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Walking the talk

This week I’m back on the Scottish island of Iona. I came here last year for a retreat feeling very burnt out like many others. It restored my soul and a sense of perspective.

When I look back over the last year, I’m aware that we now have an even greater focus on wellbeing together with our partners Cesar Gamio and George Anderson. I’ve written a White Paper on the wellbeing needs of senior executives and we’ve designed some programmes for them which involve both retreats and coaching.

I’m a great believer in eating my own dog food and having my own retreat is so important to be able to do what we do. It is a privilege and an honour to work with people so dedicated to their personal growth and to see the transformation in them and their lives. The changes seem to encompass so many areas:

  • Family – rebuilding and investing in relationships with partners and children
  • Business – building self-belief, valuing himself and his contribution so that he can ask for the fees he deserves
  • Discovering new abilities – who knew she had artistic talents?
  • Finding a network of people that have your back and will encourage you to keep growing.

It’s made me think about how I’ve invested in my own wellbeing this year and what has made a difference as I’m not going to Iona burnt out. A bit tired but not burnt out.

  • Setting aside time for a weekly meditation
  • Putting routines in place, having set times for writing and generating content
  • Keeping my mornings, when I have most energy, for important things and work which requires greater concentration. I keep afternoons for calls and meetings when I need the interaction with others to reenergise me
  • Planning my week every Friday so that I hit the ground running on Monday, not faffing around trying to work out what I’m meant to be doing
  • And finally, not a difficult one for me, exercise – cycling, swimming, walking and Pilates.

Iona is a very spiritual place which is one of the things I love about it. Spirituality matters to me as it does to a lot of us, but we don’t seem to feel comfortable talking about it, perhaps because of the fear that it will spill over into religion which can be so contentious. For me, it’s about the connection with something much bigger than myself, as well as what makes my life meaningful and significant.

What works for you in managing your time, energy and contribution?

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Your Wellbeing or Personal Indulgence?​

This is a big topic at the moment. It attracts so much attention and creates so many headlines that it would almost seem to be a global obsession. It may have got to the point that people switch off when they hear the word even though the need has not disappeared.  Tech companies seem able to sell any number of apps and gadgets to measure every aspect of physiological function, but for many people, does it go beyond measurement and the possible creation of even more anxiety caused by the results?

I know it’s important but that doesn’t mean I find it any easier to give it the right priority in my life. My toes curl slightly at the term ‘self-care’. If our wellbeing were a business, would we invest in it? If not, why not? Here’s the business case for the investment:

  • Protecting the company’s investment. Sports franchisees that pay top dollar for star athletes require them to exercise, eat better and take care of their overall wellness during the season. The same should be true for C-level employees as companies pay more for those roles, particularly the top job. Considering that the Economic Policy Institute estimates that average CEO pay is 271 times the nearly $58,000 annual average pay of the typical American worker, it could be said that the C-Suite should be held to a higher personal maintenance standard.
  • Supposing you depart suddenly as a result of ill health. Costs can mount quickly without an obvious internal replacement. The typical seven-figure severance package and six-figure retainer for an executive search firm are just the beginning. Board members might have to fly in on short notice for an emergency meeting. A small army of professionals — all of whom charge by the hour — begins to mobilise: communications consultants and employment lawyers, movers and relocation experts. The longer the clock ticks, the higher the figure on the meter. And those are just the hard, easily quantifiable impacts. They pale in comparison to the less visible costs. Turmoil and uncertainty at the top filter quickly down through the organisation, slamming the brakes on growth initiatives, hindering the closing of vital deals, and causing some valued employees to start looking for new positions elsewhere.
  • What is more difficult to quantify but a reality nonetheless is the cost of lack of efficiency, delayed decisions, and bad decisions as a result of ill-health, burnout or being generally sub-par.

What’s your level of investment in your wellbeing? Can you afford NOT to invest in wellbeing?

Blog

What’s your state of wellbeing?

With most of us having had a break over Easter, it’s a good time to switch off but also have some time to reflect on our state of wellbeing.

There is no shortage of evidence to demonstrate that people at a senior level have been more adversely affected by the changes and working conditions brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic. Much as we might all have desired a return to ‘normal’, it would appear that working patterns have undergone a permanent shift with many workers continuing to prefer to work from home – another adjustment to make.

These pressures may have affected you in a number of ways. You may be

  • Thinking of leaving the workplace altogether
  • Seeking a new position
  • Finding that you are part of the epidemic of stress and burnout.

If you’re in this position, you have probably recognised the need to support employees who have been similarly, but not as badly affected by these conditions and put in place wellness initiatives in your companies. But what about you and your wellbeing needs? Many senior people don’t recognise this as a need for themselves and would rather adopt either a stoical approach or deny that there’s a problem.

This carries huge risks as the effects of your ill health can be far-reaching. Senior executives have huge responsibilities, hence the stress, and the implications for being sub-par on business effectiveness, decision making, and leadership are also great: a strong business case for their investing in your health and wellbeing. It will also have a beneficial effect on the rest of the company, your leading by example.

Why don’t you think about investing some time in yourself and the rest of your life by coming on one of our retreats? Giving yourself time to think about your direction, purpose and state of wellbeing could pay dividends for you, the family and the business.

Our next 5-day retreat starts on the 13th – 16th of June. We are having drinks in London on 27th April at 5pm at the Eight Club for people who’d like to find out more. For those who can’t make that date, we are having a Zoom call at 5pm on 3rd May. Please get in touch if you’d like to participate in either of those events.

Blog

Is your senior management team in danger from “The Great Resignation”?

The ‘Great Resignation’ seems to be everywhere. I can’t open a newsletter in my inbox without reading about it. I’m not surprised. The effects of the pandemic are going to be with us for a long time and they are hard to identify and pin down. Generally, there is a sense of people being unsettled and the current war in Ukraine and economic pressures aren’t helping. While all the COVID regulations have been lifted, COVID is still very much with us, to an even greater extent if anything and it doesn’t seem as though there will ever be a point when we can wave goodbye to it.

In the management team retreats I’ve been leading I’ve found that many members of senior teams have been adversely affected. It’s happened slowly and unnoticeably to the point where burnout and languishing are ‘normal’ ways of being. Senior management teams have become quite dislocated and disconnected from each other, operating at a transactional level rather than in an effective engaged, committed way. Now, because of hybrid working and people retreating from offices again, there hasn’t really been the opportunity to recover and reset ways of working.

At a recent team retreat, I gave people the opportunity to say how they were really, rather than the conventional ‘fine’ – because retreats offer a combination of reflection and discussion both at a personal and at a business level. They valued being able to be honest which paved the way for further openness about issues that needed to be addressed for example how to increase productivity. Retreats are a great opportunity for the team to spot the gaps, see what’s not working and start to sort it out there and then, an opportunity to go below the surface and work out what the real issues are.

What has also emerged is the extent to which company cultures have been damaged. The opportunity to invest in a couple of days away to stand aside and reflect allows teams to identify aspects of the culture which have enabled them to perform at their best, that were there previously and may now have been lost.  Many people are realising that cultures will need to be rebuilt. Retreats offer a rare and valuable opportunity for senior management teams to reconnect in order to do this.

What teams find difficult but also very valuable is being able to slow down and reflect. Our retreats offer time and space in an environment which promotes relaxation, being able to connect with others. We heavily discourage any looking at emails or business phone calls and while it’s hard to switch off initially, gradually people are grateful for being able to go off-grid for a few hours. One of our recent retreat participants put it: https://youtu.be/NBYTP9XWnVY

What’s the state of your senior management team? Drifting into a Great Resignation?

Blog

Ways to deal with anxiety

I’m wondering when we last faced such a conflation of causes of fear and anxiety. We’ve had two years of the pandemic and while the acute effects are past for the time being there are still many cases of COVID with people not being able to work because they are ill. Then for businesses, there is the effect of Brexit on the ease of doing business, higher taxes, changes to patterns of working and many employees are choosing a hybrid model which some managers find difficult. Affecting both business and individuals are higher and more volatile energy prices. We will all start to feel the effect of an increased cost of living. Some may have been affected by extreme weather events caused by climate change. And on top of all of that comes a war in Ukraine. The biggest factor in all of this is that a lot of it is beyond our control.

It is also very easy to focus on ourselves and how other people behave in very difficult circumstances can be enormously inspiring. We’ve all been moved by the many stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Such stories enable me to find courage.

What else can we do to prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by anxiety?

  • Being disciplined in our use of social media. The constant stream of news can be very addictive, and doom scrolling doesn’t help. There are plenty of people catastrophising which is only likely to increase our anxiety.
  • Check our sources of information especially at a time when there is plenty of misinformation on all kinds of topics.
  • Routines can also help. During lockdowns I’m sure I was not alone in finding that daily and weekly routines gave me a structure which helped me get through, for example, making sure I took breaks and went outside.
  • Keeping a sense of perspective. One of the things that can help with this is gratitude practice. Thinking of at least three things to be grateful for before going to sleep makes for a much better night and reminds us of all that is positive in our lives.
  • Mindfulness. How this works when it comes to anxiety is that we need to stop and observe ourselves and how we’re feeling to help us manage our feelings. Mindfulness creates a gap between feeling and responding and stops us from just reacting in a way which might not help.
  • Look for a way to get involved, especially in the Ukrainian situation. There is no shortage of charities who need money, clothes or food which they are transporting to Ukraine to support the people there.
  • Random acts of kindness can change our mindset and make a difference to others.
  • Exercise. There is plenty of evidence that shows that exercise is a very good way of dealing with anxiety.
  • Talk to someone. Stay connected, don’t get isolated, don’t withdraw. Keep in touch with your family and friends and if you need professional help don’t be afraid to admit that you need help. There is no shame in feeling anxious, especially now.

We’re here to talk if you’d like to get in touch.

Blog

What to think? What to feel?

We’re living in momentous times. I noticed that the invasion of Ukraine evoked feelings very similar to the announcement of the first lockdown or the results of the Brexit referendum. It feels like something fundamental has changed. My first reaction was that of shock, that something like war in Ukraine could actually happen and on our doorstep. I then felt very confused about what else I felt and whether there was something I should feel.

Scrolling through Twitter showed a variety of reactions from predictions of World War 3 breaking out and others pleading with them to dial down the temperature for the sake of their anxiety. I could identify with that. I was talking to a Ukrainian and felt so helpless when all I could offer is emotional support.

For me, it has highlighted the difficulty of accessing and acknowledging our feelings. Personally, on the one hand, it’s been a great week with a business opportunity that could make a huge difference to our business, but on the other hand, I have almost felt guilty about how happy that has made me feel with everything else going on.

Acknowledging and articulating our feelings is an important way of looking after ourselves simply because it makes us listen to ourselves and if we wait long enough, to hear our deepest anxieties and longings. The psychologist Susan David has some excellent advice about dealing with our feelings and I highly recommend her TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_david_the_gift_and_power_of_emotional_courage

She makes the point that being emotionally agile as opposed to emotionally rigid, as well as aware and accurate with our feelings enables us to take the right action, action which is supported by our values. For many of us, core values act as the anchor in our lives, and we need to remind ourselves what really matters to us.

I’ve been introduced to a mindfulness exercise that I find helpful in grounding myself and getting in touch with my feelings. It involves going outside, looking around and asking the following questions:

What do I see? (look for four things)

What do I hear? (listen for three things)

What do I feel? (Find two feelings)

What do I see? (look for three things)

What do I hear? (listen for two things)

What do I feel? (Find one feeling)

What are your feelings leading you to do?

Please get in touch if this has sparked something or you’d like to find out more about Next Chapter Retreats.

Blog

Do you aspire to a life less ordinary?

What do you aspire to? Do you feel you haven’t yet achieved your potential? Do you believe that it’s never too late to invest in yourself?  Do you have a sense that you have so much to give but are held back by your current role? Is there someone you’re close to you feel is holding you back? Are the circumstances of your life getting in the way? Are you looking for inspiration to take the next step? Or even courage?

It’s time to act!

We meet a lot of successful people who’ve lost a sense of purpose and direction, run out of steam, gone off the boil, been knocked off course by any of life’s difficulties and we help them get back to their best. Our clients know the power of investing in their own personal growth and development, they are emotionally intelligent and self-aware. We help nurture that awareness into action, leading to a more fulfilled life. Bringing focus, renewed energy and impact. 

If this is you, one of our 5-day retreats (spread over 3 months) is exactly what you need.

We’re not for the ‘yes but-ers’, ‘someday I’ll-ers’, ‘I’m too busy-ers’. We are for you when you’re starting to feel the effects of ‘I haven’t got time for myself’ when you find yourself making mistakes, postponing important decisions, feeling the loneliness of your position, always in a rush, never enough time for the family, not sleeping, using drinking or drugs to get you through.

‘I haven’t got time for myself’? What about all the people who depend on you: your family, staff, clients, suppliers, friends? What would happen to them and how would they feel if something happened to you?

Are you ready to take yourself on an adventure? Ready to embark on your own hero’s journey? And what about the consequences if you don’t? We are your Sherpas. We’ll get you to the top and back in one piece.

Our next ‘Your Next Chapter’ retreat starts on 7th March. See you there?

Blog

What is Wellness?

Wellness is a word that’s on everyone’s lips and everyone’s mind these days, but what is it really? Why do we seem so obsessed with it? Why is it that tech companies seem able to sell us any number of apps and gadgets to measure every aspect of our physiological function? Is it the sense we have when everything is going well, as well as when we’re physically healthy? Can we have a sense of wellness when times are tough?

At its most basic and as defined by the WHO it is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The Global Wellness Institute adds three more dimensions, emotional, spiritual, including purpose, and environmental and those make sense too.

Most of us have heard of the psychologist Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. For anyone who needs a reminder, it’s a triangle with our basic physiological needs at the bottom, then safety needs, love and belonging next, and then self-esteem. The last two are the Californian sounding ‘self-actualisation’ which is to do with our growth needs, wanting to achieve our full potential as human beings, doing the best that we’re capable of doing. Later Maslow added transcendence, what brings the individual “peak experiences” in which they transcend their own personal concerns and see from a higher perspective. These experiences often bring strong positive emotions like joy, peace, and a well-developed sense of awareness 

I suspect this is where our interest in wellness comes in. Most of us have our basic needs met, though it’s not a case that they don’t bother us anymore.

Interestingly, much of the advice on wellness seems to focus on those basic needs, healthy food, exercise, sleep and they challenge us too. But there’s something more that keeps us looking, keeps us searching for that something that is going to unlock our best selves.

Bearing in mind that a lot of the time, life is tough one way or another, especially at the moment, how do we cultivate that sense of wellness or wellbeing? How do we concentrate on the upper levels of wellbeing? This requires us to embrace being proactive in pursuing wellness, preventative action, maintenance, taking individual responsibility and ultimately, thriving. For me, when I’ve got the basics in place, peace of mind is a large part, knowing that I can meet the challenges that come my way.

How do you pursue wellness and is it working? What are you missing? If what you need is some preventative action, a reset on your wellness, or starting to focus on your needs for growth, one of our retreats might be exactly what you need.

Blog

And what do you want for Christmas?

I bet a lot of us get asked this at this time of the year and sometimes my heart sinks. What do I want that’s within the budget? It’s prompted the thought that there can be significant times in our lives when we don’t know what we want. The hardest people to buy presents for are those who have everything they need or want, but increasingly I’m coming across people who do have some idea what they want but feel hampered in getting it. Needless to say, it’s not another Christmas present!

Quite often, this occurs in the run-up to ‘retirement’ whatever that means for the individual. If they’re stepping back from full-time paid work, what this inevitably brings into focus is their relationship with their partner who may well have got their own life very well organised and doesn’t want it disrupted – the ‘I married you for better or for worse, but not for lunch’ phenomenon.

I speak to many people at this stage in their lives who recognise that change is coming, have some ideas about what the next stage of their lives might bring, but it’s vague and not well thought through. Because it’s ‘retirement’ many don’t feel they can make an investment in themselves at this point – it’s just not worth it, they think. But life expectancy being what it is, if you retire at sixty, you might have another thirty years ahead of you, thirty years of what? Trailing around in the supermarket?  Not only that, but you’ve built up a considerable bank of skills, knowledge and experience – all to go to waste?

But what if you do invest in finding what you want for this next chapter of your life? And what if it’s different from what your partner envisaged? The management writer Charles Handy made the point that relationships need to be renegotiated at different stages of our lives. It makes sense when you think about it – how you need to be as a couple with small children is very different from when the children have upped and gone to university. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a risk. What if you find some quite big gaps opening up between you?

But if you don’t know what you want, you don’t have a starting point for negotiation and then it’s very easy to fall in with someone else’s wishes, to opt for a quiet life, not rocking the boat. But don’t forget about those thirty years. Not knowing what you want is not a recipe for happiness. This week we’ll be doing a virtual retreat with an engaged couple in the US working out what they want for themselves and together.

If you do want to invest in those thirty years, how about coming on one of our retreats? We give you space and time to start knocking those half-formed ideas into some kind of shape. Give yourself something to look forward to.

Blog

Checking in with your Teams

What’s the state of your senior management team? Burnt out? Languishing or flourishing? If they’re not flourishing, you’re not getting the best from them. Have you got people you’re worried about losing? Is your senior team motivating the staff effectively? Why not think about investing in your team with a retreat? We can tailor these to your needs but what we have found works well is two days and two nights in a good hotel with a combination of structured activities, discussion and goal setting.

We’ve been running team retreats for some years now. What is a team retreat you may be asking yourself? Isn’t that just a new way of describing a strategy away day? Which teams are retreats aimed at?

Firstly, to answer the strategy away day question. In our experience, strategy away days are very hard work, crammed morning to dusk with PowerPoint presentations, trying to move everyone in the right direction, discussions and action plans (which are rarely actioned!). Our retreats are designed to give people the opportunity to step back, slow down, have time to reflect and think, find out what the real questions are, address the things that really matter both for the individuals and the business…

On the question of which teams, we’d say that where much value lies is in working with senior teams, those that report to the CEO/MD. At the moment, we’re finding that many people in these positions have been adversely affected by lockdowns and working from home. They have taken to working long hours and working in unproductive ways which have diminished their energy and contribution. What’s worse is that it’s happened slowly and unnoticeably to the point where burnout and languishing are ‘normal’ ways of being.

Not only that, but they have been cut off from each other. Of course, there have been the endless Zoom meetings, which at the time were certainly better than nothing, but now that we’re meeting face-to-face it makes us realise how much we’ve missed. Senior management teams have become quite dislocated and disconnected from each other, operating at a transactional level rather than in an engaged committed way which would be required of them.

At a recent team retreat we ran, we gave people the opportunity to say how they were really, rather than the conventional ‘fine’ as the retreats offer a combination of reflection and discussion both at a personal and at a business level. They valued being able to be honest which paved the way for further openness about issues that needed to be addressed. Retreats are a great opportunity for the team to spot the gaps, see what’s not working and start to sort it out there and then, an opportunity to go below the surface and work out what the real issues are.

What has also emerged is the extent to which company cultures have been damaged by lockdowns and working from home. Teams have been able to point to aspects of the culture which have enabled them to perform at their best and then followed up with the observation that these conditions existed before the pandemic. Many people are realising that cultures are having to be rebuilt. Retreats offer the opportunity for senior management teams to reconnect in order to do this.

What teams find difficult but also very valuable is being able to slow down and reflect. Our retreats offer time and space in an environment which promotes relaxation, being able to  connect with others in the outdoors for example. We heavily discourage any looking at emails or business phone calls and while it’s hard to switch off initially, gradually people are grateful for being able to go off-grid for a few hours. One of our recent retreat participants had this to say https://youtu.be/NBYTP9XWnVY

We have one team that we have worked with for four years and we have seen members of the team come and go and those that have stayed gain in experience and insight. They know exactly what is on offer at each retreat and look forward to it and value it immensely. Their MD invests in it as he has seen the effect on the business: retention and development of valued staff, increased understanding of what the business is trying to achieve and how they can contribute. Over and over again, We have seen the motivational effect of this investment. 

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