Maree McPherson interviews Cynthia Mahoney

Episode 2

Why leaders need to look after themselves (and how to do it)

with special guest

Christian Parsons


In this episode we chat with Christian Parsons, General Manager of Berries at Costa Group, Australia’s leading grower, packer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables. Christan trained as a psychologist and was in corporate marketing before he had a change of scene that was motivated by him connecting in with his values. He discusses his people-first leadership approach and the benefits that has to the business. He also talks about his lived experience with depression (triggered by not being his true self in the workplace), how organisations can navigate return to work from a mental injury and his strategies for looking after himself in his leadership role.




Cynthia Mahoney (00:06:06):

Okay. So I would like to welcome everyone to the Cultivate podcast. This is a podcast for leaders who want to cultivate healthier, happier, and more human workplaces and lives, I’d like to acknowledge that I’m recording on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and I pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging. I extend my respects to any First Nations people we might have listening today. The leadership landscape has been disrupted, and I used to believe that high performance was something that we all should aspire to, but I’ve realized that that’s not fit for purpose anymore in the world that we are living in currently with constant disruption and constant change. It’s a high standard that is leading to burnout and a lot of mental health issues in the workplace that has been coming out in our workplaces in the great resignation.


I recently heard a term the other day called the Great Burnout as well. So I think this pressure that we are putting on ourselves to just be able to keep doing more, more, more, and expecting that we could keep that constant state of being is really unrealistic and we are seeing the implications of that in our workforces. What I’m doing with this podcast is bringing together some fantastic leaders who will share their philosophies and tips to help you create cultivating cultures where people can do well and be well. So I’m really excited to have as my first guest, Christian Parsons- who is the general manager of berries at Costa Group. Christian started with Costa in July, 2010 as the avocado business manager and progressed to the general manager of sales and marketing in the mushroom category.


He joined the Berry domestic team in early 2014, performing various roles in PR, including growth projects manager, National Harvest Manager, and regional manager. In 2019, he was promoted to National Operations Manager and in July to the position of general manager Christian, though has a life before Costa and that to me is extremely fascinating. Christian is a trained psychologist and he also spent some time marketing food products for the Biggest Loser, and somehow he’s now general manager of berries for the Costa Group. So Christian, welcome. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us and I’d love to if you could tell us first of all about your current role and perhaps what, what you love about it.

Christian Parsons (00:09:27):

No problem. So, as you said, general manager for the Berry domestic business for Costa. So we’ve got five regions around Australia from North Queensland down through Cox Harbor. A little place called Tumbarumba near Wagga Tasmania in Davenport, and between Davenport and Lonnie. And then over in Western Australia north of Perth in a little town called Jining. So we’re in harvest 12 months of the year now. So it’s always exciting and there’s always something that pops up that’s a bit unique and I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for complex challenges and this role certainly provides them in spades and a really nice breadth of things to work on and people to meet and see. There’s heaps to love about it.


The teams, they are the key part, I’m very lucky. We’ve got a hugely capable team that are really enjoyable to spend time with, let alone work with. There’s a enormous amount of trust that’s been built within the team really over a long period of time. There’s a lot of people within our business that have long tenures. So you get to know them and their families and those sorts of things. So you’re doing it for people’s families as much as you’re doing it for the business. I think a big part of my job is about creating a culture that people really feel like they can be themselves thrive within and supporting, feeding and harnessing that as best as we can. There’s a slightly different culture in each of the regions, partially due to the size of the business, partially due to the people that are leading it to really try and ensure that there’s authenticity in a way that people running each of the regions are able to run their businesses.


There’s I think a huge piece around strategy and helping the team develop the right strategy and then removing any roadblocks that come their way and being able to execute on those plans. So I really see a big part of my role is to remove blockages and to be able to help people by facilitating the right relationships at the right times to be able to make their businesses successful. Then there’s the businessy bit, so contributing to a financial and compliance result that we need as a large business. But that’s really the role part. But I think it’s a huge piece for me and, you know, you and I spoke to it at Berry Quest, Cynthia about this industry and just how genuine and down to earth people are within the horticulture industry, and particularly working within regional Australia in the horticulture industry. It’s just we get to go to great places and we get to meet really awesome people that are really genuinely interested in rolling their sleeves up and doing a great job. And at the end of the day, we’re providing a really healthy food source for the Australian International customer base. So there’s a lot to enjoy.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:12:56):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And it’s very interesting. I’m really hearing a lot of your values coming out in what you are speaking about in what’s important to you and what you prioritize in your role. So that kind of leads us back to where you came from and because you did go through quite a big career change, and so could you tell us a little bit more about your background in career journey? And, particularly I’m interested in how your values kind of influenced and informed that journey and your awareness of them.

Christian Parsons (00:13:40):

Sure. Well, I’ve always been a pretty curious kind of guy trying to I enjoy learning. I think if I spoke to 16 year old version myself, I’d laugh at that statement. But maybe then I was interested in learning about stuff that wasn’t scholastic and I was always the kid that had the report card of more interested in stuff happening outside the window than inside the classroom. And but similar to your dedication in your book, I was very fortunate with the parents that I was and the family that I was born into. So I’ve got a sister that’s 18 months younger than me who you know, we always got along really well and had a great set of parents that all that both came from, you know, really good families, but also had very different value sets.


You know, moms very creative and she’s now a, a sculptor and an artsy person. And  dad was, you know, very commercial and ran his own business in organizational psychology and coaching/training. So very different, two different parents. So being a young whipper snapper  I wanted to follow in dad’s footsteps. And so if you had have asked me from about year 10 onwards, I was always going to go and do psychology as an undergrad and then do my postgrad and then go and work for dad and eventually take the business over. And that was, I guess, the plan. So I remember turning up to O week and dispelling that as the plan and everyone was very surprised and I’m happy to report that nearly none of it came to fruition. So it’s always good to have that bit of a agility.


So I did a double major in psych and sociology, I’ve always been fascinated with people. And then thought I’d better go and get a bit of life experience before I start teaching and helping people live their lives without really any experience of how to live a life myself. And then really spent the next, oh, gees,  3, 4, 5 years just traveling the world and, and doing a lot of fun jobs. You know, I did a lot of jobs that were fun to me. So worked in tourism on charter boats and took people swimming with dolphins and diving and all sorts of things like that. Through summers down on the morning peninsula in Melbourne. And did a couple of stints in the UK doing events and event marketing sort of jobs.


And then came back and got into event marketing. So when I came back, I worked for a couple of marketing agencies and had a heap of fun doing promos and event marketing sort of stuff. So everything from handing samples out at train stations to organizing more strategic event marketing strategies for, in interactive brands. And then work working full service advertising agencies for a little bit of time after that. Cause I was starting to get a bit of the feeling that I couldn’t provide everything I was trying to offer  to customers from just the experiential marketing. And then from there jumped over to brand side and worked in a pharmaceutical and weight loss business and worked then with ma jv. And we, we did a bunch of stuff with the Biggest Loser.

Cynthia Mahoney 1 (00:17:14):

Christian, sorry to interrupt, was that using some of your psychology background and applying it to marketing?

Christian Parsons (00:17:21):

It’s kind of the most sinister form of psychology, isn’t it? It’s you know, how do you change people’s mindset to buy your product rather than how, how do you actually help ’em? So there was always something missing for me in, in those jobs. You know, there was something how do I, how am I really creating a benefit to society by selling people more stuff for you know, even when I was in weight loss, you know, having a very healthy nutritionist diet and seeing naturopaths over doctors and things like that as a child, working in weight loss was kind of counterintuitive to me, because I could see the solution wasn’t a shake diet or a tablet. The solution was eat better food and exercise more. And so it was always something that was missing for me. But I learned an awful lot about category management and, you know, strategic sales and those sorts of things with those jobs which helps.


So I always had coaches, so I was lucky that with dad and dad’s business, there was always, you know, people around that I could reach out to get a bit of mentorship really. And you know, I used to use a guy by the name of George Hagger, who people in the industry may know. He, he was busy at the time. And so I used to chat to him about it and, and, well, gees is now about 15 years now, Dad passed away suddenly. And that was probably the fracture that totally changed my view as to where life was heading. So this bitterly laid out plan of going and working with dad suddenly didn’t exist. And so it was at that time we sort of look around and say, Okay, well I’m a I’m a young man and all of a sudden I’m the man of the family and all of this sort of traditional stuff that gets thrown on your shoulders as well as, well, shit, my career plan’s just gone out the window and I’ve got a kind of an opportunity now to really figure out what I want to do and, and how I want to do it.


And so George at the time was trying to recruit a couple of people to help with the, I think of the opportunities at the time were a citrus role and an avocado role of Costa. And I had a chat to Richie Roberts and realized the citrus role was not my cup of tea. It wasn’t the right fit for the business or for me. But the avocado role smelled pretty good. So had an interview with Stu Costa and Ben Franklin, who were still two people that I look up to at the time. And started with Costa a couple of months later

Cynthia Mahoney 1 (00:20:39):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> amazing. And so what I, I think I remember you telling me a story of you did go and meet with this mentor and he suggested you were, you were looking for a change and he suggested to go and ask people for jobs and Yeah. What, what did you, what was the story? Tell me more.

Christian Parsons (00:21:04):

It was a particularly frustrating Friday afternoon, and I caught up with him having a beer at the cafe we normally stopped at. And he, he said, Well, you, you don’t need to go to seek, You’ve got enough people in your network just if, I’m sure if you made five phone calls, you’d figure something out. And I said, Well, just consider this the first phone call. And didn’t have to make any other phone calls luckily, so I didn’t have to figure out who else to call. But it was, you know, great. The journey with cost has just been, you know, incredible. So I’m very lucky that I’d, I had a go, you know, as I didn’t know the industry at all, had no idea if produce came in different sizes and was counted that way, or that you had to ripe and stuff and had to learn all of those sorts of things. But I was able to help the business a little bit with a bit of a category managed sales sort of strategy. And that was enough. The rest I’d kind of learned along the way.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:22:06):

And so, Christian, you’ve already told us a little bit about what you do in your, in your role at Costa, but how would you describe your leadership? What’s important to you as a leader?

Christian Parsons (00:22:22):

I think the second part’s a much better question. I don’t know how I describe myself as a leader. It’s one of those ones where actually ask other people in the room to, for some feedback on this. When, when people ask me my, my style, I’ve, I’ve got a couple of things that are important to me that I think work and, but I, I think the most important thing is being genuine to you and your style and your value set. And so I’ve written a couple down here just, and hopefully it, hopefully it helps. So I see myself as a cost to the business. I don’t sell anything to make a profit. I don’t grow anything. I don’t do anything other than try and understand that whatever I’m doing, I try and add value. So whether it’s helping people with challenges or strategy or asking good questions or getting the right people in a room and facilitating that sort of stuff, that’s how can I add value to the interactions that I have with my team or people outside of the business to try and put us in a better position.


I think it’s, I’m a curious person, so I think it’s important to be curious, to be inquisitive about something that doesn’t quite smell right to, to trust your gut sometimes. And so there’s something here, I just want to explore it a little bit more. And I think I’m fairly good at asking good questions and you know, trying to get to the, the bottom of things. And I think I’m pretty good at getting the right people in the room at the right time to try and get, you know, problems resolved with a broader group to be able to approach the problem from a number of different directions or angles. And I think another important thing with, good strong leadership is not only supporting your team, but removing noise from their life. So there’s plenty of stuff that we get exposed to that the team doesn’t need to hear about or needs to hear about, but not for the next month or whenever is the right timing.


And there’s a bit of judgment on that that I think is really important to make sure that the information flow is appropriate rather than being completely free. I think I spoke about it earlier, but I think being genuine and being authentic is critical. So I’m the sort of person who I am at home and who I am at work is the same person. If you know me, you know my wife and you know about my kids and my dog, and all those sorts of things, and you’re very welcome in my home as much as you welcome in my office I’m not smart enough to remember the things that I’ve told people at work compared to at home. So I try just to be as, as open and honest as I, as I can be and wherever possible make time in my diary for my team.


So I think it’s important to have space. It’s important to have not a full sheet so that you’ve got time to just have a chart and help people work through whatever challenges they’ve got on their plate at the moment. So I’m not sure if that answers well but I’m a people person, so a lot of it for me is about people. I know the areas that I’m deficient in and make sure that my team is also aware of those so that there’s no false hope that Christians’ got this. Well, I’m not very good at that bit, so I need a bit of, bit of help. And I think through that, and just being honest, you end up having a far more real and workable relationship with your team.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:26:19):

That’s really interesting that you’ve said that about making time. Christian. I was chatting to a client of mine who manages a team, and I was asking him about, you know how he leads, and he’s in an agri business, corporate agri business. And he said, Oh, well, I actually, I’ve got a lot of space in my diary. I leave space so that I can check on my team. And then he said something about that he wasn’t sure that that was real work, because when he looked around at his peers who were leaders, a lot of the, weren’t doing that, that they did not do that. They, they were actually doing busy work all the time and actually didn’t have time for their teams. And so his leadership style was a bit different and he was questioning whether he was actually doing real work. So I’m just wondering is there a bit of a culture of that in, in our workplaces? What’s your opinion?

Christian Parsons (00:27:25):

A bit of a culture around filling your diary?

Cynthia Mahoney (00:27:28):

Yeah, yeah.

Christian Parsons (00:27:30):

I used to be the worst culprit of this knowns man. Like, I honestly, I thought, well, jeepers, you know, someone’s paying me a bit of money to be effective. I need to fill my week and fill my brain with all sorts of stuff to try and be as effective in as much as I possibly could. And working for Stu over the last four years who’s gone into, you know, he’s early retired now, which is great for him, but he was the king of creating space. He was the king of saying, You need to have flex in your diary so that when something pops up, you’ve got the space head space as well as the time to be able to be agile enough to, to move to it. And I think it creates a couple things. One is you, you feel far more approachable from your team if, you know, we’re all busy and my week is busy, but it’s often busy with things that don’t turn up until the day that day.


It’s not, they’re not busy with things that I book in days or weeks in advance. And I think that that’s important. It’s important to have enough space in your diary next week so that you can jump on a plan and go and see your team that needs a bit of help it’s in and, and to not have too much. That’s, and you’ve also got a great team that’s capable of doing a lot of these things without you necessarily needing to be there. And I think that’s, that’s a chunk. But certainly one of the biggest changes for me, Cynthia, in going from an operational role to more of a generalist role was making sure that you built time into your diary to be able to be more available and for it to still be okay to have a phone conversation or a coffee or a beer or nine holes or whatever it is that is right for you and your team to take that time to make sure that they feel valued and are getting enough of you.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:29:27):

Mm hmm. And I feel that, so sometimes when leaders make that shift from the more operational to the, to the leadership role, they’ve been promoted on their technical capability, and that’s what their identities and sense of self-worth is made up of. And it can be often them very hard to let that go when you, when you move into more of a, a leadership role. And hence a lot of leaders I, that I see are very bogged, bogged down.

Christian Parsons (00:30:04):

It’s, I think one of the greatest challenges agriculture has or horticulture has is how do you promote people who are technically awesome? Like often they’re incredible, incredibly technically and very supportive with their colleagues, but the move to a leadership role where you’re encouraging others to come up with the answer rather than being the information source is tough. You know, it’s because often your sense of worth is or can be built upon my technical acumen rather than helping other people come up with the solution. And the more senior you get, the more your success is governed by your team’s success and actually has nothing to do with you. You know, And it can’t, it’s too limiting to the organization and to others growth within the organization.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:31:00):

I love it. Music to my ears Christian,

Christian Parsons (00:31:04):

Much harder the doing than saying,

Cynthia Mahoney (00:31:06):

Yeah. Well that is right. And you know, you are a psychologist. You’re a psychologist, so you know how people work and how people react in times of stress and change. And you do have those emotional, EI emotional intelligence skills as part of your training. Do you, do you think you’ve got emotional intelligence skills?

Christian Parsons (00:31:33):

The test results says not. Okay. Yeah, it’s, it’s but it’s something that needs to be worked on just continually worked on. And I think the, the flex that’s required to be you know, to use your words emotion about around emotional intelligence, but EI I think is sometimes as much about flex to somebody else’s style as much as it is about, well, I’m just really good with people that are similar to me. And, and that’s, I think, where you can be far more successful as a leader to help the introvert in the room, make sure that they’re able to have their voice heard just as much as the extrovert’s bang on the table.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:32:25):

Mm, absolutely. Absolutely. now I’m also interested in your influences around leadership. So you’ve already mentioned a couple of them, but who else have has influenced you and what have you really respected about their leadership?

Christian Parsons (00:32:45):

There’s I’m, I’m someone who goes pretty close to home with who I try and learn from. So, and there’s, you know, there’s, there’s the, a mate of mine who’s got a bunch of retail outlets in Melbourne Lou, who, who has just been always been you know, he taught me to be consistent. You know, it was, be consistent. If a customer comes in and you’re high one day and you’re low another day, then they don’t know what they’re gonna get, so they’re less likely to come in. So there was a consistency piece that I probably learned from him. There was, you know, they have fun in the workplace that I learned from, you know, guys like Phil that I worked for in tourism. And then there’s all the other stuff that you learn, some good, some bad along the way. But certainly for me you know, guys like George Hagar Harry Debney you know, Stu Costa, People like that I think have just been not only great to watch from afar, but also exceptional to work with to try and understand what’s not only made them successful, but what makes them people that you wanna achieve things for them as much as you want to be good within your own job.


You know, it’s kind of that what, what makes a leader so good that they’re all also people wanna work for them as much as they wanna work for themselves. But there’s been, there’s been a lot, I think one of Richard Pratt’s, you know, big sayings is learn something from every factory till you go on. You’re either gonna learn what you want to do or what you don’t want to do. And I think if you take that advice to leaders and other people that you work with in, in, in the, in your industry or in in the corporate environment, you’ll end up getting little bits from lots of different people.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:34:35):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and Christian. So you’ve already talked about that, that clearing that time and getting rid of some of that busy work and making that transition from a more operational leader to a more strategic leader. What other challenges, what other challenges and roadblocks did you hit? Have you, or have you, have you hit in that transition?

Christian Parsons (00:35:04):

Just the, the feeling that, what did I actually get achieved today? You know, when you, when you go from a doer to someone who’s more of a, How do I help other people do? Sometimes you, you just don’t feel like you’ve got much done today. So empathize with the other person that you’re working with when you when you’re there helping other people, you’ve gotta try and be a bit more creative in how you see the value be created, that you are influenced. And it’s not, I used to love mowing the lawns as a kid because you got to sit back afterwards and see what you’ve done. And it’s a bit different when, you know, effectively you go from being the person that’s doing those things to the person that’s designing what’s occurring. So you, so there’s a long time between drinks as to when you actually see an outcome.


So I think, I think that for me was certainly the most challenging as well as it becomes lonelier. The more senior you get, particularly in regional Australia, the lonelier it becomes, you have less people to talk about to talk to with your challenges and you need to employ people to talk to and cuz you, the information becomes more sensitive. So, you know, employed coaches and different people for to be able to kind of debrief and de-stress with rather than having a group of colleagues that you can just talk through stuff with.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:36:31):

Mm. Yeah. That leadership is lonely. Mm. That’s why it’s great that you, you’ve got some strategies in place to fill that need of, of being able to get that support and connect with others.

Christian Parsons (00:36:47):


Cynthia Mahoney (00:36:48):

Mm. So I’m, I want to move on now to your experience and journey with mental health in the workplace. So this is something that you are really passionate about and you’ve had some experience with depression, which we talked about in the lead up to this interview. And I’ve asked you if you are happy to share some of that experience with us today.

Christian Parsons (00:37:14):

Yeah, I’m happy to share. I was thinking about how I’d communicate around this, and it’s still not easy. It still dredges up, you know, some of the dark stuff that’s cluttering there you know, the deep echelons of your brain. I think really what caused it for me, and this was 2017, so it’s five, five or so years ago now. So it was, I was leading in a way that was totally disigenuine and lacked authenticity for me. So at the time I said I was being, you know, I was leading, I was being the leader that I was working for was, was asking me to do stuff. But really, if I think back on it, I was accepting that I would behave in a way that was disingenuous to me. Like I need to take ownership of how I was behaving at the time.


And it was against my morals and ethics. It was far firmer than what I would otherwise be. And it was you know, micromanaging teams where I would usually, my natural style is to build accountability and autonomy so that people can lead in their own genuine life. So it got to a point where I, I was really not coping well with it and ended up having, you know, really what was a pretty significant mental breakdown, you know, came into the office and whatever it was that triggered it, triggered it. And I was on the floor in my office in tears and probably took me, you know, an hour to get outta the office to the car where it happened again. And then it then somehow I drove home and I remember ringing my sister on the way home and for whatever, I must have been able to get a hold of mom or my wife or whatever it was.


And she’s a psych as well, and it’s just like, something’s really wrong with me and I just need to get it fixed. And so I, I went home and we booked an appointment for a doctor and then, you know, really started pretty quickly to put together a plan as to how I would recover and, and at the time, whether it was adrenaline or still being in a bit of fight or flight or whatever it was I put together basically a recovery plan that I would’ve put together for myself as an athlete, you know, going through, you know, sporting pursuits earlier in, in my life. And went to everything that I knew that worked for me, really.


Cynthia Mahoney (00:39:54):

And sorry to interrupt again, Christian. No, but that, that breakdown that you had, that meant that you were out of work, you were out just out, you were gone.

Christian Parsons (00:40:04):

So I was on the couch. I was yeah, every part of a pretty significant depression anxiety episode. I was neck deep in all of it. So no sense of worth, no sense of value, no energy. Didn’t think that I could offer the world anything, you know, it was a pretty grim position. Yeah. plenty of tears, plenty of family and friends support that were all very, very concerned and everyone wants to fix it and wonder what they can do to help. But all I knew that I could do was to do all the things that I knew worked for me. So you know, I got on some medication and the medication after a couple of weeks changed and I got on some different medication. I was in very consistent communication with my sister and with others that had worked with dad to be able to try and understand what was going to be the right course of action and then bit like a broken leg or a sprained ankle or anything like that. There was, okay, what’s the treatment plan and how do we get, how do we fix this and how do we fix it quick? Because this feels pretty ordinary and we want to feel better. So for me it was, you know, no alcohol, no sugar, a paleo, which from years of being CrossFit coach was something that I knew really well for me, and I exercised and tried to surf and just do things that I knew works to, to make me feel better.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:41:43):


Christian Parsons (00:41:44):

But it wasn’t quick. So I think maybe four weeks after I’d had occurred and I realized this was going to be a far longer journey than what I had of hoped, you know, and psychologist, I was like, Right, this is good. I want a six week plan. I want to be back, and I want to feel awesome and stronger and better than ever. And, you know, she kind of helped me understand that, well, I know that might work for Broken Leg Champ, but this isn’t the same thing. You know, you’re going to, this is going to be a bumpy road and it’s going to take a lot longer. And it could take a year, it could take six months. And sort of when I started to hear how long it was going to take, I was like, you know, holy shit, I need to, I need to develop a longer term plan.


So the business was great, you know, the business you know, helped and helped in terms of a being supportive for treatment that secondarily, you know, giving me access to methods that I would able to still be paid while I was recovering. And we ended up buying a caravan and living in the forest. So my wife and my two daughters, we jumped in the, the car and the caravan and ended up taking six months off and traveling around Australia. So it was a blessing in disguise in hindsight, but it was certainly something that really took me three months to get to a point where I thought I was myself again. And I very distinctly remember the time that I made that decision that I’m, I’m good. And I was, I was surfing in the middle of South Australia and I was, it was, I just noticed there’s no negative thought that’s gone through in my head, you know? And it was the turning point. And then we had another three months of travel and then came back to work and I’d made some significant decisions around how I wanted to be true to myself what I would live with and what I wouldn’t live with in my career and my role. And I was at a point where I was pretty comfortable that if the answer was that I wouldn’t work where I was working, that I would go and work somewhere else, but I’m still here for something. Yeah. <laugh>,

Cynthia Mahoney (00:44:04):

Oh, Christian, thank you so much for sharing that. I can relate having had some experiences like that myself. And yeah, just the time, the time that it takes and you kind of broken and then you’ve got to put yourself back together again. And some workplaces I think are, are very good at managing that process. And others are not so great at understanding the mental health challenges that employees face. So and hence we were talking again in our, in the lead up to this about the return to work. And that’s something again that you are very passionate about in terms of workplace health and safety and getting people back to work. Mm. Because it’s not easy, is it? It’s not easy to come back to work and make that transition again and how that transition is handled.

Christian Parsons (00:45:18):

No, it’s not. And it’s, it’s unique because it’s not a physical injury. It’s different to every, you know, every case is unique and, and there’s, there’s no physical guide as to what’s going to be managed and what’s not managed. You know, if someone comes back and they’re on light duties because they’re rolled an ankle, it’s pretty simple. You get ’em doing something where their ankle isn’t being stretched and someone comes back from mental health. And I’d like to say that we continue to learn from it, although  I still find it very challenging is how, how fast and how much pressure and how mu how closely you need to monitor the balance of bringing people back into the organization when they’re challenged. Because  it’s unseen, it’s very difficult to be able to, to manage expectations. So manage your colleagues expectations, manage their boss’s expectations of how much someone’s going to contribute when they come back into the business. It’s is something that we, we all need to be close to.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:46:27):

Mm, yeah.

Christian Parsons (00:46:29):

And have professional support in dealing with it because it’s not in all of our wheelhouses at all.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:46:38):

Yeah. And this is an area of increasing importance where leaders really need to get their heads around this kind of stuff. And next week we’re, we’re going to be chatting with Dr. Paige Williams, who will be speaking on some of the new amendments to the Workplace Health and Safety Act around psychological safety and mental injury in the workplace. And yeah, there’s, so there’s some really big legislative changes coming where leaders are actually very accountable forthe mental health and wellbeing of their employees just as they are for their physical health and safety. And yet, I think that a lot of our leaders aren’t equipped yet with this skill set.

Christian Parsons (00:47:32):

I agree. It’s, it’s tricky. You know, you can, you can see with, with physical injury it’s very easy to see or what’s the physical barrier that you can employ or the process you can employ to mitigate risk? Because so much of our mental health is actually self-managed. You know you can’t put a physical barrier to well stop thinking about work at 5:30. You know, people want to think about work, they’re going to keep thinking about it and you don’t need to stress about that stuff because you can’t control it. Well, some people are better at that than others. And it’s, I think it’s one of those ones that just needs consistent work and consistent discussion. And the more open and honest you have with relationships with the people in your team and the more open and confident they feel about being able to come to you when they’re stressed or when they just need a break the better we are.


You know, someone in my team who’s, you know, very senior who just has just needed a break the other day and said, I’m on the way home. We just need to have a nap. I’m smoked. And there was no recourse, there was no questions. There was, other than a follow up the next day saying, Hey mate, just how you feeling after you, you know, you seemed a bit smoked yesterday, you feeling better today? And Yep, No, we’re good. And then some follow up with things like that. I think that’s all that we can continue to do.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:49:01):

Yep. So thank you, thank you again so much for sharing that experience with, with us. There was a lot to learn from that about the things that you did to get yourself back on track, recognizing that you, that had a problem and, and then giving yourself permission to have that time off. And then also the return to work scenario. So that was a lot of gold in there, Christian. Thank you. We’ve had lots of chats today about the style of leadership that you’ve described, which I love, which is, for me that’s what being a cultivating leader is. It’s a leader that is able to look after themselves, a leader that is able to also encourage and facilitate the growth and development and performance of others. And also has a contribution to make to cultures a cultivated culture where people can thrive rather than a culture of burnout. And so I’m just wondering, because that all sounds really nice. And then you’re also in a commercial organization that’s got realities of targets and so there’s the looking after the people and the kind of hitting targets in high performance. How do you reconcile that as a leader? Is there anything to reconcile or what do you think?

Christian Parsons (00:50:32):

For me not that much.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:50:33):

Right? Tell me more

Christian Parsons (00:50:35):

To reconcile. So without people being in a position where they feel like they can perform well, the financial result becomes luck not managed. Then more open and honest you develop a culture within your organization, the more of the challenges you’re going to hear about earlier. And it becomes less stressful when you hear about them earlier because you can manage them. So in safety, we talk about leading and lagging indicators and you know, the leading indicators being, well, how do you mitigate hazards and how do you put process in place and how do you prevent stuff? But the lagging indicators being, well, let’s measure ourselves against how many people we hurt this year versus last year and things like that. So I think this is another one where we can use the same analogy and say, well, how do we try and identify leading indicators for the health of the organization?


How do we look for morale? How do we look for whether people are up and about, whether they’re starting to drag their knuckles, How do we start to look for those sorts of things? And then as leaders inject early enough where we don’t let it go through the dips and, and the, and even the peaks and the troughs, how do we continue to celebrate the small successes and work together on the challenges? And I think if we continue to be in front of it in those sorts of ways, whether we’re, whether we’re in a, you know, a bit of a pickle and we’re going through periods where p and L looks sick and there’s more red numbers than you’d hope for and all these sorts of things, then you are already in a mindset as a team where you’re working on things together. And it’s not somebody’s fault.


It’s how we solve this problem. Right guys, we solved the problem about something that was positive yesterday. Let’s solve this one today, this one we’ve got, we’re going to get to this one now. And I think the, the more that we can do that, Cynthia, the more that we can hopefully be open and honest and transparent. The more you have, you know, the difficult conversations become easier because they’re just part of feedback. They’re not, well this is crappy feedback and that’s good feedback. It’s just, let’s talk about it. And the more we can plan for the future, rather than having or having to or reacting to stuff that’s, that’s turned up

Cynthia Mahoney (00:52:51):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. And so did you notice then in that period where you were being someone that you weren’t, so you were wearing a, coming to work, wearing a mask, and now where you are free to be yourself, did you notice a difference how in in how you related to your team?

Christian Parsons (00:53:15):

Oh yeah, for sure. Absolutely. Sure.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:53:17):

And what kind of the performance impacts of that on when you were, when you were wearing a mask? Like what, sorry. You know, just yeah, how did that impact?

Christian Parsons (00:53:28):

Well you become someone that you’d aspire not to be really in those, some of those sorts, you know, the, the, we’ve all got lights and shadows in our personality and we kind of need to embrace all those to embrace the person. And but the shadow starts taking hold a little bit more because you’re responding rather than being proactive and your, your team ends up doing things for you because you, you are an authority figure rather than doing things for you because it’s the right thing for the team. And, and it’s, it sounds like a small change in the way that you talk about it, but it’s a monumental change in how much extra effort someone’s going to put in. You know? And I always think that horticulture’s pretty outstanding when you’ve got people, which I think is different to a lot of industries. When you’ve got a rain event that happens on a Friday night, the amount of people that are there on a Saturday morning just to assess the damage, try to make sure they’re cooking up a plan that’s the right thing for a farm. Or everyone who jumps in and lends their neighbor a hand because it’s floodin. And that’s, that’s unique. And so leadership in that environment I think has to be a bit more unique and a bit more flexible to get the most out ofpeople that already have that mindset.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:54:50):

Yep. Fabulous. Well, we’re now nearing an end to our discussion, which has been a fabulous one today for people that are with us. If you, if you have a quick question that you’d like to ask Christian, you can type that in the chat box. But just to fi finish our conversation today, Christian, what’s a question that I should have asked you and I haven’t?

Christian Parsons (00:55:17):

I think one thing that we are getting, and we, we, we talked about a little bit but we haven’t nailed it for me, is rather than workload management, I think we’re now getting into a, with mental health particularly, and it’s more energy management that we need to help people work through. So I think we need to be more forgiving of when something’s a bit tricky at home or you know, just moved house. I’ve been exhausted for a bunch of weeks and creating a bit of freedom in people’s diaries to allow for the air and flow of what’s happening at home as well as what’s happening at work. I think it’s important to try and manage burnout. You know, people have had a really tricky couple of years with covid and separation and living life a little bit differently that you know, the, the great resignation that you referred to at the very start.


I think the way that organizations can count that is trying to really understand how we can help, you know, people in our teams really you know, get through what’s been a pretty tricky time for, particularly if you, if you are living in Sydney or Melbourne to live through over the last couple of years. Cause I strongly believe that people are just tired. You know, it’s been a pretty emotional challenge to get through the pandemic and it needs to be more top of mind in the way that we’re now looking at what the next step is, is, is for.

Cynthia Mahoney (00:56:46):

Yep. Fantastic. Thank you so much Christian. Well that brings us to the end of episode one of my podcast. Christian, thank you so much for being my first ever guest on the Cultivate podcast.

Christian Parsons (00:57:01):

No problems. The only way is up

Cynthia Mahoney (00:57:03):

<Laugh>. No way. I’ve started with the gold, the gold first and coming up next week, as I mentioned earlier, I’m going to be having a chat with Dr. Paige Williams. Paige is an amazing facilitator, prolific author and expert in positive psychology. She researches and teaches as an honorary fellow at the Center for Positive Psychology and at an associate of Melbourne Business School at the University of Melbourne. She, as I said, she writes prolifically. She’s written a number of books, has had articles published everywhere in all sorts of psychology magazines. And she has spent more than 20 years in international leadership roles. She’s worked with hundreds of leaders in business, government, NGOs and education, including Charles Schwab Spec Savers, Geelong Football Club. That’s why I love her so much.


Goca, the Magistrates Court of Victoria and the University of Melbourne and Paige. What we’re going to be talking about with Paige is that she’s, she’s developed a new leadership paradigm of partnering, which I think is a fascinating topic. And she says it’s from domination, which, which Christian we, we touched on today, that kind of doing things to people. So from domination and doing two to invitation and being with as a leader. So she’s, her thesis is that domination dynamics, the traditional power model for workplaces no longer serves us. We need authentic engagement, creative innovation, willing contribution, diverse perspectives to reach the level of performance needed for people, teams, and organizations to thrive. She says that, to build organizations where more people will feel ready, willing, and able to lead, we need a paradigm of partnering now as well as exploring that topic of partnering, we’re also going to be delving into some of these new workplace the, the new changes to the O H N S act which, because health in the O H N S ACT includes psychological health.


So we want to help leaders understand their responsibilities under this new O H N S act because leaders under this, under this act are accountable for their team’s psychosocial safety. So there’s, they mentioned psycho safety hazards in the workplace and I just found it fascinating because this is like a lot of what some of the people that I work with have to contend with in their everyday bullying, sexual harassment, aggression or violence exposure to traumatic events or content, high job demands. That’s like a really big one for a lot of people that I work with. Low job demands, low job control. It’s interesting you touched on that, Christian, you know, that, that you’ve got information at that top level so you can kind of see where things are at and you know, you’ve got a bit of autonomy whereas people on the ground often don’t have that and that there’s not a lot of feeling of control. Low role clarity remote or isolated work, poor organizational change management, poor workplace relationships. So they are part of what is called a psychosocial hazard, which leaders are now going to be accountable for under this act. So I think that’s a pretty huge a huge area that leaders are going to need to get their heads around. So it’ll be fascinating to delve into that with Paige next week. So I would like to thank you all so much for attending today and we’ll see you next week. See you later. Thank you.
























Additional Recording:

Christian Parsons (00:04):

Yeah. So the, the question was about, um, more relation, more relatable people or people who are more relationship driven, not being as successful in the workplace. And I think there’s a couple of things to consider when we, you know, talk about this is we always try to do a couple of things. We try and have a diverse range, first of all, almost the right person in the right role. But how we, you then build a team is ideally you’d have a mix of personality types to ensure you’ve got someone who’s bullish to push the team to see what we could really achieve, someone who’s analytical, to make sure the number’s stuck up. Someone who’s conservative. So have you thought about all these 47 things that could go wrong and, and where, where leadership’s so critical when you, you’re able to build that is ensuring everyone’s got share of voice.


So the quiet person in the room, the loud person in the room, the conservative person, the analytical person to try and hear from all of those people to ensure the room gets share. An appropriate share of voice is, is really important for a really good holistic problem solving team. And for teams to be very successful, I think that you need to be able to look at problem solving from a number of, of different directions. Um, and one of the things that I have found we’ve worked hard to, to steer away from is to have, you know, bloke, blokes be the person who are allowed us voice in the room, be the be the natural leader that turns up because it allowed us voice in the room so they get heard a lot and therefore because their, their voice has got the largest share, then whoever’s selecting the next leader says, Well geez, Frank’s pretty good because he’s always the person who leads the discussion rather than who potentially is just going to be the best leader. And it just takes a bit of time, takes a bit of skill and effort and energy to be able to identify that.

Cynthia Mahoney (02:17):

And Christian, do you think, just very quickly, do you think those skills are becoming more valued by organizations?

Christian Parsons (02:24):

Absolutely. Yeah. Particularly the way that our industry has become more complex with far more compliance around Smatter and set and MSAs and audits and all sorts of other things. We can’t just be gungho and bullet a gate like the industry was years and years ago. We’ve, we’ve got to consider far more before we, um, make decisions. More, more variables need to be considered and that’s something you’re going to get more so with the changes in legislation around mental health that you mentioned earlier.


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