me, that’s a fantastic lesson about, uh, for any leader, who am I, when I show up to this meeting and who am I when I need to, uh, put forward my view or put forward the more questions that are needed to be asked and putting that effort in before you even get to that meeting, I think is, is, is so important. We talk about, you know, you and I are professional speakers. So we talk about rehearsing a lot. And we talk about stagecraft. We talk about where our hands are. And you know, now that the pandemic is hit, it’s all about down being the lens and where do our hands go now? And, and we know that we talk about preparing for a meeting, and yet, sometimes it’s still not enough time put in and it can go haywire and I’d love to know your thoughts then that, you know, with this, with this imaginary board meeting, I’ve gotten my head right now, and you’ve done some work before the meeting, you turn up, you believe you’ve got your list of questions.

You know, what points you do want to contribute to? And it doesn’t land. What happens then for a board member? Like where should I be going or looking to, to sort of recover.

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

Um, the first question is, is it important that it didn’t land? How urgent is the issue? Um, was it enough that it almost landed and the executives, or when unexploded bomb, whoops, unexpected ordinance, oops. And even though it didn’t quite land, you know that now you’ve got the executive team thinking, um, possibly even worrying about the issue. And so it doesn’t matter, or is it something where the board is about to make a decision and you absolutely have to say, I’m sorry, Mr. Chair, or Mrs. Chair, I’m not happy with the way this is going. I’d like to take the conversation back and dive a little more deeply into this particular aspect. Now, most chairs will happily indulge a good director when they make that sort of question. Um, because it’s a request, hopefully that is coming from the right place of, I want to make this organisation as successful as it can be.

 

If everyone in the room thinks it’s coming from the wrong place, doesn’t matter how well you ask they’ll say no. Um, so, and their thoughts will be based on their previous experience of you and everything that’s happened in getting you to this board meeting. So this is why directors are always on duty and always careful. Um, but if you’re not happy getting that decision halted, amended, staged in its implementation. So well, let’s see what happens between now and the next board meeting. These are the sorts of things that show exemplary leadership and, um, a very good example of that, that came into the public domain. So I can actually talk about it. Uh, was one of the directors on the board of the Australian wheat board. Now, for those of you who have not followed director’s dilemmas, the Australian wheat board was the largest briber of the Saddam Hussein regime by an order of 60 in magnitude, over and above the second largest sanctioned baking organisation.

 

So this was a huge, massive international scandal. And when the board first looked at starting to do these transactions, um, it was brought to the board in papers and described as something called the tigress deal. And the tigress deal was a way in which the board would increase the cost of overland transport, a bit product within Iraq in order to recover monies that could then be given to another organization that was dealing with the Saddam Hussein regime, but that was not covered by the humanitarian trade for, um, for food agreements that the sanctions allowed. And one of the directors, uh, Mr. Thanes had written in the board, in the notes of his board pack, “this stinks”, which is quite an unusually succinct and clear and strong observation. Usually you will see something like a little question mark, or a star or something, just to remind you as you’re going through during the meeting.

 

Oh, yes. I’d considered asking a question. If it hasn’t already been asked by someone else or answered in the general discussion. I have a question here for somebody to write something that definite tells you that they absolutely did not want to go past that page without having made a very serious contribution to the discussion. At the end of the meeting, the board agreed to take a step in the direction of, um, trading with Iraq in a way that the sanctions didn’t really allow. And it was clear from the minutes that this was not a unanimous decision, which is perfectly good. At the next board meeting the decision when they looked at the minutes, the decision one director asked for the decision to be reviewed, which is kind of unusual. And then there was clearly another discussion. And then it was clearly decided that no, they were going to continue as had agreed at the last meeting.

 

And at the end of the meeting, Mr. Thanes resigned. Now that to me is good directorship on a number of levels, firstly, that he allowed management to use the authority delegated to them by the board in the hope that having heard the reservations that were discussed, they would find a better way of doing things or a way of managing the risks. Secondly, he’d allowed the other directors to get out of that room where everybody’s talking and discussing and quietly think. And as a director, you are not just paid for going to board meetings, you’re paid for thinking 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year about the things that happen or might happen or could happen. So he allowed them to get out of the crucible and into some clear thinking time. And then he raised the issue again. And then, because as a director, you are jointly and severally liable.

 

So whatever the board decides to do, you can be personally responsible for, even if you didn’t agree with the decision. So when it was clear that he was not going to be able to influence the decision he left the company. And the really interesting thing is that when the, um, eventually when the court cases were completed, this particular director was not held liable for any share of the money that had inappropriately been, um, given to the regime or the trade that had inappropriately happened, which in theory he could have been. So it’s that question of when the courts see a director who has diligently tried to do the right thing, and as the auditor general for South Australia once said, even at the risk of being burdensome to one’s colleagues, um, he, uh, the judges, the courts tend to give directors that bit of space for creating the space for thought and good decisions. It’s not a one shot and you’re done, but if you’ve had two good shots at it and quite likely a few phone calls in between, then if you can’t get it, your best served by getting off that board. It’s that whole question of knowing if I can change it, I should, if I can’t change it, I can’t sit here as a passive deadweight and undermine, or why can’t the board, as we say, in Australia, I have to with honor leave. Yeah. And that takes extreme leadership.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yes, it does. And, and what you’re saying is, particularly in this example, thank you for sharing that. I think because it is a classic, a very classic story, and it’s been, it’s been a story that’s been around for a while here in Australia. And I think it gives us a lot of lessons and, and that particular director acted in accordance with his values. And he, he acted in accordance with, um, what I like to say with, with self-leadership. And this is something that’s a model that I’m working on is he’s got the blend of his values, his voice and his visibility. And so he was very clear about his values, this stinks. I mean, that’s, that’s a clear value indicator might not always. Yes. Yes. And so, and as you said, just then, so he’s he put the question up, it’s obvious it wasn’t a unanimous Bart.

 

He’s allowed it to go forward, then he questions it again with his voice. And then with his visibility, he actually resigns. And I think that, you know, it’s, sometimes we think about visibility is showing up, but actually in this particular case, it’s by pulling back and withdrawing and saying you’re in the wrong. Um, and at the burden of your other board members, I, to me, he, he’s actually trying to say, um, we can’t do this. And I’m sure he tried to say it a lot, but it fell on deaf ears. And, and I, I, my hats off to him for, for staying within his values, because there could be, there could have been a lot of pressure to bear, to

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

Shut up and shut up. Oh, I’m sure there would have been, even if the other directors were not bringing it, just the kudos of being a director on that board at that time to turn your back and say, this is the most wonderful thing. And I’m going to say no, because my values will not allow. It was, um, courageous.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. It’s a prestigious board. My

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

Not so prestigious, not so prestigious anymore, even though it’s changed its name.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s uh, that is such a fantastic example. Thanks, Julie. Um, so, you know, how would you suggest board members tap into their self-leadership as a means of making sure that, that they have a successful directorship?

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

I think the first thing is before you take the directorship and a lot of boards talk about succession plans and they like, these are the skills we need, we’ll get them. And then when we’ve used up some or Chuck this director out and we’ll bring in some more skills and we’ll use them, and then we’ll Chuck that director out and bring it back. It’s just the most disgusting way to treat human beings. We are not disposable components of a plug and play type, um, IT set up. So I talk about progression planning. And when you join a board, or when you’re thinking about joining a board, having a conversation, a very honest and open conversation about I have these skills and contributions that I would like to make to your board, are they valuable to you? And this is I think the time over which those contributions will be a value.

 

And at the end of this time, this is what I will have gained from being on your board. And these are the places where I would aspire to go next. And then it allows the company to say, well, that’s great because if that’s where you aspire to go, these are the people we can introduce you to. This is the sort of profile we can give you. These are some of the experiences, and really what you’re doing is you’re sort of negotiating as you join what you would like them to be saying about you as you leave and where you would like to be going as you leave. And when I find organisations that have done this, people look back on them, fondly, they recommend other directors or apply for that board. That’s a great place for you. You’ll be happy there, you’ll be able to make a contribution.

 

But they also retain that rich network and the best directors, they’re self-leaders, but you can’t be a leader all by yourself. You can only be a leader if somebody follows you. Um, I mean, it’s, it’s just obvious. So they have this network of influential followers whom they can follow when they need a leader on any given topic at any given time and who will follow them when they are evidencing leadership. And so you see these people who are immensely influential, um, I’m just thinking of a name, perhaps, have you heard of Ronnie Khan from Ozharvest? Oh, yes. Tremendous influence, um, way, way beyond her natural spirit way beyond her direct connections. Um, and it’s that influence that comes from those lived values, that congruence, but also that respectful dealing with the people that she has worked with on her way through and the people she still works with. And that, I think for me is the sort of leadership to which I certainly aspire and the sort of leadership that I think works well in a board situation. Yeah.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

I love that. I love that progression planning and, and, and helping an organisation really. It’s a one 80 on the way in which they approach the board structure and, or, or the offering to a board. And, you know, it’s a value exchange, then it’s a true value exchange. You know, you’re getting a director who has XYZ experience and expertise, um, in exchange for, uh, you know, the, the networking, the profile, the legacy piece that goes with it. So I think that’s just, I mean, that’s a model

That would work not just on board, you know, it’s a model that could work anywhere. So, um, you know, in exchange for my work as a manager in your organisation, you’re going, you know, this is what I would like to bring, and this is how I’d like to aspire to be, you know, and the organisation might do backflips, but, but I think, um,

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

It’s funny, isn’t it. We talk about that right at the beginning of our careers when we leave university and we go into invention traineeships, or when we sign up as an apprentice, it’s like, stay with me for four years. And at the end of that time, you’ll be a qualified plumber, my boy. Um, and, and yet, even though it’s so valuable, we leave it behind. And I think that again is one of the traits of leadership is you never truly leave anything or anyone behind.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

I like that. I think that’s something really worth remembering that we don’t leave anything or anyone behind. Yeah. That’s gold. Thank you. So, um, I look, I would love to keep chatting with you for hours and hours and hours. Uh, however, we, we do need to respect time and I just have one last question for you. And that is, what do you wish you knew about self-leadership before you stepped into a leader?

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

I wish I’d known how hard it was and how seriously you have to focus, not on being a leader, because that’s the external perception, but on living as a leader, um, which comes from within, and it’s that inner core that I just thought, Oh, well, they know everybody’s got one, I’ve got mine, let’s do some stuff here. Let’s get some stuff happening. Um, cause I’m all about making an impact and building great companies and changing the world one board at a time, but it had never occurred to me that it wasn’t about what I did or even about what I said it was about who I was. And so the question that I wish I had learned to ask earlier was who am I being right now? And who do I truly want to be, to be effective right now? And the difference in those two answers, I think is where the leadership is because there’s always a decision of, do I move to who I think I should be to be truly effective? Or do I say no to this opportunity and be effective somewhere else because a leader will always be effective somewhere. Yes,

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Definitely. I love that. And that, and answering that question, I think sometimes we can ask these sort of questions of ourselves, but we don’t spend enough time actually sitting in that question. Um, you know, who am I being in or who do I need to be to be effective? Um, we can, we can sometimes not give that question enough, enough attention. And so we need to sit long enough in that question to find out what the answers are, you know, is it more skills? Is it more self-awareness? Is it, um, understanding our motivators? Is it emotional intelligence? Is it being able to, uh, adjust our, our level of interpersonal communication skills? So we’re more confident speaking up, you know, and, and I think, um, I think that question is a fantastic question to really start a process for any leader to really, really work on their self-leadership, to which therefore prepares them to lead others. So I love that question. Thank you, Julie.

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

Thank you, Sally. Yeah.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

So any last words, any last thoughts you’d like to share before we sign off on this? A SPARK self-leadership video? Just the fact,

 

Julie Garland-McLellan

But anybody watching this video, anybody drawn to this series, if you’re drawn to it, it’s because you already are a leader you’re possibly not a very effective leader yet, but the fact that this interests, you should be telling you that you have that inner core. And it is like question of saying, well, hang on, I am a leader. What sort of leader am I and where am I going to take that leadership? What’s my contribution.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Oh, that is gold. Thank you. And I think that’s the open invitation for any leader to really work on their self-leadership. Um, so thank you, Julie Garland-McLellan, CEO of The Directors Dilemma. Thank you for being here. Thank you, Sally. And that’s another episode of the spark self-leadership series. I’m Sally Foley-Lewis. Wait, there’s going be more. I can’t wait to share it with you. Bye for now.