Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Black lives matter

Black lives matter.

One of the highlights of my naval career has been a deployment to the Middle East on a warship, with a significant number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sailors and officers. Consistently, they were hardworking, productive and committed members of our ship’s company. They wore infectious smiles, possessed amazing senses of humour and displayed dazzling rugby skills. Years later I had the honour of conducting the wedding service of one of those sailors in the Naval Chapel at Watsons Bay.

Our much-loved ship’s Captain (a Kiwi by birth) decided to form an Indigenous dance group to perform at our many diplomatic engagements. Indigenous, Torres Strait Islanders and white Aussies danced together. The black members performed with the rhythm and flair of their cultural heritage while the white members awkwardly did their best to make up the numbers. Wherever they danced the locals embraced the dancers, cheered and demanded selfies.

Sailing north our Captain stopped the ship in a channel near Thursday Island so that some of our sailors’ families could visit. In small boats about thirty family members came on board and blessed us with local seafood delicacies. The ancient maritime heritage of these people and the rich naval heritage of the RAN came together for an emotional and culturally affirming afternoon. Quite a few of those young visitors have since enlisted to serve in the Australian Defence Force.

My best mate on that deployment was a fellow ‘mature aged’ officer who the young Indigenous sailors on board referred to as Uncle. Apart from being an excellent officer, Uncle is a very special human being. Like many a young sailor, he survived a long period in his life and career when alcohol was his demon. Then one day, for the sake of his marriage, family, career and life he gave away the grog and never looked back. There was not one day on that seven-month deployment that this man did not make me laugh, often to my core. His keen mind, thoughtful spirit and irreverent  sense of humour did much to keep many of us sane. He quietly wore his Indigenous heritage with deep pride and believed as a nation we needed to be healed and united.

The events of the last few weeks force us all to stop and pause. As I reflect, I smile spontaneously as I think of the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of the RAN who are a credit to their country, people, families, Navy and nation.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Win Win

Few books on leadership have sold 25 million copies. Reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for the first time I remember turning to the chapter entitled Win, Win. I was excited to be reminded that strong leaders lead to win. With a sporting background and healthy distaste for defeat I was anticipating the reminder that real leaders find a way to win despite the most challenging of times. They stand up. They talk tough. They refuse to take a backward step.

The chapter Win, Win, however, proved to be my undoing. Steve Covey was not advocating winning at all cost, but the counterintuitive concept that Win Win was about both sides winning. I was discovering that I had been an advocate of Win Lose. For me to win, someone else had to lose. I had to be right, meaning someone else had to be wrong. Win Win reflects a philosophy of life that’s not transactional, not about the best deal, not about power, but all about cooperation.

Ordinary leadership talks tough, threatens and organises a photo opportunity. Fake leaders play to their supporters. Whipping up ‘my’ tribe in opposition to ‘your’ tribe is after all the play book of tyrants. Such leadership masquerades as strength. It manipulates. It abandons truth. It demonises, it belittles, it parodies, but it rarely  achieves anything.

One of Rugby League’s greatest coaches Jack Gibson said it so well… “Don’t get angry – get curious”. Gibson’s belief was that when something or someone went wrong it was time to study, listen, probe and seek to understand why things were out of balance. Gibson was renowned for getting the best out of his players, for bringing the troubled player back to the group, for solving personality clashes and promoting a harmonious culture. Gibson was known for his character, his dry humour, his keen mind, his personal touch and his willingness to understand. Not surprisingly his teams achieved great success.

Win Win is not about being weak or nice. It’s not about compromise either. It’s a call to a character-based code of human interaction and collaboration. It’s the idea, quite simply, that we should treat people the way we would like to be treated. It’s humans operating at their best and it always produces the best humans.

So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you Matthew 7:12.