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Heather Dawson: How to turn burnout into the best career move

About the episode
Globally successful Leadership Mentor and Speaker Heather Dawson opens up on her inspiring personal journey of career burnout, self-discovery, and what it means to be an emotionally intelligent leader. From humble beginnings Heather built a powerful career leading a $200 million revenue business, to doing sales turnarounds with multimillion sales targets – until she hit the life-changing moment of burnout. This podcast is fascinating, raw in its honesty and an outstanding story of "passion" for the lessons that she's learned that every leader listening can apply in their own journey of self-discovery. For "recovering perfectionists" everywhere this podcast is for you.
"I'm a big passionate believer in if we want to create change as a leader, and we all do, we all want to have an impact, the change has to come from inside. That's been the journey I've been on. Still on that journey."
— Heather
"This really resonates with me when Heather talks about her journey...and then she got to this point of burnout which I think many people can really identify with. There's a lesson in here for all of us about how much time are you spending reconnecting with yourself and really getting to understand what makes you tick instead of just being busy?"
— Alex
Guest on this episode:
Heather Dawson is an incredible Leadership Mentor and Speaker, and a global business leader. Hugely inspiring, humble and down-to-earth, Heather is one of the top accredited coaches globally for the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute which was initially started by Google.
TRANSCRIPT
Voice over:
Hi listeners. You've jumped into the Engage.Coach.Grow Podcast. This podcast is dedicated to all of you self-improvers, who want to become phenomenal leaders. This podcast will fire your passion for all things high performance. On each show, we host the very best leaders in Australia, the 1%ers that do things a little bit differently to the rest of us, that gets them remarkable results.

Voice over:
Find out what's in their high performance DNA and how you can tap into yours with the High Performance Leadership app. You'll get access to the very habits, practices, and frameworks that have made the top leaders the very best in Australia. It's leadership coaching for you, from the best. Download it now and get coached from the most inspiring, highly successful leaders at the top of their game. Go to trampolineplatform.com/hpl. That URL is trampolineplatform.com/hpl. Okay, let's jump right into the conversation.

Heather Dawson:
Can I just take a one minute pause? Just practicing mindfulness before we start, just so I get present and I'm here. Not in the nice restaurant.

Alex Tullio:
You're listening to Heather Dawson practicing what she teaches and lives which is all about mindfulness. Heather is such an impressive lady. You're going to so enjoy this podcast, so not only is she a business leader of a great deal of experience for many global businesses, but she also was one of the first accredited coaches globally for the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute which was initially started by Google. So, let's get right in to hearing Heather talk about leadership, mindfulness, and everything else.

Heather Dawson:
I'm really interested and I've also spent some of this time studying emotionally intelligent leadership. I think that's, if I could summarise what I think the essence of great leadership is, it's being an emotionally intelligent leader. What do I mean by that? Well, we talk about mindfulness being awareness, well it's a practice, but actually it's the foundation of actually being self-aware as a human being, which is the foundation of being emotionally intelligent as a leader.

Heather Dawson:

It leads then to how we self-manage and respond versus react, when we're under stress, so the next time we get that email from our boss, instead of reacting and hitting reply or even worse, reply all to the email, that actually we start bringing online these other parts of our brain to actually help us. As well as with motivation, which is another domain of emotional intelligence, and how do you actually motivate, inspire, and bring people on a journey? Which is a huge, huge part of leadership.

Heather Dawson:
That's how I think about the essence of great leadership. When I think of people I've worked for, they demonstrate those types.

Alex Tullio:
This is so powerful to me, because I'm a big believer that when you're saying that you're a leader and you're leading other human beings, and if you actually don't have that self-awareness as Heather talks about around how you react under pressure, stressful situations, how you motivate and are motivated yourself, if you don't have that awareness, and I love she talks about bringing other parts of your brain online, it's just more evidence I think around the practice of leadership is actually complex. It's not just about results. You actually have to tap into all these different domains as Heather talks about to really get the best out of yourself and to get the best out of others.

Announcer:
This is the Engage, Coach, Grow Podcast.

Alex Tullio:
This is so great, isn't it? Because Heather is such a humble and down to Earth and practical woman, and you hear that she talks about starting out as a daughter on a multi-generational farming family in Nebraska, and I love when you hear her reflect on that very first job she had right out of college, and when she said, "I'd only been on one plane before and here I was jumping onto this job where I was traveling the countryside and doing seminars," but I think the other really cool thing here is that this is where we first hear her pick up on this thread about one of her, I guess her why, this passionate piece she's had right throughout her career about she's fallen in love with actually helping people with financial wellbeing. I think that's really cool that she's picked up on that thread so early on in her professional career.

Heather Dawson:
So I am a native Nebraskan, from the Midwest in the United States, which is farm country. I grew up, I'm a fifth generation farm family, daughter, so grew up in that way, right? Around cowboys and farmers. Basically what a great way to grow up, but then I was like, "There's a bigger world out here" so went onto university, and I worked my way through university, and then started into this world of business, and ended up having this awesome job, right? Out of university.

Heather Dawson:
I went to University of Nebraska, which you do when you're from a farm in Nebraska, but then I joined this awesome company and they said, "We have this team of people and we have people travel around the United States and do seminars and workshops about helping people save for the future." I was like, "Well, I've only been on one airplane in my life. That sounds fantastic." I had this awesome job right out of college, and I worked for this company called Principal Financial Group and really just fell in love with helping people have financial wellbeing in their life. That's been a thread for me.

Alex Tullio:
How do you know when it's the right time? It's interesting when you hear Heather talk about she was loving her job, she loves Seattle, she was really connected with Seattle as her new home in the states, and this call from the boss in the Sydney arm of the company, and she'd already said, "Don't worry, I'm not going to take it." She'd already made up that mind until she got there, and I think this is really, there's a good lesson here about even when you've made up your own mind, or maybe there's a barrier there, sometimes you've just got to tap into what feels right and go with the flow a bit and really be open-minded to what opportunities could be coming over the horizon.

Heather Dawson:
In my career, fast forward, I ended up living there in Des Moines, Iowa, for 10 years. And then I decided, the end of a relationship happened and I'm going to start again, and I moved to the West Coast, to Seattle, Washington. Always loved the Pacific Northwest and joined a great firm called Russell Investments, and started a new life in Seattle which was just after, well, I think grunge had been done for a while but it was still a big music city and a great place to be and mountains and lakes and water, and very different from Nebraska.

Heather Dawson:
About two years after being there, I got a call from the managing director of our Sydney office and said, "We heard you know something about X, and we need that skill. What do you think about coming to Sydney?" At that time I was absolutely loving my new city, and I told my new partner who's now my husband, but at that time very new partner, I said, "Well, I'm going to go to Sydney and check out this job opportunity, but don't worry, I won't take it. Don't worry about it."

Heather Dawson:
I went, and I went to Sydney, I'd been to Sydney one other time around the Olympics that time, and knew how special the city was, and how special Australia was, which is another story in my background of my connection to Australia. Basically felt, had this great week, but was getting ready to tell the managing director, "Thank you, but it's not the right time in my life."

Alex Tullio:
The question I have for the listeners is when was the last time you approached anything in your career or your life with this thought of, "Let's jump into an adventure?" Because I think it's very easy to lose that perspective because we think of all the reasons why something won't work. There you go, that's my challenge for you. I want you to think about the next opportunity as embarking on an adventure, and see where it takes you.

Heather Dawson:
We're sitting on this beach in Bronte, just a suburb, beach suburb in Sydney, and he said, "Heather, just turn and look out the window." The waves are crashing and people are hanging out. At this time it was November, it was the beginning of summer, and he said, "You don't think you could do this for two years?"

Heather Dawson:
After I said to him, after I just went through this big, "Thank you but no thank you," I turned back to him and said, "You're absolutely right. I could totally do this" so thankfully my partner decided, he quit his job, "Let's go do this, have this adventure" and that's become my love affair with living in Australia. 12-14 years later, still here, and now a dual citizen, so it's been fantastic. Changed jobs a few times, always in financial services, but absolutely love living in this country.

Alex Tullio:
Wow. There is so much to unpack here. This really resonates with me when Heather talks about her journey and the roles that she was doing, and then she got to this point of burnout which I think many people can really identify with, and especially the way she talks about it, it wasn't just burnout from I guess the corporate life, but burnout from being a leader. I think there's so many layers here, aren't there?

Alex Tullio:
This journey then of I guess self-discovery and self-development that she went on, I really think it's important to underline this because I don't know, in corporate life, because we are so busy, and this is a bit of a generalisations, I think it holds true, is that the focus is on the busyness, on doing, on pushing through, crashing through the next barrier and just keeping going, going, going. I think you lose a really big part of yourself when you're that busy all the time.

Alex Tullio:
To Heather's point, she says something like, "I was so busy doing that I wasn't being at all." This is the whole point, right? Because if you are so busy that you're not tapping into your own strengths and your own superpowers and your own energy, then how could you possibly be a leader to other people? It might not be a two year sabbatical for others listening, but I think there's a lesson in here for all of us about how much time are you spending reconnecting with yourself and really getting to understand what makes you tick instead of just being busy.

Heather Dawson:
Then more recently, which is perhaps what we'll get into in our conversation, really after being in the business world for so long as a business leader and from leading a $200 million revenue business to doing sales turnarounds with multimillion sales targets that went up and up and up every year, I just completely burned out of the corporate world and burned out of being a leader for a whole lot of reasons. I just stepped away.

Heather Dawson:
I stepped away from a nice pay check, I stepped away for the security, the identity around that. I just took a break, and during that time, I took two years off, and during that time I really went down a track of actually really diving deep into why is it that I burned out? Why is it that I, what can I learn about myself that maybe I haven't taken time to do before? Because I'd been so busy doing and I wasn't being at all.

Heather Dawson:
That took me down a journey of actually mindfulness, yoga practice, professional development, and I ended up getting involved with Conscious Capitalism Australia, which actually gave me a whole new appreciation for what business could be for the greater good, and then was introduced to this amazing program, transformational leadership program out of Google, called Search Inside Yourself. I was fortunate enough to be selected as a future teacher of that program and that's a big part of what I do now. I'm still a business leader, but I also teach this program that's all mindfulness, emotional intelligence, grounded in neuroscience.

Heather Dawson:

I'm a big passionate believer in if we want to create change as a leader, and we all do, we all want to have an impact, the change has to come from inside. That's been the journey I've been on. Still on that journey.

Announcer:
The point of this show is to facilitate a bold new conversation between the top leaders of Australia and you, the listener, wherever you are in your leadership career. It's about learning what those defining moments of change are, overcoming tough challenges, and unlocking the 1% differences that make you a truly great leader. Keep listening as we reveal their toughest challenges, but if you want to know how to overcome the seemingly impossible and get the truth about what it really takes to succeed, download the High Performance Leadership app.

Announcer:
Download it now and get coached from the most inspiring, highly successful leaders at the top of their game. Go to TrampolinePlatform.com/hpl. That URL is TrampolinePlatform.com/hpl.

Heather Dawson:
To not be so hard on myself. This is the other side, sorry, I have to keep coming back to mindfulness, but the other side of this type of practice is we learn to be a little less judgmental of ourselves, and also less judgmental of other people. To be less hard on myself as a leader would have been a really nice thing, to bring a little bit of compassion forward. I remember one of my bosses said to me, "No one is ever as hard on you, Heather, as you are no yourself."

Heather Dawson:
I wondered at that time, "How does he know what's going on in my mind?" But clearly that was going on, but I think that if I would have ... That doesn't mean changing my focus, that doesn't mean that I didn't strive for great goals, but giving myself a break every now and then mentally, of going, "You know what? I tried and did the best I could. What did I learn from that?" And develop a bit more of a growth mindset earlier in my career would have served me really well.

Alex Tullio:
At this point of how hard we are on ourselves as leaders, as humans, we're so judgmental of ourselves, and that puts an immense amount of pressure, as you hear Heather talk about, and it made me laugh. You might have heard me laugh when she said, "My boss said no one will ever be as hard on you as you are on yourself." She's like, "How do you get inside my head?" I think the thing here, the positive from this, is we all feel this. I don't care who you are, we all have, call it whatever you want, that negative, the judgmental voice, that old lizard voice on your shoulder that's being really hard, we all have it at times and it's just a matter of having the tools to actually work with that and through that.

Alex Tullio:
And a really great tip that a girlfriend of mine, who's a psychologist, gave me, she said, "When you're really beating yourself up, I want you to stop and say to yourself, 'What would you tell your best friend?'" I think that is a great reframe, so next time that you've got that, your own negative voice in your head beating yourself up, stop and think, "What would I tell my best friend?" It will be nowhere near as harsh as what you're telling yourself.

Heather Dawson:
It's such a great question, it's a common question, and I shared it as well. That's why I wasn't practicing it as a business leader. It was after I had left the business world, and wondered myself how could these worlds come together? A couple of points. First of all, what is mindfulness? Lots of different definitions out there. I think the easiest way to think about it and the simplest definition is it is present, being present in this moment, being aware, right? It's awareness.

Heather Dawson:
And actually the reason why I believe it's now becoming into the mainstream is all because of the neuroscience. That's been over the last 10-15 years. What we now know, just like we know when we go to the gym, and if we lift weights, we can build muscle, what the neuroscience has now shared with us, taught us, is that we can strengthen our brain by what we focus on and pay attention to. That's this really amazing discovery over the last decade in neuroscience called neuroplasticity, and that our brains aren't fixed, that we can actually change them for the better, just like we can change our bodies.

Heather Dawson:
Now, it's deeper than that of what it can be as a benefit, but at the core, I think that's why it's become more popular in business, is people know that it isn't about making us soft and going up to the beautiful land of Byron Bay which I do love very much, but it's actually about strengthening the executive centres in our brain that help us focus, make better decisions, not react under stress, but actually bring some discipline, some awareness, some more thoughtfulness in terms of how we actually respond to our life and be present for our life.

Heather Dawson:
That's why I think the science has helped so much with business leaders, and athletes, and many other people to do it.

Alex Tullio:
The lesson here guys, is that if you aspire to be the best at whatever you do and you're continually on this learning journey, you can and you need to work on your brain plasticity and everything that Heather's talking about, just as you would from a physical health perspective. Because who wouldn't want to work on things that can make you have greater focus, better decision making power, react better or differently under stressful situations, and be more present? If you want to be a high performer, you have to tap into this. This is not soft and fuzzy stuff. This is real science that will actually really help you leverage your strengths.

Heather Dawson:
When I teach, introduce people to it and I just create the opportunity for people to learn, I think there's a couple of ways. One it could be just one minute a day of brain focus and attention to the thing we do every day, thankfully, which is to breathe, and just bring completely our attention to our breath. Our inhale and our exhale, bringing attention to our feet on the floor and the fact that our bodies are always present, and it's a great way to just come into the present moment.

Heather Dawson:
That is actually one minute a day makes a difference. You can test it in the laboratory of your own experience by saying, "Well, do I feel differently after one minute of just sitting and breathing or not?" That's sometimes enough to hook people to say, "I might try two minutes tomorrow" or, "I might download a Headspace app" or another app out there to help have that support, accountability. Those are awesome ways to start.

Heather Dawson:
And then people just discover from there what works for them, but focusing on the breath that's been around for 2500 years, and the science is now catching up to it, but it's a great way to get started.

Alex Tullio:
So simple. No one has any excuse not to try this, and you heard right at the start, Heather literally timed herself for one minute, so she could get grounded and in the moment, and get really present with where she was. We all need to do this, it's one minute a day, guys. That's your homework.

Heather Dawson:
I have fallen off the wagon many times, and fallen out of love with the practice. And then get back on. I believe there's different approaches to mindfulness and it's about finding what works for us, and maybe Alex, for you, because you're a busy consultant and executive, it's as you walk to your next meeting, before you go into a next meeting, it's paying attention to your breath as you walk into that next executive boardroom. Or perhaps Cam, it's on your commute into work. "I'm going to shut the radio off, shut the podcast off, just going to focus on my breath for five minutes."

Heather Dawson:
Ways that we can integrate it into our day-to-day is incredibly important. The science behind it isn't necessarily, we don't know the efficacy of that in terms of the benefit for the brain, but I think it is a very practical way and it's what we teach in the Search Inside Yourself program, in addition to a dedicated practice, is integrated into the flow of your day, when it works for you, and just notice if there's a difference. If there's not, well then that's okay, too. Find what works for you.

Alex Tullio:
So, for all those perfectionists out there that are like, "Oh, but how am I going to perfect this?" There's nothing more I love than a really practical tip, and this is what Heather's telling us, is don't be rigid about it. Don't think there's only one way. Try something that will work for you. I've already tried her tip for me, which is just integrating it as I'm going into the next meeting, just be present, focus on my breath, a minute in the car, so we can all do this. Try a few different things and think of it as an experiment.

Heather Dawson:
It's interesting, this time that we're in. We're the most connected generation, in this place of the global, we can reach out and connect, we're on social media, 24/7 we can reach out, but we're also now seeing more levels of stress and anxiety and depression and suicide around the world. Young people, people that are retired, everywhere. Everybody's impacted.

Heather Dawson:
There is I think this need and it's probably always been a human need, but now we're really noticing it, feeling it, this need that even though I'm connected, I'm absolutely 24/7 stressed and my attention is hijacked, and I don't feel good, right? I don't feel like I'm happy, that my stress levels are under control, and so people are looking for help. Some people find that mindfulness and that practice of being able to focus the mind and not have it hijacked actually calms them, and there is again, the science will say when you focus on your breath, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, it does calm your body.

Heather Dawson:
So people feel that right away, and it's a nice sort of yin and yang or balance if you will, between that always on my phone, too coming back to centre again.

Alex Tullio:
This is just smart practice, guys. If you are leading teams, if you're working in really busy environments, under pressure, and you want to achieve a lot, take it from me, this is the balance that you need. Because if you keep thinking that this, you don't have time for this, how ironic, then you will end up burning out. So listen to what Heather's saying, is your attention being hijacked? Are you just not feeling great? Is it 24/7? Now you're getting some really great tips on how to start to get a bit of balance back, which is a very small investment with a big reward.

Heather Dawson:
Well, I'm a recovering perfectionist as well. I know all about this. That's why I stopped and started for the last 15 years with mindfulness practice, until I realised it just as you said, that it's actually, the practice is noticing. The practice is noticing my intention is to focus my intention, this is an attention practice. Oh, this is interesting, I'm now thinking about what I'm going to eat for dinner, so noticing that thought, my intention is to focus on the breath, bringing the breath back, and that's strengthening the prefrontal cortex in the brain to actually focus and attention. That is what the practice is.

Heather Dawson:
And over time, then we start realising that thoughts can come and go, emotions can come and go. We don't have to get hooked on those things and let us take us away from what we're doing. We can let those just pass on by and come back to what we're focusing in on, and that has so many multiple benefits to it.

Alex Tullio:
For recovering perfectionists everywhere, and I know you're all listening, the biggest reframe here, even not just with regard to mindfulness, is stop thinking that you have to get everything right, that it's a certain. It's this rigidity, guys, we keep pursuing a certain goal that will make the thing perfect. Instead, listen to what Heather's saying. Reframe this, it's an experiment. Bit more go with the flow. There's no right or wrong. The minute you do that, you will be amazed at how liberating that feeling is and how much pressure it takes off.

Heather Dawson:
Absolutely. We've all been there. "I hear what you're saying, but I work in an environment that wouldn't support that." I'm really encouraged, and I look to these kinds of organisations for inspiration, Accenture is one. Aren't they, I believe one of the largest or the largest consulting firm in the world? Their CEO recognised this and launched a program globally called Truly Human, I think it's called Truly Human, and to address that we need to change the culture. We can be a high performing culture, but also a very human culture.

Alex Tullio:
Because it's not, it's at any price. That just doesn't cut it anymore.

Heather Dawson:
Well, and we're not at our best when we're doing it.

Alex Tullio:
Exactly.

Heather Dawson:
We're not solving problems at our best, we're not as creative as we can, we're not as happy as we can, we burn out, we leave, we disengage. This is why Gallup says 80 some percent of the global working population is disengaged. We are losing out on so much productivity, business, and economic growth opportunities for the world by the fact that we aren't actually caring for people in the workplace.

Heather Dawson:
I do think, I feel very strongly that leaders do have a responsibility and amazing opportunity to create a culture where people can really thrive. You can be a high performing environment and you can be a deeply human environment where people really flourish in what they do. I believe we're seeing organisations that are starting to model that and that gives me a lot of hope.

Heather Dawson:
Just as an example, I lived in a high performing investment firm, 5000 employees, 27 countries, and started a mindfulness group every Friday, using that practice. It then spread to London, it then turned into a global movement. We now have champions around the world and I can't tell you how, and that's just one example. It could be many other disciplines of wellbeing that people can take, have a passion for, and help bring into the workforce.

Heather Dawson:
But I can't tell you how many notes and how many people will say, "My wife's noticing something's different about me. My kids are noticing I'm more present. I'm now negotiating meetings with these investment managers that were always filled with tension, that are going so much more smoothly." People start noticing it, but you can start in your own world and make a difference, and create a grassroots effort. It's leadership responsibility, but I think it's all of our responsibility to create healthier workplaces.

Alex Tullio:
This is the thing, I am so passionate about this. The environment in which you work and which you're bringing to your team, creating for your team, is critical. We all have a responsibility in the workplace to yes, work in a culture that is both high performing and as Heather says, deeply human. But as leaders, you have a responsibility to actually create that for your own teams and be part of it, not wait for someone else to do it.

Alex Tullio:
Just think about how are you looking after the wellness of your people in the workforce? What small things can you actually do that might be a small investment of time and money, but the benefits around engagement, productivity, happiness, wellness, creativity, on and on, will be massive?

Heather Dawson:
I really do, and I'll point to some work done by Daniel Pink who's a great author, and he talks about three types of motivation. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose. To me, that is a wonderful synopsis of motivation. Autonomy, we want some control over the work we do, the way we're spending our time. We want mastery, we want to keep getting better at what we're doing, and learning over time, being really good but a little bit of that is on our own terms. We really want to keep growing and developing.

Heather Dawson:
And the third, purpose, and I think that's the new domain actually, in business, is organisations and leaders are starting to wake up to the fact that, "If I really want to help motivate my people, I better be really clear about what we're doing in the world that makes a difference." Because that helps people get up in the morning and feel like this is worth doing. That's how I think about motivation.

Alex Tullio:
Here's a great tip. If you think that your team understand the vision of your business, and the greater purpose, that why, then that's awesome. But I want you to engage them in that conversation again. Because so often we actually don't spend enough time giving our teams context about that bigger why, which is the essence of what will motivate them to be part and to strive for results. There's your action. I want you to get the team together, restate the vision, the mission, the purpose, and make sure everyone's engaged in this bigger picture that they're all a part of.

Heather Dawson:
I think a growth mindset is a combination for me, and this is something I've been interested in the work of Dr. Carol Dweck in Stanford University. There's lots of experts out there and she's an amazing expert. I think it's a mindset of we can always get better, and this belief I grew up with early on was you have certain talents or skills, it's fixed, your IQ is fixed, and you can't get much better at those things.

Heather Dawson:
While I do think we have certain levels of IQs and talent and skills and strengths, I do think we can keep learning new things. Discovering the joy of learning for me, has been a wonderful gift. To go from financial services, business executive, to studying neuroscience, I mean that's an amazing journey to go on. I think that's what a growth mindset is, and what it means is that we don't have to be perfect, and we can always be adapting and evolving, and learning, and becoming even better at who we are and what we're doing.

Alex Tullio:
I want you guys to just think of one thing that you would love to learn. As the ego starts to ark up about, "Well no, that means I don't look like I know what I'm doing." Crap, forget that. One thing, it can be work related or even personal, but I want you to just do one small thing where you start to get back in that practice of learning and being curious, and evolving. I guarantee you'll love it and it'll have so many benefits.

Heather Dawson:
I don't think we have a choice as leaders. You look at where we're at, the beginning in the fourth industrial revolution, automation, artificial intelligence, we have to be lifelong learners. We have to adapt. Because well, let me just give you an example. I spent a good part of the last 18 months curating a global summit on the future of work.

Heather Dawson:
Fascinating to learn about learning, and one of my new friends and a thought leader in this space is Heather McGowan, and she said, she did some work with us and spoke to our global team, and she said, "In the past, we go to school, we learn, so we could work, and in the future because of this rapid change that we're in, and this fourth industrial revolution, we have to be lifelong learners."

Heather Dawson:
We now work to learn, and we're going to go through periods of always in our journey, as humans, where we learn one skill, we apply that, we work and we start picking up another skill. We learn something, we apply that in a different way, and if you think about, look back on your career, you can start to see the threats, right? I don't think we have a choice. I think we have to be lifelong learners as humans, and I think as leaders, we have to create environments that support and encourage people to become just that.

Alex Tullio:
So again, I love this theme, and the word that just jumps out at me here is around curiosity. A mindset of curiosity and openness, so wow, I can learn something else, and the other thing as well which I think is really important is this is just not about theory or getting a download of information. It's then as Heather talks about, applying it. Learn something new, apply it, and then you adapt it and evolve and learn something new and apply it, and that's where you'll get the real value. Any workplace that has leaders and people that are on that trajectory is guaranteed to be successful.

Heather Dawson:
Two things that come to mind as you said that. I couldn't agree more. Even though we're in this fourth industrial revolution which will be quite exciting but also disruptive, there's always going to be a place for humans. In fact, uniquely human skills are incredibly valuable and will become even more so. Empathy, critical problem solving, emotional intelligence, those are things that are listed in the job skills of the future, and the strengths of the future. How do you become a better problem solver and such?

Heather Dawson:

I go back to what we started with, talking about one of the ways we do that is to be able to bring our whole brain forward. Back to mindfulness and that practice and what neuroscience is teaching us, is that we can actually build that connectivity in our brains, and actually bring online our executive centre, working with our emotional centre, that has a whole lot of other wisdom there to help us see more clearly the problem, the situation, the environment that we're in. I think that's exciting, and I think it's new what the science is uncovering in that.

Alex Tullio:
This is going to really change I think how you recruit your teams, right? And who is the best fit and all of those sort of things, because I totally agree. If I look back, I think some of the best performers I've ever worked with, the common threads and one of them was always the ability to solve problems, and to think laterally. It wasn't those technical skills. Think about that when you're building teams, and think about it for yourself as well, about how you can start to, and how cool to bring all your brain online. I just hear that and go, "Wow, that is very exciting."

Heather Dawson:
It's a great question. "Oh, everybody's my mate and we go have beers on Friday." No, I think it's really about really and this goes back to our comment about being an emotionally intelligent leader, right? Really recognising the human that's there, and recognising that this is a human coming to work who's trying to do their best work and my job as a leader is to help bring out the best in them, and bring out all of their strengths, and coming at it from that way, so that people know they can trust you as a leader. That's what's psychological safety is all about.

Heather Dawson:
You know the strengths of your people, you put them in positions where they can succeed, you help and coach them in areas where perhaps they need some more support, but you know, they know and you know that you've got that trust built. That's what psychological safety's about.

Alex Tullio:
This is so important. A hallmark of high performing teams is always that there is this trust, this, as Heather talks about it, psychological safety. The other thing here I want to pick up on to really focus your attention on, is when she says our job as leaders is to bring out the best in our people and put them in situations where they can perform at their best. That is your role as a leader, is to facilitate that environment and bring out the best in your team, and through that, to also build a really trusted relationship which only comes through transparency and great communication.

Heather Dawson:
I'll answer one example and Alex, you can build on this. I have had past bosses that were just that, a lot of pressure, a lot of this coming down. I don't think as a leader, I never wanted that to be filtered down into my group. I think it's really important for a leader to make sure that they don't pass on that stress on down to their team, and actually with some emotional intelligence and really responding well, to be able to pass on messages but not do it in a way that unfortunately perhaps I just had from somebody else.

Heather Dawson:
It's a tricky balance here but I think it's important, we have a responsibility of leaders not to keep passing the stress down and actually creating that toxic environment for everybody.

Alex Tullio:
As a leader, the way your team is feeling and how they're performing and reacting is a reflection on you. Because ultimately it's the culture and environment you're creating for them, so I couldn't agree more with this, and it is a tendency that if someone's actually been really direct or quite harsh, you've had a bad experience from say your boss, to then just pass that stress down as Heather says. What I'd love you to do here is then take some of the lessons from this podcast, step away, have a minute to reflect, and then think, "What should I do for my team? How am I going to protect my team and facilitate an environment where they can thrive and be their best?"

Alex Tullio:
I think if you have that reframe, you won't then just pass that stress down or that negative message down. You'll actually step into your own leadership and create a really cool environment for your team that will reflect beautifully on you.

Heather Dawson:
What I would now talk to them about is probably different than I would have talked to them about even five years ago. I would say now and again, this is coming out of some really cool research out of Google, and apologies for bringing that up again, but it's been a big part of my world over the last four or five years, but Google studied their top performing teams, and they're trying to figure out what makes a difference. Number one thing they discovered after thousands and thousands of data points, hundreds and hundreds of interviews, was psychological safety.

Heather Dawson:
Creating a culture of psychological safety, so what I would say to that new manager is you don't have to know it all, back to Alex's point. You don't have to be perfect, back to what Cam and I were talking about, but you need to create a culture where people feel like they can innovate, they can bring their ideas forward, they can take risks and work through things knowing that if they fail, that you're going to be there to support them.

Heather Dawson:

Now, we can all put boundaries around things, and we can all do smart things around what's good risk and not good risk, but you really want people to feel like they can bring their ideas and their best selves forward and not feel there be ramifications if they make a mistake. I think as a leader, that psychological safety is the first thing I'd coach on.

Alex Tullio:
I love this. Here's the reflection point. I want you to think about one, what actually, and you don't need to tell anyone else at this stage, what is your real inside reaction when one of your team members goes off and does something and it isn't the result or in your mind, it's a bit of a fail? How do you react to that? How do you talk to them about that? If you're honest, if you're in their shoes, would they feel like there was a risk there in actually trying something new because of your reaction?

Alex Tullio:
The second which is kind of the opposite side of this is I want you to think of one thing that you can implement, right now with your team, to actually make them feel a bit safer around innovation and bringing in a new idea, and just setting that safety net underneath and just say, "You know what? We're going to try something, here are the boundaries. If it doesn't work, cool, and we're going to look at it this way."

Heather Dawson:
And here's my last practical tip.

Heather Dawson:

If I was coaching a new leader, and I'd also be listening for this in the CEO, how many times are they saying we versus I? The best coach, one of the very best coaches I've had, just the global head of sales in the last company I worked for, we were behind on our sales target for two quarters in a row. That's not a good thing in our company, you've got to turn it around, it was never, "Heather, what are you going to do?" It was, "Heather, what can we do to close the gap? What can we do?" I always felt he was on my side of the table, always. Even though he was sitting in Chicago, right? "We" language is a big, big part-

Alex Tullio:
Powerful!

Heather Dawson:
... of this psychological safety we're talking about. People want to feel like, "My leader has my back and is right there with me helping me solve this problem and working on this together."

Alex Tullio:
Yeah, couldn't agree ... So, how do you think of your role as a leader? In your mind, do you imagine that yes, you're on top of the tree and that there's this hierarchy? Or, are you actually one of the team with your team, backing them, removing obstacles, and really facilitating this environment where they feel safe and they can actually thrive and be at their best? That's a question for you to ponder, and if you think it's the former, then maybe it's the time to maybe change a few things and use some more of this "we" language.

Heather Dawson:

What a journey it's been. I had an opportunity when I was at my last company to move back to the United States where I'm from, to move to Chicago in a great role that I was loving. They needed to have it in head office, and they said, "Well, would you come to Chicago?" I'm not from Chicago but it sounded like close to home, it sounded like a great opportunity, so I thought I would go. Here's where the practice comes in. Everything we're talking about.

Heather Dawson:

Logically, it made sense, but when I was walking through the streets of Chicago, the wisdom of my body, the wisdom of everything else we'd been talking about told me this was not the right decision for me. I remember walking across the Chicago River and looking at all this great architecture and realising this wasn't my home, this is not where I was supposed to be. Tested that the next time I went there, it was still the same, and then had the courage to say to my boss, "This is not the right move for me and my family, and our happiness" and had the courage to tell my parents who were super excited we were coming back, that we weren't. That was hard. But it was the right decision, it was the right decision.

Heather Dawson:
Fast forward six months, then I had to say goodbye to my job, hand it over to somebody in Chicago who we had hired to be my successor, which was this wonderful person who was carrying the work forward, and I had a very positive exit. It was my choice to exit the firm, because I knew it was time for me to move to something else. But I also am in a place right now, I was saying this to my Alex, my friend gave me the term the fertile void, of sitting in this place of knowing what's been and not knowing what's coming and trusting that the next thing will emerge.

Heather Dawson:

I did the seven day silent retreat to create a bit of that space between what has been and what will be, and if you haven't done a seven day silent retreat, you'll probably say, "I couldn't talk for seven days, so I'll never do that" and I thought the same when I first heard about it 15 years ago. I thought I'd never do one, and I've done two now, and they are richly rewarding and really, really hard.

Heather Dawson:
Just to give you a taste of it, it's following an insight meditation retreat, so it's not woo-woo. No finger symbols or candles going. You're learning practices of focusing the mind, cultivating a healthy mind, cultivating a compassionate heart that had been around for 2500 years, and you practice what they call nobel silence. You're really not making eye contact with people, you're really honouring the fact people are going inward and actually doing the practice, and surprisingly enough, not talking is the easiest part.

Heather Dawson:
The hard part is sitting still on a cushion for several hours a day, with some breaks in there of course, with your own mind. As you practice, and this is not necessarily what comes up in one minute practice I was telling you earlier, but if you're sitting for multiple days, stuff that's come up that needs probably to be seen or addressed comes up in your mind. For me, it's the inner critic, the perfectionist, always comes up.

Heather Dawson:
What I find amazing about doing this, the first two or three days I was looking for my exit strategy, how do I manufacture an emergency to get out of here? But about day three, something shifts and this is what I think is the power behind mindfulness. Something shifts in our awareness and we recognise that we're more than just these crazy thoughts in our head. Something opens up that's bigger and deeper and I'm not talking about out of body experience, I'm just talking about the wisdom that we have within side of us, with our own minds and hearts, to actually take a different perspective.

Heather Dawson:
Perhaps that opening of the perspective and dropping some of those fixed mental mindsets and egos drops away and we kind of realise who we really are. That's what happened to me at the end of the retreat, is just more authenticity, more feeling really grateful for life, more not worrying about the small stuff, and just kind of going, "Okay, got the courage to keep moving forward. Not knowing what's next, but I'll figure it out."

Alex Tullio:
Wow. So, what a fantastic interview with Heather. If I can summarise, there are so many great things here, but I think the thing that really comes to me is that the old ways or the traditional ways of thinking about performance, especially in a business context, are so one dimensional in a way in terms of just we tend to focus, the pressure is to focus on the bottom line, the numbers, all those hard measures.

Alex Tullio:
What I think we've really heard through not only Heather's journey but what she talks about now is that if you really want to be a 1%er, if you want to be one of those genuinely high performing leaders who can inspire and compel others to action and make amazing things happen, you need to come back to the fact that you need to be very self-aware as a human being first and foremost, and really understand how to manage yourself.

Alex Tullio:
That's in all sorts, environments, stress, pressure, all the rest of it. We've heard a lot from Heather about this real focus on getting all parts of your brain online, which I just think is so powerful. We've got more tools than we probably knew, that we can actually work with to be an amazing leader and to get great results. Taking those moments for yourself, really spending time on actually that self-development journey, having those great tips of a minute of mindfulness a day.

Alex Tullio:
And I think the other thing around this as well, is that coming back, which is something I talk about all the time, is to what is your role as a leader? It is not doing. You are there to facilitate an environment to create an amazing team that will then achieve great things together. I think that's the other real message from Heather, it's about you can have a high performing culture, but it's a deeply human culture as well, and it's so much about creating a safe space, this psychological safety for your team which is around trust and transparency and communication, and this is a hallmark of really high performing teams that are in flow.

Alex Tullio:
There's so much to unpack here. Yes, it's a balance and there's complexity, and it's a journey, right? Who said leadership was ever easy? It's not. If there's one thing that I can leave you with, at the end of this really inspiring podcast with Heather, where she talks about from farm girl to one of the first 15 globally accredited trainers and coaches in this Search Inside Yourself mindfulness piece that she's doing now, is less doing and more being. This is what high performers focus on. I hope you enjoyed it.

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