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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Ben Renshaw.
Ben is one of today’s foremost leadership thinkers. Speaker, coach and author, his innovative work leading organisations, senior executives and entrepreneurs has brought him international acclaim. Formerly a classical violinist, he now plays a different tune getting the best out of people.
He writes about how to lead and be successful in today’s volatile world and is the author of ten popular books including Love Work (co-authored with Sophie Devonshire), Being, Purpose, LEAD and SuperCoaching.
In this fascinating episode, we discuss:
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00:00:17 – 00:01:13
Hello And welcome back to the speaker’s show with me, your host, Maria Franzoni. Today we’re talking about leadership in purpose led cultures. The Speaker show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the Global Speaker Bureau for the world’s most successful organisations providing keynote speakers for events, conferences and summits. My guest is one of today’s foremost leadership thinkers, speaker, coach and author. His innovative work leading organisations, senior executives and entrepreneurs has brought him international acclaim. Formerly a classical violinist, he now plays a different tune getting the best out of people. He writes about how to lead and be successful in today’s volatile world. He is the author of 10 popular books, including Love Work co authored with Sophie Devonshire Being Purpose, lead and Super Coaching. Please welcome Ben Renshaw. Ben it is lovely to see you. How are things?
00:01:13 – 00:01:16
Great, Fantastic to be together again.
00:01:16 – 00:01:30
That’s wonderful. So we were having a little chat before we formally started recording this podcast to say that last time I spoke to you, you just finished another book and we’re going to talk about your new book. But that’s no surprise, really. Seeing as you’ve written 10. So I suppose you’re always writing are you?
00:01:30 – 00:01:58
Yes, it’s been an amazing journey where what I’ve really noticed is I I learned by doing so. What I do is I work with big organisations on leadership team development, executive coaching and what that enables me to do is just be very current with trends, patent dynamics, what’s going on and then on the back of delivering big programmes I then write about that which really integrates my own learning.
00:01:58 – 00:02:43
So it kind of it’s fantastic, really, because I get to learn from the work I do so quick. Example purpose A few years ago, you know, I ran a programme for 10 years, leading with purpose with the biggest hospitality company in the world, developed 1000 leaders globally and then wrote purpose and became known for purpose. And then the next book was called being, which was leading in an age of fast change which came out just before the pandemic. So but again, that was six guiding principles. That was all based again on my experience of what really helped navigate companies during times of unprecedented change. So that tends to be how it works.
00:02:43 – 00:03:15
I think you have a fantastic process. I think it’s really excellent. And I also love the fact that it’s so current because you write so quickly straight after such as you’re doing it, I imagine and then published quickly. It’s all current, It’s not dated. It’s really you know, it’s in the now which is so, so important, but I have to ask you a question. So in the introduction, we talked about the fact that you were a classical violinist. How do you go from classical violinist to a leadership thinker? How are those two related? Are they not?
00:03:15 – 00:04:06
That’s a great question. I I I think about that often because I was very fortunate in that I grew up in a specialised music environment. So it was the Yehudi Menuhin School, which is nestled in the beautiful countryside of Surrey, and it just so happened my father actually ran it. He was the headmaster, which was not the original rationale for me attending, but I was there I was eight years old, went to a local comprehensive school, but all my friends were at the music school. I already played the violin. My teachers suggested I auditioned I got in. I just happened to be good at it. Um, what was also paragram parallel to that. So I grew up in this very, very specialised high performing environment. But I was also not I did not take to traditional academia.
00:04:06 – 00:04:55
So I at some point I was looking at leaving and then there was a clear tradeoff. Continue playing the violin or go, you know, do my academia. I’ll stick with the violin. I had amazing experiences as examples. You know, we had the only students in the West from China studying at the school at the time. So we went to China when it was still communist, and India and America all over. I now look back at that. It was a very inclusive environment. We had 45 children from all over the world, so it brought me into in a very, very diverse environment. We had maestros, you know, literally the greatest musicians on the planet coming along. So I was taught by very high calibre teachers, which exposed me to a whole range of different styles.
00:04:55 – 00:05:14
And also driving high performance. So, actually, if you put all that together in terms of exposure, leadership, cultures, dynamics, performance, how to get the best out of people all underpinned by my own motivation and drive and discipline. I think, actually, it put me in very good stead.
00:05:14 – 00:05:46
It sounds like actually the perfect training ground. It sounds brilliant. And I love the fact that was such an international environment. Because now obviously, you do a lot of speaking and in the world of speaking, this sort of sensitivity to international ears and how they understand English pace vocabulary, you know, our colloquialisms is so, so important. And so you’ve got that obviously as well that you know what people will understand because you were brought up with it. Very young. I think I love that love that
00:05:46 – 00:06:29
I want to go back to one other point you mentioned about my writing in the books and the currency of that because another key component of that is all my writing is based on case histories. So it’s all based on live experiences with organisations I work with, but also on the interviews of key leaders. So each book consists of about 25 to 30 leaders that I’m interviewing and drawing their experience, their advice, their expertise and again. I think that’s what makes it very relevant is that it’s It’s not just me. Every point I made is to totally evidenced and backed up and supported by the experience of leaders.
00:06:29 – 00:06:45
Love it, love it, love it, love it and talking about love. Your book is called How’s that for a link? Your book is called Love Work, and I think we can probably hear from you’re very passionate when you speak about your work. What do you love about your work?
00:06:45 – 00:08:30
Oh, there’s so much look, the having worked in the space of purpose. So I articulate my purpose. Well, the kind of the corporate expression of that on my work expression is to help better leaders for a better world. So all my work and really the essence of it, is help people. That’s why I do what I do. And on a really personal note, the way I describe my intrinsic purpose is to be an enabler of truth. And what I mean by that is that I’m a catalyst for helping other people discover what’s true and real for them. So if we apply that, for instance, to love work, which is about seven steps to thriving at work. What I’m absolutely passionate about and you did pick up on my passion, but it’s just there. I’m not passionate about everything I can assure you. Um, but you know, we spent I mean, you think? I mean, it’s over 90,000 hours of our life working, and I think one of the biggest strategies in modern life is people not loving their work. It’s unthinkable to me I genuinely I can’t even imagine the prospect of waking up for a day and not being engaged, energised and genuinely believing in the value creation that you bring through your work And, you know, and the thought of just going through motions and ticking boxes and not being able to express yourself and your talent and realise your potential and drive performance and make a difference it’s unthinkable. And so it’s very interesting.
00:08:31 – 00:09:46
Actually just before, Covid really set in. I was thinking about you know what’s next for me and and seeing and working with people that were really struggling and experiencing a lot of adversity in the workplace. I thought, you know, I can make my contribution and my little bent in the universe by really addressing the notion of how to thrive at work. What is the framework that you have? What guides you to help you make the right choices and decisions to navigate your work? Because again, in my humble experience, most people, they haven’t even really worked it out. They haven’t even got a definition of work. Yeah, and they certainly haven’t got a methodology and a framework that enables them so love work, actually synthesised that into a 3D model which is about discover, develop and then deliver the work that is really meaningful for you. And we draw upon, core concepts around purpose, vision and values and strengths and being inflow and collaboration and partnership. You put that all together, you’ve got a pretty compelling proposition for your work.
00:09:46 – 00:09:58
Fantastic. And did you write it specifically at this time? Because our work has been so disrupted. Is that what pushed you to do that? Or was it always there something you wanted to write?
00:09:58 – 00:10:59
Look, it’s always been there, and then I think just that the timing I mean, I find, to be honest, most of my life is serendipitous. I don’t usually plan what happens. It just seems to emerge like that. So I didn’t go. Oh, covid sit. I’m going to write a book about how to thrive at work. But they absolutely came together. And then, genuinely, for me, it was a real blessing because they enabled me. All my clients went into crisis mode and crisis management, and they were ravaged, absolutely ravaged. And it was totally inappropriate to be kind of, you know, asking. Oh, you know, you want to talk on purpose. No, we’re just an absolute survivor right now. You know, we are hemorrhaging hundreds of millions a week, so you know so And that allowed me to really then progress with what I love. And I’m a great advocate of that.
00:10:59 – 00:11:14
Yeah. And of course, you have a lot of clients actually who have been affected because you’ve done a lot of work in hospitality, and so I totally get that and travel. Um, tell me, though. Can we all learn to love work? Or do we have to sometimes change the work we do?
00:11:14 – 00:12:15
I’m a pragmatist, so I always start with guiding principles because I think that’s absolutely the place to start now, then, in terms of how that then plays out and the choices you make, there are obviously multiple factors at play. Um, let me give you a quick example. So I was coaching a CFO, and then they’re very, very, you know, usually when I coach CFOs, they usually the toughest cookies, it’s, you know, they’re very cynical experts in their field with the numbers, and then someone like me shows up. You know, they sometimes struggle with that. And But this, uh, this one occasion, um, from again from a part of the world again, you know, tough, a tough environment and a tough background and work for this individual was initially all about just a means to an end. Survival. It was about money.
00:12:15 – 00:12:41
And in his own personal family, his father had experienced a low adversity again, which had really kind of cemented that for him. So he went for this pretty much one of the safest professions. Let’s just become a trained accountant and get into numbers. Um, he was very good. He totally surpassed all his own expectations. So there he was on a footsie 100 board with a family, three kids and miserable.
00:12:41 – 00:13:22
Approaching 50 and at that real kind of turning point of, Well, what does it mean? And what does it look like? And I asked him, What’s your best bet for happiness and fulfillment? He said, retirement. Just 10 more years of misery, and then I’m going to have a great life. So that was our starting point. And I really started to challenge him on that as a you know, as a foundation, genuinely, um, in terms of not just his contribution to work and as a leader and a board member and society, but also with his own family and in his marriage and children if genuinely, that was the path he was going to carve. So he really stepped back and he hadn’t been challenged in that way.
00:13:22 – 00:14:04
And we started with purpose and dug very deep, and he loves sports. And so we used that as a way in, and he was a cyclist, and it just happened that he was going to the Alps to, uh, to actually complete one part of the Tour de France, and I remember him distinctly saying we really kind of lined up his exploration and reflection about purpose with this and he got to the top. And obviously he was first on his party because he was very competitive and he broke down. And that really took him back. And what emerged out of that experience for him was a realisation.
00:14:05 – 00:14:41
That actually his own sense of purpose, was to be the best that he could be. That’s the way he articulated it. Very simple, very simple, but very profound. And we brought that back and actually on the back of that put a whole framework together, absolutely drilling in. If you’re going to be the best version of you as a CFO, what does that mean it looks like? As a leader, what does that mean to look like? as a colleague, as a board member, as a member of society, as a father, as a partner. I mean, we drilled it, and of course, they love their metrics and numbers and all that, so literally creating a spreadsheet absolutely held him accountable in a very tangible way.
00:14:42 – 00:16:14
So he could really begin to measure himself in terms of what does that really mean and looked like to be the best version of me. And so, yeah, so look, in essence, I help people kind of go on that journey, either personally or collectively as an organisation. And again, I think helping a company genuinely be purpose led another quick example. I’m working with a consumer firm right now and again, you know, they’ve been very challenged through the pandemic to really stay true to their purpose, which they described as make life a bike better, which is a fantastic and they absolutely blended purpose with performance because they needed to keep an eye on the bottom line and deliver. And they needed to keep people engaged in order to drive that through in very uncertain times in a virtual environment, as everybody’s been experiencing. But their ability to combine their sense of purpose and meaning with their delivery has absolutely made the difference and actually caught up with them yesterday. They totally outperformed this year, nailed the numbers and I was saying, What’s the biggest risk next year? Complacency. It’s like they’ve done so well. So then we were having a conversation, right? So how do you then? keep momentum and keep the drive and keep people absolutely energised around that when you’ve outperformed. So, yeah, whichever way, if you’re underperforming or outperforming that are going to be consequences. And obviously, from a leadership perspective, you need to anticipate the ahead of the curve and put in a plan to mitigate that.
00:16:14 – 00:17:09
That’s brilliant. I really, really like the very first story about, you know, to be the best you can be. And then it’s sort of in every aspect. And I can imagine that now those last 10 years before retirement are going to be incredible 10 years, because that’s what motivates him to be the best. And I bet he has the best retirement ever as well. So he’s probably gonna be the best retiree and probably the best pension. So that’s I like that, that I can relate to that makes sense. And it’s a very simple purpose that you can apply. And I’m glad you said to be the best father as well. In that list, that’s great. So there must be a time, though, where because we’re seeing and we’re talking about the moment the great resignation, where maybe you just can’t love work and you have to rethink it. Is it a good idea to look at your seven steps, your framework when you’re rethinking about what you need to be doing? Is that the way where the starting point if you’re in that space?
00:17:09 – 00:19:13
To me, Absolutely. I’m a huge advocate and believer that before you make external changes, make internal changes look be very, very clear. And I understand if you are feeling frustrated, disengaged, demotivated de energised, and all you’re working in environment that absolutely doesn’t fit. And I think, look, the great resignation is very much driven by people waking up now. I would suggest it’s probably those who are in a fortunate position to be able to make that type of choice. So let’s be very, very clear on that. And not everybody is from an economic position able to make that choice. So it’s a very, very privileged choice. But and if you’re not, don’t have you know the financial means to be able to do that, then I I am a great believer in number one in simplifying so really, really breaking things down, so they’re very simple and then going after bite size chunks and genuinely just starting with today. If there’s one thing, one thing that can help my work be better today, just one thing. What is that? And if you can even find one moment, one interaction, one conversation, one action that you took that was meaningful for you, that was enjoyable. Or that you felt you added value even if it wasn’t recognised. But you were able to recognise that for yourself. And you multiply that now. I’m not a mathematician, but I’m a massive advocate of continuous improvement and this idea of just 1% better and the work of James Clear and Atomic habits brilliant on this. And apparently, you know, if you compound 1% a day over a year, you’ve got 37% better.
00:19:13 – 00:21:02
So, actually, even if you’re in that position and you commit to 1% better a day over time, you can move the needle and that so that would be absolutely my starting point and something like a framework like love work that provokes your thinking. I’ll give you a very quick example. I was chatting with a teacher last week and devoted 25 years of service. And actually this teacher’s in Canada and six more years to retire and get a very good pension. But this teacher, this individual is very disengaged today. Disillusioned, disenfranchised, de energised and hates their original passion. And so, actually, we put two parallel paths together. One was to start with a much longer term picture, and, and I said, a 12 year plan because they’re, they’re 48 now. So I was saying to 60 and retirement will be in the middle of that for them, um, and to really work with vision. And I’m very fortunate to work with a Professor Richard Boyatzis that wrote a book called Helping People Change. And he does a lot of neuroscience. And there’s a lot of scientific evidence now about the impact of working with vision on the brain, and it activates something called the Positive Emotion. A tractor, which literally fires up the neurons in your brain associated with vision. So on the one hand, you need to work with the long term picture, and in the short term, you need to look at 1% today. What is one thing I can do today as a teacher in her case that can help reconnect and make meaning of why she went into education in the first place. So I often will run parallel tracks with that.
00:21:02 – 00:21:21
It’s written a page of notes Ben, this is a fantastic. So I my 2022 is going to be awesome as a result of this. This is wonderful. So tell me, what do you think? Because obviously your area is leadership. What do you think are the pressing issues for leaders in 2022?
00:21:21 – 00:23:04
So look, there are three key areas that I really see everywhere today, you know, expressed in slightly different ways. But in corporate terminology, firstly, is ESG, environment, sustainable and governance, sustainability and governance. And now where I spend most of my time is around sustainability. And that’s not just in terms of the planet in the environment. Genuinely, it’s about building a sustainable organisations. So most places are operating today. They are having to completely reorganise their operating model. What does that mean? It looks like in order to be efficient, of course and sustainable for the longer term. So when I talk sustainability, it’s not just the planet often is the organisation as well and therefore what does that mean in terms of people and creating the conditions for that? Secondly, then it’s continuous improvement. And again, I just see that everywhere today, that look, I love big change and transformation. But actually what I absolutely see the way that you achieve and you deliver that in an organisation contact and as a leader is just better tomorrow. Better tomorrow, better tomorrow and the environment where I saw that best executed was Heathrow. And so over the last, you know, 10, 12 years they’ve transformed that organisation and putting the passenger at the heart of the business, but based on continuous improvement, and their previous CEO was an engineer and that was, you know, his whole methodology. And then the current CEO picked that up and is built upon that and this combined continuous improvement with people and and again with customer service. So you put that together is very powerful, and then the third one is growth.
00:23:04 – 00:24:22
And, uh, it’s it’s a very interesting one, because what I see a lot more of today is obviously this combination of purpose and performance so and there was a good example. A couple of years ago, there was an American body that represents 250 you know, American CEOs. And they tore up their declaration, um, and and rewrote their purpose. And shareholder value came after about literally. It was at the bottom. So previously it started that the whole premise of an organisation was just deliver shareholder value and they turned it around and they said, No. Actually, it’s about multiple stakeholder return and shelled. Returning to the numbers is one component piece, so I think now what I’m seeing is for most organisations when they’re looking at driving growth. Yes, there’s still a number, but the way that they drive and deliver growth is essential. And, of course, another key component of that is people and therefore equality, diversity. Inclusion is paramount to that, so that would be another. But for me, that’s all about creating the conditions ultimately, for long term sustainable growth.
00:24:22 – 00:24:54
I mean, that’s a good plan, isn’t it? We’re focusing on those areas. It gives great clarity. That’s I think you summed it up. You summed it up so something I love. I love great advice and I’m sure that you’ve probably had some fantastic advice that you’ve been given with regard to leadership and probably you have some fantastic advice to share. So there’s two parts to my last question. One is the best leadership advice you’ve been given or heard, and the other part is, what advice would you offer for our listeners?
00:24:54 – 00:27:03
Big questions? I think one of the one of the best piece of advice I’ve heard was from the president of an organisation who was probably one of the most people orientated leaders I was fortunate to work with, who also delivered exceptional results. And one of one of his sayings was, The hardest work we do is the work we do on ourselves. The hardest work we do is the work we do on ourselves, and obviously I have a bias to that in terms of the work I do. But genuinely, I think if you want to see results out there, if you want to see an organisation change, if you want to see your team change, if you want to see others change, you need to change. You cannot expect your outcomes out there to be different if you’re not different. So it demands that you hold up the mirror and be very, very honest with yourself. And I think that in today’s world, we absolutely need people to have that. What I often describe as that radical transparency with themselves, you know, to really look, you know, we were human were flawed just by the nature of humanity. We make mistakes and today showing up with any degree of arrogance or any degree of thinking, you know, you’ve got the answers. You’re on your history. You are history. Today, you got to shop with insatiable curiosity and that growth and open mindset in order to adapt and anticipate etc. So that but that that if you if you are absolutely prepared to do the work on yourself and you will reap the benefits, I think then in terms of advice for others, what one of my favourite kind of analogy is, if you like, is that the leader is the weather. The leader sets the tone. The leader is the climate. Now you know there’s neuroscience that backs this up. So, for instance, what I see majorly today is about the need to create conditions of trust.
00:27:03 – 00:27:54
I would suggest that probably the greatest deficit that we see. I’m not even gonna talk politics, but certainly organisations as well is trust. And who do you trust and what do you trust and in terms of, you know, information communication, etcetera. Now, in order, um, to build and you can measure trust. So I think therefore, as a consequence of that, to show up as a leader and really build that trusted environment and that for me starts for instance, with things like psychological safety, it means creating the conditions in the environment where everybody, everybody can have voice. Everybody can feel that they can sharp the best version of themselves every day. I genuinely believe that everybody comes to work to do a good job.
00:27:54 – 00:28:08
And if they’re not, and if that’s not the intent, then there’s some interference. And it’s the accountability of a leader to understand what that interference is and remove it and create the conditions where everybody can be the best that they can be.
00:28:08 – 00:28:18
Excellent pieces of advice. Really excellent. The one that you were given and the one that you’re sharing. What a lovely place to leave us with. Ben I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself.
00:28:18 – 00:28:25
No Maria. It’s great. Always, always enjoyed talking together. And your genuine commitment to the work.
00:28:25 – 00:28:53
Thank you, Ben. So if you’ve enjoyed listening to the speaker show today, please make sure that you give it a rating on apple podcasts. Keep up with future episodes at Speakers Associates on the Speakers Associates website speakersassociates.com or your favourite podcast app. And if you would like to invite Ben to speak at your next conference, please get in touch with Speakers Associates in plenty of time to book him so you won’t be disappointed and grab a copy of that latest book Love work. Thank you so much for joining us.
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Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.
As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.