We asked our leaders to either share their thinking freely or to consider a range of questions on change, leadership, team care and self-care and what they are optimistic about. 

Before lockdown, we interviewed Vanessa Oakley, General Manager, Strategy and Business Operations with Chorus and she said this “In today’s world, being right can become an impossible ask.  Doing right is more important. Sometimes this means taking risks in order to face into uncertainty, change and bring out innovation and being sustainable.” 

We asked her for her reflections since post lockdown. Here’s what she said: 

Juno Counsel | Vanessa Oakley

“CV-19 has demonstrated the reality of all the talk about disruption and change being the new normal - we have to focus on the skills to navigate what we can’t see, not think we can predict everything.  The whole world is learning and adapting at pace. All the leadership qualities we talk about of collaboration, emotional intelligence and resilience have hopefully found a new spotlight for leadership into the future - more walk, not just talk. 

More than ever, the CV-19 situation highlights that leadership is not for the faint hearted.  Making decisions at pace in a lot of ambiguity with a lot of emotion – because it is always about people - requires judgment and calm.   You have to be prepared to get on the dance floor to learn to tango with the best insight you have. The song won’t wait.  You have to do the best you can and learn and adapt as you go.  That’s being comfortable being uncomfortable.  Principled collaborative leadership serves us in doing the right things together.  This is also where innovation and the ability to pivot and be sustainable into the future comes from.   

As there is no pre-existing CV-19 rule book with the “right answer” or “right next step’, it’s been encouraging to notice some proactive pragmatism communicated by regulatory bodies in charge of rule books.   They are recognising the fast-changing environments that businesses, full of people, are facing into.  I hope that more consideration will be given to when and how our frameworks can become more resilient by being more principles-led ahead.  Highly prescriptive policy and legislation is demonstrated to become out of date, or even irrelevant, potentially as soon as its written.” 

We asked Jason Stein, Chief Executive, Meridian Australia to share his reflections across our key areas and he said: 

Juno Counsel | Jason Stein

“By now I was supposed to be in Melbourne with my family and be making the most of Australian life.   However our plans changed a few days prior to finalising our move and I have been separated from my team as I have been in Lockdown in New Zealand while they are at their homes in Melbourne.  I am grateful that I am able to be with family at this time that is for sure.  

There are so many articles and people providing thoughts on leadership in Lockdown, some are useful, some are not.   I’ve found a couple from people that I really respect and am sticking with those, as they are most often full of common sense and full of words like empathy and kindness, measured with the right amount of optimism.  This is a prime opportunity to reflect on our own behaviours under stress.   One close mentor summed it up that for most people this is a time when either our best or worst shows up (or a bizarre mixture between the two with little in between!) 

I’m challenged by leading my team from a different country for the foreseeable future even though we are all working from home.   Aside from being in a different time zone, it has been relatively easy in a technology sense to do this.   I now work using an iPad only, and think I will do that for the longer term.   The time zone thing is interesting as my day tends to get busy around the NZ lunchtime and early evening, so balancing things with my family life isn’t easy.   However we have managed to survive, and 21 meals per week together has been brilliant...most of the time! 

I’ve had to make sure that the needs of my staff and customers are being met first and foremost.   Having my staff in a different situation to me has been interesting as I follow two sets of news and understand two sets of rules around things like social distancing on return to work.  I am wary of falling into the trap of over communicating at this time and so I am working hard to make my communication targeted and meaningful.   I’ve developed relationships with key stakeholders via technology rather than in person.  Although it has worked well it’s not easy to do that when you don’t know someone at all!  My staff have kept up all the daily rituals of work, and like many teams, we are able to regularly meet, do quizzes, first night drinks and the like from our homes. 

I am grateful for those people who are calmly and effectively getting on with things at this time, as they will help immensely when we move to the post-Covid world.  I do remain optimistic about the future and know that capturing the best of the behaviours we can see will lead to better future outcomes. 

We asked Hayley Evans, Senior Manger Systems Integrity, Waka Kotahi NZTA to share her reflections across our key areas and she said: 

I was six weeks into my role as Senior Manager Systems Integrity at Waka Kotahi, NZ Transport Agency when the impacts of Covid-19 began.  The impact of the alert levels on the transport system has been significant and this has meant a huge impact on the work my teams do in Systems Integrity. 

I had to set aside my 90 day plan to deliver a new vision for Systems Integrity to focus on responding to the impacts and looking after my people.   

First, decisions had to be made about our contact centre who were not set up to work remotely - are we an essential service?  Should we remain open?  We closed the contact centre and in the last month, we’ve got access to the technology we need, and supported our staff to make the transition to remote working.  On my daily Skype calls with the Team Leaders and Management in the contact centre we strategise about how we can evolve our work in the response, new ways of supporting the 27,000 calls we would normally receive in a week, transition to emails and outbound calling, and importantly - how we bottle the good things about our disruption to continue once the alert levels are a thing of the past.  We’ve also been working with central government agencies about how we can support the wider response. 

The second wave of impact came in the policy area.  It quickly became apparent that over a million transport related compliance documents (driver licences, warrant of fitness, certificate of fitness etc) would be expiring during the period of disruption and a policy and legal response to this would be required.  We worked closely with the Ministry to support them to get rule changes through Cabinet and now we are managing the supply/demand pressure back to compliance through engagement with the industry and good data insights. 

For my other teams such as intelligence and planning and performance, their work programmes have been entirely disrupted and they’re working flat out to support our understanding of the impacts. 

It has been a really busy time of getting to know my business as fast as I can, advocate for my people, access resources and streamline processes. 

Personally, my husband is an essential worker so I’m managing at home without him, with our children who are 4 and 5 years old here with me.  That has been a real challenge because with so much happening at work, I haven’t managed all the fun I see so many other parents doing.  Instead, my kids have been left largely to their own devices (pun intended), making appearances now and then in my Skype calls and making their own Skype calls to friends and family.  It has been a really difficult juggle and there have been times where I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through the four weeks of the lockdown. 

I’m fortunate that I’ve had some experience working in a response when I was at Wellington City Council, and working in business continuity planning and emergency management outside of a response.  These experiences taught me the importance of a “command and control” style that is required during times of response.  It’s not my usual style to be directive and commanding, and of course generally we think of this as not being a desired leadership style in a modern workplace.  But, in this situation with all the competing priorities and pressures, we have to make decisions at a more rapid pace than usual.  This requires a decisive, fast paced and commanding approach to ensure we can respond, pivot when we need to, and keep moving forward to deliver what is required.  For me this means being really focused, working on one thing at a time, before moving on to the next thing in a systematic way.  The priority has been to get the connections between teams and processes right so information can flow and we can make decisions quickly with all the right information and perspectives captured.  Decisiveness and clarity are key. 

I know what I should be doing, which is adjusting my expectations of myself and what I can realistically achieve in a new role, managing two kids at home on my own and with a totally disrupted work programme and workforce.  However, I’ve found this incredibly difficult to do because while the disruption puts so much pressure on us, it also provides us with an amazing opportunity to reassess everything about the way we work and drive change more quickly.  So, even when it’s been a hard day with kids and calls, and I’ve just wanted to sit on the couch and eat chips, I’ve kept pushing on my plans and driving us towards a new vision for Systems Integrity.   

I’ve been talking a lot about empathy and how important it is to lead with empathy.  For some people, delivering an eight-hour working day is what they need right now to keep them safe and healthy in their bubble.  For others, this just isn’t realistic for a whole range of reasons and that’s ok.  We have to have empathy for all of the things our people are facing, and not look for “fairness” in an unfair situation.  We have to have empathy for our leaders too, because they don’t have all the answers - it’s a really hard time to be leading people. 

For me, it’s all about having a laugh at myself.  I know when my resilience is down because I stop seeing the funny side of the crazy juggle that is my life.  So, having a laugh about my kids interjecting in my calls (sometimes naked), my cat bringing in a bird during a call, the general chaos of parenting and attempting to teach two young children while working flat out.  It has pushed me to my absolute limit, but it has been hilarious in places too.   

My General Manager and team are absolutely fantastic and we have a good laugh on our team calls.  I’ve only been in the team such a short time but I feel really supported and close to my colleagues.   

My GM asked me to make a video about what my team has been up to, and after it went out I posted a blooper reel of my kids constantly interrupting me making it, just to give my team a laugh, and I guess show the reality of what some of us are dealing with at home.   

At a personal level I’m optimistic about how we see different ways of working now, and how it will make our workforce more inclusive.  I’m hopeful about how the lives of parents, in particular, can be transformed with the new technology we’ve embraced.  

I’m also really optimistic about how fast we will deliver change into the future.  So many assumptions have been completely disrupted and that makes our jobs as change makers so much easier.  We went into this thinking we couldn’t turn our phone lines off for an hour for a team meeting.  They’ve been off for a month now and we’ve had this amazing opportunity to think about how we can deliver a better working environment and a better service.  There is no “going back” to where we were before.  Where we are going now is so much better, faster, nimbler and more innovative.