Interview with Sue Swanborough on Increasing Your Resilience

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Interview with Sue Swanborough on Increasing Your Resilience

Please be aware what follows is an AI Transcript, excuse typos’ and any other slightly weird stuff but you’ll get the gist of the interview…..


Ruth: Hello and welcome to the blue pea leader podcast, and on this episode, I’m going to be joined by Sue Swanborough, who’s an expert HR director. We’re going to be actually talking about resilience and handling uncertainty at this present moment which is unprecedented in our times. Now, I met Sue I think it was about 12 years ago, would you say it was about 12 years ago we first met,


Sue: I would imagine.


Ruth: And at the time you were here HR director in General Mills for the UK and Ireland.  But we’ve known each other for a long number of years Sue and I have had some against really stimulating thought provoking conversations. But we also like things really practical. So I asked Sue if she’d like to join me to talk about resilience as I explained it’s important right now. And before we go into that Sue would you like to share a little bit more about yourself?


Sue: Great, thanks Ruth Hello, so I’m Sue Swanborough, I’m married twin daughters who are coming towards the end of a university education, along with the bulk of my career, I started as a scientist and moved cross functionally through various roles, R&D, manufacturing, supply chain and strategic roles before moving into the senior HR roles. I’ve worked within global fmcg organisations so Boots, Mars, General Mills, which is where we met, and most latterly UK based Whitworths dried fruits, nuts and seeds. And you know, I love my role as an HR director, I find this a brilliant platform to catalyse change and transform organisations while creating bonds of trust, so that people feel they can be themselves and release some of the untapped potential flaws in service business results. I love generating growth conversations in business and seeing people develop before your eyes achieving things that you’ve never thought possible. It’s really energising. So I feel very fortunate to be entrusted to enable as many organisations I’ve worked for, and also to have worked alongside people like Ruth, who have helped me in catalysing that change.


Ruth: Thank you, Sue, and I know you’ve done some really, really great stuff in those organisations. So let’s talk about resilience. I mean, it is unprecedented time so how do you see things currently


Sue: Really clearly unprecedented in challenging times for everybody, we’re adjusting some new situation, and really revamped rewriting the rulebook. The pace of trends that we’ve seen there has been truly impressive. Even the speed at which organisations have responded to. I don’t know, equipping their people to deliver their role remotely, which would have seemed impossible or applying months or years of planning, just a few short months ago.

I’m often asked when I think we’ll get back to normal. Well that’s not meant to happen, it probably isn’t even helpful to involve adjustments for us, for everybody facilities, and the ability of leaders to lead with crisis is and will continue to be sorely tested, often determining whether or not organisations will fail or survive. The best leaders are those that are wise enough to use crisis like these to strengthen their organisations for the long term. It’s in tough times that leaders have the opportunity to shine as it’s through their actions and the reputation of health organisations can be built or destroyed overnight. And we can see examples of both occurring.


Ruth: That’s very  true we can. So what would you say are the top two or three key challenges that are facing leaders today so that they can be the ones that come out of this the strongest.


Sue: Let’s look at the organisation first of all.  How do they respond to the hear and now, so showing that empathy care that people vulnerability and all those sort of foresight, in order to galvanise a team to do what was required. And in addition to that, how to define the future strategy for their business, prosper in whatever the new context is where we will be no longer able to predict market movements competitors maybe technological developments but face of massive increased pace of change, where decisions will need to be made quickly with incomplete information.


Ruth: So what would you say is called for?


Sue: While you’ve already mentioned the recession, I think you’re absolutely right. For me the priority is actually how do we build on resilience, and that’s resilience of us as leaders, or organisations and also for people.  And resilience for me is actually quite broad such falls into a number of areas, so in addition to the personal resilience, which we’ll spend most of the time talking about, I think organisations also need to consider the resilience of the enterprise. So the ability of the organisation to withstand disruption in changing conditions, we’re learning loads about that now so how do we take that forward and make that work for us in the future. There’s financial resilience so the ability to withstand find the financial impact on liquidity income assets.

And there’s operational resilience, which is the ability to withstand regional shocks and continue to deliver core business when say your supply chain is complete change overnight or you’ve lost your outputs. And then the last one in this category is commercial resilience, which is amazing ability to respond to changing market and consumer pressures which I sort of alluded to a bit earlier on. So each of these is driving the need for change across business. And I imagine the future will see new roles whose specific responsibility for resilience, or it might be called something slightly different but I could see that becoming a core role from equalisation.


Ruth: That’s a really useful break down into the different categories and, and I have to say it’s an interesting observation in terms of new roles regarding responsibility, because I do think you’re right, the more we’re getting into this, the pace of change isn’t going to slow down with disruption is probably going to be more normal, so I do, I do think it’s interesting, you’re saying about new roles on responsibility. So let’s dig a bit further into personal resilience, as it’s going to be needed more than ever. So what, what would you say here.


Sue: So first of all, maybe explain what I see it’s actually, it’s the ability to bend instead of breaking when you’re experiencing pressure. But more than that, for me it’s not just about survival. It’s the ability to persevere and adapt when faced with challenge and change. So it’s also about letting go of what is unhelpful, and then learning to grow and take those learnings on board, and you know I think there’s no doubt our brains are in shock.

So you know if you think about the emotions of change. You know who would have predicted the extent of COVID-19, and you know whether we key workers who face daily challenges, whether we’re working from home worried about returning to a workplace… or concerned about losing our jobs, or even out of work now looking for job. Many of us are feeling vulnerable. And we’re being challenged in the face of mastered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or the level of safety.

It’s a personal emotional response that is immediate overwhelming and actually may be able to measure with the actual events, because it has triggered a much more emotional threat for us in this condition on reasoning, problem solving and ignore ability to hear things to be impaired, the pandemic we’re facing leads us to feel that we’re more out of control and normal, because so much in our lives has changed the way we might have said things should be have been undermined so our freedoms, our health, our livelihoods of perception of what life is like is being challenged and somehow it doesn’t seem fair.

This can make us feel despondent as though our goals projects ambitions are somewhat insignificant, or irrelevant as we operate within this context. So it’s a very powerful case of building our resilience capacity to equip us for today’s challenges, and also those of the future.


Ruth: It’s this that’s going to help us move from surviving to thriving. And it has such a huge ripple effect you know not just for the individual but also leaders the teams the organisations. So, how about we get a little bit so practical for a minute. Where would you suggest as a leader we start?


Sue: Well, I think. When I think of building personal resilience I think of five steps.

So first of all is spotting the warning signs, understanding what it is that triggers him, but also what anchors and motivates you, how you can have a positive mindset and then establish strategies to enable you to cope.

So I’ve taken each one of those in turn.

First of all the spotting the warning signs. This is about noticing how you’re feeling so early signs of weakened resilience can be physical, emotional or behavioural so physical, you might be struggling to sleep, you might be having this extreme tiredness, feeling drained or your eating or drinking habits maybe not quite as they usually would be emotionally. You might be overanxious forgetful irritable overanalyzing everything feeling overwhelmed you know when you just can’t think straight or take decisions. And you might fear criticism. You know, so things could be paralysing actions for you, confidence, certainly drops and self doubt surfaces and on a behavioural point point of view. Some people might find a mentor said micromanaging they’re less trusting others, avoiding different things, or obsessing about little things so tidy that this.

Has anyone here got very specific about how the dishwasher should be loaded or making endless lists so you may get trapped into working even longer hours to less effective outcomes. So, there are all of those signs around so I’d urge you, just to notice how you’re feeling and whether any of those things apply for you there may be different for those but just to notice when something feels a little bit out of kilter not quite right.


Ruth: So, sorry for interrupting but I like the fact that you’re pointing out that effectively we do get. It’s almost like we let little things take over. Whether it is we suddenly start to get nuts about the way the dishwasher stacked or, but we were just overanalyzing things but it’s the tiny things into that just somehow, take a bigger spot than they really really should. and we just struggle to get them back into perspective.


Sue: So once you are aware or noticing that. Notice as well what triggers you to feel this way so what are those encounters, or events conversations that most likely knock you off balance those things that promote emotional, physical reaction when you were feeling perfectly fine before and you know quite often, people will get a sense in their stomach makes them physically some butterflies or something happening and it will be different for different people when it is a trigger so you might be feeling completely overwhelmed by something out of control, that you really can’t influence.

You might get stuck with a situation or problem which you can’t seem to see your way out or sense of inadequacy letting others down real or imagined. Or maybe you feel your personal values being compromised. So that’s the secondary and then also to notice what anchors and motivates you, because while we all have things that trigger that emotional visceral response.

We also have things that actually support us in these sort of situations so it might be in an organisation, whilst you might be struggling with a lot of things we said, reminding yourself of knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, you know, might be about your professional calling it might be a leader in leading an organisation. It could be your life purpose.

You might also find that validation from others, whether it’s periodic feedback and encouragement from friends or family or colleagues, you know, that can really help as well just to encourage and motivate people so why am I here. And what is it you know how am I doing really good.

And then the fourth area is cultivating positive mind mindset so all research shows that positive outlook helps, and that it can be learned which is great news actually. So if you’re able to teach yourself to interpret setbacks as temporary and changeable. If you’re able to look for new opportunities. There may be a hard road or have a course, but actually if you feel confident the progress is possible. And that can be really helpful. Also, noting the progress which is made will also help you feel good about that and also support your positive mindsets it’s almost like you know one step at a time, and the fear of failure or desire to control can also hold us back as we’ve already said and you know setbacks are part of life.

And we can’t always control the outcome, but we can learn from our experiences. Great example I’m sure people have heard about Thomas Edison apparently made 1000 unsuccessful attempts to invent the light bulb. When a reporter asked, How did it feel to fail 1000 times Edison replied, I didn’t fail 1000 times the light bulb was invented with 1000 steps, which is a very different paradigm and it you know it feels different lights and so almost in identifying the worst that can happen, then ask yourself, How likely is it and how would it how bad would it be if that happened, is another way of saying, Do you know what okay might happen, what would I do if it is, because then you can just deal with it. If it doesn’t, it won’t. And that will give you a positive mindset about you can actually survive or run. Or you can slide these things. I mean,


Ruth: When you were talking about Edison, actually you know you’re saying about it is to experiment. And you and I started out life as scientists, didn’t we, and it is really about if we all, if we almost saw everything that we were doing as an experiment. It would, it does help with the mindset.  You know when we were in labs, you know, doing this stuff, we would experiment and not take the outcome personally, but when we’re outside sometimes we don’t necessarily think of it in the same light way.


Sue: Completely agree and it actually, it leads me on to the fifth point very nicely so you know the fifth point is about doing exactly that, experimenting so finding strategies that work for you as an individual to build your resilience.

It’s very personal. It can be trial and error with different approaches working in different areas your life maybe requires a combination and right in the right mindset, being open to experimenting, creating a time to think and act and choosing who is a long sought by doing that we support and validate you so exams are sort of strategies might be thinking about how you’re spending your time and how you’re adding value as you’re doing, allowing space for things that restore your inspiration balance of well being.

So it might be a day you walk outside somewhere and lots of people say, actually, when the government said we’ve you know you have an hour exercise, getting out into the countryside. If people are fortunate to live near a car or a field is great and it’s becoming a really positive habit for people. It might be regular mindfulness meditation breathing exercise, anything that can regulate emotions and actually calm you down, can be massively helpful.


Ruth: These are really great strategies and things to think about. And as you say you know with the examples of walking mindfulness meditation, yoga, any cooking it’s really it’s just finding something that works for you.


Sue: And the thing about the current situation is that our use of strategies for coping, recharging, eg the gym, a meal out with friends, watching the game on Saturday, a weekend away none of those are possible. At this time, so actually for us. Having the ability to find out, what is it that works for me. So you know it’s really important now that leads us out into individuals all of us of course need a new set of strategies to stay fully charged powerful and present a set of thinking habits to really embrace what’s happening, accept it and find the courage to stay committed and thriving.


Ruth: It’s true what you mentioned about the fact that the usual ways of coping, like the gym going for meals out just aren’t available anymore. And one of the things that’s coming up in leaders that I’m working with is about anxiety.  At times, they’re feeling anxious, but also how they help people in their team, manage their anxiety. So if you’ve got any thoughts or suggestions on that


Sue: …So actually, if you’re open to discussing it people realise that funny enough you’re similar, then, then actually, that can open a very powerful conversation so inviting people to discuss the anxiety. Anxiety openly within their team, empower them to share concerns were very unfair about looking weak or negative but actually as a way to say you know I’m vulnerable, I’m human. And we’re all in this together. So first of all, discussing.

And actually, you know, the other thing is to listen don’t try to fix. We’re all caring individuals we all we all want to help support each other, but actually this is something that the individual holds and you can’t solve. So just listening, acknowledge the people’s anxieties real unreasonable help them to feel heard and understood by not jumping straight to fixing the problem just giving them the space to actually air how they’re feeling.

And then the third thing is open up, so asking questions to help one another work through and thinking and consider any possibilities that might help showing your own vulnerability as we’ve already said, can also help people open up.


Ruth: … because basically people don’t realise that what they’re feeling or experiencing is normal. And, and somehow by knowing what you’re going through is normal that also sort of lightens the load. And now, you were talking about, you know, signs of the fact that you know things are getting to you so micromanaging or command and control. And you mentioned really it’s it really is about letting go to a degree of not being so pedantic. So again, what would you suggest in terms of how people can address that.


Sue: So, we can’t control what’s happening around us. We’ve all seen that in the last few weeks, but we can control how we respond to it. So rather than focusing on what should you focus on being the best leader or person you can be by making shared reference. And then the second thing I think is understanding it’s okay to actually learn now. And do act within the context of what I do know now.

Ask yourself what can I achieve today that will make a difference. Keep your planning short term stay focused energising and have the highest impact.


Ruth: It reminds me of a phrase that I used to use, or we used to use when I worked in Unilever, best current thinking, you know there’s times when things are changing so fast that it can be difficult and it’s possible to start to feel demotivated.  Actually if you’re trying to act in the here and now then this is your best current thinking, knowing that tomorrow may bring something completely different.


Sue: And, you know, I also think right now there’s as much as it’s brought a lot of things. A lot of things that we used to do that felt normal to stop. There’s also a lot of opportunities in, in one sense in a very rapid way, which can be disorientating and. But you know what, what would you turn around and say to people around you know sort of seizing opportunities, be that they’ve, maybe been made redundant, or their roles are changing, or the markets changed.

People who have, you know, more time than normal, it might be actually you know the weekend you would normally get out and about doing things and now I should just go home so there’s a gift of time. So you know, he was saying when seeking those opportunities, and be generous with how we spend the time and thinking about you know what it is you want to do to support others but also for yourself so using downtime at work to make breakthroughs happen so what actions or initiatives have made the biggest difference your team or your business performance for our sizes and any downtime at work to make the most of this opportunity, it might be, you know, a brainstorm on a particular thing or it might be, you know, just having a virtual coffee together and having a bit of fun or quiz or whatever it might be.

And then secondly to ask your future self, what you’d wish you’ve done. So if you imagine yourself when the whole pandemic is over, whenever that will be certainly would all constraints are lifted. What would you most wish you’d have spent more time doing, what would you have made, what would make the most difference for you. And what story, would you want to tell, and then do it. I think the other thing just to build on that is there’s lots of great stuff that people are doing at the moment so I’d almost say recognise that and be grateful for what you’re doing now and how you’re using that gift of time to see those opportunities, and then think what else could you do.


Ruth: I think it’s very powerful when you’re saying, you know, looking, it’s almost like you’re looking back and you know what would you most wish you’d spend your time doing what’s the story you want to be able to tell so it’s, it is about, about in one sense it’s about writing the next chapter of how you would like it to be. And then using that as a resource.

So, if somebody wanted to know more about resilience, or, or become, I mean, become more resilient there’s you’ve given us a lot of really great practical advice. Is there a particular resource that you would also suggest.?


Sue: It’s interesting to duck this question. So there’s a lot written on this topic, a massive range of sources so from the US military through sports men and women to individuals, and there are a mix of self help evidence based and research analysis and techniques testimonials definition, you name it, actually, it’s out there so I would suggest that if people want to find out more, they actually just do a bit of googling thinking about, which area it is that they’re most interested in understanding more about what would be the most value. I mean, for me personally, I enjoy Brene Brown, Rising Strong This is fabulously inspiring. And then at the other side. Maybe Mickey Webb has done some very practical suggestions for approaches that you can take which either urge people again to to Google that and look up and other than that, it can be a good coach. You can hold up the mirror and ask questions to capitalise those insights for you.


Ruth: It’s true,  you can make it through the journey at various speeds. But the advantage of a coach is that they can help you through the rough. Ideally as fast as it is possible for you to healthily navigate the rough.


Sue: Yes. Whatever works for you is massively powerful it’s a real treat and a luxury whenever I’ve been coached often in my, my career and life, it’s been fabulous experience.


Ruth: So on your leadership journey. Then, what, words of wisdom, would you like to share. When we talk about you know if your future self what you wish you’d done during this particular situation but it’s kind of like if you look back on your leadership journey if you were gonna share some words of wisdom to anybody else embarking on their leadership journey, or wherever they are in their leadership journey, what would you is your primary realisations.


Sue: Great question.

So for me, it’s all about learning and growing so if I think, you know, life’s journey things I guess so. The first news around self awareness so, you know, and that is a self as long going journey so building your resilience will enable you in increasing your self awareness as you understand and start to notice what is going on for you in any situation. you’re then able to be in a position to separate your personal feelings. And so, in a better place to empathise Listen, and really understand the others perspective which is critical for leaders, your stuff doesn’t get in the way of the conversation to really be able to put yourself in the other shoes.

And then second thing for me is the importance of trust and by trust I mean confidence in a personal thing. So, you know, my personal reflections being, you know I start with a propensity to trust, both myself and others. And if I don’t trust myself or others understand why it is so, is it the integrity doesn’t feel right or sort of walking the talk and doesn’t seem to be aligned. Whether you know it’s the intention is pure. What is the person’s capability and track record. And once you know that identify that you can do something about it; so I say self awareness and trust.


Ruth: Brilliant. Thank you Sue. I think we’ve covered, well, I’m saying we, you have given us a lot of rich points of view and some real practical things that we can do to manage our resilience now. To manage our state of mind now, but also set us up for success so that we can thrive in the future.

And I knew you would. Because of all the really great conversations we’ve had in the past. So thank you very much.

And I hope having listened to this you have got as much out of it as I have, I’m hoping it’s, again, giving you maybe some immediate things that you can apply right now, but also giving you some broader food for thought in terms of what resilience and handling uncertainty can mean for you and for your team going forward in the future.

If you do want to know a little more about resilience, then if you go to blue pea and head over towards resources we have a white paper, which also contains some practical information on building your resilience, and as Sue said having a coach is also a really great strategy. So if that’s something that you would also wish to consider, then do get in touch with us, and until the next time. Go be the difference in leadership.

2022-01-18T14:24:48+00:00By |Leadership, Podcast, Resilience|
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