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Consulting career change - PwC Partner, David Lancefield talks about life after Big4

Sudeshna:

Hi everyone, this is Sudeshna from The Abundance Psyche and you are listening to the Not- -so-Corporate podcast. Here we talk about all the not-so-corporate things we do in corporate life, and outside of it as corporate entrepreneurs.

And today, I have a very special guest with me. I was in awe of David through my Strategy& (PwC) days. I have with me the very special David Lancefield.

He is a former Strategy&, and PwC partner. David helps leaders improve their performance and deliver extraordinary results by using his expertise and experience as a strategy consultant, as an exec coach, and as a business leader. He has worked with 35 CEOs, led more than 500 projects, structured 15 digital ventures, and has had 14 years of experience in Strategy& in PwC as a Partner. His clients include the BBC, Royal Mail, NHS, Vodafone, all of the big names that you can think of. He is also a regular contributor to the HBR, Strategy& Business, Forbes, and FT, on something that I really want to talk to David about- the critical paradoxes of corporate life, human and technology, professional and personal, corporate and individual leadership and management, exploration and exploitation. Welcome, David. I'm so so excited to have you.

David:

Thanks for having me. You're making me feel younger already is some 14 years as a partner, and 24 years in the firm. So I'm older than you think. But I'm happy to be made younger. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Sudeshna:

Thank you so much for coming over. So David, do you want to give me a bit of that paradoxical piece that you write so much about? All of those nuances around, how to balance corporate and personal life?

David:

I'm fascinated with paradoxes because they reflect what real life is about, whereas we often hear read, see, fake dogmatic views on leaders have to do this, or it's all about tech, or it's all about our professional stuff. Well, it's not as simple as that.

So I'm really interested in that- the interactions, the trade-offs, the tensions between these factors. So for example, that a recent piece I wrote in HBR, was around, transformational leadership. And we hear stories of leaders delivering amazing results, growing the share price, the profitability, the firm, the brand, all these great things. And in my experience, there are many leaders, however, who leave a trail of collateral damage- either their health and the sanity of those around them. And so I guess what I was trying to call out is that, you only see and hear one side of the story, where there's often another one, which is a more personal one.

And I wasn't suggesting there's necessarily one answer. But I was trying to work through how can you bring the two together? How can you think of success and impact in both a professional sense? And a personal sense? That's one example of a paradox.

Sudeshna:

That's right. And that is what I think I have been talking a lot about. Because we pretend in corporate life that we are just this one-dimensional person who appears at work does a good job goes back. And we have a linear progression path. But I think you were one of the very few people, David, you were walking the talk, literally. And I really enjoyed the fact that you talk so openly about the various things that mattered to you. I wouldn't say that that was the norm in the firm (PwC). So what sort of give you the courage to do that?

David:

I guess there's a couple of things, and hey, just to be clear, as my close family and friends will attest, I'm far far from perfect in many areas. I guess at one level, spending a lot of your day, not being yourself is really tiring. So there's one element of it, if you're facing a lot of pressure, which you are in any role, but particularly in a senior role, you face a lot of pressure. If you're adding on to that, a mask or you're doing things that aren't yourself, over time that becomes a bit tiring, a bit boring, and actually, a bit inauthentic. So that was one thing that I was thinking.

Secondly, I mean when I became a partner at 32, which is relatively young. I was in a good market, good mentors, and I was pretty good at what I did. And I put a mask on for the first few years because I was the young person around. I remember being in a meeting, where I was the most senior person in the room, and I was asked to make the coffee and tea by some of the other people there, which I was very happy to do. I'm not particularly good at it, but I was very happy to do it. And I sat down and chaired the meeting, and you should have seen the look on their face. They said, “What you?” Yes, well, I'm chairing the meeting. So I tended to put a mask on from time to time to be somebody different.

And then I thought life's too short, and it was a bit tiring. And I think candidly, I guess, my son who was born with absolutely no problems, but then sadly suffered significant brain damage. And that shocked me into a reality which I never imagined. And I guess, made me think a bit more deeply about life, what it means to work, how important work is, and it still was important but against that backdrop of a very difficult personal situation. And so I decided where relevant, and very importantly, where relevant, to share some of my personal story where I think it could help either encourage other people to do the same, or perhaps learn some of the lessons from that experience. Because what I found was, there are many, many people who have rich, and stimulating, and have varied experiences outside work with very positive ones, like hobbies, passions, or negative ones, like, a loss of something, and they don't bring it into work. Now, I'm not suggesting you have to be the same person, I'm not suggesting you have to share everything. But it's like, you're not bringing the best of yourself to work. I remember, somebody in my team, who was a brilliant sportsperson. And this is a number of years ago, I think that was hidden to everyone. I thought, the stamina, the skill, the performance you achieve, surely some of that experience could be relevant to work, so bring it forward. And to this day, I still don't quite know why they didn't. But there was something about the environment, perhaps not being psychologically safe for them to do so. Or perhaps people weren't interested, they only wanted to see the person as a number on a page, a performance stat for them to deliver. And so I was passionate about trying to bring everyone's best self and best interests and styles and backgrounds to the fore, having not done it for much of my career.

Sudeshna:

Yeah, I was going to ask why do you think that people feel uncomfortable about sharing more of their stories at work?

David:

I think it may be because they haven't seen people, or haven't seen people who are similar to them. And so it feels like, particularly to those early on or in a minority group, risky to share something of yourself that they may not understand, they may not be interested in. And if you're trying to make an impression, and still trying to get to know somebody, why take that risk. Yeah, I guess the argument in just being focussed on what the day job is, focussed on the task at hand. Or they may be there, they may not feel that somebody is making it safe for them to do so. They might see it as a distraction. They're saying, well, hang on, I've asked you to do this. Your role is this in this team. Why are you going into other areas that aren't relevant? And at a human level? There's probably thinking, surely, we're all interested in each other. And I'm sure we are. But when under pressure, when people feel perhaps insecure themselves, what tends to happen for many people, is they tend to sort of shrink, they become narrow and they focus on what's ahead of them. And anything that's outside that realm feels difficult and risky. And so they tend to just focus on, what's in front of them, often, most of the time to their detriment.

Sudeshna:

Yeah, some sort of tunnel vision, as opposed to connecting the dots across the board. And I remember I was reading somewhere that Elon Musk has quite a lot of interest across various domains. He brings together things in such a creative way that most people don't even think of, which is, I suppose, the paradox of human versus tech in some ways.