Wendy’s purpose as a Resilient Leader: to bring together a community of people around a collaborative culture of kindness, to work together to bring more kindness into our world by practising it ourselves.
In this story Wendy describes her journey towards this purpose.
1998 was a very low year for me.
I was infected with Bharma Forest and Ross River viruses, which left me suffering from increasing ill health – chronic fatigue and a heart infection. The business plan that I had been working on for some time failed in spectacular fashion. So I was very low in energy and enthusiasm. None of the tools and techniques and mindsets that I had used in the past helped me to recover and make a better life for myself and my family.
The eldest of four daughters, I had become used to calling on myself to help those around me all my life. This was the first time I had been utterly unable to do so. Perhaps with all these “No’s” and endings, I needed to find a different way to a different way of doing things to give them a better chance of succeeding. A friend suggested visiting a career counsellor.
I was horrified to discover that as little as 5% of my time each week was spent on things that brought me joy and meaning! This was the start of a long journey of reading and seeking new people and thinking, beginning with Stephen Covey’s book “First Things First”. In these pages I learned that I did have the choice to spend my time on things that mattered to me, even though my health was poor.
However, I stayed in touch with what was happening around me. I was increasingly upset at the logging of the dwindling native forests in the surrounding countryside to make wood chips for paper mills. Towards the end of 1998, I attended a general meeting held by the company responsible for the logging, when the board of directors and the general public aired their vastly different viewpoints; the directors from the podium in their dark business suits, the more casually dressed protestors from the floor. No one listened to anyone else. Nothing was changed by this meeting. The forests would still be logged.
On my way home I stopped my car by the road as frustration and sadness overcame me. I could not see any way to help this situation that so distressed me, especially being so ill and weak at the time. Up to that time I had always dealt with challenges using my own skills and techniques, especially my great persistence to keep going no matter what. My frustration and sadness was intense, knowing that everything including my persistence now failed me with this issue that was so important to me. Worse, no one seemed able to stop the logging.
Yet I did not give up hope that a way forward would be found.
One morning early in 1999, I was walking on the beach, when words sprang into my mind:
Find me a place, close by the sea, where I can be who I WILL be!
Always drawn to the sea, this was a profound thought. I watched the waves, slowly lapping back and forth as they moved in from the sea and up the sandy beach, then fell back from the sand into the sea. I wondered if I would find the outcome I craved by working like that; by working with energy already flowing instead of pushing hard to make things happen as I had in the past.
I thought of all the people who had spoken so emotionally about their old growth forests at the meeting. They loved the forests just as I did. What if I helped people like these to be resilient and achieve their goals to save the forests for future generations? I was a good coach and mentor, and loved my creative writing classes, so I could write books to help them too. These things didn’t take much effort from me, so I could do them now despite my damaged health. And helping others in this way would have far more effect on the native forests than me working alone. What if I invited a group of coaches to work with me in this way? Creating and nurturing a positive culture of kindness between ourselves and all the people we coached and mentored, we would support each other as well as all the people we coached and mentored. This was a far more rewarding and enjoyable prospect than my previous business plan of building a business that “ran itself” so that I would no longer have to work in it.
I continued to ponder on the passionate words that had flooded my mind as I’d driven home after that general meeting: Teach them to love me. Although I could not yet see a way forward to honour them, I was happy to pursue this path to help the forest lovers in the hope that at some stage I would understand this eloquent plea. As news came of people coming together to fight the loggers and thus protect the forest in the Swarbrick Block, I sent them messages of support. I was not yet well enough to fight myself, but I was well enough to encourage them.
Alongside this good news, my cardiologist finally diagnosed the reason for my heart’s ongoing sickness – I had a hole in my heart that I had been born with. I would need surgery to fix it. But I wasn’t well enough to have this surgery, not yet.
Over the next year, as I recovered some strength, these thoughts grew into a plan for a self leadership program, then called “Wonder of One”™ with the intent that “one person can make all the difference.” I wrote down my thoughts about the program, sent them to colleagues and friends who might be interested to participate, and called a meeting for March 2000. It seemed that this would be easy to achieve. We would meet, at least some of us would agree to work together, and in this way we would achieve this goal.
During 2000, I held several meetings with people interested to be coaches and mentors in the program, including Catlyne Hos. I do love co-creating, but no consensus was reached about how we might work together, although we did agree that the then-standard way of working from outside organisations – the consulting model which presumed that the consultant was wiser than the customer – was not a way forward that appealed to us.
Towards the end of the year I gave in to my constant tiredness, and slowed down to rest. In March 2001 I finally accepted that the heart surgery that had been recommended by my cardiologist could no longer be avoided. My heart was failing, it wasn’t going to get better. My operation was booked for June 2001, in the winter when it was cool.
Afterwards, waiting to heal from surgery, I was delighted at the announcement of the Walpole Wilderness. The protestors whom I had listened to at the special general meeting had created a plan to protect the forests from logging. It was gazetted into law in April 2001, and the forests were safe.
By September of that year, recovered from the surgery, I felt stronger than I had for years – strong enough to finally celebrate turning 60, even though my actual birthday had been in March. A few days before our world experienced “9-11” and was in shock. I expected no one would come to the birthday party. But, like this pandemic, it was such a tough time that people wanted to come together as friends and simply celebrate being alive and together. It was a joy-filled celebration.
I took on a mentor for myself, Tom, and he added much wise advise including changing to a more practical name than “Wonder of One”. For me this name signified that “one person can make all the difference”, but I had discovered that others did not understand the purpose of the program from the name. I called another meeting of our group in early 2002. We decided on the current name “Resilient Leadership™ Program” to signify the purpose of the program, and the outline of the program structure.
Over the next few years, as we consolidated our group and the structure of the program emerged during discussions using Catlyne’s process of Paths to Identity, it seemed that all was on course. After attending my workshop about the program, Alfred Leung joined our group in 2007. I attended a training course in UK in 2008, and was referred to Anne Radford as the global expert in Appreciative Inquiry. I invited Anne to join our group and Anne accepted. Now we were based in Australia and UK, and met online.
And I became used to being well, and mostly when I wanted to do something my body would respond.
In 2009 I wrote the first draft of the first program reference book, which was well received by our group members. And held the first public conversation about the project. Alfred kindly led this conversation because I was sadly bedridden with one of my unexplained high fevers. No one signed up, but interest was shown and the questions were helpful to us.
After I met Sue White at a presentation and invited her to join us, Sue joined our group in 2010. I met Sally Paulin at a seminar in 2011, and invited her to join us. Sally accepted. This brought much consolidation and stability to the group, now that our long-term members were working together. Part of the overall strategy for the program development was for our group members to define and model the culture of the program. The development of our friendship and thus the trust between us was vital to the program’s long-term success. This was a key part of our vision for the program and the community around it.
During 2011, program development was put on hold while I underwent three surgical operations – 2 total knee replacements and removal of my tonsils which had been diagnosed that year as being infected most of my life. Because my recovery was long, it was helpful to spend time with our group working to our shared purpose. However it seemed that, no matter how hard we tried, a workable form of our program was not forthcoming. What else should we do?
In April 2012, I experienced a devastating loss when my mother died. In the months that followed, as my sisters and I sorted out our mother’s estate, I wondered what non-financial gifts I had inherited from my mother. I wanted to honour that. My mother had always been determined. Yes I had inherited that. My mother was very creative and loved nature. Yes I had inherited that too. But my mother had always been fearful of – even critical of – success, at least when speaking with me. Perhaps I was also unconsciously carrying this belief. I wondered how I could approach the program expecting success. Would that change it’s course? The answer was not long in coming: “Yes!”
I asked one of my friends who had been advising me what was the most important thing to do first with an expectation of success. Her advice was “get the group together.” I thought about our group, who had been meeting and discussing for some time. Still some members continued to come and go. Perhaps it was time to be clear with them about what I personally expected from our program’s success. But to do this, I would have to let go this self-limiting fear of success.
By the time all my mother’s estate matters were settled in November 2012, I had thought through this possibility, and discussed with our then-current group how we would work together after the program began. This did not suit some members and they parted ways, leaving a space for others to join.
In 2013, George Eapen joined our group. I had had to summon all my courage to invite George by LinkedIn message as I did not know him personally, and was thrilled that he accepted my invitation. Our group finalised the structure of the program, completing the work begun so long ago.
What was becoming apparent to me was that when I opened up and allowed the purpose of the program to direct me, and acted with the culture of the kindness that underpinned the program, we achieved good outcomes.
In 2015, Sally and I arranged for two public presentations about the program, and both were well received. Flyers were printed and distributed. One person (my friend Carla) commenced the program, to complete it with great success in mid 2017. However no one else took it up. Were we missing something?
Late in 2016, after many conversations with many people about the program and it’s intent to support leaders of much-needed change in our communities, I wondered if we should change the rules about how people could begin, becoming community members first and program participants later. This would be a major phase in the completion of this long project, needing more work from our group, and a complete rework of the structure around the program. Did I have the courage to do this, and would my fellow group members continue to give their support? They might leave. I’d become very fond of them all as we’d shared time together, and would be very sad if this partnership was broken. Plus if any left now, the program may never be completed and so never be able to do it’s work in the world. What should I do?
I took my aunt’s advice of what to do at times like this; I took myself for a walk and spoke to myself firmly:
- Was I capable of success? Yes!
- Did I have the courage to demonstrate the resilience that the program encouraged? I had in the past to get through other challenges, why not now? Yes!
- What was the purpose of the program? It was larger than my own purpose. The program had the potential to make a significant difference in the world, with all of the group supporting it.
- What was the worst that could happen? I would have to farewell one or more friends and invite new members into the group. If that didn’t work I would do the work alone.
- What was the best that could happen? We would finish what we had begun – a community for leaders of change to flourish – and enjoy walking alongside these leaders, making a difference together.
It was time to overcome any concerns about being inadequate and instead be powerful beyond measure! At the beginning of 2017, I put my concerns about losing group members aside and contacted group member Alfred, who had kindly drawn a diagram of the then-current structure. We agreed to meet and discuss this possible new structure then Alfred would draw a new diagram.
We would also need an online bookshop to produce and deliver the books to participants, and an online membership system. I reviewed my progress to date on this part of the project, set the strategy for its completion, and got to work with my web developers to bring together all the parts into a working whole.
Alfred produced the new structure diagram and we met to discuss it. As with all the stages of program development, all members reflected and contributed to make the new structure something that reflected the way we worked, together and individually. After much discussion the new structure was accepted with revisions, and I arranged for it to be drawn up for inclusion in the program website. No one left the group. I was greatly relieved with this outcome.
Tertta joined us in 2018, bringing a new energy into our group and enthusiasm for the way things were at the time. Not having experienced our Resilient Leadership™ community in any other form, she embraced it warmly. This helped us all to embrace it. We completed the written materials to support the program, ready to publish through my online bookshop.
Finally, we were ready to welcome into our midst the many people who wanted to be part of our community, along with our first client, Carla Van Raay. This lovely group of people, who had taught me so much about my resilience and along the way had learned about their own resilience, is ready to take others on the same journey.
What have I learned along this journey so far?
My biggest lesson has been to let go, just let it go to do what it needs to do, and be present to help if I can. This lesson has flowed through into our Resilient Leadership™ Community. Here I am but one of its members, not the “eldest” as I was brought up to be in my family. I love seeing each member flourish and blossom like a flower amongst our community. I have let go, being open and trusting that I have what is needed to deal with whatever happens.
Now, it is time to explore my next Resilient Leadership™ journey, a step that to date has brought much fear for me — letting our Resilient Leadership™ go into the wider world to do what it needs to do with that same way of being open and trusting that I have what is needed to deal with whatever happens!
Perth, Western Australia, 6th June 2020
Photo by Rob Campbell.