Finding the lion

Article by
Moana O’Neil

The benefit of leaning into vulnerability in order to build resilience.

I’m an amateur adventure racer. 

Yes, 18 months and five adventure races deep, I’m making a statement. I’ve added ‘amateur’ so you don’t automatically assume I’m a professional. Wishful thinking perhaps, but I’m all about transparency. 

It’s been a fascinating journey, one that develops with each event I compete in. To add to the complexity, I compete with a team. An amazing bunch of ladies, all equally as crazy, adventurous, and (just a little bit) competitive as myself.  

The events we do mean we spend lots of time together. Hours at a time (did I mention crazy?) running, mountain biking, kayaking, or rafting. It’s hard work. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. When you’re seven hours in, facing two more, there’s a mountain in front of you, and you take a wrong turn … tensions can run high.

While we’re not doing an adventure race at Redvespa, it sometimes feels like it. We have an ‘always on transformation’ approach. Never keen to rest on our laurels, as 2018 wound up, we were facing a year ahead filled with lofty goals and challenges. To set ourselves up for success, we needed to add to our team. New functions working with existing teams. New team members doing things others used to. Existing team members letting go of existing functions.

Inevitably, when you add even one new person to a team, it becomes a whole new team. We’d added several people. Change and risk abounds! Now, Redvespa are facilitators of change. This very website states “As consultants in business analysis, we have the experience and empathy it takes to understand where you’re coming from, where you need to go, and how to take everyone on the journey there.” We knew we needed to live our values.

We also knew that doubling our Sales and People & Culture teams was necessary. While we work hard to recruit for a culture fit, ensuring diversity of thought and opinion was a core tenet for us as we sought to grow. Diversity of thought can, if you’re open to it, lead to those awesome conversations that challenge thought, drive innovation, allow imagination. Sometimes, these conversations can also be confronting, and challenging, and scary, and hugely rewarding!

So we posed the question, 

“In a time of great change - what are our coping mechanisms when times are tough? How do we have hard conversations? How do we ensure there's no undercurrents? How can we ensure we are all feeling safe, seen, heard, and respected.”

Like many others, I’d just read ‘Dare to Lead’ by Brené Brown. One element that resonated with me was the statement ’Rumble with Vulnerability’, described as, 

‘A rumble is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and, as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches, to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.’

Just take a minute to reflect and let that sink in … it’s quite confronting language for a business environment. Yet, we knew that, if we were to reach our full potential, we would need to challenge ourselves to take this approach. We also felt confident that our culture could, and should, sustain this level of conversation. Besides, I did say I liked adventure!

After taking the team through a scene-setting exercise, we set out to find our own version of ‘Rumble with Vulnerability.’ We were looking for a common language that we all contributed to, connected with, and agreed upon. We ended up with ‘Find the Lion’. It linked nicely to Your Kingdom’s lion symbol, representing will power and resilience, so it already tied in to Redvespa’s values.  

It’s a statement that is being used in a range of conversations - ones where opinions and styles differ. Ones where, sometimes, you need to take a break and circle back when necessary. Slowly, slowly, we’re seeing there’s an impact. I guess it’s not an area you’d expect or hope to see great or exponential activity. So, what’s so great?  

The process we went through to get to the statement was great. Engaging with our team on this was a privilege. That fact that this conversation could even be had, and better yet, heard. The willingness to trust, even though it was unknown territory and, for some, perhaps quite intimidating or confronting to think that we may need this language at all. But they all engaged with an open mind and courage. I feel great pride that we are an organisation that could have that level of conversation.

I reflected on this in one of my recent races. Remember the tensions were high? My courageous and tenacious team and I were close to the end. As it turns out, after seven hours on our feet, we were tired. Our wires got crossed and things got fraught. We took a wrong turn, adding a painful hill climb that we just didn’t need.

Oh, and I made that decision to make that wrong turn.

I needed to take a minute. I had to admit that my legs were blown, and I wasn’t in the right state of mind to make a call on which direction to take. Not an easy thing to do for a stubborn person like me, I can tell you.  

So, I found the lion and I leaned into vulnerability. I leaned on my team and gave them the reigns. Turns out it worked - no more wrong turns. Still exhausted, in one piece, and importantly, in one team. Post-race reflections are always interesting, and you realise that we all have our moments, we all play our roles. In this race, mine was strength and support at the beginning for our team, which enabled them to support me when I needed it at the end.  

E tu kahikatea, hei wakapae ururoa
Awhi mai, awhi atu, tatou, tatou e.
We all help one another and together we will be strong.

These experiences, adventure racing and at Redvespa, have laid a foundation of bedrock for our team. No matter how many races we complete, physical or metaphorical, it will always be hard. Knowing we can have hard conversations and feel safe, seen, heard, and respected gives us confidence and trust. 

We now know that, just as these conversations can be confronting, challenging, and scary, they can also be hugely rewarding.  

If we are all moving in the right direction, that is enough.

Roll on our next race!

Moana O'Neil is Redvespa's Chief Executive Officer and our most successful adventure racer. She thrives on collaboration, is big on communication, and will champion knowledge until the end of days.

You can find Moana at moana.o'

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