unwavering clarity


I first went to Marios back in the mid-eighties after I had read about their coffee winning a ‘best in Melbourne’ competition. Apart from extraordinarily good quality coffee, with such a plethora of cafes across the city it is hard to imagine how you can be different without being odd. Marios does it.

The crisp white table clothes give an air of fine dining, yet you can only pay by cash. The table attendees flamboit around, not unlike their Parisian counterparts. This morning a woman wears traditional black pants, white shirt and black waistcoat, a male attendee wears black waistcoat, black shirt and bright pink tie. Every now and again when I come here I forget and ask for a skinny flat white: ‘we don’t do skinny’ is the matter of fact almost condescending reply. Over the years, Marios has resisted any pressure to evolve, they are what they are, their product is strong and they stick with the formula.

One of the great privileges I have had has been serving as a director of another organisation that has done the same, largely due to its CEO who has held the reigns through 25 formative years. At his farewell last Friday evening the recurring refrain from the many engaging speeches was that Steve Bradbury (no not that Steve Bradbury) had never compromised on a matter of principle. His fierce commitments to transformation, empowerment, advocacy and relief (TEAR) have forged a deserved reputation as a highly respected and effective leader. Some people would describe Steve as unreasonable, which reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote, “All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”


One of the dimensions of Steve’s leadership, that I think has contributed to his effectiveness, has been his uncomplicated approach. In the field of international development, one could be excused for being distracted by the complexity. But Steve has been able to navigate a way through this via a clarity of outcomes and values that cut a determined path. Long before it became conventional wisdom, Steve believed that local communities in the developing world were the best ones to make decisions about what they need and how they should get it.

TEAR Australia’s constituency is predominantly church related. A number of years back, in order to connect with the growing number of TEAR supporters who were not involved in traditional church communities, Steve conceived of an idea to connect with them via the mainstream media. Originally educational in design, he created what is called ‘Arguably The World’s Most Useful Gift Catalogue.’ The idea was that instead of buying more ‘stuff’ for people who already had enough, you could give to a small development project in lieu, and give the recipient a card saying as much. The rest as they say is history, almost every other development agency has copied Steve’s idea and there are now opportunities to purchase goats, school education, vaccinations and any number of other development related ‘gifts’ all over the place.

Steve Bradbury leaves his job as CEO of TEAR Australia with a legacy that leaders dream of. This post is part of me reminding myself that foundational dimensions of this contribution have been clarity of purpose which creates simplicity. There is so much ‘noise’, thankyou Steve for being a beacon of integrity.

a migraine, bookshelf chronicles and leadership integrity

The streets were nearly empty this morning. Its a strange weekend in Melbourne this one, ahead of the first Tuesday in November when the nation stops to watch a horse race. The familiarity of Red Symonds and Andrew Denton being smart with each other on the radio was comforting as I was gee-ing up for this Monday sandwiched between off-days.

But by the time I reached Roslin, Ergo’s house in the city, my vision was blurring … its been a while since I’ve been afflicted with a migraine. I grabbed a banana and some medication for breakfast and settled into a lounge chair in our little library, turned the light off and closed my eyes waiting for my head to regain some normality.

Once I could leave my eyes open comfortably I started scanning the bookshelf in front of me. I perched on every single book and remembered. Each title / author reminded me of a season in life long-gone. Life can be chronicled in many ways, by music, with photos, maybe clothes, even gadgets. The deepest for me is books, or more precisely authors because for me reading a book is a conversation with the writer. Paul Hiebert, Walter Brueggemann, Tom Wright, Eugene Peterson were prominent virtual soul mates from very formative days.

My virtual soul mates come from a different world today, but I am grateful for the wisdom and prophetic voice of these sages. They remind me of who I am, of the story of which I am a part, what is important and what matters.

Business leaders are charged with important public functions, but we execute those functions as people. We are not soul-less, history-less servants of profit. Things do not always go to (business) plan, in fact they frequently do not. Last week the financial crisis hit us at Ergo with some contracts being pulled. Not surprising, but sooner than we might have anticipated.

It will strike us all. In an informal conversation recently with the MD of a major Australian company, I was inspired to hear the resilience and positivity with which he spoke, even though recent legislation and the economic crisis will king hit their revenue. But he spoke with confidence, knowing he had nothing in the past to shrink from and that he had the personal fortitude to lead with integrity. Character.

The point? In the uncertain economic times we face, it will serve us well to remember who we are as people. What are the values we hold dear? What are the character anchors that will hold us steady when the circumstances knock us around and render our business goals from twelve months ago void.

It will continue to serve me well to remind myself of who I am, my journey to this point, so that I can frame these times as they are, another opportunity to learn by leading with integrity.