“Lose your life to gain it”: from frustration to leadership

02 Nov 2013 16:24 | Armelle Loghmanian

 “Lose your life to gain it”: from frustration to leadership 

Interview by Alessandra Zocca


Grant Wattie

Advancing Women & Diversity
Founder of the Global Women’s Leadership Summit (GWALS)

Grant, the Global Women’s Leadership Summit (GWALS) is expected to be the largest women and leadership online event in the world, connecting over 15,000 leaders, executives and managers with the most globally recognized visionaries.

What criteria have you applied to choosing the GWALS speakers? Or have you followed your intuition? What inspired you about the speakers, any particular traits?

I researched extensively on LinkedIn groups what topics and presenters women professionals were interested in. I started with a post asking “what’s the number one frustration of women in leadership” and had over 300 replies in a week.

I have gone for the names with a reputation of authenticity and integrity and who I see are genuine, true leaders, as defined by my own intuition. People with specific traits required for leadership such as mindset, courage, finding sponsors and mentors, and being politically savvy.

Then, I personally interviewed women from around the world who - according to me – show these qualities. 

I have placed a strong focus on the following categories: 
  • Corporate and Executive Development
  • Leadership Development Skills
  • Mentoring and Sponsorship
  • Networking and Relationship Building
  • Inspirational Stories of Women in Leadership
  • Promoting Diversity and Inclusion
  • Engaging Men to Advance Women
  • Full List: http://summit.gwals.com/sessions/

Do you distinguish leadership characteristics which you see as male or female? If so, which are the connotations of the feminine leadership you appreciate most?

The connotations I appreciate most in feminine leadership are traits such as collaboration, relationship building, empathy and the ability to focus on the greater good. There is a growing trend and recognition that these traits are desirable in leaders (please see John Gerzema’s research and “Athena Doctrine” (1) and I also see many men with the same capacity for these traits.

What concerns me most is that traditional talent assessments are weighted heavily in favour of traits and behaviour that are typically ‘male’ such as competitiveness, strategic thinking, being influential and being tough minded as prerequisites for senior leadership. However I believe what is needed more than ever is a shift in mindset, rather than a shift in behaviour, as thinking precedes behavior because you think first, and then act on the thoughts.

There is growing research into the field of adult development that shows the ability to manage complex situations requires ‘wisdom’. As a leader I believe a huge aspect of my job is to help people develop how they think.

Grant, please, could you explain more about this “shift in mindset”?

In today’s world, we live in times of rapid change, market volatility and unpredictable events. Many people, even leaders are out of their depth and thrashing around in the water and need new ways of thinking to cope with the changes.
The current methods used to develop and cope with the world I believe are old and outdated and tend to focus on old behaviors’ rather than new ways of thinking. We need:
  • New ways of thinking for the new world that is on our doorstep
  • Strategies to adapt, to be able to handle complexity and to cope with the many changes which we are experiencing daily
  • New standards to enable us to increase our capability and complex thinking to cope with the new world.

Harvard Professor Robert Kegan (2) said a large number of executive’s are in roles that cause them to feel they are in “over their heads”. He distinguishes between two different ways that adults can develop either horizontally across time, or vertically in time:

  • Horizontal behaviour (or Acquired learning) is the development of new skills, measured by behaviour. Traditionally development has focused on horizontal behaviour, rather than the vertical potential of adults.
  • Vertical development (or Adaptive Learning) includes the ‘stages’ that people progress through and how they ‘make sense’ of their world - and can be measured in thoughts or how sentences are constructed. The latest developmental research has indeed shown that adults continue to progress through predictable stages of mental development.
    At each higher level of development, adults ‘make sense’ of the world, in what we call thought forms, (an analysis of understanding, reasoning, and focus of attention) and do this in more complex ways as their minds expand.

 Metaphorically, horizontal development is like pouring water into an empty glass: the glass filling up represents learning new behaviour and skills.

In contrast, vertical development is like expanding the glass to provide a larger capacity to hold water.
This represents the leader’s mind that has expanded and can assimilate more information.

By understanding the developmental stages of an adult (conventional thinking assumes that adults have ‘grown-up’ at around 21 years old), this provides a measure of the capacity of leaders to perform in their roles and provides a scope of their development potential.
Once you have a greater awareness of the stage of development you may be at, this can then open up new possibilities to improve your thinking capacity and capability.

Do you have any example of researches proving this theory?

Recent research has shown that people at higher levels of development perform better in more complex environments. A study looked at 21 CEOs and middle managers from various companies, each with annual revenues of over $5 billion.
The study showed a clear correlation between higher levels of vertical development and higher levels of effectiveness. There is also a high correlation between creativity and how adults at higher levels tend to be more creative.
The study also demonstrates that managers at higher levels of cognitive development are able to perform more effectively because they can think in more complex ways.

I have had a similar experience in coaching senior executives across top companies in Australasia. When executives develop their thinking into a higher level by identifying the way they think and then expanding their thinking using mind opening questions, I have noticed that they:
  • Have a greater ability to learn
  • Solve complex problems
  • Lead change and set new directions due to their expanded awareness
  • View things from multiple perspectives.

In a nutshell, leaders that operate at higher levels of development will have an important competitive advantage over those that don’t. Ultimately they will have a higher capacity to ‘connect the dots’ and will be better at ‘strategy’ and this can be learned.

How have you come to foster women’s professional development?
Has it been a sort of conversion on the road to Damascus or a slow process, or were you raised with this inclination, learning from your parents?

When my wife and I graduated from college 25 years ago, 50% of our class were women yet according to statistics only 20% of those women graduates would reach the top in their professional life. For many years, I remained blind to the statistics.

However it wasn’t until I started working with women in therapy and had daughters of my own that I woke up to the issues.

It has taken me a long time to recognize and understand male power and privilege, and the impact this has on society. For many years I didn’t do anything to change things or even acknowledge that there was a problem.
I finally realized (through training and education) that by doing nothing I was in fact perpetuating the injustice by allowing the dominant status quo to continue.

When my daughters entered the workforce they were highly qualified but they still face the same societal barriers and biases that women have for years.
I want to change things for the sake of my daughters and the next generation.

What do you want to achieve in concrete terms?

Now I am working to promote what is called “women’s issues”, however I believe they are in fact “men’s issues”.
When I worked as a family therapist and domestic violence counselor, the first step to overcoming and solving an issue of injustice - for example violence, (emotional, physical or spiritual) was to bring about a mind shift from blame to accepting responsibility. Many of the issues seen in therapy originated at the hands of men such as violence, abuse and workplace bullying (of course bullies are not necessarily men).

For example, let’s say John was physically violent and beat up Barbara. Barbara seeks help from a women’s refuge. She is referred for counseling and help. Often the issue is reframed from John beating Barbara to Barbara being ‘labeled’ as having been beaten and therefore she is seen as a victim of physical abuse. The conversation has subtly shifted from John to Barbara. John remains powerful and Barbara a victim.
When referred to me, the aim was to help John take responsibility for his actions rather than continuing to make excuses. The key to this was to appeal to his interests – what he would “lose” – a wife, a partner, his friends and his reputation, everything - if he continued these behaviors. Once he accepted his behavior was unacceptable and the consequences as painful, he might seek to change. The change happened first with a shift in ‘mindset’ based on self-preservation instincts. What will I gain and what will I lose.

Grant, I think that many women refuse to be victims. What about “women’s issues” in regard to women in leadership positions?

People can only take responsibility for themselves – however many women are financially tied to these men and find it hard to break away – and they stay for the sake of the kids.

It’s the same with women in leadership. Women want equal rights, more women in leadership. The focus is still on the victim not the perpetrator. It’s time to look at the societal root of the problem and men can no longer think they are innocent bystanders. In order to make a change it is required to make a shift in perception: if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re a part of the problem. I call it ignorance and a lack of awareness.
A small shift can have a huge effect - a butterfly effect – the butterfly flaps its wings in the Caribbean and there’s a tornado in the pacific. We need men to be willing to stand up and start to make small changes to the status quo.
This will happen with education and appealing to men – not through blame or criticism but with solid argument and showing the benefits to men of standing up for what is right. Appealing to a man’s sense of honor. For example Companies that have a high percentage of women in senior leadership and board representation should be given awards of honor. Men who advance women should also be honored (for example the AXA Award in Belgium) for doing so and other men will aspire to follow.

Grant, going back to your statement <<I want to change things for the sake of my daughters>>, what have you taught your children about leadership?

Alessandra, I have two daughters, Sarah, 27, a Human rights Lawyer and Rachel 25, a journalist. My son, Benjamin, 21 is finishing a computer science degree.
Our children grew up in a small business environment and I think they learned a lot in this environment:
  • Awareness & Contribution – What my partner Christine and I have encouraged most in our children is to understand and value their uniqueness and the contribution they can make to the world.
    Leadership begins with an awareness of yourself (sometimes the awareness requires a wakeup call, insight or transformation) Then, when you know where you are going, you can help others along the way.
    Alongside this is the sense of respect and valuing of others or what Carl Rogers called “being person centered”.

  • Collaboration - My wife Christine and I worked very well together, complimenting each other’s skills and valuing each other’s strengths.
    I think that collaboration is the key to leadership, meaning men and women working together in synergy to utilize each other’s unique skills.

  • Leadership traits - Genuineness, empathy and unconditional positive regard for others are essential leadership traits especially, if we are going to change the word in an ethical and sustainable way. Leadership then is realizing that you are responsible and therefore you are accountable for your action or inaction and that you can make a difference.

Did you have, Grant, in your youth, strong female role-models who inspired you in regard to leadership? If so, please tell us something about them.

In my family I can mention two ladies who inspired me, my Mother and my Sister:

  • I remember the words of my Mother clearly as she would run along the beach with my brothers and sister and me during a wild storm, she shouted out “be free, free as the birds”. She would often say this to us, alongside other encouraging words such as “you can do it” and “you can be anything you want to be”.
    I later understood that being the eldest in a family of ten, Mum had many responsibilities whilst growing up and vowed that she would bring us up without the constraints she had had.
    I am grateful to both my Mother and Father for their positive words to us when we were children, which affirmed our sense of identity and our confidence to be able to be, or do, anything we want to be or do.

  • Years later my life changed dramatically when my youngest sibling, and only sister, Brigid, died. Her death taught me what life meant to her. I remember her words clearly: “Just be happy Grant, life is short and you never know what will happen.” She also said that time with family now meant the most to her.
    I determined then that no matter what, I would be happy, and spend the rest of my life doing what I was passionate about, that is being creative and helping others.

How have you prepared yourself to help others? Please tell us more about your professional back-ground.

I trained in horticulture science, moved in to corporate then moved into business ownership and professional photography. Then I trained to become a counsellor and family therapist, and later an executive coach, specialising in helping senior executives find purpose and meaning to life.

Now I think more than anything I would call myself an entrepreneur with a very strong social justice coaching passion.
My underlying motivation is to make a difference and create change leading towards promoting values such as justice, liberation and the need for people belonging together in relationships.

My motto is: “Lose your life to gain it”. When Christine and I chose to train as counsellors it involved making an important decision. The decision was to align our work with our passion and our sense of purpose, and the meaning of our lives.
At the time, it meant deciding to leave behind all of the comfort and security of our current life. It meant making a decision to sell our business, let go of our stable income, sell our house and adopt a much lower paying job. It felt scary. The questions and the doubts were real, i.e.: What if it didn’t work? What if we ran out of money? What would it be like to live in a smaller house?
However, the rewards and gains of doing so have been truly remarkable. I believe that in order to create a transformation, requires a sort of death: it involves letting go of our currently held beliefs, assumptions, perceptions, models and established ways of doing things.

You may ask how will we know when to do this? How do we know it’s time to let it all go? The key for me was frustration and I had to listen to my emotions. When we become so frustrated with our current situation that is a great indicator that there is a chasm between our current life and what we desire for the future.
Frustration is an emotion that gets us to do things; it gives us energy to move forward and search for the answers we are looking for. I have noticed frustration at all of the major crossroads in my life, and each time I moved on to something bigger and better. Learn to embrace frustration and be grateful for it!

You received the highest honor given to a foreign dignitary by the Government of Chile for your services <<The Bernardo O'Higgins Award>>. What is it about and why indeed was this award given to you?

This makes me laugh, as I often think I don’t really deserve this award. However it highlights an important value, friendship. Let me tell you a story, Alessandra ….
Some time ago I met someone who was to become a lifelong friend and confidante: Carlos, the Chilean Ambassador, who lived next door. We met when my son Ben and I took some cookies over to welcome the family to New Zealand. They had just arrived from Chile and Carlos’s son, Carlos Andres was the same age as my son. Carlos and I quickly became friends. We would often talk into the small hours of the morning discussing the things that troubled us, and philosophical topics.

After five years when Carlos and his family left for Chile, he awarded me the “Bernardo O’Higgins award”, the highest award given to a foreign dignitary. At the time I was perplexed and I asked him what the award was for and he said the award was for being his ‘compadre’ meaning a friend closer than a brother. I was touched to have such meaning put on our friendship. Our time together was like a seed planted. Whenever I thought about my life’s passion, I immediately thought of our long meaningful talks and how I would love to do something like that with other people.

You are a well-known photographer: have you been able to capture the essence of leadership in a portrait?

I like to capture the essence of humanity in a portrait. A twinkle in the eye, an expression, a smile, a loving glance, or capturing the ‘essence’ of the now and living in the moment. 

Talking about capturing leadership, one of my favourite photographic clients was an Ambassador and also a Princess.
When she left New Zealand for Malaysia, she offered to keep in touch, to meet up if we went to Malaysia and introduce us to her friends. Six months later we came to visit her and she booked us to photograph the then ruling King and Queen, Prime Minister and many other notable people.
The next few years were like a dream as we photographed many Leaders, celebrities and distinguished people. Capturing leadership in all these people was the same as any other photograph: it was about capturing the essence of humanity as seen in the moment.
We didn’t treat these leaders as anything special and that was the key to understanding and capturing who they really were behind the mask of importance.

Short Biography

Grant founded the Global Women's Leadership Summit because he is passionate about advancing women's leadership worldwide. Grant believes advancing women is not only a matter of justice; it is the key to solving the world’s social, economic and environmental problems. Grant also encourages men to engage in the conversation, to support women.

Grant is also a family and relationship therapist, master executive coach, leadership consultant and professional photographer.

Grant's work is supported with diverse cross cultural experiences working with royalty, governments, The Governor General of Chile, diplomats and international business leaders. For his services Grant received the highest honour given to a foreign dignitary by the Government of Chile - The Bernardo O'Higgins award.

He has a unique blend of skills acquired from a diverse career in the corporate world, business ownership, technology and franchise start-ups, executive coaching and family therapy over the past 25 years.
Grant's specialty is executive coaching and working strategically with complex and difficult issues, supported by his diverse skills and thousands of hours of experience with clients.

Grant enjoys playing competitive squash, cooking, and is an internationally renowned professional photographer, having received many professional awards.

Contacts Details
Grant Wattie



22/2Macarthur Road


(1) John Gerzema’s research and “Athena Doctrine” http://www.johngerzema.com/

(2) Kegan’s stages of development http://adultlearnercharacteristics.wikispaces.com/Kegan%27s+Stages+of+Development

(3) Integral Leadership Manifesto http://integralleadershipmanifesto.com/manifesto/making-subject-object/

Disclaimer -     
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of GWALS, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement..
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