It feels as if Janine Culnane has been part of my business community from the beginning and despite numerous short meetings and regular facebook contact we hadn’t had the opportunity for a hearty conversation until a balmy January morning in 2019.

We opted for a walking talk along the boardwalk where the Nambucca River meets the Ocean and onto the V-wall where painted rocks overlooked fellow Sunday strollers on one side and swimmers braving the crashing waves on the other.

“I wonder what happened to Harry and Joan” Janine randomly said pointing to a rock celebrating Harry and Joan’s 50th wedding anniversary. “I think about things like that”.

In around 11,000 steps we covered mental health and associated system failures, goals and hopes for the years ahead, dealing with difficult people, our condensed life histories, family, the beauty of our surrounds and questions about why it’s not a more popular tourist destination.

Janine has an uncanny ability to pop up at precisely the right moment – a validating comment on a facebook post on an otherwise bad day, support and endorsement in a heated community meeting, an email offering disused office furniture.  Not only does this lady notice, she moves into action.

An advocate for the people Janine believes that everyone deserves to live their richer picture life. She visions this better, richer life for the people she knows and meets and does what she can to enable that in the lives of others – sometimes, she tells me the most effective way is to ask the tough questions. Not everyone is brave enough to do that and maybe, we agree that’s why there are so many people who don’t feel the need to ‘own their shit’.

Working in employment services and managing some 17 staff through the trials and tribulations of daily life working alongside some of my area’s most vulnerable and disenfranchised people, she is a troubleshooter and knows how to handle people when they are having a shit day.

She tells me stories about singing to and with clients, distributing iceblocks on hot days and allowing the occasional cheeky smoke.

But there’s more to this lady than fun and games, my observation and experience of Janine is that she has the ability to make people feel at ease. She is simultaneously engaging, entertaining, caring and inspiring. You can’t help but like her.

She has known bad days and tells me of a time she burned out through her work, before she learned how to protect herself from the environment. Now, it’s the little things she does such as keeping plants in the office, visualising a protective shield and always asking herself the hard questions so that she can continue to grow.

With this learning at hand she is often the first person to tell her team members to take a personal day when they aren’t feeling so great “it’s what personal days are for” she tells me. I agree.

She tells me about clients who have dropped by her office on days they felt suicidal and there was nowhere else to go.

Think about that for a moment.

Not everyone can create an environment that offers that kind of safety and despite the many and varied not always productive things I’ve said about job services, this thread of conversation gives me a new insight about what can happen when the service is about the people, not only the key performance indicators. That’s the way Janine steers her ship.

Janine’s early work years contained an eclectic mix of jobs from a customs officer to university lecturer and then kitchen manager at Caltex, Coffs Harbour. Eventually, the Caltex role led to a business partnership which revamped the restaurant at a local golf club over a four year timeframe – a successful yet exhausting venture.

Another thing that makes her great at her current job, a real-world understanding of the working world and recreating oneself.

When we returned to the carpark I told Janine I’d send her the story to check before distribution –

“I don’t care what you say” she told me “What you remember of today will be different to me, just publish it”.

And in that moment I notice what a powerful feeling it is to be trusted to that degree, validated if you will – and I notice how able I feel to strive for my own richer picture.

Our conversation started out about leadership and as I reflect on the walk I realise that this is exactly the kind of leadership I believe will change the world. Leadership which is both brave and kind. This lady demonstrates both in spades.


#Meet My Friends
 is a project and personal challenge that I’ve set for myself to meet all of my 1,266 Facebook friends and spend at least half an hour connecting with each and every one of them. The commenced on 17 September 2018 and it has no time limits. The original post outlining the challenge is here

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