17 years six months

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I was looking at my LinkedIn profile and was surprised to discover that 17 years and six months was the length of time since Suzanne and I formed Hall McMaster and Associates Limited (HMA). Our vision has always been ‘Working with passion and integrity to bring out the best in people’. This emerged from our experience of working in frontline practice, either with children experiencing neglect and abuse (in Suzanne’s case), or in mine, working with those who were doing the abusing. This has been an incredible journey.

With winter comes a degree of melancholy, as the nights close in and the mornings make it more difficult to get out of bed in the dark. It got me thinking about what I have learnt in those 17 years and six months. Without being too naff, I thought I would share with you my most significant insights.

However before I do I need to set some context. Prior to 1998 I was privileged to have enjoyed a remarkable time working at the cutting edge of developing programs for men who were using violence in their relationships and concurrently working with men who sexually abused. For many years we were the only deal in town. This work emanated from a sound basis in addictions work where the crossover between alcohol and drug abuse and violence in as many forms is well documented. I have always enjoyed the challenge of innovation and after a three-year fixed term teaching appointments in Social Work at the University of Canterbury, I felt I had the necessary tools to take the next step. With two young children, a substantial mortgage, and a lot of self-belief, it was time to step out. So what have I learnt?

Enlisting others to support our dreams is critical. Without others who could also see what was possible, we would not have achieved what we have at HMA. When I think about the contribution to practice we have made across New Zealand and Australia, I feel humbled that people have trusted us and together we gone to places that have shaped the work. This support has been inside and outside the team; in community and in government, in family and with friends.

Be in it for the long haul, not just short-term rewards. At the heart of this is having a strong set of values that drive a person’s mission in life. Our mission is about having families where women, children and men feel safe to be themselves. It is leaving a legacy for others that enhances well-being and the skills to be the best they can. Money has not ever been a driver for either of us – seeing people flourish has been.

Be prepared to take reasonable risks. Life is about risk taking. Every time I put words to paper, share an idea that sits outside of current thinking, or impact a new practice idea, I take a risk. Working out what risks are safe and what are not, and taking those that don’t create harm to others, is a thoughtful process.

Taking care of others. We have always had a philosophy of looking out for those who are part of the HMA family. Generosity of time, resources, and ideas is what gets us out of bed in the morning (and often feeling tired at night).

Develop endurance and resilience. For those who have followed my blog, will know of the trials and tribulations we had as a result of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. After this event where we lost a lot of what we had built over many years (and the loss of a dream) there were times when I have thought, “It would be great to go work for someone else who can ensure there is enough work coming in the door, worry about balancing the work-stream, pay the tax, cover office costs, etc”. These are times where backing oneself and knowing that things will come back is essential. And I have been proven right.

Putting people around you who can challenge, disagree, and work bloody hard when required. I have always encouraged people to challenge my thinking. I can get ahead of myself and get excited, so it is always good to have, ‘What if … ‘people on the team. This means that I don’t always get what I want. What it does mean is that we are all in this together once we make the decision to go forward with an idea.

Turning up is 90% of success. I grew up in a family that had a motto, ‘There are no free lunches’ which translates into you have to go out and work. We have both been blessed with the opportunity to attend higher education which had served us both well. We also have instilled in others that reliability is what creates safe relationships – therapeutic alliance is based on relationships where people can be who they are without judgement.

Keep exposing yourself to new ideas. We live in a period where the huge volume of rich information is readily accessible. Keeping thinking of new ways to address existing issues based on evidenced based ideas has kept us stimulated and doing our work better. I think I am getting ready to write another book with all of the new thinking that is bubbling around inside. What do you think?

Anyway these are my learnings. I am sure when you reflect upon your own; you will have some in common but also lots of different ones. Love to hear your thoughts.

Published on Tuesday, July 7th, 2015, under What Ken thinks

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