Maree McPherson is a widely acknowledged ‘go to’ person around regional Australian issues. As an experienced and certified Leadership Coach with over 600 hours of coaching experience, Maree is also someone who has has ‘felt it on her own skin’, she’s lived and breathed it – had the corporate career and successfully combined it with a regional lifestyle. Her clear passion is supporting regional and rural women and teams to fall in love with their work, and to fulfil their potential by exploring the varied career possibilities available, many which they may not even be aware of.
Maree’s applied experience and practical wisdom transcends her technical expertise. With more than 30 years of experience, she has worked with individual leaders and leadership teams to embrace lifelong learning and create a legacy.
What led you to write your book Cutting Through the Grass Ceiling’ – Women Creating Possibility in Regional Australia?
Multiple things, the main thing being I wanted young people, particularly young women in regional and rural areas to hear some different stories. As adults, we haven’t been doing a great job of telling good stories of high achievement to our young people.
We keep hearing about the aspiration gap. I question that. I don’t agree that young people in regional areas don’t have ambition. I think they aren’t told stories of people who are creating their own possibility.
I wrote it to speak to young people, and women in my own age group who felt stuck and couldn’t get beyond that feeling.
It was about illustrating different possibilities for people.
What are some of the common career roadblocks and challenges for women leaders in regional Australia?
We can look at it from the perspective of society, the patriarchy, and plenty of evidence of structural barriers, and the pandemic is revealing many of those, particularly for women in regional areas.
From my work in coaching and mentoring, it continues to come through that big blockers are around self doubt, women second guessing and the unconscious bias they have towards themselves. It’s different to Imposter Syndrome. With Imposter Syndrome, we are conscious of it.
Women wake up every day with an unconscious, negative voice telling them about all the things they can’t do.
It struck me, an organisation with a male CEO got me in to work with his female team. He said every day he was blown away by the things the women in his leadership team were telling him about what they couldn’t do. He said he never woke up and told himself things like that, and that as a male CEO he had an obligation to address it.
At a workshop I ran last week, there were women talking about lack of self confidence, self doubt, self talk and all the things that get in their way. Men were talking about, “when will I be ready to lead?” Totally different.
Tell us about some of your breakthrough moments as a coach to corporate women in regional Australia.
I worked with a Senior Manager in a Government agency. When she was referred for coaching her executive was concerned she had lost her inspiration. She had become reactive, flighty and fearful of acting in executive roles when they became available.
From their perspective, she appeared to be floundering, but previously she was someone who had potential, who they wanted to promote.
Over 6 months of assessments and coaching work with me, her team was noticing she was calmer, more considered. She was able to really adapt her style to different team members, rather than lead them all in same way. During that 6 months, she exceeded her KPIs, acted in two senior roles and was positioned for promotion.
She told me she was a much better version of herself at work and at home. She said she was happier in herself, all aspects of her life, that she had learned to make considered choices, and that she felt worthy.
When people get to rediscover who they are, understand their values, and what is impacting them, it’s how they get to their next space.
Women get to develop their own Regional Intelligence, or RQ. We work through 5 Pillars of Possibility (from my book), so they have a much clearer view of who they are and what they want to be.
How does your use of positive psychology complement your over 600 hours of coaching experience?
It can be isolating in leadership roles, there are things you can’t share, you can feel alone. That is when we fall out of love with our work. It is insidious and starts to eat away at us.
My job is to create a safe place for people to explore that, so they move from stuck to soaring.
It’s helping people recognise there are a myriad of possibilities. In the very long career hallway, my job is to open doors for people they don’t even know exist.
In order to do this, they need to be vulnerable, deeply curious, and most importantly, my clients need to be able to hold themselves in high regard.
The positive psychology piece is really about making life worth living. I come from the perspective that you are not broken, you don’t need fixing. Let’s focus on the things you are good at. Let’s not pretend that everything’s rosy. But, how do we focus on compassion, gratitude, and how do we build self regard and hopefulness to move towards the things people want to achieve?
Tell us about your new eBook Resilient Regional Teams – What We Learned in Lockdown.
I wrote a series of articles for LinkedIn, and I thought they would work well as a book.
They came from the zeitgeist, what was going on in media, but also from what my clients were telling me in the team programs and coaching I was running.
I wanted to give regional people a sense of how good they were at managing remotely and what they have to offer to people in organisations in city areas who hadn’t had to do this before. What could we teach our metropolitan brothers and sisters?
- How do you manage remotely?
- How do you lead team remotely?
- Tips and tricks – if you haven’t had a remote team before, what you need to be mindful of, what’s different and what works.
- How do we sustain ourselves successfully?
It has been really popular, and downloaded 70 times. Lots of people have taken an interest, and not just in regional areas.
I wanted to show what regional teams can teach us about how we can manage remotely and how to take care of ourselves at a time that is not business as usual.
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