Leading in the Challenging Times – 7 Good Habits

Andrew really got on well with the members of his team.  For years the team had been riding on a high.  The organisation’s average growth was about 9% over a period of 12 years from 2002 to 2014.  In the second quarter of 2015 activity slowed and the growth figures evaporated.  The organisation spent the second half of 2015 ‘riding it out’.  Recruitment of new heads was put on hold and natural attrition became the downsizing strategy.  In February 2016 Andrew was charged with reducing headcount by 20%.  The mood got tense and confrontational.  Suddenly the positive vibe was replaced by a unanimous sense of fear and insecurity. Suddenly there was a new subtle pressure on relationships between managers and staff.

If your organisation is experiencing the effects of an economic slowdown or simply changing to remain relevant in a changing world, it is definitely not alone.  However, it becomes extraordinarily important that managers and supervisors are prepared to lead for the times.  Perhaps this is one reason sporting teams elect their leadership groups regularly. While we cannot do this in an organisation, we can certainly give focus to our key people on behaviours and actions that can be targeted to effectively manage people in challenging times. Here are some qualities to highlight.

Know the plan and maintain a sense of the future

The biggest mistake made by managers through challenging times is that they become immersed in ONLY surviving for today as opposed to retaining a sense of the future. A lack of direction and leadership often causes low morale. Leadership is ‘here we are today; this is where we need to go in the future – come with me!’ Therefore, if a manager has no sense of the future, how can their team?

You create a sense of future by being able to describe what’s ahead. If the future is uncertain just focus on very short term, week by week objectives.  If your team members know there is a restructure or ‘close down’ you can be focused on preparing your people to be in the best possible ‘situation’ once the event happens. In tough times you might need to increase your face to face communication with team members, rather than reduce it.

If the change is being imposed upon you, demand to know the short term plan, and if that is not available (often due to confidentiality reasons) at least gain an understanding of the short term goals and expectations that are being placed on you.  While the long term may not be clear, you have a right to know what is expected of you. Sometimes you have to manage upwards.

Act calmly and professionally, maintain perspective, and be prepared to change.

Tough economic times often lead to changes in numbers and structure. Feelings of uncertainty and insecurity can become overwhelming emotions for all concerned – including managers and supervisors.  The truth is, when leaders show outward anxiety, it catches like a cold.  On the other hand, maintaining a sense of calmness, at the least, builds a sense of perspective and continuity among team members.  Taking a deep breath and thinking before you speak is critical. How you react to events unfolding around you will be critical to the morale and productivity of your team.

Whatever you do, don’t indulge in negativity throughout a challenging period at work.  Once you start sharing you doubts and criticisms with team members – though there might be some short term satisfaction – in the long term you will cause mistrust and it will almost be impossible to lead the team into the future. Communicate your own anxieties and concerns upwards not downwards.

Being a professional manager, you may be expected to make adjustments to the way you work.  It may be your role, your style or team.  Never say ‘no’ until you have thought through the consequences of the change you are inheriting and expected to drive.  If it turns out that after contemplation you cannot commit to the new expectations, be honest with yourself and your employer.  It will save you all a lot of heartache.

Plan communications

When it comes to your more formal and less formal communication with team members, think about what you are going to say.  If the communication relates to a managed change process, it needs to be considered and consistent with the overall company strategies and any workplace relations agreements.  When communication is sloppy, there is a risk from a branding, legal and performance perspective.

Be highly disciplined about team meetings and other communication disciplines – they are like gold.  You can keep reiterating the short term objectives to your team and monitor the ‘temperature’ of the group in relation to morale and issues.  Remember, do more listening than talking.

Don’t make major announcements via email or electronic media.  Face to face meetings and on-going consultations are imperative. Debriefs after major changes are essential both at the team and individual level.

Think about and act on staff morale

Tough times are not only tough on the staff, they are tough on the leaders.  Sometimes you might lack the energy to do the disciplines that drive morale such as the pizza lunches, morning teas or recognition activities. There is nothing more important throughout a challenging period than doing little things that ‘ignite’ the energy of team members.  It’s a really important time to remember the phrases ‘well done’ and ‘great job’ when there is a genuine reason to say so.

Act with consideration for employee rights and agreements

Naivety and a lack of knowledge in relation to your team’s employment conditions is high risk.   Especially when the tough time includes a restructure or change of employment conditions, managers must know the key reference points and/or remain well advised about these. Following the policies, processes and honouring agreements is essential.

Workplace bullying and inappropriate behaviour can also be an issue in times of change, due to instability and less tolerance for costly mistakes.  Make sure you run some briefings and training on conduct and behaviour and ensure the reporting lines are clear and open should a complaint need to be made.

Refer mental health impacts to the experts

There is no place for managers to be counselling team members whose behaviours suggest that the challenging times (or other circumstances) are having a negative impact on their mental health.  Your role is to recognise that there may be an issue and refer the person to professional assistance via the organisation’s health and safety procedures or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) service.  It is important that you get the balance between demonstrating empathy and remaining focused and professional.

‘Yes I understand that you are not sleeping well – have you thought of getting some professional advice about this.  Did you know we have an EAP service available? Here is the card.’

Take care of yourself, take a break and keep up your energy levels.

During challenging times it is vital that you maintain your own energy.  That energy will be vital in conserving the energy it takes to deal with implementing the changes.  There are so many ways people ‘get away’ but remembering what is important to you outside work is important to dealing with what’s going on at work.  That one or two days’ break each week can be vital to you surviving the challenge.  Eat well, sleep well, do well!

I like professional managers to remember that leading in challenging and uncertain times is another tool in your kit.  It’s a quality that many international organisations are looking for and being able to demonstrate knowledge of what is expected in such times may land you your next big opportunity. In fact, I have a close friend and his profession is being sent to different parts of the world to supervise the closing down of sites. He is one of the calmest and most pragmatic people I know. 


Six ‘Must Know’ Points for People, Culture and Learning for 2016

As we move into the second month of the new year, it is an important time to take stock of the current climate and its implications for People, Culture and Learning professionals.

people learning

Here I outline what I believe are six of the most pertinent points to bear in mind for 2016:

  1. Anxiety levels will be UP (and so too will be mental ill-health issues)

Economic uncertainty and a requirement to achieve higher productivity levels is going to increase anxiety in the workplace. Make sure you have a good Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider and your management and staff understand the service. Management knowledge of how to manage behaviours related to mental ill-health will be important.

  1. People’s experience with eLearning must be improved

 More people will be looking for quality eLearning interventions with the likelihood of tighter budgets and an emphasis on message consistency. Alas, many Australian workplaces don’t have a high regard for the method.

As Managing Director of World Learning Hub , I am fully aware of the mixed views professionals have about eLearning. Some content has been poorly conceived, learning methodologies are hum-drum and the performance of eLearning technologies often inconsistent.  Our WLH annual training survey showed less than half were using eLearning as their key training methodology.

I am a great advocate of individuals receiving a blended approach to workplace  learning whenever possible.  That means combining the different forms of learning to achieve your individual  learning outcomes. Our WLH survey shows that under 20% of organisations are using eLearning or blended learning as major learning strategies. An effective approach requires that L&D professionals need to take time in choosing their interventions. Especially in the eLearning field there has been a tendency to buy access to hundreds of modules without really knowing their quality or effectiveness. It’s a slightly lazy approach and may not necessarily achieve specific learning outcomes.

  1. Generation Y and Millennials adjusting work expectations

Let’s face it, most of the western world has been in recession or has been slowly coming out of it for some time. Australia has been somewhat saved from the pain by a mining boom. That boom is finished – over and out!  I don’t see long term doom and gloom but I see a need for higher levels of productivity in new industries.

I’m personally unconvinced by the current official unemployment rate in Australia. First, all states but NSW have increasing unemployment rates. Second, research by Roy Morgan suggests rising under-employment.

My view is that employers will need more from less.  Especially in the medium sized business sector, the margins are just not what they were. The demands of a generation of lifestyle driven employees may well be easing as available full time work in many sectors diminishes. The adjustment in expectations will definitely challenge some old boom time attitudes to working.

The answer is leadership. Managers will need to find ways to lead workers to a new frontier of more concentrated and  productive output.

  1. Social Media and Work won’t always mix

I didn’t make ‘Responsible use of Social Media’ a priority at World Learning Hub for no reason.  The misuse of company information and depictions workplace interactions remains high risk for all organisations.

A good social media policy and effective training is paramount to protecting an organisations reputation and culture. Don’t procrastinate with this one and remember,  if you don’t train you haven’t implemented the policy.

  1. Racial and religious tolerance to be tested

So called ‘religious’ driven terrorism is making a loud noise, even though it is a relatively small group of people who perform such acts.

However, the noise creates fear, and fear often inspires  potentially  racist behaviour.  Some Australians may be starting to question whether or not multiculturalism is a sustainable policy. The concept, like in many European countries, might give way to a far more assimilationist wave. In the light of this, 2016 could see tolerance levels tested, especially if terrorist groups are not brought under control.

This signals a good time to reinforce the workplace bullying, harassment and EEO policy.

  1. Time off the job hard to find

 Productivity will be the mantra for many organisations in 2016. Face to face training programs and conferences will be harder to get to.  Not because organisations are less interested in developing their knowledge pool, but because people just won’t have the spare time. Reliance on eLearning and Webinars is sure to increase for critical training areas. The traditionalists will be challenged and the percentage of organisations using eLearning as a key  L&D strategy could ‘shoot through the ceiling’. That said, I will always advocate that face to face training is the most powerful tool building and changing work cultures.


Nine Points Your Next Workplace Bullying Training for Managers Must Cover 

Not so long ago an L&D manager approached me through our World Learning Hub regarding us creating a 5 to 10 minute EEO/ anti-discrimination, harassment and bullying module for her managers. ‘They won’t do any training that lasts longer than that’ she said with a kind of ‘been there, done that’ tone of voice. I was ‘surprised’ to say the least and felt concern for their learning culture. But then it’s a common theme in many ‘high pressure’ environments these days. Those under pressure setting the ‘don’t bother me’ learning culture, and what’s worse, senior executives and L&D relenting to it. 

But then, to be honest, a lot of the eLearning compliance material out there is pretty average which doesn’t help to enthuse learners.

So given the impatience of learners these days, especially those at the senior level, I want to present you with a list of what every manager (and supervisor) senior to frontline, must know in the anti-bullying, discrimination and harassment space in order that you are ‘compliant’. So here it is:

1. Managers must have a general understanding of what is meant by unlawful discrimination and harassment as well as workplace bullying.

2.Managers must know that your organisation has a policy and complaints procedure and where to find them. If you have eLearning, get your provider to embed the policy and complaints handling process.

3. Managers must know that there are local laws that overarch the policy. A general understanding of the focus of these laws is important. A general knowledge of where to find further information is essential.

4. Managers must know that their behaviour must comply with the policy

5. Managers must know that if a manager becomes aware of inappropriate or unlawful behaviour that they are obligated to do something ‘reasonable’ about it. It is a huge bonus if the training gives them some information on how they might respond-in particular how to have that often challenging discussion about poor behaviour.

6. Managers must know how to respond to a complaint of discrimination, harassment and bullying in their workplace. This also means knowing the roles of HR, investigators and contact officers throughout any complaints handling process.

7. Managers must know the general meaning of ‘duty of care’ and its application to workplace conduct. Also the implications of vicarious liability as far as the business is concerned and their own personal liability should they contribute to a person’s physical or psychological injury.

8. Managers must know that a direct manager cannot conduct an independent investigation into an allegation of unlawful behaviour.  (Any investigator, including an internal investigator, should be appointed to conduct the investigation with clear stated written terms of reference.)

9. Finally, managers must know that the organisation is ultimately responsible for how an issue is dealt with-sometimes this means that the chosen approach to handle a complaint may conflict with the desires of the complainant.

It is also of great benefit if managers are aware that in cases of unlawful discrimination, harassment or workplace bullying, the prior patterns of the respondent’s behaviour and the nature of the workplace culture, may materially influence the findings of an investigator, court or tribunal.

Therefore, the idea of a five minute ‘training’ event is outrageous. Inadequate training definitely places the company and its people at high risk; both legally and from a welfare point of view. Employees will be influenced by the importance their leaders put on this matter, if all the leaders can spare is 5, 10 or even 15 minutes there will be no hope of modifying what are sometimes long standing inappropriate behaviours at the frontline.

Check out this engaging anti- discrimination, harassment and bullying training


Social Media and the Christmas Party


The posted photo definitely showed his right hand had made some contact with her right breast. The reason why wasn’t quite so clear. Within 10 minutes, the picture of the two work colleagues had over 400 likes and had been shared by numerous Facebook users. This would be a corporate Christmas party social media posting that 28-year-old Blaire would never forget. The fallout would force him out of his job, cost him his marriage, and—unfairly—soil his professional reputation. It was unfair because a workplace investigation would later uncover that he was actually gently pushing back on 32-year-old Michelle’s sexual advances. The woman who, in good faith, took the photo and sent it to Michelle (who then posted it with vexatious intent) as a reminder of a funny night would later comment, “If only I knew what I was starting.” The organisation’s CEO would later tell an independent investigator that he regretted that “staff had not been adequately trained in relation to the company’s expectations on social media use.”

An organisation has a right to set and act upon its expectations about social media postings from staff functions. The same old rules apply – there must be a social media policy and adequate training before it can be enforced. Training is most often the weakness. According to my colleague and iHR Workplace Relations Director, John Boardman, interactive training that allows employees to explore the issues and provides a post-training assessment of their understanding is absolutely critical.

It’s interesting that John qualifies his comments by suggesting that courts and tribunals across the world have not always tested key elements found in social media policies. What this implies is that global policies are more or less enforceable, depending upon in which region you find yourself. It also suggests that social media control in workplaces across the world is to a great extent a “work in progress”. However, this does not stop an organisation from setting and communicating its expectations.

I must admit, the older I get the less time I have with the fear mongering of compliance gurus. I definitely understand the young breed of entrepreneurs. I recently wrote that young entrepreneurs are creating more organic, fun workplaces, as opposed to the compliance-oriented, highly-regulated environments which have often, but not always, destroyed workplace humanity and creativity.

I love the beneficial side of social media. Social media makes for easy access to friends — today’s friends and those of the past. The sharing of lives and opinions tend to spiral into dimensions I would never have known about if I didn’t use social media. On social media, I have seen snippets of love, violence, humour, hurt, pathos, depravity, radical opinion, and innuendo I never thought possible.

But social media has also revealed to me the gossamer line between the truth and anything but the truth. And it’s for that reason alone that organisations need a clear social media policy, constant training and a zero-tolerance policy for subsequent irresponsible social media use. Currently, social media is one of the biggest risks to organisational and personal brands.

A few weeks prior to your organisation’s Christmas party is a very good time to remind your people of what is expected at, and after, the Christmas function in regard to posting party photos and comments. Some may want to ban postings entirely, while others may wish to be prescriptive about what can and cannot be posted. Others still may want to specify the process people must pass before posting. Whatever the case, you need to communicate your expectations. Otherwise, essentially any breach of your policy will be difficult to enforce.

Organisations should remember that the policy is not only there to protect the organisation. There may be very good reasons why an individual does not want their after hours photos on a social media platform, for example, a victim of abuse who is under the protection of a court intervention order. Perhaps this is a good reason alone to have a “no posts” policy.

Of course, well-managed and choreographed photographs and comments from events that are made public by consenting individuals are absolutely permissible. Consenting means “at the time,” not two years after someone has signed an agreement to publicly release information. People’s life circumstances do change.

The take-home point is this: arbitrary and uncontrolled use of the social media space, which may bring a little more Christmas cheer has the potential to create a far less happy new year! Be smart, think ahead, and ensure your staff stay up-to-date with a thorough social media training program.

You may request trial user access to World Learning Hub’s new social media digital training here.

Serious Advice to Executives About Chilling Out

Many highly-geared leaders, executives and professionals desperately need some ‘chill’ time.  I have learned that my once a week ‘chill’ time does me a world of good in keeping my productivity up and keeping me sane.
Stephen Bell Delivering Thai Survey results

Did you work last night or the night before? Did you arrive early, a few times last week, to prepare for a couple of long days? Were you on the phone until all hours, sorting some extraordinary issue or talking to that colleague in a different time zone? Maybe you woke up at 3am, worrying about something unfinished, or you turned away from a moment of intimacy because it just felt too difficult. Perhaps you yelled at a family member, or got overly impatient with an employee, because a situation at work is frustrating ‘the crap’ out of you. You might even have missed those numbers or failed to finish that ‘damn’ project on time – again – and awoke with tears in your eyes? I’m serious – perhaps you woke with tears in your eyes, with a feeling you that you are trapped under a black cloud, wondering how on earth you can face the day ahead. You are working hard and feeling a bit anxious. Perhaps you are feeling very anxious. Perhaps, like over 20 percent of all Australians this year, you are facing a mental health challenge.

October is a month where we are supposed stop and think about mental health. Right now, I want you to think about your own mental well-being for just a few more paragraphs. (Then you can get back to work.)

Many organisational leaders are doing it harder right now. The money is not there to carry a bit of extra fat and the exaggerated performances associated with boom times are clearly on the way out. Somehow, expectations aren’t declining quite as rapidly, which leads to extreme pressure being placed on many leaders and executives. On the other hand, some of you are employed in environments that are doing just fine, but work excessive hours either because you enjoy it or because a 12-to-16 /six-to-seven commitment (12 to 16 hours, six to seven days per week, with at least a partial glance on your work activities) is what’s expected because the pay is so good.

Over time, this type of constant pressure can make you anxious. Very anxious, sometimes to the point of causing life changing mental health-related episodes. You are a human being. You do have limitations. Our minds are a bit like a flexible stick – different people, different tolerances. Your genetics, prior experience or even your time of life can determine how far you can be bent until … snap. To limit this potential to snap and maintain flexibility, we need to do something and I have one, unscientific, idea.

I want to issue a daring challenge, particularly to that segment of executives, CEOs, business owners and professionals that spend more than 60 hours a week with at least one eye (half of your focus) on the job. I didn’t say 60 hours at work! I want you to pick a three-hour segment within your normal working week. It could be 11am to 2pm on a Wednesday, for example. Now I want you to think about something that makes you feel completely calm. It could be sitting in the gardens, taking a leisurely drive while listening to Andrea Bocelli, a yoga session, a massage, playing piano or maybe a game of FIFA on the PlayStation. Think of something that is your own form of ‘chilling out’. Do it once a week, within that three-hour time frame, for a month. Block the time out now. I want you to do it during your traditional work hours, so that you realise ‘chilling out’ is a professional skill. And with the greatest of respect, I’m not referring to a few relaxing hours with the kids, family or mates. This is YOUR time for YOU.

I hear many of you asking me, ‘How will I justify my time away to the board or my executive team?’ Perhaps on the following basis. You are already putting in at least 57 other hours into the organisation each week – this will enable you to lift your productivity for the next week and care for your own health. And, quite frankly, if the organisation can’t function without you for a few hours, well … it’s time it did. You are a senior person. You need to be able to delegate and you need time to recharge.

In my experience, many so-called ‘high achievers’ become less effective at work and home because they don’t take the concept of ‘chilling out’ seriously. They think that they are letting others down by not taking time out for themselves. Instead, they are letting themselves down. For a lot of high achievers, not learning to ‘chill out’ is unproductive, while for others it is simply dangerous. Putting work into perspective, and your mental wellbeing as the priority, is essential. If you feel you’re hindering your career and not getting ahead by having some ‘chill out’ time, you are mistaken. Most professional growth at iHR Australia and World Learning Hub has occurred when I have been relaxed and on top of my game, not when I have been anxious.

So this month, do yourself a favour and make ‘chilling out’ part of your working week. It’ll be worth your while.

Please note, if you are consistently feeling the blues, experiencing those dark clouds or feelings that make you uncomfortable, it’s time to seek support. The world needs your talent. Contact your organisation’s EAP service, your GP, a trusted psychological professional or, for crisis management and support in Australia, Lifeline 13 11 14.

The Generational Culture Clash: Workplace Rules in the Millennial Era

Young entrepreneurs are not only creating a more personalised, fun-loving customer brand to appeal to the Generation Y and Millennial population – they are also making huge statements about what they think will attract the new generations of workers. This may just be HR’s biggest challenge yet.

The photos of young entrepreneurs appear on Instagram almost daily. In their twenties, their social media persona is confident and sometimes even outlandish. Often, they are dressed more for Sunday afternoon drinks by the beach than going to work. Their brands are raw, hot, youthful, successful and professional, all in one package. Technology, hospitality, design, online retail, entertainment and fashion are just some of the fast-growing product and service industries where these young entrepreneurs are making their mark. These are not the traditional industries with hierarchical structures, nor are these workers the middle-aged, highly experienced, hard-nosed entrepreneurs who were propelled by the mining or investment booms.


The photos tell us that they party with those whom they work, seemingly enjoying plenty of champagne, coffees, hugs and camaraderie with their seemingly youthful staff. Despite the fun, these twenty-somethings are educated and very driven. They are also the big employers of the future – progressive, natural and uninhibited employers.

These new entrepreneurs are smart people. Traditionalists might call them ‘reckless’, but they are well aware that their social media attracts not only customers but also like-minded talent. Their employer brands are highly social, extremely fun and seemingly unfazed by the throngs of HR rules and regulations that overarch western business.

If the social media images are true, we could be seeing Millennial entrepreneurs staging a silent revolution that may take us away from the ‘over-cautious’ compliance obsessed environments developed by Generation X and Baby Boom employers. Did I just hear some of you shout ‘Yippee’ and ‘Thank God’? Of course, there is absolutely no validity whatsoever in my assertion that the employer values of these entrepreneurs are somewhat looser than those of the big brands and many of the so-called ‘Employers of Choice.’ I am, for all I know, merely duped by their social media imagery and bravado.

Yet despite my self-doubt, I will stick to my guns and remind ‘Employers of Choice’ that they may have to take note of new tactics very quickly – you may just as quickly become an Employer of the Dark Age if you don’t! For example, it has been my observation that my generation had to be informed of human rights in the workplace. It seems different these days. Millennial employees don’t need to be ‘told’ as much as they need to be ‘reminded’. What is seen as a ‘responsibility’ to my generation is simply an expectation to this newer generation of workers. We should not underestimate the impact modern, western schooling and social media has had on what young people will expect from their employers.

The term ‘inappropriate behaviour’ will have a very different meaning in 10 years

Sexual harassment in the workplace, for example, is likely to be a very different concept for these newer generations. I watch my teenage children with their friends socialising together. Hugging is a norm. In general, they are more tactile and, may I say, more knowledgeable in their own attitudes towards sex and friendship than teenagers before them. It may not be naive to say that, in ten years, being the only staffer not hugged by your teammates may be seen as a version of ‘workplace bullying’. Privately counselling a Millennial employee about their tendency to be ‘overly tactile’ in the workplace will be more about the counsellor’s problem than the person on the receiving end.

The Millennial penchant for socialising and having fun will be a real challenge for management going forward. That’s not to say previous generations weren’t good at having fun, but fun was a concept more tied to ‘after work’ rather than ‘during work’. I think that within ten years, if employers don’t understand the Millennial meaning of ‘social’, ‘fun’ and ‘productivity’, then there will be a deep issue with engagement. Probably an employers’ biggest battle will be dealing with shorter spans of concentration. How we set up work cultures and physical environments, daily work structures and flows, as well as establishing lines of what is and isn’t okay will take some thinking. Of course, there are employers doing amazing work in this area, but the challenge has just started.

Perhaps one of the biggest dilemmas for these entrepreneurs is that they will still need to find ways to engender standards. The fun part of their employer brand might attract and engage the talent, but every good business has standards of work (and behaviour). If these are not always achieved, how are we going manage performance issues amidst the fun? Are we going to ‘influence’ the non-performer to leave over a drink?

While in some ways their seeming disregard for the compliance obsessed Baby Boomer and Generation X employers is refreshing, it may also be signalling a confronting time of workplace revolution. Politicians, regulators, employers and unions may all be scrambling for relevance within the context of fast changing expectations of how ‘work’ should look and feel. Yet, at the end of the day, every employer is going to need tools that set and apply standards. Sometimes these ‘fuddy-duddy’ laws and regulations are just the tools needed.

Play the Ball, Not the Man

The most concerning part about the Adam Goodes debate is the labels that each side hands out to the other.  

Adam Goodes is a human being. In the last few weeks, he may have felt more like a political football. After months of booing from opposition Australian Football League fans, the Sydney Swans champion decided to take a short break from football. He appeared to be anxious and ill at ease with what was confronting him in his workplace, which just happens to be a football field.

For some Australians, the recent debate that has centred on his booing, has been tortuous. Not because they share Goodes offence at the situation, but more that they are sick of hearing about the issue. For others, however, the debate has created passion, vigorous debate and a strong focus on the challenges still faced by Indigenous Australians.

Goodes had every right to feel offended and disappointed by the crowd behaviour that he repeatedly encountered. He and those who have gathered around him, including coaches, players, fans and Australians with no particular interest in football, have every right to express their perception that the basis for the booing was racially-based. Equally, those who perceive that Goodes is a professional footballer and should deal with the booing — and that perhaps the booing is nothing to do with race based matters — also have a right to express their view. This is a conversation that has to be had.

The most concerning thing for free speech in Australia is when those from either side of the political spectrum perpetuate their own brand of intolerance, using emotional coercion to silence the other side. I have long said that the average Australian values ‘fairness’, by being treated fairly and treating others fairly. In evaluating the response of the different groups on this topic, I am not sure that fairness always prevails. Instead, it becomes a debate of ‘see it my way or you are a racist’, or ‘un-Australian’ or ‘leftie sh#t’. To have the opinion that Goodes was ultimately the victim of a race-based reaction is understandable, just as it is to suggest that he could have dealt with the young fan differently. They are both understandable positions to take. A person is not racist just because they do not support Goodes’ position and a person is not a ‘politically correct leftist’ because they have fallen in behind Goodes and his actions. Social media is full of such abusive comments as these rantings to Goodes critics, ‘spoken like the pathetic white fascist you really are’, ‘you uneducated douchebag’ or ‘I never knew you were such a bogan’. It appeared that any person who did not support Goode’s position was an uneducated fool of our society. On the other side of the fence, I was seeing such bizarre commentary as, ‘you are un-Australian, to think our diggers lost their lives for leftie trash like you’ or ‘Go live with the alchos, you hippy sh#t’. Playing the man and not the ball is not a great look.

The day that Adam Goodes called-out a 13-year-old for girl for making ‘racist comments’ during a football match, he started a very important and public discussion that was not only about racism, but about how we make our statements. Goodes dramatically and literally pointed his finger at the young girl. Many have the view it was this action that has lead to the booing, yet it is important to continue this discussion without marginalising those with strong views either way. Making people too scared to have an opinion, let alone express it, can marginalise groups with strong views, cause under-currents and radicalise opinion.


We need to keep the debate going until we are able to appropriately approach and manage acts of prejudice. Whether or not Goodes on- and off-field statements are the ‘right way’, his actions have opened the door for a discussion that has to be had and debaters need to play fairly.