Leadership – Themes from PSK Performance Fishbowl Discussion

On 31 August 2016 I had the good fortune of moderating a discussion on leadership.  The event was a Fishbowl discussion organised by Trent Rosen of PSK Performance, and was held in Sydney.  Trent had gathered an excellent set of panellists with relevant experience and expertise.

Nigel PaineNigel was the Head of Learning and Development with the BBC.  He now does a lot  of work with coaching consulting speaking.

Commodore Lee Goddard – Commodore Goddard (who asked to be called Lee during the discussion) commands Surface Force for the Royal Australian Navy.  Based in Sydney, he commands Sydney 18 warships and 3500 people.

Cameron Clyne – Cameron is the Chair of Australian Rugby Union and ex-CEO of the National Australia Bank.

I was a little disappointed that there were no female leaders on the panel.  However there was a really amazing diversity and depth of experience.  One of the things I was really impressed with was just how down to earth and all three panellists were.

You can view my reflection on the discussion in video format or read the (slightly polished up) transcript below.

fishbowl-formatThe format was called a Fishbowl.  I sat at the front with the three panellists and there was an empty ‘hot seat’ at the end of the panellists’ row.  The participants were in curved rows facing the panellists.  If a participant wanted to join the discussion they could come and sit in hot seat.  Although I did the introductions and had a set of questions, the success of this format is to get people into the hot seat to ask their own questions.


fishbowl-layoutWe had a good flow of conversation and range of questions asked. I’m going to share some of the key themes that came up.  Views expressed below are my understanding of those expressed by the panellists.

Resilience came up quickly.  A leader cannot have an off day, and behaviour under stress is the key to good leadership.  A key part of building leadership is self-awareness.  In order to build leadership you’ve got to know yourself.  In an organisational context, the organisation has to understand itself as well in order to build leadership.

Visibility came out as a theme, particularly from Cameron.  In his role as CEO at the National Australia Bank he said that information flow was critical.  He wanted people to be able to tell him what was going on.  To achieve this you need to strip away the hierarchy.

Fishbowl 1.jpg

Nigel raised accountability and support.  They are complementary – you have to support people and give them time to develop as leaders, and you also have to hold them accountable.

In regard to time, we talked a lot about behaviour change and forming habits.  Developing leadership takes time.  There’s no quick fix – you can’t just send people on a workshop for two days, a week or two weeks and expect that they come back its leaders.

As a leader its important to role model behaviours you expect of other leaders.  Also, be aware that you will get from others the standard of behaviour that ‘you walk by.’  This relates to setting standards and holding people accountable to them.  Related to role modelling is that people expect you to ‘act the part,’ to carry and conduct yourself as a leader.  The conversation again returned to not having an off day – which is mostly about being resilient and managing yourself, which requires self-awareness (a recurring theme in the discussion).

Not only do others need to see you as a leader, you need to see yourself as a leader.  Cameron told a story about something a coach said to him when he became CEO of NAB at the age of 40, at start of the Global Financial Crisis.  His coach told him that he needed to ‘promote’ himself, meaning he needed to see himself as a senior leader before others would.

Fishbowl 2.jpg

Nigel shared a lesson – he had to learn to coach others to solve their problems rather than solve the problems for them.

There was a question about developing trust in the online environment as a leader.  I thought that Lee’s answer was the best of the panellists.  He blew away some myths about the military, pointing out that the military is always at the forefront of technology, which includes and the online world is not different.  He made the point that the virtual world consists of people and that, in fact, virtual / online has made communication and leadership more personal.  I would have loved the opportunity to discuss this point for longer.

Some specific questions caught my attention.

First was the old chestnut about middle management being a blocking point for change.  Terms commonly used to refer to this ‘group’ include ‘the Iron Curtain’ and ‘Permafrost.’  The common view is the you can’t change to flow down beyond middle management.  Cameron made the point that this is not a homogeneous group and you need multiple approaches for different kinds of middle managers.  You also need to understand the m as individuals.  There was a great quote from Lee Goddard about co-creation – “Do leadership with people not to people.”

I asked whether Learning and Development (L&D) as a function is relevant to leadership development.  I asked this question because the discussion had focussed on how a leader can develop themselves and other people’s leadership, but L&D had not been mentioned.  It is a clear ‘yes’ for the military who invest a lot of time for each leader in leadership development every year.  However, there were some question marks from the other panellists.  Nigel’s point that it’s up to L&D to be relevant aligned with Cameron’s view that L&D should be integral to, and aligned with, the organisation.  Although it was a bit sad, Cameron got a laugh when he said that he’s been in organisations where he wondered whether L&D was actually part of the same organisation.

A question on how sport is relevant to business got three very different responses.  Nigel told a story to illustrate that lessons relevant to business could be derived from sports.  The example he gave was the British 2012 Olympics Cycling team who focussed on finding 1% improvements. Lee spoke about the importance of sport to well-being and participating in sport to get to know your people.  Cameron noted that in both sport and business, skill alone is not enough to success – there has to be a mindset for success.

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Thank you Trent Rosen from PSK Performance for trusting me to moderate the Fishbowl discussion.  It was a great experience both of the format and nature of the conversation that it generated, and in tapping into the experience of the three panellists.  The only regret I have is that it wasn’t a lot longer because there were so many more topics we could have covered, and we could have delved deeper into the questions and themes that were raised.

Did you watch the video?  If so, you may have noticed that the body of it was in portrait orientation rather than landscape.  This is because I shot it in SnapChat to do a quick reflection shortly after the event and decided that I would use this footage rather than shoot it again.  Many of you may not have seen SnapChat video before – let me know what you think of this style of video.

Please leave a comment or questions on the content of this post below.  If you were at the event I’m curious if you got something different from the discussion – let’s continue the conversation.

  1. #1 by Ian Fry on September 9, 2016 - 6:20 pm

    Sounds like an excellent session Michelle, and as usual an excellent reflection

    • #2 by Michelle Ockers on September 9, 2016 - 8:14 pm

      Thanks Ian – I had a comment on Twitter about wanting to hear more of my thoughts. There may be a follow-up blog to respond to the themes raised in the discussion versus my own experience as a leader – in both the military (first 16 years of my career were in the Royal Australian Air Force) and in corporate setting.

  2. #3 by Ryan Tracey on September 10, 2016 - 8:53 am

    Thanks for the comprehensive reflection, Michelle. That really was quite a range of insights shared by the panellists.

    I too am intrigued by Lee’s views of leadership in the online environment and would love to learn more. I wonder if he might be open to expand on the topic, perhaps via post on Medium or LinkedIn?

    I watched your video and I’ll admit I’m not a fan of the portrait layout, though I wouldn’t have re-filmed it either. The content was strong (that’s the main thing) and I like how you showed your notes to break up the talking head scenes. If you were allowed to film the panellists (difficult while moderating, maybe someone else could have done it?) using muted footage of the protagonists in action with your narrated overlay would have also been a neat device.

    • #4 by Michelle Ockers on September 12, 2016 - 5:38 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Ryan. I think the Snapchat style of video is not as polished as shooting in scratch in landscape format. It’s not just about it being portrait (which is not what we are used to seeing). It’s even more about the relatively casual, ephemeral nature of it as a platform. I use it mainly as a ‘work in progress’ sandpit to gather my thoughts and record my process and progress as I work. If a more polished look was appropriate for the use of this content I would refilm it. I like your idea about filming the panellists. In retrospect I did have access to some great photos of the discussion (some of which I included in my blog) and I could have used some of those in a similar way to the use of video you have suggested.

  3. #5 by Miriam Speidel on September 23, 2016 - 5:59 pm

    Great reflection Michelle. Some very interesting points raised. The one that struck me the most was probably about resilience and modeling the right leadership behaviour if if things don’t go too well. I’m facilitating a workshop to a group of our leaders next week who volunteered to champion our company values…I will certainly make a very clear point about it.

    As to the Snapchat format, I quite like the informal and personal nature of it. As you say in your answer Ryan, it is certainly not as polished but I think there is something very organic about capturing your own work in the moment with no filter. I really liked that you showed us your notes and scribbles. It really brought your reflection to life to me. Thanks for sharing.

  4. #6 by Boss in the middle on October 4, 2016 - 11:38 am

    I believe the comment around middle management being a blocking point for change, can unfortunately be very appropriate at times. I think the reason for this is that middle managers often are awesome individual contributors, but not necessarily born leaders. There isn’t a lot of training given in most companies around how to manage groups above and below you. Managing people is different than handling ones own project. I have a lot of thoughts around this, as it is the focal point of my blog. http://www.bossinthemiddle.com. I would love to hear your feedback!

    • #7 by Michelle Ockers on November 10, 2016 - 5:51 pm

      Thanks for your comment. There’s lots of data that incidates that there is nowhere near enought investment (in Australia anyway) in frontline management. A 2016 study published by the Centre for Workplace Leadership reported that “For every $25 spent on senior leaders, $1 is spent on workplace and frontline leaders.” (Source: http://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/membership/company-director-magazine/2016-back-editions/july/walters). I think the point that was made by the panel is to be careful to group all middle managers together and label them as resistant to change or a barrier to change.

      I took a look at your blog and left a comment on your first post. I like the spirit underlying your writing and wish you all the best with your blog.

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