Women in Government and Leadership | Professionelle

By Fiona Grayson

Women in Government and Leadership | Professionelle

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

My name is Fiona Grayson, I am a 43 year old full time student at AUT Business School.  By the end of this year I will have achieved a Master of Professional Business, specialising in People & Employment.

On July 10, I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in the Shadow a Leader event.  This is an event run through AUT Business/Law School, in conjunction with the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Trust.  It is an initiative where a top Year 13 business student and a top AUT business student are paired up with a Leader in business.  During the day the students “shadow” an assigned business leader.

The Year 133 student, Georgia, and I were paired up with Galia BarHava-Monteith of Professionelle.  It was immediately apparent that Annie Gandar at AUT had spent a lot of time and thought matching the right people with one another, for both Georgia and my interests sat perfectly with Galia’s vision of influencing positive change for women in business at all levels of their journey.

During the day we were able to sit through a business partner meeting, a professional coaching session and spent the afternoon with an under-funded, but superb, community service provider.

What did I learn?

In summary: There is not so much a glass ceiling for women but rather a labyrinth for women to negotiate; avoid the “why” questions – consider “what and how” questions instead; influence what you can control; let silence sit in the room; plan the big questions before you ask them – focus on the content not the emotion.

Career Labyrinth

At the business partner meeting between Galia and Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes (co-founders of Professionelle), I mentioned something about the “glass-ceiling”, as this was something I had just experienced in my last job (which is why I left it).  They introduced the concept of women and the labyrinth.  The labyrinth is used “as a contemporary symbol, it conveys the idea of a complex journey toward a goal worth striving for. Passage through a labyrinth is not simple or direct, but requires persistence, awareness of one’s progress, and a careful analysis of the puzzles that lie ahead.”   This is definitely a powerful metaphor for a woman’s working life, my working life.


The coaching session was the most useful to me and my future. Listening to a conversation between Galia and her remarkable and pioneering female client, it was interesting to see how this intelligent woman let herself worry about what she had no influence over.  It wasn’t that she was meddlesome, it was just that she could see the big picture and, what’s more, cared very much about the business shareholders and wanted to ensure that they were being taken care of at every turn.

Galia took her client (us) through Steven Covey’s Circle of Influence.  Essentially, her message to her client was to focus her energy and power on the issues she can have an influence over, and her circle of influence will increase.  If, however, she focuses on what she can not control her circle of influence will decrease.  Instead, she encouraged her client to ask the right questions (i.e. questions that allow for a new line of thought processes to take place) to the people who do have influence over a situation that she could see as potentially detrimental and they may alter their path, but other than that she had to “let go”.  I have read Steven Covey’s book, but to see it applied in such a practical and simple manner was powerful.

Asking Questions…

I had never considered that when asking “Why this? Or, Why that?” that this type of question is often perceived as confrontational, which then means the person to whom you are asking the question will be put on the defensive.  Galia encouraged her client to use “What did you mean when…etc?”…Or “how do you think that….?”  These styles of questions allow for a much less defensive and more open response.  Use the “why” questions sparingly.

When good and open communication is so often what is lacking in business it was a very powerful reminder that it is something as little as a word change can make all the difference to a positive or negative outcome.

… And Waiting For The Answers

I also observed the power of silence.  Galia has a strength that I have only observed in one other person over my 30 years of work – which is the ability and the courage to ask very challenging questions BUT then let silence sit in the room until a possible answer is put into the space.  I have meet good question askers but not people who are patient enough to hear the answer, instead so often the ego of the question asker steps in and answers the question.  But the power of silence is confronting.

This is a skill that I definitely will be working on, now I have seen how effective it is.  The quality of answer that is returned when the person is allowed to think is deep, it allows for the respondent to have an “AHA!” moment – which is profound and will bring about change in that person’s life.  How many “Aha’s” have I robbed from people… ?

The Big Questions

It was also enlightening to see how to plan for the “big questions”.  The client was about to be involved in some high level interviews.  The process Galia used to take her through question planning by aligning the business vision, the current market and so on, as well as asking other important questions – ensuring that the questions were not leading or emotional, rather content based was excellent.  The quality of the questions that will be asked will definitely be able to reveal whether the character and calibre of the interviewees.  The quality of the questions also will play a major role in the panel of other interviewers as I know that the depth of the overall interviews and discussions will be greatly improved.

I will forever consider the importance of the questions I ask, and never be afraid to have silence as my guest.

“The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.”
― Claude Lévi-Strauss

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