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Ferocious Warmth, Infectious Optimism and Being Human



I was honoured this week to be asked to speak on Ferocious Warmth at The Centre for Optimism in conversation with Victor Perton, Caroline Ward & Robert Masters. We had a fabulous hour of discussion with people in Australia and the US on leaders who lift results AND relationships to extraordinary. We discussed infectious optimism and realist optimism. Being the Monday of a new extended lockdown here in Melbourne, also the need to maintain selfcare to keep ourselves well, along with adaptability and learnability to find momentum in these days of challenge. There was fabulous input and thinking from the inspirational people who came along to discuss these topics including one of my Ferocious Warmth leadership interviewees, former Chief Executive of the Department of Education NorthernTerritory Vicki Baylis.

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As we were discussing the infectious effect of optimism and how it can be hard to stay there with the context we are in right now, Caroline asked me a question that has been coming up a lot for all of us as leaders and those that work with leaders:

'It's a vibration, isn't it? You can't fake it. Especially if you're in a team that's very close and work together. If you're a leader and you're struggling emotionally and you know you're the one who has to hold that vision and be real, but you're not able to be the contagion. How would you recommend someone deal with that?'

I was speaking one on one with a leader last week about this very challenge. This ferocious warmth leader is usually an incredibly optimistic and joyful person. But he was really struggling. First off, he knew he had to do more things for himself. He knew he needed to spend time away from the work, connecting with his family. But his immediate solution during that day? "I just spent some time on Zoom with the people that I lead and I wasn't too sure whether I should do it or not. But I got on with them and I said, 'Hey, great to connect with you and can we spend a bit of time having a chat? I'm struggling this week. It's been hard for me this week, how are you going?'"

The opening up with that vulnerability to say, "I'm not travelling so well just at the moment" started a dialogue that was a heart dialogue, not a head one. By the end of the day, he was feeling so much better and in no way felt that it had been a negative thing for either of the people involved - in fact, better for both of them. At the end of each conversation, he was feeling great because with the interaction, the connection, the heart to heart conversation, he naturally went into his optimism again. He was able to say, "Yeah, it's pretty tough but we can do this." The people on the other end saw him as authentically him. Not weak, not 'losing it'. Just a person being human. That's a key piece of ferocious warmth, it being what you are. There is an authenticity and humility that ferocious warmth leaders bring to any space.

Vicki also addressed the challenge of leadership exhaustion from her own experience:
'You actually don't have to do this on your own. It's how you grow and build others to come with you. How you actually step aside and be a partner with that gives you the energy so that when you step forward, it's your turn. The geese flying analogy is the one that works for me all the time. You can't be out there on your own all the time. You just end up tired. What do you do? It's the team that's with you, in whatever shape or form. My optimism as a person comes through other people's commitment challenge, desire to think differently, build better, try something new, argue the point. And get in there and just have a go. They're the things that make me optimistic. I'm grateful for having had the opportunities I did.'

Are you making time to breathe, connect in with yourself and others? People are giving out, giving out, giving out. It might be time for you to give in. Ferocious Warmth leadership needs balance from the seeming paradox and polarity of attention out and attention in. We can't do one without the other.