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Harnessing innovation and collaboration: Leading through the Great Resignation.

Leading through the Great Resignation is a series of articles exploring the tools and frameworks that will help leaders effectively navigate emerging workplace trends, by Suzi Finkelstein, CEO at Women & Leadership Australia. Now is our time to design the future of our workplaces. For many of us, the period of change and adaptation we’ve experienced over the last two years has given us a unique opportunity to pause and reflect. There have been unexpected wins: flexible work has been normalised, work-life balance has become a priority, and many of us have discovered new ways to work together virtually. Now, as we adjust to post-pandemic life, we must choose how to move ahead. Harnessing innovation and collaboration can help leaders combine the best of remote working with the advantages of coming together in the office. According to a recent report from Microsoft, leaders must look for ways to foster the cross-team collaboration and spontaneous idea-sharing that’s been driving workplace innovation for decades.Innovation is about doing something new, in a different or improved way. Innovation allows us to find new ways of working – like different ways to deliver our work, or introducing new practices, programs or products. As leaders, we can encourage innovation by creating an environment that is conducive to creativity and new ideas. Right now, innovation is key to designing our hybrid workplaces of the future. Envisioning and creating a different way of working – one that delivers for employees as well as organisations – will set some organisations apart, while others slip back into old habits.That’s why collaboration is so important: inviting collaboration across the organisation will not only help to build support for innovative solutions from the start, it will ensure that new work practices, systems and policies will provide better outcomes for everyone. Making room for innovation and collaboration can be challenging – it demands we take time away from day-to-day tasks in order to consider a broader view of our organisation: our ways of working, workplace culture and long-term goals.We often hear from participants in our leadership programs that establishing a practice of regularly stepping up ‘onto the balcony’ to engage in big-picture thinking is one of the most impactful outcomes of our courses. In fact, our leadership development programs create a disciplined reflective space – with the added opportunity to invite others onto your balcony to assist you with your thinking. Program participants cultivate this discipline by applying their learnings within their cohort, and in peer-to-peer or executive coaching sessions. These spaces create the perfect environment for constructive thinking. And there’s no better time than now for leaders to be taking stock. Learning from the last two years, engaging with their teams, and making time and space for innovation and collaboration.It’s the only way our workplaces will evolve, for the benefit of ourselves, our teams and our organisations. Tips for harnessing innovation and collaborationIdentify and test assumptions about what can and can’t be done in your workplace, and core beliefs about the way things are Involve a diverse group of people from across the organisation in early brainstorming and planning sessions to ensure a wide range of perspectives are considered – tap into insights from different areas of the organisation and different personality types Help you team navigate change with the Four Doors of Change model Expect iterations and ongoing improvement – pay attention to what works as well as what doesn’t, and allow for personal and organisational contexts to evolve over time.Consider a leadership development program or leadership coaching to cultivate your own leadership practice.  We need more leaders like you​You're here because you care about being the best leader possible. We're here to support you at every stage of your leadership journey.For more leadership news, plus event updates and expert tips, subscribe to our mailing list.

Putting emotional intelligence into action: Leading through the Great Resignation.

Leading through the Great Resignation is a series of articles exploring the tools and frameworks that will help leaders effectively navigate emerging workplace trends, by Suzi Finkelstein, CEO at Women & Leadership Australia. In many ways, the pandemic has accelerated changes in our workplaces that may otherwise have taken decades. Before 2020, working flexible hours and working from home were considered the exception, rather than the norm, in many organisations. Since then, staff wellbeing and mental health have shot to the very top of leaders’ priority lists. And the ways employees want to engage with their work, their work-life balance and sense of purpose, have all become part of our workplace dialogue.People want to find meaning and purpose in their work, according to leadership expert and Excellence in Women’s Leadership Award Winner Dr Kirstin Ferguson. They want their work to enrich and complement their life. They want to honour the parts of their lives outside work, too.As leaders, we must build meaningful connections with our teams and colleagues, to help them find purpose in their work, and hold space for them as we each adjust to our new normal.Emotional intelligence is the key.According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, when we talk about emotional intelligence, we’re talking about four key skills: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and social skills. Emotional intelligence acknowledges that our emotions provide useful data to help us make rational decisions and behave in adaptive ways. Ignoring this data means we miss out on critical information that is available to us from moment to moment.In simple terms, our emotions point us in the right direction and motivate us to do what needs to be done. But emotional intelligence is also a life skill that we can build upon and lean into, as we navigate our professional and personal lives. It underpins each of the leadership development programs Women & Leadership Australia offer: participants build and apply emotional intelligence through practical exercises that enhance self-awareness and reflection, improve communication, shape team dynamics, and invite new perspectives.And as we continue to embrace change and diversity in the workplace, emotional intelligence will hold leaders steady into the future. According to McCrindle Research, there are more significant workforce changes ahead. We can expect cultural diversity to increase, with a large proportion of Australia’s projected growth coming from overseas migration. More of us are likely to move out of the city, with 60 per cent of Australians who don’t currently live in a regional area considering a move to a regional area. And more than ever, we are seeing diversity of age in our workplaces, with five generations now represented in the Australian workforce.In the face of all these shifts, emotional intelligence is the skill that will help leaders genuinely connect with their teams and stakeholders, find common ground, garner support, and lead with empathy and effectiveness, whatever may come.Tips for putting emotional intelligence into actionBuild self-awareness through a 360-degree feedback process to gain valuable feedback from team members, you manager and other key stakeholders about your strengths and opportunities for growth.When faced with a decision or difficult conversation, ask yourself: what am I feeling but not saying? What is my gut instinct here? Set aside a few minutes to journal during the day, so you can identify and start to reflect on your emotional responses. During meetings, take a moment to consciously consider the body language of the other people present. Do you notice any defensiveness, distraction, enthusiasm or impatience in their behaviour? How can you use this information to proceed effectively?Consider leadership coaching, which can provide a psychologically safe and supportive space to build self-awareness and an understanding of others.  We need more leaders like you​You're here because you care about being the best leader possible. We're here to support you at every stage of your leadership journey.For more leadership news, plus event updates and expert tips, subscribe to our mailing list.

Not all disabilities are visible – why workplaces need to recognise invisible illness

This blog is part of our Expert Commentary series, bringing you insights into some of the unspoken challenges women face in the workplace, from experts with lived experience. The series explores a range of topics and perspectives to highlight the ways inclusive and compassionate leadership practices can benefit everyone.Every December the United Nations observes International Day of People with Disability. Most recently the day’s theme was ’Not all disabilities are visible’. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 90 per cent of disabilities are hidden. Which means, while you might not be familiar with the term ‘invisible disabilities’ there’s a good chance you work with someone who has one. People often find it difficult to empathise with invisible disabilities because there are no visual cues to help imagine life in another person’s shoes. When we meet a person with one arm, we can imagine the ways in which our own life would be different if we were in the same situation. But when someone says “I have chronic pain,” we’re not as quick to understand how that could affect our day-to-day activities. This makes people with invisible disabilities less likely to disclose their condition, because it creates an additional burden of education and usually involves well-meaning but unhelpful advice. While people with visible disabilities are often called ‘heroes’ or ‘inspiring’, people with invisible disabilities are more often accused of ‘faking it’ or ‘attention seeking’. To be clear, both of these attitudes are deeply problematic and the prevalence of both of these says a lot about how far we have to go with inclusive language around disability. I have an invisible disability. Personally, I’d much rather have the power of invisibility, so I could fight crime on the weekend. But having an invisible disability often feels pretty close to being invisible, especially in the workplace. Much like my identity as a queer person, I often have to make a conscious effort to ‘come out’ as a person with disability to my employers in order to access the support I need. This isn’t always an easy process. In addition to the labour of educating employers, I often face discrimination or just outright disbelief and dismissal of my lived experience. And I’m not alone in this. In the Center for Talent Innovation’s “Disabilities and Inclusion” study they found that 30 per cent of the professional workforce fits the current definition of having a disability, but only 39 per cent of those people have chosen to inform their manager. This is despite the fact that employees with disabilities who inform most people they interact with are more than twice as likely to feel regularly happy or content at work than employees with disabilities who have not told anyone (65 per cent versus  27 per cent). They’re also less likely to regularly feel nervous or anxious (18 per cent versus 40 per cent) or isolated (8 per cent versus 37per cent).In the workplace this stigma can create a huge barrier to accessing the resources and support available for people with disabilities. Most workplaces are legally required to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ for employees who identify as having a disability. Reasonable adjustments are designed to help address any barriers a person faces to performing the essential requirements of their job. For instance, if a person with visual impairment can’t see their computer screen and their job requires them to read documents on said screen, then they can request screen reading software as an adjustment. There are two problems with this when it comes to invisible disabilities. The first is that many people with invisible disability don’t actually identify as being disabled. For most of my life I didn’t identify as having a disability. Despite the fact that every single definition of disability I came across seemed to be written with my experience in mind. But whenever I thought of disability, I thought of my friends who had visible disabilities. And I thought that identifying with the ‘disability’ label would be minimising their experience, that I might be taking resources away from them. This meant that when I saw policies about reasonable adjustments for people with disability, I never considered they would apply to me. What changed my mind was a conversation I had with a colleague with a physical disability. We had both recently participated in a survey about reasonable adjustments and the workplace that asked “Does your disability prevent you from participating in the workplace?” My colleague has a visible disability that affected the way her body developed. But when she saw the question she immediately responded ‘no’ because in her experience her disability hadn’t impacted her work or career at all. When we talked about it she asked how I would have answered, and I realised that there were many days when I couldn’t get out of bed, when I couldn’t think clearly enough to work, and workplaces had fired me because of this. I had a disability. It dis-ables me from participating in life the way everyone else does. But not everyone has this realisation, and for those who don’t, the language around support for people with disabilities can create a cognitive barrier to accessing that support. The second problem with reasonable adjustments is that someone who has an invisible disability has to rely exclusively on their own ability to communicate their symptoms in order to have their experience recognised. This is referred to as self advocacy. If someone using a wheelchair says they need a desk the right height for them to use, it’s easy to see what they’re referring to. If someone says fluorescent lighting triggers migraines, they have to trust you’ll believe them because they can’t provide proof.Asking people to self-advocate, particularly when they don’t recognise they even belong to a protected group, can prevent people from seeking support. Most people with an invisible disability have experienced more scepticism and dismissal than acceptance. Their lived experience tells them that advocating for themselves is unlikely to yield positive results. Disability discrimination accounts for the highest volume of complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission annually and a 2011 Canadian study found that 88 per cent of people with an invisible disability had negative views of disclosing their disability to employers.This understanding MUST form the foundation of every policy for disability support. When we internalise this context we start to recognise the barriers to participation in workplace disability support. Reasonable adjustments rely on people to identify what the barrier is to them performing the essential requirements of their role. A lot of the time people with invisible disabilities have learned to perform their role despite barriers. Someone who experiences chronic pain will teach themselves to work despite their pain. A person with mental health issues will learn to mask their symptoms in order to perform their role. Many people with invisible disabilities will have never considered what adjustments might help them. As with many workplace issues that fall under the Diversity and Inclusion umbrella, the key to creating an inclusive and supportive workplace for people with disability is ensuring that the people with decision making power understand and empathise with their employees’ experiences. If you can’t understand why I’m afraid to tell you about my disability, then you’re only reinforcing my decision not to. WE NEED MORE LEADERS LIKE YOUYou’re here because you know that great leadership enables better outcomes for people. We’re here to help you be a great leader for your organisation.For more leadership news, plus event updates and expert tips, subscribe to our mailing list. SUBSCRIBE NOW

Leading through the Great Resignation: Uncovering our mental models

Leading through the Great Resignation is a series of articles exploring the tools and frameworks that will help leaders effectively navigate emerging workplace trends, by Suzi Finkelstein, CEO at Women & Leadership Australia. There is no doubt about it – change is here. Right across the country, and in many different ways, we have been experiencing and adapting to extraordinary change for nearly two years.For many of us, this period of forced change has prompted us to reflect on changes we might choose for ourselves. A slower pace. A move to the regions. A career change.And many businesses are now presented with an opportunity to leverage the changes we’ve made to our workplaces, systems and policies to transform the ways we move ahead.According to a recent report from Microsoft, current workplace trends suggest that “we are no longer bound to traditional notions of space and time to work together. Instead, we can set aside our long-held assumptions and shift our mental model to embrace extreme flexibility.”But, change can be hard. We explore what it means to lead change in each of our leadership development programs at Women & Leadership Australia, because it is a challenge that all leaders will face, in many contexts, throughout their careers. Time and again we hear about organisational changes that – despite the best of intentions – fail to stick.That’s where mental models come in. Mental models are the ways we think about the world. They might be subconscious assumptions, unspoken rules, or stories we tell ourselves without question, and while they may not be visible, they are certainly powerful.When it comes to change, mental models create the foundations we need for success. They underpin the invisible structures and patterns, and the visible behaviours that play out at work every day. If we don’t change the foundations, the structures and behaviours that result cannot really transform.For example, let’s consider a team that has been working remotely for much of the last two years. Despite the changes in team behaviour, new ways of working and updated workplace policies, if the team continues to think of working in the office as ‘normal’, working remotely will continue to be seen as a temporary practice, and the workplace systems, team patterns and individual behaviours will easily slip back to pre-pandemic norms.Now consider another team, who believes remote working opens up new opportunities for their business and considers hybrid working the ‘new normal’. They are more likely embed and leverage remote working practices, advocate for hybrid working arrangements within the organisation, and maintain this transformational change.Over the last two years, many of us have made a change to our behaviour – working from home, connecting virtually, maybe supporting our kids through remote learning. We may have changed some of the patterns that shape our days – a new daily walking habit, or a different schedule of work hours. And even some of the structures that influence our work lives have changed – government-mandated practices, workplace policies, and the technological systems that have been adopted to support our new ways of working.Yes, change is here. And as leaders, we have an opportunity to shepherd in lasting, transformational change, by digging deep into our mental models and exploring what else might be possible.Tips for uncovering and shifting your mental models When faced with a workplace issue, take time to pause and notice what are you paying attention to. Are there assumptions you are clinging to? Is there another lens you could apply?Consider the mental models at play in your team or organisation. What are the unspoken rules? Are profit, service or product quality, team cohesion, innovation or harmony prioritised? How do these thoughts play out in workplace structures and actions? We need more leaders like you​You're here because you care about being the best leader possible. We're here to support you at every stage of your leadership journey.For more leadership news, plus event updates and expert tips, subscribe to our mailing list.

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