Jenny Jackson

Consulting, Jenny Jackson, Organisations, Women

Empathy and Boundaries (Caring, not Carrying):

It probably isn’t surprising that empathy and the “cost of caring” have been in the ‘top 5’ on the list of things discussed with me during mentoring and workshops in 2020 and so far in 2021. 2020 was a unique year – that’s for sure. And while we were all in the same storm, we weren’t all in the same boat. For empaths, it may well have been a particularly challenging year. Watching the suffering and lives lost through the pandemic, ongoing international conflict and also the politics of the US, for example – were all difficult to watch; whilst also seeing so much suffering, loss and hurt closer to home. For me and I am sure many of you, it was impossible not to care. And most of us wouldn’t want not to care. But we don’t want to burn out, either. So it started me thinking more deeply about “carrying” and how this differs from caring or being empathetic.

So many times over recent months I have had conversations with people about the “cost of caring” and it has led me to think about it in terms of “caring or carrying”. Reflecting on my own experience and choices over the years, I have started to really notice boundaries and the importance of these in the setting of being empathetic. Same caring, less carrying.

SYMPATHY is acknowledging that the other person is going through an emotional or physical struggle, supporting them and giving them comfort.

EMPATHY is something more, it’s actually understanding what the other person is feeling because you’ve had a similar experience yourself or you’re able to put yourself in their shoes.

Empathy involves honouring and respecting the other person’s experience without trying to take it from them by rescuing, comparing, or minimising and without taking on the experience ourselves. It is really vital for us to all understand that empathy is not sympathy, nor is it rescuing someone from their experience or relieving them of it. Empathy without boundaries will soon become “carrying”.

Many of us will relate to these scenarios…

  • The phone rings, but you hesitate, knowing that after speaking to this person you will feel depleted, sucked dry. Despite this, you answer the phone. Because you care.
  • Why is it that you’re always the one to offer to take the minutes at the meeting or join a committee? Because you care.

With good boundaries, it is entirely possible to care, without carrying. By being able to say “no”, “not now” or “I can do this much”, we protect and preserve our ability to have empathy for the longer term. We avoid burnout. I have noticed that resentment, or feeling resentful, is a sign for many (me included) that we need to pay attention to our boundaries and our “carrying” of too much stuff. This paying attention to boundaries might come easily sometimes. Sometimes we are really clear about what we are feeling resentful for, and why. But at other times we might feel generally resentful to many things and it might take some thought to work out what is at the core of it. However it is that we come to the core of the resentment, having arrived there, we should take some time to put some boundaries in place. It might be sharing the load with someone by asking for help. It might be saying no to someone or something. It might be turning your phone off and prioritising time for you and what you need. It might be having a conversation with someone about putting some limits or boundaries in place.

While setting boundaries is often not an easy task, it may well engender greater respect from others and in a way, provide others with the ability to see that they can do this for themselves too. As a leader, it is essential to set boundaries whilst also showing true empathy and kindness. For example, an “open door policy” should not mean that staff can come in to your office at any time for any matter. This is likely to result in you carrying their issues and not having capacity to address your own priorities. Setting clear boundaries about an open, respectful communication channel coupled; with boundaries for you to attend to your own priorities is important and may take some practice. But it will be worth it.

My top tips for managing boundaries!

  1. Ask yourself am I caring or carrying? Are you sitting with someone, alongside of their joy or pain or are you trying to ‘make them feel better’ by taking it on yourself?
  2. Pause before you say yes! Don’t feel the need to agree to things in the moment – otherwise you’re likely to feel resentful or regretful by the time you get home!
  3. Get comfortable with “no” and “not now” or “not yet”
  4. When you say “yes” – mean it! Then dive in!
  5. Use technology to help you put boundaries in place. Turn off your notifications, set it to “do not disturb”, put an out of office reply on to “buy” you some time before you have to respond. \
  6. Train yourself and others to not set the expectation that you will respond immediately.

Business, Consulting, Jenny Jackson, Leadership

Staying Kind

Recently a friend and I talked via Zoom (is there any other way these days?!) and she coined the phrase “Staying Kind” and I love it (thanks friend xxx).

It’s kind people who inspire me to “Stay Kind” and this blog is about Leaning in to Kindness” and “Staying Kind” regardless of what others do. Often easier said than done, so “Staying Kind” requires a clear intention, it takes determination and it takes a tribe who “have your back”.

It’s pretty difficult not to be overwhelmed with sadness, infuriation, and fatigue by the divisive, negative and often outright nastiness that circulates around the world. But it is also possible to feel immense gratitude and optimism by the resistance of so many, to this way of being. The recent election of Jacinda Ardern as NZ Prime Minister is, to me, cause for optimism and gratitude. A strong and kind leader – who is achieving so much, not by force or nastiness, but through intelligence, policy, humanity and kindness.

Kindness is a willingness to full-heartedly celebrate someone else’s successes. Kindness is about telling the truth in a gentle way. Kindness includes being kind to yourself. 

Kindness in leadership is often seen as weak or naïve but I see it as a huge strength, an act of humanness, decency and one that requires courage. Unfortunately, women who are kind in their work are all too often seen as weak, “will never make it” or as naïve. On the other hand, men who display kindness at work are often regarded as “inspiring” and “compassionate”. Achieving gender equity is a long and tiring quest but one that makes sense for people of any gender. Kindness should be revered and something that we all aspire to, regardless of gender.

My tips for “Staying Kind” in leadership:

  • Walk softly with people;
  • Be kind and lead with intention and determination;
  • Leave people with a feeling of kindness having met / spoken / dealt with you;
  • Keep kindness in your heart and give freely;
  • Lead with courage, kindness, respect and self-worth;
  • Care for others and treat them with kindness; even if they might not care for you;
  • Remember that we can accomplish things with kindness which we cannot achieve by force;
  • Lean in with others when you see them leading with kindness;
  • Celebrate with all kind leaders; regardless of gender;
  • Expect and acknowledge kindness from others;
  • Be like Elsa and “let it go”; just because others don’t behave in a way that shows kindness doesn’t mean we have to repeatedly ‘go there’;
  • Having said be like Elsa… call out acts of unkindness (kindly!) – whether it is at work, in the media or on social media. If not you then who?;
  • Remember that being kind is not the same as being weak. It is possible to have difficult conversations and yet still be kind;
  • Be kind to yourself and surround yourself with people who are kind.

In my workshops “Conversations With The Curious”, kindness is an absolute expectation and is always shared in bucket-loads. It fills our tanks and makes us feel lighter and optimistic. If you are seeking more kindness in your life, your work and your performance, we would love you to join us for the next workshop or email me on for more information.

Aged Care, Business, Health Care, Jenny Jackson, Leadership, Nurses

Nursing: Reflections on the delights and disappointments

It’s been a long time since I have been so close to the front line of healthcare in Australia. Throughout my time in senior leadership roles in hospitals, community health, women’s health and family violence, my nursing qualifications, knowledge and experience have been invaluable. They’ve helped me articulate evidence based arguments for funding, change of policy and new programs. They’ve helped me provide compassionate care in crisis situations – at work and in my personal life. They’ve provided a well-rounded view of health and wellbeing and a commitment to forever learning. I have never lost my love of the profession and my deep respect for those working in the multitude of roles within it.

Working in a leadership role as part of the COVID-19 response in Aged Care, I have been both delighted and disappointed.

Delighted by the generosity of nurses and health workers in their resident and patient care, often in the face of personal risk and potential harm.

Delighted by the “roll your sleeves up and lean in” kind of team work not often seen elsewhere.

Delighted by the understanding, gratitude and acceptance of those so heavily impacted – the residents, patients and their loved ones.

Disappointed that it is not unusual (in fact, it is very common) for nurses to go entire shifts without a toilet, water or meal break and to work unpaid overtime without having a choice in the matter. Balm for cracked dry lips, electrolytes replacement and headaches – all part of the dehydration they’re experiencing. Not for one or two shifts, but for all. For the “love” of it? No. Because they care. Because there is often no other alternative. Because nurses choose to care for another before themselves.

Disappointed that there are still not enough qualified and experienced staff to support those less experienced or qualified.

Disappointed with the fragmentation of the system despite the Royal Commission in to Aged Care and what we in the field have known for too long.

Disappointed that while nurses are rated as one of, if not “the” most respected profession, that the rate of pay for nurses is appalling.

Disappointed that what nursing is and isn’t is still not well understood by many. It’s certainly not all bedpans and baths, although this is, of course a component of overall care. The requirements for nurses to have finely tuned patient assessment and management skills are immense. The critical thinking that nurses do, always working with medical staff to develop a plan of care, not just blindly following orders. In fact, experienced nurses frequently guide junior doctors and help them make decisions based on their assessments and monitoring of the patient. Nurses are with the patient 24-hours a day. The knowledge of medications – and the consequences of administration and use are exceptional and have the potential to save or take lives.

Disappointed that there is little genuine recognition that nurses are with us as we take our first breath. And our last. There is great responsibility in this privilege.

Disappointed that the connection between how hard (albeit rewarding) the job is and the loss of expertise from the profession with the rates of pay, are still not being directly linked and addressed. A nurse should not “have” to work regular weekend, evening shifts or night shifts just to make a decent wage. Other than nurses, who else with minimum 3-year degrees (and often further degrees and qualifications after that) would do this job for $30-$36 p/hour? Back in the late 1980’s we had a slogan… “A nurses dedication doesn’t pay the rent”. Sadly, it’s just as true today.

Disappointed that nurse : patient ratios are not mandated in all sectors. It is not enough to leave it up to private providers to “do the right thing” because while many do the right thing, there are many who don’t.

EVERYONE I have spoken to says what an amazing job nurses do. It is absolutely time for us to reward nurses for a fair days work with a fair days pay. We will all benefit from this in one way or another. It is the right thing to do, so let’s do it.

Business, Consulting, Jenny Jackson, Organisations, Strategic Planning, Women

Growing Into Your Gifts

In thinking about writing this blog about mentoring, I kept coming back to “why?” many of us seek to have a mentor or undertake external supervision or coaching. While they are different things and use different techniques,  there are some strong common elements.

Personally, I think mentoring is a really beneficial pathway for supporting individuals to “grow into their gifts”.

A client recently thanked me for their current success. My response was probably a bit odd but it made sense to her and me! I thought I might share it with you…

“What would it feel like to own your success? Because a sunflower seed can only grow to be a sunflower. And sure, it needs the right environment and circumstances. But if you are a sunflower seed, you cant grow into a weed. As a sunflower seed, you already had ‘sunflower potential’ and yes, it is easier to grow into a strong and healthy sunflower if you have good water and nutrients but you couldn’t be a sunflower if it wasn’t already in you.”

I think the same applies to humans. Yes, we can learn and grow but we will always be a human with potential to fulfill our gifts. I truly believe that the role of a mentor is to support the individual to identify their gifts and grow into them.

These are some key words that I think describe aspects of (or reasons for) mentoring:

  • Supports the individual in gaining (and trusting) insight;
  • Increases capability and confidence to navigate complexity;
  • Mentoring is often intuitive and supports the individual to tap into their intuition;
  • Supports and guides personal and professional growth;
  • Encourages and promotes growth through reflection;
  • Provides “stretch” in a safe and supportive environment;
  • Assists the individual to explore options and consider strategies;
  • Enables the individual to ‘practice’ new skills in a safe, non-judgemental setting;
  • Two way process driven by mentor and mentee;
  • Supports the individual to find solutions and work out things for themselves;
  • Heavy on listening

The opportunity to work alongside of others as they grow into their gifts is a delight and professionally, very rewarding. Like any professional relationship, it can sometimes take time to find ‘the right’ mentor or coach and this search is really important and absolutely legitimate. I have a trusted network of highly respected peers with whom I refer (and vice versa) as circumstances warrant it. My advice is to not be afraid to try a few to see what works best for you. After all, its your gifts your growing into and only you know what is going to deliver the best outcomes for you.

So if you are keen to “grow into your gifts” I highly recommend finding a mentor or coach – one who will help you be the best sunflower you can be!

Consulting, Domestic Violence, Jenny Jackson, Women

On Power and (mis)use

I watch as women are killed in their homes in Australia at the rate of more than 1 woman per week. I read with despair, the number of Australia’s first peoples being incarcerated, dying in custody and living significantly shorter lives than non-Aboriginal Australians. I recoil at the treatment of those seeking asylum in our country of plenty. I see ‘self-interest’ driving government action and policy. At home and across the seas, I see prejudice and discrimination in every news cast. It’s news but it’s not new.

When so much is changing, why is it that nothing really changes?

I’ve just finished watching The Clinton Affair on SBS. Monica Lewinski is a name we all know. We don’t know the person. We know of a 22 yo intern at the White House. We know of “the dress”. He was POTUS.

He conspired, lied and cheated. More than once. His power over Ms Lewinski was immense. The power imbalance between POTUS and a 22 yo female intern is so obvious and oh so vast. The media ate her up and spat her out. And so did we as a society. The harm caused to Ms Lewinski and her family vs the harm to Clinton bear no resemblance whatsoever. People hear her name and immediately label her, shame her, judge her. This has affected every single facet of her life. Applying for jobs. Making dinner reservations. New relationships. The lot. For more than 20 years she has suffered the most vile public abuse and has been silenced by shame. The abuse she and the producer of the docu-series suffered when it was published is appalling yet not surprising, sadly. Him? Nope. Nada. “Charismatic…”

I’m now watching the Epstein series. Same power abuse. Different women (and girls). Same same but different. An horrendous and shameful story that befits ‘Hollywood fiction’, only it isn’t fiction.

This abuse of power occurs at an individual level, in communities and within the systems supposedly set up to protect us from inequality and misuse of power.

Many have experienced or witnessed the gross misuse of political and positional power. The system empowers the powerful. It silences, humiliates and ruins those without the power. We see that ‘politics’ and the focus on ‘winning elections’ so often gets in the way of good policy and transparency in every day dealings. In the famous words of Gough Whitlam in 1989, “the punters know that the horse named morality rarely gets past the post whereas the nag named self interest always runs a good race”.

We talk and talk and talk about living with honesty, dignity and respect. I don’t claim to have the answers but my response is to name how utterly sad I am and how desperately I want the world to be one where all people are equal and where systems and governments truly aspire and work towards this, not just use it as an election pitch. There are many who are determined to keep speaking about power and its frequent misuse despite the consequences and my name is on the list too. Please add your voice to this.

Because until we are all equal, none of us are truly free.

Consulting, Domestic Violence, EDVOS, Jenny Jackson

Domestic Violence and COVID-19 – a view from inside

The international and national evidence is absolutely clear – domestic and family violence escalates during and following natural disasters. A number of the specialist women’s services in Victoria researched this following Black Saturday fires, for example. They were (and are) considered leaders and at the forefront of this ground-breaking Australian research. What they found is absolutely consistent with what happened during and after Hurricane Katrina in the US, the earthquake in Canterbury, NZ and the list goes on.

In my previous role as CEO of EDVOS, I (and members of the EDVOS Education and Training team) developed and facilitated several presentations for local and state government representatives and non-specialist family violence services regarding this very issue and we used the evidence from Victorian women’s health services and international evidence to demonstrate how real and important this issue is. Domestic and Family violence in the setting of natural disasters also became part of the mandatory training for all EDVOS staff. We, and our partners were proactive and ready with a plan to respond in the event of a natural disaster. But we hadn’t imagined that a pandemic would occur and what the appropriate responses might need to look like.

In the setting of a pandemic such as COVID-19, domestic and family violence service responses require collaboration, expertise, a different set of strategies and additional partners. It is literally a matter of life or death.

What’s the difference?

Instead of people fleeing their homes to get away from the disaster, they’re staying home to avoid it. Instead of having increased opportunities to meet case workers face to face (for example, at relief centres etc), they in fact have vastly reduced opportunities as a result of physical distancing and barriers to travel and transportation. This current situation is vastly different and needs a variety of creative responses from those who know what they’re doing and who have the expertise to develop and design what is needed. Of course those who know best are those experiencing the violence themselves and those working in the specialist field – we need to hear from women victim survivors if we are to develop systems which meet their needs and those of their children. Listening to specialist domestic and family violence workers is also vital.

In my time at EDVOS we were already using various online platforms for clients to access interactive services online and it seems, these are more relevant and necessary than ever. It is vital that all agencies consider what it means to be accessible, responsive and relevant in these changing times. In addition, women with disabilities, are likely to be at even greater risk than they already were and specific focus is necessary and important to develop dedicated responses for women with disabilities. The system cannot be ‘one size fits all’, it simply won’t work as those who are already at increased risk or marginalised will be further marginalised and placed at further risk.

Whilst we hope that a crisis like this doesn’t happen again, it is entirely possible that it will. So our systems need to be built not just for COVID-19 but for other such scenarios in the future too. As a community we cannot deny that a dangerous spike in domestic and family violence is occurring right now and will continue for some time, because to do so, puts the lives of women and children (and their pets / animals) in further peril.

There has been vast sums of money channelled in to family violence (of course more is always needed) but my hope is that services will listen to the experts – women, children and those working in this highly specialised field, to do everything possible to get maximum value from these additional resources – not only for now, but for the future. We need to look from inside the homes of victim / survivors and perpetrators to develop meaningful and relevant systems and responses.

Jenny Jackson Signature

Some further reading is available here:

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