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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Sue Mitchell.

Sue Mitchell inspires people and organisations to achieve high performance and their desired results through developing a positive mindset and culture that raises confidence, resilience, adaptability to change, engagement, wellbeing and fulfilment.

She is an international speaker, the author of “The Authority Guide to Engaging your People” and Director of Aeona, an award-winning leadership and executive coaching company that works with private clients and organisations to change lives, transform the workplace and harness the power of being purposeful.

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Episode #248

Adaptable Leadership for today’s workplace

Maria Franzoni (00:17): Hello and welcome back to The Speaker Show with me your host, Maria Franzoni. In today’s show, we will be talking about adaptable leadership for today’s workplace. The Speaker Show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau for the world’s most successful organizations, providing keynote speakers for events, conferences, and summits. My guest today inspires people and organizations to achieve high performance and their desired results through developing a positive mindset and culture that raises confidence, resilience, adaptability to change, engagement, wellbeing, and fulfillment. She’s an international speaker and “The Authority Guide to Engaging your People” and Director of Aeona, an award-winning leadership and executive coaching company that works with private clients and organisations to change lives, transform the workplace and harness the power of being purposeful. Please welcome my guest today, Dr. Sue Mitchell, Sue, it is absolutely fabulous to see you. I’ve missed you. It’s lovely to be back together again, even though we are not in the same room. How are you?

Sue Mitchell (01:19): I’m great. Thank you, Maria. I’m super to see you again really looking forward to this today.

Maria Franzoni (01:25): Wonderful. And I know you’ve been really busy, so thank you for squeezing us in. So what have you been busy doing? What are the challenges you are seeing in organizations out there at the moment?

Sue Mitchell (01:36): A huge range of challenges? All the usual stuff that we see around leading teams. Plus during the last couple of years, the key thing has been around. How do we help keep everyone on board while we’re not working in the same place, this whole issue about remote working and overcoming some of the, the impacts of virtual distance. And also the, the whole thing about how, how do we stay flexible? How do we be adaptable? Because all this time, over the last two years, you know, some of the time we’ve all had to be going to work at home. And then we started to try going back into the workplace and then it’s like, no, we have to stop that and all go back to working at home and everyone’s feeling well, you know, we’re taking one step forward and two or three steps backwards and that’s lowering morale.

Sue Mitchell (02:27): So this is an issue that I’m saying that the senior leadership teams and executive teams are quite grappling with, how do we help people feeling that, you know, we are still making progress going forwards. It’s not just stepping forwards and backwards, and we’re not going backwards all the time with all these changes. So how do keep them focused through all the apparent U-turns that we’re making and since coming outta the pandemic, and now people are like wanting to help people be to get the best of both worlds. We’re discovering that actually far from what many people thought that working from home working remotely was totally ineffective. Actually it can be super effective. So how do we help people have the best of both worlds to be able to work in the office some of the time and work from home with others, and yet still create a sense of equity and fairness across the organization, because some people will have roles that don’t allow them the option to, because they’ve got to be in place in order to deliver their job role. So, so that’s a huge issue. This creation creating an equitable workplace where everybody feels, it’s a fair deal for, if we’re going to create a hybrid working model.

Maria Franzoni (03:39): That’s interesting. That really is interesting. And it, it, the point you made a couple of points that I wanna pick up on. Yes. And one of them is the fact you mentioned flexibility. Yeah. But surely in organizations and for leaders, especially leaders, we want them to be consistent. And yet you’re saying they need to be flexible. Can they be both consistent and flexible?

Sue Mitchell (03:59): Absolutely. I truly believe that you can. And the key here is helping people understand to see the consistency. So this is what I’m finding. One of, in one of my talks, I use a metaphor of a sailing metaphor. So quite often, what, what people are wanting, you know, we, we’ve got a plan. We wanna implement a plan and they’ll talk about a metaphor of, we’ve got a roadmap and we hear this very, very often leaders say, this is our roadmap of where we wanna go and what we, what I’m really discovering quite a lot is that when people imagine a roadmap, they’re also imagining there are set points at which we make the turns at which we change direction. So we go in this direction until we’d reach the sign post, or the road turns left, or there is a turning, but the point is we can truly recognize it.

Sue Mitchell (04:52): So we see that, you know in the pandemic, for example, people were always wanting a set time. How many weeks do we have to wait till we can go back into the office? And you know, the public are like, and, and businesses, we can’t cope with the idea that it’s just dependent on. What’s the level of the, you know the infection rates at that time. And we are not able to, to, when we are expecting the set time point, it makes it very difficult that actually we’re just waiting and seeing, and we’ll just depend on what some external conditions are over, which we have no control. So instead, what I try to encourage people to think about is let’s change that metaphor of the roadmap. Let’s change it to navigating across an open ocean. So we still have set core principles that are consistent about how we navigate across the ocean.

Sue Mitchell (05:48): It’s particularly relevant, I think, for this sense of uncertainty and change. Because if we think of, you know, if we call these the headwinds of uncertainty and change, many people will be familiar with the phrase that you simply can’t sail into a headwind. You can’t even sail too close to the wind. And if you try, you suffer this huge turmoil and swirl, it’s really uncomfortable. It’s terrifying. There’s lots of noise. And it’s, it’s that, that uncomfortableness that we’re trying to keep on doing the same old thing that we were doing, because we’re heading in the same direction that we wanted to go. So in sailing terminology, we would call it, we need to tack, we need to tack across the wind. So we’re heading first one way away from the wind in one direction. Then before we get too far away from our design direction, we will then cross and turn across the wind in the other direction.

Sue Mitchell (06:42): So to someone who doesn’t understand the principles that are consistent, the sort of sailing, navigational principles of how we have to get the wind moving across the sail, in order to create power to, to have any forward motion, they will simply say, oh my goodness, they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re trying to go that way. First of all, and then they’re going that way. And then they’re going that way. They’re making all sorts of U-turns, they’re going backwards and forwards. It’s complete chaos. So that’s when we have to educate them. No, this is truly consistent. We have a desired direction. We are consistently making progress towards our direction. It is physically impossible to sail into that wind. And so we are using consistent principles about how to navigate into the wind in order to make some progress forwards, even if we’re diverting side to side a little bit, but it’s still having that consistent progress forward.

Sue Mitchell (07:33): And that is what helps people start to feel. There is some consistency and in an organization, our core principles are not the sailing principles of how, you know, the way you set the sail to the wind and how you set the boat against the waves, neither of which you can control, you know, the, the waves in the wind and the weather I in the, in an organization, your core principles are your purpose, your mission statement, your core values, the, the, the, the way that we want to behave, it’s our strategy, all those things we can use and show the consistency. And in terms of the leaders, their consistent behavior is how they show the cons in the way that they are, the, the, the confidence that they can show to people. I can talk much more about that will come back to it, maybe in, in a, in a while. But it’s being the way that we are being a leader. If we, that can remain consistent, then some of the actions that we take are the flexible actions that we, we take to respond to outside conditions that are beyond our control. Does that help show we can be both flexible and, and consistent.

Maria Franzoni (08:43): Yeah. It sort of shows that there are certain aspects that remain consistent, as you said, like the values, like the mission statement, like where we’re trying to get to and the behaviors. And yet we need to be flexible because we don’t know what, where the wind is going to go and I’m gonna get seasick which

Sue Mitchell (08:57): Is quite possible. Absolutely. It’s quite possible.

Maria Franzoni (09:00): So we haven’t talked about something, which I thought would’ve come up by now, actually. How important is trust? Because I think our, some trust, some of us, I think, has been shaken certainly in, you know, in authority over the last couple of years, how important is trust at the moment in the organizations?

Sue Mitchell (09:18): It is enormously important. And trust is something that is sometimes overlooked. I think we sometimes perhaps take it for granted. We don’t really think about it. Interestingly, I’m sure you’ve heard of Stephen Covey and then the young Stephen Covey as well. But he’s talking about trust is the new currency in the modern world. And it is so true. The trust is I think was I talking a bit earlier about the, the impacts of all the different distances and virtual distance the affinity distance that is often overlooked because it comes out through quite subtle things and, and the social interactions, the key trust, the key impact of that is that if we’re not considering how to manage that, it erodes trust. And I think this is why a lot of organizations are finding that trust is being eroded at the moment.

Sue Mitchell (10:14): What I think what you are talking there as well by, you know, we are losing some trust in authority and, and in the way that, you know, our governments have responded to certain things and particularly in politics at times there some, some of the key attributes of trust are that we believe in the integrity of our leaders. And that comes out through some of the consistency that we were talking about earlier, but integrity is so very important. And in the way that we demonstrate that we trust our people is, is really important as well. And your credibility, your integrity and your capabilities if people believe you have the right capabilities, that’s also important. And interestingly, I think one of the things that, that has really come up is the way that a lot of leaders get training and project management and the leadership training you have is very often about the doing stuff.

Sue Mitchell (11:22): You know, the strategic side of things that you need to do, managing the business side, all, all the things that we need to do as a leader. And what I find quite often happens is particularly where you have people with professional expertise, and they’re now managing a large number of other people who also have the share their professional expertise. And they’re thinking about, you know, I need to add value here. I’m here as a leader in my role here is to share my expertise as much as anything else. And what they tend to find is they’re trying to still do the things with their expertise directly to directly use their expertise in the way that has been truly successful for them to get things done before. And quite often, they’re trying to manage their teams in the way that you would manage a project.

Sue Mitchell (12:17): And it’s actually very different because we can’t think about controlling people. We need to be always thinking about influencing people. And that’s a key piece where as soon as we start doing the behaviors that look like we’re trying to control them and control what’s happening all the time, that can be perceived that actually you don’t trust them to be able to do their job that may or may not be the case. And it it’s very often the fact that leaders are not intending to do that. They have a positive intention of sharing their expertise in the way that they know how, and that’s quite a big leadership step to shift from direct input to leading indirectly through other people.

Maria Franzoni (13:05): That’s interesting. That is interesting, of course, that, that control thing that micromanagement piece influencing and the whole trust and integrity. So one of the things you talk about, and I’m wondering if this is relevant to these, this, the whole trust probably relevant to every part of leadership, but self leadership is something you talk about and you, and that’s important. Do you think that leaders practice self leadership enough? Should they be doing more? What, what can you tell us about how they could be, how could they could be working on that

Sue Mitchell (13:34): Self leadership is really interesting. And I, I think that we very often don’t do enough of it. It’s, it’s something again that perhaps we take for granted, we assume it’s going to happen. And it’s, it, it, I very often address it through things around how we manage our own wellbeing. How do we manage our work life balance? Are we doing enough to renew our energy so that we can be our best? Are we aware of how do we inspire trust from others? How do we raise our own self-confidence and manage our own mental models for how we show up in the world so that we inspire other confidence of others in us, if you get what I mean? So this whole piece of self leadership, there’s a lot of people go, oh, I don’t, I’m not responsible for leading other people.

Sue Mitchell (14:37): And it’s like, well, if we’re not leading ourselves, then we’re likely not going to be leading other people. Well it, it’s really quite interesting the way that we are showing up has an influence on everyone around us. So the way that we are thinking about things and the way that we behave, the way that we’re feeling influences the way that other people think and feel, and behave around us. And this is a key thing to consider for all leaders. It’s also really important for, for people managing their own lives, whether or not you’re a formal in a, in a leadership role yourself. And very often the events that I do are quite often brought into organizations under the, under the wellbeing piece, rather than self leadership, but actually it’s all a part of it, because if you’re leading yourself well, you will ensure that you do have high wellbeing. So that’s, that’s sort of an interesting sort of aspect of it. I think

Maria Franzoni (15:42): I also imagine that the wellbeing part of it will have a huge impact impact on your own personal resilience. Mm-Hmm . And you were saying that you know, how you behave, absolutely agree with you, how a leader behaves has an, a knock on effect in everybody else. And I suppose if you are able to deal with your wellbeing and be resilient that will support and help others. Yes. it, it, I mean, everybody’s talking about resilience. Is it still relevant? Is it more relevant? Should we be focused on it still? Or has that moved on? Has that ship sailed seeing, as you like to talk about ships,

Sue Mitchell (16:15): Resilience is always going to be important. It’s resilience is how we deal with all the ups and downs in life. There nobody is ever gonna have a life that is a hundred percent plain sailing. We, we just don’t do it. And actually I suspect that might get a little bit bored if there was no even slight up and down, you know that world is not simply. It’s just simply not constant. So we need to be able to, to cope with the fact, all of us are going to experience if not in work, then certainly in our personal life, some things that we are going to struggle to get through, we’re going to lose loved ones. We’re going to lose pets. There’s gonna be accidents. You know, we need to find some way to have some acceptance that there are things that are gonna happen, that we cannot prevent.

Sue Mitchell (17:07): There are the whole cycle of life requires death at the end of it. It’s just a part of life. And so we need to be able to have the resilience to cope when things are not going well. And so, so resilience is a really, really important piece. It helps us maintain our sense of self-identity of self-worth or our confidence. All of these both play into our resilience and are affected by our resilience. So it’s, it’s constantly dynamic. And for me most happily, I haven’t spoken yet about mindset because just about everything I do is from the perspective of our mindset. So our mindset is the set of attitudes that we hold that explain what’s happening in the world, around us. It determines how we interpret situations that are going on. And when we can shift the way that we’re thinking about things and feeling about things that can truly shift how well we how well we cope with whatever’s happening.

Sue Mitchell (18:17): So it’ll help us to raise our resilience. It helps us to raise our confidence, and we can truly be aware of our mental models by listening to the words that we’re telling ourselves. So, one of the, one of the things, one of the key tips I, I give for people is, you know, when, when things are going on, ask yourself, what’s my story. What am I telling myself here? Because this is how we start detecting what our mental model is, how are we explaining and interpreting this situation? And, you know, we, we all have different experiences. We all have different backgrounds. We tend to interpret situations in different ways, depending on the mental model that we’re holding at any particular time. And what happens is if we can change that mental model that may help us find a new perspective that may find us help us to be more resilient, it will find, help us find a, an opportunity or a way around the barriers up to now are just a brick wall.

Sue Mitchell (19:23): And one of the ways I help people think about this is imagine, you know, it’s like changing your glasses. If, if you’re trying to read, you know, a piece of paper like this, and you’re wearing long distance glasses, everything is fuzzy and outta focus. If you’re trying to look into the distance with a pair of reading glasses, everything is fuzzy and outta focus, but if we try and change our glasses suddenly we’ll see, oh, well actually I can change the situation or change our sunglasses. And some of them will have blue lenses or brown lenses when you put them on the whole world seems to change color. So it’s that kind of thing. Just thinking about how, how can I recognize what’s my mental model and understand what are some of the assumptions that I’ve been unconsciously making as a result of that mental model.

Sue Mitchell (20:07): So if I can change that model, change the assumptions, change the way I’m thinking, what new perspectives open up. And that is a hugely important piece of how we can stay resilient. We can turn, can’t do thinking into, can do thinking. We turn fear into a little bit of excitement. It is transformational. And in my talks, I talk about that through, you know, when we were sailing through huge winds and seas where I’m completely terrified. I talk about exactly that with there’s a story I have with experience last year my horse had a really bad accident and it could have been a lot worse. And I realized that he, he was just becoming quite dangerous with the way he was reacting to everything. And I realized that actually I had in my mind that he was constantly going to cause another accident.

Sue Mitchell (21:03): And in natural fact that was instigating this really dysfunctional relationship that we had changing my story, choosing trust, choosing to trust myself, as well as choosing to trust in the horse. Utterly transformed this horse into a really nice, safe horse. It is an amazing story. And I, I can talk about it in more detail. In, in my talks, we do the same. We have a similar kind of impact on people. It’s just that we don’t see it quite as intensively, as you will see it with the horse horses, give us truly immediate in your face feedback. People are a little bit more polite and they, they’re not gonna give you that level of feedback straight away about how your thinking patterns, your fears, your anxieties, your uncertainties, or your confidence, and the way that you exude confidence, the way that you show trust and belief in other people, how that can transform a situation for good or bad.

Maria Franzoni (22:03): Fantastic. And actually you mentioning horses, it works on Labradoodles too. I’m sort of being, I’m being calm and relaxed. That, and I’m saying to myself, my labradoodle is not gonna burst into hit this office and interrupt our podcast and so far so good. I’m not sure how much longer we will achieve this, but I am trusting him to behave. So we’ll see if we get away with it now. So coming back to everything you said I’m sort of thinking that with every aspect preparation must play an important part. Do you think we prepare enough and do leaders prepare enough? Do you think we weren’t, we certainly weren’t prepared for COVID right.

Sue Mitchell (22:44): No. And what is very interesting? So the same the science community that are involved in those kind of the research about those kind of diseases have been talking for years, that we are undoubtedly going to, to have a pandemic. The trouble is the probability of it happening is so low. And most of us can’t get our heads truly around probabilities like that. And so politicians are working on a, you know, three, three to five year term. Most of the time we have short termism because of what, you know, the whole cycle are getting in and out of political leadership. So it just didn’t seem as a probable incident. But, you know, just like winning the lottery, isn’t a very probable incident for each person buying a ticket. You know, quite often people do win the lottery. So it’s

Maria Franzoni (23:34): What people prepare mentally for winning the lottery in their minds and how they’re gonna spend it than they do. Oh,

Sue Mitchell (23:39): Yes. Perhaps

Maria Franzoni (23:40): For a lot of other situations. So, yes. Yes. That’s quite a good example, actually. So yeah, so, so we should be poor prepared. We need to prepare more.

Sue Mitchell (23:46): Yes, absolutely. But also not just prepare for low probability events like that, what we, what we really want is to be prepared for all the things that that could happen. So, so for example, I return to the sailing analogy. We know, guarantee the wind is gonna change direction. We just don’t know which direction it’s going to change to at any particular time, but you can guarantee at some point it is going to change direction and it’s going to change strength. So we have a plan for how we deal with that. So we have different size of sales that we can change the sale to be appropriate to the wind. We have a plan for how we can set the direction of the sale to the wind in order to capture the wind when it comes from different angles at the boat, compared to the direction that we want to sail.

Sue Mitchell (24:37): So we’ve got all these different plans. So what happens is when the wind changes, we don’t have to create a new plan on the hoof. We simply switch plans. So it makes it very easy to adapt and be flexible because we’re not constantly have to make new plans. So a lot of businesses do this, they call it resilience planning, they call it strategic planning, scenario planning in sport. They call it mental rehearsal visualization. We imagine the things that we would like, well, visualization, particularly we, we truly start imagining the things that we would like to have as well. It’s, it’s very powerful tool because we’re more likely to create the situation for it to happen in, but in all these scenario plannings, what we’re doing is thinking about what are the things that could happen. And if that happens, what do I need to be doing in order to be able to keep going when that happens?

Sue Mitchell (25:30): And so it just makes it very quick. We can just switch into that plan. So for other people, it was like, oh my goodness, how do you constantly manage to adapt and cope with all these changes? And it’s just a case of, well, I’ve kind of thought it through, and I know how I want to deal with it. You may probably already know, I used to do an awful lot of scuba diving. We did a huge amount of rescue training, so that in the moment of a disaster underwater, where actually things can very, very rapidly go very seriously wrong. And a lot of fatal accidents still do happen, perhaps not so many these days. But if we have the training for how to immediately respond, you know, if your, if your supply of air is lost for any reason, you will immediately kick into that when the situation happens. And I’ve got several friends who find, you know, actually that, that training really worked in the emergency. They just automatically went straight into the recovery and rescue drills. It works. So being able to quickly switch plans truly makes a difference to how resilient we are, how we maintain our effectiveness and how we maintain our performance, no matter what is changing in the world around us.

Maria Franzoni (26:44): Fantastic. I’m gonna ask you just one last question because our time is up.

Sue Mitchell (26:49): Oh my goodness.

Maria Franzoni (26:49): And there’s so much great content.

Sue Mitchell (26:50): Sorry.

Maria Franzoni (26:50): It’s wonderful. No, it’s no, don’t apologize for giving us so much great content we talked about confidence earlier on. Yes. And I don’t think you finished your train of thought there because I took you somewhere else. Tell me a little bit about why leaders should be working on their confidence.

Sue Mitchell (27:06): It’s truly interesting. So a lot of leaders have a lot of natural self-confidence it’s, what’s got them into that role and some, you know, will find themselves into a role and suddenly start having self-doubt. We do hear quite a lot about imposter syndrome so that if it happens to you, don’t worry. It’s actually surprising how many people suffer imposter syndrome. And the research seems to show that it tends to be happening or people who are perhaps, I dunno, a slightly more educated, more intelligent, and, and often the people who, who reach very, very senior roles will think, gosh, you know, I’ve got to hear a bit by chance. Someone’s gonna find me out. You’re not alone. And remember you are comparing your inner self doubt to the external polished exterior that people present to the world. So that comparison is not equal.

Sue Mitchell (27:56): So do remember that whenever you feel that sense of imposter syndrome. So why is it really important though, for us to present a confident outlook? The key here is that as leaders, we are needing to influence people and I hope with integrity and not, not manipulation type of influence. And when I say influence, I do mean influencing with integrity or that’s what I have in mind. When I say leaders are wanting to influence people, because that is the way that we help to bring people on board and, and have everyone on board to, to pull together towards that common purpose. However, in order to influence people, people need to have confidence in you. They need trust in you. They need confidence in you. And if you are not displaying confidence, for whatever reason, you may be feeling uncomfortable. You know, you’re in a, you may be the only woman in a room full of men.

Sue Mitchell (28:51): For example, that’s one of the very frequent reasons people show up as not showing up their normal confidence self. There are many, many reasons you may not be feeling comfortable. And if that shows up as not looking confident through our body language and our turn of voice, perhaps people will interpret your message as something you do not believe in. So if you’re wanting people to, to believe in what you’re saying to, to get on board and come in on your project, then you’re gonna have to need to have confidence in that project. But if you are not addressing it all with confidence, they’re not gonna have confidence in you and therefore not believe in the message. So this is why it’s really important that leaders are confident that they can engender this confidence of their people. There’s an awful we can talk about here. And one of the key things here is both trust and confidence. It’s a two way thing. So sometimes the more that you can show confidence and trust in your people, that can be a really good starting point to engender the return, trust and confidence in you,

Maria Franzoni (29:58): A lovely place to leave it then. So to trust you, be trust and be confident in other people, and they will trust and be confident in you. Thank you, Sue. Thank you so much for all the wonderful juice and content you have given us. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself.

Sue Mitchell (30:11): It’s been great speaking with you, Maria. Thank you very much.

Maria Franzoni (30:14): Lovely. And thank you everybody for listening to The Speaker Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please give it a rating on apple podcasts and you can keep up with future episodes on the Speakers Associates website, which is or your favorite podcast app. And if you would like to invite Sue, come and speak at your next conference or event, please contact Speakers Associates in plenty of time to book her. So they won’t be disappointed because she’s busy. So I will see you all next week bye bye for now. Thank you.

Live interview

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.

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