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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Steven MacGregor.
Steven is the Founder of The Leadership Academy of Barcelona, Honorary Professor at the Glasgow School of Art, and External Advisor for McKinsey & Company. Across a 20-year career in wellbeing and sustainable performance, he has helped improve the workplace health and positive leadership of tens of thousands of professionals worldwide.
He is the author of Sustaining Executive Performance and Chief Wellbeing Officer, which is also a podcast. His new book, The Daily Reset: 366 Nudges to Move Your Life Forward, has just been published.
A former national Duathlon Champion (triathlon for bad swimmers) he has trained with Olympic track athletes, Tour de France cyclists, and Ironman champions.
In this fascinating episode, we discuss:
- Wellbeing in the Workplace
- Sustainable Performance
- The impact of the Pandemic on Wellbeing
- Positive Leadership
00:00:17 – 00:00:58
Welcome back to The Speaker Show with me your host, Maria Franzoni. In today’s show, we’ll be talking about wellbeing and sustainable performance. 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. So, my guest this week is the founder of the Leadership Academy of Barcelona, he’s honorary professor at the Glasgow School of Art and external adviser for McKinsey and Company. Across a 20 year career in well being and sustainable performance, he’s helped improve the workplace health and positive leadership of tens of thousands of professionals worldwide.
00:00:58 – 00:01:33
He is the author of Sustaining Executive Performance and Chief Wellbeing Officer, which is also a podcast. His new book, The Daily Reset 366 nudges to move your life forward has just been published. I’m definitely going to get some nudges for you today, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you that for sure. Anyway, a former national duathlon champion. So that’s a triathlon for bad swimmers, apparently. He has trained with Olympic track athletes, Tour de France cyclists and Iron Man champions. Please welcome my guest today. Dr Steven McGregor. Steven, how are you today?
00:01:33 – 00:01:42
I’m great. Maria, it’s lovely to talk to you. My book is out today, so I’m excited. Tired also, but mostly excited.
00:01:42 – 00:01:57
How wonderful. So, at the time of recording, on the day of recording, your book is out. How wonderful. And we’re going to talk about. In fact, let’s just show us the cover. Even though we’re listening on podcast, show us the cover of your book. Here it is fantastic. And tell us what the title is?
00:01:57 – 00:02:03
It’s The Daily Reset. And the subtitle is 366 Nudges to move your life forward.
00:02:03 – 00:02:08
Wonderful. And I’m going to ask you about some nudges. But before we do that, I want to know a bit about you. Actually, Steven,
00:02:08 – 00:02:20
I’m a bit nosy. I can’t help it. So, listen, what was your motivation for going into well being and actually not just going into well being, but building an entire career around it?
00:02:20 – 00:03:06
Yeah. So, it’s been 20 years, which is hard to believe, Maria. And I write about that in the introduction to The Daily Reset and talk about how it’s a celebration of 20 years and squeezed everything that I know into those 20 years and all the experiences that I’ve had. The kind of more professional version is that I was a visiting researcher at Stanford in 2000 and one. I was doing a PhD in design thinking and specifically virtual teams, which has been very handy the last couple of years. And at that time I just felt, you know, how can we, my own well being, let’s say, was soaring at the time I was having such a fantastic time, but it was also stretched. I felt like it was
00:03:06 – 00:03:38
uncovering and discovering my purpose, and I think this is also important for how we understand well being. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what well being is, and I think there’s a confusion with well being and wellness, and maybe we can get into that a little bit later also. But I was being stretched. I was becoming a better version of myself. I was also training physically with the track team at Stanford at the time and I felt this is brilliant. But I knew some of my colleagues who I was, you know, studying with, prior to going to Stanford.
00:03:38 – 00:04:19
What in the world of work and it was the complete opposite. They were being squeezed absolutely one way. And I just felt how can we design a more healthier way of working? And so that was the question that I’ve had ever since. And I’ve looked at trying to answer that in many different ways and from very different perspectives since that wonderful experience. I don’t have all the answers, but I think, you know, formulating the question is often the most important part. The additional element and I didn’t uncover this until much later, is that I grew up in the 1980s and a very working class household in the west of Scotland, and I saw a lot of things at that time, and one of the things was that
00:04:19 – 00:05:07
there was a main employer, which was a steelworks. It was Ravenscraig Steelworks, and they became one of the largest and most famous steel producers in the world. And this built a rich tradition in the town that went back 150 or more years. When I was at school that steelworks closed. And then from overnight, I saw a huge change in the society around me, and it really left a mark on me. And that impacted the financial well being of a lot of people within the town. But more than that affected the purpose. I think you can look at a lot of the West of Scotland and even the shipyard industry at that time. And a lot of people and predominantly men at that time, they lost their purpose, and this affected their health, this affected their well being.
00:05:07 – 00:05:34
And you’ve got even, you know, aspects like diamond syndrome. You know, people just dying very, very young in their fifties because essentially they had lost their purpose. So I didn’t think about this until much later. But this also left a big mark on me, and a lot of the new book particular looks at the importance of societal wellbeing and community and looking at this very broad impact. So these two experiences together really left a big mark on me and shaped my career.
00:05:34 – 00:05:55
I can imagine that. I now realise how young you are when you said you grew up in the eighties. You’re a young man. Lovely. So I didn’t think that when I saw you. So tell me, you said that there’s a difference and a misunderstanding between wellbeing and wellness. I think we probably do need to clarify that. Could you define wellbeing and the difference with regards to wellness? Please, for us.
00:05:55 – 00:06:45
So at least for me, and I thought about this a lot for several years. And this is not to take away the importance of the industry of wellness, which is a hugely important multibillion dollar industry. But wellness for me is about escape. It is about you go and fix yourself outside of your normal day to day. So you go on a wellness retreat. You go for a spa weekend. You look after yourself, which is absolutely important. It’s critical in our lives. I need wellness. You know, we all need wellness. We don’t want to, you know, have a reality where illness is the predominant reality. But we need wellness. Absolutely. But wellbeing for me is not about fixing. It is not about escape. It is about your normal day to day. So what is your daily lived experience
00:06:45 – 00:07:20
and for workplace wellbeing. This is, I think, the more important factor. Because it shouldn’t be about the damage that we do to ourselves when we are working. And then we go and fix ourselves. Maybe on the weekend, we sleep a little bit longer or we need a vacation. You know, workplace itself should be the means by which we improve our well being, not just in terms of physical and mental health and wellbeing, but also living our purpose, and many different factors in terms of higher performance and all these different things. So I think that’s the difference for me. And I think it’s important to me that distinction.
00:07:20 – 00:07:38
It’s interesting that you talk about, you know, workplace well being, because I know a lot of organisations prioritise well being. But I don’t know if individuals think about the workplace is being something that should be, you know, related to their well being. So how do you approach wellbeing in the workplace, specifically?
00:07:38 – 00:08:21
We’ve done different things over the years. I think going back to the definition you know, the workplace, you know, is such a rich source for resolve, improving our well being. You know, as I’ve said a couple of times already, purpose is hugely important for how well we feel as human beings. Even if you go back, you know, it’s probably the greatest question in human history. The philosophers from Aristotle to Confucius and many others. I have talked about what was a good life. How can we be more well? And within that question, you can look at things like purpose and virtue and learning. You know, so how we learn in our lives? And of course, the workplace now has changed. That wasn’t, isn’t now that we
00:08:21 – 00:09:03
we have a period of learning early in our lives and we apply that in the workplace for the rest of our career. We constantly have to evolve and change and learn within the workplace. So the workplace itself is such a rich source of well being for us all. But looking at approaches to how that can change essentially what I try and do and what I’ve done over the years, and this came from my previous book, actually, Chief Wellbeing Officer and I really thought about how we can elevate well being as a strategic concern. So it’s not just something that is soft. It’s not just something that is left on the margins of a company and how they generate value. But looking at how we generate value in a company by well being, right? You look at talent attraction. You look at talent retention.
00:09:03 – 00:09:48
And you just have more of that strategic measure. And it’s not just about, you know, a wellness programme, let’s say, or fixing or smoking cessation or weight management programmes. It’s actually looking at the core of how you generate value as a business. So that’s, it’s a mindset shift in many ways for the senior people within an organisation, and then after that, traditionally what we’ve done and it’s by no means the only approach. We’ve looked at a lot of leadership development with the senior people within organisations and trying to change their view and also get them to be the role models of the culture within the enterprise. So we look at habits on an individual level and when you elevate habits, discreet habits to the collective, and that could just be a team
00:09:48 – 00:09:55
or it could be the whole organisation. We get culture, so that’s true. That’s generally the approach that we’ve taken the past every year.
00:09:55 – 00:10:30
That’s fascinating and I mean, I remember. I mean, I’ve not been employed by anybody but myself for many years now, but I remember when I was employed and working in the workplace and some of the jobs that I worked in the hours that we had to keep and the stress and the pressure that we were under there was nothing to do with well being there. It was always just about, you know, having to achieve these results. Do you find there’s still that sort of bad approach to work in some organisations and some industries where it’s just, you know, you’ve got to be showing up hours and hours and hours on end in order to be seen? Is that still in existence? Would you say
00:10:30 – 00:11:03
It’s still there? Absolutely. You know, I think at least present, the dangers of presentism or listening slightly, and I think that working from home, reality that we’ve had post pandemic has helped a little with that is accelerated. The fact that we don’t need to see someone at their desk and with their head down, you know, to prove that they’re working. It’s about results, right? It’s about the work that you bring. And even a quote that I’ve used many times over the years, and I think I have it in a daily reset again.
00:11:03 – 00:11:50
David Kelly from Ideal, the famous design thinking innovation firm. He said, When I see someone at their desk all day, it’s suspicious how they’re pretending to work. And we have to realise that it’s a legacy of the first industrial revolution, about specialisation of work that you have. You had your thing to do, so you were at your desk. Nowadays, in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, work is anytime, anywhere. It’s so much more. But getting back to the hours pressure is still there, and even within companies who espouse strategy of well being, and it’s under the guise in many ways of performances and peak performance. So the whole corporate athlete methodology and how we attain high performance. It did a lot for well being, but it can also go a little bit too far. It can squeeze people,
00:11:50 – 00:12:43
and it’s the tools of well being. But in many ways. What research also shows is that highly engaged people are also in danger of burnout. One of the big things I think we have to take from the pressure of hours and the work of peak performance is that it has to be sustainable performance and realise that we are not machines within the workplace. There’s been a very mechanistic view of how we work. If we think about the language that we use leverage, productivity, efficiency, it’s about machines. And, again, the legacy of the first industrial revolution. You know, sustainable performance is about, you know, coaching mindset, training, execution, recovery, oscillation and recognising that as human beings, we have to have this rhythmic nature to how we do our best work. So I think it’s a mindset shift there.
00:12:43 – 00:12:50
It’s just realising that the nature of work as human beings is different, and it has to change to move us forward.
00:12:50 – 00:13:37
Wow, so much there. And I love the new language that you’re using that we’re still not hearing. We’re still hearing productivity. We’re still hearing performance. We’re still hearing efficiency, and I hadn’t thought about it that it relates to two machines, but absolutely spot on and also the point you made earlier about, you know, any time, anywhere that we can work anytime, anywhere. There is also the danger, of course, that because you can work anytime, anywhere, your sort of expected to. So again it’s that mindset shift, that culture shift, the whole burnout thing. You said earlier you mentioned your other book, your first book, Chief Wellbeing Officer. I think that’s a wonderful title. Who is the chief wellbeing officer in an organisation? Is it every leader? Should it be somebody’s role? Is it our own responsibility? Who’s in charge of well being?
00:13:37 – 00:14:21
You know. So, it’s a great question. And it was actually the question that we had on a previous episode of my own podcast, which is called Chief Wellbeing Officer. So we’ve seen many different places over the years, and within that episode, which was 18 months, almost two years old now. You know, we can have it within human resources, of course, which is probably the more natural home for it. But it could be an executive committee position, you know, and even the title Chief Wellbeing Officer, it was a polemic. In a way, it wasn’t arguing to say that we must have a chief wellbeing officer within a company. As you have indicated in your question, it can be for everyone within an organisation.
00:14:21 – 00:15:04
But in many ways, and I’ve looked at this also in some of the research that I used to do in corporate social responsibility. You know, to get things moving, it has to have a champion in the initial stages. Right? So who could that be? Is it from the chief HR officer? Is it from the chief learning officer in terms of, you know, learning and development, is a kind of estates management, for example, who look after the ergonomic sense on how we work is a health and safety with an organisation. Is that the CEO in a smaller type company, right, Or is it linked to other things like innovation? I think it depends on organisation. I was interviewed, six months ago.
00:15:04 – 00:15:47
You know, if we are hiring for a chief wellbeing officer role, what does it look like? What are the responsibilities that they should have? What are the skills that they can bring? And look, there’s no one size fits all. So I don’t know if I’ve been helpful with that answer now that I reflect on this, but I think even just bringing, again it’s language, you know, even companies thinking. Do we need the chief wellbeing officer? Yes or no? Well, not quite yet. You know, even I’ve seen organisations who have jumped in and they have given a role to even let’s say they’ve called a chief happiness officer. But they felt that they weren’t being taken seriously enough because the culture just wasn’t quite there with an organisation. So then they’ve taken a step back and they rebranded their initiative.
00:15:47 – 00:16:25
And I think that has to be the consideration within or any organisation. What is a case by case analysis? Should we use this language? If we’re not quite ready for it, should be role model through the senior people? Give it to HR, give it to someone else, you know, CFO, even with an organisation, and they can try and prove the return on investment on well being, for example, so many more studies that are coming out nowadays. So I think it’s a very worthwhile discussion analysis that any company should have, with the overall aim of elevating well being as a strategic concern and believing in the sustainable value generation that can bring to an enterprise.
00:16:25 – 00:16:51
Excellent. Okay, you did answer it, and I realised it was not an easy one to answer. I might have to go back and listen to that full broadcast. Thank you for that. So tell me, that ROI tip point is really interesting because, of course, ROI is a great motivator to get people to make changes in organisation. And you said there are some studies. Will there be more studies in this? And will there be, I think that there must be in there, needs to be, doesn’t there so that people will pick this up and move forward with it?
00:16:51 – 00:17:25
Yes, I think everyone and even over the years, and when I think back to starting teaching, for example, the importance of sleep to executives over 10 years ago and, you know, kind of looked at me as if I had two heads right there. They are at business school, and they’re learning about strategy and finance and then I pop up when I talk about sleep and they think, Oh my God, what’s going on here? So from a very early part of my career, I was forced to provide evidence and this gets over natural scepticism. So you have to provide academic studies. You have to provide case examples.
00:17:25 – 00:18:04
And look, there’s no meta-level analysis that proves the whole thing works as discrete studies. And even if you look at the importance, for example, of exercise in executive function thinking so that you take better decisions, if you think of the importance of the research of sleep and the dangers of sleep deprivation for a leader who appears less inspiring to his team, a lot of the researchers is emerging within mindfulness and so on a discrete levels and all the different elements of well being, there is sufficient evidence-based there. But putting it all together is a bit of a trickier prospect, but I think it’s building.
00:18:04 – 00:18:49
The thing is, if you look at measuring anything, Maria, then you know, it’s not an easy proposition. You know, I used to work much more in the field of innovation, and it was like how do we measure innovation? What are the key metrics that we need to use, and many other things within an organisation? And even if you think of how we measure the wealth of countries and economic development? You know, GDP has been under a lot of increasing fire in recent years because people are starting to think and economists are starting to think, this isn’t a true reflective measure of progress. So how do we measure progress? And of course, at the same time you get all the happiness studies from I think it was, Bhutan was the first country to measure national happiness, but now you’re getting much more
00:18:49 – 00:19:31
of a maturity within that level. You know, in the UK, you’ve got the Office for National Statistics who are measuring different ways of well being for the organisation. Scottish government also have their own approach to that. France are also pretty well forward than that as well. So it’s a question for progress, for us all, as a society, and I think when we are coming off the back of something like COP26 in Glasgow, these are the questions that we have to keep answering, asking, rather, you know, how do we measure progress? Where is it we want to go? And so it shouldn’t just be viewed that, you know well being lacks the overall ROI. You know, we need to question everything that the way that we live our lives and the way we live our working lives,
00:19:31 – 00:19:56
Yeah. Best questions. Absolutely, totally agree with you. That’s great. And you know, a better way of measuring. So there’s some work to be done there, isn’t there? That’s going to be fascinating. So tell me. We touched on it a bit earlier. We talked about, you know, the fact that people obviously have had to have changed the way they work. Many more people are working from home these days. How has that affected the work that you’ve been doing with regards to well being in general? How has the pandemic affected your work?
00:19:56 – 00:20:44
During two or three main areas I think, you know, resilience was a big hot topic, and I saw that reflected in a lot of others, you know of my peers and colleagues who are working a lot in what does resilience mean? And how can we not just bounce back with? I think it’s quite a narrow view of resilience, but it’s certainly an element. But change your mindset, recognise that there are many things outside of our control and also within the book, The Daily Reset. There is a month of nudges on resilience, which is October, and we looked through the different elements of that. So resilience is one thing. Another important thing was leading a distance, so recognising that especially managers and leaders, it really is difficult to do when you’re not bumping into people in the office.
00:20:44 – 00:21:27
The communication is harder, but also from the employee perspective. They have a very narrow view of work experience because previously there in the office, they have all that experience that they go through on a normal day if you think about their normal daily journey. If you think of design thinking methodology, for example, and then all of a sudden they were behind the camera and all they had to evaluate their work, whether that was positive or negative was what they saw in these meetings, and it was back to back, and we all fell into this without having sufficient break. So a lot of people were really suffering and so were team leaders. It wasn’t management by walking around, it was like management by calling around, they had to do an increased amount of one on ones.
00:21:27 – 00:22:02
It was exhausting for a leader, and especially if you’re an empathetic leader, it’s tiring enough. So that was a real pressure point. And it was even. How do leaders identify red flags? The people who are at risk of burnout are really in danger, really vulnerable when you’re not seeing them, you know, face to face every single day. So that was another set that was the second main element. And I think the third one was looking again at habits and behaviour change. So for many years we’ve looked at how we can change habits of people and the importance of that for our own well being and because we were working from home,
00:22:02 – 00:22:46
a lot of this really merged and we had this messy middle. We weren’t quite fully present at work. Neither were we fully present at home. We were kind of in this hybrid nature, and because of that, we had to redesign and I called it rituals and routines. So it was elevating habits to more of an emotional level. So ritual. If you think of that word, you know, we associate more often with things like religion or history or ceremony. But we needed to design, and we still do. We still do. In this hybrid nature of work, we need to think of the emotional needs of our daily experience for work and design new rituals that will get us through. So that was the third and big element that we worked on the past several months.
00:22:46 – 00:23:08
I need that last one. And we’ve teased us a little bit now because you mentioned that October in your book was all about resilience. I’m desperate to hear some of these 366 nudges. Could you share a couple of your daily reset nudges? Please, Please, please, please.
00:23:08 – 00:23:19
So today is December 6th. And with, that because it gives you, an idea of the variety. Right? And it’s nice and short. So December 6th
00:23:19 – 00:23:24
December is the theme of community. I’ll talk about the other themes is in just a moment.
00:23:24 – 00:23:24
00:23:24 – 00:24:08
December sixth is titled, How can I help. And it is. I know you’re busy at home at work in between. But try this and see how it goes. Ask someone if they need any help today, and that’s so that’s probably the shortest one in the full book. Other ones will take me a couple of minutes to talk through, but that it’s simple, but I think it’s powerful, and it builds on a lot of studies that show our own mental health improves when we help other people, and we think often that you know we don’t have time. We’re overwhelmed ourselves. But what it does if we focus our attention on someone else, it makes our own burden
00:24:08 – 00:24:45
lighter. It gives us a distance and even things like self-talk. There’s another nudge on self-talk. When you talk to yourself in the third person or you talk about yourself in the third person, it is also, studies show it gives you psychological distance from the pressure that you’re under. So I might have been halfway through the book, and I’m thinking, I can’t do this, and then you just say to yourself, Steven, you can do this, just you can do it and so that distance aspect is very important. And if this links to also resilience, we often zoom in on our problems, and we make it bigger than it should be. So that was a very short nudge for today, December the sixth.
00:24:45 – 00:25:00
It’s nice. I like that also. So I always thought that when somebody talked in the third person was a bit pretentious. But the way you put it that way that you distance yourself, I’m thinking, actually, I’m I start doing that, but I must make sure that my third person talking to myself is nice.
00:25:00 – 00:25:01
00:25:01 – 00:25:02
00:25:02 – 00:25:28
But I love this idea. I’m going to definitely grab myself a copy of that book because I love that kind of that. You know something short for me to reflect on the day, and it’s so true. And also, I think when you help somebody else, sometimes it helps you too because it allows you to see something differently. And it does make you so it helps. It absolutely helps. Love that. Love that. Love that. So tell me what’s next for you?
00:25:28 – 00:26:21
Yes. Good question. I mean, I’ve been kind of pretty secure and thinking what my purposes has been in my career focused the past several years and at the beginning it wasn’t easy, right? You know, talking about well being and some of the elements of, well being from, you know, 15 years ago and it was very niche, you know. And it was a hard, it was a hard road. Let’s say at the start, Maria. I’ve been very lucky over the years that a lot of people have been very kind and open doors and believed in the messages that I wanted to communicate, and that’s made a huge difference. But I still feel there’s an element of scale that I would love to get to and just reach more people. And even The Daily Reset is the first attempt at trying to,
00:26:21 – 00:27:06
let’s say, move beyond just workplace well being. So a lot of the people that I’ve talked to over the years I’ve been senior executives, also, you know, young talent within an organisation and that’s been hugely rewarding. But I think there’s an element which is just well being in our lives in general, and I would just love to reach more of those people worldwide. The book is part of that and I hope The Daily Reset just makes a difference to people’s lives. But we are also I’ve been in discussions the last few months and hopefully, I can make this more public very soon. It could be the next stage is also being involved in a start-up that is looking up, scaling these messages to a much wider audience.
00:27:06 – 00:27:39
So as part, and look, a lot of people have done this, and I think I have one of these nudges. Also, I interviewed a couple of people in the Chief Wellbeing Officer podcast several months ago, whether it’s related to the Great Resignation or just people reflecting on their lives. The startup scene is really hot just now, and I know so many people that went on their own, and so hopefully I can make that public in January. But that’s been the financing round that we’ve been trying to raise the last couple of months. So hopefully more news on this, and I know that’s not really much of an answer, but I do believe that’s going to happen.
00:27:39 – 00:27:56
Maybe I’m just manifesting that is also another nudge of visualise it happening, you see it happening and it will. So I’m manifesting it. But hopefully from January. Yes, I will be full time. And that might be Maria, the first proper job that I’ve ever had in my life, which will be very interesting. Let’s see if I can keep it going.
00:27:56 – 00:27:59
We might have to check in on you and find out how you get on. That’s fantastic.
00:27:59 – 00:28:00
Check on my wellbeing.
00:28:00 – 00:28:02
Check on your wellbeing. Yes.
00:28:02 – 00:28:12
Check and see if he’s still employed. Yeah, fantastic in your new full-time role. Fantastic. Steven, thank you so much. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself, and I hope I haven’t affected your well being in a bad way.
00:28:12 – 00:28:15
It’s been lovely. Lovely to talk to you, Maria. Thank you.
00:28:15 – 00:28:52
Wonderful. And thank you, everyone, for listening to The Speaker Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating on Apple Podcasts. You can keep up with future episodes on the Speakers Associates website, which is speakers associates dot com, or your favourite podcast app. And if you would like Steven to speak at your next conference or event, please contact Speakers Associates with plenty of time to book him so that you won’t be disappointed and grab a copy of The Daily Reset, 366 Nudges to Move your Life Forward now. Bye-bye from me. I will see you next time. Thank you.
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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.