On Tuesday 10 July 2018, Justin Eales completed the final day of his Leading Teams High Performance Leadership program. Not a big fan of public speaking, Justin chose to write and then read the essay below to explain his experiences and learnings to his fellow group members. He has given us permission to replicate it here.

Reflections on the High Performance Leadership program

My name is Justin Eales.

I was born and bred in the small country town of Penshurst and have really never been able to leave. I was offered a position at Kelly’s immediately after finishing my VCE, and worked my way from the bottom to where I am now.

I am currently the General Sales Manager of both of the Kelly’s businesses in Penshurst and Dunkeld. Kelly’s is a business owned independently by a local bloke, Brendan Kelly, who started the business from scratch as a 20-year-old in 1988.

The business is a rural merchandise business that also sells and spreads fertiliser. We have a business that relies strongly on relationships and service, with a goal of having life-long, loyal customers. We strive to be the best in the area at what we do, and over my 15 years in the business I’ve seen it grow from one small shop on the main street with a shed out the back to the new, completely redeveloped, large building that exists today.

This along with multiple other stores and fertiliser trucks obviously correlates with the positive results in sales and profits over that time.

The beginning

I had some experience with Leading Teams as Simon Armstrong has run a couple of sessions with Kelly’s staff and I had realised that there are some very powerful skills to be taken away from the sessions.

I decided that, with my position within the business and also with my football, I’d derive great benefit from enhancing my skills in the fields of relationships and dealing with people.

The biggest trouble that I have with my teams, in both areas, is that no matter how dedicated or driven I am, or how much I want to try to improve the attitude within either team, I feel that getting buy-in from the other team members, and getting them to contribute or to pull the same way, is almost impossible.

So it was my goal to try and find better ways to communicate and understand, and then find the best possible ways to get the absolute best out of my teams.

I think the initially daunting bit about the program is that fact that you are in a room with complete strangers, and right from the very start you have to open up and give everyone a quick snap shot of your life so far, not really knowing how you will be perceived or what impact reliving those moments will have on you!

But the personal timeline that we did in the very first session was something that I feel was very powerful, a wonderful tool. In that one session, I got an immediate understanding of the people in the group, and also their life so far and a bit about how and why they got to where they are today.

This, for me, immediately made all of the walls come down and I realised that this group was open and understanding to anything.

The impact

The personal trademark exercise is one that has had an impact on me in a couple of ways.

Firstly, to go to around 10 different people within your life from a number of different areas (whether it be family, friends, work or sport colleagues) and ask for their feedback was something that really opened my eyes and was almost overwhelming.

Sure, there was the odd word that highlighted an area for improvement, which was what you were trying to identify, but what I didn’t expect, and the really pleasing part, was the huge amounts of positive and powerful words that people used to describe me; I was extremely satisfied that they saw me in that light.

To have the captain of my football team use three words like loyal, courageous and role model, and with those first two words coming up in many people’s feedback, was something that made me really proud.

In fact, there was such a pattern and common theme from the whole range of people I questioned that it really gave me an understanding of who I am and how I’m perceived.

The area for improvement that they identified, was one that I also saw within myself, and through talking about it within my group I was able to simplify that down into the point that I am not a very flexible person.

So now that is at the forefront of my mind when I am faced with a challenge, or just conversations in general, and I am really trying to change that for the better through listening to others, being considered, and not always having to do things my way.

This program has not only changed that way I act, it has also given me some tools to try and change the actions of others!

To be able to draw the iceberg diagram for a couple of staff members that haven’t got along so well, and also for a new member of staff that has been trying to fit in, really helped them understand that it’s the parts of them and their behaviours/personalities below the surface that are what clash first.

So trying to divulge a little more about their feelings and about their personal lives, I think has helped them understand each other a little more. Understanding more about what is going on with someone both inside and outside of work not only helps explain why a certain member may be a little below par at work, but it also opens conversations and gives some really good discussion points.

Another action that I took on was at footy, to run a separate compulsory training session on a Friday night with the senior team only, followed by a team meeting.

To sit down in a room with 25 footballers and tell them that we are here to have a genuine conversation about how we are going so far and that the floor is open for anyone to say their piece without having to feel like there will be a dispute, was something that I was a little nervous about.

But to my surprise, the whole room, aged between 16 – 34, embraced the occasion and for over an hour everyone had input and I think all, not only me, got some positive messages.

We won the next day, the training attendance the next Tuesday was the most there has ever been, the players seem to now be accountable for missing a session; I now have that meeting to refer to on a number of occasions when addressing the players. I’d say it was the first time that that club had ever had such a meeting.

And there was one simple but incredibly powerful thing that I took away from a session that solved a problem that we have had at our business for a long time.

We, as a team, came up with a group of agreed behaviours a few years ago that we have been trying to live by, but the trouble is that there are that many, in different formats, that no one, including myself or the owner can actually remember or recite them on the spot when asked.

If no one actually knows them, how can they live them?

I am a huge believer in simplicity, so when Gavin Mahony mentioned the word TAP, which stands for Teamwork, Attitude, Performance, he immediately solved the problem! Three simple words that describe exactly what we are after. I took TAP back to work the very next day and started mentioning it and it was immediately embraced. The team not only remember it, but we also have an actual tap that we hand around every time someone does something over and above or gets a positive result that deserves rewarding.

Justin (left) with the tap

It’s not only my attitude that is changing towards the team, but I think it’s also the team that are slowly becoming closer and starting to work as one, instead of as separate groups within the

In conclusion

This Leading Teams High Performance Leadership program has not only had a huge impact on me as a leader and team member, but hopefully has and will also in my team/s.

The skills and tools that I have learnt and taken away from the sessions are simple, but extremely powerful in getting to the inside of personalities and behaviours within people. As I just explained, I have already had moments where I have relied on and expressed a number of tools that I have taken away from the sessions which I feel have made me a much better leader.

I have of course got a long way to go and lot more work to do in trying to influence others and to get the team functioning as well as possible, but I think that I now have some fantastic skills to attack it with.

At the beginning I wasn’t sure what to expect from the group within this sessions, or what type of people would be in the group. I always say when recruiting players that I have a “no d*ckhead” rule within my team. I can honestly say that within this team, and this is rare when you pull a dozen different people together from all different backgrounds, that not only are there no d*ckheads, but it is an absolute fantastic bunch of the most genuine people I’ve ever come across.

To be able to express anything, no matter how personal, and to have 100% support from every single person within a group I think is rare. The team members, as well as Simon and Gavin, have not only made these sessions enjoyable and productive, but have also made these trips to Melbourne something that I really look forward to.

I thank you all for your time and what you have done to help me participate and learn more about myself in this course, and hope that you have all had the same positive experiences that I have.

Read more about the High Performance Leadership program.


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