A DECADE of decisions ... A YEAR of deliberate action


As 2019 dawned, I was excited and ready. I knew it would be the year for producing long-planned, brave and bold outcomes.  It was finally the right time, my time, and frankly – ‘high time’; culminating from a decade of disruptions, frustrations, and zigzagging through rather challenging chapters.

It was time to be CEO of my own career progression and GM of priority projects. Time to unleash my full-arse version [FAV] and make my mark. A real sense of urgency that time was running out engulfed me.

In fact – FAV was the word [read as an acronym] I chose for my 2019 ‘word of the year’.  Why did I decide that?

Decision-making Decade …

Come take a quick helicopter view of the past decade with me; it’s been an interesting ride.

In 2010 I was at the peak of my corporate career [senior leadership roles in Government], unexpectedly entered a committed relationship with my soulmate [met in 2009], together we consolidated, chose and bought our dream beach-view townhouse in Yeppoon – Central Queensland, and life was full of love, lifestyle, yearly OS holidays and any excuse for celebrations.  Then, within two years, 3 things in quick succession slapped us into the ‘no-such-thing-as-certainty’ ring of reality.

Firstly, my partner’s position was made redundant [the organisation he headed up as CEO was decommissioned], followed by my own redundancy [LNP mass public sector cuts], and then, as we tried to establish our leadership and workplace culture consultancy, along with community representative positions, the region we lived in was hit hard by the GFC. It was like every door closed; one after the other. So basically, serious decisions had to be made – and quickly.  

Now, while I’ve always enjoyed exploring new things and moving around to suit circumstances, I had generally instigated those changes and leaps. This time, others had burst our dream bubble, so absolute agility became necessary to survive. Luckily we were a pair of DINKs [double income, no dependent kids], so career-linked dart throwing onto a map of Australia became the new game. Flipping forward to the short version story: we’ve moved to live and work in 3 very different regional communities since 2014; settling in Cairns - Queensland since mid-2017.  Sounds like an exciting life?  Yes, certainly interesting, although not as career progressive or satisfying as we anticipated. 

What we discovered throughout this career hopping decade [OMG – where has it gone!], is it’s almost impossible for TWO highly qualified, experienced professional change leaders to both gain meaningful employment in the one small – medium size regional town or even in the same general vicinity. Yes, we prefer to live in regional locations and add to the vibrancy of smaller communities; but sadly joint senior-level career opportunities are rare.

To our surprise, we’ve also found it’s even less possible to break through entrenched ‘professional’ closed circles in medium size regional cities [eg: Cairns], to be considered for lead roles [read: CEO, GM, Director levels]. Shoulder-tapping mates and like-for-like locals is still a recruitment practice accepted by many regional boards and panels.  Add to that, the destructive impact of mediocre managers in self-preservation mode, gaslighting anybody whose skills may potentially pose a threat to their throne sitting. Add to that, the ageism issue [we’re now both over 55], which believe me is a very real discrimination factor; despite the fact we are both fit and healthy, think like agile Millennials and don’t fit the typical change-resistant Baby Boomer profile at all. Parochialism still rules.

Truth is - this decade has been a tough one. It’s seen us go from a pair of happy DINKs to a pair of frustrated SINKs [single income, no kicks], with short periods of concerned NINCs [no income, no contract commitment in sight]. Not the progress and success we had envisioned for a dynamic duo like us, at the start of this decade.

So, on decade review, it’s been a challenging zigzag ride of short-term contracts, periodic consultancy gigs, and continual exploration of the ‘what’s next’; with lots of self-reflection and resilience building. It’s also been a decade in discovery of what matters and what doesn’t, wisdom-building lessons, and clarity of purpose.

Decade of lessons learned …

Here’s the thing:  During all that, we’ve kept our values high by rising above the knock-backs and clarifying the lesson from every experience.  Wiser for the experience.  We’ve kept our passions alive by continual research, knowledge and skills growth, and broadening our networks both nationally and globally; actively exploring other ways to use our leadership skills for the greater good [more on that in next 2020 blogs].

Rather than dwell on all the challenges, as I got ready to close the door on this decade, I decided to simply collate it into 5 key lessons learned; 5 key things [read: beliefs / mindset] I’m taking into the next decade.  Along the journey, I’ve embedded this saying into my psyche:

There’s no such thing as failure, only lessons in life trying to point us in a new direction.

So, here’s to the past decade rolled into 5 key lessons and gained personal strengths:

1. TRUST – I learned what a real, equal partnership is; someone who believes what I believe, who has my back, and supports my goals. Much valued. I learned how to seek, trust and surround myself with those who get me; those who matter. I also gained a heightened radar for picking up signs of untrustworthiness, and more than anything – I’ve learned to trust my gut instincts. Somehow, those internal warning bells are always spot on. One ding – I tap out.

2. SITUATIONAL AWARENESS -  I’ve learned the benefit of doing comprehensive research into organisations and their senior leadership team [aka: online stalking], prior to dedicating time and effort on applications, relationship building and program development. It starts with values matching and ends with a culture health review; it pays to be aware of the decision-makers drivers and agendas. My time is too precious for wasted effort. Match or detach.

3. SECURITY MATTERS -  What? – you say. Those who have heard me present, know that I regularly espouse:  ‘there’s no such thing as certainty and security’; in that, planning your life around those external needs generally leads to disappointment. However, I’ve discovered there’s ONE level of security that DOES matter –internal security. Building a strong inner-core strength. Knowing that no matter what - my values, drivers and passion, aligned to the choices I make, will keep me independently secure. Unwaveringly, unapologetically, uniquely mine.
4. LEADERSHIP BEHAVIOUR DEFICIT – I’ve learned and truly believe that real leadership is a mindset, observable behaviour; always about developing others and greater good outcomes. Not about position or rank - never about self-interest or self-preservation. Frankly, the challenging experiences over the last decade has fuelled and strengthened our focus on developing authentic leaders. Seemingly a rare breed. The world is crying out for courageous, genuine, emotionally intelligent, engaging leaders.  My [our] mission has never been clearer: to provide real solutions to address the leadership deficit. Courageous change agents.
5. WOMEN ROCK IN LEAD ROLES – Equality is the key to driving positive change. Global data, numerous reports and results over the past decade prove that where there is equal gender balance in key leadership positions, and particularly when women head up organisations, the outcomes in innovation, culture, growth and financial results are significantly better.  One proviso point I’ll add to that: the positive difference is in diversity of thoughts and ideas; women leading with women-wise attributes, not as ‘manettes’. Women bringing their full-feminine traits to the decision-making tables; negotiation, collaboration, community, connection, inclusion and social well-being, future generation sustainability focus. Less ego, more empathy. Less positioning, more purpose. Less me, more we.

That’s the stuff that drives me forward. More than that – the possibilities truly excites me. All those lessons during the past decade, lead me to my greatest achievement to date [2019], and set the foundations for a purposeful, laser focus for 2020 and beyond.

2019 – Deliberate Action

2019 was always going to be a big one; and it was.  Deliberately full-arsed.

Now, I’m not about to share an exhaustingly long list of all the things I achieved or cool experiences I had during the year that has just ended. This blog is way too long already [thank you for reading this far … I promise I’ll stop before it’s book length].

Besides, I’ve read too many social media posts that list down every ‘envelope opening’ event, self-nominated awards, workshops attended and delivered, important people met, community group involvement; all supported by an overflowing selfie photo album. Well done to them; but I suspect, like me, many of you get tired from just reading through it all. And I know some of you end up feeling ‘inadequate’ in comparison. I tend to switch off before that feeling takes hold.

When you consciously smash the debilitating practices of comparing, competing, copying or conforming to other people’s standards, you learn to ignore other’s brag lists. Acknowledge your colleagues achievements [in any way you feel appropriate],  but don’t start the comparative analysis shit. That just fuels the fear of ‘not good enough’.  

You are enough. I am enough.

So, back to my 2019 wrap up; sure it was a big one – literally. ONE big focus. Because I set ONE big radical aspirational goal [1 BRAG], and achieved it.  What? My first book – Rock Your Stripes. Finalised, published, launched, promoted and presented.  That’s it.  I did what I set out to do.

Yeah okay, a bit more cool stuff followed on as a result of launching my book [like increased media and speaking gigs], and I did other business stuff in 2019 like coaching, workshops, consulting work, and facilitating another new Lean In Circle in Cairns … but mostly, it was all about ONE thing - the book.  

Actually, my book writing journey started half-way through this decade [2015], with each challenging experience providing even more stories and lessons to share within its pages. After an unforeseen disruption to my 2017 published Author plans, I became determined to finalise first draft by end of 2018 [nailed that!], which lead to my 2019 #1 goal - to finalise, publish and get it out there – launch it [June 2019 - done!]. YAH!  Like birthing a huge baby [all 316 pages] after 4 years gestation, and a lifetime of lessons to share.

Rock Your Stripes is a frank, fierce, full-arse femoir; part insightful memoir, infused with feminism, lively spirited, deliberately confronting, and purposefully instructional.  It’s packed full of real and raw stories, personal experiences and lessons learned; with the deliberate intent of urging women to step up, stand out and speak up. To be unapologetically ambitious. To courageously lead change. To unleash their full-arse version.

So, that’s why I chose FAV [acronym: full-arse version] as my 2019 theme word. Writing a frank, warts-and-all book is one gutsy achievement, but I knew that putting it out there into the world for anyone to read would require an extra dose of full-arse courage. Vulnerability on steroids.  I needed to be ready and willing to fully rock my own unique stripes. To dare to step up bravely, stand out boldly, and speak up brilliantly, and broadly.  Deliberately, authentically, and with a clear intent to encourage and enable other women to do that too. Unapologetically FAV.

Finally, there’s ONE BIG THING I’m taking from the past decade, that became clearer in the last half of 2019. During the whole book writing journey and since - presenting key messages and receiving rave endorsements and feedback, I have discovered that my high-energy sweet spot is fuelled and fired up when I combine my two great passions:  leadership and feminism.

Harnessing that passionate energy duo into our 2020 planning, we have now set the foundations for a laser-focused, purpose-driven, exciting expansion plan for our ElevateHER programs and Lean In global movement leadership. It’s now time to dare more greatly, to unleash the FAV dynamic duo, and to SOAR into 2020 [more on that in next blog].

So, as I close the door on this chapter - a decade of decisions and a year of deliberate action, I leave you with one of my favourite quotes that is also in the last chapter of my book;  an adapted version of the original Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘The Man in the Arena’. 


not the person who points out how the brave woman stumbles,

or where she could have done different or better deeds.

The credit belongs to the woman who is


whose face is smeared by grease, sweat and tears;

who strives valiantly, who stumbles, who comes up short


because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

But she who actually strives to do the deeds,

who knows great enthusiasms,


who commits herself to a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,

and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while


so that her place shall never be with those small and timid souls

who neither know victory or defeat.


What I know to be true is: There is no passion or progress in playing small.

Make 2020 your ‘daring greatly’ year.

Written by Jilinda Lee - recognised leadership coach and mentor for leaders and managers, Chartered Manager ambassador for the Institute of Managers and Leaders, and Regional Leader for the Lean In global movement – encouraging and enabling more women to step up into lead roles.

Founder and Managing Director of Vital Leaders, and President of Lean In Queensland, Jilinda is a passionate presenter, thought-leading commentator, and writer on all things leadership and diversity related. 

Jilnda Lee's mission is to raise the leadership bar, by developing more dynamic leaders and boosting diversity at the decision-making tables. 

Her recently released book - Rock Your Stripes is available from major bookstores and online distributors. 


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