(Take One: The Professional Version)
Katharine McLennan has a career that spans corporate strategy, execution and leadership. Her specialty is facilitating executive teams in the integration of strategy, operations, team dynamics and self-transformation. Her ideas on the future of work, leadership culture and HR transformation are provocative and inspiring in seminars, speeches, or writing.
Katharine is now an executive coach and psychotherapist for a range of corporate, government and non-profit leaders of organisations. She focuses on corporate strategy, talent and psychology. She also works with individuals facing depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, and career transition.
Katharine's most recent role was Head of Strategy and HR for the Federal Government's Export Finance Australia. Before that, she was Cochlear's global Senior Vice President of People & Culture. Here, she established talent management as a discipline, built leadership development as a global discipline, and redesigned a values-driven performance framework. This framework would form the basis of a globally integrated culture that had historically operated by regional lines.
Before Cochlear, Katharine's was the Head of the Global Leadership Academy for QBE, where she designed and led five levels of leadership development across QBE’s 40 countries. Previously, Katharine has also been Executive General Manager, Talent and Business Unit HR for Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Here, she was responsible for talent acquisition and retention strategies, succession planning, talent development and workforce planning. She also line-managed the Heads of HR for the nine major business units of all of CBA.
Prior to her corporate career, Katharine spent TEN years in leadership consulting, providing advisory services on behalf of three major organisations: Heidrick & Struggles, the Mettle Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Through this work, she led projects in succession planning, CEO team strategy facilitation and executive assessment and development for ASX Top 50 clients, helping these clients to manage their internal pipeline. Katharine’s clients have included CBA, GPT, Ergon Energy, PwC, AGL, Qantas, Macquarie Bank, Telstra, NBN, CSR, Leighton, Gilbert & Tobin, Minter Ellison, Bankwest, UBS, Westpac, Medicare/Centrelink and Ernst & Young.
Before her leadership consulting years, Katharine spent four years as the key architect and implementer of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games operational strategy. In this role, she led the planning process for the venue operations and was the main facilitator on all operational planning and contingency exercises within the Sydney organisation. She continues today to advise the IOC and all Organising Committees in their operational planning, workforce strategies and leadership development.
In the early 90’s Katharine worked for Booz Allen & Hamilton, in Australia and New Zealand, driving corporate growth strategies, business reconstruction and process re-engineering across industries such as health care, banking, telecommunications and logistics. Clients included CBA, NAB, Tubemakers, TNT, Telstra, Royal Adelaide Hospital, the Alfred Hospital and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
Katharine has a Bachelor of Science with Honours (neuroscience & history) from Duke University, a Masters of Arts (political science) from the University of New South Wales and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Stanford University. She graduated with top-class honours in all three degrees. With a strong passion for the university-corporate connection, Katharine sat on the Advisory Board of the UTS Business School under Dean Roy Green for seven years. She is now a Director of Petrea King's Quest for Life Foundation, a foundation committed to providing practical skills and strategies for people to create peace and resilience in their lives.
Katharine is also a qualified psychotherapist, accredited by the Psychology and Counselling Federation of Australia.
Take Two: The Personal Version
In this Personal Version of "About Me," I provide you with the transcript of a speech I made in 2015 at my Stanford MBA Class of 1995's 20th reunion. The reunion committee invited me to speak on a different topic than the "How I Succeeded After Stanford."
In sharing this speech with you, a description of raw "humanness," I invite you to feel comfortable in your own humanness. I do not keep this story secret, nor do I revel in proclaiming it out to the world. My hope is that we may all be more open about mental health and learn from each other.
I share how I am learning the art of recovery, a practice that must be daily for me. In recovery, I learn to "carry my cross", staying in the day. Learning to live in the moment rather than regretting the past or fearing the future is a lifelong journey for all of us.
I hope that the lessons I am learning in my own recovery paths may inspire you, provide you insight, assure you that you are not alone, and imbue you with the quiet and wisdom that already lies inside you.
Transcript from a speech made to Stanford MBA class of 1995 at our 20th reunion, May 2015
"Before I begin, I would like to share with you an Australian tradition – one that we use to remind ourselves that we are at once beneficiaries of our ancestors AND benefactors to what we can pray will be thousands of years of healthy, wise and contented descendants from us.
I would like to pay my respects to the original custodians of this land, the OHLOHNEE people of Silicon Valley. Thank you for tending to it for so many thousands of years. May our current tribe of people honour the land, its plants and its animals, its humans . . . . as much as you did for thousands of years before us. May we remember the wisdom of our ancient ancestors who are always here to remind us what we humans constantly forget.
My name is Katharine. I am . . .
A mind, body and spirit:
A mind that attempts to remind itself to adopt a beginner’s mind at all things – so as to never forget the awe of this world and beyond;
A body that is magnificent in all of its shapes and a miracle in the healing from disease;
A spirit that never grows old – and represents the wise woman inside; a spirit that is there IF I remember and ask for its guidance.
A mother of my beautiful children, Kate and Geoffrey
A daughter, sister, niece, and friend
An owner of two Jack Russells, who live for walking on the beaches that surround my home
A leadership advisor, psychotherapist and facilitator, whose favourite job to this day still remains working for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 for over four years. I witnessed the world coming together in one of the most joyful celebrations of human endeavour in the world.
If only we could wage these epic battles of logistics instead of the wars we wage on the battleground! Now, I find myself teaching leadership in the corporate battleground. The corporate world doesn’t suffer the physical carnage of terrorism, but we suffer from a great crisis of meaninglessness in our corporates.
The levels of depression, anxiety and fear facing our executives have never been so high. We are experiencing a state of mind that will break us if we don’t return to the wisdom we have always had.
For me, leadership is synonymous with "conscious choice." When we are conscious, we make that pause between stimulus and response that shows clear intent. So many of us have forgotten how to pause. We travel on autopilot, not seeing our impact on others and the Earth.
A Sydneysider for over 30 years, an Australian, American, a middle-aged woman, an Earthling, and an inhabitant of this infinitesimal moment in time. Every microsecond offers an infinity amount of wisdom if we are awake.
A Gnostic, studying the ancient philosophy that has been around since the dawn of mankind. Gnosticism integrates the common precepts across all religions and philosophies
A practitioner of both meditation (daily) and Ashtanga yoga (should be daily)
A woman recently diagnosed with a leaky gut – a condition that our Western society will discover over the next ten years – one caused by the type of chemicals we surround ourselves with and the food we have eaten all of our lives (another speech).
A woman diagnosed with the label of "bipolar" and told that she must take medication for the rest of her life. This medication fends off the attacks of the hellish "black dog," a phrase that fellow bipolar Winston Churchill named.
An alcoholic . . .. in recovery one day at a time over the last decade, thanks to the Grace of a power far greater than my ego could ever conceive
A fellow human . . . . . being so very grateful for you who have given me one of the greatest gifts humans can give: the art of stilling your mind so that you can truly listen to my heart
I share these identifications to invite any of you who are wrestling in the dark to reach out and surrender those egos of ours. These egos do not like asking for help.
A quest of my life is to be present with kindness, courage, community and curiosity for the:
suffering person with bipolar disorder,n,
suffering person with a leaky gut
suffering middle-aged crisis contender, . . . .
suffering parent of these strange mutant Millennium teenagers . . .
and suffering human who sits here today wondering what the meaning of life is.
Suffer we must apparently . . . or at least suffer in this current design of the human’s experience in life. It is in suffering we seem to learn the most. It is also in suffering that we forget the most. In my industry, the “Leadership Development industry,” I am amused when my colleagues want to protect their intellectual property. Our so-called intellectual property has been with us for thousands of years. As forgetting machines, we neglect the teaching of our ancestors.
We do forget. We forget the exceptional wisdom which is yours for the taking: in the richness of a quiet mind; in our nature; in our friendships; and in our wise ancestors from all religions, philosophies, genders and races. As a leadership coach and facilitator over the last two decades, I have learned most from the insights of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism and some of our extraordinary secular philosophers.
I am spellbound by the transformation of the Stanford and Silicon Valley over the last 20 years. I am amazed at the collective achievements of my classmates. I wonder if I have lived up to Stanford's expectation of me over these last two decades.
Let us not forget today what success might really mean. I’ll share with you a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was apparently inspired by a fellow unknown female writer – Bessie Stanley in1904. I give them thus both credit for a quote I have had in my heart since high school:
To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; (thank you to my greatest teachers in life: my children Kate and Geoff)
To earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; (thank you to so many of the anonymous people along the way who held out their hand when I asked for it and often when I didn’t)
To appreciate beauty; (may we all spend more time away from our PCs and experience the splendour of our Earth)
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived
This is to have succeeded."
In your dark nights of the soul, which all of you have faced and will face again and again, may you
Discover this definition of success in the light of your beautiful wisdom which never leaves you. This wisdom becomes clouded over by an ego, which for me stands for "edging God out." For those of you who are less inclined to the concept of God, you might define ego as "edging gratitude out."
Remind your ego of four “K”-sounding words which can always guide you (note bias to "K"):
Courage -- which ironically equates in my experience the art of surrendering and being open to our vulnerability – and the willingness to ask for help from our heart, something we Stanford graduates are loath to do
Curiosity – seeing the world through a beginner’s mind – seeing each other with RESPECT (the Latin route of respect is "respecere," meaning "to look again."
Kindness -- which means the constant forgiveness of others and especially of ourselves – and the making of amends as soon as we have hurt someone. We are kind when we can honour the gifts given to us – as seemingly large or small as they are.
And Community – We need a community in which we can be courageous, curious and kind – and share our vulnerability in a village who really knows us. The South African Natal tribe knew this well. They greeted each other with "Sawu Bona," which means "I see you AND your potential." In seeing you and your potential, your answer in return would be "Sikhona," meaning "I now exist in this world."
Give yourself the extraordinary gift of at least five minutes every day to sit and still that egoic mind so that we find the golden aspects of our "Self." This "Self" is always there and always accessible, This "Self" be within us for the rest of our lives, patiently waiting for us to remember who we truly are. If only we could remember this in our times of torment!
I rely on the most beautiful Sanscrit language to wish you Namaste:
The goddess in me honours the gods and goddesses in you. Whatever name we use for the "something" that is higher than our ego doesn't matter. It is in seeing the limitation of this ego that and the hope of something far grander that makes us all the same, regardless of who you are and what you believe.
Our wisdom, courage, curiosity, kindness and community are ours for the rest of our life."
- Katharine McLennan, 2015
See video below of the speech as well as another video that I created in the same year, 2015, in honour of my 30th reunion of high school graduation and my daughter's graduation from high school.
A few stanzas which end each of my many poems
I just know there are reasons for all that we do . . .
For all whom we meet, and all that we rue
So, the universe has brought me a gift in yourself
Tonight, I’ll toast to you and drink to our health.
So, lift your glass, and toast the moment.
That’s all that there is, no need for torment.
About pasts that can't change, about futures that don’t exist
About flaws, about jealousies, about the pain that persists.
Thank God for our humanness, and thank God for this life.
Thank God for this music which seems so rife.
It teaches us of love, of tenderness, and care,
Of friendship, of honour, of giving beyond compare.
God grant us the serenity, God grant us the love
And steer us towards Heaven, which need not exist above.
Show us the way to Heaven here on Earth,
I trust Your guidance, and I honour Our worth.
- written by Katharine McLennan 2007
Background Painting by Sarah Churchward Norton
(More of my poems and an invitation to write one on your behalf are found at this link)
Below is a photo of the stained glass windows of Little Bay Chapel.
Through these windows, you can see Little Bay Beach.
The chapel is five minutes' walk from my office, where I hold psychotherapy and coaching sessions, retreats and meditation courses. Little Bay is a 20-minute drive or 40-minute bus from Sydney CBD. There is ample parking.