Intuition and intention – pathways to business success

By Megan Graham. Published at Jun 27, 2017, in Features

Mary-Anne Waldren began her business career at the age of 9, helping her family manage several businesses they owned across various retail and commercial enterprises. That childhood foundation formed the basis for a successful career as evidenced by her influence across a range of roles in the private and public sector. Most notably, Mary-Anne created the Australian Science Festival and National Science Week which sees over 1000 events attended by more than one million Australians every August. Mary-Anne speaks with Megan Graham about succeeding in business.

MG: In your courses, you touch on ideas of the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ side of the business world, how did you develop your understanding of this to achieve overall business success?

MW: I grew up in a business family which was a big advantage for me, as I had the experience of seeing the ‘dark’ and ‘light’ in business. When I finished school, I studied then went into the science world following a few roles working in ICT. Eventually I was able to grow my own organizations – and what I loved about doing things for myself rather than for an organization or business, was that I could set the rules. I think that was the most important thing. I’d seen supervillain and superhero behaviour in workplaces and I knew that 2 and 2 could equal 72 if you worked together and collaborated.

If you have strong contacts, strong boundaries and Codes of Conduct; if you have intentional leadership; you can really sway teams and build and grow really good businesses. I’ve been on government boards, industry boards, company boards... Some have been $60 million companies, and I’ve seen behaviours that make you go: You’ve got to be joking. This is not a way to operate.

Toxic behavior like separation, division and judgement – when you see that kind of thing, you know there’s another way. And that’s where I’ve always been quite intuitive. I’ve always taken time to reflect on things and build my own intuition and follow it. It has always supported me. A lot of leaders in our society who take the time out not to get too busy, to try to understand things, they get that little whisper within that helps them move forward. I believe if you’re in toxic environments your intuition is shut down. In creative environments, on the other hand, your intuition is switched on.

I was able to develop a creative environment because I was able to control it. It’s about being of service to others rather than self-service. It doesn’t mean I don’t self-serve, but everyone is serving for the highest good of the organization and what it’s trying to achieve. That’s where your intuition really comes to the fore if you’re working on something creative and doing it for the right purpose and intent.

MG: What are some ways people can be more attuned to their intuition in a business setting?

MW: It’s important to have breaks. If you’re in environments where it’s full on, if you’re too busy, your intuition is switched off. One of the things you can do is get ‘into the flow’.

I get into the flow by meditating. Some people go for a run or walk in nature, doing something to connect in with themselves. Some do laps of the pool.

It’s about not just focusing on work, it’s also focusing on within and how you feel about things. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, there’s a reason. It’s about leading with the heart: is this something that is important for you to step into or step out of? You can get those whispers from within if you really listen.

MG: What are some ways to discern the best next steps to take?

MW: There’s that simple knowing (intuition), but also I think it’s just about following the energy. If you’re passionate about something, if you’re really interested, always follow where your energy goes instinctively. I was going through a challenging time in my life at one stage; I asked my intuition for an answer. (I think it’s about connecting to a higher self and getting to that point of ‘Alright, I know what to do here’.)

I was so challenged by a group of people and their behavior, and three different people in one week told me to read this book on collaboration. Now, I run a master of collaboration series, so I thought I had this mastered... But in this case there was just really toxic stuff happening – so I got the book. Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.

It’s a fantastic book about being more empathetic with yourself and others. If you come from a place of no one is right and no one is wrong, but just exploring – it gives you permission to go, you know, let’s just tackle this a different way. It is amazing the results you can get.

It’s important to go in not as an opponent, not with an agenda, but to be harmless in your communication; to be curious and explore options.

MG: Have you had personal experiences of seeing these ideas come to fruition?

MW: Definitely. When I was living in Canberra, I was running my Masters program. The ACT government and property sector couldn’t see eye-to-eye, The Head of the Master Builders Association asked what I thought we should do. I said, ‘Let’s run the masters entrepreneur program.’ I had done this with them before, targeting early career builders, but this time I suggested we do the program on the city of Canberra.

We called it the Master Collaborator program – we asked five leaders who’ve grown global businesses: If you were King or Queen of Canberra for a day what would you do? What would you tell us? Then have dinner with the Minister afterwards and tell him.

We did this two days in a row. We had leaders in the room, the Masters shared their vision... it was very evident what the problem was. There was one person from the ACT government in a room full of 60 people. Lots of leaders, Federal Government bureaucrats, but only one ACT government representative. When we went to the Minister, we said “You’re not respecting the industry – whether you agree with them or not, you have to respect them, you have to attend these things and cooperate”. After that we got cooperation.

MG: You talk about breaking free of old patterns in order to have continual growth. How does that look in reality?

MW: I think to grow a business you have to grow yourself.

Continual growth is also about having that culture of putting in place proper Codes of Conduct; policies and procedures, communicating effectively in board meetings and in all meetings... not ‘Do as I say’ but leading by example, being authentic and being accountable. It’s also making other people accountable.

And it’s expecting the best out of people – creating environments where the best can occur, where people can be creative rather than defensive. If there’s environments that are toxic, there are huge issues that need to be addressed. And it has got to come from the top.

Intentional leadership – that’s what I teach. This also includes a focus on boundaries and values.

MG: For certain demographics in business, for example women, boundaries can be a major topic to tackle...

MW: I grew up in a family where it was always taught that the men know best. My father was my superhero but also my supervillain. I didn’t agree with the inequality, so I rebelled – rebelling against that is quite normal for a lot of females. But there was pressure to be subservient, so I had to do extra work on myself because I wasn’t supposed to outshine my male counterparts.

I observed this world from the age of 9, and I was able to grow our family businesses and be a part of it. By the time I was out in the big wide world, I had some pretty clear beliefs of what I wanted to be able to achieve. Females do have that extra challenge if they’ve been brought up where the men are pushed a bit further than the girls. It means the women have to stand up for themselves, and help other women.

We have this great thing in society now about having quotas, more women on boards et cetera, and it’s important. However what’s really important is that women support other women. Part of my work is aimed at getting women to step up, step into their intuition, and stand up for themselves.

MG: Do you have any advice for budding young leaders, women or men, trying to get onto a board?

MW: One of the most important things is the need to be mentored by those who’ve been on boards before, so that when you are on a board you can step up and do the job you’re being tasked with.

There is of course just going in cold onto a board for the first time... but really you do need a bit of nurturing. I’ve fortunately been on a lot of boards so I mentor people on this topic. The mentoring industry is becoming big now – which is important. Mentoring and coaching are becoming more available, and I think it’s very important that people take advantage of even just a few sessions if they’re to work out how they can step up, be seen, be heard and be respected in a board position.

MG: Are there particular factors that women need to be aware of when breaking into new business territory?

MW: If women (and men) are more attuned to their intuition, that’ll help a lot – which is something this course goes into. We have to address conflict to be able to find peace, and we have to have peace within ourselves and within an organization. Sometimes women come from a lack of confidence in speaking up for themselves. It could be they’re dealing with personalities who are unconsciously, or consciously, being dismissive. It’s about recognizing that.

Sometimes for women, it can be a continual need to boost your own confidence. Unfortunately many of us have experienced a culture where we haven’t been nurtured in the business world to the same extent that men have.

In the early days of creating National Science Week and Science Festival, there were people who supported me and backed me (an influential friend would even fly interstate to attend a meeting with me to get a resolution across the line). And that’s where I see myself now, backing and supporting others. Because once you can actually do it, then you can stand up to people and be clear about what you want. It’s also being really clear about what you will and will not put up with.

Sometimes that’s just experience... but if you can get that experience from the head of someone else who’s been before you, that’s what I was able to achieve when I was growing organizations. I got help – and that’s really important.

MG: What other sources have you drawn on in putting together your philosophy on business and leadership?

MW: I’ve done mindfulness, personal development training and more. Our intuition is like a muscle that we need to train. Intuition hones me in to be more awake, alert, aware to possibilities in my work.

I’ve had a lot of experience and I know what I will and won’t put up with now. I have kick-ass boundaries, but I didn’t always. My boundaries now are all around intent and what we’re trying to achieve. Are we serving the highest good of all? Or are we self-serving? When you come across someone who’s purely self-serving you have to reiterate the fact that everyone has got to win out of this. The reason people collaborated with me on National Science Week was because I had a simple mission: science is everywhere, it’s for everyone and it’s in everything. So everyone could be included.

If we can find that mission and vision and stick to the highest good of that, then everyone wants to work with you and be on that journey. That’s where you get people to be most creative.

MG: Is there an element of jumping right in, ‘Fake it till you make it’?

MW: I had no idea what I was doing when I started out, but how exciting is that? I was passionate and I thought ‘We can tackle this, we can tackle that’. I was great at pulling people together and collaborating. And so it worked because I was coming from the right intent, and people could see that. We worked together and it was for the highest good of the project.

MG: Thanks for your time, Mary-Anne.

Mary-Anne Waldren is the founder of the Master Series of business training programs: Master Mentor, Master Entrepreneur, Master Networker and Master Collaborator. Her most recent addition to the series is a 6-week course on business intuition set to commence in July.

Mary-Anne is offering Finfeed readers an exclusive discount – enter the promo code INTUITION at payment to receive $500 off the registration price.

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