The 5Ps of Presentation

Preparing a brilliant short presentation video notes. For schools … but geez, adults need more help with this than kids! 

Embellished by me after learning from Frank Ryan of Vox Bandicoot, who was taught it by Steve Van Matre of the Earth Education Institute.

A ten minute presentation can be brilliant. It can also be totally boring and not even worth having stood up. We’ve all been there haven’t we. When someone delivers a really boring presentation …

So you have a topic. You might be speaking about your worm farm or your solar panels or your dual flush compact fluorescent toilet with bluetooth enabled flushing. Your topic is the easy bit. How are you going to reach an audience? 

Lots of people are scared about public speaking. They don’t like being the centre of attention. They’re worried about looking a bit silly. The funny thing is, nearly everyone gets nervous speaking.  That’s fine. It even helps. It makes us concentrate. The thing to remember is that the people in the audience just want to hear what you have to say. Your presentation is for them. Thinking about making it interesting for them stops you worrying about you. That’s why the 5Ps of presentation really help. Instead of thinking about you, they help you think about how you are reaching an audience. 

The 5Ps of Presentation

  1. Preparation:

  • Who is your audience? What sort of presentation would they enjoy? 

  • Bring the best of you. Are you:  a singer? A storyteller? A poet? A guitarist? funny? Silly? Then bring that to it!

  • Please don’t tell the audience everything. It’s totally boring. And they’re clever people. Put there just a spark. In one sentence, what do you want you’re presentation to say?  What three things do you want the audience to remember?

  •  Use powerpoint only to add to your presentation. Please don’t write every word in small font and then read it out. You may as well sit down and let the audience read it themselves. Use it for images, headings, short videos, quotes. And check in with the venue to make sure you have the right program and connections and then get there early, plug in and check it works. 

  • Only use a few notes, if any. Practise a lot, so that your presentation is not about remembering the content, but about how you present and how you reach the audience. 

  • Have a timekeeper at the back who can tell you when you’re half way, when there’s two minutes left and when you need to wrap up. 

2. Projection

  • Fill the space with your voice

  • Clarity of voice

  • Touch people with words

  • Tonal quality and volume

3. Position

  • Stand where every eye can see you

  • Spring on heels

  • Sparkle in the eye

  • Push it out with the whole body

4. Pace

  • Speed/slow

  • Loud/soft

  • Rhythm

  • Get on/Get off topics

  • Open and shut the gate for audience: they are a bit like sheep …

  • Start with a flourish. An audience makes up their mind about you in the first minute. A quote … a story … a joke … 

  • Whisper device

  • Pause

  • Close with a story or quote or a call to action

  • Handouts and questions at the end (they kill the pace)

5. Pulse

  • The feeling in you about the earth and natural systems that you are going to reach out with and touch the audience with. 

  • Art, poetry, stories, songs help to enrich the message

  • Collect feelings about nature

Responding to the brilliant students striking for climate

Today in 1600 places in 105 countries our kids are striking for their future. They are filling us with hope and the fact that they need to do this is embarrassing for every adult on the planet. 

We need to respond.  

Most Australians agree with the need for climate action. Many of us have and are trying to find solutions. I have spent my entire life attempting to create an economy and society that looks after the earth so that it will look after us. My message today is that none of us have done enough. We haven't managed to cut through. We’ve been up against the largest, most expensive fossil fuel funded PR campaign in history. A study in the early 2000s showed that whilst 97% of scientific papers supported the consensus on climate change, 53% of newspaper articles said climate change wasn't real. A more recent study found that the other 3% of scientific papers all had basic flaws.

Have you seen the last few days of climate related media?

  • Journalist David Wallace Wells is speaking everywhere about his new book that connects the dots between climate science predictions and society. It’s called “The Uninhabitable Earth”. It is incredible reading.
  • Yesterday National Geographic reported on a study that found we have to stop using fossil fuels by 2030 to avoid two degrees, or "catastrophic warming” as the UN calls it.
  • The Reserve Bank deputy Governor gave a great speech on monetary policy and climate change.
  • A new report found that one in ten Australian homes will be uninsurable by 2030.
  • Lenore Taylor wrote about the sad history of Australian inaction on climate and why it has occurred.
  • The ACF released a website to see how hot each postcode in Australia will be. It is very limited in that it only looks at temperature and therefore not at any of the other climate impacts. It only looks at the middle of the road predictions. But what it says is that Bendigo wont have a winter anymore by 2050 and that we’ll have a new season called new summer, where the average temperature from mid December to mid February will never drop below 30 degrees.

And our kids are protesting in the streets. What they are saying with brutal honesty is that pragmatic incrementalism is not going to cut it. Their future is at stake. And we need to solve the climate crisis before they finish uni. We need a million solutions. We cannot tell our kids that their future is ok anymore. It is not. They have just lived through the hottest summer on record. By the time today’s school students kids reach 50 years of age, either we will have ceased using all fossil fuels and changed our economy from consumption based to circular or civilisation will be collapsing as the planet becomes uninhabitable. Global warming and all of its solutions and impacts will be the defining issue of their lives.

It is worth checking in with this movement and where it started. Here is sixteen year old Greta Thunberg at the United Nations and her ted talk and at DAVOS speaking truth to power.

"Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study, to become a climate scientist so that I can solve the climate crisis. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.  And why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more, when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts in the school system, when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society?”

- Greta Thunberg

By being involved in the climate strike our kids are learning public speaking skills, teamwork, science, event planning, civics and citizenships, writing, reading, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, geography and science.  This is the most authentic education they can be part of right now. 

A big Bendigo response to our children?

We should bring all levels of government together with business, the community sector and students to run a year long Bendigo Climate Summit. We need to come together to draw a line in the sand, hear the latest science and plan for zero emissions and beyond to a time when we are drawing carbon down from the atmosphere.

The timing is good here. We have local, state and federal government representatives that understand the need to act on climate, if not the urgency.

Drawdown, by Paul Hawken is a great framework to use because it is positive, because it involves every sector of the economy and because its the only long term goal that makes sense. Here’s Paul’s Bendigo talk from the beginning of last year.

This future is coming whether we like it or not. Bendigo can either play a leading role and ensure we have a future, or we can just let the future happen and not have a future. There are cities around the world who are ready for action, for investment and for government support. Bendigo needs to plan, design, fund and build a new transport system, energy system, food system, consumption system, housing system, water system and more. We also need to restore our local ecology so that it protects us from the coming heat and we need to strengthen and renew our social sector to ensure that heat stress and climate breakdown do not create a new underclass of poverty.

Wouldn’t a Bendigo Climate Summit be a great response to our children today?

The other response is simple. We need to turn the upcoming federal election into THE climate election. We need to campaign and vote like we are living in a climate emergency. Our political parties are not like our footy teams, to be stuck with through good times and bad. They can wreck the joint. Vote climate!

In the meantime, I’m so proud of these brave young people telling it like it is. All power to them. 

Leadership Part 4: Leadership and the Others

From the Camp Fire to the Kitchen Table: a six part blog series on leadership and change practice. 

In part 3 of this leadership series, we talked about Leadership and the Self. Part 4 focuses on something far more important: Leadership and the Others. Most of us spend far too much time thinking about ourselves. So enough about the self! Self-reflection and improvement are only good up to a point. I would put that point at the moment when you are standing in front of the self-help section in a bookshop. If that happens to you, my advice is to run quickly to the counter and ask for a book by Hugh Mackay. 

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Belonging is central to who we are

Legendary sociologist Hugh Mackay has been researching Australians for over fifty years. In his book The Good Life: what makes a life worth living? He argues that the question we all should be asking ourselves is not, “Who am I?” but, “Who are we?” Desmond Tutu put it similarly when he said,

The truth is that we are BECAUSE we belong.
— Desmond Tutu

We belong in community and community shapes who we are and who we become and how we influence on the world around us. Our leadership cannot be separated from the others.

When scientists analysed the social networks of every type of great ape, they found that our species, homo sapiens have the largest communities. Throughout history we have had around 150 people in our closest social network. These people are our village (and are not to be confused with Facebook friends, who we may see infrequently in real life). 

In the last century these villages have been breaking down as we tend to move neighbourhoods and towns and countries more often. Most of us build houses for single families, more of us live alone. Very few of us sit on the front porch waiting to chat with people as they walk by. Many of us have moved our living areas to the back half of our homes, separating us from our neighbours and village gathering places. Fewer of us are actively political citizens, and more of us spend our time buying things. Social media has led to polarised views. We’re at risk of totally losing the ability to converse, argue and work together constructively.  Across the board, we are now more socially isolated, anxious, depressed and lonely than at any other time in history.

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Socially connected people are healthier

Professor Lisa Berkman of the Harvard School of Public Health found that, “People who are socially connected are less likely to die from just about any cause you can think of.” She also found that people with deep social links in their community add ten years to their lifespan and that its better for your health to be socially connected than it is to give up smoking, alcohol and fat. 


Stable social connections are crucial from the day we are born. A study of brain scans of three year old children found that brain size in emotionally nurtured children was twice that of neglected children. It wasn’t just size. The part that doesn’t develop when neglected is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain where neocortex region of the brain, where all social cognitive processing occurs. 

We need to be loved and nurtured through close social connections. That connection deeply shapes who we are and the type of influence we have in our communities.

Our social networks shape who we are

Dr Nicholas Christakis, the network scientist, has demonstrated just how connected we are and how our connections shape us. His analysis of the Framlingham Heart Study formed the basis of his book Connected: the surprising power of our social networks and how they shaped our lives. He found that if you have a friend who is happy, you are 45% more likely to be happy. He found that if you friend’s friend is happy, you are 25% more likely to be happy and incredibly, that if your friend’s friend’s friend is happy (think about this, you probably don’t know them!) then you are 10% more likely to be happy. Happiness is influenced to three degrees through our social networks. He found similar links with influence and distance from your house, meaning that a happy person living within 1km of you makes you more happy. He used happiness as an example, but says this hold true for other socially influenced factors like happiness, heart disease, smoking or depression.

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I sent Nicholas an email to ask how many people we influence in our lives. He replied, “Everything we do effects not just ourselves, not just our friends and families, but tens, sometimes hundreds and possibly thousands of other people.”

What this means is that who we are and what we wear and how healthy we are and what we buy and what we talk about and what we do  and how we feel are all contagious. We are constantly being influenced by our social network. And it goes the other way. If we smile at people and say “hi” we can spread friendliness through three degrees of our social networks. If we frown and get angry we can spread that just as far. Think about the person you have been in the last five years and think about the impact that has had on three degrees of your social network. This is an immense responsibility, it’s almost too hard to bear, but it’s also very exciting. We are more powerful than we imagine. 

We are more powerful than we imagine

My mentor and teacher Francis Ryan, of Vox Bandicoot fame, used to tell me that as an educator, we have to behave as if the camera is never off. What he meant is that every day, at every moment, we are all teachers and we are all learners. Education isn’t about what we say from a podium or in a lecture. It is who we are at all times. We cannot opt out of this as it is simply reality: what we do every day has a powerful impact on our world.

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We don’t realise how powerful we are because we can’t see this network operating around us. Attempting to influence someone can feel a bit like tossing a stone into a still lake. The ripples head out in every direction and sometimes we don’t know where they land and to what effect. A good example of this is the influence of the Victorian Women’s Trust in the 1990s on the participatory democracy process that led to the election of Cathy McGowan. The role of Indi Voices and the community led campaign that resulted in the election of the independent Cathy McGowan to Federal Parliament is well known. What is less known is that some of the locals who built the Indi Voices campaign had been trained years before in kitchen table conversations through the Purple Sage project in Melbourne, a project that had been established by the Victorian Women’s Trust in response to frustration with the Kennett government. While many other things will have also led to the Indi Voices campaign, Purple Sage supported 6,000 women to hold deep conversations about what mattered to them. It was obviously a powerful process and the outcomes are still reverberating in society today. This story is a good example of what French sociologist Alain Touraine wrote about in the 1970s when he wrote about the days of revolution being over. He said that society transcends itself through small social movements.


In his 1998 book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam wrote about social isolation and the breakdown in community in the second half of the 20th century. He identified two types of social connections, Bonding and Bridging. Bonding connections are those that exist within a social grouping, like those within a cricket club. Bridging connections are those that span across social groupings, like the Rotarian who plays cricket, or the Sustainability Group member who is also a CFA member. Bridging connections are very powerful agents of social change as they lead to the spread of new ideas. Bridging connections help to create what’s known as a Small World Network in which influence travels far.

Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.
— Douglas Adams

We have all seen social networks operate in this way!

Nature Collaborates and Cooperates

Social networks have the same structure as ecological systems, with bonding and bridging connections. The connections seen in nature are fascinating and instructive. Biologist Suzanne Simard has been studying the movement of nutrients through forests in Canada and through the underground network of fungi, called the mycorrhizal layer. She found trees at the top of forest collecting sunlight, turning it into sugars and sharing it through the soil with trees in the dark valleys. She found trees in the valleys collecting water and sending it up the hills to the parched trees on top. She found carbon exchange happening across great distances and between species of trees and shrubs. She found trees with wood boring insects releasing a chemical mist that travels through the air in the forest alerting other trees who put up their chemical defences. Simard calls this network the “Wood Wide Web”. 

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Biomimicry is the practice of learning from 3.8 billion years of design success in nature. For over thirty years, Biomimicry founder and author Janine Benyus has been studying nature and how it might teach us to build more a more effective and fitting civilisation here on earth. Benyus is reviving an old biological debate, thought to be long won by the “survival of the fittest” and “nature competes” philosophy. What we are learning from biomimicry and other ecological studies is that nature collaborates and cooperates for the benefit of the whole system. So my survival is tied up with yours and everyone else’s. It’s a huge comprehension shift for our society as it contradicts the popular worldview that underpins the structure of much of modern politics and business.

Change coming? Join the Dance!

All of this means that processes of change are much more tied up in our relationships with other people than we realised. Change moves through society like ripples on a pond. As philosopher Alan Watts said:

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance.
— Alan Watts

The best visual of the perfect dance of a social network is a starling murmuration. It is a huge cloud of small birds making amazing ever shifting shapes in the sky. There can be hundreds of thousands of individual birds. It turns out that every bird is influencing and being influenced by every other bird as they fly together. Everyone is in it together, and you can’t spot a single (white male) leader. A starling murmuration is like a huge social network with no one blocking change. Everyone bird is going with it and joining the dance.  

People, you may have noticed, are a little different to birds. 

In 2002, I was at Vox Bandicoot when we began working with a Sustainability Street community in East Keilor, Melbourne. The first meeting was held in a bus shelter, as the community were too unsure of each other to offer to host the meeting in their homes. Six months later they had set up a community garden together on a vacant patch of land and all their meetings were held in each other’s homes. They’re still going. No one at that first meeting could have imagined the journey they were about to take. But they all joined the dance and changed each other. 

A person who shall remain nameless once approached me after my leadership and change workshop and said, “This was great! I’ve been wondering for ages why everyone I have been talking to about sustainability hates me!” I imagined them walking into a coworkers office, switching the light and computer off and raging at them about their impact on the climate before storming out. If we really want to enable change, information is not enough. We must understand what makes people tick. And we must understand how change occurs. We don’t have to worry about changing the world: Jason from the first Sustainability Street community in Coburg once told his neighbours that he had stopped thinking about changing the world. What he was interested in was changing the world around him. That’s where to begin. 

Part 5 of “From the Campfire to the Kitchen Table” is all about Leadership for Influence and change practice. Using a mixture of environmental education theory, neuroscience, community development, sociology and the teaching of Rafiki the baboon from the Lion King, we’ll learn what the Blue Volkswagen theory is, find out the behaviour change impact of a tips brochure and discover whether converting sceptics is worth the effort. 

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Leadership Part 3: Leadership and the Self

From the Camp Fire to the Kitchen Table: a six part blog series on leadership and change practice. 

In part two of the From the Camp Fire to the Kitchen Table blog series, we looked at Tomorrow’s Leadership Skills. Today the focus is on the individual.

In my leadership and change workshops, I never spend long on the Self, as too much of this gets in the way of focussing on purpose and collaboration. However, we do spend some time on the Self, as having a good understanding our abilities, skills, passions, purpose and time are crucial if we are going to help create action that is regenerative for people and planet.  In Leadership and the Self, I teach five elements of leadership that relate to ourselves. And then I quickly more on to connection and community, where the real stuff happens!

So let’s go deep inside and look at what we can develop as individuals. Here are five ways to improve yourself as a leader:  

  1. Become “leaderful” not ego-full


We have already established that the “mostly old, mostly white, mostly male standing on a hill telling others what to do” leadership model doesn’t work. So where does that leave those of us who want to develop the skills to be a leader?  What does that mean for personal development?   The answer is that we an still develop ourselves, but we need to shift our focus from developing our ego, to building our skills. This shift is better for us and our health and our personal development anyway.

We spend far too much time thinking about and worrying about our self image and how we are viewed by others. Social media has confounded this further by showcasing the curated Facebook and Instagram lives of others as we scroll down. The self help sections of bookshops are not a nice place to find ourselves either, offering ways for us to maximise, fix and win.  And the content stream of white male “leaders” in politics and business give the impression that unless we are like them we cannot change the world. Many people, once confronted with the climate crisis, feel like they need to grab a lance, jump on a horse, give a Mel Gibson as William Wallace style battle speech and ride off at the head of an army.  But as we’ve learned, tomorrow’s leaders will be flexible, selfless and collaborative. How do we develop these leaders leadership skills? 

We can do it by leaving our ego at the door and working with others as equals. The late Frank Ryan used say that the key is to step off our pedestals and to recognise that we are all teachers and all learners. That we all have much to give and that true learning and change occurs via two way relationships. Our focus should not be on becoming the one true leader (which is a medieval idea), but on realising that we all need to be “leaderful”.  To be leaderful is to be full of the characteristics of tomorrow’s leaders. To become leaderful we need to understand what skills we have and what talents, time, purpose, resilience and courage we can contribute to leading change. Leaderful leaders know when to step up, and the know when to step back and give space for other leaders. A leaderful leader is always focussed on what’s best for the end goal, it’s never about their own ego or self recognition.

2. Focus on purpose

Driven by purpose, not leadership training …

Driven by purpose, not leadership training …

Too many leadership courses focus on the individual task of “becoming a leader” rather than helping individuals to identify and work towards achieving their purpose. Being clear about purpose helps us step up when a moment requiring leadership arises. 

Malala Yousafzai had no leadership training, but she is now a global leader. Her story is of course, inspirational but she did not become a leader by becoming more confident, or leaning in. She had a clear purpose, to go to school, and her parents backed her in. When the Taliban shot her in the face, she did not disappear but rose up and led change. As she says herself, the day she was shot, “weakness, fear and hopelessness died; strength, power and courage were born.” Malala stepped up because her upbringing and her community bought her to a deep sense of purpose, and so she was ready.

Each of us faces many of moments in our lives when we can step up and lead if we are ready and if we choose to. Think of the time at school when another kid was being bullied and you watched, or the meeting at work when you let a sexist comment go, or when you were walking the dog and someone said that climate change wasn’t real because their uncle said it was also hot when he was a kid and you nodded. We need to be clear about our purpose and our selves so that we are ready to step up and lead when moments like these arise. 

3. Understand that failure is the best teacher

All failures …

All failures …

The third lesson is that leaders must be prepared to fail, a lot. Failure is looked down on in our instagrammed, success driven society. When we fail, we feel like a loser. We feel like others are successful, because we don’t see them fail. But great changes have always come from failed and varied attempts. The research on failure shows that we learn far more from failure than from winning straight away. 

In fact, most people we today recognise as successful have failed on the way. Michael Jordan was dropped from his school basketball team, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were told by their music teacher that they had no talent, Einstein didn’t speak until he was three and was too much of a dreamer for the education system, John Cleese was told at school that he wasn’t funny and Oprah was told that she wasn’t good looking enough for television. Apple sacked Steve Jobs, JK Rowling was rejected by twelve publishers, and it was only Thomas Edison’s two thousand and something-th light bulb that actually lit up.  

In our society we  fear shame. As Brene Brown puts it in her book Daring Greatly:

The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticised keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.
— Brene Brown
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If we are to lead, we must risk failure and step into the arena.  

4. Do Something (together)

A meeting that discusses the need to DO SOMETHING but doesn’t. Brilliance from Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Which brings us to the fourth lesson. Leaders must actually DO SOMETHING.  Bob Brown got arrested on the Franklin and set up the Wilderness Society and the Greens. Olegus Truchanus gave photography lectures around Tasmania, Rosa Parkes sat in the wrong bus seat on purpose, Jane Goodall left the forest and began an annual 300 lecture world tour, Maxine from Bendigo Community Health Services organised a first meeting of a Green Team, Colin spent 10 years building solar panel programs and Jodi started a community project to plan a lemon tree in every street. 

No one has ever changed the world without doing something. As Lao Tzu wrote “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  In doing things, in actions, we build momentum, learn a lot, feel better, achieve more and inspire others. I put the word “together” in brackets, because every one of the people mentioned above worked together with others, had support of others, were mentored by others and acted together with others. 

5. Offer the best of You

Many people I work with think that they don’t have a lot to offer others. They are wrong. Cake bakers can really bring a group together, those with time can letterbox flyers to the neighbours, those with a large living room can host a meeting and the tech savvy can help organise everyone’s diaries. Everyone has skills they can offer a group. 

But going beyond skills, the best of you is being in your element. Finding your element should be a fairly important focus in life anyway. But in sustainability and change its crucial. You need to bring the best of you to the table. 

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Educator Sir Ken Robinson wrote the book about finding your Element, i.e. finding the link between what you love and what you are good at. He says this changes everything in your life. So when I am (often) asked by young people what they should study to help build a sustainable future I tell them to find their element. A sustainable world requires accountants, politicians, builders, teachers, nurses, business owners, workers and everyone else to help create it. 

Jane Goodall found hers at a young age and has stuck with it with the support of her mum and her mentors all the way past eighty years of age. Her book Reasons for Hope, clearly shows that she has spent her life in her element. In one story, she relates how David Greybeard the chimpanzee first permitted her to approach him:

Forty years later it is as vivid as the day it first occurred. It was just he and I in the quiet jungle by a stream. We looked at each other. David had taught me that as long as I looked into his eyes without arrogance, he did not mind. I picked up a ripe, red fruit from the ground and extended it to him. He reached out, took the fruit, dropped that but kept hold of my hand. To this day I remember the soft pressure of his fingers. I felt a bridging of the two worlds, human and animal. I felt like we shared a language of our ancient common ancestors. I felt a sense of calm, a sense of this as why I was put into this world.
— Jane Goodall
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Cathy Freeman had a different spin on finding her element. When asked about the pressure of running at the Sydney Olympics she said,

I think it comes back to the fact that I loved running. I loved it so wholeheartedly and so purely that it helped me transcend that pressure. I didn’t feel in my mind that I had a lot to cope with because I was in a euphoric space every time I ran.
— Cathy Freeman
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In my leadership work, I ask workshop participants to have a good think about what they love doing and what they are good at. If we can support people who want to lead environmental change to make the link between those two things, then world will have powerful allies.

In next week’s blog we leave the self behind and go deep into community, connection and the others. We learn just how connected to others we are and how much we influence and are influenced by others. We’ll learn from a legendary Australian sociologist, a Canadian biologist, an American network scientist, a zen buddhist philosopher and my favourite British author …

Leadership Part 2 - Tomorrow’s Leadership Skills

From the Camp Fire to the Kitchen Table: a six part blog series on leadership and change practice. 

In part one of the From the Camp Fire to the Kitchen Table blog series, we looked at where leadership began: around the campfire. We compared the campfire model to many current leadership models that are about self promotion, individualism, transmitting information and the short term.  In part two, we will look at the skills the leaders of tomorrow will need. 

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In 2013, social scientist John Gerzema asked 64,000 people in 13 countries to identify the qualities they want in their leaders. What they found is that we want tomorrow’s leaders to be Flexible, Selfless and Ready to Collaborate. This is far closer to the campfire vision of leadership than that of the Charlton Heston image in part one: the mostly old, mostly white, mostly male standing on a hill telling everyone else what to do.  

A flexible leader is an action researcher, who constantly improves processes and adjusts goals on the run. When you are flexible, you are open to new ideas. You’re open to changing the process and the expected outcomes in order to achieve change. A flexible leader recognises strengths in others and goes with them. A flexible leader responds to change like a jazz musician.

A selfless leader leaves their own ego at the door and lifts up others around them. A beautiful quote that is attributed to Anonymous (as an aside, remember that Virginia Woolf said, “For most of history, anonymous was a woman”) says, “I walked with you and then I watched you dance.” Imagine your joy as a leader to walk side by side with someone as they learn and grow and then being able to watch them flourish.  Anatole France put it another way: 

Do not try to satisfy your vanity by teaching a great many things. Awaken people’s curiosity. It is enough to open minds; do not overload them. Put there just a spark. If there is some good inflammable stuff, it will catch fire.
— Anatole France

Have you met a leader who is ready to collaborate? One who, instead of lecturing from the stage, is ready to sit in a circle with the others? To recognise the strengths of others and to help create a shared vision or plan? One with sleeves rolled up ready to lift the wheelbarrow and plant the garden together? One who is ready to share credit? One who understands what makes people tick? A collaborative leader is a Guide Beside, not a Sage on Stage.  

I heard a story during the recent ten year anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires. The storyteller was talking about how, in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the word “resilience” was being bandied about far too much and people were sitting in far too many meetings. After a few days, a local came forward and suggested that instead of talking, they should all do something together. So, the locals came together and began building a memorial garden. As they worked together, they talked and remembered and worked through many of the things they needed to talk about.  The power of collaborating on tangible things cannot be underestimated. 

I have spent my whole working life in ecological sustainability and culture change. Over the years, many people from communities, businesses and local governments have approached me with great doubt about their ability to make change because they don’t think they have enough understanding of science, change practice, leadership and sustainability. They worry that they are under qualified and that they need to go and study it all before doing anything about it. My response to this concern is simple (here is the Ian McBurney PhD in leadership): The skills required to make change are inbuilt in every human and are as follows: 

  1. Be Curious: Always ask Why? How? What? When? Who? What if? If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Take the time to think and wonder. A curious mind is always on the look out for new learning and never looks at a situation with a closed mind. As John Dewey put it: “The curious mind is constantly alert and exploring, seeking material for thought, as a vigorous and healthy body is on the qui vive for nutriment. Eagerness for experience, for new and varied contacts, is found where wonder is found.” 

  2. Be Creative: Find new ways, new paths, new ideas, new possibilities, new imaginings. As I said at the beginning of Part 1 of this blog series: Our world has reached the tipping point. Nature is breaking. The economy is breaking. Society is breaking. Politics is breaking. Old stories and myths about how society works have broken. All of the answers will not be found by looking backwards. 

  3. Be Connected: With people, with neighbours, with friends, with community and with nature. Conversations are the bedrock of culture. Change only comes about when we’re with the other people. And remember that we are connected to nature. We are intricately connected to and utterly depended on every living system. As Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry says, “Nature is our greatest teacher because she has already solved the problems we are working on.” Connecting with others and nature will create better change.

  4. Be Confucius: Confucius said, “Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.” Find the sweet spot between what you love and what you’re good at: what Ken Robinson calls your Element. Make a difference there. We need poets and engineers and teachers and lawyers and more working on a positive future. What skills can you offer?

Artwork by Sharyn Madder

Artwork by Sharyn Madder

I always back this up with a further piece of advice: The journey to a regenerative future is not rocket science, it’s a three year old. A three year old is always asking, “Why?” A three year old is always digging for more knowledge. A three year old playfully tries and tries and tries until they learn how to do something. A three year old wants the same book read again and again and again until they fully understand. A three year old will climb up high and jump off and trust that they will land safely. If a door is left open, a three year old will bolt outside and explore. A three year old will take great joy in stopping to celebrate with a biscuit. A three year old will make mistakes, and then go back to try again. And when a three year old is exhausted they go and rest in a  beanbag. And if they don’t rest, they will have a tantrum. A three year old loves people and nature so deeply and so naturally it sometimes hurts to watch it. We adults could take much wisdom from a three year old. All of these things are crucial leading change. 

We grown ups in the Western world are far too focused on outcomes and box ticking and reporting. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” We need to focus instead on being curious, creative, connected, Confucius leaders of change.

A final word on tomorrow’s leaders, before next week’s blog looks at Leadership and the Self. People’s feelings are really important when it comes to change. If it ‘feels good’, people are much more likely to be involved in change. My mentor and teacher, the late Frank Ryan - founder of Vox Bandicoot, was always speaking about the value of feelings and about allowing ourselves and others to feel. This is risky. Frank said that as leaders we must take risks. What he meant is that we must step outside systems and expectations and make ourselves vulnerable. By making ourselves vulnerable, we appeal to people’s humanity and reach out to their values and their hearts. It’s risky to use words like love, heart and delight to a room of people. It takes guts to use humour, passion, fun, music, dance and social interaction in a gathering. It takes practice to develop meaningful presentation techniques. These things require guts and energy. But the results are always more powerful. As Frank used to say, “if we have fun saving the world, the world will be saved.” 

So tomorrow’s leaders will be flexible, selfless and ready to collaborate. They will be curious, creative, connected and passionate. They will practice the deep wisdom of three year olds and will make sure that everyone around them is having fun on the journey.

In next week’s blog, part 3 - Leadership and the Self, I’ll be looking at what makes us as individuals become better leaders. There will be wisdom from Brene Brown, Malala Yousafzai, Cathy Freeman, Ken Robinson, Lao Tzu and David Greybeard the Chimpanzee. But don’t think I’m going to focus for long on the self! We belong with the others and that will be part 4.

Leadership Part 1: Where Leadership Began: The Campfire

From the Camp Fire to the Kitchen Table: a six part blog series on leadership and change practice.

Our world has reached the tipping point. Nature is breaking. The economy is breaking. Society is breaking. Politics is breaking. Old stories and myths about how society works have broken. All of the answers will not be found by looking backwards..

This six part blog series on my approach to leadership and change has been written for people who want to work together to support the change needed to restore nature and enable all people to thrive. It is for people who want to change the world around them. People who want to change it for the better, for all of us. It is derived from a Leadership and Change Practice course that I have been delivering around Australia and in New Zealand for over a decade and draws on community development theory, environmental education principles, neuroscience, sociology, biology, network science, anthropology and the wisdom and teaching of the late Francis Ryan of Vox Bandicoot - my major influence. 

The blog series tells a leadership journey in the following six parts:

Part 1 - Where Leadership Began: the Campfire

Part 2 - Tomorrow’s Leadership Skills

Part 3 - Leadership and the Self

Part 4 - Leadership and the Others

Part 5 - Leadership and Influence 

Part 6 - Leadership at the Kitchen Table

If you want to learn how to create meaningful, lasting change in the world around you, join us around the campfire …

Part 1 - Where leadership began: the Campfire

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Picture yourself sitting under the stars with a group of friends around a campfire. The smokey smell, the occasional crackling sounds and the red sparks that shoot up with the smoke and disappear. There’s usually a drink in hand and lots of stories, laughter, a snatch of song, group and one on one conversations, eye contact around the circle and moments of introspection where your eyes linger on a white hot part of the fire through a gap in the burning

For most of human history, our values, our beliefs and the way we lived our lives were shaped around a campfire. There is a richly human part of all of us that longs for this experience. Many people recreate the experience as teenagers and as adults in the backyard. A campfire is a place of belonging, stories, song, dance, laughter, togetherness and deep conversations about life, the universe and everything with trusted others. Shane Howard’s evocative song Tarerer describes ancient Aboriginal ritual:

Make the ashes 

Make the fire

Make it burn bright

Light up all the dancers

Light the darkness

Light up the night

And we’ll sing to the mother of creation till sunrise

Learning as we go 

From the stories of the old and the wise

~ Singer songwriter Shane Howard, Tarerer

As a white Australian, I can only imagine what it is like to experience a process of learning and growth based on 60,000 years of connection to place and culture. As indigenous leader Dr Mary Graham describes it, this participatory, arts centred process enabled clans to ensure that each child reached their fullest potential in their community. People had time to think and watch and learn and teach and grow. Individuals were taught when they were deemed ready. Relationships between clans were strengthened. Trade routes were established and maintained. Disputes were settled. Agricultural methods refined. The climate monitored. Housing practiced improved. Biodiversity protected. And a belief system maintained that had Country and community at it’s centre.  This was true leadership and change practice with a deep purpose: Individual growth and development within the context of place, belonging, community and Country. 

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Whilst Aboriginal Australia was perfecting this decentralised leadership practice over 60,000 years of continued settlement, Europe went the other way. Centralised towns, centralised leadership, centralised religions, centralised trade, centralised economies and centralised wealth led to what I have termed the Charlton Heston Leadership Model. This is best represented by this iconic photo of Charlton as Hollywood Moses (I have nothing against Moses. Never met him. I’m interested in what the image portrays). The mostly white, mostly old, mostly male solo hero leader standing on a hill telling everyone else what to do leadership model. This leadership model led to a lot of really interesting archeology, from war and boom and bust, oligarchies and collapsed civilisations. 

The big question is how this self promoting egotistical leadership model has lasted all the way into the 21st century when it clearly doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for the environment. It doesn’t work for women. It doesn’t work for children. It doesn’t work for people of colour. It doesn’t work for LGBTQI people. It doesn’t work for the poor. It doesn’t work for the working class. Where it does work is that is centralises wealth and political power for the few for the short term. 

And yet most leadership courses I have seen are based on this model. Their brochures claim that, “You can become known as the leader you want to be!”

The problem with most leadership courses is that they:

  • bring random groups of people together in a central place rather than having a program grounded in local communities

  • are finished before any real change can occur

  • are about transmitting information rather than creating understanding

  • focus on self promotion rather than achieving purpose

  • aim to achieve measurable short term outcomes rather focusing on the process of change

  • are focused on creating prestigious leaders rather than human scale leaders

More on these failures in future parts.

There is another way to develop leadership. It is grounded in people and place and it is much more effective and fun. It involves a deep-dive into who we really are and what makes us tick. 

Next week I will publish Part 2 of this six part blog series: Tomorrow’s Leadership Skills which features the wisdom of three year olds and some advice for those who think they need a PhD in leadership before they begin leading. See you then!

Dear Alexander (a letter to my new nephew about a future that people are worried about)

Dear Alexander,

Welcome to a beautiful world, my love. A world of flowers and winds and rainbows and mountain views. A world of laughter and connection and cuddles. A world of birds and wind blown leaves, of waves and the moon. 


You live in a world that is so connected and precious and right now you are the embodiment of that world. You were born of millions of generations of DNA and built of exploding star dust in the unimaginable past. Even at your young age you create connection as your eyes search for ours and they shine when they meet another’s and you speak to us and smile. You were born to connect with others. You make uncles tear up, grandparents melt on the floor, neighbours goo and gaa and you doubled the size of your parents hearts whilst tearing away their sleep and their separate selves. You were born needing and wanting human connection. Throughout your life your mental and physical health will influence the health of hundreds of other people around you and theirs will influence you. Having strong connections in your community will add ten years to your lifespan. Your brain will only fully develop with the love and nurturing of your family and community. And you were born and you made an interconnected and interdependent family and community. You made us all family again. 

But you are more than connected to family. You are connected to the earth. 

Every time you breathe out today, that air is shared with the breath of all living things and mixes with all of the air on earth so that when you breathe in next year, at least ten atoms from that breath will have come from your breath today. Each breath you take contains atoms of the breath of your great grandmothers and your distant cave dwelling ancestors too. Each breath you take has come through the leaves of trees and the grasslands and the oceans and beetles and the ice caps and the dinosaurs and the bandicoots. Your breath connects you to the earth and makes you one with the earth. You are the air, Alex, and the air is you. 

You are also the soil. The structure of every cell in your body comes from the food you eat, which comes from the soil. Your body is formed from the thin layer of living soil that surrounds the earth. A layer born of millennia of living and dying lifeforms. 

And you are the water. Your body is mostly water by weight. That water has been cycling the earth for eons, traveling through every plant and animal that has ever lived and flowed down waterfalls and glaciers and through underground caves. 

So you are the air, soil and water. And that is all we can see from space when we look at those beautiful images of the earth. All living things need clean air, water and soil. 

But your connection to this place goes even deeper, Alex. 

Your body contains a hundred trillion cells. Ninety percent of those are fungi, microorganisms and bacteria. You are a thriving community of living things. As you lie back and contemplate this world you have been born into, as your brain expands and forms new links and grows at an extraordinary pace, as every second passes there are a septillion different cellular events taking place in your body. This is a number greater than the number of stars, planets and asteroids in the known universe. The atoms in your body formed in exploding stars billions of light years ago. You are the universe. A map of the connections in your brain has the same structure and shape as a map of the stars and galaxies in the universe.

And the energy that runs your body comes from the sun, positioned at the perfect distance to warm our world and to enable photosynthesis, the stored energy in our food. The earth and the sun are in a perfect dance of tilt and orbit to enable the seasons and cycles of the earth that we rely on.

You are literally made of stardust, air, water, soil and sunlight, Alex. You are made of the earth, you belong on and in the earth. You and this world are inseparable. Welcome home. For home it is. Our only home. Does this not make both you and the earth sacred?
But you are born into civilisational times, Alex. Just as we have come to know how precious our earth is, we have come to a point where we may lose all we have. Between now and 2100 we stand or fall together. That is your lifespan. In your lifetime human kind will either come to treat all of life as sacred and connected and interdependent or we will turn the final page on our chance to exist over the long term. 

You are not born into a world changing from bronze to iron, from horse to car or landline to smart phone. These were social changes bought about by new learning and technology. 

This time it's a global liveable climate, it’s more plastic than fish, it’s extinction rates thousands of times the natural rate, it’s seventy percent of all wildlife gone already since 1970, it’s economic inequality of immense scale, it's a global economy built on selling more boxed landfill, it’s rivers not running to the sea, it’s toxins in our bodies, diminishing resources and diminishing natural places. 

Either we stabilise the climate in your lifetime or the planet is uninhabitable. Either we reverse species extinction and the loss of nature in your lifetime or the planet will not sustain life. Either we create and build a society that looks after all people or society will break and look after no-one. 

And yet here you are, Alex. And you’re perfect. And your parents are worried. None of our predicament is your fault and almost none of it should be your responsibility to fix. 

But they say that the darkest hour is right before the dawn.  We are in the middle of what Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning. The way I see it, there are now two world views and both are operating in parallel. 

The Age of Me.

The Age of We. 

The Age of Me is over. This is the individualistic, top down, centralised power, patriarchal, competition based, growth fetishising, neoliberal world view that has held sway for 40 years. That world view is broken and no longer makes any sense. Old stories held dear are dying and that's why the big wide world seems mad. Politics is mad. The media is mad. The economy is mad. Jobs are disappearing. Growth is stagnating. Ideological trenches are being dug. The post truth world has arrived. “Coal is good for humanity and should be subsidised. Climate change is crap. Wealth trickles down.” These patent untruths are being screamed from the parapets of power, louder and louder, but by fewer and fewer leaders from madder and more extreme political factions and media outlets. As Yuval Harari says in Sapiens, when an old worldview is finished, there is a time of great doubt, when old stories and myths are clung to and they hang on like grim death, funded by old economy wealth as the world changes around them. 

The Age of We is well underway. It fits this world. It understands connection and collaboration. It is being built from the atom up like the air and the water and the soil and like your body and the structure of the universe. Great change is afoot. And I want to tell you Alex that never in human history have so many people come together and worked so hard for change. Paul Hawken calls this movement Blessed Unrest. It is everywhere. It is community gardens, it is community owned solar parks, it is urban food forests, green buildings, food coops, car sharing, bike sharing, bee keeping, repair cafes, community wind farms, regenerative agriculture, walkability planning, native gardening, cooperatives and farmers markets. It is bike paths, it is bush kindergartens and children and nature clubs and frog ponds and local currencies. 

These new stories are being written at breakneck speed and they haven’t quite yet taken hold in our collective imagination. When they do,they will infuse business and politics and communities everywhere. The world has always been thus. Change is constant. 

As the age of Me slips into irrelevance and decay, the age of We rises and grows stronger. It is almost ready to fly. You will live this journey Alex. You will see the last piece of coal burned. You will see the last drop of petrol combusted. You will see the waterways return and nature prioritized in and out of our cities, the green building revolution and the relocalized economies and the world powered by free wind and sun. You will live through the end of personal ownership of stuff. You will live to hear prime ministers speak of the benefits of a post growth economy. You will see a universal basic income rolled out so that no one is left behind and everyone has a chance to thrive. You will bear witness to the birth of a new politics that makes sense and helps us thrive. 

You will thrive in the great turning. The movement that learns to live on the earth as if we’re from the earth. In the words of Janine Benyus,  “I think we realise that it’s time to fit in here. It’s time to come home. It’s time to figure out how to function in a way that will allow us to stay here. When we get to the point where civilisation is functionally indistinguishable from the ecosystem that surrounds it, then will be a welcome species.

You were born into a beautiful, diverse and connected world, Alex. You were also born into a complex, impoverished and broken world. 

We will lose much on the journey. So much will be lost that it is almost too much to bear. It is likely that half of all living things will not make it through with us. It is likely that many coastal cities will disappear under the oceans. Much of the world may be uninhabitable. 

But the prize we have to gain is immeasurable. We will build a civilisation that survives to thrive in the long term. 

So breathe deep, Alex. As your great grandmother once said, always look for the silver lining. Paul Hawken says that this is the most exciting time to be alive in human history. We get to remake and redesign and renew everything in civilisation within a generation. 

My advice to you on your journey is to strive to live these four qualities every day: 

Be Connected: with people, with neighbours, with friends, with community, with nature. 

Be Curious: always ask why? How? What? When? Who? What if? 

Be Creative: find new ways, new paths, new ideas, new possibilities, new imaginings. 

Be Passionate. Find your element. Follow your dreams. Explore what you love. And make a difference there.

And Alex, make sure you fall in love with this world and the people in it. Be in it and live it and breathe it and drink of it and eat from it and do this together with loved ones. 

Have you sat with your mum and dad under a wattle tree in the spring whilst a cool breeze made the leaves dance, Alexander? 

Love, Uncle Ian

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