Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

'Edge Moments' Leadership Interview Transcript


Published on
The downloadable version is available to members of the Yes For Success platform.
Gary Ryan interviews Rachael Robertson, just the second female to lead the Australian Antarctic Expedition for a 12 month period.
Rachael shares her insights about leadership when there is literally nowehere to hide.

This transcript has had some slight edits to enhance the reading experience.

The video of the interview can be viewed here:

Published in: Business, Career
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

'Edge Moments' Leadership Interview Transcript

  1. 1. ‘Edge Moments’ Interviewwith Rachel RobertsonGary Ryan Interview Rachael Robertson, just the second female to lead Australia’s AntarcticExpedition for a 12 month period.Rachael Robertson shares key insights about leadership when there is literally nowhere to hide!May 2013
  2. 2. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 1Please note that this material is protected by ©Copyright OrganisationsThat Matter®. A small amount of editing has occurred to assist with theflow of reading the interview.Welcome everyone to ‘Edge Moments: Big Leadership in Small Moments.’I am Gary Ryan and I’m going to be interviewing Rachael Robertson withyou here today and I am really looking forward to this interview.‘Organisations That Matter’ is my organisation; in simple terms, I work inthe space of enabling people to move beyond being ‘good’ – whether thatbe individually one-on-one with people, in teams or in organisations.Often, people are very good at what they do but there is a gap betweentheir skill and talent and potential and what they are actually achievingand that’s the space that I work in and why, when I connected throughLinkedIn with Rachael not all that long ago and I saw her story, I said:‘I’ve got to interview Rachael’ because being in the Antarctic for 12months, leading a team down there under such extreme conditions,Rachael must know a thing or two about moving beyond being good sothat’s why we’re here today.In terms of our time together, we’ve got this brief introduction becauseI’m aware a number of you have never experienced a webinar before.We’ll spend the vast majority of our time interviewing Rachael and manyof you have included questions in your registration which has just beenfantastic to enable me to create the interview-structure that we’ll be goingthrough. If we’ve got some time at the end, we might have sometime foryou to ask questions but along the way, still feel free to type them inanyway and we will spend a few brief minutes at the end doing a wrap-up.So you should have a little toolbar in the top right-hand corner of yourscreen – please ‘raise your hand’ if you have a question that you wouldlike to ask or type in your question into the little textbox; a number of youhave already done that prior to the start of this webinar to let me knowthat you could hear us.Take notes; take notes and note down your lessons as if you were in aface-to-face environment so that you can capture all the lessons thatRachael has to share with us today and once again, I am recording thisinterview so it will be made available for you at the conclusion of thewebinar within the next 24 hours.Gary: So, Rachael welcome aboard. Thanks for coming along and thanksfor agreeing to speak with us.Rachael: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.Gary: Now, I’d thought we’d start with: what’s the story behind yourstory? How on earth does someone end up leading an expedition for 12months down in Antarctica?
  3. 3. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 2Rachael: (Laughs) Yes, it’s an interesting question – I answered an ad ina newspaper, believe it or not. People assume I must have trained foryears and years to be this expedition leader and I’d have to be like anathlete, that it’s something that I’ would have strived to do since I was alittle girl but it wasn’t; I was just clicking through the Careers section of anewspaper and I actually saw the ad for a station leader in Antarctica.What intrigued me was that they were recruiting for personal attributesrather than technical expertise so they were looking for people withleadership ability but more importantly, people with compassion andintegrity and respect and I thought rather than – you didn’t need to knowa whole heap about Antarctica and I thought: what a fascinating conceptto employ people for the qualities that you want rather than the technicaland I thought that it would be great for people in customer-service rolesto recruit staff who had integrity and then you can teach them thetechnical stuff so I was intrigued about that and I thought: I am going toapply for this job because I want to find out what questions they areasking at the job interview so that I can copy them and bring them backto my organisation (laughs).It was only once I’d applied for the job that I learnt that they don’t have ajob interview. It’s actually a week long what I’d call a ‘boot camp’ for aweek in the Central Highlands of Tasmania.Gary: Yes.Rachael: They take the short-listed applicants away for a week and putus through for an entire week and so that’s how I ended up there. Butwhen they offered the job and I was – because I wasn’t passionate aboutthe job at that stage – the reason I took the job was that I thought Iwould rather have regrets about what I did do rather than regret what Ididn’t do and honestly I thought: what’s the worst thing that couldhappen? The worst that could happen is that I get down there and I hateit and you can’t come home ever and I thought I’d rather do that thanhead 50 years into the future and then look back at my life and think:what if I had done that expedition?I couldn’t stand that thought of ‘what if’ so I thought I’d rather regretwhat I did than regret what I didn’t do so it was purely an opportunitythat I saw and I thought: ‘Yup. I’ll have a go at this’ and it turned out tochange my life but it was absolutely an opportunity.Gary: So, again at the start, you saw an ad that was focussed 100% onattributes rather than technical skills and you thought to yourself: ‘youknow what, I want it’ because you hear about these sort of recruitmentprocesses but you don’t often hear about them first hand – you sort ofthink it’s an urban myth that organisations actually do that and you’dthink that ‘no one really recruits just on attributes; they all might say thatbut in reality, they want the technical skills’ but you’re saying: no, inreality, this is how it was but I did obviously have to prove myself through
  4. 4. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 3that week-long boot camp and I suspect there were times then where youstarted scratching back at your head wondering: ‘is this right for me?’Rachael: Yeah, it was and they were actually looking for people withleadership experience and people-management skills and I guess theyknew you could learn the Antarctic-specific stuff so you could learn aboutthe science programme and you could learn about the Antarctic Treatyand you could learn about the history of Antarctica.What you can’t learn are the qualities like empathy and just to be putthrough a week where we camped out and we were all taken to a level ofimmense pressure laid on us hour after hour, day after day and they getto see the real you. There’s nowhere to hide and I guess that’s what theywere looking for – to see how we’d cope: we’ll put these people underintense personal stress and pressure and we’ll just see how they cope andthere was a whole heap of whacky scenarios and things to designed totest us but that was purely to see how we coped.For example, one of the scenarios was we were given five values – therewere things like loyalty, hard work, respect, integrity – and we had to pickwhich one we thought was most important and then convince everybodyelse that ours was best and straightaway, that hit me as ‘that’s weird, youcan’t do that.’ You can’t try and convince someone else that their value iswrong because they would have held that value their entire life so when itcame to my turn to do that, all I did was I stand up and said: look, I thinkintegrity is the most important and this is why… and I just respectfullystated my case and when the penny dropped, I realised – ah! That’s whatit was designed for. It was actually designed to see if you can state thecase in a calm, empathetic and professional way and not tear down theother people which some people did – some of the other applicants took itas a competitive thing and they were trying to convince other people thatthey were wrong and I was like: aha! Now I get it (laughs) so it was avery comprehensive programme.Gary: So, it sounds like Rachael some people were using this boot campas practice for ‘Survivor’ (laughs).Rachael: Ah! Yeah the interesting thing that I came to learn was that alot of the people were looking at this job as an escape – like they are in ajob or a situation that they didn’t want to be in so they thought: I’ll try forthis job in Antarctica and it will be this big adventure and I’ll get awayfrom whatever situation I’m in. It just doesn’t work like that; it’s not thekind of place you want to be in to escape from reality because reality bitesreal hard down there.Yeah, it was fascinating to see the different motivations for why peoplewere there. For me, I went there with a fairly laidback approach and Ithought if I’m the right person and if the interview panel after a weekbelieve I have what it takes to lead in this environment – fantastic but ifnot I’m not, if I get ‘you’re not right for this role’ then, so be it because
  5. 5. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 4it’s not the kind of the place you want to be if you’re not cut out for it so itwas a very comprehensive selection process.Gary: So, Christina is very keen to know this whole topic of ‘EdgeMoments – what are ‘edge moments’ and where did that term come from,Rachael?Rachael: Yeah – edge moments are those defining moments that staywith you so they are the moments you have with your colleagues or yourboss that stay with you for a long time. They could be positive and theycould be negative and I think if I ask you and if I ask everyone tuning intoday to think of the best boss they ever had or conversely, the worstboss they ever had, we tend to remember how they made us feel; wedon’t remember that you hit their targets and their KPI1s and we don’tremember things like the strategic direction; we remember how theymade us feel and we remember if they inspired us and made us feel rightor did they put us down and make us feel that we weren’t valuable and Istarted to realise that it’s actually the moments that are real so theinnovation and the disruption and the alarm and all the big stuff – allthose big words – they are really important and critical for business butyou’re not going to get that – never going to get that happening unlessyou get the moments right and the reason why I call it the ‘edgemoments’ is that it’s moments that happen around the edges.So, you can get the big stuff right but unless you’re managing what’shappens round the edges, you won’t be able to convey it and how I cameup with it was my performance review was actually undertaken by apsychologist who interviewed my entire team privately and then gave mefeedback – so you can imagine how frank and honest the feedback wasbecause it was a third party. She said to me: look, your guys overallaround found you really inspiring. I was intrigued and I said: well, whatwas inspiring – we did have a plane crash throughout summer – was ithow I handled the plane crash? She said, no and I said: was it the fact Iwork 16-hour days in summer? and she said no. I asked whether it wasthe fact that I changed a lot of the policies so they had more transparencyand she said no. I thought: what was it? What did they say that inspiredthem?She said: one of the guys mentioned that his child had a school concertand the next day, you bumped into him and you asked, ‘how was Mark’sschool concert?’ and someone else – Sharon - mentioned that you knewthe names of all 120 people who ran your station and were they from –they were of different nationalities and some of the names are a bit trickyfor an Australian like me to pronounce. She said they commented that youwere able to pronounce all of the names and so I am thinking: really?And she also said that someone else mentioned that they were moppingthe floor one day and it was taking a long time and you came through andput a few chairs on the table just to help him finish quickly and I’m like: is1Or Key Performance Indicator
  6. 6. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 5that what they mentioned? And so immediately I’m thinking: so, it’s notto work 16-hour days but (laughs) it just struck me that that’s what theyremember about me – the moments that we had and that’s where it cameto me and I realised that well, when I think about my past bosses I don’tremember what they said or did – I remember how they made me feeland it’s a really important thing for technical leaders in particular to learnthis – it’s about not charisma or being an extrovert you know inspiringpeople but about these moments. It’s about the moments that youconnect with people and getting them on side and then they will doanything and then you’ll get the innovation and you’ll get alignment. You’llget strategic thinking – but you won’t get that unless you have thesemoments and that’s how I realised that.Gary: Susie was also interested Rachael, in how did you feel using theconcept of edge moments yourself – were there times when you weren’tsupported in your leadership role because I would imagine that the folkthat you were reporting to were clearly back in Australia so were theremoments when you were feeling lonely and isolated because that happensto leaders and how did you manage it in those circumstances?Rachael: That’s a great question and I often get asked how I looked aftermyself in such an isolated environment and I have to say: look, that’s justgeography. I’ve actually been lonelier as a leader working in a capital citybecause leadership can be lonely and particularly, when you’re leadingchange and the truth is whatever the change is, you have to lead it – thatcan be quite isolating and for me, with my head office – yeah it was 4,000kilometres away and when I didn’t feel like I was supported I just had tocome back to why I was doing what I was doing and to give you anexample, I established a leadership team with all my senior people onstation – so like my chef and my chief engineer and my doctor – it wasn’tvery well received back in head office (laughs) and so it looked like: lookwhat you are doing Rachael, you’re not running a democracy down thereand I had to say: look, I’m making the decision down here absolutely butI need input from the experts and it would be crazy not to use theknowledge and the experience of the people around me to inform mydecision-making and even though it wasn’t well received, I stuck by it.I know this is what works for me and that’s why I can lead; it’s by havinga team of experts and calling in on their expertise – I knew why I wasdoing it and so, eventually it got picked up and I was wrapped six monthslater when they asked me to write an operations manual about how Imanaged the station at the summer because everybody used it as ablueprint for the next summer. So in the end, it was right but the thingsthat got me through I guess were - peer support is very important – I wasreally good mates with the station leader at Mawson Station which was afair way away from us but I would pick up the phone and talk to theleader there.Gary: Yes.
  7. 7. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 6Rachael: …and it was a good thing; I would talk and I de-brief withsomeone who knows what you’re going through, who knows the culture,who knows the job – it’s just gold. The other thing that kept me reallysane was I kept a journal and that was…I was the second woman leaderat Davis Station...Gary: Yes.Rachael: The first woman was Donna Patterson and she suggestedkeeping a journal and I was sort of like: oh yeah, she’s got time for ajournal.Gary: Yeah.Rachael: I thought: fine. I am keeping this journal because I had no oneto talk to and no one to confide in so I started keeping this journal and Ihad two things: one, it was actually therapeutic – it got the emotion outeach day so I could sleep better and the second thing was it helped mereflect so I could work out what I was doing well and what I wasn’t doingwell just by reflecting in this journal and if I hadn’t taken the time eachday to reflect on my leadership, I don’t think I could have done that so, itactually forced me to stand on a balcony and look down and watch myselfin the team and work out what I wasn’t doing so well and what I wasdoing well.Gary: Rachael, lot of people hear about journaling and they think oftenfrom the work that I do that there is only one way to journal and Iencourage them that no, that’s not quite accurate. What structure did youuse for your journaling?Rachael: Mine was totally random and it was hand written because Ithought if I typed it, I’d probably sanitise it and I’d correct the spellingand the grammar and just – I know myself (laughs). It just wouldn’t be astream of consciousness and it absolutely was just a random…you know, itwasn’t just, I took the bikes out and went for a ride and photographedpenguins…it was also this person is driving me crazy and I just don’t knowwhat to do…and I’ve actually included quite a few of the journal extractsin my upcoming book and it’s fascinating to watch the journey, to watchthe journal entry where I am talking: I don’t know what to do here butI’m going to do this and then few paragraphs later, working out whathappened and for me, it was very much just about working and I’m justtrying to understand what was going on. So if I made a decision and therewas a reaction in the community, what was going on there, what’shappening there? And the way to do that was to reflect which I wouldabsolutely take time out everyday and reflect on my issue.Gary: So, there are two things there: there is the habit that you formedand leadership requires habits and there’s the act of the habit of reflectingfor which you were using journaling and as you described it Rachael, itwas a random journaling activity but it was providing that opportunity toreflect so that you could make sense of what was going on so the folk out
  8. 8. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 7there listening in today – there are a couple of really keen insights intoleadership to help you get through the sometimes lonely experience ofbeing a leader. Clearly down in the Antarctic, it’s an extreme condition.What was the goal or the main goals – Jason was in keen to learn aboutthe main goals or the goal that you were working towards Rachael, whileyou were down there.Rachael: Yeah, it’s a fascinating place and it’s a fascinating job that Ihad. The main goal is climate change science so we’re doing research intoclimate change and that’s all sorts of science – biology, geology,geomorphology, seismology, glaciology – all the –ologies.Gary: All the –ologies (laughs).Rachael: All the –ologies – and that blew me away - you know the factthat people had dedicated their entire career to the study of ice. I met theglaciologist and it blew me away but as I got to understand their science abit better, I could appreciate what they were trying to do so, in some –there is 120 of us on-station and the vast majority international scientistsfrom all over the globe who fly into the Australian stations and doresearch on climate change and global warming and then at the end ofsummer, they would go home and leave 18 of us behind. We had in that18 – we did have 2 scientists who stayed behind to do some upperatmospheric science work throughout the vast majority in winter wherewe mainly have to keep the lights on and to keep the place running – andI’ve got to tell you, the environment is extreme I mean, -35 degrees iscold, 24 hours of darkness and 24 hours of daylight – it’s absolutely fullon and the environment itself was extreme but what was way moredifficult was the intense personal living and anybody who has lived inremote areas like that - so even mining sites or mining camps or anyonewho has lived in those environments, even tourists on some of the islandsbut it’s tourist areas and it’s tough to get up – that’s way more for us theinterpersonal pressure of living on top of each other 24 hours a day for ayear – that was way more difficult than the environment. We coped withthe environment.Gary: So, I suppose that’s really what’s intrigued a lot of people Rachaelwas how, as a leader you – you know, by the way folks, when Rachael istalking about the summer and winter, summer was the start of Novemberthrough to the start of February and winter was pretty much the rest ofthe year. Is that accurate?Rachael: Spot on, yeah.Gary: Yeah, so winter is a long time – there’s a long time betweenFebruary and November you know. That’s a long period of time to havefundamentally 18 of you and as you say, having some pretty significantperiods of just darkness and we’ve got…Christine wants to know how theextreme conditions brought out the extreme emotions from your team…Rachael: Yeah, absolutely.
  9. 9. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 8Gary: How did you handle that?Rachael: That’s the thing I mean, every issue I had, I’ve dealt with in anyworkplace. I’ve got the same issues you have in every workplace – thepersonality conflict, the boredom, the people who work massive hours andpeople who don’t. Every challenge I had I’ve had before in a differentworkplace.The difference in Antarctica is that I had to deal with it; I mean in otherworkplaces, you might not jump into it as a conflict. You might just sort ofthink: oh, I’ll deal with that on Monday whereas, I couldn’t do that - asthings arose, as issues arose, I had to deal with it. The emotions are thesame as in any workplace but the difference is that it was like amicroscope and the fact that we couldn’t go home each night to our familyand friends; we couldn’t go and play sport; we couldn’t go to football – allof the things that people do to keep themselves resilient we couldn’t dothat and we had to deal with it and so probably, one of the best things Ilearnt down there was that it was not my role as leader to sort out everyinter-personal spat and it took me a while to work that out but I realised Icouldn’t cope, that’s not my job and there’s no way I could do this for ayear so I’d developed a rule that I called ‘no triangles’ and no trianglesjust meant I didn’t speak to you about him or you don’t speak to meabout her and it was about having the common decency and respect thatif someone has upset you, you go straight to that person.You don’t take it to a third party because you know we don’t upset peopledeliberately – we don’t and when we find out we’ve upset someone it feelsawful enough but if you find out that person has gone to a third partyinstead of coming directly to you, that’s just horrible and so for us to havea respectful team which was my number one rule – I was pretty blunt andI said: I don’t expect 18 strangers from all around the globe or differentbackgrounds…Gary: mm hmm.Rachael: …to love each other because it’s not going to happen but youwill respect each other and part of the respect was ‘no triangles’ and so,as a leader – and it’s a great tip for leaders that you can do this and ifpeople come to you with these sorts of conflicts, the first question is: doyou want me to intervene, is that why you are telling me? And if theanswer is ‘no, I’m just telling you’ well then, you have to say: well, okay -what did they say when you spoke to them – no triangles and it took awhile, I’ve got to say.Gary: Yes.Rachael: It took about 4 or 5 months to get that culture but once it waspart of our culture, it was absolutely part of our culture and it was justaccepted that you wouldn’t speak to a third party – you would go straight
  10. 10. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 9to that person. It was a really powerful tool and that’s what I used downthere.Gary: I’m really interested in you talking a little bit more about ‘notriangles’ because I think it’s really powerful Rachael and particularly youknow you’ve mentioned it takes 4-5 months for it to get embedded in anextreme environment – like it is in Antarctica but clearly out of the peoplein the team, they would have had a wide range of personalities, skills andpreferences and all of those things so some folk could be more inclinedbecause of their personality and just their skill set they have got fromtheir communication point of view to have a ‘no triangles’ talk orconversation and others would have been a bit more distant from beingable to do such a thing based on their starting point because of theirpersonality, preferences and so forth. Can you talk us through how youmanaged those types of differences with people regarding the practice of‘no triangles’?Rachael: You’re absolutely spot-on and it is a skill that you can developin how to have that conversation and for people who were morecomfortable or had worked say, in intense corporate environment whereyou’ll need to have these conversations, it was a lot – not easier buttherein, a lot more comfortable than with a say, self-employed personwho’d worked on their own…Gary: Yes.Rachael: …and didn’t have a team around them and so for those guys inparticular, I had to coach them and that’s the big caveat around ‘notriangles’ that it will only work if your leaders are prepared to put up theirhand and coach people how to have the conversation and I just had togive them very practical tips around it in things the same things like ‘don’tget them first thing in the morning’ – you know, pick the right time andget them at the right time of day and have empathy – try to predict whereyou think the conversation might go. Take out emotion – so deal withfacts and it’s interesting when I work with emerging leaders now and Italk about managing performance and I say to them: you would neverstart a performance conversation by saying something like: ‘you’re alwayslate’ or ‘you’re never on time’ because ‘always’ and ‘never’ are pretty bigwords.Gary: Yes.Rachael: and you have to use data. You use data: Yes, I looked: ‘for thelast four days you’ve arrived at 9.30 – you’re meant to be here at 9’because people can’t debate data whereas emotion they can so it wasabout coaching them on how to take the emotion out and use the facts,these are the facts and yeah, it took quite a while. It was worth it. It wasworth me investing that time, absolutely.Gary: You know I coach people Rachael on how to have fact-basedconversations for the exact, same reason. You know we people have an
  11. 11. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 10amazing capacity to generalise and once you say something is always ornever then it is very difficult to see it otherwise and yet, things areactually rarely ‘always’ or ‘never’. Rather than ‘always’ it may only havehappened once!Rachael: …and that…yeah… and that-it’s funny because I actuallydeveloped a thing that I call – which is my own – it was called a ‘LADAR’with a language radar and it was based on a light radar. We had scienceequipment down called a LADAR which was a light radar. So I had thisLADAR which is my language radar and it was words like everyone, noone, always, never and so when one of my guys would come to me andsay: uh everyone thinks blah, blah, blah…Gary: Yes.Rachael: I’d say: that’s everyone – it’s like this little ‘ping’ on my radargoing ‘everyone’?Gary: Really?Rachael: and I would say then: oh no – it wasn’t this person and that –okay, it’s not everyone. It’s you. It’s you so you take responsibility forwhat you’re telling me.It’s not everyone and it’s a really good thing to keep in the back of yourmind – to have this little language radar – this LADAR that just picks upthose words because they are telling you a whole lot more than just theword and it is spot-on. It’s just is too absolute a LADAR word.Gary: So, Rachael, have you had some learning over time or somecoaching yourself that you developed this understanding of leadershipprior to going to Antarctica or is this stuff that you literally worked outwhile you were down there learning how to do this job on the run so tospeak?Rachael: It was a bit of both – I’ve held leadership roles for 16 yearsprior to this job and I’ve worked in remote areas which really helped so I’dknow what it’s like to be located in a different environment to your headoffice team and I know how important that relationship is when you’remanaging remote teams and I’ve also worked in ‘bloke-y’ environments –managing teams of all men up so I know it’s a very different context whenit is a male-dominated industry and you’re a woman so I’ve hadexperience there but equally, a lot of it I’ve learned on the job and mostof what I learned was when I got stuff wrong.Gary: Yes.Rachael: One of the things I got wrong was – it was a tiny issue aboutplaying music on the radio station (laughs) whoever helps the chef eachday in the kitchen gets to pick the music that’s played on the radio stationand a couple of Melbourne guys decided that when it was a Saturday or
  12. 12. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 11Sunday – or probably not but they played football and would stream theAFL live and then the Sydney, Newcastle and Queensland guys gotonboard and thought when the State of Origin was on they’d stream thatlive so rather than playing music they’d have sport and this upset a fewpeople.They came and saw me and said: Rachael, the rule is that they pickmusic, not sport and I didn’t know what to do and the other people comeand say: no, the rule is it’s their choice and I honestly didn’t know what todo so I canvassed all 17 people and asked them: what do you think aboutwhat we should do? What should we all do?And suddenly, everybody is talking about it, it’s all they are talk about andI couldn’t work out ‘why?’ I’m thinking ‘why is this such a big deal?’ and Irealise you know I had turned this into the biggest issue that had hitAntarctica in 58 years and it was all me and I’m writing in my journalssaying: why is this such a big issue? What am I missing? In the end, I hadmade the right decision but I made it the wrong way and it’s you knowsometimes you are democratic and you collaborate and you get by; othertimes, it’s your job – you’re paid to make these decisions.It’s your job, make the call and that’s what I should have done in thiscase and there are these other situations where you just don’t getinvolved. That learning only came to me in Antarctica and so I don’t regretit for a second because I learnt from it but I wouldn’t do it again so nowevery time I have to make a decision like that, I sort of look at the riskand I think: oh do I need to collaborate or is this my job – this is what I’mpaid to do and so yeah, it was partly what I knew but also because I facedsituations I’ve never faced before.Gary: Mm hmm.Rachael: Like when we had a plane crash for example and I have nevermanaged a plane crash and so, having to lead my team through that – thesearch and rescue in that area was huge.Gary: Yes.Rachael: and so it was a lot of learning on the job yeah.Gary: And you know I think that’s one of the big insights for all of theleaders listening in here today is that there is no single one way to be aleader in terms of being autocratic or democratic; it’s about the right wayat the right time for the right reasons and as you say, it sometimes isyour job to make some of these calls and you have just got to step up tothe plate and do it.We were talking about extreme conditions and emotion just before, therewas this thing that I’ve heard you briefly speak about called the ‘baconwars’ – you’ve got to talk about us through that, please.
  13. 13. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 12Rachael: (laughs) Oh Gary yeah. I didn’t even know what was going onand someone – one of the plumbers came and saw me and said: we needto have a meeting to decide how to cook the bacon on Monday when thechef has the morning off and I said why and he said – because theplumbers like it soft and diesel mechanics like it crispy and we want youto decide how it should be cooked.It blew me away. I thought I’m not stopping a 20 million dollarprogramme to decide how to cook bacon. You run a roster, cook it theway you like it – but what it taught me once I asked a few questions – itwas actually a manifestation of an issue between those two teams.It was another issue around how they were using the vehicles but it wasall about respect and I realised these are small things that are aboutrespect and every workplace has a form of a bacon war – I was readingsome research from LinkedIn the other day saying that one of the biggestbacon wars - and it’s different in different countries but here in Australia,one of the biggest bacon wars is dirty coffee mugs.Gary: Yes.Rachael: and it drives people nuts – I had someone say to me last week:oh look at the sign saying ‘Your mother doesn’t work here to put thedishes away.’Gary: (laughs)Rachael: They could have just put the dish in the dishwasher and I said:it’s not about the dishes. It’s not about the coffee mug.Gary: No.Rachael: It’s about respect because what it implies is ‘my time is moreimportant than your time’ and whether that’s – often that’s not what theperson is thinking when they do it but that’s the implication and that’s theperception and I say you’ve actually got to manage your bacon warsbecause they are only small things but if you ignore them, they getmassive and they are a deeper issue around respect so yeah, the baconwars were quite an extraordinary experience.Gary: So, probably a similar sort of issue that is a bugbear for a lot ofpeople is timeliness to meetings and people’s ability to get to meetings ontime as an example and it’s probably the same thing that ultimately reallythat issue is not about the clock – it’s actually about respect and respectfor time as you described with the bacon wars – and I think these lessonsare really important because I know some of the folk before the interviewwere asking questions: well, how was what was happening in Antarcticarelate back to the workplace here today and I think we’ve been hearingsome very clear examples about – it’s not any difference; it’s just downthere, you can’t escape it which actually might be to our detriment back
  14. 14. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 13here because we might put things off because we think, well we canescape it.Rachael: That’s absolutely true. I was just reading research this morningthat kind of last week that actually said – it was with the Harvard BusinessReview and they interviewed 14,000 people. 50% of the 14,000 peoplehad said that in the past week, they had been disrespected or feltdisrespected at work – someone had been rude or disrespectful and I’mthinking: 50% of 14,000 and that’s just in the past week so you look atthe flow on effect of that and how that affects the morale and theproductivity. The biggest issue I think today in Australian leadership oreven global leadership is that we need leaders who can inspire and theway you inspire is you’ve got to manage these things.You’ve really got to deal with these then and sometimes, it’s not alwaysgetting involved – like in the bacon war I didn’t get really involved in it. Ijust said: look, this is my decision you know – you’re on a roster. Once itreads 17 weeks, it’s your turn to cook the bacon the way you like it.That’s the thing in Antarctica that every issue we faced was an issue I’dcome across before but I had to deal with it. I had to dig deep into mypsychie to think: what’s the best way to deal with this because I had nosanctions and I had no rewards other than how do you keep peoplemotivated during the Antarctic winter and most jobs have an Antarcticwinter; most jobs have a period of time where work is just work: there isbudget cutting meeting that there is no big capital project and particularlyin pharmaceuticals and construction and places like that where they havelong lead times on projects – might be two or three years – 4 or 5 yearsand how do you keep people motivated through that and for me, it was acouple of things but one of the big things was finding a reason tocelebrate.Gary: Mm hmm.Rachael: and the reason is that for some people it creates momentum soeven celebrating – and not having a party but just saying ‘thank you’ forwhen the server hadn’t gone down for 100 days and when we do not havea power blackout for 50 days – just celebrating the same things buildsmomentum and builds progress and you feel like you’re still movingforward even thought you might be in the middle of this project that justgoes on for years and years and that’s what they talk about when theysay inspiring leadership – that’s what it means.Gary: Mm hmm.Rachael: it’s about inspiring through those dull times; it’s about findingthose reasons to celebrate.Gary: and that’s often the leaders’ job – to be on the lookout for them sothat you can celebrate them and you know we’re interested to know forexample, Chloe was interested to know – and Tony as well in fact - who is
  15. 15. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 14a leader that you really respect – someone that inspired you - but notnecessarily you would have modelled yourself upon but someone thatreally stood out for you over time?Rachael: Yeah it changes and it sort of depends on what is on the radarat the time but I guess someone who I’ve worked with recently and aname known to people in Australia and New Zealand is John Gillam who isthe CEO of Bunnings and Officeworks and so you can imagine – I thinkBunnings employs 3000 people and Officeworks would have similarnumbers and so, he’s got a very busy job – big job.Gary: mm hmm.Rachael: and I did field events with Bunnings in Australia and NewZealand and one of the things I remember was that – I was almost latefor my flight in New Zealand and I said to John: I’ve got to go, the planeis boarding in 2 ½ hours and I’ve got to be there 2 hours before and thenI didn’t see him again for 6 months and the first thing he said to me whenhe saw me was: ah, so you got the plane – you managed to catch theplane and I’m thinking: gee how did you remember that?Gary: Yes.Rachael: another example was he actually sent me a handwritten ‘thankyou’ note in a mail and this is a man who has got a multi-million dollarbusiness to run, thousands and thousands of employees and suppliers andyet, he took the time to write me a handwritten ‘thank you’ note for thework I’d done and it’s getting back to those moments you know and Iremember that and I remember how they made me feel. I’ve seen him,I’ve spoken to his staff and it’s the same with his staff and I just thinkthat’s what it’s about – it’s about taking the time to write a thank-younote, taking the time even to – if you look around and it’s not a title –that’s the other important message to it.Leadership isn’t a title – it’s a way of behaving; if you think somethingneeds to be done and even if you’re having a morning tea and you noticethat someone’s not at their desk, they are in a meeting it’s about justgrabbing a slice of cake and putting it in the fridge for them so when theyget back, they haven’t missed out on the morning tea and having somecake and I’ll remember that moment. That’s why I say ‘big leadership in asmall moment.’Gary: Yes.Rachael: it’s only a moment but you want to feel valued at work andhave people treat with you kindness and respect and simple things likethat and that’s what makes a huge difference.Gary: clearly, your story about John Gillam there is connected to thefeedback that you got even though the feedback you got was before youwould have been working and experiencing John in terms of timelines –
  16. 16. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 15yeah, bothering to know and learn 120 people’s names, bothering to knowabout someone’s child’s birthday and these are the little moments or the‘edge moments’ as you call them Rachael that really matter to people andeveryone listening knows this and really, that’s a challenge for everyonelistening on in this interview is how do you go knowing what’s going onwith the people around you and it’s not about prying is it – it’s about justknowing and taking action when appropriate and to let them know ‘Hey,I’m aware. I care’ even if it is a slice of cake as you just described afteryou had a bit of a celebration someone couldn’t make it because of ameeting – that’s really powerful to be able to use those edge moments.Rachael: and that’s why I’m now ambassador for ‘R U OK?’ day because Iknow how – I saw it with my eyes and I never used to ask those questionsbecause I thought: ‘oh I don’t have the answer’ and if I knew someonewasn’t okay, I would think: hmm well I don’t want to make it worse and Idon’t know what to say. I’ve learned that it’s not about having theanswer; it’s about asking the question and how important it is - andwhether or not they reveal what’s wrong – it’s up to them but the factthat one person at work has even noticed in the busyness of the day thatone person has cared enough to just come over and say: hey, how areyou going, are you okay? You don’t seem yourself – it’s just huge.It just means that we do care even amongst this crazy busyness, we careand we notice and we’ll treat you like a human rather than just a resourceand it makes a massive difference to your culture and if you want to getperson inspired and get them to work and to put in their best effort, theyhave to feel like they are valued – absolutely.Gary: Yeah well, helping people feel valued that also includes havingsome fun. I see you in a green dress – just a quick story behind that.Rachael: (laughs) yeah that’s our bachelors’ and spinsters’ ball (laughs).Gary: Oh that’s a B and S ball - okay.Rachael: and it was fascinating because - of course, I had to go to all thesocial events but it’s a really important message for leaders and I think foremerging leaders in particular but also a lot of leaders who have been inthese roles for a long time forget that you’re under intense scrutiny whenyou’re in a leadership position – you’re being watched the whole time;when you come in, when you go home, who you sit with for lunch – it’s allbeing watched and so, for me at social events, I have to be dressed upand be part of the community but I was also mindful of choosing –typically for this one, a costume that was still quite conservative but thenI was part of the team but I know we’ve got some women tuned in todayso I have to point out to the girls in particular that’s not my green satindress – I just couldn’t stand hanging up and any of them pondering onwhy would this woman pack a green, satin dress to go to Antarctica?Gary: (laughs)
  17. 17. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 16Rachael: but it does beg a question, doesn’t it? Somebody at some stagedid pack a 1980s bridesmaid dress to take to Antarctica.Gary: Well I must admit – even some images I’ve seen over time inAntarctica including some of the photos from Shackleton’s time downthere. It is a little bit strange when I am actually able to see a womanactually wearing a green satin dress because I think I’ve seen someimages actually and so I’m wondering if it happens to be the partner inthe photo here who actually may have owned that dress ...Rachael: (laughs) yeah it’s fascinating and particularly for women inthese leadership roles and it’s about…you just have to keep boundariesand you have to be so clear and I guess that’s one of the big lesson forme.Gary: mm hmm.Rachael: that I learned was all with time - one of the best things I diddown there was to have strong personal boundaries and particularlyaround that time so that...Gary: Yes.Rachael: we all know what it’s like when people are hanging around andsaying: ‘have you got 5 minutes?’ and it’s never 5 minutes.Gary: Yes.Rachael: and they would come and knock on my door at night or theywould interrupt my my breakfast and it got to the point after 6 weekswhen I thought: you know, I can’t do this – it’s not sustainable. I need tolook after myself and the next time it happened, I said: guys, this isn’turgent and I need to have my breakfast so how about I meet you in myoffice in 15 minutes and we’ll go through it there – and once I put theboundary there, they absolutely respected it and I realised that all thistime, when I’ve worked in corporate roles and I was missing lunch and Iwas the first one in and last one out, it was never my time-management;it was actually my personal boundaries and I needed to learn how to say –not ‘no’ but ‘not now.’Gary: Yes.Rachael: so maybe 5 minutes from now – I’ll come back at 4 o’ clock andyou’ve got my undivided attention but just not now.Gary: that’s an edge moment for yourself for you too, I’d argue. Christineactually says that you’re green satin dresses from the Antarctica dress upbox...thanks Christine (laughs).Rachael: it is, yes (laughs). That’s right.
  18. 18. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 17Gary: you know I’m aware we’ve probably overshot time a little bit but Ijust want to see whether anyone does have another question that wehaven’t addressed yet – a burning question that you’d just love us to giveRachael a chance to answer. So, if anyone has got one, you can eitherraise your hand or type your question in – something that for you wehaven’t yet given Rachael an opportunity can answer at this point in time.So I’ll just give you a quick moment if you’re madly typing away to getthat in or you can just quickly raise your hand.Chloe is interested in your favourite moment in Antarctica – thanks,Chloe.Rachael: Yeah, that’s a great question. It would have to be – there’s one,probably two but the one that stands out the most was photographing theAdelie penguins and they actually make their nest out of pebbles and Iwas just out there one day watching them and one little fellow wasputting his pebbles on his nest and as soon as he turned his back, hisneighbour came in and stole the pebble and went to put it on his ownnest.Gary: (laughs) Okay.Rachael: and this happened about 6 times before the first fellow workedout that his neighbour was stealing the pebbles off his nest and thatmemory just kept me resilient to this day.At the end of the day, it really is a choice. Everyone in this has a choice tofocus on what we have rather than what we haven’t got and for me, thatmoment was about saying ‘this is what I’ve got’ so rather than pining formy family and be homesick it was about: okay. What I have got is thechance to see this extraordinary wildlife in its natural setting and very fewpeople get to have this chance so focus on what you’ve got rather thanwhat you haven’t got and that’s the secret to resilience in my opinion isthat choice that every single one of us makes every morning when wewake up.Gary: Wow. I’m going to also ask you Ralph’s question. Ralph says thathe’s actually commenced a job application process for a station leaderonly a few weeks ago – (reading Ralph’s question) however I discontinuedwhen one question in the application process asked of me was myexperience in science projects but I had none – how important would thisparticular selection criterion be in your opinion? So that might be veryvaluable for Ralph to hear your answer on that one.Rachael: Yeah and what I would say Ralph is what I suppose comes fullcircle back to the first question that the technical stuff is important but it’sless important than what they are looking for. What they are looking for isa leadership quality – so people who can negotiate; people who canmanage conflict; people who can give feedback and performanceconversations comfortably and with empathy. What I would suggest – I’msure if you look into your own background, you will have projects that
  19. 19. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 18you’ve managed – whether they are science projects or not, it doesn’tmatter. It’s the same principle of managing projects – so understandingwhat you’re trying to do, timelines, the budget, the communication andyou can answer that question and if you get short-listed for the phoneinterview which is the second round – between now and then, just get onthe web – and this is all I did; I knew nothing about Antarctic scienceprojects – I just got on the website and read about it. I read their sciencestrategy and that will tell you everything you need to know to get to thenext round and so, I’d suggest if you’ve got the experience in managingpeople, that’s what they are looking for because you can learn the sciencestuff; you can’t learn in short period of time how to lead people and leadthrough tough times and lead through dull times and that’s what they arerecruiting for.There is a certain fit for the job rather than a particular technical skill soI’d get back in there Ralph and throw that application in before Friday - Ithink the applications close Friday.Gary: there you go, Ralph. Go Ralph, go and Rachael, Kathy asks how didyou – Ralph says thanks by the way. How did you handle clique-y groupsas they developed?Rachael: Yeah and they do - the psychologist actually said to me before Ileft that I should have a big table for meals rather than single tablesbecause cliques will develop and can be quite disruptive and cliques stilldid form even though that was one of the tools we had to try andminimise. It was all about respect and I keep coming back to it because itwas the overarching thing for my team that I don’t care if you don’t like –someone has a got a hobby that you don’t like or this particular personhas got a hobby that you love – you know say, someone likes ballroomdancing and I would not tolerate somebody saying: oh boring – dancing isjust stupid; that’s disrespectful so respect boundaries.Respect time – if you’re going to meet someone at a certain place bethere at that time. Respect opinions, respect differences and so eventhough we did have cliques, we did not have any or many issues with itbecause it was back to disrespect but that was built on a whole heap ofthings like ‘no triangles’ and like managing the bacon wars. So it was awhole set of tools that put together constructed this culture of respect foreach other and even if we didn’t love each other we still respected eachother and so, with the cliques it was like ‘okay, that’s fine that they hangout together and they like each other and they have got usually it’ssomething in common.’Gary: Yes.Rachael: you know often, it was movies and we had a little cinema andoften it was like typically like James Bond movies or something like thatand just hang out together and fine, that’s cool - respect that.
  20. 20. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 19Gary: and I think that leads us to and this will have to be our lastquestion from the audience. Christine says: do you still keep in contactwith the people that you led and we were having a little chat about thatissue prior to this getting started so what would you say to Christine?Rachael: Yeah it’s interesting isn’t it and I assumed we would be in closecontact forever after such an intense experience but no, I keep in touchwith half a dozen of them. There’s another cohort that I’m connected toon LinkedIn or Facebook and there’s another group that I haven’t spokento and then some of them actually got off the ship in Hobart after we’dsailed home - two weeks sailing home – and got off the ship, grabbedtheir families and their bags, took off and we’ve never heard from them.It’s that whole experience that Gary you’re a team at the time and youpull together and we’ve worked very well as a team but once that wasover, bang! we all went out and we all have different lives now and someof us have got families and some of us moved overseas so we’ve changedbut it was fascinating for me to see that because I kind of went thinkingthat these people would be my mates for the rest of my life and I learnedthat no.Gary: Yeah.Rachael: the feedback I got from my performance review was that thepsychologist said: look, they thought that you were very inspiring. Theythought that you were decisive and a great leader but one criticism theyhad was that you weren’t their friend and she said ‘you were friendly butyou weren’t their friend’ and I said that’s cool because I was never goingto be.Gary: Yes.Rachael: If you have to lead, you’d have to have that arms-lengthrelationship so you’ve just got to cop that leadership is a choice and it’sone of the choices that you make.Gary: Yeah and actually Christine says like when Richard Parker walkedaway from Pi without turning back - making a reference to the movie ‘TheLife of Pi’ recently. Thanks Christina. That’s a really important insight for alot of leaders because if you think that you’re going to be friends for lifeand you would or might judge your leadership afterwards when youdiscover that’s actually not what happens; you might think you were notvalued as a leader but as you said it was about pulling together for theperiod of time when we were in the Antarctic and then after that, it’s okayif different people went their different ways and that doesn’t mean that wehated each other or anything like that; it just means we’re different,we’ve moved on and we’re now doing different things and that’s cool.Now, talking about different things, we’d like to give everyone theopportunity to sign up for Rachael’s newsletter which is as simple as goingto and if you subscribe, you will
  21. 21. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 20get access to Rachael’s new book and you’ll get 15% off therecommended retail price so, what are you calling the new book if you’venamed it already and when should we be able to expect it to hit theshops?Rachael: It’s called ‘Leading on the Edge’ and it’s exactly what we talkedabout today in the webinar – it’s stories with business insight or aleadership insight so a story and an insight based on my journals that Ikept while I was in Antarctica and we’re offering 15% off now for peoplewho just sign up. We don’t take money now and we won’t get your creditcard details or anything till the books comes out in September but if you’dlike to be notified when the book is available then, drop us line and we’dbe more than happy to add you on the list of people who we’ll send out anote when the book is available.Gary: in addition as you can see here, Rachael does keynote speakingand clearly you can hear with the way that Rachael has articulated herselfthroughout today’s conversation – she’s been an awesome keynotespeaker; in fact, I do know a number of people in my network Rachael,that when they found out that I was interviewing you they said: oh she’sfantastic, make sure you learn about this story and learn about that storyso you’ve got huge raps of people so those of you who are looking forsome keynote speakers for conferences, etc. please be in contact withRachael to engage her to come along and inspire your troops to be able todo some edge moments the way that you did your leadership.I’d really like to thank you so much for your time. We have gone overtimeand I know you’d said that you were up for that in the end to be able todo that. I appreciate everyone also staying online for a little bit longerthan we had originally anticipated. There were a vast amount ofopportunities for people to take some insights from what your experiencewas down in the Antarctic, especially the whole ‘edge moments concept’that the little things in other words, really do matter and a leader has tobe aware of what those things are. The personal space that you talk aboutjust recently in our conversation is really, really critical and I think someleaders really struggle with that in creating boundaries, the ‘no triangles,’about getting people to have conversations with people that really matterrather than bringing in someone else and talking with the wrong person inother words and bothering to teach and coach people the skills Rachaelthat you said to be able to have those conversations is absolutely critical.So once again, I’d like to thank you for sharing that information with us.Some brief information for those of you that are really interested indeveloping their own skills is one of my programmes called ‘Yes forSuccess’ which is based on my plan for personal success programme. It’san online platform and I do this in face-to-face programmes as well wherewe can actually create a personal plan for life balance and personalsuccess and as you can see in this illustration here, there are 6 criticalelements to creating success that help you to move from where you are inyour present to the future and if you don’t have those 6 critical elementsyou’ve been working on in some fashion and when I talk about life
  22. 22. Gary Ryan Interview with Rachael RobertsonBig Leadership in Small 21balance, I teach people life balance is to be judged over a year, not amonth, not a week, not a day. The programme helps you to come up witha plan to be able to put that into practice so that you in fact, create thesuccess that you desire.If you folk want to find out more about that, it’s as simple as going and you can watch the brief video andsee the information on that side about how you can access thatprogramme. You have now all of my details in front of you and if for somereason you lose Rachael’s details and you’d like to get in contact with her,please make sure that you send me an email or contact me on Facebookthrough the ‘Organisations That Matter’ or ‘Yes For Success’ Facebookpages or through my blog at and I will pass your questionor comment to Rachael.A number of you are passing through your thanks and appreciations toRachael for her time – absolutely I pass that on too. We really appreciateyour time as well everyone. Any further comments Rachael that you’d liketo pass on to everyone?Rachael: Thanks for taking the time to everyone who has given up the 50or so minutes to sit in and listen and hopefully Gary and I have given yousome practical tools – we did talk about this before and we didn’t want togive you theories or strategies – we wanted to give you some practicaltools that leaders can take away or if you’re in HR and learning anddevelopment you can take back to your leaders and coach them sohopefully, you’ve got a couple of practical tools that you can take awaytoday and get some inspiring leaders in your organisations.Gary: Well Jason, who I do know is a business owner in the finance sectorsays that he’d like to thank us both and he really enjoyed it and he’d bemuch more aware now of how he cooks bacon going into the future(laughs).Rachael: (laughs)Gary: Thanks, Jason. Alright, thanks everyone. We really appreciatedyour time and this has been really valuable, says Kathy – thanks Kathyand others are making very similar comments too so thanks – reallyappreciate you being onboard too and we will speak with everyone soonso once again, keep learning and be the best that you can be.