fbpx
Search
Close this search box.
ET Project \ Podcasts

ET-097: Leadership Reliance: Thriving Amidst Constant Change

With Ms. Sue Firth

ET-097: A conversation with Ms. Sue Firth

and your host Wayne Brown on April 16, 2024

Episode notes: A conversation with Sue Firth

Hello and welcome to the ET Project. I’m your host, Wayne Brown, and as usual, we’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for executive talent all over the world whom we’re affectionately referring to as Team ET.

Today we’re cyber-hopping across to London and chatting with our guest Ms. Sue Firth. Sue’s a business psychologist and performance coach specializing in stress, resilience, and change, where she advises and consults with businesses and top executives.

Sue has formal training in psychology where she holds a bachelor of science and a master’s degree coupled with 30 years of experience. Her tips and tools support the way an executive approaches life and business.

Here is an extract from our conversation as we start to get into it…

“…And psychologists are well known for doing this. They name something in a nominal way that no one understands. But the bottom line is really, it is a questionnaire that measures how people approach situations from the predisposition of whether they believe they are in control of their lives or someone or something else is. Now, in essence what we know is that in most extreme situations you default to type and this type splits almost immediately into a polarization between two core types. One is an intern who believes very strongly that no matter what happens in life, they are in control of how they respond to it. That puts all the seats of decision-making… Okay, possibly from a negative point of view, judgment, but also assessment of a situation in their own hands and through their own heads, it gives them phenomenal choices…”

Today’s Guest: SUE FIRTH

Sue’s an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a member of the Health Professions Council, and she’s currently running a private practice in South Molton Street, London, also offering in-person and online mentoring with customers both in the UK and abroad.

Sue also hosts her own popular long-running podcast called ‘The Executive Edge’, and has authored a number of books and articles.

Team ET, this is a wonderful conversation that’s sure to provide listeners with a host of ideas about ways that executives can cope better with the stress of constant change at work by becoming more resilient and maintaining their confidence. We truly hope you enjoy it.

Final words from Sue:

I would say that I think we find in general executives tolerate a great deal, but I think one of the areas that I still spot where they are missing the point somewhat, which is a really tricky thing for me to say because that isn’t meant to sound critical.

The problem with life is it’s short and the period of time when your children are around and they have things like dance recitals and opportunities for you to go see them, especially during the day at Sports Day and this kind of thing is short, I honestly urge you not to miss these things just because business is extremely busy. Your children remember. This is the problem and the pain that I tend to see.

So they get older and the exec gets older and then he’s full of regrets. What is the point of that? The sadness that they experience especially if the relationship actually ends and therefore it comes to a divorce, is phenomenally painful for them and it might have been preventable. So I still do feel that if you can possibly take it on today an awareness of the fact that your world is not just made up of business but it’s got this other portion who also love you and need you and are there for you and really are the rock around which you swim.

And that’s the essential piece of the jigsaw puzzle as well, because they are not going to thank you when you get ill as a result of whatever it is that you’ve been through with the business…

0:00:00.0 Wayne Brown: Hello, I’m your host Wayne Brown and welcome to the ET Project. We’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for executive talent all over the world, whom we’re affectionately referring to as Team ET. Today we’re cyber-hopping across to London and chatting with our guest Ms. Sue Firth. Sue’s a business psychologist and performance coach specializing in stress, resilience, and change, where she advises and consults with businesses and top executives. Sue has formal training in psychology where she holds a bachelor of science and a master’s degree coupled with 30 years of experience. Her tips and tools support the way an executive approaches life and business. Sue’s an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a member of the Health Professions Council, and she’s currently running a private practice in South Molton Street, London, also offering in-person and online mentoring with customers both in the UK and abroad. Sue also hosts her own popular long-running podcast called ‘The Executive Edge’, and has authored a number of books and articles. Team ET, this is a wonderful conversation that’s sure to provide listeners with a host of ideas about ways that executives can cope better with the stress of constant change at work by becoming more resilient and maintaining their confidence. We truly hope you enjoy.

0:01:35.4 Speaker 2: Welcome to the ET Project, a podcast for those executive talents determined to release their true potential and create an impact. Join our veteran coach and mentor Wayne Brown as we unpack an exciting future together.

0:01:51.6 WB: Hello, welcome again Team ET, today’s conversation with our guest, business psychologist and performance coach, Ms. Sue Firth, who happens to be sitting over in London, one of my favorite locations. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. There’s so many topics that Sue is an expert on that I’m very keen to find out more about myself. So Sue, welcome to the ET project.

0:02:16.2 Sue Firth: Thank you Wayne. It’s really good to be here.

0:02:19.0 WB: So, apart from being a coach and a psychologist, you’ve published books and articles, you’re a speaker, I believe you’ve been speaking at Vistage, right? For some 30 odd years and…

0:02:32.4 SF: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. I’m one of their seasons diehard speakers. Yes I know. [laughter]

0:02:38.6 WB: I will get you to introduce Vistage a little bit later. But you work with executives, with individuals and you often speak about topics such as stress, change, resilience, I think even confidence. These are topics that I have a particular interest in. So I’m sure we’re gonna come back to those during the day. Before we dive too deep into our conversation, perhaps you could share a little bit about yourself, your background, what brought you to where you are today?

0:03:05.4 SF: Yeah, with pleasure. I was one of those people in a way who did a lot of traveling as a young woman. And this is because my father was in the army and I think dad’s predisposition to move us around meant that although my education was a little bit patchy because I was clearly picking up new stuff in a new school and then had to be graded or assessed again. I got very adept at some things. And I think those skills have stood me in very good stead as I got older. So, for example, I’ve got quite natural social skills because that’s what I was forced to really use. I can’t say with very much hope that I seem all that good at being able to hold onto friends ’cause I’m a bit used to moving again. [chuckle] But it makes me very adept at managing change, which is a curious thing to get good at.

0:03:51.1 SF: I tend to not keep an awful lot of stuff. I tend to move very quickly in my head. I focus on the future all the time. I set goals a lot and because these are very singular qualities that other execs and business people have. And I started to pick this up in my late teens, early 20s. And I think by then I’d already had one of those light bulb moments that said, “Right, what do you want to be in life?” And I dropped the idea of being a vet and a doctor and anything that was too academic. Even though I know being a psychologist sounds really special. It was downgraded to some degree on the academic scale than the intense hard work that five years of qualifications would’ve done to be a doctor. And so I went into business and into the business field and I could have probably helped anyone Wayne, but I chose business people. And I think, really, that is the predominant reason why I became a speaker, a psychologist, and I help people on an individual basis.

0:04:46.5 WB: Fantastic. You’ve certainly got a wealth of experience. What was your father’s employment that took you around so many places?

0:04:55.5 SF: Yeah. So with being in the Army, I think when he first joined he was only a fairly young man. So he actually had a posting out to Malaysia, which is where I was born. So we are talking a long time ago. And Malaysia was in the middle of a war at the time. So we actually supported the Gurkhas, although I’m not certain ’cause it goes down in the annals of history, meaning it’s a bit of a story. I don’t actually know whether or not he ever saw live combat, but we don’t ask those kind of questions [chuckle] So the bottom line was he went into being a trained officer and he went from being a captain to a major over the course of a 25-year experience of being there. I think he chose the Education Corps ultimately. And that was probably the best place for him. He was a very good performer. He was great at getting up on the metaphorical stage or just standing up and talking. And I think I was able to see something in practice or in front of my eyes that actually enabled me to emulate something or copy it. And I think that’s the reason why I always half jokingly say I’m a failed actress now. ’cause I’d have never made it as an actress, but copying him was quite possible. [chuckle]

0:06:03.4 WB: Very good. I mentioned Vistage and I’m guessing there’s a lot of people, probably listening, who may not be familiar with Vistage, although it could be very relevant for them. So would you mind sort of doing a brief introduction on what this organization is, what their role is?

0:06:17.5 SF: No. With pleasure. Yeah. It’s a worldwide organization actually, and it’s a member-based organization. So you join as a person but essentially under the guise of your business. And what you do is attend on a monthly basis to somebody who runs a group. So they are referred to as a chair, they’re male or female, but they run a group. And that group is predominantly 10-people-plus. So the intellectual property in that room is very significant for you. What that enables you to do is bring problems or an issue or experiences that you’ve got, something that’s a dilemma, you’ve recruited somebody, you feel that you’ve got a question mark over or you think someone’s got more potential than they’re using, whatever it is, and obviously difficult clients and customer situations, and you can share those. So it’s split into two parts in the day, in the morning there is usually a speaker of incredible value.

0:07:12.6 SF: I say that please without any reference to me, ’cause they have lots of ranges of topics and they run almost all year. Most chairs will run 12 meetings a year, some for 11. And then in the afternoon, this is where the issue processing or what you and I would recognize as problem-solving takes place, which is done as the group, as a collective. And it tends to mean that in any one visit you have something very specific that is dealt with and a lot of input, which you also upload. And for many of the chairs, they also run one-to-ones in between those meetings. But also you then have the intellectual property of the rest of the people in that room to call on at any time. So you can ring up Joe Bloggs and say, “I’ve got this dilemma,” between meetings. So it’s an investment, but you’re investing both in your own personal development and in the development of your business through the conduit of what Vistage offers.

0:08:04.8 WB: I haven’t been involved myself, but I have heard a lot of great reports about it. So I thought… Hence the reason to take the opportunity to share it with people. When we spoke the first time a couple of weeks back, now you mentioned some topics and I think they’re a great lead into where we’ll probably end up with the conversation. So if you don’t mind, you mentioned or you referred to something as compressed leadership styles. So I wonder if you could build on that or share a little bit about what you were referring to there, please.

0:08:35.9 SF: Yeah, yeah, with pleasure. So what I’ve been working on really over 30-plus years, particularly of being a speaker, obviously brings me into direct contact very regularly with executives and their businesses. And that’s because they will approach and ask me to come in. Now, on some sort of a topic where I started, all speakers look for signature material. So I began with taking the stress out of leadership. But as a direct result of that, I began to spot situations and if you like, without me to sound cheeky, errors that executives were making around things like managing change. So I started a second session strategically managing change and I initiated the use of a personality questionnaire during running that session. Now the formal term for it means almost nothing to anyone who may never have come across it because locus of control does not mean a lot.

0:09:25.9 SF: It’s actually a Latin word. And psychologists are well known for doing this. They name something in a nominal way that no one understands. But the bottom line is really, it is a questionnaire that measures how people approach situations from the predisposition of whether they believe they are in control of their lives or someone or something else is. Now, in essence what we know is that in most extreme situations you default to type and this type splits almost immediately into a polarization between two core types. One is an internal who believes very strongly that no matter what happens in life, they are in control of how they respond to it. That puts all the seat of decision-making… Okay possibly on a negative point of view, judgment, but also assessment of a situation in their own hands and through their own heads, it gives them phenomenal choices.

0:10:17.8 SF: Unfortunately and perfectly naturally, there’s a very large proportion of the population who default to external. So they will come running to you instead. So they do focus on everything that’s happening around them, everything that is and is not going well. And often therefore they can struggle because they won’t make decisions quite so quickly ’cause they come to you for advice or input before doing so. So internals and externals, although they’re at the opposite end, have a joint and several purpose in life, we’re all valuable. It’s not a judgment, but there’s no doubt at all that predominantly you will find most driven executives are internals. They will never be external.

0:10:56.7 WB: Fascinating. So I can imagine it’s quite the spectrum across…

0:11:00.5 SF: Yeah.

0:11:00.6 WB: The whole population of employees or workers, but interesting.

0:11:05.1 SF: Yes it is. Yeah, it is. So the more senior tend to be more and more driven, which you’ll classically find is internal. We then did… It wasn’t a conscious piece of research nor a formal piece, but we have done anecdotally for the last 10-plus years, pretty much every group that’s in Vistage UK. And there’s no one who comes out as an external as you would expect. ’cause externals don’t tend to thrive in a situation where they have accountability to make these kind of choices. But we did find a third group of people and anecdotally they form what we call a bridge, which means they can step up to being internal in some situations and they can relate to and translate a rather too direct message to the externals in order to soften the blow or make it more empathetic as they go. And those bridges are in the middle of that continuum you’ve just talked about.

0:12:00.7 WB: I didn’t know that would be your answer, but that’s a perfect segue to what I wanted to talk about a little bit in a moment. So I’m gonna come back to that. So thank you. The other thing that you did mention when we caught up first time was “lean in, not lean out”. I’m trying to remember what that was in reference to. The only thing I can remember about the lean in was Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ and I’m not sure if there was a relationship there.

0:12:26.2 SF: No. That’s interesting actually. ’cause I think that’s a very good remark to make and you are quite right. Sheryl’s book was absolutely brilliant and I think when it came to female executives, there is no doubt whatsoever that it was pertinent. And I’ve referred to it before because I run mastermind groups, one of which is for dynamic women who are senior.

0:12:44.3 SF: And there is an error in their thinking sometimes. They will unfortunately step out of a situation or accept what you and I might recognize as second best rather than leaning in. But the context in which I was bringing it up where you and I were concerned was actually in relation to stress. And it’s not a good thing.

0:13:00.1 WB: Ah.

0:13:00.9 SF: So what I was describing is that executives are unfortunately at risk of burning out. And one of the reasons is because they are already tolerating, ’cause they’re positively attracted to roles that have a high level of stress attached to them by virtue of being accountable for the decisions they make. So because they’re attracted to those roles, they potentially can thrive on that level of pressure. But where it becomes stressful is something they struggle because they can’t recognize it due to the fact that the tipping point for where their symptoms become more severe is actually too high for the average individual anyway. So their solution is often to work harder.

0:13:35.9 SF: That’s what you and I were calling lean in. The bad news with leaning in is that they will push even harder both at the door, the universe, the problem, the whatever you want to call it, which may be okay in the short term, but is not good for sustainable performance. Which is the reason why I brought in the third topic of my speaker career, which was high performance for executives, because they’re not really equipped with making this sustainable. So the problem is we end up seeing people come into the practice with burnout symptoms of various forms, stomach upsets, persistent head colds, this kind of thing. And these are all highly symptomatic of the immune system saying, “No, I’ve had enough.”

0:14:15.4 WB: Well, that wasn’t intentional, but that’s a perfect segue into the topic that I really wanted to talk about, which was somewhat of a hypothetical scenario based around leaders that have to deal with change most of their careers. And you and I both know change is such a persistent factor in the world today. It’s everywhere. Right? So quite often the scenario is that these mid-level leaders, maybe their division heads are the ones that are tasked with introducing the change, with making it be implemented through to taking your hand off the wheel sort of thing. It’s not the C-suite typically. It’s not the change sponsor, but it’s this mid-level.

0:15:03.1 SF: It’s the B. It’s the bridge. Absolutely. And you are spot on.

0:15:07.5 WB: Yeah. It’s the bridge.

0:15:07.7 SF: Yeah. It is. It is.

0:15:09.0 WB: Yeah. Exactly. And so two areas that I was curious about in this aspect first was, can a leader in this role learn how to become more resilient so that they’re able to sustain that pressure, that level of stress for the duration or for a longer term? Is that something that we should be looking to for new leaders as they come in? Should we be teaching them how to become more resilient?

0:15:36.9 SF: Yes, I would say so. But I think part of the difficulty is all expressions or perhaps words, this is terminology and I’m not just talking semantics for the purposes of arguing here, we need to find a positive way to put it so that they feel that what we are teaching them is not just a life skill. Life skills for some reason get just dismissed because they think, “Oh no, no, yeah I’m fine,” or, “No, no, no. I don’t have time to learn that.” If we can integrate it as part of the process of being a damn good leader and that there is, as you and I both know, a very big difference between being a good leader and a good manager. And it’s fine for you to decide whichever one you want to be, then it’s part of your equipment or the process and it’s part of an approach. So it is definitely inherently part of your personality, which comes back to locus of control. ’cause it helps a great deal if it actually comes naturally to you to manage other people through that process of guiding them and encouraging them and understanding how to see it through their eyes.

0:16:40.9 SF: That would be one of the first tips I would talk about when it comes to managing change anyway. The second thing is you absolutely must take a bite-sized chunk. Bite-sized chunks are not represented by one-year plans. They are far too far away most people therefore struggle to be able to grip, and we call grip meaning hold onto what it is you want me to do. For obvious reasons also on an individual basis, the more personal the message, the better. So this is therefore what I want you to do, and this is what good would look like, is then translated down through the middle management route. So the difficulty you’ve got with leaders is their strategy or forward thinking means they are living in the future almost all the time. They do not live in present day. Now, I don’t mean that they can’t go home and be present with their family, but they don’t live in it when they’re talking strategy for the business.

0:17:28.8 SF: So it is the role of the middle management group who have to translate what it is that you’re telling me you want into what it is you need me to do right now or for this next bite-sized chunk. Now for the purposes of the model, a bite size is no longer than a month, because that month means people can grip. It means that you press the reset button every new month, being in case the goals have changed, and then you reiterate what it is we’re trying to do, and then you go back through the top level ideal expectations of what it is people want, and then on a face-to-face basis with their lower and lower level of management, they work out, “What does that mean I need to be able to achieve this week?” Or whatever. And it’s not micromanaging, but it is getting very specific when the model is first approached or started up. Once people get into this, they expect you to press the reset button, they expect you to revisit it, work out where they’re at, and then that rinse repeat actually helps them work out, “Okay, I get it. I now know what I’m trying to do.”

0:18:30.0 SF: And the problem that you’ve got is the day job gets in the way. So they lose focus. That’s the reason why rinse repeat is extremely important.

0:18:42.5 WB: Right. Yeah. That’s great advice. And I worked on a project with Boston Consulting and they have a method where they bring innovation into those smaller bite-sized groups, if you like, for that rinse repeat and the refreshing process. So they sort of get the company to present a framework without going into that smaller detail and then they get the groups to actually determine the detail to some extent. And as they’re working through it they bring in the innovation or they come up with new ideas that they may not have thought of. And I like that approach very much. What you’re saying makes sense. We used to always talk about, “Make sure that everyone understands the big picture,” but what you’re really saying is the big picture is just step one. We have to make sure that the small steps are understood.

0:19:31.9 SF: Absolutely.

0:19:32.9 WB: And clear, right?

0:19:33.2 SF: Absolutely. And then you can swap it out ’cause you are spot on. It is then the interplay between what we want, what management then communicate that to mean looks like for this next month and then people on the ground are able to say, “Okay and I’ve had this idea and how about… And shall we do it this way?” So they have to still feel involved. And this is very much the reason why before I really started working so consistently with businesses I used to feel that the three principles of managing change were as simple as ask, involve and inform. And to some degree I still don’t drop those because I still think you need to ask people what it is they think, involve them in the process, but keep them informed about how you go. The problem was it wasn’t specific enough hence we came up with a better model.

0:20:22.8 WB: Yeah. Let’s say that that’s utopia. If we can get there that would be great. But I fear that many organizations probably aren’t going to be at that stage in the short term. So what can leaders do when they start to sense that fatigue setting in? The burnout, the stresses. Is there something that you advise executives that they can do to somehow refresh, regenerate or recharge?

0:20:51.5 SF: Sort of yes, but I suppose it depends because it’s a very personal thing. So to be fair I think what a manager these days has to be capable of doing is swapping up their hat from management to becoming a coach. And this is the thing which they don’t always necessarily feel they’re skilled to do. The more they have one-to-ones with individuals who are experiencing that fatigue and the closer they are to being able to pick that up, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have to do this too frequently in order to make it pressured for them, but, the closer you get to what’s causing that. In other words I tend to like things like the Entrepreneurial Operating System, or EOS for short, which talks about are we on track? Off track? If not why not? Simple principles that mean each time you’re asking they’re actually adept at being able to say, “We are having this persistent problem.” So persistent problems don’t go away they cause fatigue, they have to be dealt with. So without meaning to sound really simple or stupid, it’s analyzing what you think you’re seeing and why and then trying to get to grips with what can you shift or help them with that will move some of those boulders out of the way? Or enable them to feel like they’re back in some kind of productive movement?

0:22:06.2 SF: And everybody wants to feel like they’re making progress, that’s the biggest thing really. So it’s consistently querying, “Okay let’s just keep moving the boulders out of the way. If we can’t make progress let’s move the boulders.” There’s got to be something that we can feel we can get movement on. That’s usually where we try to target.

0:22:22.6 WB: I did a very basic intro psychology course some years back and we spoke about thinking traps and I just wonder how much you know about that or you talk about that and what role does that play in this whole stress syndrome? Or stress.

0:22:41.6 SF: Oh a big one. Yeah yeah a big one. No you’re very fair Wayne, I’m afraid. We call them thinking errors and they are faulty thinking. Or for a bit of fun when I’m presenting I talk about stinking thinking. Anything that just helps them get a smile on their face and go, “Oh crap, yeah that’s what I’m doing again,” that kind of thing. They have to be alerted to it. So you’ve got to be aware of what you’re picking up. So some of it for example, one of the most typical ones is catastrophic thinking, so if this has gone wrong then that will too and then if that’s gone wrong then that will as well and I know it’s all gonna go wrong because it always goes wrong. That’s catastrophic thinking.

0:23:22.1 WB: That’s me. That’s me. Yeah you got me.

[laughter]

0:23:23.1 SF: Whereas I don’t do that. I’ve never done that. I’m not wired that way. So I look at one thing at once, I get a piece of paper out, I stick it down, I problem-solve what the actual issue is, and I aim to take action, ’cause the remedy for stress is always action. So most of the time the problem with catastrophic thinking is people are connecting completely separate events. And then they are Velcroing them together. And you have to start by separating the Velcro and then attacking, going on the attack. Now the more you attack, in a funny sort of way, the better you feel, because you’re taking action and even if you’re making a decision that is classed as an action, where the brain is concerned. One of the other ones unfortunately is overthinking. Now it’s slightly different. It means that you go down one rabbit hole but you keep burrowing until you get to… You just keep finding more and more reasons to feel completely stuck. Now that is a little bit too closely related to procrastinating. So, “I can’t take action because this thing is still in our way. This is still a problem.” “Okay. Yeah, but it’s not going to be forever is it? So what can we do?” “Well yeah, but there’s going to be a problem when I get there.” And then that connects with the overthinking.

0:24:40.5 SF: Or someone stresses because an individual has been just a little bit too personal or too direct in their feedback to them and therefore they now can’t let it go. They overthink. So you are spot on I’m afraid. There’s several of them. Getting a bit of help or guidance with those is really great but it can start with simple self-help books. You don’t need to go see someone like me.

0:25:01.5 WB: A side topic to this, I guess, is you also talk about confidence, self-confidence, and I’m wondering in this scenario where the leader is starting to feel stressed, they’re feeling probably overwhelmed with their situation, what does that do to one’s self-confidence and how do they deal with that?

0:25:19.0 SF: Well one of the simplest things it does is a physiological thing first of all and I know that you will say, “Oh no, not the fight or flight response, so please don’t talk about that ’cause that’s boring.” No I get it, believe me. I know that the fight or flight response is something everybody knows about but what they may not actually know is that the vagus nerve runs across the whole body in which case as soon as the vagus nerve starts to fire up under threat it will actually act because it is meant to, to make you feel almost completely inadequate because it’s designed to do that, so that you do not stand still and wait for the car to hit you on the road, you move. So of course part of the problem is this has got nothing to do with you this is not personal, it’s not about you and your problem-solving, it is about a completely normal phenomena, but because it’s designed to do that, really the most sensible thing to do is to walk away even just for a few minutes and allow yourself to calm down. Because as you calm the heart and the more you actually understand breath work, which is also a skill you can teach yourself, the faster you can do this. This is what emergency services are trained to do. They can’t afford to freeze. They can’t afford to get overwhelmed or want to run away.

0:26:30.2 SF: They must be able to stand and problem-solve a situation. So keeping your heart rate low is a skill and it’s one that you can learn. So you don’t get overwhelmed quickly you get calm so that most situations that come at you don’t accord the same default learning that you’ve applied before. You just stay calmer, think through the situation, “What is the one thing that will make the greatest difference right now?” And then you act on that. And the more consistently you learn to do that, sorry to be very obvious, the more in control you feel. And when you feel in control it’s directly correlated with confidence. So that’s what most leaders tend to need to learn. Unless of course they are actually doing particularly well in life and as long as they’re super enjoying everything that they’re doing chances are they will not burn out because that’s the caveat for them. If they are enjoying it they’re unlikely to be super stressed.

0:27:27.0 WB: Yeah. And it sounds like there’s the underlying premise there that for you to be able to do that you have to be quite mindful, you have to be in that moment rather than letting the subconscious run on autopilot and make all the decisions for you. So I guess they all tie together in some way shape or form.

0:27:46.4 SF: Yeah they do. You’re spot on. It’s a process but it’s a vital one to learn before you come under consistent pressure. So at any point in the future where there is an opportunity I urge you to take on some breathwork coaching because being able to stay calm in that moment… I mean Elite SAS use it, this is not a stupid suggestion here, this is a skill and it makes a very big difference to how positive constructive or just effective you feel in that moment. And I’m a very strong believer that people then feel better. Now that doesn’t stop extremely senior executives experiencing ill health at some pivotal point in their life. And that is still something I think I need to say. If you consistently find you are being exposed to situations then it is every possibility that either the situation itself is asking too much of you, which has nothing to do with your skill set, or you’re just not happy. I would genuinely say start to listen to that because I think that warning bell only clangs much louder and eventually it gets to the point where… There are some very big senior people in this country who have had to take time off. It is not a statement about them, it’s a statement about the role.

0:29:04.4 WB: We’re talking about leaders at this moment but of course the mental illness epidemic, I guess you would call it, around the world at the moment it doesn’t seem to be abating it seems to be getting worse if anything. So I guess this is something…

0:29:18.5 SF: I think it depends again. It’s on your perspective, Wayne. Forgive me. Sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt.

0:29:21.8 WB: Yes go ahead.

0:29:21.9 SF: It is to some degree your perspective. We have always always for a very long time now had 20% of the population who are taking some form of antidepressant. That’s not a surprise, that’s not an unusual statistic. A certain percentage of those, which is unknown, do not make enough of the brain chemicals that maintain stability called homeostasis, where the brain is concerned which means it is impossible for them to make sufficient serotonin. Without serotonin they are at risk of depression and that’s when sadly they start to pick it up. They usually have been through a critical phase of depression which has then enabled them to come back into the system and ask for help. Where the rest of the populace are concerned, the rest of the 20%, they may be taking it albeit for short-term use. Short-term use of an SSRI which is an antidepressant is never a very good thing because the brain’s chemistry is extremely delicate. You don’t play with it. So it actually is a toolkit and it’s back to feeling the combination of supported, which means you might need coaching, as well as monitoring your chemistry. But this is all I’m saying. We’ve always had a percentage, we always will. It is highly correlated with stress but stress triggers previous conditions.

0:30:46.6 WB: It can trigger asthma, it’s not about mental health necessarily. It’s actually just an unhelpful side effect of our lives right now. But yes we are seeing, because we are measuring it more, a higher percentage and especially post-COVID. Yes.

0:31:04.1 WB: Right. Right. Yeah. You get to see a lot of breadth and depth within the business world and I’m wondering are you seeing anything in business at the moment that we haven’t touched on here, obviously, that we should talk about today? Is there anything that’s really burning as an issue for you that you are worried about?

0:31:22.8 SF: That’s a great thing to ask and thank you. I would say that I think we find in general executives tolerate a great deal, but I think one of the areas that I still spot where they are missing the point somewhat, which is a really tricky thing for me to say because that isn’t meant to sound critical. The problem with life is it’s short and the period of time when your children are around and they have things like dance recitals and opportunities for you to go see them, especially during the day at Sports Day and this kind of thing is short, I honestly urge you not to miss these things just because business is extremely busy. Your children remember. This is the problem and the pain that I tend to see. So they get older and the exec gets older and then he’s full of regrets. What is the point of that? The sadness that they experience especially if the relationship actually ends and therefore it comes to a divorce, is phenomenally painful for them and it might have been preventable. So I still do feel that if you can possibly take it on today an awareness of the fact that your world is not just made up of business but it’s got this other portion who also love you and need you and are there for you and really are the rock around which you swim.

0:32:44.5 SF: And that’s the essential piece of the jigsaw puzzle as well, because they are not going to thank you when you get ill as a result of whatever it is that you’ve been through with the business.

0:32:57.2 WB: Any books around this topic that spring to mind around dealing with stress, dealing with this whole environment that we’re talking about today?

0:33:10.1 SF: Yeah that’s interesting, thank you. I actually… We obviously have a lot of guests who come on to the podcast that I run as well. And there was one just recently and she was great. She was talking about a book called ‘Mind Knots’ which is about the cognitive biases that come into play when you are, without meaning to, you’re getting in your own way because you could do even better in the world but you don’t know what you don’t know. I think there’s probably two or three actually. I’d love to send them to you so you can pop them into the podcast notes if that’s okay. I’m still a very strong believer, point yourself towards what you want instead which I tend to see broadly as the self-help self-development the gurus who are out there, you’ve got everybody from Brian Tracy, Bob Proctor was a beautiful man sadly passed now. But there are quite a few out there. Wayne Dyer’s also passed but there are a lot of people with very positive messages and I hook on those rather than an over-emphasis on my conditional situation at the moment. But also fixing it quickly is not impossible to do, and the likes of Wayne and myself are out there, we’re very willing and very able to help.

0:34:17.8 WB: Thank you for that. One of your styles, and I haven’t touched on it but you’ve just triggered me to think about it, is you talk about going from A to C rather than through A, B and C. So would you like to elaborate on that before we wrap up?

0:34:36.8 SF: Do you mean the kind of support that I show for an individual?

0:34:37.7 WB: Yes. Yes.

0:34:38.3 SF: Yeah. Most of the time when they come into the practice, if they even get that far because they’ll have often made an approach and I’ll have seen them online beforehand, is the fact that something needs fixing and I’ve been a very strong believer that if something needs fixing you fix it quick. I’ve spotted in executives they like to get from A to C but they do not want to go through B for very long, so therapy is not an ideal process for them unless they are critically poorly in some way. So I hit on the idea that three sessions tops actually manages to make a pivotal difference and I’m looking to do so by fixing a low hanging fruit or the immediate problem at hand. It might be an approach, a style, a way of thinking. It’s usually a blocker. When we move that out of the way it prevents them from further sliding, gives them the tools to make sure that they feel adept and they feel better and that in itself protects the business. So it’s a three-pronged approach that pivots or enables them to sit on that stool and feel better with the further tools they’ve got. It’s just a process, it’s a methodology, but it’s pretty typical of me. And I think that’s probably because I don’t like going from A to C by going to B either way.

0:35:48.2 WB: [laughter] So you’re a little dynamo I would say. You certainly are very very well versed in your field and I can just see it in the feedback you give and the way you respond. So thank you so much. What’s the best way for people to connect with you if they’re interested in following or if they would like to be in touch?

0:36:17.6 SF: Thank you. I would love that. They’re very welcome indeed to visit my LinkedIn page which is suefirthltd.com. Write to me at sue@suefirthltd.com. The website also has the same name. Instagram is suefirthpsychology. We tend to revolve around derivatives of me, if you like, so you can find me if you even just hunt for the name. And yeah absolutely. Write to me, ask any questions you like. We pick it up all the time from the site. And it’s extremely useful. Listen to the podcast as well or just pick up content that’s on the site because there’s quite a lot of resources there too.

0:36:52.2 WB: Yeah and the podcast is called ‘The Executive Edge’. I’m not sure I mentioned that…

0:36:52.3 SF: It is.

0:36:53.2 WB: The Executive Edge?

0:36:54.1 SF: Yeah. Thank you so much. It is. Yes. We get a downloadable episode every week 7 AM GMT.

0:37:02.5 WB: Well Sue Firth, fantastic connecting and great conversation. I’m sure the listeners have got an enormous amount out of it. Thank you for being a guest on the ET Project.

0:37:10.1 SF: You are so welcome. It’s been an absolute joy Wayne. Thank you very much.

0:37:14.5 Speaker 2: Thank you for joining us on the ET Project, a show for executive talent development. Until next time. Check out our site for free videos, eBooks, webinars and blogs at coaching4companies.com.

Thank you for contributing to this important research.

Please complete the form and submit this form and
continue to download the survey.