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7 Questions on Leadership with Sheri Greenwell

Name: Sheri Greenwell

Title: Versatologist / Leadership & Risk Management Specialist Consultant

Organisation: EnQuantum Group International (NZ) / Employment Relations Specialists

Leadership, Organisational Development and Risk Management Specialist with Employment Relations Specialists (ERS), a consultancy providing tailored ER and HR solutions to clients across various industries. This collaborative work is a subset of my work as Versatologist and Principal Consultant with my company, EnQuantum Group International (NZ) Ltd.

I have more than 20 years experience in designing, developing, delivering, and evaluating bespoke training, facilitation, coaching, and consulting services that address a broad range of organisational needs and challenges, from employment relations, disciplinary investigations, dispute resolutions, to change management, crisis management, risk management, health, safety and wellbeing, and compliance management optimisation (ie minimise wasteful bureaucracy and increase engagement).

I am the world's first Versatologist, a change and resilience specialist, Coordinator, Facilitator, Business Partner L&D Org / Leadership Dev, Culture, Capability via EnQuantum Group International NZ Ltd (formerly SHERIS), a company that helps people and organisations achieve key objectives through innovation, simplicity, integration, alignment, sense-making, and communication.

I leverage the powers of versatility, adaptability, resilience, and emotional intelligence to empower leaders and teams to create a positive culture and a shared vision for the future of work.

My qualifications are diverse, as my career experience would suggest - BSc Chemistry/Business (completed concurrent with full-time employment), Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, AVI and Spiral Dynamics Values, certified in Accelerated Learning and Adult Education, ADDIE Instructional Design, Assessment of Learning Outcomes, NEBOSH IGC (with distinction), ICAM Lead Investigator, Lead Assessor of Management Systems, Previously named Awarded Rotarian of the Year. I am passionate about promoting and supporting the development of people and potential.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Sheri's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Getting the team aligned and working together toward a shared vision - getting everyone to clearly see the same vision of what we are aiming to accomplish, to see the possibilities and to see their own opportunity to participate and contribute.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I've always stepped up to take responsibility, and I aim to achieve the best results for the entire team, so my approach has always been to "read the room", identify what is needed and who is best to do what is needed. I will happily support another person who wants to lead and is doing the job, but if things are not happening, I don't allow it to fall over and will step into the gap.

One of the biggest examples of this was when I went to work for a chemical company that was about to start producing a particular agricultural chemical. Six weeks after I started in my role as Quality, Safety, Environmental and Regulatory Manager - I used to tell people I was actually just "Selley's No More Gaps" - a competitor circulated a hoax Greenpeace flyer aiming to sabotage the air discharge consent process that was required in order to be permitted to produce this product. We had quite a parade of visitors coming to the site for crisis meetings - lawyers, regulatory agency personnel, etc. Since there was no management book example to refer to, we had to figure everything out for ourselves as we went. The Managing Director, Operations Manager and I had to do some media training, in case we encountered reporters.

I knew the least, being the newest member of the team, but somehow I came across best on video, so I kept being pulled into communications meetings (where our visitors all too often assumed I was the Executive Assistant rather than one of the Senior Managers!). This episode also happened at the time when the movie "Erin Brokovitch" was playing at the cinemas, so public awareness around chemicals was heightened and sentiment was particularly negative around chemicals (but of course none of them looked closely at what was sitting in their own laundry cupboard!).

Even though I had only been in the role a short time, I had already started building positive relationships with the regulatory officers I needed to work with, so they were positively disposed toward us. The competitor was particularly cunning, leveraging public concerns about chemicals (have you ever noticed that the word "chemicals" is usually only mentioned in the news with the word "toxic" in front of it?) and issuing letters and notices claiming to be from neighbours or former employees, but without any contact information, which meant the local newspaper couldn't publish any of them. This was a very complex and highly political process that is too involved to delve into in detail, but I will try to pull out the highlights.

The General Manager hired a private investigator, who was able to gather enough evidence to get a search warrant. That led to discovery of a LOT of evidence on the guy's computer, so he was arrested and charged with fraud. He was so angry at being caught and tried to find a way to cause trouble for the private investigator. A depositions hearing was set for the following February, approximately 6-8 months away.

In early January, when I arrived for work after the Christmas holidays, I was greeted by two city council compliance officers, who informed me that a neighbour at the back of the site had complained that his lawns and plants were dying off. We went over tto have a look, and it was clear that a herbicide had been spread over the lawn, evident by the clear edges. We knew it had been done deliberately in an attempt to make it look as though it had come out of our stack. The council guys told me, "We know it's not you, but we don't have any money to test." I went straight to the Managing Director to insist that we test the soil so we could know what we were dealing with and make good decisions about it.

He agreed to engage an agricultural chemicals specialist, who sampled around the section and identified that a specialist herbicide had been used - one that only two companies in New Zealand sold, one of which was the competitor! Meanwhile, it came to light that the owner of the house that had been vandalised with herbicide had previously had a boarder who had witnessed someone putting the fake Greenpeace flyers into the letterboxes back at the beginning of this saga and was going to be called as a witness.

The boarder had moved on, but the owner was frightened that he and his family were being targeted, so I acted as liaison on his behalf, including sharing information about the chemical we identified - it kills grass and other plants but isn't toxic to people. The depositions hearing was held; the competitor pleaded guilty and was discharged, but he went around and told everyone he had been found innocent! This sabotage had the desired effect of politically sensitising everyone about having a small chemical manufacturing facility in the area, so it became quite a political football, requiring us to deal with a lot of additional bureacracy. This experience provided an interesting opportunity to observe behaviours - it was clear that the regulatory people would have preferred to refuse permission and please their constituents, but any decision had to stand up to scrutiny against the actual legislation.

It seemed no one really wanted to make a decision. Our application for a Certificate of Compliance - the first hurdle - was deemed "too political" and was kicked up to the planning committee. They couldn't decide - even after asking for piles of additional documentation - and eventually sent the case to their lawyers, who had it for a month and couldn't give a definitive decision. So it came back to the planning committee, who asked for more and more documentation, until finally they approved it because they couldn't find a way to say no! The next step was the actual Air Discharge Consent, which had to be publicly notified to allow others to have their say. That was another circus. Eventually, when a neighbour submitted a late objection and we challenged the validity of being penalised because of the neighbour's procrastination, the Air Quality regulators threw up their hands and declared that they would have a hearing to decide. So I argued our case, along with the Operatoins Manager, and we were granted the consent for the remaining term of the site lease, which would give the company time to make other arrangements.

During this time, New Zealand was also in the process of enacting the Hazxardous Substanbces and New Organisms Act, which brought in much more structured requirements for managing chemicals, so I had to ensure all our products were formally registered before the deadline and ensure our management processes would comply with regulatory requirements. That brought a lot of resistance from the 10 Industry Managers who had previously had total freedom to import any substance they liked and push responsibilities for managing it onto the Operations Manager and me. I had to stand up to verbal harassment from people who viewed these requirements as me blocking their sales - I firmly countered that I was ensuring the company would remain in business. I had to stand up to the Managing Director t least once, refusing to bow to the pressure to sign a new product approval form that had been submitted in a last minute rush without properly confirming whether or not the product was legally existing in New Zealand (in other words, legal for us to import and sell it).

When the Managing Director queried why I hadn't signef it, I explained, and I told him he was welcome to sign it if he wanted to take responsibility, but I would not. He didn't sign it! Another challenge was also happening at the same time: during my first week on the job, I arrived at work one morning to be greeted by an auditor, who had come to carry out an audit for the company's ISO 9001 certification. No one had told me there was supposed to be an audit, and there were no managers on site! So I had an extensive conversation with the auditor instead. The company was very fortunate not to have its certification taken away at that point, given the obvious lack of commitment. So I went back to the rest of the management team and started asking questions about their ISO management system.

Like so many businesses, they essentially wanted to have the certificate in order to get business, but there was very little active engagement, and the minimal framework they had - developed by a so-called consultant in conjunction with the Technical Manager - mirrored the ISO standard, rather than reflecting the business. To be effective, the management system should serve the business and be shaped around its core processes, not the standard. As I repeatedly told them, "The auditor doesn't live here: YOU do." I decided to conduct a survey (I have previously done market research as well as NLP, so I put together a very purposeful survey), in order to provide the senior management team some insights into their own organisation, which had grown from a family-like 20 people to a rather awkward size of 45 people, which requires a different approach to managing. I got feedback from every single employee, either individually or as a group, then collated all the feedback into a report for the senior management team.

They were quite surprised to see the disparity in how employees perceived the organisation - often 180 degrees apart! I recommended starting with Vision and Values and the "identity" and purpose of the organisation, then build the management system around that. Initially, the Managing Director and General Manager resisted doing the session on Vision and Values, but eventually we got them to the boardroom for a workshop. The stunning result was that we discovered that the Managing Director and General Manager did not share the same vision!! This was the beginning of a process that led to the General Manager deciding that he was going to leave and create his own business, which the Managing Director experienced as an emotional betrayal.

I stepped in to manage the GM's leaving function to ensure it didn't get nasty - a lot of employees were also feeling betrayed on behalf of the Managing Director, who had been a kind of paternal "benevolent dictator" kind of figure as a 50% shareholder of the business. The following week, the Managing Director confronted the Operations Manager and Technical Manager, who promptly resigned and left.

The Industry Manager (marketing guy for the manufactured chemicals) sat on the fence for another month or two before he also resigned, and about a month after that the Technical Service guy. So several critical roles suddenly became vacant at the same time and had to be filled! The Managing Director grabbed a candidate for the Operations Manager role because of some specific experience in agricultural chemicals, but he was not a team player at all and caused a lot of disruption because he didn't communicate and just did his own thing. Fortunately by then the Managing Director was getting some executive coaching, and they recommended involving the rest of the senior management team in interviewing candidates for the other roles.

The others had no idea what they would need from a candidate; I identified some key personality traits and went back to my NLP tools to interview for those. I found the most effective thing was to get a person to talk about themselves, so I essentially facilitated the interview discussion (the others were all men with science backgrounds, so not the most conversational types anyway!).

One candidate of the three stood out, and when it came time to give feedback to the Managing Director, no one wanted to start, so I just shared what I had observed. Interestingly, all the others agreed with me, and then the Managing Director admitted he would have been swayed by the second candidate's MBA, but I could hear that the guy was just talking theory, not experience.

I later learned that he already knew the difficult Operations Manager and could work effectively with him, which was a huge bonus! There were many more factors challenging the business throughout this three year period (including having to change from a DOS-based to a Windows-based stock management system, involving products that could sometimes be both a raw material and a product for sale, and with a team that didn't handle change very well!), stepping into any gaps if there wasn't someone else who was placed to deal with it. Many times there were no "standard" references to guide me - I just had to show up, pay attention, and step up. I like to tell people I was "doing things I didn't know how to do yet". For mne, failure just wasn't an option, and if not me, then who?

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Because of the nature of my work, I would loosely structure my day with a list of things I plan to do, but I am constantly reassessing tasks and priorities, especially as unexpected and important events come up. This is particularly true during times of crisis - for example guiding the organisation through all of the unknowns of the COVID pandemic and keeping essential businesses operating safely and in compliance during lockdown restrictions.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

ASK - don't tell. I don't have to have all the answers, and in fact, there are a lot of people who have practical experience and can contribute to effective solutions.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Two books: The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken, and The World is Flat by Thomas L Friedman. The Ecology of Commerce significantly reshaped my thinking toward sustainability and minimising waste - I aim to avoid all forms of waste as much as possible, including wasting resources, wasting time, and wasting good will. I always aim for solutions to have at least 3 uses wherever possible - to integrate and optimise. The World Is Flat prompted me to look at business trends and how they shape the way we do business. There's a chapter in which Friedman explores the skills that will be required to navigate through the future and times of change and uncertainty. He wrote that the most important skills will be the ability to adapt, and the ability to learn - NOT any specific content! So I doubled down on my passion for learning, and I have stepped into many more challenging situations to navigate, to steady the ship and lead others through challenging times and conditions that we can't control - situations when the only thing we can actually control is our response to what happens.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Get in the habit of learning - be curious, stay open, explore widely, and use what you learn to do your own thinking.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

A number of years ago, there was a woman in my team who had a hearing impairment that was the source of some dysfunction with our team. She had been hired before I started in my role, and no one had realised at the time the extent of her hearing impairment. The supervisor had taken some measures to accommodate this woman, including providing a timer that would clip onto her lab coat so she would know when the test she was running was finished.

But even that she sometimes didn't hear, resulting in a burned test that had to be re-done. We were concerned about the fire risks as well as the loss of productivity. She also tried to take phone messages but took down a garbled version, and she started to have the impression that she was somehow being "excluded". I didn't want to single this woman out, especially when she was clearly very self-conscious about her hearing impairment, as well as self-conscious about wearing her hearing aid.

So I suggested to the supervisor that when the time came for the factory workers to have hearing tests, we would also have everyone in the laboratories tested at the same time. That way, the hearing test would show that she needed to have further testing and we could resolve the issues that way. As expected, the hearing test prompted a requirement for further testing. The woman objected on the basis of not being able to afford to have the tests. I checked with the General Manager, who agreed that the company would pay for the tests, so I dealt with her first objection.

Next she objected to having to drive to the clinic for the testing, as she was very uncomfortable driving on the motorway in peak hour traffic. So I told her she could punch out and drive to the appointment in the middle of the morning when traffic was lighter - she could travel on her own time, and we would pay her for the time that she was at the appointment. Another objection dealt with.

On the day of her appointment, she angrily complained to everyone "That b*tch is making me go to this appointment!" Off she went....and when she came back, she called me and the supervisor into the office and apologised. She told us, "I didn't want to gi because I knew what they were going to tell me." Her hearing had deteriorated further. But she learned that her existing hearing aid was improperly tuned (incorrect frequency band) and that was a factor in her discomfort in using it.

They had advised that she needed a second hearing aid, which they told her the company could apply for a grant to pay for it on health and safety grounds. For me, this story always reminds me that our objective was to help and support someone who was resisting because she had limited perspective. Rather than trying to force her to do something, I just worked through all the objections and offered solutions for each one. In the end, those were mostly smokescreens anyway. And my approach continued to respect her needs and perspectives.

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