#16 Are they REALLY OK? Ask today – Katherine Newton, CEO R U OK? (s01ep16)
DISCUSSED IN THIS EPISODE
- Transitioning from working in insurance to the NFP sector.
- How volunteer work with Lifeline proved pivotal to her career.
- Insights into how a small team can make a big difference, and the core skills needed for a great team.
- Strategies for keeping the team connected during Covid lockdown.
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Transcript from the interview
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Graeme Cowan, Katherine Newton
Graeme Cowan 00:02
Hi everyone, this is Graeme Cowan, and welcome to the Caring CEO podcast. We create this podcast because we believe that every leader is number one priority is to build a more caring and resilient team who enjoys growing together. It is my job to interview CEOs and other senior leaders who value building both a culture of care and a culture of high performance. I’m very keen to understand how they do this and I’m sure there’d be lots of insights and tips for anyone who wants to build a high performing team. Today’s guest is Katherine Newton, the CEO of R U OK? as many of you would know, the cause very close to my heart. Back in 2009. I helped Gavin Larkin to launch it and remain a current board director, Katherine starts her career in the insurance sector and it was actually a volunteer period with Lifeline were she acted as a telephone counselor, which gave her real insights about how many lonely people there are in Australia and how many women live with domestic violence. This proved to be a real pivotal career experience, and led to a career change where she joined white ribbon. This was a group whose core mission was to stop domestic violence against women. She then joined R U OK? as a campaign director and became CEO just over two years ago. It’s amazing how R U OK? has grown so much in reaching impact and Katherine has some insights about how a relatively small team can make such a big impact. This year has been particularly tough for many of us because of the uncertainty related to the pandemic and Katherine is no different. She talks honestly about being separated from her family in the UK, but also talks about conscious self care strategies she does to keep us safe Well, she believes the core having great team is good listening skills, and really asking each team member what they need from her. And she’s found that not surprisingly, different people require different support. She knows that it’s really important to have a strong vision of purpose and really embraces R U OK?’s core tag the conversation could change a life. She explains this year’s theme which is are they really okay ask today. And this is just encouraging us to go a little bit deeper. When someone gives an answer yeah I’m fine but you think they’re not. Katherine is really passionate about the importance of looking out for our loved ones and for ourselves and really shares some great messages. Enjoy. It’s a real pleasure to welcome Katherine Newton CEO of R U OK? Day. Welcome Katherine
Katherine Newton 02:44
Thank you, Graeme It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s been a joy getting to know you over the years I’ve been with R U OK? And, and having your friendship and support is? Yeah, it’s, it’s been it’s been a good journey thus far, hasn’t it?
Graeme Cowan 02:58
It really has. And it’s been lovely having the last five years with you, there’s been so much change, so much evolution, you know, just the pandemic alone in the last 30 months, hasn’t that thrown everything into into turmoil?
Katherine Newton 03:14
Absolutely. I think that when I signed up for CEO, I definitely didn’t sign up for leading through a pandemic. So it’s been an enormous growth period for me too which I’m not sure I was always grateful every single day, but I’m feeling good now. Excellent.
Graeme Cowan 03:31
Katherine, what does care in a workplace mean to you?
Katherine Newton 03:36
To me, it means being genuine. I think if you’re if you don’t genuinely care, if it’s not something that’s within you, I think it’s very hard to cultivate and I think it’s something that’s very hard to demonstrate and people will see through if you’re not authentic with it. And I know Graeme, that authentic comes up a lot with our work in R U OK? But I think care is something that as you know, as human beings, you know, it’s a bit hard Of course, we’ve got care towards strangers and if someone’s in distress, then we can help them that care is so very much about keeping our close relations close. And in the workplace, how do we manage those acquaintances, those boundaries, those relationships and those friendships it’s a bit different but I think it’s I think care still absolutely needs to be there.
Graeme Cowan 04:33
Yeah, and with your team, they’re obviously in it for you know, great reasons for the make a difference, but is there anything you consciously do to help you know, engender that culture of care?
Katherine Newton 04:46
Definitely. So we’ve got a we’ve got a very much a, I’d say an open book as a team, so very much encouraged people to let us know if you just need some time to yourself. If you just need a bit of that break, or whether you really need a good a good brainstorm session, or a good chat to really be open with each other about what’s going to work best for me today. And I think that when you have that openness, and you demonstrate that we’re all human, we’re all going to have our good days and bad days, we’re all going to really perform well, some days and other days, we’re not. And it’s good to acknowledge that. And I think that if we can have that genuineness and that openness, then we get to know each other a lot better, because I think there’s layers of peel back, I think, you know, COVID has shown such a light on on workplace culture in that, of course, when we zoom in to people’s homes, I think it’s really helped leaders and managers to understand that home life doesn’t stop at the work door or the work screen. And so having that openness amongst the team, I think really forges stronger makeshift in the workplace.
Graeme Cowan 06:05
Yeah, absolutely. And there’s been some challenges there with COVID. is there’s natural separation, people work from home, how have you tried to keep it going? What’s been the challenge of what have you found has worked in terms of keeping the group connected?
Katherine Newton 06:23
100%, the best thing that’s worked is asking them what’s working, and what’s not. What would they like, what do they need, we get together on a zoom call every week. And so at the start of that, we do something silly, like show and tell, you know, I’ll set like a challenge to bring something to the bring something to the table or show us and we often ask for it to be you know, a memory or a story or something that prompts something in our personal lives. And I think that helps to get to know that person better. And of course, that will then lead to other conversations, or that might be an idea for this campaign or this resource. And what I’ve just done throughout, and the working from home environment is to just keep on checking in with them having calls just to say, I’m not calling in about working to see if this has been done. And to see how you’re going with this project. I’m just seeing how you’re doing. Is there anything I can do to help? And are those? Are those team meetings working for you?
Graeme Cowan 07:23
Yeah. And any surprises in terms of what people have asked for?
Katherine Newton 07:29
Not in terms of what people have asked for, but I have been surprised the people who I thought would be okay, with working from home and enjoy it, a couple of them haven’t. And that surprised me because I thought I could, you know, I thought I knew these personalities very well. But I didn’t take into consideration the I think just the different needs and wants of people when they’re in a working environment. I know of course that we connect better face to face, I know we have good banter, I know that often the greatest ideas or when were having those moments walking for a coffee, walk into the bathroom, or, you know those off the cuff moments, but I really thought that some of the team would enjoy the quiet peace and quiet at home. And actually, they thrive better in a in a busy face to face environment. So for me, it’s about acknowledging that and making sure that I check in with them more to see how they go in and what’s working for them. And teams. You know, Microsoft Teams has been really good. So people just keep that on. And people just, you know, have a quick check in and a quick joke and a quick grab a cuppa together as it’s needed.
Graeme Cowan 08:38
Do you think it’s in terms of relating to those that loved it and those that not so much do you think it’s as simple as extrovert introvert or not really?
Katherine Newton 08:48
That’s what I thought and this is really taught me about introverted extroverts, which I think, which I think is a little bit of what I am. So I would, you know, consider myself an energetic person, I would consider myself someone who, who doesn’t struggle with you know, with with personal and relationship connections, I’m very much a people person. But what this has taught me is that I do actually need my my time at home to recharge my batteries, and then I’m good to go. So it’s, it’s been interesting that a couple of us in the team have realized that about ourselves. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s helpful. And maybe it might have been different in my 20s, or my 30s. But I think now this is where I’m at. And, yeah, I’m embracing it.
Graeme Cowan 09:34
It’s funny, my wife manages a very large research team, and there’s quite a few introverts in there, but they still enjoy just being around people not necessarily talking or interacting, but just having that presence of people around and she was a bit surprised by that as well. She thought that, you know, they’d be very happy working from home, but there’s definitely something that happens in a physical space isn’t there?
Katherine Newton 10:03
Definitely, yeah I can relate to what she’s saying there.
Graeme Cowan 10:07
For the purpose of our listeners, can you just explain how you got to where you are today?
Katherine Newton 10:12
Of course, I am. my career was in insurance. So I came straight out of college and went into and fell into a job in an insurance company and transferred over here. And I really enjoyed the general management, operations management side of things. But I was, I was working a lot. And I realized that I hadn’t volunteered and hadn’t done anything for charity for some time. And I was thinking about what might be, what might be around and what may be useful. And I’ve always seemed to be that person, which I now understand is what we call an accidental counsellor. It’s that person who people tend to share things and come to and you have, you know, you have good chats. And so counseling was something that interests me after doing psychology in college, and I saw the lifeline telephone counseling course in my local paper, it was then it’s a six month course. And so it was something to very much get my teeth into. And I always share that my you get put into groups when you start the training. And my particular mentor for my group sat down and said, this is going to change your life. And I thought, oh, gosh, that’s for sure. It’s going to be really good. And I’m going to enjoy it. But I’m not quite sure it’s going to change my life. But look at me now absolutely did their goodness, it taught me so much about listening, it taught me so much about empathy, really opening my eyes, non judgement, and really how to listen and help support people. I can’t fix the problems, but I was certainly there to help support and to listen and guide. And I wondered if my skills would transfer into the not for profit space. And indeed, indeed, it seems that they have so I took a role at White Ribbon, so preventing men’s violence against women. And then five years ago, the role of campaign director came up with R U OK?, and I was lucky enough to them to be given that position. And now of course, in the CEO role, which is so rewarding, and humbling, and so proud. So I think it’s definitely been a journey that I really enjoyed, and I’m so grateful for and I just love prevention. I really love prevention work. And there is so much that’s needed in the service sector and support services, the funding, the resources, everything, I’m so supportive of that. But I do like to try and stop things before they happen, or at least try to stop small things get in becoming big things like the words of our late founder, Gavin Larkin.
Graeme Cowan 12:47
Yeah, absolutely. And when you work, how did you work for as a lifelong counselor?
Katherine Newton 12:54
I was on the phone. So just under two years,
Graeme Cowan 12:56
Two years? And what did you learn about people in Australia through that experience?
Katherine Newton 13:04
There are two types of causes that I was really surprised at hearing, I was really surprised at the number of women in abusive relationships, I luckily had not been exposed, exposed to that challenge. And I was really shocked and surprised. So that was certainly the first thing. And then the other were with the need and the desire for people to want to tell someone what was happening and what was going on. But just that real stigma, that real bezel, you know, a lot of shame. A lot of feelings of I don’t deserve to be you know, to get any help there are people so much worse off than me, or I really am. I just I know that they’ll see me as weak. And I was thinking, goodness, you know, when, you know, when people sadly take their lives, we hear so often that there are hundreds of people at the funeral, lots of friends or family who said, You know, I was here, why didn’t they reach out, I would have helped, I would have listened. But I think that stigma is really there. And that’s what I’m hoping that we’re contributing to, you know, breaking down that feeling of it is weak to be challenged. It is weak to be going through things. And also learning that people thrive with mental illness, people thrive, going through their challenges, and it is possible to have to have that thriving lifestyle, but it does take that that village, that community, that family to accept and understand what’s happening. also learned that Aussie are very much into mateship, so very much into wanting to look out for each other, but sometimes perhaps not so good at putting up that mirror to themselves to recognize that they need help.
Graeme Cowan 14:44
Yeah, very true. And White Ribbon had a great purpose and made quite an impact and what was what was some of the insights you got there because as I understand it, you just mentioned you got some really good insight When you’re on the phone on lifeline to then I guess trying to grow campaigns, was it easier or harder than you thought to get things off the ground there?
Katherine Newton 15:11
I think it was harder than I thought because it’s such it’s such a common form of behavior in Australia, and it does go towards men as well as women, and White Ribbon’s role is to prevent predominantly men’s violence against women. I found it hard because I think it’s a very challenging and confronting topic. It’s confronting, of course, is absolutely, of course, it’s challenging and confronting for the people experiencing the abuse. But for the bystanders, for those close to people to be able to bring up the conversation to be able to share, I’m worried about you, I can see that something’s happening. And the way in which we approached it is that if the violence is being conducted by men, then we should be engaging men to stand up alongside other men to say this behavior is not on, this is not what’s right. This is the you know, where can we go to get you some help. And I think that it’s come so far, in domestic violence and family violence, particularly in the workplace, you know, we then we’ve got leave policies, now we’ve got a lot more understanding and a lot more openness. And I think that that is just testament to the decades of work that have that have happened. And I’m thankful that we are where we are. But I think there’s so much more, much more work to do.
Graeme Cowan 16:34
One of the people I interviewed previously was Chris Sutherland. And he was the CEO of a large group called Programmed, and he went to get about 25,000 employees. And he went to see Rose Batty speak, and just came away from there and said, there must be something that we can do were 25,000, were a country town, this is sure to be going on here. And a very, very short period of time they released this policy, which I think was pretty amazing work. What he basically said when they launched it was that if anyone’s experiencing this, the full resources of the company are behind you. Financial, legal transport, security, everything. And he 2 have of the people on his executive team were female 2 are male. And they were the contact people, not not HR workers safety, they were the contact people. It was a one page document. And, and in the first week, there were six people that are six women that came forward and there are putting into practice, and it just seems, and it was so successful. In it, you see many, many groups, particularly the federal power, where they just sort of agonize over don’t get anything happening. But this, you know, he even got pushback from some of these employees, say auger, put a cap on it, you know, $70 or something? He said, No, no, it’s gonna fudge domestic violence. And, you know, I just thought that was a great example of really doing something really constructive, but also simple.
Katherine Newton 18:17
Yeah, yeah. It’s showing those that who are experiencing the violence, that their beliefs, which is quite often, the most important thing, I believe you, I believe that this is happening, how can I help?
Graeme Cowan 18:33
Yeah, yeah, very much. And I guess by you know, having those four people from the executive team showed they were taking a really, really seriously disappointing when White ribbon folded. Why do you think that was?
Katherine Newton 18:50
I think there’s a number of a number of factors why White Ribbon no longer is this new capacity that it did. And I’m really pleased that it’s been taken up by the new organization and I really hope that the White Ribbon continues as a symbol of hope for those who are experiencing and those who really stand up against it. I think that I wasn’t with White Ribbon obviously, when it ceased to be as it was, so I can’t really comment on the direct reasons, but it’s certainly not for people, you know, stuck in and stopping the support or not wanting to believe in it or to or to see it grow. So I’m really I’m really pleased to say that it is continuing.
Graeme Cowan 19:33
Yeah. You started as a campaign director for R U OK?, and part of that was this big road trip. Would you mind just telling people who may not be aware what exactly that involved and what you saw on the way that you just had never seen before?
Katherine Newton 19:52
Oh, my goodness. So practically everything I was just so lucky, so privileged and lucky to be able to see many parts but Australia that many Australians don’t. So I am they’re called the conversation convoys. And they’re a way for us to, to connect local people with local services using the simple question of R U OK? You know, lots and lots of Australians know, are you okay? So it’s about bringing that known message into a community where we’re invited. So it’s where we reach out to schools, we reach out to workplaces, local community groups and say, Look, would it be helpful if we come through town, put on an event where we can bring people together, and also a chance for local support services to network and see what each other’s doing? And really to create a safe space for people to come along and say, Look, I’m worried about someone, what can I do? Talk through conversations. But what was really surprising about the conversation convoys is that I think the best some of the best conversations actually happened on the road. So on bathroom breaks, going into the actual stations going into the local parish shops, and particularly happened with men. So I think it’s because, you know, there were quick conversations. We’re not a counseling session, we weren’t going to take them anywhere. It was literally, I mean, I’ve just got out of an . And then people would say, you know, I haven’t been doing so well, I start with my missus, or, you know, or my, I’ve just lost my job, or I’ve got some finance troubles. But look, I have got a mate. And he’s been really good. And he’s helping me out. So thanks for what you do and and keep going. It’s really helpful. And then and then they’d be on their way you think? Oh, okay. You know, you would, I would love to keep on chatting. But it was very much I think, because there was an exit point, it was very short and sweet. And I think that there’s a lot of resilience out there in amongst regional and rural communities. And I think that whilst there may be more stigma, that communities just come together, I mean, just local people supporting local, it’s just yeah, demonstrated in in folds.
Graeme Cowan 22:03
Yeah. And remember, you also came across some quiet, tragic sort of circumstances, there was a small town that were they’d been three people take their lives, which must have been quite extraordinary, you know, for such a small group. Were there other places like that as well?
Katherine Newton 22:23
Yeah, certainly, unfortunately. You know, there are there are towns that experience clusters and regions that experience clusters of suicide, and it’s really important that R U OK? chooses, you know, that we choose the right moment to go into a community when there’s been loss, it’s important that we, you know, that we want to do no harm. So we don’t want people to feel guilty about perhaps not asking or perhaps following the signs of struggle. So the timing of when we come in is really important. And when it’s a time where people are making their way through the grieving process, they can be really empowering for them to bring other members of family, friends, community groups together to say, look, let’s try to prevent another tragedy from happening here. So lots of really heavy sad conversations, of course, but always with hope, I would describe it as
Graeme Cowan 23:18
Yeah. So you started this campaign director, then transition to CEO. What did you expect about taking on that role? Were there any surprises that you hadn’t anticipated?
Katherine Newton 23:32
Yes, COVID-19. April 2019, for July and August of that year, in the lead up to R U OK? Day that year, I was on the road for nine weeks. So an incredible amount of learning and experience there, you know, gosh, so many stories, so many moments that just, you know, really opened my mind, and really helped me to, to reinforce the power of listening to the community’s feedback. So the feedback of those who are struggling, the feedback of those who are supporting someone, the feedback of those who don’t really know us and don’t know what we do, I think it’s really important to continually evolve and measure and you can only do that by listening. So really, really had that reinforced during that year, and they’re not when COVID hitting in March or, you know, I felt as though, you know, goodness. Mental health is so important right now. What can I be doing to really walk the talk to make sure that I’m demonstrating that leadership to my team and the wider masses.
Graeme Cowan 24:43
If you believe like we do that a leaders number one priority is to build a more caring and resilient team who enjoys growing together, you may be interested in these three free resources were provided that our website, factorc.com.au, the first one Is the week care credo poster. And this contains the mindset and values of team surprise, self care, crew care and Red Zone care. The second resource is a poster called How to support a teammate in distress. And this provides easy to follow instructions on how to identify someone who’s struggling, how to have the IK conversation with empathy, and how to guide them to the help that they need. And the third resource is a building a mentally healthy culture checklist. And this provides items to think about before you launch initiative, how you do a great launch. And then thirdly, how to get the momentum going. Following the launch, these three free resources can be found at factorc.com.au. What do you think are the foundations for really great teams?
Katherine Newton 25:54
Definitely, as I mentioned, at the start with the care, definitely the genuineness, I think, being authentic in your, in your leadership, now that doesn’t have to mean that it’s always yellow and fluffy. Of course, there are, there’s management’s, there’s skills that we need, and there’s boundaries. But I think it’s important to lead and to work alongside people with that element of, of genuineness and openness. I also think that, I think that nicking things in the bud is a really a really big piece of it. So if you can see someone’s unhappy if you can see that something just isn’t working for someone, don’t let it fester, don’t let it boil up, sit down and just say, look, I can see this is what’s happening. How can we change this what’s needed, because this is where I’m coming from, I see where you’re coming from, how can we meet in the middle there. But I think if you don’t have that, as business as usual, that kind of practice. And if you don’t have that natural way of engaging with them with your team, then that’s going to be very difficult. So I think if you can build those foundations, then the productivity is going to be higher, because you’re going to be able to work out the challenges and successes as you go. Yeah.
Graeme Cowan 27:10
How do you make it safe for people to bring up problems?
Katherine Newton 27:15
I think it’s all about showing your own problems. So you know, not you know, of course, personnel walk the talk, you know, show that vulnerability as and when you feel confident and comfortable to do so. But it was supposed to have all the answers, you know, we can’t all go through life having a, you know, always on the ups without problems. And so I think if you’re open to say, Look, I’ve got this issue, I’ve got this problem. I don’t quite know how to tackle it. This is what I’m thinking, Does anyone else have any thoughts or ideas on this, then that opens it up to be that business as usual for people to mimic that behavior? Or to at least start to bring in elements of that behavior? Yeah, we’re all going to face problems and challenges.
Graeme Cowan 27:57
Yeah, and I think it is a really, you know, fantastic thing for leaders to say them, but all the answers, and they have their own struggles as well. And, you know, one of the lovely things about this series of interviews is just finding real humility, I think in many of these high performing leaders, you know, they just, they’re honest, you know, I think I may have mentioned, Mike Schneider at one stage, and he has the four H’s of leadership, honest, humble, helpful and happy. These four H’s are really, really good. What do you do? go ahead. Good.
Katherine Newton 28:40
I was just going to share with you, of course, our friend, Brendan Maher, the former CEO of R U OK?, and now at Movember, he really trying to continue and something that he, he taught me is that we’re in the trenches together. So whilst I might not be on completely the same page as you or I might be thinking that we could tackle something a bit differently if we’ve had a discussion. And we’ve agreed that this is the path that we’re going down, then I’m in it with you, that there is no point in us trying to find ulterior motives or go off in our own way. If we’ve agreed, then that’s what we’ll do together. And I think, yeah, I really learned a lot from that.
Graeme Cowan 29:17
Yeah. What do you do for self care? How do you keep fuel in your own tank?
Katherine Newton 29:23
I’m a big Walker, not as big as your grant because I know that you do. You do lots of your hikes and the treks, but I really enjoy and enjoy a good walk by the ocean. So think I’m a bit of a water baby. So having that and just having that. That fresh air and seeing that expense just really helps to I guess, kind of move through things.
Graeme Cowan 29:48
So walking in swimming, is that ocean swimming or in a pool or?
Katherine Newton 29:53
Yes, it is ocean swimming, but I do say it’s not actually I’m not a very good swimmer. So I would say it’s Have a deep ocean get in and walk in,
Graeme Cowan 30:03
You’re not one of the bold and beautiful at Manly, are you? swimming
Katherine Newton 30:09
I’m not, but I envy them and admire them every time I walk in alongside them as they’re swimming. I didn’t, I didn’t grow up, I grew up very close to water. So I am Yeah, freestyle is a bit of a challenge for me. And I think you definitely need that for the Bold and the Beautiful.
Graeme Cowan 30:24
Yes, you mentioned Brendan Maher previously, and a really important message you’ve learned from him. What other people have you learned from in terms of your leadership in it’s been a guide for you.
Katherine Newton 30:38
I think that, I’ve had such wonderful, wonderful bosses throughout my career. I think the humility came from my, my manager, when I was in insurance company, she was a female leader at a time where they were not many around, and that humility and genuineness really shone through that person centered approach really shine through there. And then my boss at an insurance company, where I came over to Australia, had such energy and still does has incredible pace. And he really taught how to, you know, just go for things, just give it a go tackle it, do it with energy, do it with passion, and you’ll figure it out along the way. So lots of really good guidance. And I think that my dad actually gave me two pieces of advice that I always, always consider both professional and personal. One of the Well, the first was just give 30 seconds. And what he meant by that was when mobile phones came out, and when I got my driver’s license, it was you know, just give us just think of us just 30 seconds, we just need to know that you’ve arrived, that you’re there that you’re safe. it you know, it doesn’t take you a lot, but it also helps us feel better. And so I always think now in my roleat R U OK? And what we hope that people do is to give that moment to people to think of others. And it doesn’t have to be very rehearsed very formal, very long. It’s just, you know, think of somebody else and how they might be feeling. And the other he said was reduce the risks wherever you can. So regardless if it’s work, or travel or something else, just think of the risks and try to reduce them as best you can. And you know, you’ve done your best.
Graeme Cowan 32:26
They’re very, very practical tips aren’t they
Katherine Newton 32:29
They are indeed, as a practical man.
Graeme Cowan 32:33
We’re not far out. We’re only about six weeks from Are you okay, day 2021? Can you slip people know about what the theme is this year? And why you and the team chose that theme?
Katherine Newton 32:47
Of course, yes. The theme this year is are they really okay? Ask them today. And we’ve come to that theme that the call to action this year is to consider Do you really know how the people are going in your world? Because chances are there’s going to be someone who might be struggling in particularly at the moment, we all go through life’s ups and downs. So sometimes when we get that response that says I’m fine, or we’re just given a real surface level tokenistic, hey, how you going, just dig a little bit deeper. It’s very much around finding a moment to make it meaningful to really ask how are you going? I want to listen, I want to hear, is there anything I can do? And so this year, it’s really about asking people to go to that next level.
Graeme Cowan 33:33
Yeah, it’s because that’s often, you know, in the Australian vernacular, and particularly for men, are you okay? yeah, fine. It’s a throwaway line. And, and I’ve also experienced where asking, Are you really, okay makes a real difference. It just makes people sit back a bit and really consider how things are going, which I think is really good.
Katherine Newton 33:58
Exactly. We’re really hoping that, that with this call to action that people just pause a moment and consider, why am I asking? And how am I asking? So am I really asking for the right reasons? Am I that, you know, have I noticed something, am I doing it respectfully, because of course, people might not be ready to open up to you, particularly if there’s not trust, which is what we’re always, always hearing is that if there’s not trust, then you’re not going to get that honest answer. So do ask it authentically, and then take that time to really consider how am I going to ask this question? Where is that person going to feel safe and comfortable? If perhaps this is going to be the first time that they actually say You know what? No, I’m not. And they might just want you to listen, sometimes that’s all that’s needed. But sometimes they might need some extra support. So where are they going to feel safe and comfortable? How can you best support them? As Gavin Larkin said, didn’t he, it’s just it’s a time to think about someone else other than yourself.
Graeme Cowan 34:58
And it’s so true. And you’ve also just launched today, the indigenous initiative called Stronger Together. Can you tell us a bit about that as well?
Katherine Newton 35:11
Yes. Stronger Together is our message for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We know that language plays such an important part of social and emotional well being for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. And so we’ve been encouraged by lots of people in community who let us know how they say, Are you okay? in their way? So we’re asking them to consider how they asked their mob, are you okay? Lots of different examples, lots of different words and gestures used. And so what we’re trying to do is show that it doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t have to be those letters, it’s about how do you connect with your loved ones in your way. And then that’s going to lead to more projects around translation into lots of different languages. And we’re really excited that we can bring to life how people are connecting, and how they stay connected. That’s always our goal. So really excited to see what comes back.
Graeme Cowan 36:11
Exactly. Have you’ve been through a crisis, either business or personal, that was really tough for you really challenging?
Katherine Newton 36:22
I would say, certainly, the last year has been a challenge, because I’m away from my family. So I’m definitely you know, aside from being a leader at a time, you know, during the pandemic, there is certainly been some more wobbles for me than I ever had in my, in my life before. I’m very close to my mum, my dad and my sister, and they’re in the UK, and quite often we spend a lot of quality time together every year because they get to come over and spend time with me. So I’m certainly struggling with that. But putting that to one side, I was trying to reflect on a time where I didn’t handle a conversation very well with someone in my team. And that was before my time at lifeline. And I’ve really reflected on what I didn’t do well, and what I could have done better. And so it wasn’t a tough time for me. But in terms of my role at R U OK?, I think it’s important to share with people that you know, I got it wrong, and you can get it wrong, but it’s about thinking about what can you do, if that situation ever comes up again, someone was very distressed, and I just didn’t have the tools in my back pocket to understand what was happening and to know how best to support them. And the error I made was that I didn’t ask them what they needed. I took them to a busy cafe. And they were so anxious and so and so much going on their mind a busy cafe was absolutely the worst place that could have taken them, they actually just wanted to walk in a quiet spot. And and a number of other things came up that I could have done better. But I think that when we all go through challenging times, it’s you know, how do I handle that? And what can I do better next time?
Graeme Cowan 38:11
Yeah. And we live and learn every day you know, it’s part of life is growing with experiences and learning with what doesn’t work as well as what does work. It’s just the way things go. It should swimming and walking really important to you. And I guess, travel and travel back to the UK and that sort of things. Do you have any other hobbies or activities that you help you the really present?
Katherine Newton 38:40
Being an aunty. I don’t have any children. My partner and I have chosen not to have children. But I absolutely love the role of Auntie so that Gosh, doesn’t that just demand that you have to be present when there are small children around, say my niece is now 11 and seven year old twins boy and girl. And I have them. I have them most weekends to spend time with because my partner is a FIFO worker in Papua New Guinea as his his brother. So their dad is also away a lot. So my sister in law and I really enjoy spending time. And then of course, when the dad and uncle comes home, they take over and it’s their time but I think being present with them. I’m really seeing my niece really growing up and really interested in hearing what she’s learning at school in terms of empathy, and friendship and support and it’s okay not to be okay. I didn’t nything like that. When I was growing up, so I’m just I’m like a little sponge at the moment with her.
Graeme Cowan 39:45
Yeah. And I know also from a personal level. Your partner Jarvis, right? was overseas in Papua New Guinea and couldn’t get back for how long? How long was he ever there for?
Katherine Newton 39:57
Graeme Cowan 39:58
Katherine Newton 39:59
He missed the whole thing the week before COVID here, and he came back out in the first week of July. And I picked him up from the airport and he said, Oh, everything seems fine. I said, Yes, you’ve missed everything he was on a site in the jungle and literally missed everything.
Graeme Cowan 40:18
Estimated tough as well, having him away. During that period of time, I wouldn’t have made things easily.
Katherine Newton 40:25
No, particularly, you know, I was separated, you know, obviously, still separated from family. So yeah, that was just another layer, I think, to the separation that we’ve been together 10 years, and he has always worked away. And so I always say to people, like it’s just about communication with relationships, we have had to learn how to communicate, how to be angry, how to be frustrated, how to, how to be sad, on the phone, and on FaceTime with each other. And it’s, um, we learned very quickly that by not being honest and open about how you’re feeling doesn’t work. So yeah, certainly, I certainly can empathize with them with those with FIFO relationships.
Graeme Cowan 41:10
Yeah, definitely. So it’s been wonderful to catch up today, Katherine. I’m interested on your thoughts about this, see if you could, knowing what you know now. And you could go back to your 20 year old self and give your 20 year old self advice, what would you say to that person?
Katherine Newton 41:29
I would say, I’d say keep on being a people person. Because it will go far, you don’t think that it’s at a time I didn’t see it as a skill. I didn’t see that relationship building with a skill I was so focused on other sorts of, you know, performance driven and management driven skills. So I’d say probably worry less about what people think of you and really gravitate to how you’re building and enhancing these relationships because it’s valuable,
Graeme Cowan 41:59
Very much so. A great way to finish a conversation could change your life. Indeed, it does. Great catching up cats, and thanks for being part of the caring CEO.
Katherine Newton 42:11
Thank you, Graeme.
Graeme Cowan 42:13
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