This is the second part of an interview between storyteller and world traveller Kelly Irving and Sue Gregory, Global Leadership Foundation Fellow, leadership coach, facilitator, occupational therapist and energetic healer. In this interview, Sue explains her background and how she came to live in Alice Springs and working with nungkere, Frank Ansell. She also explores current ideas about spirituality and energy in business and her learnings from the indigenous. Sue will be leading a Global Leadership Foundation Leadership Experience this September along with Frank Ansell- details here.
You’re talking about “spirit” but you mentioned mindfulness before. That’s become quite a popular topic in the business world, work-life balance. A lot of what you’re talking about is about mindfulness, would you agree?
Yes, it is. Mindfulness is being very present and aware of everything that you do. Being aware of how you respond and how you react to others, and then really realising the impact you have on other people through your thoughts and your emotions. You influence the vibration of your own body through your thoughts and whether you like it or not, you do influence the resonance of other people. By being aware of that, when you are in that state, you do have a choice to change it. The work we do in retreats gives people greater skill in changing their state.
And how do you translate that into a business context? How does that help you be an effective leader?
Well the business leader is like the conscience of an organisation. The resonance of that leader cascades through the organisation, so if it’s one of anger and frustration or impatience or not listening to others then that vibration goes through the whole organisation. That’s what a toxic workplace is. What it means is that the wavelengths of energy are disjointed and there’s disharmony. Whereas if a leader is peaceful and has a calmness and kindness about them, then the organisation is more coherent, so there’s higher productivity, better relationships, more harmonious workplaces. I’ve seen that when people are more centered, they’re more grounded, less stressed in chaos, able to maintain an appreciation for others, themselves and to be more creative, more innovative and to call on their intuition to make decisions. They also see more widely. All of this has also been my own experience through this work.
How does looking at the indigenous culture and their practices help facilitate this? How is their approach different to ours? What can we learn from them?
It is my experience that indigenous people read your heart, they read your intent. Learning from them has given me different ways of approaching how I facilitate and coach. Our dominant culture way is different to the indigenous way. It’s almost like yin and yang. The dominant culture way is when we want to do something, we go out and do it, we set goals, timeframes and KPIs. Where as the indigenous way is more about holding an intent, letting it go, becoming much more aware of the whole environment and then being consciously aware of daily actions and events that contribute towards that intent. The strategic thinking is very lateral. An example would be when we have issues in our town with vandalism. The dominant view was to put up a fence. They then asked the indigenous people who said, ‘well, if you just shine a bright light in there, people won’t come in that area.’ There’s a different way of thinking that is very creative and is perhaps gentler, and doesn’t require the same intensity of effort, yet it gets the same result. A bit like right brain, left brain thinking.
Why is it important that you know yourself really well in order to be an effective leader? (How does taking this introspective look at yourself transform the way you lead?)
Well, we’re all interconnected…we’re not apart, we’re not separate individuals. What I do or think has an impact on other people whether I like it or not and whether I’m aware of it or not. So if I’m more conscious about what I do, I can make choices about my behaviour and whether it’s destructive to a relationship or a direction.
Do people come to the workshops knowing they need to change something about themselves or is it a revelation to them?
At one particular retreat, there was a fellow who had a background in IT and he got totally frustrated by the flies. Frank said to him “have you thought of thinking kindly about the flies instead of thinking of them as pests?” Interestingly, from then on the flies started sitting on his hat, instead of his face! How that related to work became the topic of conversation for the rest of the retreat too!
On another retreat, one person was getting on everyone’s nerves. I said to Frank, “do you think we need to talk to him?” He said, “you know every thing’s happening just the way it’s meant to happen, and the learning is there for those other people. Just let it be. See what happens. It was a major thing for several people at the end of the retreat. They said they learned to deal with something that was really frustrating.
That’s the difference between indigenous ways and dominant culture ways of doing things. If we’re not happy with something then we do everything we can to try and change it. Whereas the indigenous way – and I guess fits with the way families all live together and tribes fit together out in the desert and you’re just stuck with each other – is this incredible resilience, patience and the ability to accept things as they are, and to be able to just be with it. Working two ways is a constant learning. I felt that I had to do something to help people be happy, where he’s saying let them sit with their frustration.
In the retreat you learn to deal with the unexpected. To come face to face with your expectations – because what you think is going to happen doesn’t happen. So constantly in the retreat you’re brought up against the unknown. Whether it’s the heat, the flies, where we’re going next, what we’re doing next – it helps people surrender their agenda of how they think things should be. Strip it back to just being yourself.
This isn’t any normal retreat or workshop you’ve ever been on before. It is unique in that there is no agenda but everything happens. You just don’t know what’s going to happen until it does.
In our dominant culture ways, we want to get something. Whereas in the indigenous way, if you slow down and become still it will come to you. That’s the wisdom you gain from this type of retreat. The wisdom of patience, and waiting and you see the richness of what’s there now. You move into abundance thinking instead of scarcity.
You’ve talked a little bit about the differences between the non-indigenous ways of approaching things and indigenous ways of approaching things. How do they complement each other? (Think about how you and Frank work together too)
That’s part of the charm of this retreat and what makes it unique. Frank and I have been working with each other for 7 years, so Frank will often talk about things from the indigenous perspective then people might come to me afterwards and ask me for a translation of what he meant or my experience of the learning.
Sometimes Frank and I do healings together. Sometimes people will have healings with Frank and then ask for coaching with me to talk about their direction in their career or goals in their life or they just want to talk to a woman as opposed to a man. The two cultures working together is a role model for others, as well as a constant source of learning for us both!
What kind of things will you learn on the Eastern Arrernte Leadership Experience and how could you apply it in a business setting?
You will see that the impact you make in your work life does in fact impact the planet … drawing on knowledge from people who survive in the desert successfully, their resilience teaches us. They’ve had to deal with drought, being hungry, not being able to find water, extreme heat, there are a lot of metaphors there for business. Drought – when there’s not a lot of money. Extreme heat – when there’s heat on around making decisions or the team is fired up and there’s a lot of chaos. How did the indigenous people do it back then? What can we learn from them? How can we more deeply connect to place and feeling of being home in our own selves? How can we accept diversity and work collaboratively, remembering that spirit does not have a colour? How can we learn more about generosity, patience and sense of being with what is. Come along and find out.
What does the experience entail?
There is no set itinerary. We spend time beside waterholes, special places, and are involved in smoking ceremonies and you will receive indigenous healing and energetic healing.
How has this changed your approach to your work? How would this change others?
My confidence has grown, I feel more grounded in my work, more powerful, more generous and have increased my compassion for others. Also my energy levels – I feel like I can do more. I also have got clear on my own business goals and this has had an impact on me in terms of triple bottom line. I feel pride in the ethicalness of giving back and valuing our first nations people. I don’t know what the changes will be for others but people tell us something is profoundly different for them. It varies with each individual. Sometimes its being clearer on their direction, being more accepting of themselves, having a deep sense of being home within, or a letting go of an old pattern. You will know when it happens to you.