Balancing Heart and Head
19 December 2016 at 9:27 am
Dominique Mecoy is the director of client services at Metropolitan Cemeteries board, the chair of Technology Assisting Disability WA and a Leadership Western Australia alumna. She is this week’s Changemaker.
Mecoy’s career spans over 20 years working for both federal and state government agencies, with a range of experiences in elite sport, science, food industry development, zoos and currently the cemetery industry.
The Metropolitan Cemeteries board is responsible for managing cemeteries at Fremantle, Guildford, Karrakatta, Midland, Pinnaroo and Rockingham. They provide sensitive and dignified facilities and services to meet the needs of the deceased and bereaved.
According to Mecoy many people think working in a cemetery might be sad or boring but the truth is “far from it”.
She is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a fellow of Leadership WA.
At a recent Leadership WA graduation ceremony, Mecoy was named the winner of the Distinguished Fellow Award, which acknowledges leaders who have shown exceptional levels of leadership, community contribution and support for Leadership WA initiatives.
In this week’s changemaker, Mecoy talks about how everyone can have a positive impact on society, how she is making a difference through competitive dragon boating and why you should do what makes you rise onto the balls of your feet.
Why is good leadership so important?
I think it’s important for anyone to realise that good leadership can come at any level, from anyone. Whoever you are, no matter what role you have or don’t have, every day, at the most simplest of levels, you have an opportunity to make an impact upon someone. You don’t have to be a CEO, or a board member to make a difference and to show leadership. Indeed, one of the pleasures in a leadership role is to watch others around you rise to lead in their own right. Sometimes it’s more effective to lead from behind than in front. To me, that’s really about trust – which most people value highly.
Part of the Leadership WA program teaches leaders how to make a meaningful difference to the world around them. Why is this important?
Leadership WA reminds us that “if you have the capacity, you have the responsibility”. To act. To do something. To make a positive impact upon society, upon community or just each other. And everyone is capable of that in one way or another.
One of my little daily mantras is “every day, do at least one thing to make someone feel good about themselves”. Now that can be as simple as a smile to say hello, compliment their shirt, tell them how impressed you were with what they said in a meeting earlier that day, or ask that car park attendant how their day is going. Watch what effect that has on them. I guarantee you will see their head lift, their shoulders come back and a genuine appreciation that they have been acknowledged, that they count. You might not think of those examples as being particularly “leaderley” or massively strategic or impressive, but as a leader I feel that if you impact upon someone by simply making them feel good about themselves or what they do, you are building a positive culture of confidence. And every time, as Peter Drucker put it: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So if someone’s first thought as a leader, is to make people feel good, that’s a great place to start your impact. Because it’s then quite amazing what can be achieved if that’s the first step.
I’m proud to be the chair of Technology Assisting Disability WA (TADWA), which provides support for people with disabilities, older people and carers to be independent and safe in their homes and community. The TADWA team make meaningful differences in a myriad of ways and leading the board of TADWA is one way for me to contribute.
Another way is – believe it or not – through dragonboating! Over the years I’ve done a bit of competitive dragonboating, even competing for Western Australia (a bronze medal thank you very much!). Over the years I then started running corporate team-building events for my club using the sport. It’s a pretty unique and highly accessible experience. We’ve raised about $100,000 in the past six years, so it works well. I wanted to take this concept a bit further and so I am now working with the Amazons Perth Dragon Boat Club to run team-building sessions for them – on the proviso that 30 per cent of all funds raised will go to Breast Cancer Network Australia and the National Breast Cancer Foundation. The remainder goes to the club to help them, and I give my time as 100 per cent volunteer. It’s a win-win really. I get to use a different skill set to have fun, give others a fun time and generate some dollars for a worthy cause.
How important is authenticity in leadership?
Authenticity is critical. I feel that one of the most important considerations for any leader, whether in Western Australia or worldwide, is to be authentic in every aspect of what they do. How they engage, how they make decisions, how they lead. If we consider the massive changes and turmoil in the world of late we can see that when a community loses trust in leadership, it can create such anger and hurt. But if they can believe and then see that motivations and actions are genuine, it might just create some stability and then allow us to make some collective and positive impact.
People value honesty. Often we expect our leaders to be perfect all of the time, to always get things right. But that’s impossible – sometimes we will make bad calls. But rather than gloss over or hide it, if we put our hand on our heart and genuinely say, “Yes, I made a mistake… but here’s what I’m going to do about it”, I’d suggest that leader is truly authentic and will draw people to them. Innovation is often a case of “Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Succeed.” It’s what you do with those failures that really counts.
What does a typical day for you entail as director Client Services at Metropolitan Cemeteries Board?
My work can be quite diverse – I don’t know if there is ever a typical day. I can move from consulting with an Imam about how Muslim burial customs can be met, to undertaking scenario planning, to working with other government agencies, to mentoring a young Aboriginal leader. I might be problem solving a specific issue with a regional funeral director one moment or next I’ll be working with a national association on issues where there is a divide between legislation and ethics.
As a director, I have to think in a variety of time horizons in my decision-making. I consider what is happening today, but then what might happen in five, 10 or 50 years time. We might have a “transaction” with a family today on the day of the funeral, but we have a relationship with them and their family for the next 50 years and beyond. It really makes you think about the intended and unintended consequences of your actions. And it’s very much a role that has to balance heart and head. That can be challenging some days, but others it can be inspirational.
A lot of my role revolves around connecting with people – community, government, industry – to try to work out how we can keep doing things better. People think that working in a cemetery might be sad or boring – far from it.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
Without a shadow of a doubt it’s the people who work at the Metropolitan Cemeteries board. They are an incredible group of people who are driven to make a difference. We are dealing with people on one of the most difficult days of their lives and we have the opportunity to help them. That’s both an honour and a privilege and the whole team from gravediggers to reception to accounts to sales staff know that what they do contributes to that. Everyone there understands how they contribute. We are very much a values driven organisation, and our values are compassion, respect, understanding and integrity. The staff live and breathe them, they are certainly not just on a plaque on the wall. The concept of value-based leadership runs through the whole place – it’s fantastic and remarkably powerful.
Through your work what is your ultimate goal?
Through my day job at the Metropolitan Cemeteries board it’s about understanding and meeting the needs of the community.
What inspires you?
I’m a keen observer of life around me and I find inspiration in many things – there’s good stuff all around us. I think I am probably quite an annoying glass half full. Some days you have to look harder than others of course, but there is always something good to find. Seeing someone suddenly believe in themselves. My team. Bringing people together to make something happen. And maybe a good gin and tonic at the end of the day – ideally more than half full…
Do you have a favourite saying?
I probably have a few that I draw upon depending on the situation, other than: “Where’s my coffee?”
One that I have gratuitously borrowed from the Dalai Lama is: “The best way to achieve happiness for oneself is to give happiness to others.” If I’m having a rough day, and need perking up, simply making someone else happy does the trick. If that fails, then chocolate is the next best option.
My own saying is: “Do what makes you rise onto the balls of your feet.” You know when you are really excited about something or passionate or even angrily passionate about something and you’re telling people and your shoulders might lift and your eyes light up and sometime you rise onto the balls of your feet because what you’re talking about is just so damn awesome? So when I’m thinking about my own next steps, or perhaps coaching someone else, I’ll ask whether you rise onto the balls of your feet when you think about it. If yes, then you are on the right track. Try it!