So what was that S P A C E Series thing all about?

In my first weeks with BKD Executive Leaders I undertook one of our own company’s services, a Psychometric test, with our Executive Director Rob Kerr (PhD) so that I could experience and understand the service intimately. The resulting profile suggested, among other things, that I was “a radical thinker, [who will] look beyond the obvious, searching for the new and unconventional.” So, it was perhaps little surprise to Rob that one of my first ‘expense’ requests as an executive recruiter was a trip to Byron Bay for S P A C E series. Luckily, I had joined a company who saw opportunity and possibility in the unknown.


Space Series promoted itself as “A community of disruptive leaders coming together in Byron Bay for three nights to disconnect, collaborate, and create in one of the most inspiring locations on earth.” For me personally, a few months into my new role as Industry Lead for Media & Marketing at BKD Executive Leaders, meant that I was keen to explore the possibility and potential of this event from both a connections perspective but also a bubble-burster. After having been in media for over 15 years I just yearned for some topics and conversations outside ‘my world’. I love my industry but with a recent shift from working ‘in’ it, to servicing it through executive recruitment, it was important for me to shift my perspective… with action. I applied. That’s right, no one could just ‘buy’ a ticket to this event, applicants underwent a phone screener to assess their suitability to the event goal towards making a more ambitious Australia through shared ideas and collaboration.


The fact that the content and description of this event was relatively loose… as in, hard to explain if someone was to ask you what it’s all about (something that would normally annoy me) actually made it more attractive at this point… anything was going to be possible content-wise – and if 200 other guests were also thinking this way, well I figured that could make for a pretty unique experience. Or as I found most people were thinking beforehand, s p a c e was either going to be absolutely awesome or a complete F*ing disaster.


The buzz began at the airport in Melbourne where… you could kind of tell if someone sitting at the gate was headed to Space Series. This is hard to explain but as people were preparing to fly into the unknown, they had a shared ‘sparkle’ of enthusiasm in their eye, they were ‘smiley’ (open) and just vibing for lack of a better term. They were clearly ‘space cadets’. In the weeks prior to lift off we were sent snippits of other attendees profiles, not so much their occupations, but what they were doing on the planet (somewhat daunting for someone like me who’s been ‘doing’ advertising for 15 years and arguably not contributing much to the planet beyond brand driven content and partnerships). For example, I read one of the guests was using her senior citizen silent discos to help fight dementia. Another re-designing the integration of life and work. Another maintaining a healthy sex life after 70.



There was a lot of pressure on the launch night. We all had our eager, ‘ready’ faces on… for the event organisers who’d kept a fair bit of info close to their chest it was game time. Make or break. Plenty of mishaps tried to break it – sideways rain into the event tent space, speakers and electronics shorting out… but as the pre-show energy continued to lift, despite these faults, it became clear that one thing had been very carefully and strategically nailed… the people at this event. A guest lift of positive, influential, open-minded, leading people of all ages and walks of life rallied their support behind the organisers and I would argue literally created the energy that saw the electronics and speakers re engage in a crucial climactic moment of CJ Holden’s welcoming speech. Yes. This was going to be a good event. We could all exhale.


The event content itself was ‘brought by the people’, that is to say, all 200 attendees had to contribute their discussion, workshop or story topic. Other than some rather sensational pre-organised entertainment (a blind, sensory, dinner experience guided by Yuma Decaux a 3D artist who lost his sight to a firework in Bali to Isabella Manfredi’s first ever solo performance of original music outside her band The Preatures to nightly music vibes by Mykel Dixon & Phil Cebrano), this was the content of the event. We were the content. On the first morning there was a board of empty schedule spots (like a hospital OR schedule) and people literally pinned their topic post-it to the wall. What did this mean? A helluva spectrum of content and options. Here are a handful of the 200 topics to give you a sense of that diversity;

“It’s ok to not have kids these days, isn’t it”

“Creativity can Change the World, Lessons from a Life in Africa”.

“Giving the finger to convention”

“Would you Marry a Robot”

“Global Village – Designing the Community We Want”

“What the Hell is Your Child Talking About – A Conversation with the Next Generation”

“Bio Hacking our way to happiness with micro dosing”

“It’s 2100. AI has created a jobless world – find our meaning”


A broad spectrum meant for broad quality. Some sessions exceptional, mind-cracking and robust – leaving me with a feeling of needing more (and taking real action since returning home) – some sessions not quite what was expected (in some instances, I found titles were almost ‘click bait’ to draw a crowd, when the actual content was focussed elsewhere). I’d suggest the event organisers would see content curation as an opportunity for next year – not to change topics but rather ensure they were the best they could be, and pitched accordingly. No matter what though – conversations were robust. Whether it was a youth lobbyist (yes an actual young person) challenging someone from an older generation on their stereotyping or a leading business professional’s jaw literally dropping at learning about a world of micro-dosing they never even knew existed… you could see barriers coming down everywhere and I suppose that is the centre-point for change and progress. Understanding the world outside our own bubble.

I personally spoke about ageism in my industry, a topic I’ve always had an eye on that’s been supercharged since officially stepping into recruitment. It was unbelievably powerful having a CEO or two speak up, taking ownership for their own contribution to this issue – while another attendee shared learnings, strategies and benefits of specifically hiring more experienced people with years of experience under their belt. We all learned through each other.


More than anything, the cadet guide point to ‘leave your job at the door’ made this experience deeper in its authentic networking connectivity. We in fact burned a structure with all our names and titles on it. As a guest you got to know fellow space cadets by the sessions you saw them in, their points of view, how they approached challenging group discussions when they held a differing point of view… you got to like people (or decide they weren’t necessarily your cup of tea) for who they were, not what they did. For the most part, only on the final night when people were starting to swap details did you come to realise how people spent their nine-to-five… and making those realisations was absolutely fascinating. I literally got told “wow, I would never have thought you were an executive recruiter” (I chose to take it as a compliment). For me, that experience felt like being in year twelve and going around asking my friends what they’d decided to be after their careers counselling sessions, an anaesthesiologist, an educator, a politician? No way! Amazing! Only then did I start to grasp the gravity of the influence at the event.

So would I go again? Absolutely. Because any time we’re having progressive conversations, looking beyond the obvious, outside our industry and bubble, is a time for learning and growth, a time for perception shifting and ego smashing … is a time I will make s p a c e for.


At the beginning of this piece I mentioned BKD’s Psychometric testing service. BKD offers psychometric testing to provide a more objective assessment of personality than is normally possible from a typical interview… it can also teach you a lot about your self, which can be used proactively in interviews and career development. Get in touch for more details

“Leadership Lessons from the Little League” Guest Post by Alastair McCausland, CMO

Picture this. You’re standing in front of 22 people all looking at you for direction. Some are naturally talented and are ready to go in to battle for you. Others are eager but lack the skills they need.


You’ve done your preparation and know the message you want to get across, but you’ve got some doubts in tour head. You’ve never actually done their role and lack the exact skills you need them to execute.

To make matters worse, not only is it the 22 people in your team who are waiting for your address, they also have their parents and grandparents here to see them succeed.

As you may have guessed, we’re not talking about a boardroom address but the far more challenging and fulfilling role as the coach of a junior sporting team.

Whilst many people might not see the link to business and our ‘real jobs’, personally my role as a junior football coach has taught me many leadership lessons that have helped me become a far more confident and ultimately successful corporate leader.


Let’s start at the start.


Building a high performing team

Starting with a group of 22 kids from 3 different school groups is much like the challenge we have in our day jobs. We need to bring together a group of individuals, who might not know each other, have little in common and have varying strengths and development areas.

On the football ground this is easy to identify. Who is struggling with the required functional skills like kicking or marking? Who isn’t a team player and tries to win the game off their own boot? Where are the natural cliques and who are the players yet to fit in with the rest of the team?

Whilst this may be harder to notice in the work environment, the same lessons apply to identify and address.

Spend the one on one time with team members to see their work up close so you can understand the functional skills you need to help them with.

Develop a shared team vision that everyone buys into and is playing for. Spend the time building a cohesive and engaged team with fun activities that build genuine connection.

Understand that different team members require a different management approach and a myopic message to the collective won’t be successful. Spend quality one on one time with the team to build them as individuals knowing that this investment will deliver in spades for the team goal.

Finally, make the success metrics crystal clear so everyone understands what they’re playing for and what their individual tasks need to achieve.


Manage a simple message

We’ve all been guilty of over complicating a message and having it fail to resonate.

Try having two minutes to bring your team together, get them to switch positions, rehydrate, provide feedback on the previous period of play before instructing them on what to focus on in the next. Clearly there is a need to be very efficient and effective with your message.

Especially for a group of under 10’s, now is not the time for any Churchill inspired ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches’ style speeches. Rather we need a simple message of 2-3 things that everyone can understand and act on: “Kick it long and wide” “Move the ball fast” “First to the ball”. These are those tasks that when executed well, will deliver on the longer term vision, in this case winning (not that we technically score in under 10’s, but try telling that to the kids!)

Taking this scenario in to work life helps us realise the importance of regular and simple performance messaging. Those working with an agile methodology are already doing this via regular huddles to address immediate requirements.

The idea of a quarter or half time break is something that could benefit most workplaces. In an incredibly fast paced work environment, taking the time to stop and check to see if plans are on track and what we need to change to deliver on the longer-term goal.

Similarly, the importance of the simple messages for what needs to be done today, tomorrow and this week will break down the bigger corporate goals in to something everyone can understand and individually impact.



Follow what I say not what I do

As touched on earlier, whilst I’m the coach of the football team, I never actually played the game, so often I feel like a bit of an imposter instructing them to do.

This is similar for how many of us may feel in a work sense, especially as we move in to more generalist management roles. Coming from a specific background but now managing a group of different functional leaders is something that presents its fair share of challenges and self-doubt. I’m sure we’ve all had times where we question ourselves asking the accountant or engineer to do something when we have no background in these fields.

Thankfully the AFL, the area I coach in, has a very strong focus of coaching development that all coaches are required to undertake. Through face to face and online training, we’re provided with the relevant skills to be successful as coaches of the players. This isn’t about being able to kick a 50 metre drop punt, or lay a perfect tackle, but rather understand the technical tips to be able to get the kids to do it. From the physical training courses to video and written training guides, we are armed with the skills to be able to pass the skills on (whilst not necessarily being able to be an expert in the skill).

Taking this back to the work environment, a focus on leadership training that provides the leader with the skills to be able to get the best out of their team (vs doing the functional skill themselves), together with a focus on effective communication will ensure the leader is set up for success.


Celebrate the little wins, not just the big victory

A major focus for me as a coach is to set up each player and the broader team with specific areas to focus on each match. This gets back to knowing the team and the individual development needs. It may be executing a perfect tackle for a player, or how we move the ball as a team.

When we nail these things, we celebrate them. These are the little wins, that when consistently done well, will set us up for the longer-term victory.

In a work sense this is critical. Often the long-term vision for the business feels out of reach and untenable, but if we find those little things that every person and the broader team can do every day, and then celebrate them, victory will be on the horizon. This may be the quality standards on a job brief, or the team commitment to timeliness of responding to customer enquiries. Do these consistently well and celebrate doing a good job well.

More than anything, it is a huge thrill in seeing the positive impact that you can create for the kids individually and as a team.

Sure, it can be a lot of work but there is no greater sense of achievement you can get as a leader with life lessons that will help you for years to come. So next time there’s an opportunity to get involved, put your hand up and get involved.


Guest Post by Alastair McCausland, CMO


BKD Executive Leaders create bespoke individual support programs for leaders and emerging leaders, whether that be a coaching or mentoring solution. Utilising an extensive panel of highly successful business leaders, we match individuals to coaches and mentors that provide one on one support dedicated to enhancing the individuals performance.







Lessons from trekking to Everest Base Camp – for life and coaching

Having recently had the great privilege of three weeks of trekking through the Everest and Goyko valleys in Nepal, I have taken the time to reflect on some of the insights and learnings that came from this journey. In this post I summarise my ten most prominent learnings and over the next few weeks I will expand on each of them. While these are based on my experience of the trek most link back nicely to the Positive Performance Coaching model we use at BKD Executive Leaders. I will also encourage readers to reflect on whether there is anything that they can draw on that will assist them with their own performance and development. But first, some background to the trek.

Why go to Everest Base Camp?

The decision to trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) was the result of an on-going fascination with the challenge taken on by the brave few who push the limits of human endurance and resilience by climbing the worlds highest peak (8848m). Having a strong interest in the psychology and physiology of human performance I have always wanted to see Sagarmatha (Nepali for Everest) for myself and contemplate what it must take to climb it. As a former athlete I understand the need to physically push your limits but I recognise that an 8000 plus metre summit requires a totally different level of discipline and mental toughness. The consequence of a failed climb is quite possibly death. YouTube has plenty of videos highlighting the challenges of climbing Everest.

Given my interest in Everest, when my friend Steve Chitchester floated the idea of a trek to Base Camp to mark his 50th year, I was in, as was his best mate Jason Elias. What I wasn’t so keen on was trekking in late January / February when the Himalayan winter is at its peak. Nevertheless, this was the most convenient time for us, so off we went.

Day 1 of the trek. Departing Lukla through the gates dedicated to the first Nepalese woman to summit Mt. Everest – Pasang Lhamu Sherpa. Unfortunately she lost her life on the descent.

A big thankyou to our lead guide from Trek, Guide, Ski Nepal, Gyan Tamang (summited in 2018) and Lukpa Sherpa (6-time summiteer), and our porters Nimah and Born. Their support made a challenging trip (big dumps of snow and regular temperatures below -20’C) manageable.

My top ten lessons

Having returned home safely from a great trekking adventure, here are my top ten learnings and personal reflections.

  1. A clear purpose supported by a well thought out plan provides you with the focus that will drive your best behaviours and performance
  2. We should take time out to challenge ourselves regularly – done well it encourages a positive mindset, feeds your confidence, self esteem and personal belief
  3. Invest in your health – it repays you by opening the door to experiences you can’t have without it. No doubt there is some good fortune involved in individual health but investments in your health are well worthwhile.
  4. Humility is a value of mine and on this trip two things reinforced its importance – seeing the reality of life in a developing country, and being exposed to the grandeur of nature.
  5. Reflection is an essential catalyst to change and progress. As a psychologist and coach I have long subscribed to the value of reflection as a tool for driving personal development and change. This trip emphasised the need to set aside real time for genuine reflection.
  6. Family is the clear priority in my life. The same for my trekking partners.We noted that we spent around half of our time talking about family in one way or another. I’ll explore why that was important for us to recognise and what can flow from that and how a little bit of creativity can open up communication.
  7. Men do talk, especially when trust is there and time is set aside to allow conversations to evolve organically. ‘Men don’t talk about personal issues’ is a common refrain. There is some truth in this day-to-day but on this trip I observed that trust and time appeared critical to open male to male conversations.
  8. When you are feeling the pressure (e.g. you’re on a ledge and you dislike high ledges), having the skill to relax your mind and body is a critical coping skill. Best of all it’s available to all of us.
  9. When you are struggling and being tested, be it physical or mental, breaking the challenge down to ‘the next most important step’ is essential to progress. It zeros your focus in on where your future momentum will come from.
  10. I am very fortunate to have been born in Australia. Even more so to live in Australia. Having spent 2 weeks touring Japan in January, and then trekking Nepal, I have a stronger appreciation of the advantages this country provides. A few areas for improvement were also highlighted.

My ‘clear plan’ is to elaborate on each of the ten reflections and pose some questions that will encourage readers to reflect and consider what if anything is relevant to you, your work and your family. I encourage reflection as it promotes insight and awareness which are pre-conditions to building the motivation for development and change. Insight, motivation, development and change are all central elements of our coaching practice at BKD Executive Leaders. If you are interested to learn more I encourage you to contact me at

For a laugh / gasp, enjoy this brief video of the hard landing at Lukla airport, the gateway to the Himalayas and one of the worlds most dangerous airports. 



Job Analysis: What is a High Performance Manager?

The role of a High Performance Manager. A case for Job Analysis.

With Cricket Australia’s (CA) High Performance Manager (HPM) role now vacant, there has been much media speculation about who should move into the role permanently. Within Cricket Australia, instead of asking WHO might fill the role they are most likely revisiting WHAT the High Performance Manager’s role actually is.

Within a sporting organisation, the role of High Performance Manager is one of the most critical. At the same time, it is perhaps one of the least understood, especially by those outside of the organisation.

For any role, achieving clarity around what the role is, and the key results it should generate, is a critical step that should occur well before the search for candidates.  This requires a thorough Job Analysis which explores questions such as;

  • What is the purpose of the role?
  • What is this role accountable for and what does success look like?
  • Who are the key stakeholders / clients that this role services?
  • What skills and knowledge are necessary to do this role well?
  • Are results delivered through others?
  • Which relationships are critical to the success of this role? and
  • How will the role maintain alignment with the organisation’s broader strategy?

Within the Football codes, the title of High Performance Manager is often held by the senior Strength and Conditioning practitioner. It is arguable that in some cases, a more accurate description of the role would be Head of Physical Preparation. The argument being that the focus of the role is oversight of the athletes loads and the physical preparation of athletes. This includes having significant input into the duration and form of game based training sessions for the purposes of reducing the risk of fatigue and injury.

While physical conditioning is fundamental to High Performance, if you believe that High Performance equates to an athlete consistently performing at, or near, his or her potential, then High Performance is the product all facets of the athlete program that contribute to performance. Beyond physical preparation this includes skills training, game simulation sessions, medical services and well-being services. What the athlete must manage, somewhat independently, is how their life away from training impacts performance.

In terms of accountability for performance, be it high or otherwise, it is typically the Senior Coach who most acutely bears the consequences of performance. However, while the Senior Coach sets performance expectations that should influence all elements of the program, it is unrealistic to ask the Senior Coach to monitor, assess and manage each program element. First, their expertise is their knowledge of the game rather than conditioning, rehabilitation etc., and second, their core role is to coach individual athletes and the team.

To ensure there is an integrated training program conducive to High Performance, sports organisations employ a High Performance Manager or, in some cases, a Football / Program Director. This role takes a big picture view of the total program and works to ensure that the activities each training area delivers is completely ALIGNED to the goals of the overall program. This alignment is critical as high performance comes from the multiplier effect that a truly integrated program produces. The analogy of a finely tuned racing car is relevant. If one component of the machinery is not working effectively, the car may continue to run, but will not achieve its ultimate performance potential.

Within such a structures, the High Performance Manager is not delivering the actual training programs. They will use their expertise to influence the program and measure and assess the outputs while delegating the delivery to the various program leaders. They in turn report to the Senior Coach or General Manager, or the combination of the two.

Such a structure is relatively contained within a Club setting. However, in a National Sports program such as Cricket Australia’s, it may well be that the role of the High Performance Manager is at the very least a peer of, if not senior to the National coach.

High Performance Managers of National Sporting Organisations straddle a very broad and widely dispersed collection of service providers and will be working to ensure there is an alignment to the philosophies or principles that form the foundations of the programs at the Senior level and through the elite talent pathways.

The skill set of those who hold a Program Director /High Performance role will vary across organisations but typically it will be a mix of the following.

  • A high level of expertise in at least one of the performance disciplines (e.g. The skills of the sport, Exercise Science, Performance Psychology, Medical, Rehabilitation)
  • A very good understanding of the other performance disciplines, generally gained through working in a variety of athlete programs and/or further education
  • The ability to influence and manage others

The sports scientist who has expertise and experience across a range of disciplines, or an experienced coach who has integrated and synthesised information from these areas over a long career is well placed. An administrator who has experienced a variety of performance programs and is experienced in synthesising information and managing people may also be well credentialed. Those who understand both the ‘Art’ and the ‘Science’ of Performance, and can step back and coach and guide the specialists who deal directly with the athlete are well placed to do well in the role. It is however an area where a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, thus the importance of being willing to delegate and being open to challenge.

In summary, the Head of High Performance role is a complex one and defining the role and qualities needed accurately is critical to a successful hire. The Job Analysis process significantly assists in identifying and hiring the right talent.  Unfortunately, organisations do not always have the resources, time or subject matter expertise needed to build a position description that is more than just a further iteration of the previous role.

If your organisation would like to get great clarity around a critical role, BKD Sports Leaders is available at to discuss whether outsourcing the Job Analysis process is appropriate for the position you are filling.