Welcome to you all and congratulations for arriving into Ushuaia wholehearted and ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

To begin with, thank you for the courage, intelligence and personal vision that have enabled you to get this far – in your work, in your contribution, in your dreams and aspirations, in your care and thoughtfulness in life. Thank you for entering the spirit of Homeward Bound as part of your journey and opening yourself up to the possibility of what lies ahead. Congratulations on the fundraising effort required to participate, and for gaining the support of your families, friends and workplaces to be part of this global initiative.

For some of you, Antarctica has already woven its magic around your heart and head. For others, this is a lifetime dream come true.

For all of us, travelling to Antarctica together is our opportunity to put into action the ambitions of Homeward Bound and, in some ways, to test our resilience and intention together as we travel. It is also our chance to first-hand experience the last true wilderness on our planet and to witness the relentless impact of climate change.

To this end, it is important that we consider the greater purpose for Homeward Bound. It is first and foremost a leadership initiative designed to elevate your influence and visibility in a world that clearly needs more women at the leadership table.

There is ample evidence that women (at their best) are predisposed to being more inclusive, collaborative, legacy-minded and trustworthy with assets – money and people. While this is true of many men, and not true for some women, it is an acknowledged predisposition (conditioned or otherwise).

I have been working in leadership development for 35 years and I now face, as we all do, the reality that trust in the practice of leadership is collapsing globally. It is a grim reality to face because its consequences, in a time when our planet is under acute pressure, are dire; and now, when we need the best of leadership on show, it is not the emerging narrative in many contexts.

I brought to the vision of Homeward Bound both a lifetime of working in transformational development with men and women, but also, in the last 15 years, an increasing focus on working with women alone. I have come to know that, at our best, women are extraordinary – not for cognitive or technical capability alone, but for who we are together. ‘We’ matters more than ‘I’ and, when we are safe and collaborative, then miracles happen.

Additionally, as with any curious and caring human being, I have watched with dismay our wicked inability to reverse our behaviour, to protect our planet in any meaningful sense, and the failure of leadership to digest how critical the global picture has become. We fool ourselves with human measures (better education, less infant mortality, greater ability to feed people and, despite feeling otherwise, less global conflict), while species become extinct, critical forests are vanishing, the planet is being smothered in plastic and the climate is warming exactly as predicted, just faster.

Finally, I have loved (as an observer) science in its many forms most of my adult life. I believe that science touches almost all aspects of life as we know it today. I also believe that it will touch every part of our evolution going forward.

It is not hard, then, to understand how the dream came about.

Photo by Oli Sansom
The dream turned reality: four focal points unite

  1. A deep concern about the practice of leadership
  2. A passion for the influence and visibility of women leading
  3. A concern for the planet and our future on it
  4. A focus on science as the source of quality thinking and relevant innovation.


The dream happened one night, late in October 2014. It followed a challenging (heart-wrenching) session with women (many of whom were scientists) who were participating in Compass (Dattner Grant’s women in leadership program), which I was facilitating in Hobart, Tasmania. Eating sandwiches under a stairwell in the Australian Antarctic Division (Australian Government Dept of Environment and Energy; they sponsored the program), I listened to stories of Antarctica. These stories went from joy and hope, to despair and anger and then grief, as some of the women shared stories of the damage they were witnessing in Antarctica, and had the opportunity to express their frustration as a result of the constant passing-over of qualified women for leadership roles in favour of men.

That night, I dreamt of us all in a ship (very like the Ushuaia, which I had no knowledge of). I saw Antarctica through the windows of a large area I was working in and before me were women like you. Over my shoulder was a film crew and I knew we were making a film that was an interrogation into the practice of leadership globally, seen through your eyes. I saw the banner ‘Homeward Bound’ and I knew we were focussing on transformational (not transactional) leadership capability, strategy and science as it informs what is happening to our planet.

The morning after the dream, I rang Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas. Some of you know Jess by reputation and perhaps in person. If you do, you will know she is a beacon of ‘can do’ and that by nature she would prefer to say ‘yes’ than ‘no’. Jess had done Compass the year prior and we just clicked. I told her the dream and asked her if she thought it ‘had legs’ (because to me it seemed very possible).

It is said that the First Follower makes the ‘crazy’ of the visionaries seem plausible. Jess did this for me. Her ‘yes’ and my vision made us more together than either were, in that moment, apart. She invited me to write down the dream.

That morning (and this rarely happens) I had a three-hour meeting cancelled at the last moment. So, I took Jess’s advice and wrote down the idea. It was some 10 pages long and I wrote about why it was important, why women, what the content should be, key global figures – like Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle, who I thought would care to advance the message – and why a film that would challenge the narrative of leadership was so central. I fleshed out the key areas of interest, I scoped the film. It was easy to do – like transcribing a script.

I sent this to Jess that evening. She loved it and committed to showing it to people she respected in the Australian Antarctic Division. Over the coming month (to end November 2014), Jess showed the paper to a range of people and passed the feedback to me. The paper was refined and sent back. This happened three or four times. The changes were not big. Mostly, people loved the concept.

We knew we were onto a winning idea. Jess had the wisdom to share the idea very early on with two key figures who were to be seminal in the Homeward Bound Journey – Dr Justine Shaw and Associate Professor Mary-Anne Lea. Both women worked in Antartica. As time passed, they brought their expertise in mounting expeditions to Antarctica to the table and, in a stroke of genius, introduced me to the famous expeditioner, Greg Mortimer. Greg would go on to be the expedition leader for both HB1 and HB2 and a much-loved member of the Homeward Bound team. Ami Summers, who worked with me on Compass, helped work out how we would construct an expression of interest, what legally was required, and what costs might be involved. Michelle Crouch helped us make it all official, setting up the company and financial structure.

This wonderfully flexible, fast, committed, tiny team took the seed of Homeward Bound and turned it into a ‘thing’.

As Homeward Bound grew, an amazing collaboration emerged. Many people took the purpose of Homeward Bound and made it their own. The leadership approach was distributed. Julia May and Sarah Anderson began to build and evolve the wonderful contribution on visibility, and to take on the growing complexity of global communication. Justine and Mary-Anne continued to lead and evolve the science stream, designing one of the highest-rated components of Homeward Bound, the Symposium at Sea. All of us worked with growing input from the alumnae. Kit Jackson helped take from my head the strategy of Homeward Bound and turned it into a compelling Strategy Map. She also went on to develop that most wonderful of tools, the Personal Strategy Map. Michelle Crouch (with Hayley Young) kept the business of Homeward Bound running, and Marshall Cowley oversaw the entire design process Many were able to craft their contribution without fear or favour, all to the common cause. Alumnae like Heidi Steltzer, Deb O’Connell and Fern Hames helped review complex and comprehensive feedback from the inaugural cohort, and to extend Homeward Bound and our approach through a tight risk assessment process and an agreed code of conduct.

The first cohort of women were selected in January 2015 and a second half joined them in the later part of the same year, when we decided to leave from Ushuaia in Argentina rather than Hobart, Tasmania. That was a big decision for us, but after seven months of trying to raise funds to leave from Hobart (a crucial jumping-off point for science in the Southern Ocean), we decided to go for a bigger ship and so became 100% self-funded. This allowed Homeward Bound to grow into the model it is today.

With this last decision, Homeward Bound went global and, with the very small surplus we had from the contributions of the first cohort, we were able to fund Hayley three days a week to administrate the program (moving to full-time between Hayley and Eva Matthews from March this year), with a small sum of money also going towards a global PR strategy, together with a professional digital comms strategy (which Sarah Anderson led).

At this time, just prior to the first expedition, Kit put us in contact with Elmwood Studios, one of the world’s most highly regarded boutique brand businesses. Their magic team of designers and researchers pulled together the now-signature logo of Homeward Bound, and the deeply moving tagline ‘mother nature needs her daughters’.

Quite apart from the fact that this was a globally awarded campaign, it helped create a simple focal point for the heartbeat of Homeward Bound.

All these decisions became the fuel for the growing shape of Homeward Bound. The world was intensely interested in you and your story, but also in the intention of Homeward Bound.

As time has passed, donors and strategic partnerships have emerged to enable Homeward Bound (Kathmandu, Human Synergistics, Dattner Grant and, more recently Acciona). These organisations were signature in enabling what we wanted to do without cost.

Alumnae stepped forward to both lead, facilitate, design and help – everywhere. This is now evident in the faculty for HB3. Homeward Bound continues to grow and evolve due to the ongoing contribution of people who devote their time, energy and passion to leadership for the greater good. To date we have taken 152 women to Antarctica, with another 180 (including you!) waiting in the wings.

We now also have an extraordinary global network of volunteer coaches (some 80 in all). We have alumnae in many parts of the world collaborating with other alumnae, launching projects now called ‘Ripple Initiatives’ of Homeward Bound, and contributing to everything from the selection of the next year’s participants to the design of online material, collaborating on articles, doing TED talks, gaining visibly significant promotions and making their voices heard in many domains.

Finally, we have shifted from a Pty Ltd Company (which I owned) to a public company limited by guarantee, as a precursor in Australia for establishing not-for-profit status. We have a clear governance structure: a Board, a Business Hub, an on-the-ground faculty, an on-the-ship faculty, a funding team and the broader leadership group. Some faces turn up in multiple spots, reflecting the evolution of Homeward Bound; others come and go as needs arise.

I am officially the CEO but, frankly, that’s largely a technical title. The model is a distributed leadership model more akin to the structure of the brain (as in the pic below).

Increasingly, we see this network around our planet, held together by common cause, working in diverse locations and on many collaborations, but always connected, always a ‘we’ not an ‘I’, safe, supported, cared for. We see women leading, shaping the future we want so we don’t inherit the future we fear.

That’s my motivation in Homeward Bound; it is our motivation for Homeward Bound.

And that brings us to your focus, as you do this final piece of preparation to get on the ship, Antarctica-bound.

Photo by Oli Sansom
Your focus going into the next phase of Homeward Bound

Vulnerability and courage are the keys to getting the most out of the journey ahead. You have heard about these during the year, both in the leadership program itself and in the visibility focus. Now, as you get ready for the voyage, these become more important, not less.

Vulnerability matters because that’s something we will all feel. Isolated from friends and family, we will wonder about our own ability. Perhaps, at times, tired, seasick or overwhelmed, many of us will feel vulnerable – to greater or lesser extent.

So now, more than ever, we have to trust each other; trust that we share the same intent, trust that being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness but of strength, trust each other’s intentions, trust that kindness and care are as (or more) important than cleverness and skill.

We need courage; if this were easy to do, many people would be doing it. You would be doing it without participating in Homeward Bound. In some ways, courage is more important than confidence. In fact, confidence, in this context, is not always our ally. Sometimes it reflects a level of certainty that can close us out to others or other ways of doing things – ‘I know better, so I don’t listen to you/I don’t listen to them’.

Courage and vulnerability, however, will help us listen, learn and support each other. They will help us give and receive feedback openly. Perhaps they will help us focus on ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, as we travel to Antarctica and back.

Advice from Ernest Shackleton

There have been many noteworthy leaders from whom we draw inspiration, including expeditioners who have ventured into impossible conditions in order to explore and come to understand what our world has to offer. Ernest Shackleton was one of those. Perhaps, more than many, his leadership mindset is particularly relevant to us. He died, in 1922, aged 47, on his third expedition to Antarctica.   

I have taken a little poetic license with this, to adapt his leadership advice to Homeward Bound.

  1. First and foremost, think carefully on what you value, what you hold to be important in life. How does this play out in behaviour – your own and others’? How do you or others support or undermine what you value?
  2. Come to the expedition respectful of the true difference of all the women you will share this journey with, participants and faculty alike. Be kind and brave in giving and listening to feedback, taking personal responsibility for what you think and feel.
  3. Watch others for their unique talent; value and nurture it.
  4. Understand that, in a closed environment, no matter how we feel (seasick, moody, homesick), optimism and cheerfulness make everything more manageable. It is easy to be these things when the going is good; can you demonstrate these attributes when things are tough?
  5. Order and routine matter – your room, how you dress, timeliness. Honour the Code of Conduct and the Risk Assessment protocols. These were developed by those who went before you to increase care – one for all, all for one.
  6. Fairness matters – we all have a right to be heard, to raise issues constructively, assuming best intent. There are many ways to do this. It is your job to understand them and to act on them when appropriate.
  7. We all lead by example, accepting our differences and always helping each other; we make time to coach and teach; we find time to be kind and warm.
  8. If someone is unhappy, or struggling to voice a worry, fear or problem, bring them close to you, help them feel able to say what they need to say to who they need to say it to. Don’t talk for them.
  9. Let go of the past and what isn’t, and focus on the present and what is.
  10. Remember, together we are an amazing balance of talent and expertise, and everyone travels together. We are all vigilant. The team helps each other.
  11. Each of us takes responsibility for the whole; selfishness (emotional or intellectual) has no place in the expedition.
  12. Leave a legacy on the group – influence each other constructively, promote the change we are seeking together – for women, for the greater good.


I can’t imagine better advice, from another era. And yes, I see the irony that a great male expeditioner reaches across time to share leadership advice, but I am OK with that. In the end, Homeward Bound is not about women in isolation. We are here to explore our voice and influence in the world for and on behalf of all people.

There is no question that you have already done much. The question you should bring in your heart to this experience is ‘what more can I/we do?’

Fabian (Faby, Fabe)



Fabian Dattner
Dreamer, Co-Founder & CEO of Homeward Bound Projects

Photo by Oli Sansom



Think of a funnel broad and wide at the top, narrowing down to a finer, focused opening at its base. We begin our thinking about Homeward Bound working from the highest level, the 10 year strategy for Homeward Bound, working down to the very personal journey which you have embarked upon.
Photo by Oli Sansom
Our world is in a perilous position and a significant contributor to the state in which our planet is in is the demise of trust in incumbent leadership in significant measure. Our small contribution in this context is quite specifically to encourage informed, expert leadership with a legacy mindset for the greater good. Our goal is to equip a 1000-strong collaboration of women with a science background to
take up significant leadership positions in our world in order to enable better decisions with regard to the health of our planet. Women who are able to take up significant leadership roles in our world, towards that outcome.

The intention over a 10 year period is to build a global collaboration of women who know, no matter where she is working, there is always a significant network of like-minded, like-educated women to support them to have impact and influence.

The name Homeward Bound celebrates what women bring to the table that is different from, and deeply complementary to, what men bring. Homeward Bound is a metaphor for the planet, and our responsibility for our ‘home’; a link to the care women bring to living spaces, a sense that home includes the whole planet, and at its most fragile, the remote and wild Southern Ocean; Antarctica as one of the fastest changing regions on our planet.

The concept of Homeward Bound is that we as leaders have a duty of care to care for the planet as home because we have no other. The critical objective that Homeward Bound itself is able to deliver on is to ensure every single person connected with Homeward Bound, both the faculty and the individuals who participate in Homeward Bound, are able to make a difference. We will achieve this through:

1. Enhanced transformational leadership capability
2. Greater connection to science as it informs what’s happening to the planet
3. Strategy development, execution
4. The ability to increase their own visibility, influence and impact
Photo by Oli Sansom
Our mantra is at every turn, not to be afraid; to eliminate fear from the dialogue.
There’s nothing to be afraid of. The only thing that can qualify this is our capacity and courage to learn and if we make a mistake or something doesn’t go as planned we stop, pause, reflect, learn, try again until we get it right.

The journey of Homeward Bound will not be easy. However, like those crazy three dimensional prints that look two-dimensional at first (Magic Eye), once you see what lies beyond the obvious, there is no going back, no pretending that you can’t see it, that you don’t count. You will know that in every action, small or large, you will be helping to shape the world around you.

The voyage to Antarctica is the picture frame in which Homeward Bound travels.
It is not Homeward Bound. We will deliver a life-changing, inspiring, empowering experience, culminating in the voyage at sea. That is the beginning of this process, not the end of it. You may think you’re coming to experience training, but we will do little to no training. Our job is to awaken the leader within you; to get you to see your place in the world, to inspire, mobilise and enable women to take up leadership roles.


Homeward Bound is an important journey for you. The outcomes are varied, significant and enduring.
You can benefit from Homeward Bound regardless of whether you are an early career researcher, an experienced scientist in Government or Industry or one of the dozens of other occupations represented on-board. A blend of insights into leadership, strategy and the sciences, plus the emerging dialogue between women of all levels of leadership in science is what makes Homeward Bound so compelling.
We believe the program will:
1. Ensure you are valued in the organisations within which you work
2. Support you to know yourself significantly better and recognise and understand complex and often difficult behaviours in others
3. Build significantly more choices for you in how to affect change
4. Expose and amplify insights into your sense of purpose, your personal values and your motivation as a leader to be empowered to choose more effectively what you do
Homeward Bound is transformational, more interested in the why rather than the how of women in leadership in science.

There are hundreds of books to guide you on the development of strategy, effective communication, negotiation, handling conflict, being seen, and influencing. There are thousands of programs which teach part or all of these skills.

Homeward Bound is rare in that it is about personal insight, will, focus and collaborative intent. You will come to know why you matter rather than necessarily learn more on the how.

And we know, with deep certainty, when you are convinced of the ‘why’, then almost any ‘how’ will work.

Photo by Dr Mary-Anne Lea
So, go now and enjoy the journey. Give yourself space and time with a group of women who have chosen to be here with you. Be honest and open; there will be few times in your life where who you are and what you stand for will be as safe and respected as they will be in Homeward Bound.


Think of a karesansui – a Japanese rock garden; an enclosed shallow sandbox containing sand, gravel and rocks. The sea is symbolised not by water, but by sand raked in patterns that suggest rippling water. A Zen garden represents a setting for human activity and is an expression of individual worlds of thought.
While an ancient stress-relieving activity, Zen gardening also helps clear the mind of the chaos associated with modern organisational life. Our Zen gardens are for contemplations, finding truth and personal enlightenment, all while sitting at your desk!

This is our time out … think, be curious. The journey we are about to embark on will be filled with discovery, and the best way to begin a journey is to clear one’s mind to allow in new thoughts and new experiences.

Webster’s dictionary defines ‘journey’ as follows:
Journey (noun) ‘the act of travelling from one place to another’; (verb) ‘to undertake a journey or trip’ or ‘to travel upon or across, e.g. to travel the oceans’.

It is an appropriate word to consider in the introduction to this Workbook, because the exploration of leadership, strategy, science and visibility at its simplest, is about the acquisition of new skills and capabilities. However, at its most engaging, it is about your journey, as an individual learning to help shape the world you find yourself in, and not just be shaped by it. To this end, it doesn’t truthfully matter whether, when you look over your shoulder, there are hoards of people following you. What matters is that you enter the spirit of a journey. Thus, both the program and this Workbook are about you: who you are, how you shape the environment around you, and how aware you are of the influence you have. It is about how willingly you choose to journey as a leader in order to become more effective in engaging all people.

Journeys are rarely straightforward, despite our best-laid plans. This is never truer than with leadership, which, despite decades of focused academic research, still defies simple description. Take one individual, one situation, one outcome, and already the variables are incalculable. This is the domain in which we as leaders journey. Sometimes the experience will be pleasing, creating a sense of success. At other times it will be disagreeable, and unexpected ‘accidents’ will occur; we might lose traction, lose our sense of where we are travelling to and why.

Journeys are best commenced with friends or family, people we trust and know we are safe with, people whose abilities we respect. Often we are grinning at one another at the beginning of the journey: it’s exciting, motivating and the sense of the unknown heightens our anticipation for what lies ahead. With trusted others, not only do we love the highs, we more often than not manage the lows without
too much acrimony (well …).

In the domain of leadership however, we are often on a journey with people we don’t know so well, or are with only temporarily. We don’t necessarily celebrate the highs as thoroughly as we could, and sometimes – at that first roadblock, that first rough patch, that first unplanned-for, unexpected and tricky interruption – we (and they) can lose confidence. Why wasn’t this thought of? We should have been able to anticipate this and plan for it. Am I/are you/are we/are they competent to be on the journey?

If we are not careful, we become judgmental. If things are not going according to plan, we think someone must be at fault. We might judge others: they should have known better, they are not good enough to be in the position they hold. Or we might judge ourselves, think we are not up to the task, not good enough. In a fit of judgment, we embrace the notion of success and failure, of right and wrong, win or lose and, all too often, it is fear-driven. Power and loss are implied.

But the journey of leadership has no place for this. This is a long journey; some might say it is a lifetime’s journey. If we enter it unthreatened, in the company of people we like, with a shared sense of mission, and if we are curious about ourselves and others, then this journey should be inspiring. Its conclusion may be uncertain, but what happens along the way should free us from who we thought we were and expand our capabilities.

As we embark on the long-term development of your leadership, take a moment to reflect on the relative ‘truths’ for yourself, reflect on what it has taken to commence the journey, what you and others have learnt and what you want to carry forward to ensure a successful journey.



And so now, we reach the end of the funnel, where the scope and focus contract from the general to the specific, from global change to personal transformation.

The challenge facing women everywhere is to find the time (let alone the personal courage) to have a reflective look and work out what they want to do differently or better, towards broader engagement.

In our schooling there was a ‘right way’ to do maths, physics, geography, social sciences, biology and English. At school, we were rewarded for getting it ‘right’, from school went on to university where certain ways of thinking were again encouraged and rewarded. Teachers and learners alike focused on the 20% ‘above the water line’ learning (skills, technical knowledge). To delve below the water line, for many teachers, was uncomfortable and, one might argue, not required (values, motives, emotional ability). Exploring yourself was the stuff of psychobabble – it certainly had no place in formal education or the world of work.

Yet, the stuff below the water line is the stuff of engagement. Women who want a seat at the table, as leaders at all levels, do need to understand themselves and explore preferences, motives and values. They are not just ‘nice to do’ tasks; they are essential if we are to understand how we can get the best out of ourselves, the people around us, who we are tasked with leading and influencing, so the legacy we leave makes a material difference to the world ahead.


1.- Unconscious incompetence = we don’t know what we don’t know
By way of example, you can’t be considered even consciously incompetent as a toddler when playing with a Tonka truck. You have some vague concept you’ve picked up from being in and out of a car with your parents, watching TV perhaps, and playing with friends.
In your imagination, the truck can jump a building, swim a sea, or leap across sand dunes. But as for really driving – it is still outside your awareness.
2.- Conscious incompetence = we know what we don’t know
For all your childhood make-believe, the first time you can put L plates on a car and legally ‘have a go’, with a nervous parent by your side, you experience conscious incompetence. You thought it would be easy, but as you try to manipulate the brake, accelerator and steering wheel, while looking in your rear-view mirror and checking the traffic conditions ahead, operating blinkers, you realise there is a lot you don’t know about driving.
3.- Conscious competence = we know what we know, but we need to consciously concentrate on it
You go for your licence and you get it. Now you are free to drive on your own. However, as you pull out into the traffic, you realise that there is no-one there to remind you of all that you have to do. It requires your conscious concentration and, for quite a few months, that takes a lot of energy and effort.
4.- Unconscious competence = you don’t need to think about what you know; it is there when you need it without thinking
Then, after some years, long after the P plates have gone, you are driving home and, after some 15 to 20 minutes, you realise you have been driving in peak-hour traffic while thinking about something that happened at work, or a holiday you are about to go on. You have no memory of the journey, but it has happened without incident.
The challenge with this model is that adults, and, perhaps least of all, people in management positions, do not willingly go back down the imaginary staircase. To do so often undermines their confidence. They have been appointed to a team leader or supervisory role, quite often because they are unconsciously competent at some aspect of leadership that has caught the eye of a more senior manager. To then enter into a learning space, which invites managers to challenge how they see themselves, is often to invite them to undo how they do management and try out some new things.
This shifts people down the staircase. They go from unconscious competence perhaps to conscious competence or, even harder still, conscious incompetence. That’s scary. A gatekeeper might just pop up who says, “We don’t need to do this; we’ve been successful so far – why change?” and the adult learner becomes cynical, sceptical or simply dogged: my world view is right; I don’t need to change.


This cycle of learning explains that, when we are blissfully unaware of what we don’t know, we operate from the basis of what we do know. That makes sense. However, what if we become aware of a new way of doing something, or a behaviour or attribute we wish to change? It is that realisation that allows us to bring about change. Remaining open allows us to become cognisant. From there, we begin the steps to bring about a change, until we are able to act in a new way without even thinking about it.
Increasing capacity by increasing expectation
Belly of the dragon
The concept of the ‘Belly of the Dragon’ helps here, as it describes this place of uncertainty. It is often something intense, heated and certainly unknown.
Yet, it is also a furnace out of which great things are forged.
It is one of the great ironies of modern organisations, that we all plan (repeatedly so) for new ways of doing things – new team processes, new IT systems, new OH & S procedures, new business plans, new strategies, new people, new places. These plans have two dimensions – expectations on performance and time. When we sit down in advance and plan, it all seems painfully clear and simple. It is a great equation:
Unfortunately, it simply never (or very rarely) happens this way. The assumption is that our level of competence will match the new expectations (and, by default, there will be no learning – although this is not considered consciously at the time). If this were true, one would have to ask why we weren’t doing what has now been planned for before. Whichever way you answer that (because we didn’t have the budget, because we didn’t need the space, because the technology didn’t exist, because the opportunity wasn’t apparent), the move forward in time will require new learning. So, by definition, you will move from unconscious competence (you know what you know with little conscious effort, relatively speaking) to conscious incompetence (at worst), or conscious competence (at best), i.e. there is stuff I have to learn in order to become unconsciously competent.
This means you will:
•    Experience some level of uncertainty, anxiety or stress
•    Face some degree of ambiguity and perhaps even chaos
•    Be unsure of the rules to play by
•    Not have all the knowledge or expertise you require
•    Have to enter into a degree of experimentation
Which, by default:
•    Means you will be learning
•    Implies some degree of trial and error
•    And we will be doing this, in all probability, with people having the same experience of the Belly!
If we DO NOT talk about this phenomenon:
•    Learning slows down
•    People blame others for what’s happening
•    Inadequacy or fear of failure tends to result in retreat for many
•    Sharing is reduced (I might be the only one who feels anxious about failing, so I’m not saying anything)
•    Teams can become fractured
•    Confidence can be seriously dented
•    Only some of us come out of the Belly and the journey is generally much slower
If we DO talk about this:
•    You won’t get rid of the anxiety, but it’s unlikely to turn into distress
•    We share the ride because it was anticipated
•    We’ve planned to learn, so we talk
•    Mistakes are seen as learning opportunities
•    No-one blames or points the finger; learning is the critical focus
•    There is a higher probability that many more (if not all) will come out of the Belly, together and much faster




Hannah Arendt – The Human Condition (1998) – 13 July 2007

A large part of your development as a leader relies on you increasing your self-awareness and your capacity for accurate self-assessment. It requires you to look below the surface and start discovering what makes you tick, what annoys you and why, what’s really important to you, what excites you, whether you really are confident in what you do or whether the confidence you display is bravado masking a fear of failure, whether you prefer to focus on people or on task … and, importantly in your role as leader, whether you see yourself as others see you, perhaps reminding yourself of times when both formal and informal feedback highlighted that what you see in yourself and what others see doesn’t always match.


As much as it’s important, in and of itself, for you to understand yourself in these ways, the real significance and impact of self-awareness is that it gives you much more choice about how you behave. For instance, consider the following scenario.
You always turn up at least 10 minutes late for meetings with your peers. You think nothing of it – you’re just busy; it happens. Putting your self-awareness hat on, however, you might find that you notice this pattern of turning up late to meetings with peers and you start to wonder why that is. The next time a meeting is scheduled, half an hour before you head off for that meeting you close the door to your office and you check in with how you’re feeling about the approaching meeting. You notice that your heart rate is quicker than normal and your stomach feels clenched. You try to put a name to these sensations. You name them ‘nervous’. You ask yourself why you feel nervous and, in a moment of truth, you realise it’s because you feel intimidated – not as experienced, not as intelligent, not as articulate as your peers. You realise you feel performance anxiety. On one level, you know that you have a lot to contribute and that there is no rational reason for you to feel this way. But the feeling is there; itcan’t be denied. All of a sudden, a memory pops into your head, of a time you were in primary school and during a music recital in which you’d been chosen to perform a solo on the recorder, the first note you played came out as an awful squeak, you heard some laughter from the audience, you kept going and the rest of your performance was fine, but you weren’t aware of that – you were too busy feeling embarrassed. A series of fragments of memory then pass before your eyes – all the times since that one moment on stage that you’d felt yourself to be less than good enough. Now, faced with the need – as part of your role – to front up to meetings with a team of highly experienced and knowledgeable peers, you feel the potential for failure. You realise you turn up late, hoping to put off the inevitable for as long as possible. You take a deep breath. You realise that an old feeling from childhood is having far too much impact on your life. You decide to recall your accomplishments, the positive feedback about your contributions you’ve received along the way. You decide that this performance anxiety is really misplaced. You look at the clock – it’s five minutes before the meeting starts. Rather than fitting in one more phone call, or checking your email, or anything else that might keep you busy enough to make you late – as you normally would – instead, you gather your things and you head off to the meeting.
This scenario is not to suggest that self-awareness is an instant cure for the things that don’t work in your life.
Awareness of others – critical factors
It sounds obvious – but needs constant re-stating – that if your essential task in leading is to influence changes in behaviour, then really knowing the people you lead is non-negotiable. Thinking you know somebody well is not enough – you need to be confident that you know the person as inside out as possible, in order to be truly effective. Most people would like a richer, clearer, more helpful account of the meanderings of their minds. It is not about turgidly studying therapy, nerve cells and brain lobes. You and, in all probability, most other people, want to be in the real world, where your mind is at work and you feel more like planning and envisioning or getting things done than dissecting psychometrics; where it’s more like rich pictures than complex, winding mind maps that are drowning in detail and focussing on all the wrong things. Unpacking the complexity of this proposition is your choice as leader, and, the deeper you decide to go, the more you will benefit from structure and science to get there as with any endeavour where you want to build expertise taking the time to acquire the appropriate background. Knowledge as a leader simply improves your effectiveness at getting the best outcomes with and for people.
This is about valuing open-mindedness – being aware and alert – and matching this with a solid dose of basic science and real-world experience. Leading is principally about behaviour change and change is a psychological process. To this end it seems pretty obvious that having at least a solid working knowledge of some psychology, including a level of understanding of behavioural change and what produces results that can last, is useful.
We will help you know that learning new things is neither a straight nor a short road. What we say when we are leading affects thinking processes, such as setting goals, decision making and predicting possibilities. Doing this to best effect will require you to learn what you can from the existing theory of, and research into, psychological development and change. It will help bring to life people’s stories, experiences and capability and, whether you like it or not, their psychological profile (albeit through a layman’s eyes).
Leading others takes time; it is not some mechanistic process and it is informed by an interest in the answers to questions such as: What motivates the people I am leading? What are their personal values? What are their preferences? What is their emotional ability? What is their cognitive ability? What are they good at or struggling to do? What is their level of engagement? How would I assess their technical competency?
Finally, as we all know, people are funny and different and so a formulaic and rigid approach doesn’t work. What is true for Fred may be anathema to Mary. The key issue for you, as coach, mentor, steward, visionary, strategist and/or implementer, is not to become a therapist, but to be aware that any observation or reaction to another person is likely to be a consequence of the many different aspects of all human beings – some common between people (where science helps) and some utterly idiosyncratic (where your openness and skill as an observant leader count).