When I was nineteen years old, my mentor Virgil shared a line that proved to be a lightbulb moment for me: “How long does it take to learn from someone’s lifetime of experience?”
In a flash, learning and development became clear for me- I didn’t have to wait for a special invitation to join an esteemed leadership development program or to be recognised for a structured mentoring initiative… Learning was entirely within my grasp and was utterly my own responsibility.
I promised myself there and then I would actively cultivate coffee conversations with people who I admired, respected and aspired to learn from – weekly. Nearly 10 years on, I don’t think I’ve missed a single coffee exchange, and it’s probably been the single greatest habit I’ve built when it comes to my own personal growth (there are worse vices than caffeine and learning!).
Emboldened by the impact these conversations had on my own life, I decided to start a podcast to share the incredible lessons, insights and stories offered by people I’m fortunate to meet, know and call my mentors and friends. Now 65 episodes in, we’ve featured everyone from an 8-time world champion surfer to a 7th generation kung-fu master, a navy commander, ASX 100 and Fortune 500 CEOs, adventurers, Olympic gold-medallists, and a symphony orchestra conductor. We had close to an equal gender split (60/40 female:male), and guests in their late 70s to early 20s. I intentionally did my best to curate an eclectic mix of cultural backgrounds, industries, religions and sexual orientations.
My objectives for the podcast seemed simple enough at the time:
1) To paint the archetype of the ‘changemaker’ as someone more tangible, closer to you and to me. My hope was listeners would be inspired to take on the idea of ‘being the change’ they want to see in the world.
2) To crack open the “formula” for change, making it less Colonel’s ’11 secret herbs and spices’ and more ‘open source’ intelligence. My guests had to be pragmatists- deeply reflective, honest and candid in sharing their experience to empower listeners to shift from inspiration to implementation.
3) To question answers rather than answer questions. We talk a lot about cognitive diversity in the world right now but recording this podcast made me realise how rarely we’re truly exposed to divergent thinking unless we intentionally facilitate it.
I’ve been humbled by the reactions to the podcast from all around the world, many of which have come from the phenomenal Linkedin network- thank you. You’ve told me how my podcast with Alisa Camplin got you through your first half marathon and how Ros Savage inspired you to go climb a mountain. How you’re a different father to your daughter after listening to my podcast with Liz Broderick (this conversation in Calgary moved me to tears). Or how Mandy Rennehan got you ‘woke’ on diversity and inclusion, how Holly Kramer and Ron Gauci made the communication and engagement side of organisational change ‘understandable and doable’ for the first time. And how Rob Jones’ insights helped you get through a tunnel you were struggling to see a light at the end of.
You told me over and over again how valuable you found guests’ insights for your personal and professional goals. Thanks to all who listened, shared and particularly those who took the time to provide feedback- I had no idea how to produce a podcast when I started but I believed vehemently in the quality of the conversations. Every time I have heard about the effect these have had on someone it lights me up. A big thanks to Sydney Morning Herald for giving the podcast a shout-out in the ‘top business podcasts’ list too!
To wrap up season one, and before I launch the new season, I’d love to share with you a few titbits from our top-rating podcasts:
Dom Price (Coffee Pod #2) – High Performing Teams & Leaders, and What to Expect from the Future of Work with Atlassian’s Dom Price)
Dom is the guru on all things collaboration, team-work, innovation and future-of-work (his official title is Head of R&D and Work Futurist at Atlassian) and listeners loved him for both his incredibly practical advice and his no-BS, entertaining communication style. If you’re dealing with establishing an internal culture of innovation, thinking through what ‘lived’ workplace diversity feels like (as opposed to what ‘talked’ d&I looks like) and how to achieve effective collaboration- Dom’s podcast is for you. One of my favourite quotes comes from Dom’s reflection around intentional learning:
“I have this mental model I do every quarter. It’s my three by three. My three across are time horizon one, time horizon two, and time horizon three, and my three along the side are me, my team, and Atlassian as an organization, and I map out my quarter. What are the activities I’m going to do and where am I investing? So, I’ve always got some things top right. They are for my team, or for Atlassian, and they’re time horizon three, they’re going to pay off in a year. They’re the long term outcome bets. Then there’s the bottom left hand corner. They’re the things for me for today. They’re very transactional. What I do is, notionally, when I’m shifting boxes, I change the way I act. So, for the transactional stuff, it’s scrappy, it’s quick, do it, move on. My main goal with the transactional stuff is how can I prevent it occurring again? How can I automate it and make it go away? Because it’s not massively valuable. The problem with the top right box is it’s highly speculative, but it also means a completely different mindset. When I go to events or function where I’m top right, what I do is say to myself, “I need to give myself equal parts consumption and equal parts reflection.” Now, way too many leaders, in my experience, see that as a waste, because there’s no work being produced, but, if I don’t give my brain and my heart and my intuition time to consume that, then it’s just surface level. It’s not made it inside, and so, if I’m going to invest 24 hours in the event, there’s no harm investing 24 hours in consuming from that event. Makes complete sense.”
Sam Mostyn (Coffee Pod #25) – Breaking Free From the Binary with Non-Executive Director Extraordinaire Sam Mostyn
Sam is a truly exceptional systems-thinker and has pioneered change across business, civil society and the public sector throughout her career. A name synonymous with diversity and inclusion in Australia, Sams’ comments around the role of cultural institutions and, particularly, sport in driving social progress really hit a chord with listeners. Sam was the first female AFL Commissioner and shared candidly her experiences and lessons influencing change in the ‘boys club’. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the ideas Sam shared, particularly her comments around how being angry, in her experience, limits the effectiveness of your advocacy. I loved her observation that sport is the ‘silent social worker’ and an incredibly powerful lever for change. I cannot recommend this conversation highly enough for leaders of organisation and social change. One of my favourite remarks Sam made was (reflecting on the challenges of driving change):
“I think the one I still struggle with is ensuring that I understand all the multiple stakeholders affected by the change that I want to be part of, really understanding where their perspectives are and how to engage and show respect whilst pushing hard for that change. And it takes an enormous amount of … I think you’ve got to be really quite patient and have good self control and engage respectfully. So for me, that remains … And also, I think the thing I’ve learned on the way, Holly, and I’m learning to this very day, is you make a big mistake if you think you’ve suddenly got the whole thing sorted and you understand it be moving part… active listening as part of change is probably the thing that I come back … And it’s hard for any of us because when you want things to get better, whatever your particular field is, there is a desire to get it done now and speed and maybe not understand the damage you cause on the way through.”
Sifu Singh (Coffee Pod #31) – Mastering, Stress, Performance and Mindfulness with World-leading Martial Arts Master Sifu Singh
I wasn’t at all surprised by the popularity of this episode. Sifu’s voice is like hot chocolate and his insights around mindfulness – how to actually achieve being present in the moment and what it takes to unlock that next level of your performance potential – are truly masterful. Sifu is a high-performance coach of military special forces, secret service, SWAT teams, and over 100 law enforcement agencies across the globe. He’s a 23rd generation Tai Chi master! This podcast got me ‘mind boxing’, catalysed a new morning routine (which has definitely improved my start to the day!) and given me a whole different frame to understand training to perform under pressure. One of my favourite quotes comes from Sifu’s discussion of stress and peak performance:
“There’s a saying that says that when stress hits you, you resort to a diminished state…, you only have 10% of your capabilities actually available. So you fall to that percentage. So instead of training, training bigger, stronger, faster, that idea, and just increasing your ability and only accessing 10%, my question is, how do we access more? And train the less of that idea? When we can start to do that we get a balance. Now I’m not saying don’t train and work out, be strong and healthy, that’s important because the body’s the vehicle. But the mind, the mind is the engine. The mind is the general. We say the mind is the general, and the body and emotions are the battle. The breath is the strategy, and the chi in your energy are your soldiers.”
Rob Jones (Coffee Pod #53) – Using Challenges & Tragedies To Your Advantage With Marine Corps Veteran Rob Jones
This podcast received some of the most powerful and emotional responses of the whole season. Rob was a combat engineer in the US Army when an IED blew up underneath him, taking both his legs. Unwaveringly optimistic and determined to make a difference to the lives of others, Rob has cycled across America, run 31 marathons in 31 days and won an Olympic bronze medal all the while raising funds for veterans’ charities. If you want a conversation you won’t ever forget listening to, you’ve got to listen to Rob. I’ve probably reflected on this podcast 50 times since listening because of the way Rob challenged me to think differently about the way we treat/help/support people who are going through struggle in order to ensure we enable them to be stronger out the other side. Rob frames stress as being akin to a heavy weight on the barbell at the gym and talks about how we have choice as to whether we let that weight come down or we use it to build strength. Acknowledging that sometimes the weight feels overwhelming, Rob talks about support should look like a “spotter”:
“Sometimes, you do need help. Sometimes the weight’s a little bit too much at first, so you need somebody to come in and spot you. You don’t want them to lift the whole weight themselves for you. Let’s say you’re doing a lift and you have a spotter and you’re not quite being able to lift it. What do they do? They don’t just rip it up. They do the finger, right? They do the one finger and they say, “It’s all you. It’s all you. It’s all you.” Maybe sometimes that’s what you need. You might need somebody to point you in the right direction or give you that leg up, but it really is just trying to view your situation from a bird’s eye view and maybe even imagine somebody else is in the situation trying to figure out what you would advise somebody to do in that situation.”