Welcome to this week's episode of The Freedom Fridays podcast. My guest this week is an old friend, not that she's old, but I've known Aly for a while. She's a colleague, she's been working in this field of leadership and coaching for a number of years. And there's something interesting that I'd like her to share with us. So Aly, first of all, welcome. Welcome to the podcast. Always good to see you. Here likewise. And for those that are listening and watching Aly is in the UK where it's a perfect apparently winter morning. And I'm in Sydney where it's a perfectly humid Sydney evening.
Yes, it we've got frost, we've got sunshine, we've got all the things that you want in combination in the winter, it's gorgeous.
So as a bit of context Aly, I, as the listeners and you know, I'm, you know, a solopreneur single business, I run it on my own basic with some help, which has its challenges. I got to the end of last year, and I felt knackered. Despite me feeling knackered at the end of the previous year going, that's never going to happen again. I fell into the trap. And you and I spoke offline about some of the early warning signs that I should have been aware of. And so typically, in the popular press, you hear this term "burnout". And, you know, I read some of the symptoms of it, if I was the self diagnosis, you know, by Mr. or Mrs. Google, like, yeah, that's me. That's me. That's me. That's all me. That that's something I'd like to explore if you wouldn't mind. And I know you've been doing some exploration, you've had experience yourself. You coach people a lot on this. So my only question is this. Why now? Why is burnout such a prevalent thing now?
Hmm, well, it's like a perfect storm, at the moment, of horrors that we are inflicting upon ourselves. So it's really difficult to know where to start. Because there are, on the one hand, there are lots of things building burnout, or letting burnout grow. So we can look at that. And also, I think there are lots of things that are stopping us noticing it early, as early as we could. So my experience is that people who really should know better if we're using that, phraseology should notice easily like you, you know what burnout is here about, we're getting that we're still burning out, even though we know what it's like when we see it. So something is making leaders push through the early triggers of oh, this doesn't feel quite right. I don't feel quite myself. And, you know, I'm not enjoying my job as much as I was, I can't remember things that were just a bit exhausted, I don't want to go out for dinner with my partner, you know, I'm just a bit done. Maybe I'm fed up with the sector, or I'm snapping at people not noticing those things as soon. And then the next day is in front of a screen again, we don't physically move our bodies as much as we were. So it's like it's coming at us from both sides. So the measures of growth in organisations, you push for more, sell more, grow more, yeah. Don't move your body stay in front of your screen, and don't meet people so much, because we're hybrid, as we were, so it's just like a perfect combination of horrors coming at us.
Yeah, I do sense in the corporate world, which, you know, we do most of our work in, over the years this, you know, clamour for productivity and efficiency meant, you know, there was three of us around and now one person is gone. So you and I have got a job and a half. Yes. Right, with more expectation. And suddenly, not suddenly, you know, wherever the pandemic did for us, now, there's only one of us left with two and a half jobs. Yes. And we've kind of come out of this weird time for the world. With, again, maybe this is a huge judgement. Some organisations think there's going right, we need to fill the gap. We need to catch up what we missed over the last few years. Go for it. Come on, Aly. You've got the potential. Just just get it done, get stuff done. And I'm reflecting on your initial comment. And it's a maybe a small distinction, whether we're inflicting burnout upon ourselves or it's being inflicted upon us?
Well, I think both things happen. Definitely both things that I had an experienced a couple of years ago at the beginning of COVID, which really gave me some good insight into being back in the inside, because I think we have a risk as external coaches consultants that we don't feel what our client's feel. So we haven't experienced, I did an internal contract for a while working on a team and suddenly felt that I've got a team's call every half an hour all day might be able to sneak a pee at 1130 If I managed to turn the screen off for long enough and mute and, and then at 6pm, after all the team's calls had finished, we started the work, and the work got done. And I couldn't find anywhere to do any thinking there was no thinking there was no innovation there was there creativity, I was just grappling hard. And it felt like trying to hold the sea back. So I just couldn't make the team hear me that this there could be more productive ways of working, then everybody meeting on all of the calls. And because it was going so fast I felt like I was sucked into a vortex and felt really inauthentic to myself because I couldn't control my time, I couldn't control my diary. And the only thing I could do was leave because I couldn't impact it. Whereas if somebody hadn't felt what it could be, like having time to be creative, having time to innovate, they wouldn't know the difference in that so and then there's that downward circle of when you're exhausted, you can't get off the sofa and go to the gym because you're knackered so so that happens and then there's a biscuit gets eaten, and then your diet goes to pot. And it's just one thing seems to be leading to the next thing, rather than this virtuous circle of, I've got oxygen, I've got space, I can move out and find some thinking I can do it better, because I've thought about it. So it's almost like we deprived ourselves by agreeing to be part of a system which is doing this. But then we have to pay the mortgage. So it feels like it's a universally created something too.
My own experience of that, anecdotally would be if I if somethings amiss, that there's a gap in whatever well being things I'm doing, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy to go, well, I've missed a training session so I'm just going to sit and watch Netflix and you know, a small pocket and Maltesers is okay. And I'm not going to get up early tomorrow to catch up, it becomes like a vicious cycle. Whereas the other side, you know, if I'm meditating, I'm sleeping well, or I'm doing my morning, whatever it is walk, oh, well, I'm going to have the salad not the chips. No, I'm not going to have two biscuits, I'm going have a quarter of one. And I'm going to go to bed at 10 and not midnight, and it becomes like a virtuous cycle. Yes. What's your experience in the people that you work with about what triggers either kind of route?
What triggers the the noticing of it?
The noticing, well, I guess it's the the acceptance that I'm on the vicious cycle and the acceptance that I'm on the virtuous cycle?
Yes. Well, that's a great question. There's, there's some, some need for someone to notice that they're fallen onto the downward spiral. And also to want to stop and to feel that they can. So some of it comes down to personality, of course, I do coach people who have a real people pleaser requirement. So they have been raised and raised themselves to want to over deliver to do a great job always and will then give up the hobby because they haven't met the deadline. That that can be a trigger to a downward spiral and is constantly chasing the next thing and not willing to stop. Boundaries, I think are probably the route of making the change. So just deciding what comes first. Yeah, even that simple. Do I put my tennis routine in my diary first before I agree to work or do I work in first, which I think probably most of the seen that picture now doing the rounds on social media, the big rocks going in first, and then the smaller rocks after and the gravel going last year, we do tend to pile up the jar with gravel with work if we don't look first. But for me, it's about something that creates enough space to cause a stop first. So if I don't get out for my run, my brain doesn't have time to stop. And then I can easily deteriorate into chasing the emails and getting straight to work. If I can just make myself keep that first boundary of get a run and then I'm more likely to have a light breakfast. So for me it would be that starting the day that way. For someone else it might be if I can get all the work then I go to Zumba or whatever it is in the evening or I like read the book I like. So I think it's about starting somewhere with a one little boundary that you're willing to hold on to. But that the thing I often talk about with clients is with true, true burnout. I mean, the real proper drive home from work and you can't get out your car and you get carried home. You no that happens. Nobody gets better the week before to say in a week, it's going to happen because you really, really got there, it just gets you and you almost everyone I've ever spoken to who's hit that wall has looked back and thought, yeah, there were some signs, I did have some tingling in my fingers. I could feel my top lip quake when I tried to speak. You know there were signs and we're, we're ignoring those and pushing through them to until we really break.
It fascinates me, because on many occasions like you've been working with clients in a dialogue conversation, whether it's one on one, or in a group, you know, whether it's about strategy or leadership, or Mike, it can be anything. And I would ask you a very simple question. You know, if you were to document what to do, what would you say? And almost every single time they can document exactly what to do. So I'm kind of referring to, and I hadn't taken this the wrong way, you know, I should know better. Well, I do know better, probably more than most. And I reckon most people know, either what they're doing is not so good. And what they're not doing is not helping them. Well. They probably know it. Something things preventing them actually doing it. Doing what they know. Well, one, do you see that? And how do they do it? Not just knowing.
I'm not a behavioural psychologist, but I believe the psychology behind it will be people are getting a reward from what they're doing somehow. So they're either getting paid well, or they're getting told they're great. Or they're actually enjoying it. Yeah, we can keep doing something we love until we burn out, we don't have to be miserable to burn out. People do burn out doing stuff they loved it. It comes down to, I mean, if I use myself as an example, at the moment, I am more tired than usual, doing some things that I really want to be doing, saying yes to some things I don't really want to be saying yes to and really aware that the little early stages of burnout are definitely waving at me and it kind of you know this stuff, and you're still doing it. So I'm in that moment that you're describing that thinking of what am I doing? Why am I still doing it, then some of it is I'm not sure what else to do instead, some of it is I feel like if I had a holiday, I might be able to think better. And then I can feel myself going into that downward. If this happens, once this has happened, you know, we hear people once I've delivered this project, or once my kids have done their GCSEs, or whatever the exams are globally. But when this has happened, then that might be different. And actually, it's the courage to say, you know, that's not the case, it could happen today, you can stop. And the only way to do is to put a boundary in of some sort and decide, I'm going to look at this. And like with all behaviour change, maybe self awareness comes first. So just noticing, I look a little bit burned out at the moment, I am noticing the signs. Hello, signs, here you are, I can see you and just letting in a bit is that really the first step to it.
What that triggered in me was the thought. And I I'm trying to reframe this because I would I was about to see I suffer from this, because in many situations, it's not a suffering, I quite enjoy it. But over indexing, I suffer definitely. And what I'm talking about is this idea that what I do is who I am. But that's interesting, because I'm also a father and a husband and a mate and a son, that that just doesn't seem to take as much of the space as the work I do. And so, you know, here's somebody who I respect and care for and who's knowledgeable telling me you got to have some boundaries. But my whole identity is wrapped up in pushing through creating a new workshop or programme and delivering this and you know, it's just wrapped up in the work that I do. So how do, I know this is not a personal coaching session here, but many people have their work wrapped up in who they think they are? Yes. Do you have any thoughts or council or perspective on that?
Yeah, what what just happened in my brain when you were describing that was it reminded me of some coaching I had when I was talking about public speaking because as a northener I speak very quickly, and I've been trying for years to learn to speak more slowly and I was taught, you probably can't learn to speak more slowly. But you can add more pauses in. So stop more often. And so that's an interesting idea when you think about the personality that might burn out by over indexing. So if I thought about myself, I get really interested in things. So I've taken up tennis a couple of years ago, I can't just play now and again. I have to play loads and all week and get better at my forehand and trying to serve faster and all of that happens, because that's just the way I roll. And that's the way you burn out is doing that in all sorts of places. But I have learned to stop more to put more pauses in so to notice, oh, here's me getting interested in another thing again. Or it could be someone at work, Oh, hello, here's my boss giving me another project. You know, why do I keep getting all these projects that I say yes to? Yeah. You might be someone who gets interested in everything and say yes to all of those things. And maybe that's who you are always going to be someone who gets interested in everything. But, you could stop sometimes, or make sure that you're getting the walk sometimes, or that your workstation means you stand up sometimes or that you're just some - starting somewhere with it, noticing that it's a recipe for danger. And I think that's the first thing is, first of all, notice that it is dangerous, what we're doing, you know, we are combining a recipe, we putting in the pot somethings that together will make a dangerous combination. More hybrid, working, less connection with people. Less walking. That kind of thing.
I again, I've no argument what you've said. I find, me included, you know, the analogy, you know, it's hard to even believe it's still a thing, but people well, ironically, people still smoke, and if they don't smoke, they now vape. And with that identity, you know, here they are smoking the cigarette going look, I know cigarettes kill people, but not me. And if it is me, it's not this one. It will be the one that I smoke in 10 years time, that's the one that's going to kill me. So if I relate that to what I've found myself falling into the trap of going, if and the counter is true too, if I you know, the classic, a bit of a cliche, but it seems to bear out. If I own my first part of the day. You know, if I own the morning, I can then own more of the day. Whatever it is, whether it's a juice, or a walk, or some meditation, or some movement, whatever it might be, whether it gives me agency or control or whatever it might be if I get that done at the beginning of the day, what tends not to happen is what you hear people say what the day ran away with me. Yeah, right, it doesn't run away with me, because I've got the stuff done for me, the fuel if you like, in the morning. Now, if for example, I don't prepare that the night before, at least intentionally. And I, you know, I've had a late night call like this. And I can I will, I'm not going to get up on my usual time because I need an extra half an hours sleep. And then I hit the snooze button and that's like 45 minutes later. So I lose my ability or my perception, I lose my ability of controlling the day because I'm now you know, it's now 8am. And well I've got to get showered and ready, because my first call is at nine, so I better get down and check the news and make sure I've got no emails from the UK overnight, and then boom, I'm into my day. And guess what day runs away with me. Yes. So there's no question in there. It's more just a case of deeerh, I should know better.
Yet, but that I mean with the smoking and with the running around, that is the essence of denial, isn't it of not acknowledging the truth of the size of the problem. So. So whatever the technique is, whether it's getting a grip in the morning, or playing rugby on a Saturday, or it's having the big conversation with the boss. It's knowing that some small lever like that, will make quite a profound change I think is probably really important for people because it can feel if you're doing a great big job that you've consented to for 10 years and you've just kept getting promoted and that's what you've created. It can feel really difficult to to know what the hell am I because I've built my mortgage payments around that job what you're what it's all created, so I think that can probably loop round into quite a scary stuck place of I'm burning out and I have no idea how to stop burning out. And, and so if people are listening to this thinking that is me, I am sliding into that just knowing that some small change will, it will create a reaction. It's impossible for it not to start somewhere, you just have to start somewhere. And then build some boundary you're talking about is getting up when the alarm goes off with the intention you set the night before to do the thing you said you'd do. Yeah. But there's also mean there's a whole world of people, maybe parents from different kids. So people caring for people, whether they're morning gets knocked off wack all the time, because they're not going to have that control. But still, something can can work. I've also, you know that my origins were physiotherapy that's where I started my world. So I'm still very connected to the body. And it's, it's, it's our responsibility to it. And it's to us, you know, that even just thinking I was supposed to be a moving creature, you know, that's, that's where we came from, and how do I actually spend most of my day? That's an easy start, you know, even if you can't change anything about your meeting, like you could walk more or stand up sometimes, or are you feeling strong? Has your body got what it needs to do the job you're ask it to do?
So often Aly, I've heard phrases like, you know, if you want to get out of your hair, get into your body. And I, I sense people have, you know, obviously, we've got and I'm going to say maybe controversially, mostly right, this intention and more conversation about mental health. But I wonder if it's too limited a conversation about mental health. When you know, you would know and I've experienced my physical health contributes to my mental health. My relationship health contributes to my mental health. My spiritual health contributes to my ... so mental health is just I don't think and again, I'm not an expert. So this could be rubbish. Mental health is so much more than just mental health. It seems.
Yes, whole human health. So an important thing. Yes. And there's something as well, that's interesting around. So when you asked me right at the beginning, why now for burnout. So for me personally, why now, I suppose there is a link to the fact I'm in my early 50s. And so my body is changing a lot, as all women's do. And men are deteriorating, actually, as well as getting older. And, and at that time, we're very often peaking in our career. So the pressures are on, the teenagers have just started to leave. And if people have kids, you know that there's a chapter where the house gets more spacious. And there's another chapter of big work while your body is getting more tired. And are we honouring that and giving that what it needs? At the same time as well is big thinking. And what are we ignoring in our body? So quite often, if you, if you ask a senior leader in a coaching session, tell me what's going on in your body? That Well, there's a, there's a cold sore, or there's a stomach upset. Or does it you know, my body is not great, to be honest, I'm not fit. And it comes out and people are just ignoring it because they're too busy. And that's very interesting to me that we've created this life now, where bodies are kind of not mentioned or honoured, like that.
Just relied upon, this body will keep me going.
It's almost taken for granted. But until some some life event happens, and you're slammed in a hospital for three weeks, like shit, I got to change.
Yes. And that's interesting is that why do we have to have a heart attack before we change and the data says many people who have a heart attack don't make any changes afterwards.
That's what it reminded me of. I can't read the exact data but something like out of 100 heart attack patients when instructed by the surgeon to you've got to change your lifestyle, or you will die. Right? Perhaps you could argue the most ultimate consequence ever. Only 38% do.
Yes, it's fascinating, isn't it?
What!?!? You should know better, you've just been told you got to change your lifestyle. By I wonder, you know, it kind of makes me philosophical and go well, did we deserve it? And do we kind of deserve burnout?
Well, that request is it do we deserve better. Part of it that I noticed is the more money we've got, and the more privilege the less the body is required to do. So. I noticed as a young adults, things happening like I'm old enough that I had a car without power steering, and then had a car with power steering and suddenly you can feel the muscle in your arms a bit impacted by not having to move the steering wheels as stiff as it was. And then you get to posh house with electric gates. And suddenly you don't have to jump out of the car and open the gate, you just press the button and the gate opens, and then you go. And I think it's rather similar with technology and privilege and leadership where actually physically we might be being less demanded in the world we creat and technology isn't serving bodies. So it's fantastic news that the whole sports tech industry medtech, it's all on the grow again now, because maybe we've reached a cul de sac of doesn't work without the body, we're going to have to really look at that again.
That's fascinating isn't, again, most of my dealings with clients would be they're so stuck and realigned and revere almost what's going on in the head. Which is ironic, because obviously, that's part of your body. But it's almost like it's separate to. Perceived to be, yeah but my heads, that's why I'm such a strategic thinker. And how often do you hear people get complimented but oh, they're really smart? Yes. But it's all just what's between their ears? Yeah, absolutely. Without an appreciation of the holistic impact of your body on your thinking, and vice versa.
Yeah, and then if you if you want to stretch us a little there's mind and gut to what's going on in your guts or what's going on in your head. Whereas actually, those two things are quite connected there by the whole nervous system. And what do you say, often I, I feel something across my shoulders or in my chest, or in my breathing or in my knees or my legs or you know, when you're nervous, you can feel your chemicals everywhere. It's all one big human. And so maybe there's something in that that somebody who's feeling stuck could start to just feel their body in what can you actually feel? Where's that back pain starting from? Is it really the chair? Or is it tension? Or is it you know, what's, what's going on? And actually, the the timesaving of stopping and walking. And that saying about meditation, you should meditate for 30 minutes a day, unless you haven't got time, and then she did it for an hour. So it's the same I think with a walk. You know, if you haven't got time to go for a walk, because you've got so much to do, you should go for a walk, because it'll all be done more quickly when you get back to the desk.
Yeah, yeah, that's the irony, isn't it? And that's, that's where I think we've just got stuck and blind to this pushing through back to back. Look it was a badge of honour in the 80s. Right. And it seems like we've kind of come back to this, there's so much going on. Like you say, I haven't got the time to stop and go to the bathroom. Yes. How many times I've been to a meeting in mid afternoon, when someone's coming to the meeting going, do you mind if I have my lunch? Yes. I'm going, Oh, my God, what's going on in your head or with your boss in your team, that that's okay. On the odd occasion, yeah, we all get that that's a pattern. That's a habit. Yes. Why are we? How have we got to the place where it's become the norm? ,
Well, working on Teams and Zoom means you can now come to work with flu if you keep your screen off you can just keep pushing on through everything. You don't even need to stop for bugs. Tou can have COVID and come to meetings - it's great. Not. It's scary stuff. Yeah. That's got to come from the top from the culture of the organisation, hasn't it? I mean, that's the work that we could be doing with lead teams is what's what are the unwritten rules of acceptance here? What are we letting past you know what, who we not sending home that shouldn't be there? What's what's going out? I did hear about Chief People Officer, interviewing someone for a Wellness Resilience type position in the team, with flu in bed, and the candidate was saying, I'm not coming here if that's what you do. I'm not coming here, It's not me. Thanks. But that's interesting. You know, that's what's coming from the leaders. So yeah, if leaders aren't modelling, rest, breaks, reflection innovation spaces, that it's not going to happen further down. It's got to come from there.
Yeah. And there's that, for me. There's an interesting irony there. Because, you know, we'd see that, you know, every day depending on which sport you might be involved in, you know, we see it in high performing sports all the time. And, and yet the counter argument to that, certainly sometimes from a corporate is, yeah, but they're only performing once a week. Yeah. Which you can argue, yeah, I get it, you know, they're, you know, the performance is the game. And they've got the whole week to recover for the game, whereas, you know, the corporate game might be it's every day. Yes. How would someone break that mentality? Not to kind of go well, I'm only going to work once a week, not literally that. But how would they break that mentality of going, well, I just have no time to recover to put space in?
I think probably, I mean, you ask 100 people, you get 100 answers to that. But I think for me, I would certainly go looking for people who do it well, first and speak to them, ask them, because whenever you're somewhere where you feel like you're drowning in work, and you can't cope with it, there'll be someone who's very chilled out and who's managing to manage that differently from how you're doing it. So it's interesting, it's a boundary question, what are they willing to tolerate, and what are they ot willing to tollerate? And what order are they doing things? And what are they delegating - what are tehy saying yes to. One of the things I noticed a lot in senior leaders, if they've stayed somewhere a long time, it's not giving away some of the stuff that they've taken with them into that new role. So sometimes moving to a new company can give you a chance to start again. So I'm not suggesting everybody leaves their job. That's an interesting concept that you don't stop anything. You don't put any bags down before you pick some more up. And that would be very quick, go through your calendar, what stuck with you and come with you that really shouldn't be with you anymore. What should have been left at the door when he came into this role. That quite often with execs to stripping out stuff that they shouldn't still be doing.
I sense many executives have kind of metaphorical five mile wide shoulders. And they're carrying, and not least we know, psychologically, they're carrying stuff from origin. It's not going into that yet. But they're carrying stuff on the previous role and the expectations of the boss and the parent company and the shareholders and the customers and their team. And we've got an off site to do and I've got a client meeting, and then I've got a coach someone, then someone's not well, so I gotta to... it's just, it's just overwhelming.
Yes. And I think the two approaches to that, that have worked really well. Someone asked me in my business, if someone bought your business tomorrow and started the following day, what would they just stop straightaway? What would they look at and say, that's ridiculous, just don't do any of that. And that's a great question. And people in jobs can do that to you. What would somebody just not do if they took over your job?
Again, you'd have to share if it's confidential. What did you say? Did you did you answer the question?
Yes, I had a good look at some of the stuff that actually was ludicrous. Some of the things I was still doing, trying to please people, keeping things going from ages ago, or things that weren't necessarily profitable. We were running a great big programme for a great big automotive dealer that we were probably paying to deliver, because we just had been doing it for so long, you know, one of those where it sneaks bigger and bigger. So yeah, just looking afresh at something and taking the time to do that. Yeah. And the other one, I was going to say, I've forgotten that.
We'll come back to if you'd be willing to share, I'm really interested because in some ways, you're the same as me. You're, you're, you're a Mum, I'm a dad. You're a partner. I've got a partner. And you're, I think it's just mainly you running your business, isn't it?
I've got a team. Yes, yeah.
But you'd be the solopreneur. In that sense. Take out let's kind of park the daughter and the sister and all the other roles that we play. But even just those three roles, and I'm going to I'm going to be I'm going to gender this for a second. How do you cope? And how can you possibly even thrive when the obligation, or the expectation is that you've got to do all?
Yeah, there's the question of the century, isn't it? Now you're going to get me started. Well, that question around doing it all, I mean, that's the that's the big thing in that question, isn't it. You can't do it all, for everyone, all the time. You can have moments where everything's in flow, and it just all feels great. But I think to aspire to that is an impossible dream. Your contentment is that what we're seeking, isn't it rather than smashing it all of the time maybe that's part of the burnout mindset is smashing everything all of the time. I think I was thinking about this earlier, I think the chapters in our life are very profound, particularly for a woman so I can only speak from a woman's shoes, I've only done it as a woman and as a single mum, as well. So that's intense, you know, trying to do that. And the fact is, my career was massively limited by becoming a single mum. And if I had a message for any women becoming single women, I would say watch out for that when you're talking money. Yeah, because you I mean, not every single Mum is in the same situation, but I was very much raising the kids on my own and, and so every time I tried to put my foot down on my career, you know, a big opportunity would come something would happen at home, I'd have a naughty kid or a tuber something happened. And then we'd have to take them back off the accelerator. And that's on me not on my kids that those are the choices I made, I could have kept my foot on the accelerator and got a nanny I chose not to at that time. But finding contentment in that is still possible. But it's a constant realigning of expectations. And I think the route to danger is not realigning the expectations really still wanting to push on. So we spoke momentarily about Jacinda Arden and her decision to stop and her signs of burnout, just the most fantastic decision to stop before falling in a heap for me, and everyone will have their own view on that. But but listening to the signs of it's too much, I don't feel okay. She said, I felt as if I should be restored by the end of the summer, and I didn't feel restored. I mean, that's one of the first signs of dangerous burnout is you don't feel better after a holiday. And I'm so just accepting that is truth. And so what do you want to create in the truth that you've got, for me feels like helpful thinking. Doesn't mean I don't wake up sometimes and feel annoyed or haven't got as much money as my ex.
That's an offline conversation.
But I made the choices, and I was there with the kids. And that's still the choice I'd make again, so that's cool. But this having it all conversation isn't isn't a conversation. I don't think anybody probably can, have it all.
Yeah, I wonder if it's in the distinction. And I'm kind of talking out loud here because if I reframe it is, you know, even just those three labels we use, you know, partner, mum, solopreneur. You are at all. Your all three. Yeah. And I wonder if the do all inherent in it is you smash all three? Yes. And unless you're smashing one of them, or two of them, then you're unworthy of the label?
Yes, but then it's about what does smash it mean? So with the parenting, for example, one parent compared to another parent would describe what smashing it would be, wouldn't they? So I, I feel as if I've got very competent kids who could make their way around the world competently. Because I haven't been able to do all of the things that two parents being there for them without a job would have been able to do all the time. But but that for me is smashing it, that they can get their own act together. But it's not what I had imagined necessarily, on every occasion not being there for them or having to stay away with work. It's not always smashing. It is not definable, necessarily, is it? So it's that it's that your own relationship with smashy, I think perhaps is helpful to explore what's success.
That's that question around relationship. I've asked many times to many different people, and you should see the the trans derivational searching that goes on when they don't even kind of compute the question, you know, what's your relationship with fear? What's your relationship with your body? What's your relationship with yourself? What's your relationship with? It's like, Oh, I thought I thought relationship with just with one other person. But just how you relate to smashing it, success, burnout, all the rules that we play - It's a fascinating question.
Yes, it is. And, and if to stay with the woman part of it. It's hard not to really in that success part that the expectations on women to to be a certain way or not be a certain way, add another level of complexity to it. Even at the weekend, I got into a conversation which started off joking, but actually was rather inflammatory, where there was a conversation about what a strong woman is, and who, you know, when is when is a woman strong? Is that a bad thing? Or is that a good thing? Are we supposed to be strong or not too strong? And you know, people don't like it if we look and feel too strong, but actually, you have to be pretty strong if you're going to be a woman and have a job. It's an interesting, juggle that is expected of female senior leaders to be strong.
Look, you know, as we chatted a little bit, before we came online here, It's unfathomable, unfathomable to me how we've come to this place. Again, I don't want to get into that space right now. But I do want to pick up on the leaders that the female leaders that you work with, that you see, do it well. I know do well is a subjective definition. What do they tend to do? What are some of the patterns that you've seen in the female leaders that do it well?
That's a good question because the first thing that comes to mind when you ask that is, which of the female leaders can keep reinventing themselves well? Because the difference between a female professional life and a male I think, is the chapters, the constant transition of the woman. So whether or not they decide to have kids, there's still a you from being a child to being a young woman to being a competent, middle aged woman. And then menopause will come for everybody and, and becoming a mum or IVF, or all of the other things that impact hormones that will happen and all the different personalities and roles that we take the women I know who do it well. If I, if I measured that as if I measured it well I'd include they're happy and having a nice life doing what they're doing. They're the ones who are agile in deciding for this chapter this is what I want it to be like. And this is what I'm willing to put up with. And this is what I'm not willing to put up with. And this is what I want my professional reputation to be based on. You know it's not about working dawn till dusk and never seeing my family it's about, what it is. So it's quite easy to define Jacinda Ardern's personal brand, she's worked very hard to make sure that's clear. This is who I am and what I stand for. So let's say that's one of the measures, that sort of self defining of who you are and what you stand for.
Yeah, and look, again, it's it's interesting. You're using Jacinda as an example, because obviously in Australia, we're a bit closer to New Zealand. And some of the commentary on the ground is sadly less than complimentary. Yeah. And yet, she has this phenomenal it would appear, perhaps it's press driven, I don't know, but there's phenomenal perception of her as a leader, let alone female leader. And yet, it's not quite the same in the country that she was governing. Yes, the fascinating incongruence.
Yes, and maybe further away, we don't hear so much about the actual facts and the principles of her government decisions. But we see the leadership personality and preferences she's taking in terms of how she shows compassion, or the. Yeah, so. So there's an interesting conversation there about whether or not you're actually making good decisions compared to that you're using the behaviours that are perceived as good leadership. But then there's also in that question that you asked about, or the, the observation that it's less positive, that is factually more likely to be true as a female leader, that you just are generally attacked more. So.
Again, unfathomable to me why that would happen. Why do you think it happens?
Well, that's the life's work to try and understand that. There's, there are things that have been written very publicly, like Sheryl Sandberg original lean in book, which has come under some fire for various things. But there's a very interesting research in there about the same story being told, gendered male or female. And when it was a woman, and powerful, she was less popular than if it was a man. So the same same story just as a woman wasn't liked. Right? So we attach adjectives to women that are not attached to men for doing the same kind of thing. And even some of the language that we use, you know, the describing women as intimidating or bossy or whatever they might be called, which we just wouldn't use for men. But just so there's something to fall back in all of that.
You'd never hear somebody call a man bossy.
No, no, there is a ban bossy campaign in the UK to try and just highlight that that is a gendered piece of abuse. Yes, yes. Ban Bossy.
Again, raise my awareness what other adjectives are used, that are gendered that are never used to describe a man?
Well, that you can easily you can do a column of words that men and women for the same emotion. So if you take rage for exactly proper big anger, then women will be called over emotional. She's a bitch. You know, she's that these are kind of words associated with women with a man he's strong, he's impactful. He knows his own mind, he's a leader. So so all of those words are flipped both ways. And that's not for all women. In all cases. There are some amazing organisations where amazing women are being given everything they need to be fantastic. But, it does mean it happens in your little girls and little boys, you see, you see the differences very, very early. And at the moment, the male leaders at the top are still the dads of the little girls at the moment. So we've got some more unconscious bias to live through until we get to the generation where these young boys that are being taught differently get to the top. No offence to you, who's a very open Daddy, I'm sure.
Well, you know, none taken and I, I guess, I do feel a little bit complicit because it's my cohort, if you like, without assuming responsibility. And I'm, I might quote this wrong, but I think it was something off, I don't know if you're familiar with the Man Enough podcast, which is two men and a woman who discuss how about how to redefine toxic masculinity. And I've listened to some fascinating mic drop moments in that podcast. And what I'm referring to is some research that was done that. And this, I don't know if this is more American or global, I don't know. So again, I don't want to quote it. But something like men who have daughters want their daughters to be strong, assertive, confident, you know, because that's my daughter, but don't want the same attributes to show up in their partner. Yes, yes, that's just for me as a kind of, and I'm interested in the psychology of that. And you know, all of the impact of that is just staggering.
Yes. It's mind blowing. And yes, it is, and almost impossible to begin to get words around it, because it's too It doesn't make any sense to if it was, if it was to do with people who are called Sarah, or people are called James here, we're going to treat everyone called James like that. No, no, no, no, because it's not fair. There's nothing logical that will work with that. But if we're linking it back to the burnout, thinking, for women in senior leadership positions, there's something very important in all of that to be including in the in their thinking about how they want to look after themselves, and where they want to be having their fights or not to get where they want to be working. And I'm always in a dilemma when when I'm working with an organisation where there's some really proper old school sexism showing up and I'm working with women often we're asked to come in and do a coaching circle with this group of women and help them have the big conversations. And I'm always very torn between, yeah, let's help them with that. And also leave go work somewhere else. Don't stay with him, because he does this. So it's a it's a real dilemma. Are we trying to change the world? Or actually, are we looking for more female founders to set up more organisations because actually, it makes me think of that old joke about when you asking for directions somewhere and they say, well, if you're going there wouldn't start from here. If you were trying to create an equal world, you wouldn't start from here and try and change it to an equal world, you would create something different. So it's going to need some real innovative change.
I sense it reminds me of the old the hackneyed starfish story. You know, somebody walking up the beach, and there's, you know, the beaches covered in Starfish. And they're picking up one and throwing it in and picking up one and throwing it in. And you know, the comment is, well, you can't possibly hope to affect all of them. Nope. But I can this one. This one, so, you know, accepting and acknowledging the dilemma, just honouring and acknowledging the work that you do with people, women in those situations, because we probably can't change everything. But you can change that one. Yeah, definitely.
So definitely, and I think maybe we're helping starfish help each other too. One of the things we've started really, really focusing on over the last few years is working in in a way that causes a movement rather than just with one female leader. So connecting women together with each other in groups of six or eight to be coached together, in across an organisation so many cohorts of those groups, who then globally can support each other and speak to each other. Right. And we use rituals and structures in those coaching circles, which are things like strengths focus, using listening environments, improving coaching skills across cohorts of women. And, um, so now we've got groups in Beijing and Toronto who've all gone through the same kind of thinking and so now can pick up the phone or teams call to another woman to say this is something that I'm struggling with what would you do. And that feels for me like I can sleep at night better than when I was trying to go knocking on 18 doors and trying to change that way.
Is that what you would call a coaching circle?
Yeah, well coaching services exist in lots of different ways. You can just take six people and coach them, but when we go into organisations and implement a coaching circle programme, it's about that, yeah, it's about creating a movement of, because I was very disturbed when I did some diversity and inclusion work few years ago, I got very upset by the idea, in all the culture change books, it says culture change has to come from the top. And we know factually that everyone at the top nearly apart from a few is a bloke. So I thought that means by definition, it's up to men to for change to happen, and we can't therefore impact it as women, and it wasn't willing to go there with that thinking. So thought, okay, so if that's what how else, could you change a culture other than from the top? And the answer is, in big numbers of people who will have some shared purpose in an organisation.
Yeah, but I like that in terms of creating a movement, because a movement can happen from anywhere.
Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And, and we now we've made it a bit better where people get buy in from their leader, so that could be the guy above them. And we also get senior male sponsorship across the organisation to come and help with that conversation as well. And a big part of that whole conversation in the coaching circles is around wellness, avoiding burnout, keeping going, keeping the energy going as well, because what we don't want is women conking out and dropping out of the leadership talent pipeline because they're too tired. Yeah.
Yeah. And I sense I'm guessing the research would go with it, if they did, they will be labelled. And therefore it would be, you know, this self fulfilling prophecy. And, you know, the classic research, you know, was 10 attributes. And the woman goes, Well, I haven't got two of them. And the block goes, I've only going to I'm going to go for anyway. Yes, absolutely. I know, that's stretching it. But that's the essence of it, isn't it?
Absolutely, is that and that's built into the nature of the preaching as well in the circle of that, that noticing that in each other, so calling that out as a thing that women would like you to take themselves out of equations, before they even started. And it's easy to spot that in each other than it is in oneself. So building in that peer accountability is very helpful. So they notice it themselves and their teams and their daughters and their everyone. So
I'm, I'm maybe opening myself up here a little bit. What what, you know, broadly, you know, maybe not specifically, but what could I do as a white middle aged man, right? It's my cohort. So I'm accepting a little bit of complicity in that, what could I do?
Well, there are some, there are some organisational things that men could do. And also some personal things in noticing it. So I think, organizationally, there are practical things like understanding that when we put jobs out to market, there is some language that will attract men more than women, for example, that would be easy to just go on a course and learn and just accept that that's true. And there are some small things like going out for drinks after work. That amongst the hundreds of women I've worked with that comes up all the time, as soon as they become a young mummy, they drop out the social scene and where the conversations happen, because they can't join those things. So thinking carefully about where the social side of, of an organisation lies and where the big decisions are made. The worst had heard about in my career was in Sweden, there was an elite team where they looked as if they were having the big conversations during the day, and then the men went through a sauna in the evening. And that's where the actual decision was made. So I was trying to coach a woman trying to decide whether she should just walk in, take a kit off and get in a sauna and say that she wasn't up for that. But that mean that that's an extreme, but it's a useful metaphor, because that kind of happens in different ways in different places. So there's that I understand the organisational bias and and knowing what makes it harder, really accepting it as a truth that it just is harder for them to get there. Sometimes one of the trickiness is we have is that some of the women who've done very well, in my generation, and are at the top have managed to do it by being hardcore, and just adopting the behaviours of the men and getting there. And sometimes they say, there's no problem here. I've managed to do it, why can't everybody else do it? So that can be tricky in itself. So understanding there are different ways of being a woman. And that just, if you can look around the boardroom and see a woman, it doesn't mean that it's fine for all women in that organisation necessarily, it could still be very hard.
Yeah, there might be a temptation to use that as evidence, right? You know, we've got we've got our raw or our ratios and, you know, quotas sorted, so we're good.
Yes. Yes. So that question, as you would have with any culture programme, really of who does well, here is an interesting question who succeeds and which women succeed here and which ones are we losing? But with a real acceptance that diversity breeds innovation. So if everybody's seeing the world through the same lens, then you're limiting your, your success by bringing in someone that feels really different. It will be difficult because it's it's harder, but that will breed innovation. Yeah. On the personal side, I think it's I mean, you're doing what you're doing is listening. It's learning. It's, it's exploring, it's asking big, deep questions of individual people, what would help you here? What's making it difficult for you, with the real knowledge that we've got this generations of women having just not had the opportunities come at them in the same way, statistically, still less likely to get a job? They're planning for those? But I worry always with the question, what would help? Because every woman wants needs different things. But I think that holding it mindfully those chapters that occur for women, every time something new happens, there's a baby or there's a there's a change in life. It's hard again, yeah, I've tried to get back into the workforce, we just keep cycling. The rug keeps slipping a little bit for women. It's just that bit harder with each stage.
Yeah. Well, thank you. I think you've let me off the hook a little bit there. I appreciate the candour and the sensitivity. Maybe one last question Aly. And again, you can answer this in any way, shape or form. You talked about the significance for women with the chapters, the chapters that they are going through in life, which is so multifaceted, fascinated. What's the next chapter for you?
Oh, there's a good question. Well, I feel really, I can feel a page turning in my life, because we've got four kids, and they're all almost off the books are going on to do their things. And I can feel a sense of at 53, sort of a combination of I'm in my full power now, I don't feel that dropping off the cliff thing, I feel I've got a lot still going on here. And I would like to find a way to use it. Some of that as a responsibility, passing it down the way. So I'm, I'm setting up an extra little business, which is about helping young coaches and baby coaches get going. So that's the old podcasting for them and kind of pass it back as fast as I can. I do quite a lot of mentoring for young women and getting people going, but professionally for me, that tippy toe of oh, what should I do with this big next chapter? 53 To 63 Feels like a really powerful 10 years. So I'm interested to see what that brings up said quite what to do with it. Yeah. So I think I've had to go for a run or go on holiday or something that's relaxing.
Well, you know what, whenever whenever you have that insight, I would love to welcome you back on to discuss what you've decided not to do, and also what you've decided to do.
Yes, stop some things first. Yeah.
I think some people would really welcome to hear that. So look Aly thanks again. I appreciate the time and the candour, the vulnerability, the insights that you provided about, you know, why is burnout happening now and what could we possibly do about it? So really grateful for what you've shared.
Great pleasure. Thanks, Pete. You're welcome to speak to