When the system punishes

I haven’t blogged about disability for some time. That doesn’t mean I’ve reached a point of being satisfied, quite the opposite. I can’t change anything that happens in the sector so I’ve been trying to put my energy into positive endeavours and just sitting on any frustrations in the disability space.

Unfortunately I now have leakage…..

If you follow me on twitter, you will have seen me launch into a couple of rants last night. Fair to say, I still haven’t calmed down.

There are process things that make me angry but one bureaucratic rule tops everything.

If an intellectual disability is something people are born with (or acquire at a very early age) and is life long – why on earth does the New Zealand government require them to have a GP verify every two years that it hasn’t gone away or significantly reduced?

Have I missed some medical development whereby damaged chromosomes can be altered or is fairy dust real?

If you are unable to work due to an intellectual disability, you are entitled to receive a supported living benefit via WINZ. The entitlement will cease after two years unless a review form completed by your GP certifies that you are still unable to work.

Sure that rule is probably very relevant of sickness situations where people do recover/get well. I can also understand ACC using a similar system for injuries. Permanent disabilities not so much.

Let me run you through how this bizarre rule, coupled with poor systems had led me to this rage. Sit back for it involves love gained and love lost – tissues may be in order for the romantically inclined.

A young man with an intellectual disability is flatting and receiving the supported living benefit. His finance moves in and like any couple, their benefit is adjusted downwards. So far so good. This is as things should be – normal relationships being treated normally by WINZ.

Fast forward a few years and the engagement is off (again, fairly normally really). Advising WINZ of the situation so they can both return to the full benefit and what do we find out….

Man is no longer eligible for the supported living benefit or accommodation supplement because the GP form is over two years old. They didn’t adjust his benefit before because his partner was on the supported living benefit so he was eligible through her but now they are no longer together, he will  drop to the job seeker benefit (and have to repay some of the previous amount).

So because he didn’t get a GP to complete a form that WINZ never sent him, to prove that his permanent disability hasn’t miraculously disappeared, he is financially penalised.

So now we have to race to see a GP, just what everyone wants to do in this newly awakened covid environment.

This is disability in New Zealand today.

It’s still gold

Almost 10 years on, what Sir Paul Callaghan said while presenting in March 2011 still holds true.

We need to understand the true drivers for our economy – and even back then he knew it wasn’t tourism or politician identified ‘knowledge’.

Niche tech – as identified and researched by entrepreneurs, not bureaucrats and certainly not politicians .

Then he emphasised something so very close to my heart.

We need to be a country where talent wants to live!

We need our environment and communities to be places where our talent wants to remain. We don’t want people flying off to build businesses in Silicon Valley, Hollywood or Tokyo.

It is never a case of the economy or the environment/community. All three are always linked and we must support each of them.

Sir Paul Callaghan – StrategyNZ: Mapping our Future – March 2011 


Own your mistakes

We all know the theoretical strategies for when mistakes happen and for most, they’re easy to implement for the little things.

The latest raft of issues about our covid-19 response however, highlights so many things NOT to do.

Now this isn’t a political discussion because I’m pretty sure the poor handling of the mistakes could have been the strategy for most Governments in this situation.

Don’t try and hide your mistakes. It doesn’t make the problem go away, in fact it will probably make it worse. It also pays to remember that in this information rich world, it is next to impossible to keep mistakes hidden. Your staff will reflect on how you hide issues and in turn look to keep their mistakes from you – is that what you want?

A saying in politics is actually very appropriate for all settings – “it’s not the mistake that takes you down, it’s the cover up”. When people discover the mistake, and the fact that you have tried to hide it, they become angry at your deception and lose trust in you.

You have to own your mistakes. As a leader, the buck stops with you. The very old saying of credit is for the team and criticism is fore the leader remains true to this day. Do not claim that you were not responsible for the error and it was a mistake of someone within the team. People don’t want a witch hunt but they do want accountability. Owning the error shows that, as a leader, you have taken responsibility and it gives people the assurance that you are ‘in control’. On the other hand, if you try and pass on the blame, people will see you as someone more interested in maintaining your reputation than helping solve the problem.

“Throwing your staff under the bus” is one of the quickest ways to lose their respect and trust.  The impact of doing this is so significantly damaging and so very hard to recover from, that it is one of the surest ways to destroy a team.

Don’t hide it, don’t lie about it, and don’t blame someone else. Take responsibility, front foot both the release of information and the action to remedy the situation.

Mistakes happen – it’s how you manage them that will define you as a leader.


Interest is not a result.

If you have what you think is a good idea, an idea that others tell you is a good idea – is it still a good idea if it doesn’t work?

Liking something and wanting to support it is not the same as actually supporting it. We see this in so many areas of life.

Recycling is an idea liked by many who want to support it – yet recyclable items still end up in our landfills.

We like the idea of social enterprise and want to support their activity but how many of us actually contract with them or consistently purchase their products?

We’re always told xx% of millennials would leave a job if their values weren’t aligned – but how many actually do?

We need to stop signaling our support and start actually doing something to prove it!

It starts now…



Seeing Great Things

A quote from GK Chesterton has always stuck with me.

 “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”

This analogy can be applied to so many different situations in life but the more I ponder the question of leadership, the more apt it becomes.

We talk about humility being a key trait of an authentic leader. If you’ve reached great heights in your career or business, and you see people below you within the organisation, unless humility is a natural value that resides within you, there is a real danger that you will indeed ‘look down on them’ and see them as being ‘below’ you.

Our language and actions often reflects this view of the world. ‘Climbing the career ladder’, the traditional structure diagram that goes top to bottom, things need to go up the chain for approval.

Nearly 100 years ago, Chesterton was wonderfully describing our ivory towers.

We need to step back and look up together at the grand things in life. I don’t think looking down should play a part in leadership.

Let’s also apply this to our vision. Look up and see a new world – it fulfills you more than looking at the dirt beneath our feet. 


For those interested in the beautiful, descriptive writing of Chesterton, here is the full quote that appeared in one of his Father Brown stories.

“Well, his Scotch religion was made up of men who prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the world more than look up at heaven. Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” Hammer of God, GK Chesterton.


Forget the plan but remember the planning

“The plan goes out of the window at the first contact with the enemy” is a common statement, obviously originating within the military. Boxing has a similar one following the first punch to the face.

Many of us have spent quite a bit of time lately coming up with numerous scenarios of how the pandemic might affect our businesses. From worst case through to plotting new opportunities, there are a myriad of plans now in circulation.

Obviously not every scenario will happen, and those that do may be quite different to what we assumed.

Where we’ve put numbers to those plans (sales forecasts, budgets, resourcing), or made other huge assumptions for the post lock down world – we know that the chance of variances is even greater.

Are the plans that don’t eventuate wasted effort? Absolutely not – planning is more than the final plan. It gives us a chance to evaluate many different scenarios, to assess how they will affect us and if they do come to pass, how we can react. Even if we are well off beam with all of our plans, the fact that we have spent time thinking about issues means that we will be better placed to react to whatever happens.

Even just talking through possibilities with our teams place us in a better position to react.

Reverting back to the military, I think Eisenhower summed it up best “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”


A fuzzy vision

I’m very fortunate to be on the CELF leadership course (Community & Enterprise Leadership Foundation – in conjunction with the Waikato Management School).

Sure the pandemic has delayed the completion of the course but thanks to Tania Witheford and Peter Sun, we’re keeping learning through webinars etc.

Last week we got to hear Dr Chellie Spiller’s talk about her Wayfinder leadership framework. This was a fascinating insight into how we can learn leadership by understanding navigators who led the great migrations across the pacific.

One point really hit home – her concept of letting the island find you.

I won’t be presumptuous and try to explain this concept (after listening to the original author, how could I compete?) but it certainly did get me thinking.

We’ve become very regimented about goals and purpose. They need to be clearly defined and measured before you even start the journey. Chasing the goal needs to be linear, following a course, again set before the journey starts.

This works for small goals but is it the best method for breaking through and doing something massive and/or new?

If you’re setting off to explore what is beyond the horizon, you can’t describe something no one has ever seen before. You may intend to travel in a straight line but how do you know that there aren’t hidden dangers or opportunities ahead?

Current thinking is that you will head NNE until you come across a deserted island, 3 miles around and covered in scrub. So if you’re blown 2 degrees off course and find a continent laden in gold – you have in fact failed.

I’ve had that ‘itch’ for a while now – that I can’t accurately describe where I want to end up by following my current course. What I want to see happen. I have felt uncomfortable with the need to bore down and clarify my goals, it almost feels like I’m a failure because I simply can’t do it.

I found some work by Stephen Shedletzky that gave me hope I’m not alone with my thinking (see below). Friday’s session has really reinforced it. My course has zig zagged quite a bit over the last few years – and I hope that continues. My head can’t paint a picture of my destination but my heart can talk about it for hours.

A world where business supports community

“Idealistic it’s not about becoming the biggest, the best or number one. It’s not about reaching some arbitrary revenue target, even if it is huge. It is about pursuing something that is infinite – for all intents and purposes you will not ever attain it. It is, indeed, a vision and not a goal. And as you make progress toward that better future state you imagine, you will be able to feel and measure your momentum. A Just Cause is an ideal. It is something so noble that we would be willing to devote our lives and careers toward advancing it. And, when our careers are over, the Just Cause can live on and serve to inspire further progress; that can be our legacy.”


Conflicting posts

One day a passionate plea for those supporting purposeful business to get out and shout about the journey. Next day a post questioning whether this is an appropriate time to push for change when businesses have to be in survival mode.

Have I changed my mind or do I have a split personality?

The truth is, there is never a single direction, answer or belief. We need to question ourselves and critique what we are saying. More importantly, we need to present any conflicting options in a fair and transparent manner. We can supply information and be there to support, but we can’t make decisions for other people.

I want the world to change. I want to scream and shout about purpose – and I want to help people on that journey.

I am not going to demand that everyone changes overnight, and I’m certainly not going to sit here and pretend everything will be perfect if we just become purposeful. This is the real world and there are significant risks out there for our business community.

I will not judge those who choose survival over purposeful business. On the other hand, I will not give up trying to change the world. A business may choose survival today and that is OK. We can talk about purpose again next month…