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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.

David:

And I think that it's all about how if you're a manager of a group or a leader of a particular functional area, it's all about how you invite people to share what's relevant and how you frame the conversation. I think we often think that if we share our stories, our backstory, our background, it has to be some big thing you know, you get up on a stage and you tell your story. And there are plenty of examples of people doing that. And that feels quite daunting, quite a big thing. Whereas actually, if you say to people, right, we're looking at this task, this problem. We want to come up with a new idea. Let's think of all the best possible ideas wherever they come from, that people might just share something anecdotal, little nugget, a story from their personal self, which could be quite small. But what it does is, I guess, opens the door for people to see a little chunk a little something about them, we think, well, that's interesting. And then you delve deeper, and you build it up and you build it up, rather than it being some - “Right, you've got 10 minutes is the floor. Tell us about where you come from, what you're doing in your personal life”, and so on, which for most people they won't want to do.

Sudeshna:

Yes. And I suppose the key bit to that as you alluded to before, is leadership and authentic leaders who make the environment safe to be yourself in some ways.

David:

Yeah, I think, and having the curiosity I'd add as well, to actually rather than assume something about somebody because of their title, their seniority, their background, their education, that therefore, it should be x, y and Z, actually ask a few more questions.

Listening properly, actually gives people space to express themselves and the way they want to. You don't have to, although we think bullet points might help, put things down on paper and bullet points. That's not how people want to speak. And so some people have to be given the space and time to express themselves in different ways.

For example, the number of assumptions that are made about me, as a white male, are staggering. And I get it, I get it, particularly from people who come from different backgrounds. But they sort of see me do X, Y, and Z. Oh, David, you must love, for example, I've heard this all the time, “You must love football”. That's one example. And to be clear, I've had it I have had it easy compared to other people. I completely recognize that. And I'm sensitive to that. But I'm not into football at all. I much prefer rugby. But as people, we all make assumptions about people, and say something like, “Oh, you're x, y, and Z”. Whereas, being authentic and curious is rather than saying, therefore, you go into this box, actually asking them to show you. And the more time that you spend, this is what I realized, it's a mid to midway through my careers, the more you invest time in people, it's not a waste, it's not a distraction from getting to from A to B or delivering the target. It’s an investment in a relationship. It's an investment in the person and pays dividends, right? Because the more you get to know people, the more efficient you can be yourself, the more you get all the time, you know, out in front of you, rather than getting a little sort of slice of it.

Sudeshna:

Yes, of course! David, just to take a segway from that into your varied passions, like you talk a lot about leadership, you were a strategy consultant, which is very logical, methodical, but leadership is far more diverse, inclusive, intuitive, in some ways, and then your interest in tech, because you tend to write a lot on AI, and all of the latest technological bits and leadership as well. So how did you in your own career, which is quite demanding in its own right, and I know about your son, as well. So how did you manage time for all of this?

David:

Well, I'll just pick you up on a couple of things there. You're making a few assumptions there. One is, which is fine by the way, it's a natural thing we all do. I think the strategy can be quite logical, structured, analytical, but the great strategy isn't. A great strategy is about choice- making choices, making finding differentiated positions, creating what an organization is really capable of. It should be creative. It should be intuitive. Because what is strategy about? It's about moving people to a new place that requires understanding the brain, the mind, the feelings, the biases, and understanding biases, as well as, a structured view as to where an organization can move to.

And often we think the strategy is something which is defined by a series of spreadsheets and PowerPoints, whereas actually, it's much more than that. But that aside, I'll come back to your question.

I went with where I was interested. I went with where there was a demand in my career, both in terms of the types of work. So I started as an economist, and I saw that economics feeds strategy, and I went with, “What are people buying from me, both colleagues and clients? What's hot in the market?”

And sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. So there have been opportunities in my career where if I was really focused on making money or progressing, I would have gone in a slightly different direction. But actually, I didn't want to do things that weren't congruent with either my interests or myself. So I was pretty clean on my radar of what stimulates me and what gives me a lift and energizes me.

And in terms of managing time, I think that's just about making choices day to day, where you spend your time with, with whom, what do you stop doing? And actually, how do you make sure that you keep moving on, I see a lot of people who effectively spend all their days in meetings or on calls. And effectively, they're still in the previous call, they're still thinking about something else. Whereas if they actually compartmentalized from one activity or one task to another, they'll get it done quicker, be more focused, and then move on. And I think that reason, I was definitely not perfect, but I was reasonably good at just saying, enough's enough.

You know, I didn't work that much on weekends. For example, this is irrespective of my sort of family situation. At the same time, when I was in work, I was pretty intense, sometimes too intense, to be honest, I wanted to get stuff done, I wanted to make stuff happen. But I also just wanted to do other things outside work, too.

Sudeshna:

Right. So coming back to that big that you said about strategy. I love that, because that's typically what I always tell people that strategy is about thinking about connecting the dots, about being creative, not a bunch of Excel spreadsheets that get you somehow to top-line growth and bottom-line cost reduction. That is important. Of course, that's important. But real strategy does lie in that sort of creative space...

David:

You need substantiation, you need evidence to support a perspective as to how you can create a winning position in an area. But you need different skills, you need different backgrounds. And one of the things that strategists, whether they're consultants or in-house strategies get wrong, is they think they can do it on their own. Great strategy has to include different perspectives, people who are in the front of finance, how do you finance a strategy? How do you make it happen operationally, etc? Great strategists are convenors. They're more architects than experts. They bring people together, and they play the role of bringing all those insights together for them to work out well. Not only an idea, a plan but also the momentum to actually make it happen. Most strategies don't work right. Most strategies just don't work.

And a large part of that is they haven't got a clear strategy to start off with, they haven't made some clear choices, and people don't understand it. But it's the execution where it goes wrong. Because it often can be developed by a small team at the top, either in the organization or consultants push to the organization, and then say get on and do it. And most people look at it and hear it and think, “Actually, I don't quite know what I have been asked to do. I don't quite know why I've been asked to do things differently. And by the way, what's in it for me?”

All those very personal questions, which are not soft questions, and are actually some of the hardest questions you can try to answer.

Sudeshna:

I agree completely, like I have seen so many strategists. They are brilliant strategists, so to speak. They will carve out a strategy, and then they give it off to the ops team who are not wanting to implement that. And they will expect magic to happen. Somehow the ideas in their mind will be transmitted and executed through these people who have no idea about what those ideas are in the first place. And there have been a fair few times I had to ask, “Are you sure this is a good strategy to follow? Because at the end of the day, I think going back to that piece around culture and strategy which is fundamental to all of the strategy work that we do. And that ultimately, has to be in some way led by leadership.

So coming back to your interest in leadership, David, how did you decide or know? What made you leave Strategy&, PwC and then pick up this interest of yours that I think you had for quite a long time. I was in Strategy& and it's been two and a half years since I left and I have been watching you. So yeah, I know of your interest. But how did you transition into being a leadership coach?

David:

Yeah, I guess there are a number of elements. One I played a number of leadership roles within the firm. And I enjoyed them. I didn't have some successes, got some things wrong, she did have responsibility rather than just being an advisor or consultant to leaders, I had responses to be one so that piqued my interest. And I was both a leader of a group, also a part of leadership teams and had a number of different experiences. I then worked with a number of senior executives to pick on projects that often then brought in wider considerations in big regulatory projects, big transformation projects, where we weren't there to coach the leaders, but it sort of happened. It is natural when you're spending a lot of time with somebody, and you've invested in the outcome, you try and help them beyond just the task in hand or the particular project. And I was always interested in the coaching part of it. And you know, high-quality coaching is something, where you have the ability to not only draw out the answer, an idea, a solution from the individual, but actually to encourage them to think differently, to sometimes direct and sometimes be non-directive. And I think that's a great complement to consultants who are often brought in and can lead, to be like experts in a particular area.

And so if I am caricaturing a bit, a consultant often is given a problem, they go away and do the work and then push it back to you. That's clearly not right.

But that's where I like the idea of delving into the psyche of people, how are they thinking, why are they thinking? And actually, when we go away? What are they like, you know, what would it take for them to do it themselves and do it better? I was always fascinated with behavioural change.

And then I decided to take a program run by Mayler Campbell, which is a coaching faculty. I did that while I was in PwC, and became an accredited executive coach. And then I got to a point, I guess, in my career, after 24 years in the firm, 14 years as Partner, and I thought, I'm now 46, I was younger, obviously, then when I made the decision. hey, the firm is great, I'm a big admirer of the firm (PwC) but I'm thinking, I want to try some new things in life. In the firm, I saw various paths and they were fine. But fine wasn't good enough for me. And so I thought, right, let's try and build a portfolio of different activities. So I call myself a catalyst, strategist and coach. Catalyst being new ideas, strategy, making choices, and coaching about enablement… try my hand at speaking, writing, and perhaps take some roles with boards to try something new.

And it also gave me a bit more flexibility at home. So there isn't there was a professional and a personal reason for doing. And it's not common for somebody mid tenure to leave the firm. Most partners said to me, “You're very courageous.” And there were people who are younger, who weren't partners tended to say, “Of course, you're going to try something new, why wouldn't you? Why have you stayed so long?”

There were two different reactions. It was the same comment every time when I told people. I could guarantee they're going to say, “Wow, that's brave, that's courageous” and what they meant, I think, “So you've got a job, you've got a good role, a good title, is relatively well paid. Why would you give that up, to do something where you don't have a big brand behind you? You're not proven in all those areas.”

My view I was, by the way, but they may not have seen it. And you're gonna take a risk at that time. You're like, why would you do it? So it's interesting, that was this sort of perception I just wanted to change.

Sudeshna:

Right. So did these two sets of opinions make you a little anxious at that point or not?

David:

No. Absolutely not. I mean, it's a big decision. But once you've told people, I, you know, I've made once you that's when people you know, when people leave an organization by the time they told you they've gone through a thought process for quite a long time typically. So yes, there were some very hard decisions and very practical decisions of you know, weighing up the pros and cons, talking to people who I trusted, who were different to me. So I did reach out to people on a private basis. Who I knew had a different background, different mindset to me, to test whether I was going mad or was trying something different.

And I wasn't looking for an answer. What I was looking for is for them to think whether my reasoning was sound, how I was coming across. So one of them, I remember she said to me, “When you talk about what you want to do, however vague, right now, you don't have a completely clear idea, your eyes light up. You talk more positively about it.”

That says a lot. So I retired- left/retired. You call it retired from the partnership, that's the term that's used. I haven't retired, but I left the firm in July, 2020.

So in the middle of the pandemic, when I'm homeschooling home shielding, then I did have some doubts, then I'll be honest, I was thinking, “What have I done? I've given up everything!”

And setting up a business in the middle of a crisis, is not the best timing. But it was the right thing to do for all those reasons,

And sometimes your timing works, sometimes it doesn't. And I've had a huge amount of fun, love the experimentation, exploration, I've loved the freedom to do my own things. There've been some things I've missed as well in terms of the team, the dynamics, the network, dynamic sort of environment, you're in the network of people listen, brilliant people, I miss. But I love the freedom just to make my own decisions, without going to a committee, or something similar, I can just do it.

Sudeshna:

Yeah, that's that. It is a bit complex making choices and decisions and sort of sayig “Yeah, this will be done in the PwC/ Strategy& sort of environment for sure!

You set this business up during the pandemic. So tell us about how it's been going since then, like what have your experiences been? What parts of corporate life are you still using? What are you not missing at all? I think you've said you're not missing the big committees. But yeah, what are you loving? What are you not?

David:

So I'm loving the opportunity to shape my own. develop my own brand. My own platform. And as I made a decision early on, given I was going to be working about half time, I knew I couldn't work full time, given the personal circumstances. And so I decided that the idea of trying to go for clients right from the beginning, I didn't need to. After working 24, I have a bit of headroom, right? I haven't been betting my money away, or just spending it everywhere. So I just decided to build a platform, build my brand, which in practice meant shooting some videos, doing quite a lot of writing, networking with lots of people, exploring new avenues, new ventures, some of which I can talk about some, which I can't yet.

And I love that I get to reach out to somebody I don't even know. But often through a friend or a contact and just saying, “Hey, let's let's try this.” So love that sort of dynamism and the fact that I can make decisions. And the fact I've learned a huge amount, a massive amount on stuff about running a business, some which is interesting, some of which is a bit tedious. But new topics, if you're going to interview somebody, or if you're going to write something, and it's your personal name. It matters, of course, when you're in an organization, but it probably matters a bit more at the beginning. So you have to really be on your A game. So sort of that learning, getting up to speed quickly. And using a network and building frankly, a new network of people that would serve me well, whether it's potential clients, collaborators or suppliers, they might even the people marketing the work for me. So I've loved all that. What do I miss? Hey, I mean, when you're on your own, right? So I'm a sort of solopreneur, as they call it. So I miss the people. The fact is that, in the virtual world, it's different. I can sort of bump into people, you're not in the flow of the meetings, the calls, the people, some which were good, some which were a bit dull.

The other thing is, I used to have a virtual assistant, Jane, who was fantastic, I'd have to spend money to get one which I didn't really need at the beginning. So there is a support in a corporate that you get, which often we moan about, but when you don't have it, you think, “Where is everyone? Where have they gone?”

And I think at the same time, what have I missed is just the range of people that you have on tap one of the great thing about an organization like PwC. If you have a problem or an idea within one or two calls/emails you could probably get somebody pretty good to help you with it. Whereas now I have to be resourceful I have to use my existing network, I have to reach out to somebody who may be new. And make a choice day to day between something I do myself vs something I buy in which those sort of micro-decisions you don't need to make within the corporate environment.

Sudeshna:

David, one last thing that I wanted to chat about was really for our younger listeners, I think quite a lot of people who come to you, I'm making an assumption again, but I imagine quite a lot of people who you coach tend to be more exec level. I was reading in one of your articles about how a lady I think, from MediaLink. She had created this personal Board of Directors around her.

David:

Kathleen Saxton, yes!

Sudeshna:

Yeah. And so I guess, when you have a few years of experience down the road, that's perhaps an easier thing to do. But what about when we are five, six years or in our careers? How can we approach this today? How did you approach it in your career? Because you had a quite successful career at PwC, and you were one of the youngest partners.

David:

Yeah. So you're right, that, many of my clients, either existing or potential clients are senior executives. But I've made a decision to make sure I do work with a range of people. Because I want to keep it fresh. I want to have different perspectives. So I will be working with younger, less experienced people who I think are high potential or just fascinating people.

I think, like, did I have a board of advisors early on in my career? No, I didn't, I could have done. I don't think there's suddenly a stage where you have to say, “Hey, you know what I'm a manager now or senior somebody, I need to have it.”

My view is it starts whenever you want to, whether you're coming out of an apprenticeship/ university, wherever you're coming from into work, you will have a range of people in your network, who have different skills, backgrounds mindsets to you. Now, you may think you're all similar. But actually, if you delve a bit deeper, there'll be somebody who may be a bit more analytical than you, may have done an internship somewhere differently. Maybe in a different way, you may be in a professional services firm, for example, they're working in a corporate or a bank. My point is if you actually spend the time mapping out your network of people, and you map them out through a number of different dimensions. And then you say, “Who can help me the most, in terms of giving me different views are the ones I could generate myself?”

This was my test. By the way, when I asked people's advice when I was making my own career transition, if I thought I knew the answer, I probably wouldn't ask them. There are a few people who are good friends, and some are very good friends, I didn't really consult them that much, not because I didn't care about them. But I reckon that if I wrote down what I thought they were going to say, I probably get about 80% of it, right. Whereas in some ways, it's about having a board around you, is having the confidence to actually have people who make might make you feel a bit uncomfortable at times, because they don't think in the same way, because they come up with a novel idea, or they might challenge you a little bit more. So I think there's something about it. I don't think there's a certain stage of your career, I think you can start whenever you want. I think the other thing, just briefly, I'd say is, I don't think this has to be a big exercise. So some people might be thinking, you know what, I've got a really demanding job, I've got exams to study for whatever it is, this is not something you need to do every day. It could be something you can do socially. You can bring together the people wgeb at the moment we were in a virtual environment, you do a call together, once every couple of months for half an hour/ an hour, and you brainstorm a few ideas. The point is when you need it, and when you want to solicit those views, you can tap into it. So there's something about that strategy. We're talking about how much time and effort, in what form you want to invest in. Rather than being “Oh, it's something I need to do every week and investment this number of hours.”

No. Sometimes you can get the best ideas from five or 10 minutes of thought.

Sudeshna:

Yeah. And at times, I feel like sometimes I get the best ideas while in the shower or after a good meditation. Because quieting the mind, as I have realized is extremely important, but there's something about the board of directors, really clicked with me, the fact that you are opening yourself up to be challenged. And also you are owning up in some way to, “I'm the CEO of this career that I have, and I am hiring or soliciting advice from a board around me.” I really love that.

David:

It is also showing them that you own, your own destiny. You take control for the ups and downs. Any career has ups and downs. Anybody who says otherwise is just not telling the truth. I think at the same time, you have to have to give it back, right? It goes both ways. So somebody else may want your help at a time, it's not convenient for you.

I think sometimes you can just focus on yourself. I see a lot of very talented, high performing people who are tunnel vision, but they're so obsessed about themselves, that they will, progress, progress, progress. But if for example, they have a difficult moment, or things don't quite go their way. Or, for example, if the company they're in just doesn't perform, even if they may have been performed very well. And I know a number of people who've either been let go, because the company has not done very well. The sort of shocks, those people have! And they really, really have a difficult time, because they haven't got a network of people around them. Because they've been so focused on me, me, me, me, me. But there’s something about “Look around you, invest in your relationships, even when you're doing well, and take a bit of time out not only to think of new ideas, but just to breathe”.

And actually, one of the things I used to get criticized for sometimes, and rightly so is because I was quite focused and passionate about what I did. Either I looked physically serious, or was very head down. And it made people feel like, “you're too busy”, or “you've got it sorted, I don't need to come and help you”. And what I was doing unconsciously, was actually turning away people who might have been able to help or want to collaborate with me. And so there's something about I know, this is a sort of desk analogy, but it's something about lifting your head up looking around, going for a walk spending time, that's not wasteful. That's not wasteful time at all. That's actually good time.

And my belief is, although I never got this right, is, you know, the best ideas shouldn't come just in your personal time- the walk on the beach, the meditation. We have to create environments at work, where people can feel calm, and relaxed, where they can think clearly. And we've got to get away from this obsession with velocity, and pressure, and intensity and process.

I remember being in one board meeting. I am facilitating and there were high performing group of people, high caliber people, the organization was doing pretty well at that stage. But effects we have a group of about 10-12 people, only three people spoke, the rest were in fear of saying something they weren't particularly interested.

And so what I changed was I created what's called a thinking environment, something that Nancy Kline, the author has written about in a book called Time to Think. What I said is, everyone has the opportunity here to say something and I posted a very simple set of questions. I said, the rules are, one - you are kind to the listener, which means you don't drone on. Secondly, when you're listening to the person next to you, irrespective of who they are, what your respective positions are, you listen intently, which means, all content, which sometimes it's hard to do virtually than in person, but eye contact, which some people feel quite difficult, and some of it is cultural- cultures where that's a bit more difficult to do, I recognize. But it also means and here's the key point also means no interruptions.

We are wired to wait for one or two interruptions. So we tend to just blurt something out somebody chips in somebody chips in. And in that in that meeting, one we got to hear the opinions and ideas of everyone. Secondly, they actually started working together because there was more mutual interest and mutual respect. And actually, it was just quite calm. I was told afterwards, they made more progress in that meeting than they have done in about four to five months of meetings. And it wasn't intense. It was pretty calm, and it was pretty thoughtful. Now, not every meeting necessarily needs to be like that. There are some meetings that can be transactional and quite operation-focused.

But we need to change our perspective on what your high performance looks like. It's not about intensity, stress and pressure.

I remember one leader, I won't say where, where he worked. But you can probably guess he actually stood up in front of a group of people. And he said, “My role is to increase the anxiety of this group, I want to create more anxiety, I want to sort of put more pressure on you more stress, because my belief is that will help us achieve better results.”

I mean, who delivers better results from being anxious? If he reframed it and said, “What I want to do is set a really high ambition for this group. And I want to do that together.” If he said, “I believe in all of you. And I want to have a conversation about how we can work together”, that would have been a completely different conversation and a completely different dynamic.

So my belief in this, why I'm passionate about it myself, is we've got to rethink the way you know, high-performance operates at work. We really, really do! And the reason for that is, the other thing I mentioned is that will also improve inclusion in the sense of belonging from people who may not shout loudly, maybe the person who will listen attentively, before they chip in but when they do say something there, the quality per word of what they say is very high. And too many, particularly men over a certain age, tend to dominate proceedings. It means that people don't participate. We got to rewire we got to rethink how before high performance works at work, got to!

Sudeshna:

Oh, my God, I'm loving all of this. And I'm having flashbacks to meetings where I have been the quietest person in the room, and actually getting quite bad performance reviews on the back of me being quiet just because I was listening. Anyway, I won't go down that rabbit hole.

David:

Just one thing on that. I'm not trying to rewrite your career but there is something about how we can all share how we work best. And how we think differently. And that comes down to either courage we have in a meeting or privately between meetings, where we say “I work best when I'm reflected and thinking, or I work best when I'm the person who's the Energizer, and so on. And that may not suddenly give you the best performance review. But what it does is if you like stop or reduce the number of assumptions people make, which may be they may made assumptions about somebody who's quiet being Oh, they're not engaged, they're not interested, haven't got any good ideas. Whereas I can tell you on one of my leadership teams, the most insightful comments came from an individual who says very little, but right at the end would either summarize what we've said or come up with a new angle. And actually, I slipped into the trap of thinking, the person who was, the loud, big character, was actually the most impactful. They definitely played a role in terms of bringing the room up, lifting the mood, getting people thinking- that plays a role. That's only one role. There are lots of other roles people can play from being a catalyst with ideas, being somebody who can convene people, bring people together, somebody who can think alternative angles- I've mentioned four there, I could go on, we often default into a single character in a meeting, particularly in traditional organizations. And so now, and what happens is you get groupthink, you get lots of “mini-mes”, you get lack of diversity of thought. What it needs is either the manager or the leader of that group to talk about how people want to work, and actually show that curiosity. Or it needs somebody brave from coming into the organization.

So you know what, let's just take a moment, let's just talk about how we operate a meeting. Again, that doesn't have to be a three-hour conversation. It could be a short intervention. And I've seen that in some of my clients I've worked with somebody says, “Hey, can we just talk about how we are actually talking at the moment on this call?” - so, making an observation about the interactions.

For example, a few months back, everyone was talking over each other. And somebody brave who's probably the most junior in the room said, “Can I just intervene? We can't hear each other speak. We're not making any progress. I'm sensing this in disagreement. Can we talk about what the main areas of disagreement are?” Suddenly, just like that the dynamic changed, and they actually went from a quite a difficult dynamic. to somebody who's quite analytical. So, okay, the main areas of disagreement are, that they're done, and then they found a way through it.

Sudeshna:

That's brilliant. I am definitely going to take notes for myself from that. So that's been such a pleasure. David, do you have any last things to say? It feels like I could talk to you for ages. Maybe at some point? We'll have you on again!

David:

That's up to you and your listeners. But I always look forward to feedback.

I think one of the things I'd say just two closes, none of us have all the answers, right? Some of us have a bit more experience. I think the key thing that I've enjoyed of late and indeed, much my career is learning- having a passion to learn, having a touch of humility, to actually say, “I don't really know the answer, perhaps you do”, and actually showing a guess that you care- care about not only the people around you as human beings, but also care about the result you're trying to go for.

I think sometimes going back to paradoxes, I think sometimes deep care and appreciation for people can be an excuse to not really push the boundaries because you want don't want to offend them.

Again, the paradox is, you can be incredibly successful, and care for people. I remember I'm having a conversation with James Timpson, of Timpson's, the shoe cobbler. He is the son of the founder. And he is known for his care of for his people- not only the fact that he brings in a proportion of his workforce, are ex-offenders from prison, but also the fact that he knows there are certain perks and benefits that perhaps other organizations wouldn't give.

So for example, if you have a bereavement, you can take holiday, and they support you with that, and so on. But he's very clear that you have to earn the right. So for example, the standards they've set for the stores, how the people look, how they perform, are very, very high. And he's very clear that you know, the only reason he can be generous with those perks and how he looks after them is party obviously his mindset, his beliefs, but also, because the fact they make money, right. So he was, I probably thought, Oh, he was a benevolent person, it's this the good of his heart. There is a certain degree of that. But he has really high standards.

And if you, if you match them, you know, and you deliver against it, then you get the benefits. If you don't, you're supported, through difficult times over the store in the shops not working. But if it doesn't work, you're invited to leave. So that's another example of a paradox where actually, I think we can all show a lot more care for each other, whilst also trying to strive for our absolute best.

Sudeshna:

Absolutely. And in fact, caring about each other also means that I'm expecting you to perform at your best. So that automatically raises the standard irrespective.

David:

You're striving for the absolute best will mean at times, that there are difficult moments, there are things you have to call out and what somebody is doing right or wrong, and it will feel uncomfortable. I remember one of my best client relationships. And the client said to me “Unless there's an element of grit between us. We're not trying hard enough. Whenever we become really, really comfortable with each other, it’s probably enjoyable. But actually, we're not really pushing things on.”

Sudeshna:

Yeah, yeah. That's it. So care for each other, expect the best of each other, but still remember to push on to absolutely get everyone to the next level. This has been brilliant. David, thank you so much for agreeing to this. Yeah, it's just been an absolute honour. Thank you so much.

David:

No problem.


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