From Motherhood to Leadership

In 2019 I begin my PhD. It’s going to take me 3-4 years.

I propose to bring together three streams of research; learning, leadership, and feminine studies, to understand, and make recommendations around, how to better design leadership development programs for women leaders, specifically mothers, and close the gender gap.

We know that women are still underrepresented in leadership positions.

The results of a survey of 705 New Zealand organisations (Diversity Works New Zealand, 2017) reported that, in approximately 20% of organsiations, women make up less than 25% of leadership and governance teams. This is even more so for larger organisations.

The current research around this challenge appears to be siloed. The challenges for mothers returning to work is discussed (e.g. Nichols & Roux, 2004), the opportunities for women to take on leadership roles, and the style in which they do so, is unpicked (e.g. Madsen & Andrade, 2018; Ely et al, 2011). But new insights into the leadership gender gap, and what to do about it, could come from a more holistic and integrated understanding of the home factors affecting return to work, and women’s ability to take on leadership roles.

Research into learning supports this view that understanding performance in role cannot be isolated to one variable. The ‘AMO framework’ (Boxall & Purcell, 2011) argues that all employee performances are a function of employee ability (A), motivation (M), and the opportunity to perform (O). In Sterling & Boxall (2011) we showed that learning could be short-circuited, much like a three-legged stool, where any one of ability, motivation, or opportunity is deficient. I propose that AMO is also a useful lens to apply to the women in leadership challenge.

Kennedy, et al. (2012) argues that leadership development needs to be focused on mindset. Returning to work after becoming a mother is hard and often viewed negatively (Nichols & Roux, 2006). Invariably this is going to affect motivation to lead and any learning that needs to go along with an ability, or mindset, to do so. But current explorations linking leadership and motherhood together are limited to the counselling profession (e.g. Levitt, 2011).

Interventions to address this need to look at the whole system – not just within the box of a leadership development intervention or blanket work/life policies. The manifestation of a negative unconscious bias towards women could result in limited opportunities to apply leadership skills (Madsen & Andrade, 2018). And the positive effects of worklife practices on the proportion of women in management positions was not observed in organisations that were male dominated (Kalysh et al. 2016). The opportunities for women to lead are still limited.

But we now get to the crux of this challenge. What is the specific leadership value that women, particularly mothers, bring to our organisations? And, therefore, do we need more of them? Billing and Alverson (2000) point out that ‘feminine’ leadership traits are not necessarily the ideal for our organisations – in particular those that value a drive for results over relationship building. So is this more about a paradigm shift in how our organisations operate? “The most important role of leadership development is to renew the leadership concept so that it reflects the new challenges, changes, and strategic directions that organisations face” (Probert & James, 2011). Personally, I’d like to think that there is untapped value in mothers to lead. But do they even want to in the current context?

I’ve just scratched the surface of the research into the multiple variables at play here. It’s a precarious balance between leadership and motherhood; the leadership abilities needed to step up, the motivation to participate with everything else going on in a mother’s life, and the opportunity to do so within the organisational context.

The immensity of the life shift that comes from becoming a parent could be better appreciated. It’s something I have very fresh and first hand knowledge of; becoming a mother, and navigating the significant psychological shift that comes along with that, then returning to a very ‘masculine’, results orientated corporate environment. Alongside my own experience, I see my peers – women / mothers of the same age and stage – leaving the workforce altogether or ‘dumbing-down’ their roles because it’s simply too hard for them to meaningfully contribute. It’s more a case of not wanting it all. I propose to undertake qualitative research that encompases a broad spectrum of systems and structures affecting mothers as leaders, with a view to making recommendations on what could be done differently to close the gender gap.



Billing, Y. and Alverson, M. (2000). Questionning the notion of Feminine Leadership: A Critical Perspective on the Gender Labellng of Leadership. Gender, Work and Organization. 7(3), 144-157.

Boxall, P. and Purcell, J. (2011). Strategy and Human Resource Management, 3rd edn, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Diversity Works New Zealand, (2017). New Zealand Diversity Survey. 2017 Bi-Annual Report – October. Retrieved from: 4th October 2018.

Ely, R., Ibarra, H. and Kolb, D. (2011). Taking Gender into Account: Theory and Design for Women’s Leadership Development Programs. Academy of Management Learning & Education. 10(3).

Kalysh, K., Kulik, C., Perera, S. (2016). Help or hindrance? Work-life practices and women in management. The Leadership Quarterly. 27. 504-518.

Kennedy, F., Carroll, B., Francoeur, J. (2012). Mindset Not Skill Set: Evaluating in New Paradigms of Leadership Development. Advances in Developing Human Resources. 15(1). 10-26.

Levitt, D. (2011). Women and Leadership: A Developmental Paradox? Adultspan Journal. 9(2), 66-75.

Madsen, S. and Andrade, M. (2018). Unconscious Gender Bias: Implications for Women’s Leadership Development. Journal of Leadership Studies. 12(1).

Nichols, M. and Roux, G. (2004). Maternal Perspectives on Postpartum Return to the Workforce. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing. 33(4).

Probert, J. and James, K. (2011). Leadership Development: Crisis, opportunities and the leadership concept. Leadership. 7(2), 137-150.

Sterling, A. and Boxall, B. (2013). Lean production, employee learning and workplace outcomes: a case analysis through the ability-motivation-opportunity framework. Human Resource Management Journal. 23(3).

Stories for rebel boys

I got started on this train of thought when I was looking for children’s books to add to my new little dudes collection. I came across the book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls which features stories of inspiring women. It’s an antithesis to the traditional, damsel in distress, rescued by a handsome prince, fairy tales – the kinds of stories I grew up reading.

When I found out I was pregnant I pictured having a little girl. Little did I imagine that keeping a kid fed, making sure they have enough sleep, a clean nappy, adequate awake time, feel loved, the list goes on, is hard enough. But, amongst those things, I was going to teach her to be a strong, empowered women.

‘The Future is Female’

I saw this slogan recently and it bothered me.

There are a lot of resources dedicated to raising strong and empowered women and encouraging them to step up. We absolutely need more of this. Women are still under-represented and underpaid in our workplaces.

But what about our boys?

The future is both genders leading beside each other.

Sheryl Sandburg in her book Lean In talks about the role of men in creating the space and opportunity for women to lean in. Emma Watson, in her infamous UN speech, states that to end gender inequality we need everyone to be involved. Without our boys being raised in a way that supports equal space for both genders then the fight for equality will always be lopsided and weak.

Our boys have a privilege. But, as Mark Souter put it, when he tweeted me on this topic, they have a “responsibility associated with that position, to change / use / make room for everyone”.

As a new mother, I don’t know where to start with instilling the right values or creating space for Joshua to grow into the kind of man our future needs. Being a parent is bloody hard.

So if someone wrote stories where boys rebelled against their traditionally defined roles, weren’t scared to show vulnerability and worked in partnership with women, then I’d buy that book.

Because in order to build an equal world our boys deserve and need just as much attention.

The tweet sized policy manual

Because everyone keeps asking for it…..

On 28th August 2014 we did an NZLEAD tweet chat on 140 character policies. I thought I’d take some of the awesome suggestions, summarise my favourites and out my own spin on them to create a tweet sized policy manual.

Social media 
  • Make social media a positive experience for all. Communicate professionally, imaginatively and respectfully.

Dress code
  • Wear clothes. Ones that suit the job.
Health and safety
  • Look after yourself and those around you.
Alcohol and drugs
  • Be in a lucid state of mind to do your job and, if that’s hard for you, tell us so we can support you.
  • Be really careful with people’s personal data. Only tell people stuff if they need to, and are supposed to, know.
  • We expect you to make any race, sex, age, or any other defining category of person, welcome and comfortable here.
  • If you have an issue or a problem, talk to someone, anyone, to try and sort it out sensibly.
  • Do great things at work so we can all spend more time making this a great place to work for you.
  • Turn up when you are supposed to but, if there is a good reason you can’t, talk to us.
 Performance management
  • If being awesome is proving difficult, we can help you be that with us or be awesome somewhere else.
Performance reviews 
  • Let’s regularly chat about how you’re doing, how you’re feeling and what you need to be awesome.
Learning & Development
  • What interests you? What would help you be more awesome? Now do it.
  • Drive the company car like you own it and you’re paying for it.
  • Company money belongs to the company. Be honest and transparent, expect your colleagues to do the same.
  • Remember that we can find anything you’ve done, anything you’ve said and anywhere you’ve been. If you aren’t sure, ask.
  • We pay you what you’re worth balanced with what we can. We reward you when you do well.
  • Don’t be an arsehole. If that doesn’t work for you, leave.
Credit to Sandy Wilkie,  Gem Reucroft, Angela Atkins, Simon Jones, Richard Westney, Perry Timms whose fabulous tweets I have adapted this from. I’ve tried as much as possible to put a positve spin on them, avoiding ‘don’t’ and ‘no’ and think they still capture the message.
Are their any policy issues not covered here that should be? Or any tweaks to these to make them better?

The space between

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl

I love this quote by Viktor Frankl. He spent many years in a German concentration camp and came to the conclusion that we can choose our response to what happens around us, that is where our power lies. If it was really simple in far easier circumstances then we’d all live  much easier lives.

My current preoccupation has been the design of leadership resources, specifically focused on having difficult conversations. Knowing yourself, and mindfulness in the moment features heavily. Catch yourself in the moment and make a choice about how you will respond.

Neuroscience research supports this approach. Any difficult situation is stressful, stress triggers a physiological response in the brain, blood starts pumping, adrenaline starts flowing, and our instinctive fight or flight response kicks in. Before we realise it, our amygdala, the primitive brain hijacks our response, we go into fight or flight.

Mindfulness “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations” (Wikipedia, 2017) is a practice primed to catch the moment our cave man (or cave woman) instincts are about to take over. If we’re present, right there and then, we have the power to make a choice about the type of response we want to have.

This goes beyond difficult conversations.

After writing a book and blogging consistently for years, it’s been some time since I’ve written anything. almost a year actually. It got to the point where I felt I HAD to blog, psychologically there was no space for me to choose. So I stopped all together.

More recently, I started a new job. Shortly after which I found out I was pregnant. And since then I’ve felt the most ill I’ve ever felt in my life. The chronic over-achiever in me is balking that I have no control over anything, and I can’t do anything about it. I’m forced to stop and sit in the present because I simply don’t have the mental or physical capacity to be anywhere else. And any movement either way requires a conscious decision around where best to spend my energy.

I have no choice but to be present. And that’s my new space.


What is digital thinking?

In my last blog post I explored what digital capability meant in five overlapping dimensions – IT Skills, Work Practices, Tools, Leadership and Vision. If you read that post, and you’re wondering where I got to with the measurement of digital capability, my approach is focusing on IT skills as a, comparatively, easy piece to define and measure. This survey is almost ready to roll and will inform some of the more technical development of digital capability.

But it leaves a pretty nebulous piece of work to define some of those other aspects of organisational digital capability. Namely, digital ‘behaviours’ / ‘leadership’ / ‘thinking’. I’m using those terms interchangeably at the moment – for all intents and purposes they’re the same. I’m conscious that some people get put off by the word ‘leadership’, thinking it’s some sort of hierarchical thing. I’m of the opinion that anyone can be a leader. And we need more leaders. So, use what words you will, but I’ll just call it ‘digital thinking’ for now.

Speaking of words, I’ve put together a bit of a definition of what digital thinking means. And I’ll get to that. First, I want to give some context to why digital thinking is different to traditional ways of thinking and set the scene for how I’m defining it. And, because I’m lazy (ergo always looking to do the least work with the biggest impact), here’s something I prepared earlier – an excerpt from my talk on The Analytics of Purpose talk from the SUNZ Conference, Feb 2016.

Context for digital thinking

The proliferation of ‘digital’ is not just a change in technology. But a change in how we work and learn. For the last 100 years our work practices have been modelled off an industrial approach. Whereby, hierarchy, control and fragmentation are the defining characteristics of our workplaces.

New ways of working are emerging. Things like flexible work and people clouds. Where organisations can’t employ all the people they need, but bring together the skills needed when they’re needed, from different locations and different time zones. Where people come together to work on a common task and then disperse again. A report, from the Management Innovation Exchange, a digital hub for re-inventing management, summarises this:

Your colleagues aren’t necessarily the people who sit next to you at work, but rather the people who are working on the same problems with the same passion that you have. The organizations and leaders who figure out the most clever and compelling ways to connect those people and organizations will be the real winners.

This is a world where people connect over a common purpose. What Seth Godin calls Tribes – the people, not organisations that will shape and change our world. Where connections, communication and collaboration are creating shifts in power and control.

In the consumer landscape, this is customers telling stories about the products they buy. And purchasing decisions being made on ‘what my friend tells me’, or the recommendations of the people i follow on Instagram. Rather than the marketing spin, corporate curated message.

In the education world, this is students finding out information themselves. They’ll google it or watch a YouTube video. The teacher is no longer the expert and the holder of knowledge. They are now a mentor, a facilitator and a coach – looking after the holistic wellbeing of their students.

In the workplace, this is people telling the connections of their connections what it’s really like to work for you. But, it’s more than what they’re saying. It’s what they’re sharing. It’s using technology to create their own learning networks. Transferring information, and decision making, at speed, across and outside the organisation.

And then there’s what’s been labelled generation ‘Why’. The people we’re now leading and managing have different expectations to the generations that have come before them. They’ve got the basic necessities of life and they know what’s going on in the world. Technology gives them more freedom and free time. They’re searching for greater purpose and greater meaning in their lives. And seeing as we spend most of our time at work, they want to connect their own purpose with the organisation’s purpose.

Yeah, this is challenging. And it would be easy to blame technology, or the upstart, demanding, young people.

But the truth of it is that our world is now changing so quickly that we need the creativity and innovation that comes from people embracing who they are, their purpose. And we need the agility that technology both forces upon us and enables us to adapt.

Gary Hamel, one of the foremost business thought leaders of our time, argues that our current business models are not sufficient to survive and thrive. They’re just not adaptable enough. What we need are organisations that let the strengths of individuals shine, where employees have decision making power, and where businesses can flex more readily to the needs of consumers.

So, in this context, what is digital thinking?

There are key themes that keep coming up in the books, research and case studies around digitally capable organisations. So many, over so many years that I’ve been working in this space, that I can’t reference them all. Instead I’ve just written down all the ones that keep popping up. It’s a compilation of ‘all the things’, if you will.

What you should notice is that digital capability and digital thinking are more than ‘digital’. ‘Digital’ has implications for every aspect of how we do things. It’s a fundamental paradigm shift from more traditional ways of working and learning. The technology features, but it’s only one part of this.

These are fundamental principles that surround the use of digital technology in how we work, and learn, together, internally and externally.

Private and closed to open and transparent. Information is available anywhere, anytime, by anyone. The expectation of employees is that there is a certain level of visibility, and honesty, surrounding products and practices. Alongside this, we expect to participate with information rather than merely consume it. This opens up opportunities to build on each other’s work. But it also means we need to be comfortable with sharing work, ideas and resources, internally and externally. Potentially unfinished work too. And be open to accepting feedback and additions from others. The mantra is progress over perfection.

Hierarchies and silos to matrices and networks. People can connect with each other internally and externally, at speed. Information and decision making is dispersed, power shifts from the hierarchy to the network. In this environment, people connect over a common purpose. This has implications for how we structure organisations. It’s less about titles and departments, but more about converging over tasks or projects. Correspondingly we will see more use of contractors and fixed terms rather than permanent roles.

‘One size fits all’ to adaptable and personalised. There is less ‘delivering and directing’ and more coaching and mentoring. People are empowered to achieve results in their own way. This is also about technology stream-lining generic people processes and opening up room for personalising experiences.

A product orientated approach to an internal customer centric approach. Customer centricity has long been the domain of work principles such a lean, but it features even more prominently in digitally capable organisations. I’m talking about internal ‘customers’; understanding who they are, what they need to build value for your end customer (the one who pays your bills,) and collaborating with those internal customers to deliver results.

Status quo to innovation and agility. Change is not a one-off, but the ‘way we do things around here’. With that in mind, continuous improvement should be embedded into our work practices. Key competencies include flexibility of approach, and being brave enough to challenge. But this is also an environment that encourages individual’s strengths and diversity of thought.

Planning to experimentation. We fail fast; we get up and try again. Failure is a learning opportunity and viewed as a positive.

Process and rules to relationships and connections. Knowing who your colleagues are, I mean really who they are as human beings, is critical to achieving results. We value each other’s strengths and know how to tap into these. We’re not afraid to give, or receive, feedback and delivering that feedback strengthens relationships.

Controlling to empowering. We give people the decision making scope to take action. We collaborate and co-create with our people through parallel layers of interaction.

Money to higher meaning (purpose). We can articulate, and can help people connect to, the organisation’s purpose – deepening engagement. We do this by helping them uncover their own purpose and, in turn, build self-awareness.

Analogue to technology. Using technology to work smarter not harder. Connecting with each other through different communication, collaboration and co-creation channels. As well as blending work and life, and effectively managing the two.

Knowledge to networked intelligence. The ability to develop systems that support connection and information. As well as leveraging networks to find and use information. It’s not about what you know anymore, but who you know and what they will share with you.

Understanding you. How you fit in with all this, the unique strengths that you bring to the table. Who you are as a leader, whatever that might mean to you.

I think this is at least a start on defining what digital thinking is. The next trick is developing it. These are not incremental shifts but potentially transformational moves that are quite likely to make people uncomfortable.

I’d really like your thoughts. Is there anything you think should be included in this definition of digital thinking?

What is digital capability?

It’s now week five of my working for Auckland Museum and I’ve spent much of that time talking to people around the Museum and researching digital capability in the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) sector. My first big task is to assess digital capability via a quantitative (that’s a survey) and qualitative (that’s talking to more people) methodology. So that we know what specific areas we need to target to increase said capability.

But the first place to start with this is to articulate what digital capability actually is. It’s by no means straight forward. Chicken and egg is a fitting description. ‘Digital’ means different things to different people. Some will say that it’s digital apps, tools, technology. Others will say it’s a different way of interacting with audiences.

So how do you measure something that people define differently?

I’ve started with some models for the effective implementation of people initiatives and learning and have used them to focus my initial, informal, discussions. These conversations have given me a bit more context to the museum and all the overlapping and moving parts that have an impact on digital capability, I’m then overlaying these insights with the research into digital capability (including some very useful resources from the Education sector) to frame my research/survey questions. I’m hoping this will give me a better picture of what digital capability actually is, how we measure it and the road map to enhance it.

There are two main models that are informing my thinking around digital capability. The first is probably the most pressing in my consciousness. It’s something I’ve used for years, heavily influenced by doing my Masters thesis with Peter Boxall (Professor of HRM at Auckland University), and seeing the implications of these three elements play out in the workplace time and time again. The model is the Ability, Motivation, Opportunity framework.

  • Ability is the skills and capabilities people need to complete tasks. In a digital sense, this is the knowing how to use the technology.
  • Motivation is the ‘what’s in it for me’. It doesn’t need to be transactional though. Simply, the reason we get out of bed in the morning is intrinsically connected to what you’re asking people to do, or change.
  • Opportunity refers to resources and scope to use technology. For example, the technology works like it’s supposed to, we’re allowed to use it (i.e. Twitter isn’t blocked), and we’ve got adequate information about what you can and can’t do – giving us the freedom to make adult decisions.


All three of these factors are a tripod. If one is missing then the others are going to fall down. You can’t tell people what to do (funny that!). You can train them until the cows come home, but if their hearts (their motivation) are not in it then they’re not going to do anything differently. Likewise, if you teach people how to use Twitter but there is no clear message about what the organisation voice is vs. the individual’s voice then people are going to be uncertain about using that tool – limiting their opportunity to participate.

If you’ve read my book you may have picked up on my belief that these three factors are even more fundamental when looking at the uptake of technology and adapting to increasing change. It’s complex, uncertain and, because it’s harder to see, measure, and ‘control’ outcomes, you’re much more reliant on individual motivation.

The second model I’m layering in here is the 70:20:10 framework made popular by Charles Jennings. This is the philosophy that 70% of learning should come through on the job experience, 20% through learning through others and 10% through structured courses and programmes. There has been some debate about the relevance of this model in recent years. But, I believe that’s because those 70% and 20% elements sit outside the realm of traditional instructional design and more in the sphere of organisational learning capability, workplace design and work systems. Practices that are impacted by other areas of the organisation including, from my observations over the years, ICT, Operations, and Marketing (not exclusively though). These are areas where the connection to learning and development strategy development and execution are not traditionally that strong.


There is a risk with the development of digital capability that the focus sits on that workshop space. ‘Let’s train people how to use digital tools and that will fix the challenges that we have’. We risk unbalancing the tripod and causing more frustration as people have the skills to use technology but not the capacity to do so. That development of skills  should be part of digital capability development but only one piece in a bigger jigsaw puzzle.

The rest doesn’t just happen on its own though, and the development of this ‘culture’ requires a mix of different interventions with different areas of the organisation. Yes, some of them workshop based but with the specific intentions, and embedded design, to impact past the workshop environment. These initiatives include:

  • The evolution of work practices that enable the flexibility to be innovative, creative and responsive to changing environmental demands. Think Design Thinking, Agile, and Lean. Re-thinking the way we run meetings and manage projects.
  • Tools and systems that support communication across the organisation. How does the Intranet, document storage and sharing system, and chat platforms intersect and support each other to achieve an overall goal of collaboration and information management, within and across teams.
  • Leadership development that supports the transition from privacy to transparency, planning to experimentation, controlling to empowering and hierarchies to networks. As well as the necessarily mindfulness/wellness techniques needed to survive and thrive in a fast changing and hyper-connected world. This has flow on implications for who we hire and how we hire them.
  • A digital vision that clearly articulates the expectations placed on people to be digital. Translating the overall organisation strategy into ‘what does this mean for the way we work together and learn?’ Clearing up confusion about what ‘digital thinking’ means and setting the expectation for the culture ‘the way we do around here’. Delving deeper also means helping people make the connection between ‘me’, ‘my team’ and ‘the organisation’.

Digital cap

In my thinking, and discussions, about digital, and indeed digital thinking, I keep revisiting the distinction between modernisation and transformation I borrow from my friend Heather, a teacher in a progressive school in East Auckland. Without sounding like a stuck record, modernisation is doing the same way we’ve always done things but with whiz bang features. Tranformation is looking at fundamentally changing the way we do things. Let me give you some examples:

  • In the school sector, this means teachers moving from the holders of knowledge standing at the front of the classroom, imparting information to kids sitting in rows taking down notes, to being facilitators, coaches and mentors as kids search out information themselves, using technology, and discuss it with their peers.
  • In retail, this means moving from the marketing message being the selling point for goods and services, to consumers telling their own stories about their purchases and people making decisions based on recommendations of people they know, or are connected to (this is why Instagram is diabolical for my credit card!).


I’m new to museology so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on this in respect to how the museum interacts with its audience. I do see the opportunities for internal practice though. Are we using digital technology to do the same thing we’ve always done but with new gadgets? Or do we want to create greater agility, innovation, creativity, openness, transparency? If the answer to this is yes, then there are implications for our leaders, systems, work practices and communication of vision (the stuff I mentioned above). Future Museum is pointing us in this direction, and I believe that our internal culture should be a mirror of what we project externally.

So, what does this mean for the capability assessment that I’m developing? Well I seem to have pullled together the ICT capability element of it quite easily (I found some great questions online). But I still need to explore this ‘digital thinking culture’ (for want of better words) that make up digital capability. I’m still working on something that captures that crucial synergy between training and application.

And I’m now faced with the challenge of simultaneously birthing the egg and growing the chicken at the same time as I start to plan how we’re going to define, lead and develop digital capability in an environment where we don’t have a clear idea what it is. It sounds like some word of weird sociological and biological experiment and it is. But that seems to be the thing with digital anyway, it’s all new ground. We’re all just trying to work out what we’re doing. And that’s a mind-set in itself isn’t it?

This thinking is by no means complete but, hopefully, by sharing, I can further develop the finesse of my delivery. I’d love to know what you think about this.

What it’s like writing a book

Humane-Workplace-cover ebookA few people have asked me recently what it’s like writing a book. I usually tell them to go and read Andy Headworth’s eloquent summary of his book writing experience.

And now I also get the “I’d like to write a book someday” statements. My advice to you, unless you LOVE writing, then don’t write a book.

Thankfully I love writing and relished the hermit like existence that has been my life for the past six months.

I’m also conscious that only crazy nut jobs write a book in six months!

BUT, if you are a crazy nut job as well, and you LOVE writing, then here is how I did it.

Draft One – one month

I took part in an event called National Novel Writers Month (#Nanowrimo). It’s basically an event whereby writers from all around the world spend a whole month writing 50,000 words of a novel or book. It gave me the motivation to just write words, and keep writing words, because I knew I had to have a certain amount of words each day, week and at the end of the month. So, I worked out how many writing days I had that month (taking out weekends and client days) and divided 50,000 by that number. What I ended up with was a target of at least 2,500 words on days I was writing.

Thankfully I wasn’t short on content. The idea behind my book was to take all the #NZLEAD tweet chats and conversations and thread them together. So the logical place to start was with the content on I wrote down a list of all the topics we’d covered and roughly grouped them together under headings (e.g. recruitment, learning etc.). I then methodically worked my way through the topics, capturing and writing down notes on refill paper. Yes, that was my method – old school paper and pen. I ended up with piles and piles of paper. I split up my days by handwriting in the morning and typing up all my notes in the afternoon (after my fingers started to cramp from the pen). If a subject sparked a thought, I didn’t censor it, I just wrote it all down. If a topic linked to more information, or needed further explanation, I followed the links and wrote down the key points from all of that too.

I reached the 50,000 word mark. I ended up with a whole lot of words of nonsense. Truth be told, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for and naively thought I could write a whole, finished, book in a month.

Lesson one: only crazier nut jobs can write a whole book in one month.

Draft Two to Six – One Month (although this was Xmas so I did take some time off!)

November finished – I had a lot of words. 50,665 to be exact. I started hacking at it. I grouped together themes that were related. I didn’t think about it too much. It was more an “oh, this idea is sort of similar to this idea” so I dumped them into the same area. I deleted stuff – duplications, nonsensical ramblings. Towards draft Six I had whittled the whole thing down to about 38,000 words. Each pass through of the document I saved a new version.

Lesson two: be ruthless with cutting. As long as you ‘Save As’ different versions you can still add stuff back in if you change your mind.

Draft Seven to Nine – Two Months

I had been adding some of my own stories throughout some of the writing process. But this was when I really amped them up. I added detail, I moved them around. By writing my own stories, that personal connection helped me get clear about what I was trying to say in each section of the book. They gave clarity to the key themes and that helped me streamline the content further.

It was about this point that I gave it to Richard Westney to have a look at. His feedback changed the layout of some of the chapters and clarified the theme of the book.

I say this part took me two months but I did start taking chunks of time doing non-book related stuff between edits so that I could go back to it with a fresh perspective.

Lesson Three: Take time off between edits otherwise it all makes sense to you – and making sense doesn’t help you edit.

Draft Ten to Thirteen – one month

It was about at this point that I stopped seeing any inconsistencies and the whole thing made sense to me. Which isn’t good because I’d looked at it for too long and couldn’t really see it anymore.

It was time to pass it on to some more critical eyes.

This is where I enlisted the help of my editor friend Tanja and her trusty sidekick Tamara. Tamara started with editing the whole thing for structure and flow. Tanja then delved into more of the detail and picking up on things didn’t make sense. The last edit here was spelling and grammar. I’d worked with Tanja on my masters thesis and she’s just awesome. Tamara and Tanja made a brilliant tag team (in case you need someone to edit your book).

Lesson Four: don’t edit it yourself, get someone else to do it. For the reasons I gave in lesson three.

 Draft Thirteen – Two Months … ish

Lucky draft number thirteen was the one sent to PressGang to do all the final layout for the book. I self-published this book so I didn’t / don’t have a slick machine to do all this for me and had to foot the bill myself. I ran a pledgeme campaign to cover all the printing costs – with the added benefit of pre-selling about 80 books!

I found PressGang quite good to deal with once we got the timelines pinned down (which took a little bit of doing) – expect about six weeks from almost final draft to print.

Simon Heath did my cover art and I had asked Perry Timms to do my foreword some months prior. So the document I sent to PressGang was pretty much a complete word doc. There was a bit more going back and forth point though. Once they laid out the cover, I had to redo my authors bio. I also picked up things I wanted to tweak – it’s amazing what the extra pressure of getting it printed does to your attention to detail.

Lesson Five: Editing actually takes more time than writing a book – just FYI.

I then had to then edit the files that PressGang had developed for the print version into a Kindle version. Thankfully it’s really easy to load a book for Kindle (thank you Tim Scott for the pointers). Unfortunately the print publication was in InDesign and transferring the document back to Word was painful and included re-adding the 163 references!

Lesson Six: If you’re going to do print and Kindle, get it perfect in word first then have it laid out for print.

And here it is, available for pre-order and ready to launch on the 9th July….

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.35.03 pmThe book is being printed and will be available as a Kindle E-Book. You can pre-order the e-book here.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.37.50 pm



You can also preorder a hard copy of the book here. 





I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!