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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Sean Pillot de Chenecey interviews Anna Hemmings.

Anna is the Britain’s most successful ever female kayaker, a two-time Olympian and six times World Champion.

To be a World Champion in sport gives that person a unique perspective on the difference between being a winner versus just being a competitor and Anna achieved this success against all the odds. She’s an expert in the field of developing high performance and resilience to achieve outstanding results.

Anna is now an Executive Coach and founded ‘Beyond the Barriers’ a high-performance training consultancy that works with business leaders and teams both at a local and global level.

Connect with Speakers Associates

Episode #149

It's the boldest action a leader can take... find the courage to ask for help.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:11): Hello, this podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the business world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders founded in 1999. Today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot de Chenecey author of The Post-Truth Business and Influencers & Revolutionaries, which are being followed by The New Abnormal. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialized areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (01:08): So today I’m really pleased to be joined by Anna Hemmings. She inspires audiences with anecdotes from the world championship and Olympic games. Hers is really a tale of triumph over a diversity and Anna achieved this success against all the odds she was told by the British head coach that she was not big enough or strong enough to be a great kayaker. She proved him wrong at the peak of her career. Anna was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Anna was told by medical experts. She might never race again. She battled her way to full recovery and went on to win further three world’s titles and compete to second Olympic games in Beijing 2008. To be a world champion in sport gives that person a unique perspective on the difference between being a winner versus just being a competitor. Anna has been a world championship winner six times and knows the secrets to success.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (02:07): Anna is an expert in the field of developing high performance and resilience to achieve outstanding results. She’s now an executive coach and founded Beyond the Barriers, a high performance training consultancy, which works with business leaders and teams, both at her local and global level. Anna has translated her experience as a top athlete into practical tools and strategies to help businesses deliver world class performances and thrive under pressure. Today, as we all live through the COVID 19 disruption and continuing demands on individuals and teams Anna’s approach has been the particularly valued by her clients. Finally, her most popular speeches are staying ahead of the game, the resilient leader toolkit, success in the face of diversity and getting the competitive edge. So Anna, that sounds incredibly impressive. Hi Anna how are you?

Anna Hemmings (03:03): Hi Sean. I’m good. Thank you. How are you?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (03:06): I’m in Sterling form and it has to be said a beautiful day down in sunny Brighton where I am. I know you are based in London.

Anna Hemmings (03:13): Yeah. Also very sunny here today, which is always a, was a pleasure.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (03:18): Excellent. For, so, so Anna, I mean, we’ve got a, a lot to talk about, you have such an interesting background, but just to you know, just to start somewhere. So tell me the the long and no doubt winding road to to the Olympics. Go on. I have to, that’s an, an anecdote there, first of all. So how did you find yourself at your first Olympic games?

Anna Hemmings (03:42): Well, yes, a long story. But I, I first stumbled on the sport of kayaking when I was about eight years old and you know, it wasn’t one of those sports that I was going, mom, mom, please take me kayaking. My mom just happened to pick up a leaflet saying, come and try kayaking. It was a week long course and the summer holidays, I went along with my brother and it was just one of those things that, you know, a lot of kids do. And what I get my kids to do now is like, oh, go do this for a week, get you busy for, you know, tennis camp or, you know, football camp or whatever it is. And it was just one of those, but we just, we, we loved it, my brother and I, and we went along, we did it, we loved it and joined the club and, and that was really where it all began.

Anna Hemmings (04:24): And I was lucky that that club was very much a, a competitive club. It was a racing club. They were all about yeah, developing athletes who could compete and not necessarily to be, you know, compete at the highest level, but just to get the best out of themselves and to enjoy racing and, and a competitive sport. So, and that really played into my competitive nature. I loved sports. I did lots of different sports. So yeah, that, that was really where it began. And I went on to compete at the Sydney Olympic games in 2000 and Beijing in 2008. And I won six world championships in marathon kayak racing. But like you say, it was a long and winding road, many challenges along the way, setbacks and which I had to overcome and which yeah, it’s all part of my story that I share with clients.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (05:20): Mm. And, and I know certainly one of the setbacks you have had certainly was that issue you mentioned in, in your CV about the fact that you were diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome at that point, so perhaps let’s talk about that, the resilience that you showed to to deal with that situation.

Anna Hemmings (05:39): Yeah. Well, so what, you know, I thought I was becoming quite resilient when I, you know, along the journey, you you know, you lose race, you, I lost far more racists than I ever won. And, you know, you learn a lot from, from losing. And, you know, I came second at the world championships twice, you know, losing in a two and a half hour race by just, you know, fractions of second, literally not 0.4 a second was the first one. And so, you know, you pick yourself up, you get back up again and you learn from it. And then, so I thought I was becoming pretty Hardy. And then at the age of 25, I’d become a, a time world champion fulfilled that child of ambition of becoming an Olympian. And I was really on cloud nine, thinking that it was gonna go on forever and I was gonna keep on taking on the world.

Anna Hemmings (06:27): And that wasn’t until my world completely fell apart around me. And I was diagnosed with this illness called chronic fatigue syndrome. And this was a serious illness. This, you know, it hit me like a train, really, it, it rendered me in a near permanent state of exhaustion, devoid of all energy, my muscles ate to the point where they were painful. The doctors said that there was no cure that I would never race. Again. I was dropped from the team, my lottery funding cart. It was, it was devastating. And, and yeah, a miserable time, you know, I, I could go into this, but it was, you know, I walled in self pity felt sorry for myself, all of that. And then I realized that actually that’s not gonna help me. And, and I need to find a better attitude, a better way of focusing on how to get out of this, this situation.

Anna Hemmings (07:18): And so yeah, to, to, so I learned a lot of lessons there around really, I thought I was learning before, around, you know, dealing with setback in terms of losing a race. And then I was like, oh, this is a really, a really big setback and a big, you know, adverse situation that I had to learn to deal with. And so I, I developed a lot of strategy, which is, you know, what I share with people about how to overcome adversity how to bounce back. I, I learned a lot actually around building relationships, building trust with other people, which was interesting that I didn’t expect to learn. And I, yeah, to cut a long story short, to overcome the on and eventually got back to, to racing and training and went on to win another three world titles and compete at the Beijing Olympic game. So was happy ever after, actually in the end,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:14): Such an inspiring story. Now I presuming that’s one of the reasons you’re such a successful speaker, because I think it, it’s very rare for a speaker to be, I think, vulnerable and to be talking about, you know, really personal human insights, as opposed to, I think what quite a lot of you say, the sort of the speaking sector is renowned for tends to be a lot of, sort of, you know, air punching, you know, this is great. You win, win, win, and yet to talk about adversity and resilience on a very human level must be yeah. Deeply inspiring for it for audiences. Because that sort of thing I think just is so rarely heard.

Anna Hemmings (08:54): Yeah. You know, and of course I do talk about how I achieve the highest level and people want to know, you know, how do you win six world titles back to, you know, three of them back to back? How do you sustain that high level of performance? And, and I absolutely talk about that. And you’re right. I think that people do enjoy hearing about that story of the, on this. And I do go into that and, and I think that it helps people to realize that I’m just like everybody else, you know, I, I’m a human being who got ill. I was as vulnerable to illness as anybody else. And this is an illness that affects what they know. There’s probably more, but at least a course of a million people in the UK. And I’ve, you know, got ill just as any other human being.

Anna Hemmings (09:40): And so it makes me quite fallible, I guess it makes me yeah, as you say, vulnerable. And actually what I talk about when I share my story, and I think one of the biggest lessons that I actually found discovered was that one of the step, one of the most powerful steps that I took on the road to recovery was actually opening up to the people around me sharing my experiences with them, with the closest people, to me, allowing them to see my struggles. And it was interesting because exposing those weaknesses is allowing them to see my struggles and allowing them to help me actually began to make me stronger. And that was a big departure for me, because as an athlete, you, you know, I was taught that, you know, keep your game face on and, and be tough. And Stealy, don’t show weakness, never show any doubt or fear any of that, you know, so that was, you know, this, you put your poker face on.

Anna Hemmings (10:42): And, and then I realized that actually that was, that was really helpful on the competitive arena, on the race course, but off the water, when it came to trying to build relationships, trying to build a cohesive team, trying to create trust that kind of, you know, poker face don’t let anyone in doesn’t help. And that wasn’t helping me during the honest, and actually I needed to reach out to people I needed to let them know how I was feeling that I was really struggling. I needed to cry in front of people. I needed to just, you know, be vulnerable. And, and, and that was a really powerful lesson. And I talk about that a lot actually in terms of leadership and because, you know, I, I thought that that was a sign of weakness and actually it’s not, it’s, it’s actually a real sign of strength.

Anna Hemmings (11:36): It’s the boldest act that leader can make. And, and we need to be vulnerable enough to ask for help. It’s a huge part of our resilience. And we need to find the courage to ask for and as, and, and accept support from others. And, you know, particularly given the difficult times that we’re facing right now, couldn’t be more important. And, and I know in the work that I do not just from speaking, but I, you know, I’m a, I’m a leadership coach. I have run a training consultancy beyond the barriers and, and working with leaders. I know that vulnerability isn’t commonplace the workplace. In fact, it’s quite the opposite where leaders think that they need to show this strong and Stealy exterior. And, and I think there might be a place for that a time and a place, but actually taking off that mask and showing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

Anna Hemmings (12:27): And it’s the most important at action that a leader must take in building trust on a team. And actually the leader has to go first so that others will follow. And, and that’s, yeah, ironically only the strongest leaders can do it because it takes confidence in who you are and what you do. And when you can demonstrate confidence and humil at the same time, you are seen as more human, more relatable people will connect to you. And all of this just fuels trust and the strongest of relationships. And like I said, that just, that couldn’t be more important right now, particularly given that so many people are working remotely and you know, people will continue to do that. I think in the future, it’ll be a hybrid of home and office working. So yeah, really, really interesting lesson. And I think that people do relate to that.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (13:23): Mm. How interesting. But I was watching one of your videos prior to this podcast and, and it, one of the points you made that no doubt links into that something you described as the, the food of champions the issue of giving and receiving feedback. And again, I think you’re making a point that perhaps a lot of leaders are long perhaps linked into that issue of vulner of being vulnerable or sharing vulnerability are very poor receiving feedback, very giving, very good at giving it.

Anna Hemmings (13:55): Yeah. well actually, you know, we talk about feedback a lot in the workplace, and it’s a really important tool for improving performance, improving confidence, but also as you say, learning vulnerability and as an athlete, I think you just grew up with it because you are constantly receiving feedback all the time. And, and as a team, you know, you know, and I talk about my team in terms of, you know, the physio and the coach and the nutritionist and the sports scientists, and all of these people were constantly giving us feedback. You know, you could be on the water and you would be getting feedback literally every 90 seconds from the heart rate monitor and the speedometer that, you know, the GP and, and from the coach technical feedback. And, and then you get off the water and the sports scientist is, you know, giving you power, output feedback, all of this feedback all the time.

Anna Hemmings (14:46): And, and it was interesting because we needed that feedback, not just at the end of the year, when, you know, blitz do a big performance review. We did that when the season’s over, but we were getting that feedback on a regular basis. Like, like I say, in the training session, after training session, because you can’t afford to wait till the end of the year. And I think in the workplace, people wait till the six months review annual review, or, you know, they wait too long and they don’t realize that actually it’s a gift. And, but the, the problem is, is that people shy away from it because they’re afraid of how it’s gonna be received. And they’re afraid of the response they’re gonna get. If they give perhaps cons you know, what we call constructive or developmental feedback, which people might say as negative feedback, but it’s a, for me, it’s about it’s developmental.

Anna Hemmings (15:43): It’s about the reframing it as this is something to help you, it’s help you improve performance. And, and there are based, there are ways of delivering that feedback and, and, and when we can learn how to deliver it in that constructive way, and when it’s, it’s positioned us, this is about helping you improve performance. Then it’s, it’s gonna land better and people will be less afraid of giving it. But when it comes to vulnerability, actually when we work teams, there’s an element of the teamwork that we do, which is around accountability. And, and that part, a big part of that is giving feedback, because if we are in a team and we’ve all committed to something, and we’ve committed to an end goal, then we need to hold each other accountable to delivering on that. And, you know, you’ve said, you’re gonna do that.

Anna Hemmings (16:32): We’ve said, we’ve Haven this way. You said, you’re gonna, you know, commit to these actions and you haven’t. Then we have to be able in a really trusting, it has to be a team that has trust and we’ve all committed to something. Then we have to be able to call each other out. And that might mean giving someone feedback and in, in a really appropriate, respectful way. So we practice of teams helping them to learn, to, to receive feedback. And we might start with, you know, offering someone some feedback on what their strengths are, but then also, actually this is something, this is a, this is what I’d like you to do differently, or this is how I’d like you to this is what you could change in terms of your style or your behavior, or actions or whatever it might be, and giving some kind of developmental feedback and learning to receive that gracefully gracefully. But also it’s in the delivery. So yeah, really important to be able to give and receive feedback if we want to have a, a high performing team or high performing individuals.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (17:34): Mm. And I noted again, from one of the talks I was watching, your line of view was very much part of that, where you talk about focusing, as you just did, we focus on performance, not results. And that is about what you’re doing in your coaching. When you talk about you you can help people when the business is stuck and not growing, which is no doubt something that is hugely center stage at the moment, along with that point about what to do when you have a disengaged or demotivated team. And I’m sure there are a lot at the moment of disengaged and demotivated teams impacted by things like DCU of working from home and not seeing one another face to face. When you’re talking with leaders or indeed management teams there, are you giving any particular advice on how to deal with teams that are physically fragmented as they currently are and who therefore, or cannot meet in the same office, you know, in the same physical space?

Anna Hemmings (18:35): Yeah, it’s interesting actually, because one of the things that I think teams are struggling with at the moment is this, this remote working and, and I think what’s happening is that teams are, so they’re not communi in the same way that they used to. I think that they are they’re not having those conversations that they would have had, you know, they’re having meetings, but they’re very, they’re probably quite formal where it’s like, right, we’ve gotta discuss this, gotta discuss X and Y. But that I did, you know, when you just, you know, you’re walking to the station with someone at the end of the day, or you’re going for coffee with someone at lunchtime, those conversations at the water cooler, where you just float an idea by someone or you I just wanna run this past year, or what do you think about this?

Anna Hemmings (19:24): Or, you know, that’s just missing. And a couple of the leaders that I coach have recently said to me, my team feel a little bit needy and, you know, it’s because of a loss of confidence because they’re just not, you know, no one wants to pick up the phone to someone and make, you know, I’ve gotta put it in your diary. I need to make a five minute call with you to ask you about this or float this idea by you, which they just would, you know, across the office and that’s not happening. And so that’s a challenge for, for teams. And so, you know, in the work that we’re doing with teams, we’re trying to get people to have those informal breakouts, where they are able to have those conversations. The other thing that is happening with teams and the lack of well with the, with the remote meetings is that, so one of the things that we talk about is the need for healthy conflict and, and debate.

Anna Hemmings (20:21): So not mean spirited arguments, but we’re talking about have just, you know, thrashing out ideas, disagreeing with people. No, I don’t think that’s the way we should go. I think we should go this way. You know, where we know that there’s positive intent, there’s trust in the team and there’s positive intent, then we’re able to have really healthy conflict and debate. And, and as a leader, your job is to almost mine for conflict. We call it really brilliant term mining for conflict. And that is, and it’s really difficult if you are having a remote meeting and where some people don’t like putting their camera on, first of all, it’s difficult to engage with them. But secondly, you can’t see how they’re responding to what you’ve just said, or if they disagree. And quite often, I’m sure many people listen that you’ve been in a room where, you know, everyone in a physical room and everyone nods and go, yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll do that.

Anna Hemmings (21:14): We do that. And then they walk out of the room and they go, yeah, he is got another thing coming, everything. So I’m gonna do that. But you can’t pick up on that if you are not in the room because you can’t see their facial expression. And so as a leader, I’m encouraging people to say, Sean, look, I can see that. You’re not quite with me on this. You’re not on board. So come on out with it, spit it out. What is it that you don’t agree with? And that’s a really difficult thing to pick up on and conversation to have. First of all, if someone hasn’t got their camera on, I can’t even see that you are rolling your eyes or that you’re not with me, but, and even just on the physical, you know, the, the remote meeting is even if they have got a camera that is more challenging.

Anna Hemmings (21:55): And so that’s something we are working on with teams, because it is so crucial that we have that debate because unless everyone feels like they’ve weighed into the debate, they won’t I in to the decision or the way forward or the strategy, whatever we were discussing, you need people to have, people need to feel like their idea has been heard, that it’s, that they have been listened to. They don’t need to have their idea adopted. They just need to feel like their idea has been heard. And then they actually, yeah, yeah. Maybe we don’t go with mine. Yours is better for the collective good of the team. So let’s go with that. But at least I’ve had a chance to put forward my thoughts, and then you get commitment and we need commitment if we’re gonna achieve collective results. And so that’s something that we work on a lot with teams understanding what are people preferences when it comes to that conflict and debate?

Anna Hemmings (22:53): What are their styles of communication, what to look out for recognizing that we all, you know, as a leader, I need to invite the choir to people to speak up and make sure that they’re getting heard and they’re having a chance to speak up. So yeah, there’s, and there’s various ways that we do that. And it’s really important. And, and I get that from my days as an athlete, there was a coach that I worked with. He was a Canadian coach called Fred and, and he used to say, you know, look, you guys, this is not just to me, the whole team, look, I’m gonna, we’re gonna fall out if you and I, if, if you guys do not speak up, when you’ve got an idea, although better way of doing, or you’ve got a suggestion or you disagree, you need to speak up or you need to just put forward ideas because we are never gonna win.

Anna Hemmings (23:38): Unless I get input from everybody. And I hear everyone’s thoughts and he got really cross, if you walk away and then, you know, a day later, it’s like, oh, I don’t think you should have done that. He’s like, oh, why don’t you speak up? Why don’t you tell me at the time? And it’s really important that we create an environment where people feel safe to do that, and that’s challenging online but a big part of it to create that environment. And, and it is possible online. And we do, we are working with teams to do that is what we talked about earlier. The vulnerability is helping people to be a bit more vulnerable because it opens them up and it helps people to feel more to feel trust, you know, and it might be putting your hand up and saying, you know, I, I made a mistake or, you know, I, I need some help with this or, or it might be you know, saying, sorry about something apologizing for something, but it’s difficult to to do that if there’s not trust in the team. And so we need to build that trust and that vulnerability so that people can do that. And then you get to the next stage where we can have the conflict and the debate. Yeah. So there’s sort of building blocks that get you to that point, but really important and, but challenging for sure in this environment.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (24:55): How interesting can I also ask about the issue of diversity? Because, I mean, I would imagine that when you were performing at the highest level in the sport arena on the, on the sporting stage, that you were surrounded by a far more diverse set of individuals set of people than perhaps you were confronted with when you were talking about leadership issues with the leaders of major core corporates. One, one about by that, I mean, one of the great criticisms of a lot of leadership teams over the last decade has been, they tend to be, you know, rows and rows and rows of middle aged white men as opposed to the sporting arena where women imagine that the issues of diversity are actually real and they in front of you, am I correct in that? Or, or not? I’m just interested on your point of view towards say leadership and diversity. And was that seen more if like in play in sport than it was in business?

Anna Hemmings (26:06): Yeah, I mean, you’re absolutely right about the, you know, the diversity in, in the workplace and I think it’s improving, but, and it, but it’s still got a long way to go. And I do a lot of work with women leaders and, you know, the challenges around female leadership and not challenges for, but challenges that women find in the workplace in terms of emerging as a, as a female leader. But in terms of the, my actually, you know, if I’m thinking about the women’s great Britain kayak team, it was not particularly diverse actually. Are in fact, I don’t think we had anyone on the team in my era who wasn’t white, British not a single person on the team. So in terms of race there was very little diversity in terms of the coaching setup.

Anna Hemmings (27:10): Again, I’m thinking now very little diversity in terms of race. There was, as, as funding came in over the years, we had more coaches from other countries. So you know, so the last coach I worked with was Hungarian. We had a, a Russian coach, he was coaching the men’s team. We had a French coach for the women’s team, a certain period of time, you know, so there was, that was purely to, you know I wouldn’t say it was proactive in let’s create diversity of culture. It was more let’s, you know, there’s other coaches out there from other countries who’ve got better experience and more knowledge, and let’s learn from them and let’s improve our performance by learning from others. Which was brilliant. But it certainly, wasn’t a, let’s be proactive and, you know, be more diverse. Yeah, so, but, so we, but we’re also bear in mind, we’re talking, you know, I was on the senior great Britain team from sort of 97, 19 97 to 2008. Actually 96 95, 96, 2008. So you know, sometime ago now. But yeah, actually the diversity wasn’t wasn’t, that was there. Wasn’t a huge amount of diversity actually.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (28:35): Mm, interesting. Okay. Different thing. What about inspiration then? So obviously mean you’re very, very inspiring individual, and I know you Rens your inspiring talks, but yeah. So where do you get a inspiration from

Anna Hemmings (28:53): As a, as an athlete? Well actually when I was young, I was really lucky that the club that I talked about in the beginning Elbridge canoe club, it was it was, it was one of the best clubs in the country. And, and I think this, this is one of reasons why, you know, before arriving at that club, I had already discovered the Olympic games the year before watching the Los Angeles Olympic games. And I watched that and my heroes won the athletics track. And, you know, I was inspired by the likes of Sebastian co in the 800 meters, Karl Lewis in the a hundred meters American sprinter. And so I was really inspired by watching that, and that was really where my Olympic dream began. But the following year, so I I, I stumbled on Elbridge canoe club. And what was great was that there were lots of other older athletes who were going off on the, on the great Britain team to the world championships.

Anna Hemmings (29:48): They were going to the Olympic games. I remember them going off to soul in 88. Coming back, one of the girls brought me back, you know, gave me one of her great Britain. T-Shirts I really remember that. And, and then I remember in 1992 chap called Ivan law. He was at my club and he won his first world championship gold medal. He came back from Brisbane in Australia and he brought his medal back. And, and, but, and so it was really inspiring to be surrounded by these people. And it was such a small club that we would, these people I’d see them every day. It wasn’t like they were off training, a different time in a different place and, you know, had special treatment. They were just ordinary young athletes say young, you know, in their late teens, early twenties, late twenties who were going off and competing at highest level and winning medals.

Anna Hemmings (30:45): And for me, that was so inspiring because it was like, I see them in the changing room. I see ’em in the boathouse. I see ’em on the river. And these are just ordinary people, just who just work really hard. They train hard. They’re down here every day, they really work hard. And that just made believe that this isn’t a pipe dream. This is, this can be real. And, you know, I wasn’t putting them on this pedestal of, oh, that’s what other people do they go off to Olympics? It’s like, no ordinary people go to Olympics too. They’re just extraordinarily hard workers and, you know, got the right mindset and the right attitude and all of that. And so I was, yeah, I think really lucky. I think the, who, who you surround yourself with is so important. And we had this really great competitive, positively competitive environment of high achieving individuals. And that was really inspiring to me as a, as a young athlete.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (31:43): Mm. I love that thought about ordinary people with the right mindset to go to the Olympics. Fantastic. What about these people?

Anna Hemmings (31:50): It is for Sean. It’s just

Speaker 3 (31:52): Every single,

Anna Hemmings (31:55): Sorry. I was just saying every single, you know, all of us who have become Olympians, we’ve all started out. I mean, I, I only speak for myself. I was just an ordinary girl who went, it lived in an ordinary house with an ordinary family and well, not that ordinary. But you know, went to an ordinary school, drove an ordinary car. You know, we were just an ordinary family and I was an ordinary girl was no bad at things than anyone else, but what I had was a dream and then the right environment and the right people around me, and I learned that mindset. And I developed it. I wasn’t born with it. You know, I, I worked with a sports psychologist from the age of 16. I learned how to develop a winning mindset. I learned how to perform under pressure. I learned how to build confidence when it got knocked.

Anna Hemmings (32:49): I learned skills like visualization. I learn all of that. And I think that’s a really important message. And it’s something, you know, when I go into schools, I talk about out that a lot to the kids, because they do think that these people who win medals and do extraordinary things are just born with these gifts. You know, it’s not something you’re given, it’s something you learn and develop. And I think that’s also a really important message for anyone actually, not just kids for, you know, for in the corporate world, that it’s that growth mindset that we can always learn and improve and develop. And it’s just, it’s a really important message that I share with people that, that we need to be open to learning all the time. We need to be, you know, like a sponge learning and absorbing information everywhere you go.

Anna Hemmings (33:35): And, and that’s, that’s what I do. You know, whenever I go to a conference and I’m a speaker there, I try to be there at the start of the day and listen to everyone else. You know, what a brilliant opportunity to, to listen to all these other experts in their field, different field to me, but gosh, what can I learn today from these other people? And so what a great part of my job get to go and learn and listen, and, and take away nuggets of information. And that was, you know, I kind of learned that a little bit from, from the coaches that I worked with, who were always trying to learn from other coaches. They were there always, you know, what are they doing? What are the, you know, and that’s one of the ways that we got really great at what we did by thinking about, you know, what the, who’s the benchmark in this, in this sport, in my end of my, in my discipline and my distance and what are they doing? What are they doing that we are not doing? What can we learn from them? How do they get so strong in the gym? What’s the kind of training that they’re doing. And recognizing that they, they weren’t born lifting a hundred kilos in the bench press in the gym. They aren’t to be that strong and they trained hard and in a certain way to be like that. And I think it’s just, it’s a bit of a mindset shift for some people but yeah, really important attitude to have.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (34:54): Mm it’s very interesting. You talking there about growth mindset and, and also one of the points that I mentioned that you sort of reflected on earlier about, which I thought was very interesting stressing the point that you can see failure as a gift. Perhaps just talk a bit about that. Cause if perhaps again, if one is normally associating with people like yourselves as always being inverted com winners all the time, achieving, standing up there in a podium, holding medals, there isn’t a lot, perhaps a a realization of the amount of failure, inverted coms that goes on. So I just talk about that, about how, how you talk with audiences with, with teams at events or indeed online about treating failure as a gift.

Anna Hemmings (35:41): Yeah. It’s it’s interesting, isn’t it? Cuz people, you know, really only wanna read about the stories and you’re booked because you won you know, you’re booked because you won six gold medals. You don’t get booked because you lost seven times, you know, and came second, you know, you know, if I had only won the silver medals, they wouldn’t be booked. They wouldn’t be here as a speaker. But actually it losing those races is what allowed me to win in the long run. And I lost far more races than I ever won and everyone does, but that’s what makes you successful because it’s the most successful people do see it as an opportunity that fair. Yes, it’s, it’s devastating. Don’t get me wrong. You know, every athlete, including myself, hates it, hate losing it’s devastating, you know, at some point you’re like, ah, I’m never gonna race again.

Anna Hemmings (36:29): You know? So it is, there’s that emotional piece that you have to get over and you need that little bit of time to wallow and, you know, sad and down and whatever. But very quickly you need to move on from that. And then you need to say, okay, what did we learn from that? That, you know, we constantly were reviewing, you know, if we lost the race and even if we wanna race, what went well, what didn’t go so well, what do we need to change? What do we need to do D differently next time? And that’s the gift of failure is that, you know, we’re learning from it. We’re learning about all the, the training that didn’t work. We’re learning about the tactic in the race that didn’t work. And we’re learning about what not to do next time and we’re learning about, and, and maybe, and not necessarily, what’s also important is to recognize that not everything in the race was necessarily bad.

Anna Hemmings (37:21): Maybe there were certain parts of the race that were brilliant. And so it’s not a case of, let’s just scrap it all. Let’s break it down, let’s analyze it and go, okay. So the, so the start of the race was brilliant. You know, the tactics here were great, but actually this bit, you know, it was the end. It was what you did in this in the Portage, for example, this in marathon kit racing, you have to get out of the boat, you run with it, you get back in again. And so maybe it was leading into there or maybe, you know, to this, what really analyzing it and understanding what went well, what didn’t go well. And, and I was lucky, you know, I had a team of people around me helping me to do that. And so I encourage client to have their team of, you know, advisors, yes.

Anna Hemmings (38:05): Someone who can have that compassionate ear and you can, you know, empathize with you, but also someone who can ask those questions about, you know, how could you have, how could you prevent this in the future? How can we make the best of this situation right now? You know, and that’s, you know, sometimes this is me as the coach who does this kind of work. If I’m working one to one with someone, you know, what, what can we do differently? How can we transform this into a positive, you know, all of those kind of questions we need that trusted team of advisors or coaches or whoever it is, colleagues who we trust, who we can open up to, who can help us learn and grow from failure, from adversity, from setback. And that’s really, really important. Otherwise we just end up repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (38:59): And, and do you think, is it because one is if you’re like framing the point and the advice, obviously through the prism of sport, is it because one is doing that that audiences or colleagues find it easier to open up and talk through the issues they’re facing because it perhaps isn’t so immediately confrontational. So if one, isn’t talking about sort of business through another business case history, should we say often one goes to events and frankly put, there are very, very, there’s very small amount of of, of interaction often between speakers and audience. You know, audiences are very often very reluctant to open up and to be vulnerable, but because you’re talking about issues that are obviously incredibly immediate and relevant, but through the prism of sport, is that, do you think one of the reasons why these sort of talks are so successful?

Anna Hemmings (40:02): Yeah. I think, you know, the sport analogy is a great one because people, they get it, they understand it, you know, either they’ve played sport or even if they haven’t played sport, they’ve watched it, you know, everyone has been exposed to sport in some way and, and it is very real and it is very tangible. You know, you win or you lose who’s quite often. And so it’s very clear cut, and I know that business isn’t like that, but there are many, many analogies. And and so I think it is easier. It’s easier to define the success and these are the strategies that I use to achieve this. And, and it’s clear to say, you know, we did, or this did or didn’t work. And so I think it’s easy for people to, to take those analogies and feel like they are proven methods and proven techniques and, and strategies for achieving success, because we’ve been able to see it’s come from an arena where we have been able to, I tangibly say that this worked, or it didn’t work and people can get that. They get the analogy really well.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (41:12): Mm, okay. Just in terms of what’s coming up next for you then, so yeah, what’s what’s on the horizon,

Anna Hemmings (41:22): What our all exciting plans kind of on hold with everything’s

Anna Hemmings (41:26): Going on at the moment. So that’s, so that’s a little bit challenging, but you know, I have had in the back of my, for some time, the idea of writing a book but whilst homeschooling is happening, that’s also on hold. But it will, it, it is something that I want to do. It will be about resilience. It’s a big topic that I talk about not strictly autobiographical, but it will have some autobiographical elements in there using obviously my journey to illustrate the tools and the, the, the strategies and the techniques that I talk about. But whilst that’s on hold I what I am excited about at the moment is, so I run a, I started running in November last year, a training program called the resilient leaders toolkit. And this was really in sponsor to what our clients were saying.

Anna Hemmings (42:14): They wanted from us at the moment. Because you know, this is cause of the challenges that everyone’s facing. And so it’s, yeah, I’m really excited. We started one cohort of this back in November. There’s another cohort running now, I’ve got another one starting in April. And the, the program is based on a leadership model called the resilient leaders elements. And it’s a really simple model. There are four elements to the, to the model. And the first one is about clarity of direction. And this is about having a strategic content under standing, having a vision and realistic strategies for achieving that vision understanding where you’re trying to go, where you’re trying to get to, and then enrolling others, aligning others in the in the, in that strategic intent and then having the determination to achieve it. And this is, this is really important, Kelly, right now, it’s, it’s, it’s motivational when you face a setback or experience any kind of adversity, knowing where you’re going and why you’re going there and why you need to keep persevering.

Anna Hemmings (43:25): It also helps you to stay focused on what’s important. It’s also motivational for the people in your team. If they have a clear strategic intent, they’ll understand why they’re being asked to do something. And basically when a leader has strategic intent, a unifying purpose and determination, the impact is that people know where they’re going. They know why they’re going there, and they know that you are determined to succeed. So in my work with my clients at the moment, and particularly on this program, we’re helping them to get clarity on that strategic intent and then how to engage others and align them to it. The second element is about awareness. This is about having an appreciation of your own and others, motives cultures, strengths, weaknesses, and then understanding how to adapt to the forces of that changing environment. Really important that we have that awareness of ourself, of others in the environment, because then everyone, including you works at their best resulting in higher productivity and, and increased motivation.

Anna Hemmings (44:24): One of the things we talk about in that element of awareness is about knowing your strengths understanding what you bring, what values you bring, sorry, what value you bring to a situation when I work with my clients and we do this module in the program, they always see a huge improvement in confidence, because then they’re able to turn up to, for example, a client meeting, deliver an important presentation, having absolute confidence in their contribution and the value that they’re bringing. And when you know what you’ve got in your locker, that gives you the confidence when the pressure rises and that tough situation hits that you have the resources within you to deliver in the face of pressure. We also talk in that module around having an awareness of what takes you from pressure to stress and then how to rebalance really crucial right now, also an awareness of others in your team as a leader, what takes other people in your team from pressure to stress and what action do they need to take, and what can you help them with in order to rebalance?

Anna Hemmings (45:24): I mean, it could not be more crucial right now to dial up your awareness of others and, and what takes them from precious stress. The third element is leadership presence and, and a big part of that we’ve talked about already actually, and people wouldn’t necessarily associate this with resilience, but it’s about the idea of being true to yourself, being under, you know, being true to your ethical code, having presence when you are not in the room. And a huge part of that is about being all authentic as a leader, being vulnerable as a leader so that we can build those relationships. Like I talked about earlier when we are authentic and true to ourselves, people understand who they’re following. They understand why, what you stand for and why they should follow you. They also, as I talked about earlier, you know, that a bit idea of being vulnerable us to connect with you as a leader and build relationships.

Anna Hemmings (46:17): And that’s just, that’s huge in terms of our resilience. We know from the strength we know from research, that the strength of our resilience is based on the strength of our connections and our relationships. And then the fourth element is resilient decision making. And this is about being able to take a valuable idea from concept to reality, being able to vary the pace and the style of your decision making it’s about being able to make being robust, versatile, and creative in your decision making. And when you can be that you can then make the right decisions at the right time, in the right place with the right people, you can have contingency options are available. And we are more effective under pressure in terms of making our decisions. And, you know, this was so, so such a big thing in my sport of marathon kayak racing, I’ve got so many anecdotes and stories that I share with people on this because marathon kit racing is, is fueled by resilient decision making.

Anna Hemmings (47:20): It’s a bit like being in the Peloton of a road cycling race where you the, the Mo competitors constantly moving positions. And so you are always changing, having to think on your fee, make quick decisions under pressure. And so I share with people how, what strategies I learned to be robust in that decision making to think quickly and make the right decisions. And when I work with clients, you know, it’s great. We, we role play D from pressure situations, and I ask them, you know, what if questions and get them to predict what could happen and, and how they would best handle it. And, and it’s amazing because then when they get to that pressure situation, they feel so confident and prepared to make the right decision in the heat of the moment. So yeah, so that, so that’s those elements of the model.

Anna Hemmings (48:11): That’s the program. We, we have this online development tool which assesses you in the four elements, assesses your strengths and your areas of development provides challenges for you to work on to 12 week program. Yeah. We had brilliant results in the first program and having some great response in the second program. And so I’m really to actually to build on that throughout this year. Yeah, that was a really long-winded way of telling you what I’m up to or what my exciting plans are for. Fantastic. but that, that, that’s it. Yeah. That’s what I’m excited about at the moment, a new, a new program that I’m running.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (48:46): That’s what sounds absolutely dynamic to put it Marly. So brilliant. Well, look in the, sort of a short amount of time we have left to us. I know you are a busy person just as this’ll be difficult wrapping all, all of that or summarizing it, but just from the perspective of giving a again, a sort of a, a, a roll sound bite around your most popular speeches in terms of staying head of the game success in the face of, of a diversity and getting the competitive edge for all of those international event organizers who are out there, who are listening. So yeah, just as they sort of a, a couple of minutes of absolute focus, clarity on those. So, so they understand. And what do you be talking about when you’re talking about either staying ahead of the game success in the face of diversity or getting the competitive edge?

Anna Hemmings (49:42): So the yeah. Success in the face of adversity no resilient leaders talk here, staying ahead of the game, very much resilience focus very much, you know, what, you know, big part of what I’ve just talked about actually, in terms of that program, you know, that’s condensed obviously in a, in a keynote speech, but very much about how to develop that resilient mindset, how to build emotional control, how to perform under pressure. What are those tools and techniques that we use to perform under pressure, how to reframe difficult situations reframe in terms of our thinking, you know, often we are we have that self-talk, that’s quite destructive when we are under pressure when we’re faced with the challenge. And so how to change that to something that’s more supportive. I talk quite a lot actually about you. I mentioned re relationships developing that support network so that we are, we are stronger as a team. We are stronger with the support network. We are able to thrive better when we are and team yeah. Understanding ourselves that self-awareness of what takes us from pressure to stress, how to rebalance really helping us to stay calm under pressure so that we can be more effective, to think more clearly to think more strategically make rational decisions and emerge stronger.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (51:14): Absolutely fantastic. Well, that was superb. So and just to, so again, all of the listeners are aware of where they can attract you down. So where are you on a, at their social media and obviously your site, et cetera.

Anna Hemmings (51:28): So obviously I’m on the Speakers Associates website. My own website is My training consultancy website is I’m on LinkedIn, Anna Hemmings. I’m on Twitter @annahemmings. Yeah, Google my name and you’ll find me. But yeah, those are my sites. Yeah.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (51:52): Well, all I can say is so to Anna Hemmings MBE Olympian and world champion and inspirational speaker. Thank you very much indeed.

Anna Hemmings (52:02): Thank you. Sean, thanks for having me on the, on the podcast. It’s been a pleasure this afternoon.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (52:17): Thank you for listening to The Speakers Show podcast. Please leave a rating on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. And also it’d be great. If you could subscribe to the podcast itself, you’ll find it also on Google podcasts, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast app. Thank you.

Podcast host

Sean Pillot de Chenecey speaker

Sean Pillot de Chenecey

Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.

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