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Safety Culture & Leadership

Safety culture and leadership are a matter of life and death.

This was no more clearer when comparing global players Exxon Mobil and BP. Both had major drilling issues on specific sites, Blackbeard West well (Exxon Mobil) and Macondo, Gulf of Mexico (BP).

Workers at both sites had concerns.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson decided to halt drilling (at enormous financial loss $170 million). BP continued driven strongly by the market and sadly ended in disaster (11 lives and countless environmental/brand damage). CEO Tony Hayward admitted he had known nothing about the well and its increasing difficulties leading to the explosion.

Deep down the two companies had different cultures and very different leaders.

Does your culture engage its people? Are ideas and concerns left in the car park or openly discussed without fear into the workplace?

Several years ago Bridgeworks worked with a steel company. Safety audits were appalling for the division we were asked to work with. 12 months later that same division was ranked the best on site. In fact, when the site shop steward ordered a strike for poor communication with management, the site we worked with responded “We don’t have any issue with management. If we have a problem we tell them, they listen and then act”

The solution was in building trust between management and workers. Creating a safe environment where open and fruitful conversations can flow.

It’s not rocket science.

If building a safety culture is your priority, contact us so we can share our latest research and strategies.

Leaders Have Faith

Managers tend to make decisions on logic and facts, whereas leaders make decisions primarily on ‘heart and gut’ – “The data says we go this direction. My gut says we take another route”

Several years ago, I presented a workshop in Chicago. The keynote speaker was Gene Kranz, Mission Control Director for Apollo 13. This was the Apollo mission that went horribly wrong.

Whilst on track towards the moon, there was an explosion on the craft. Kranz asked all the engineers and scientists to quickly assess the situation and come back to him with a plan of action. Time was of the essence as the Astronauts lives were at risk as the craft hurtled towards the moon.

Their decision was to activate rocket boosters and reverse the craft’s course towards the moon. From their calculations, it was clear the astronauts were going to either run out of oxygen or die from carbon dioxide poisoning.

Against the tide of advice, Gene’s gut said NO. “We will allow the craft to continue on its course”


His decision based on gut, saved the lives of the men. Later evidence revealed the craft most likely would have exploded if Gene followed the logical advice of the scientists and engineers.

Leadership challenges the status quo, often taking enormous risks in the direction they want to take others. Logic is sometimes not the best or right course to take.

Have you made decisions based on gut? What were the outcomes?

Be cautious to over rely on logic, analysis and ‘the past experiences’ to dictate your future decisions.

Leaders can be mavericks, rebels – mostly wanting to make this world a better place.

Bridgeworks Leadership NOW program on Lady Elliot Island in Queensland has seen nearly 100 managers challenged around their ability to lead and influence others.

The Best Leaders Look in the Mirror

Experience has shown me that the best leaders are prepared to look in the mirror.

I recently spoke to a successful CEO who said “I need to preserve the energy I have. Unless I know that I am fully engaging the people around me, I’m making hard work for myself”

The higher up the organizational tree, more emphasis should be on ‘leading’ and less on ‘managing’.

Wouldn’t it be a shock if you discovered that your influence on others turned them to disengage and leave their ideas and innovation in the car park?

In Australia, the figures are staggering with around 60% of employees are disengaged* with their workplaces – they do what is asked of them in getting the job done, pick up their pay and go home.

Around 16% are actively disengaged in their workplaces. These are people who are actively a burden on your workplace.

This leaves around 24% who are actively engaged – proactive in working to improve workplaces, challenge the status quo and always looking at ways to improve productivity.

Such people are gold! Want to know how to lift engagement? Look in the mirror!

The good news is that engagement is dictated by the attitudes, actions and behaviours of workers next up line manager.

Have you provided opportunities for either yourself or your leaders to ‘look in the mirror’ to get high-quality feedback on how others see you or them?

This is an investment that potentially reaps a significant reward for your business.

If you are interested in finding out how effectively you engage others, let’s chat.


* Gallup Employee Engagement 2011-2012

Going Outward Bound – Building Leadership & Resilience

Hearing about suicides in young people scares the daylight out of me.

Some of you may know that Outward Bound is in my DNA, having worked in both Australia and the USA as a facilitator and program manager for 7 years.

For most people, especially for school children from protective families, the first few days were hell on earth for them.

  • “What do you mean I have to go to the loo in a hole?”
  • “Do you mean at some stage I have to cook for 20 others?”
  • “What! This sheet of plastic is what I am camping under for the next 10 days??”

The origins of Outward Bound go back to World War 2. Too many young, fit British sailors were perishing after the Germans bombed their ship. However the overweight, unfit, older sailors were surviving.

Dr Kurt Hahn, a noted educationalist of the time recognized that, unlike the older, experienced sailors, the young sailors needed to experience more tough life experiences.  

Hahn found that people who were put in challenging, adventurous outdoor situations gained confidence, redefined their own perceptions of their personal possibilities, demonstrated compassion, and developed a spirit of camaraderie with their peers.

Outward Bound was a naval term describing a ship heading out of the safe harbour into the unknowns of the ocean.

The results spoke for themselves with the young Outward Bound graduates having a greater rate of survival for the remainder of WW2.

I enjoy injecting a dash of ‘Outward Bound” into my programs as I see the long lasting benefit of challenging manager’s character, not just their ability to get the job done.

Hahn’s belief that character development was just as important as academic achievement is still very true to this day. 

Passion – the ultimate driver of success

What an honour it is to work with passionate leaders.

Les Twentyman OAM has worked on the streets looking after disadvantaged young people for over 40 years. He talks as if the hundreds of people and families he has helped, is his own family.

Les has never given up his fight. He continually finds ways to overcome blockers, whether this be politicians, kids expelled from school or dealing with drug dealers on the streets.

Many times his life has been threatened. He’s had petrol bombs thrown at him, knives pulled on him and plenty of abuse over the years.

But that does not stop Les. He recently launched a book on his experiences “The Mouth that Roared”. A great read, by a great man.

What is your passion working in business? Apart from making healthy profits, why do you want to lead and influence others?

Successful people are passionate people. A friend and author Charles Kovess wrote a book “Passionate People Produce”. Charles is on a winner declaring that passion engages people, ideas and potential.

Does this describe you? If not, find your passion and infect others with it!

The Pendulum swinging between ‘Managing’ and ‘Leading’

Recently I spoke to a client discussing the differences between ‘managing’ and ‘leading’.

He was frustrated that his managers were great ‘doers’ and ‘directors’ but had no idea as to engage their respective people. Good people were walking out the door – the ‘deadwood’ remained.

This is a challenge that Bridgeworks faces with many clients and businesses. The solution comes in helping clients understand the difference between ‘managing’ and ‘leading’.

It’s like a pendulum – there are times you need to manage and times you need to lead. Do you understand the difference between the 2? Where is your pendulum?

Many years ago, James Balasco wrote a book “Flight of the Buffalo – Soaring to Excellence, Learning to let others Lead”

Most leaders act like head buffalos, giving orders and making decisions. Everyone else is a member of the herd, following instructions. Hard-driving head buffalos and their well-intentioned herd followers suffer the same fate as the buffalo on the plains: consistently outmanoeuvred by more nimble, quick-thinking competitors.

The book offers step-by-step advice on how to “Lead The Journey” from a herd of dependent, standing-around-waiting-for-instructions buffalo to a flock of inter-dependent, leadership seeking geese – all focused on delighting customers.

Balasco references leading business innovator Ralph Stayer who was CEO of Johnsonville Foods. Stayer is a courageous, pioneering CEO and the hero of Tom Peters best-selling video “The Leadership Alliance.”

Stayer earned “CEO of The Year Award” and leads what’s been called “The Most Advanced Employee Self-Managed Organization in America.”

3 Heads are Better than One – Hewlett Packard

While the formal partnership of Hewlett-Packard was between Dave and Bill, David’s wife Lucile’s contributions placed an indelible stamp on the human face of HP. Her husband, in the dedication to his 1995 book, “The HP Way,” cited her encouragement and participation in the early years as the genesis of the HP Way

We all know that 2 heads are better than one when it comes to finding solutions, overcoming barriers and being innovative. We all need to find our own “Lucile”.

I always look for ways to broaden my view of an idea. When I do, I like to do this with people who challenge but encourage at the same time. As we get more time poor why muck around with people who just always want to agree with your ideas?

For example, I have recently joined an accredited group of consultants called NCP (Network Consulting Professionals). Many members are past CEO’s, CFO’s and senior executives. It’s a powerful team who help me add more value to my client offering.

Be smart. Think of who you can work with – ideally someone different to you. Let them give you honest feedback around the culture you create because of your leadership (or lack of).

Remember though, if they don’t  ‘rattle your cage’ you are most likely wasting your time.

Leadership and selflessness

Occasionally I come across a real gem of a leader. For example a CEO I worked with recently when describing his 50 staff, immediately reflected on how he was responsible for 50 families.

That’s what drove him and his decision-making. Without saying, his business is the envy of global partners as they continually have global breakthroughs in innovation. His employees are fully engaged.

Patrick Lindsay, author of a new book, Kokoda Spirit, detailing the struggles of the ANZACs, says it is time more attention was given to the heroism of Kokoda veterans. ”These were guys of such extraordinary character from a remarkable generation,” he says. ”There are countless examples of absolute selflessness.”

Mr Palmer says the resilient spirit that drove the diggers remains a vital part of the Australian character, demonstrated by our response to recent crises such as the Bali bombings and Black Saturday.

To Mr Lindsay, the bravery of the diggers offers a metaphor for more day-to-day struggles. ”We all have a Kokoda Track to face,” Mr Lindsay says.

”It could be losing a job or a marriage break-up. We need something like this story to illustrate what we’re capable of. Those guys didn’t know they had the capacity to do the things they did.”

There are still places on our Kokoda trek in 2018. This coming Saturday there will be practice hike up 1,000 steps in the Dandenongs led by Kokoda trail leader Reg Yates. Join us for a bit of fun!

How’s your Ho’oponopono?

Ho’oponopono is a simple yet profound forgiveness practice from the Hawaiian culture. It provides immediate benefits in both people’s personal and business life.

I was working with a mining company a few years back and it was clear there was a dysfunctional relationship between 2 key executives in the Leadership team. This was confirmed through our “How Others See me” profiling. This toxic relationship was nearly 10 years old and having a massive impact on the team’s productivity.

“Forgiveness” is a key measure in Bridgeworks’ Team Health check.

The Bridgeworks process created a ‘safe’ place to uncover the issue when debriefing one of the team challenges.

Both managers walked to the front of the group united and said “we would like to acknowledge that the dysfunction in this team, comes from the dysfunction of our relationship. We are sorry and want to fix this” They shook hands as a mark of reconciliation. Getting along depends about 98% on our own behaviour


What does ho’oponopono mean?  Ho’oponopono means, “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.” Forgiveness in highly ego driven business is a rare quality. My experience is that the best businesses seem to embrace ho’oponopono.

Why is Ho’oponopono powerful?

Throughout human history we have been divided by distance, language, cultural and religious beliefs, class and economic hierarchy. Whenever someone comes up with a perspective there seems to always be someone else there with an opposing opinion.

To me the power of Ho’oponopono comes, in large part, from the fact that it’s a really rare thing for the vast majority of humanity to be in agreement about anything. Overcome this – you and your business will shine.

How do you improve communication 110.8%?

No tricks, no fads, just what a robust conversation can do.

We hear it all the time – the need for a ‘Brave’ conversation, tough love or getting the real issues on the table. These days this can be high risk and dangerous. A robust conversation can easily turn into a bullying claim.

But time and time again, creating a safe environment where we need to have the conversations we REALLY want to have is an art we have worked on for many years.

Recently Bridgeworks was referred to a food processing business of around 700 staff.

The task was to work with the CEO and Management team – the whole business was suffering due to the weight of poor communication and collaboration at the leadership end of business. This was made clear using Bridgeworks Team Health check. The one page summary below outlines the dire straights this business was in.

With the help of the highly insightful “How Others See Me” profile, it was clear that most relationships in the Leadership team were poor. This high quality data, prompted with well-tailored experiential challenges was used to generate targeted discussion about barriers in the team.

The results speak for themselves. 2 months following the Bridgeworks program, the Team Health check results were remeasured. (see below)

  • 110% improvement in communication,
  • 79.7% in vision and
  • 52.9% improvement in trust.

This was a massive weight off the shoulders of the CEO who felt the battle was being lost.

Now the coast and the future are much clearer.

The lesson is to make sure that you regularly measure the quality of your team’s health together with the quality of your leadership. Such insights can help bullet proof your business.

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