13 Sep

Leading the Charge using your Superpowers

Whenever once brings up the topic of strengths and using it more frequently and more effectively, the overwhelming reaction is usually, ‘But what about weaknesses? One can’t ignore X or Y or Z’.


And no one has asked you to ignore X or Y or Z. Of course if you’re terrible at general conversation and you’re a sales person, it might help you to hone some skills in that area. However what makes you an amazing sales person might be that a strength of yours is empathy and you have the ability to listen, which means that you are more likely to understand your clients’ needs better than someone who just talks.


Roger Federer is known as one of those rare all-round tennis players. To me, one of his greatest strengths is that he moves incredibly fluidly and with agility around the court, thereby allowing him to have more control of the ball and reducing the probability of injury versus his competitors. His backhand, whilst excellent is probably one of his weaker areas. Naturally he has worked on it and has brought it up to a level that is genuinely threatening. However, the man works extra hard on his actual strengths such as hiring Stefan Edberg to help with his serve-volley game, to ensure that he doesn’t just play average and defensive games, but purposefully plays to his strengths to outplay and to win. He is the Greatest of All Time in men’s tennis for a reason.


So Why Strengths? Isn’t it all a little happy clappy?


Strengths are what sets you apart from others. Strengths are your unique contribution. They are natural and intrinsic to you and used effectively, strategically and appropriately, they are the most powerful force to reckon with. They automatically motivate and energise you. For the most part, they will come to you with ease. So why wouldn’t you want to work with something that you have in abundance?


Whether or not my clients think that I am a good coach, I have found myself a career using my top 5 strengths (@gallupstrengths) pretty much all the time. I find coaching clients an energizing, motivating and rewarding exercise – I’m learning all the time and I try my best to coach my clients out of where they are into a better place. My strengths are relator (great for one-to-one conversations), adaptability (as a coach, not wedded to an idea or opinion but going with the flow to how the conversation is going and helping the client get to where they need to be), positivity (who needs a downer of a coach?), ideation (fascinated by ideas which allows less judgment and closed minded thinking in session), and maximiser (taking something from good to excellent – taking talented individuals and helping them get to best versions of themselves).


Sure, other coaches have different strengths and they will use them in their own unique ways. It’s the combination of strengths used together that makes your offering unique and oh so powerful.


Interestingly enough, I conducted this exercise to review when I was an equities dealer in the City and whilst my team all had the same role as me, we all used our strengths to suit that job, and it brought out the best in all of us. The beauty being that your strengths are wholly adaptable and multi-purpose, and you get to use them in all manner of scenarios and situations.


‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’


So said Voltaire, or if you’re a philistine like me, Uncle Ben in Spiderman. When using your strengths, they have to be used effectively and strategically. There is no point having these innate gifts if you’re going to scatter them around indiscriminately with no clear purpose. It’s like a driving a beautiful Aston Martin on a muddy field to collect hay bales. What’s the point??? By overusing it, you’ll probably burst a few pipes over some rocks on the field too. Not cool, not smart but definitely a little funny….


Joking aside, when using your strengths, be aware that it is also possible to overuse them. Between my relating and adaptability strengths, I could be seen as an easy to confide in person who will adapt to whatever scenario especially if someone shares information with me. In overdrive, I have been told I can appear as someone without conviction and possibly two-faced. That’s not just a little bit offensive and hurtful but likely true…. Who said feedback was fun????


Case Study 1

A board of an investment firm asked me to help them review their board dynamics. They noted that they were doing well but seemed to keep coming across the same problems time and again and could not get over that repetitive hump. Having done some initial interviewing and analysis, I noticed that they kept talking about using their strengths. Promising, I thought to myself. But oh no – in this case, it was used ‘conveniently’ to excuse not taking proper responsibility for where they wanted the business to go and for not actually wanting to do the actual work which was required to continue. What does this mean?


They had one person who was a phenomenally talented sales & marketing creative but who had no interest in the actual business and did not want to understand much beyond finding new ways to make their offering more interesting to the clientele. Another board member was a stalwart in this industry with decades of experience but he was more interested in the academic running of investment as opposed to wanting to run the business. The other board members were perfectly capable and qualified but were not encouraged to speak and contribute. Neither of the two board members recognized that neither had a true vision or plan for the business, and neither had any idea how to strategise or execute their half-baked vision. Yet, once we focused on their individual strengths and put them to use in a more effective and deliberate way – both realized that they were unhappy playing at joint CEOs and that they needed to very quickly hire a CEO to sort their business out.


Amazing what a dose of self-awareness and a focus on strengths can do…!


Case Study 2

Two major divisions within a large corporation were merging as a result of cost-cutting measures. Clearly this was going to be a tough, painful and contentious slog. Many had to reinterview for their roles. Their workloads amidst and post this transition was only going to go up. The mood was somber, full of people who were weary, suspicious of others and resentful. Lots of assumptions were made about others who were, only a few weeks ago their friends, and now due to the reduced but merged team, with a new leader, the individuals were distrustful of each other, focusing on the negative and what was. The first thing I did was to get the newly merged team to sit together and to talk about what their objectives as a team were – their vision, aspirations and their mission. This gave them a sense of unity and combined purpose. Thereafter, we went through their strengths, as individuals – self-described and what others thought of them. The outcomes, especially when described by others, brought about much positive embarrassment and surprise. The new team members looked at their new deliverables, and together reconfigured their roles and responsibilities to how they wanted to work and according to their strengths. This was as opposed to legacy ways of doing things, based on someone telling them how things needed to be done, instead of exploring new ways. The result brought about a newly energized group of people who were able to view themselves, their roles and their work with a brand new lens, and with much motivation and energy. The change in attitude and demeanour was astounding and their output, even with a smaller number of people, has never been better.


It was incredible to see the power that focusing on strengths could bring to such a broken and disparate group of people.


Some would argue that strengths are really easy to see and weaknesses are harder to identify. Others would argue the reverse. Either way, I would suggest a large dose of self-awareness would help, as well as asking others what they think your strengths are. You may be pleasantly surprised. However, knowing your strengths isn’t enough. The question is, how do you use them to help you be the very best version of yourself? Do you recognize when you overuse them? How do you stop yourself when that happens? And yes, it’s worth doing this exercise with your weaknesses too. But if you’re even a little lazy like me, why wouldn’t you want to do what comes easier, is more energizing and way more fun for you?






Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk


#boarddynamics #teamdynamics #careercrisis #careeradvice #career #midlifecrisis #jobchange #change #leadership #adventure #leadership #womeninbusiness #femaleboss #womeninleadership #diversity #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #thrivewithkaren #mindfulness #selfcare #empathy #mindfulness #performance

06 Sep

My First Mid-Life Adventure (read Crisis) and Career Change

Credit: Pexels @Pixabay

According to Woman’s Day the Bible of all Bibles, there are 13 signs to a midlife crisis, and they are:

  1. You’re asking yourself deep, probing questions
  2. You’re making rash decisions
  3. You feel like you’re slowly losing your mind
  4. You can’t sleep through the night
  5. Your vision of the future is dismal
  6. You’re constantly bored
  7. You have an overwhelming sense of loss
  8. You become overly concerned about your appearance
  9. Or you stop caring about your appearance completely
  10. You rarely (if ever) have interest in sex
  11. You think of yourself as an ‘old person’
  12. You think your best years are behind you
  13. You think every bad day means you are having a mid-life crisis


Aside from the fact that I want to yell ‘discrimination’ (because this article being aimed at women, does not bring up the motorbike or sports car, the too-tight skinny jeans, the hankering after way too young companions and the late onset tattoos – all things which are ‘typically’ associated with men), I have to confess that a few years ago, I did experience most items ticked on the list.


My Story

My story is age old and not unique. Like a good girl, I studied hard at school and university. My only rebellion was to opt for an Ancient Greek & History degree as opposed to a more ‘practical’ one, which my father would have preferred. I left university having loved my degree but hated that I struggled to find a job because it was not as practical as ‘business studies’ or ‘economics’ or ‘law’. However, after a couple of months of searching and accidentally dialing the wrong number, I found myself a job working as a junior analyst at a private client stock broking firm. After 18 months there, I moved to a large UK asset management company to be an equities dealer and there I stayed for nearly two decades. I loved my job even though I really didn’t think I would initially. There were many challenges associated with it but mostly of the growing kind and I thrived. What really made it as excellent as it was, was my team. Each member was just brilliant and to this day, I still miss them. My other colleagues were a great laugh too and today, I still crave the camaraderie.


At the time, it was easy for my to miss the signs listed above, for I was caught up in some internal politics which pretty much took up most of my mental and emotional space. As a result of this issue at work, I started losing bits of myself and I lost focus on what was important – to be a good leader for my team. As I had been performing the daily task of dealing for so long, I was able to continue to work hard and deliver – which was a relief. However, little things that never used to bother me, were amplified disproportionately in irritation levels. I definitely felt like I was going mad and as a result of that, my decision making, when it came to my personal life, was erratic at best. Everything was a trauma and yet I was bored to tears. My coach was a saviour (eternal gratitude to @Jane Thompson) and she was the only person who could really help me see through the mire that was becoming my reality. I guess subconsciously, I had been thinking of leaving but the actual conscious decision to leave was one that was pretty much made in a couple of minutes. I did talk to the board about my intended decision and some attempt was made by me and by them to help place me elsewhere internally, but I knew that was the wrong thing to do.


Who the f**k knows what’s next?


The panic struck the day after I officially resigned. What, where, how, when, who? I was certain I did not want to go elsewhere to do the same job. Why on earth would I do that when I had the perfect set up where I was? I wanted a new challenge. I was beyond stale and bored. I wanted to learn, try new things and have an adventure. So I took myself off travelling for a little bit, climbed a few mountains, attempted to learn a new language, started some new habits and generally took some much needed time for myself. This is not to say that any of it was relaxing for my mind. On a constant basis, I was still petrified and anxious about the ‘what next’. It didn’t help that people in my industry kept asking me that question whilst others assumed that I was lying when I said I didn’t know. The rumour mill was quite hilarious – I had become a lesbian and wanted to be free of City life as a result (not sure the correlation but…), I had a job as the Head of Sales Trading at one of the largest US investment banks and I had gotten that job because I had slept with one of the directors there, I was moving to Australia after I met a sheep farmer, I was moving to Sweden… Don’t let anyone tell you that people in the City lack imagination….


I ended up choosing to do a masters in Organistional Pyschology – mainly because I wanted to buy myself more time. I would have preferred to do an MBA in California (or anywhere in the US) but I’d have to wait for 2-3 years. No thanks. The masters to me was interesting because I was fascinated by human behaviour at work – why some thrive and others don’t. How some cultures really worked and others didn’t. Why some people behaved liked a**holes and got away with it and others were out on their ears very quickly. The course was pretty intriguing especially the focus on workplace wellbeing – something that I observed was sorely lacking in the City and amongst many of my friends in any demanding job. In short, I soon founded my business and became a coach.


Although this account is massively abbreviated, I’d like to highlight some of the lessons learnt and observations made on my journey. It might give you some food for thought, and some of my anecdotes have certainly helped some of my clients.


Some lessons on my journey – in no particular order:

  • The journey is never over. If you keep learning and wanting to learn, it shouldn’t ever get stale, but it might mean moving from where you are, or staying but with a different lens or tools
  • Try new things – you might as well, and it certainly gives you some perspective. Like I’ve lived in this area for nearly 15 years – I didn’t even know there was a school nearby until I stopped working in the City. People do the most interesting jobs, have the most diverse activities. Partake away!
  • Take time out for yourself to make good decisions. I don’t think I would have made a proper change of career if I didn’t buy myself that year off and year on the course. Job offers came for me to do similar roles and I was sorely tempted. But I had to remind myself that I had to respect the decision I made to leave. I have seen many a panicked client jump from the frying pan into the fire job-wise, and they have never been unhappier
  • However, it can take far longer than you’d planned or the outcome is not quite as you expected, so do have some savings set aside. That said, enjoy the ride!
  • You might not find the perfect job but that doesn’t mean you can’t like and really enjoy it. I am one of these people who likes variety enormously and I do think I have found one of my callings – I LOVE coaching. But I find I miss the banter and camaraderie, something that doesn’t come with coaching. So I find different ways of getting that interaction
  • It is all very scary and don’t let anyone tell you any differently. Work can really be awful but what you do have is a monthly paycheck. The question is, is that paycheck enough to keep you there? There are no right or wrong answers
  • Trying to go back into industry after time out, no matter how legitimate, is really tough. Especially if you want to go back in, with all your experience, in a slightly different capacity. The number of headhunters who have looked at my CV and said it was ‘quirky’ or ‘unusual’ is beyond high, even though in theory, they say they are looking for diverse experience. When you pivot, do take the time to list out where your knowledge and background are transferrable, and that your ‘different’ knowledge is seen as an advantage rather than an anomaly.  Find a search specialist who understands that companies need experts as well as people to ameliorate businesses, ie the world isn’t a box ticking exercise (see the fantastic @Philip Darling)
  • Do speak to people – network, ask for advice etc from respected peers and friends. Although I did find that making such a huge decision about leaving a job as well as changing careers was too much for nearly all my friends. Virtually all asked me not to do it for fear that I would never find anything as good. I heard what they were saying and they absolutely meant well but this was something I had to do for myself. Do be careful who you ask – most can’t help but project their fears onto you. It’s perfectly normal but do watch out for it
  • It gets easier and easier each time to try something new


If any of the early part of this article resonates with you, take some time out for yourself. Have a sabbatical, speak to someone who has no axe to grind – like an independent friend or coach. Try new hobbies and meet new people. It’s amazing how huge the world is out there. Boy is it frightening and at times, anxiety inducing but that’s why I call it an adventure, not a crisis. I am also pretty sure I will have multiple adventures, not just the one. Stay tuned!


See below two really interesting quotes which reflect some of what I’ve written. Perhaps they will inspire you too.



Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins.

Charles Stanley
“What holds true for the individual holds true for a society. It is never static; if it does not grow, it decays; if it does not transcend the status quo for the better, it changes for the worse. Often we, the individual or the people who make up a society, have the illusion we could stand still and not alter the given situation in the one or the other direction. This is one of the most dangerous illusions. The moment we stand still, we begin to decay.” 

Erich Fromm






Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk



#careercrisis #careeradvice #career #midlifecrisis #jobchange #change #leadership #adventure #leadership #womeninbusiness #femaleboss #womeninleadership #diversity #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #thrivewithkaren #mindfulness #selfcare #empathy #mindfulness



03 Sep

Are you choosing to burnout?

Last week, we introduced the subject of burnout, having looked at Elon Musk’s occasional meltdowns during an interview. We looked at a couple of my clients and some of the conversations we had around the very subject, and the constant state of denial or lack of awareness they were in.


When many of my phenomenally talented, ambitious, driven, bright and determined clients come to me for coaching, it’s usually around something practical and developmental. Such as improving their communication skills, presenting better, leadership skills, taking the business to the next stage, getting a promotion, managing team relations better etc. However, with the very nature of these individuals being driven, ambitious and talented, it does often also mean that they are more prone to overusing these strengths, which over time leads to derailment, which often can lead to burnout. In short, they never come to me, At least initially, to fortify their resilience and never to focus on improving their psychological prowess. It will never have crossed their minds that their mental, physical and emotional wellbeings are just as important to their professional and personal lives, as to their businesses. It is only after we start our work that these issues arise and become apparent.


‘There is a huge amount of pressure as a founder to never show weakness and to be the cheerleader in all internal and external situations.’

S Altman, Y Combinator



A client recently talked about her need to progress within her firm and to keep getting promotions every two years. Aside from the arbitrary deadlines, there was little awareness of the learning journey, just a need to achieve for the sake of it. She didn’t think it was right to take holiday because people depended on her and she didn’t want to let the side down.


Musk himself confessed that he was unable to get away from his business because people’s livelihoods depended on him. Another client of mine swore that if he slept any more than 4 hours a night and that if he ate more than 1 meal a day, he would be losing out on business.


It’s lonely at the top – or is it?


We’ve heard it before and no doubt we will keep hearing this trope again and again. And whilst I can’t deny this is true, it doesn’t mean that it has to remain that way and that you don’t have outlets to help you in your quest. You can confide in a large variety of people – be it your peers, your board, or if neither of these are possible, close confidantes, mentors, coaches advisors. You don’t have to do it on your own!


Additionally, a responsible and forward-thinking CEO or team leader should build businesses that are sustainable for now and into the future. This means thinking and working strategically, setting up structures, teams and people who can help, support and enhance your business. As opposed to relying solely on you and your sheer willpower to see you through the days.


Me, myself and I


How does your ego fit into this? This is not easy to hear but many a leader cannot help but build a team or a business based on him/herself. Sure, of course the vision has to come from somewhere and mean something to the founder. However, as soon as you get your first client and/or you have your first workmate/employee, everything ceases to be just about you and your ego but it is now about your division or your enterprise.


Why do I talk about this? In the examples used above, and frequently when working with my clients, the subject of the ego arises time and again. Why is it that it’s so easy to comment on someone else’s success and failures objectively, but not one’s own?


The need to not show weakness is in equal measure about one’s ego – being too afraid to show weakness by asking for help. Despite the fact that the ego might in actual fact take more of a beating if one burns out and almost inevitably, the business fails. The assumption that you cannot take time away to relax and to become more productive and to improve your performance (through better health) amounts to your need to feel self-important and irreplaceable. Sleeping for 4 hours a night over several years and eating one unhealthy meal a day doesn’t make you Superman or Wonder Woman. It makes you that person who checked into hospital from nervous exhaustion and it is what kept you there for 3 months. True story.


Are you actively choosing to burn out?


Who on earth would actively choose to burn out? ‘Not I!’ you all shout indignantly.


The thing is, with all these clients, this is exactly what they were all doing. Their thinking, be they CEO of a business or working as a leader within a larger organization, the thinking is not so dissimilar to that of Ben Horowitz below.


“I have seen CEOs try to cope with the stress by drinking heavily, checking out, and even quitting. In each case, the CEO has a marvelous rationalization why it was OK for him to punk out or quit, but none them will every be great CEOs. Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweat, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary founder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.” Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say: “I didn’t quit.”

Ben Horowitz — Loudcloud, A16Z


So here’s the thing. No one is asking you to quit, let alone suggesting it. The question we’re asking is,


What are you doing to ensure that you build a thriving and sustainable business?


Every time you ignore sensible and definitely not frivolous human activities such as sleeping and eating well, exercising, living a balanced and healthy life – you are actively and determinedly saying that you don’t want to build a thriving and sustainable business. You do not choose efficiency, productivity, innovation, clear and well thought-out decision-making, high performance and longevity. Your ego is getting in the way of your success and you can’t even see or accept it.


Take a really close and objective look of yourself. Which part of you is making the decisions? The bright, talented, strategic go-getter, or the ego? The decision isn’t binary – sleep or no sleep. Eat or don’t eat. Your professional journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Use that genius brain of yours and do the right thing for you and your business!


Some basics to help in the interim….




There is a reason why sleep deprivation has been chosen as a form of torture. These poor prisoners, already on edge and lacking proper nutrition, are delirious going on a little psychotic. That is what you might be like at work, whilst pretending to be Superman.


Sleep is hard for those who suffer from stress and anxiety. I’m no expert but I would say, little things to help you prepare for bed really help. These include stopping all work at least 2-3 hours before you head for bed. That means no phone, no calls, no reading for work-related stuff. Try and practise some mindfulness such as doing a body scan before you sleep, to further calm the mind. If you prefer exercising in the evening, do also try and do this at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. You don’t really want to be all pumped and hyped up before you try and sleep!




Eat badly and this will lead to unstable blood sugars which in turn will lead to fatigue, mood swings and poor concentration, as well as that pernicious diabetes which is just round the corner from you. Too much caffeine will lead to poorer productivity & concentration, as well as affecting cortisol levels in your blood stream. This in turn will exacerbate your stress levels. With all these really fun side-effects and with you being an absolute joy to work with, you might end up being even more constantly & gravely ill than the office hypochondriac.




The healthier your body, the healthier your mind. Aside from staving off that heart attack, physical exercise brings about clearer and more efficient minds as that healthy blood gets pumping round the body.


This triumvirate of basics will help keep that burnout threat away. Others include general relaxation, socializing, holidays and hobbies, as well as a host of diverse options. The question I ask is:


Why wouldn’t you want to be in peak condition whilst leading the charge?


Last week I wrote about some of the things you can do to help prevent burnout. I aim to start introducing some of these concepts to you on Wellness Wednesdays. The reality is that there are far bigger experts on this matter than I could ever be, so I will defer to them. Today, my aim was to offer some little tips and some food for thought.


Remember, every time you choose your ego, you choose to burnout. There are enough challenges in life – don’t let your ego add to that list!



Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk



#burnout #stressmanagement #qualitysleep #nourish #sleep #ego #leadership #womeninbusiness #femaleboss #womeninleadership #diversity #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #thrivewithkaren #mindfulness #selfcare #empathy #mindfulness

23 Aug

‘Burning out is for Losers!’

There has been a lot of chatter and discussion about Elon Musk in the last week. Now that in itself is not earth-shattering news but instead of focusing on his wow-inducing engineering projects and achievements, the most super of entrepreneurs, the press has been a state of flux. The man has displayed human traits – so he’s human after all??


Not all the press has been particularly kindly towards him and his supposed meltdown. Judging by the interaction between Musk and Arianna Huffington via Twitter, I can guess at many things and they would include him not being aware that he is burning out, or if he is, he doesn’t think that he can do anything to stop it. The fear of being perceived as a failure (reiterated by the negative press) merely serves to reiterate this message, thereby reinforcing the vicious cycle.


So what is burnout? A brief definition of burnout is being in a state of chronic stress.


Burnout is often something that people are aware of, even talked about BUT the vast majority of people think that burnout is something that happens to other people. Not them.


Here are some of the things I have heard clients say to me


‘For the last 18 months, I feel like I’ve had a hangover everyday. Constant headaches and an inability to think or see straight. But I’m fine’


‘I haven’t had more than 4 hours sleep for the last 2 years, maybe more. And I can’t think when I last went out and had a meal without working. I just have to work or else the business will not survive’


In the first example, the client came to me for help on improving his communication skills. He said that his staff just refused to understand him and his vision. It turned out that he was so out of sorts that no one could figure out what he was trying to say because his mind was in such a state of fatigue and therefore, confusion.


With the second, my client was aware ‘in theory’ that he needed to eat and sleep better. Do a little bit of exercise. Basically have a life. Not only would it be healthier for him on the most basic level, it would lead to clarity of thought. Decision making for him was close to impossible, resulting in impulsive and ill-thought out choices undoing much of his professional reputation.


And yet, in both cases, as with my other clients in similar situations, the refrain is always the same. ‘I can’t stop. If I do, everything will fall apart and everyone is depending on me.’ Sound familiar to Musk’s response to Huffington?


Reality Check – here’s some tough love


  1. You are of no use to man nor beast if you are not healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally
  2. Your business is not all about you and your ego


Here is an analogy I used with a client. I know he was rather appalled at my gall but needs must and all…


‘If you were a racehorse, I would not put my money on you. Much as you’re a thoroughbred, I am not putting money on an undernourished, untrained, ill-disciplined and tired horse. It’s sure to stumble and likely fall during the race’.


Some signs that you might be on your way to burning out.


  • Chronic fatigue
  • Physical symptoms eg chest pain, headaches, weight loss, forgetting to eat etc
  • Increased frequency of illness
  • Anxiety and/or Depression
  • Anger, irritability, irrational outbursts
  • Signs of cynicism, isolation and detachment
  • Loss of enjoyment, pessimism, feelings of apathy and hopelessness
  • Signs of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
  • Lack of productivity, poor performance and judgment


What can you do?

  • Find balance.  Sure sometimes the scales tip more one way than another but in general, this is what you need in your life
  • Sleep better and more
  • Eat well
  • Exercise regularly
  • Spend time with loved ones – friends & family
  • Do fun things whether that is a visit to the pub or reading a trashy novel or hiking up mountains
  • Practise mindfulness – whether this is through a guided exercise, or through exercise, or just focusing on your breathing
  • Learn to be able to switch off even if it is for 5 minutes all the way to having work-free holidays.
  • Seek external help if it is all too overwhelming

Many of the suggestions above are much easier said than done.  Your first step is recognising that you are on this downward spiral and your next is to want to do something about it.  Much as these suggestions will be the last thing that you wish to do – taking time away from your work, physically and mentally, you will very quickly find that you will make better decisions, be more effective and therefore spend less time at work.  How’s that for irony?

Just remember that the secret to not burning out is recognizing the symptoms and dealing with it early on.  Once you have burnt out, it will make the comeback far harder, and it might possibly be too late for your business.  So the questions is, are you a good bet?

For next Thursday’s case study/blog, I will be addressing the ‘What can you do?’ section with a little more detail and context.


#burnout #stressmanagement #qualitysleep #nourish #sleep #leadership #womeninbusiness #femaleboss #womeninleadership #diversity #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #thrivewithkaren #mindfulness #selfcare #empathy #mindfulness

16 Aug

Your Facts – YOUR Story or THE Story?

Your Facts – Your Story or The Story?  Unconscious Bias – a case study

I had a client who was convinced that her co-worker was lazy and idle. Her belief was that she was the only person who did any work and that her colleague was a freedloader who did the bare minimum, if that, and that he rode on her coattails and yet reaped all the rewards of this relationship. It was an interesting case for it was difficult for me to ascertain the true facts of the story. After all, I was presented with a lot of ‘evidence’ of this indolence through anecdotal stories as well as snapshots of email conversations.


Whilst I fully accepted that my client believed this situation to be the truth, her truth, and that it was causing her much distress, I was also aware that the situation could not have been so clear cut. There were clues such as the 100% conviction that she was a martyr to the cause, the mantra being ‘He is a lazy s**t but I can’t let the side down so I do all the work and he lets me’. She was obsessed about clocking his work habits and comparing them to hers ‘He gets in at 8:30, sometimes 9am, while I’m slaving away at 7:30 and don’t leave till at least 12 hours later if not more, and he leaves at 5pm’.


Yet when we talked generally about individuals’ working practices and preferences such as, some like working to set and rigid hours, whilst others think and work in a more nebulous way, she understood the concept, in theory. When we tried to relate that to her situation, that argument was shut down due to the ‘evidence’ shown. I was presented with more ‘proof’ of laziness such as not answering the phone immediately while he was working from home one morning. By immediately, it meant that he did answer the phone after a few rings, just not on the first. After all, loo breaks are not allowed whilst working from home! Further ‘confirmation’ of his slothfulness was that he did not speak up much during meetings, which clearly meant that he didn’t prepare for it, even though said individual was a self-confessed and observed by others, introvert.


Much of the work this client and I did together was based on the understanding of personality characteristics, preferences, values & beliefs – of oneself and of others. All these things together, along with experience, tend to form our judgments, conscious or unconscious. Looking at the work with this client, she displayed classic signs of 1,2, 6 & 7, and some others too whilst working with her colleague. It certainly did not help their working relationship at all!!! This case study and the table (click on link) serve to remind us to think a little harder about our viewpoints before we make decisions that could really affect our behaviours and lives.



Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk



#unconsciousbias #bias #decisionmaking #beliefs #values #personalitytypes #preferences #leadership #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #managingupwards #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #narcissists #empathy #mindfulness #selfcare


10 Aug

Tips from a Reluctant Networker

Tales of a Reluctant Networker


Say the word ‘networking’ and you are likely to get many different reactions, but they usually fall into the category of ‘lit-up eyes, smiles, faces filled with hope and opportunity and excitement’ or you’ll observe ‘eye-rolls, sighs, shoulders drooping, despondent looks and fear’. To say that I fall into the latter category would be an understatement. I am Queen Eye-Roll, frolicking in a pool of cynicism, dread and distress. The desire to stamp my feet if said stamping wouldn’t ruin my precious shoes, is high. I am that person who signs up for these things with all those attributes, but resigned to my fate. And I used to then hide in the loos.   Yup, the Queen of Eye-Roll could be renamed the Princess of Loos.


The Agitation


The inner turmoil comes from having to speak to a bunch of strangers and not know how to do this with class and aplomb. Do you just walk up to any random person and chat? What happens when everyone is in a group already, does one interrupt? What if the person is talking at and selling at you and you can’t get a word in edgewise? What if the person is so dull that sticking those cocktail sticks in your eyes seems preferable? Or what about the lech (there is always one – he failed biology at school and he continues to believe that your eyes are closer to your chest)? Or what about if everyone in that room seems to be cleverer and more accomplished than you are?


These are all thoughts and feelings that most people have. Although very real and often paralyzing, you have to realize that most people have them, and more often than not, these fears are greater than the reality.


Some tips for networking


  • Get Over Yourself and Your Ego

I had to. I had to give myself a really good talking to and even a metaphorical slap or three. The reality is that whilst no one is there to be hostile, no one really cares about you. By that I mean that everyone there has their own agenda so they won’t be looking out for you and your flaws. The only person doing that is you and your ego. As long as you treat everyone there with respect and professionally, you will get along fine. You don’t need to be someone different from who you are. Just be the best version of yourself and talk to others like a human being, show interest in them, and hopefully they will show interest in you. If not, move on. Or even if they do, move on after you’ve had a long enough conversation. No one wants to be that leech.



  • Why Network?

Before you go, think about why you want to network and what you would like to achieve. If you are thinking about getting a new job, think what new skills might benefit you and who might help with that journey & process. It will also help you network and converse better once you know what your purpose is for being there. For example, if you are an engineer wanting to climb up the ladder in that world. It would help to meet other engineers outside of your firm. Are there industry events? Or perhaps go to an event to meet people within the creative industry to help with perspective or someone with more of a business focus to help you think outside your normal box.


  • Smart Networking

Following on from the above point, be open and yet selective about the events you attend. It’s good to try different events such as size, industry, format and even times of day. For example anecdotally, evening events tend to attract less women because they often have to go home to the children (I’ll leave the debate on this stat for another time) but they are likely to also attract people from more creative industries.


Some people love networking and chatting to new people. Larger events might work really well for you. For those of you who are happier in smaller groups, pick events with meals included for example, or smaller drinks events where it can be less intimidating.


The more selective you are, the more you will get out of each event.


  • Research – Have a Plan

Before you go, do some research on the event, the organisers, the speakers, the attendees. The more you know about it, the better prepared you will be for conversations and what you would like to get out of it. However, be fluid with the plan, after all you can’t predict how the event will go.


  • Set Goals

Ask yourself what you would like to achieve at the event and set some objectives around it. If it is a more general affair, do something simple like promise yourself to have good quality conversations with at least 7 people (5 might be your objective but add two for the challenge!). If it is to speak to the speaker who is very popular, work out the best time and way to speak with said person.


  • Build Relationships

Nothing worse than the hard sell where someone talks at you with little to no interest in you, ie you are being treated as a commodity. Don’t be that person. Listen to the other person. Hear what they are saying. Be curious and ask questions. Build a rapport and a relationship. This is far more lasting for you and your business/career. Learn something about them. Leave them something interesting about you to remember you by and always follow up with an email, call and possibly a coffee date in the not so distant future.


  • Bring a Wingperson?

For some, this is an excellent idea for it’s easier with two of you and you will approach things differently and ‘cross-benefit’ with introductions and conversations. However, if you know that you might end up wholly relying on them to open up conversations, maybe it’s best that you don’t.


These are some of my tips for helping me through the networking process. I’ve had to give up (albeit reluctantly) by Princess of the Loos title. I still don’t love networking but I find myself being much better about attending them, to the point of enjoying them. For me, the biggest differentiators were getting over myself and attending events that I actually want to go to, rather than to ones where I felt I should go.


If you have any questions or anything to add, I’d love to hear from you! Good luck!



Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk



#networking #buildingrelationships #career #leadership #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #managingupwards #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #empathy




02 Aug

Returning to Work – a case study

Back to Work. Credit Ryan Tang @Unsplash

When one talks about taking time out away from work, it’s really easy to imagine trips away to exotic places learning about new food and people, or perhaps going on surf-yoga or get-fit bootcamps are more your thing. Perhaps it is going on a course to learn about preserving marine life in Belize or visiting archaeological sites searching for ancient Mayan artifacts. Certainly I was lucky enough to do some of those things when I had a sabbatical a few years ago.


However, for many clients, their time out is for something far less ‘glamorous’, (that said, I’m not sure huffing and puffing around mountains is a great look on me) and they take time out for a variety of reasons – some for joyous ones, and sadly others for less inauspicious ones. The reasons for the time off can be for very joyous ones such as maternity leave, whilst others have to take time off for more inauspicious causes, such as illness or redundancy. Even where there was a deliberate and well-thought out career change, it is inevitable that returning to work brings about some misgivings and no small amount of anxiety.


As topics go, this is too large a one to lock down into just one case study. However, I felt it was important to at least raise the subject and acknowledge that it is a very real challenge for many. At a later stage, I will write in further details on these case studies but for now, I thought it was important to highlight some of the work we did, which might help give some of you some food for thought.


Q1:      How do I slot back in as if I did not have any time off? I don’t want my manager or my team to resent me for having a few months off to have a baby.


A1:      Why on earth would you want to pretend that you didn’t have a life changing experience? Imagine all the things you’ve learnt and how you’ve grown in that time off as you had a baby. Take some time out to think about what you’ve gained from this wonderful time. Most working mothers I know are more brutally efficient with their time & efforts, ensuring that they retain high levels of productivity and yet are able to juggle getting home in time for feeding and bath time. My advice would be to ensure that you informally stay in touch with your team, HR and manager to ensure that there are no major surprises whilst you were away. It’s really important to talk to the latter two about a plan for how to ease your way back into work, before you start. Remember that they want you to succeed as much as you do, so being open about your expectations and concerns as well as theirs will go a long way to smoothing your transition back in to work. Remember also that they don’t know what your time away was like, so don’t assume they know what you are thinking, how you are feeling especially if they seem impatient with you. Do also prepare yourself in some less demanding ways such as some short and light reading on relevant topics to ensure that you are not starting work completely out of the loop.


At this point I would also add that some of my clients have struggled at home with the lack of support they are getting. Being a working mother can be a minefield to navigate, with some husbands/partners being less than keen to support their return to work. Or you could have a mother/mother-in-law who disapproves for the same reason and will constantly harangue you until you eventually fold and behave like a good old-fashioned wife & mother. The nanny might not be someone you trust as much as you’d like. I would suggest having some really candid conversations around this topic and always have a back up in case something goes wrong. This is your career and you can make it work.


There are many more thoughts around this but also make sure you minimize potential stressors such as transport or food for dinner. These can really add to one’s anxiety levels if not prepared, or as prepared as one can realistically be.


Be kind to yourself. Going back to a familiar role yet with different circumstances can really throw one for the loop. Ease in gently. Make sure you acknowledge what is or isn’t working for you and work through these obstacles with compassion for yourself.   It will work out for you.

Credit David Tran @unsplash

Q2:      I had to take a leave of absence because I was ill with work stress, which led to me having a debilitating illness. I’m really worried about relapsing back into my old working habits.


A2:      This is a really tough one. The stress was caused by the constant and persistent pressure created at work and so to return to that atmosphere, looking to pick up from where you left off and not fall back into the traps from before will be hard. That coupled with the anxiety associated with being debilitatingly unwell must really up the ante on the stress scale, thereby further exacerbating the situation. Additionally, the illness itself will have brought about some really difficult emotions within yourself and with your friends and family.


Prior to going back, I would suggest having a good honest look, as well as a real heart-to-heart with yourself. Why were you so stressed previously? What brought this about – was it an event? A person? The workload? Particular behaviours? What were/are your triggers? How did your stress manifest itself? Will you recognize it if you see it again? If you could redo how you did things, what could you change? What can you do to improve things on your return and who do you need to speak to, to ease this transition? What changes can you make mentally and physically to reduce the likelihood of the stress recurring? What support can you get to help you through this process? What else can you do to reduce the stressors in your life, such as review your spending habits? Schedule exercise for a few times a week? Change your eating habits? Organize date nights and meeting with friends more regularly?


It’s amazing that with a little distance and time the amount of clarity that arises. However, it is very easy to get sucked back into the whirlwind that is a demanding job. Do set up structures that support you in your quest to not fall back into drowning mode. Also, start being really honest about what is or isn’t working for you. You may well discover that this really is workable after all, with far less stress. Or perhaps this role or job is no longer the right one for you now.


Q3:      I’ve been made redundant and I’m worried that I won’t be able to find a job, interview well and perform as well as I used to. I am worried that people will judge me as being a loser.


A3:      Being made redundant no longer has the same taboo associations as it used to. Sadly employees are often treated as commodities rather than the talented people that they are, or organisations are forced to make these redundancies due to unfortunate circumstances. Either way, you’re the one affected by this decision.


It is worthwhile remembering that whilst the redundancy is wholly personal to you, more often than not, it was not a personal decision made by management. Even if this is the case, it is important to acknowledge that you are more than just ‘that person who was made redundant’. You have a wealth of personal & professional experience. You have a network of professional and personal contacts.   Go through your CV, update it and remind yourself of all your achievements. How can you ensure that your next potential employers see your strengths and your potential contribution? What else can you do to ‘update’ yourself – is there a course that can help enhance your CV and differentiate you from your competitors? What can your previous experience bring to this new organization? What are you transferable skills? Why did your previous employer choose you for the list – is there any thing you can learn from that? What were your previous appraisals like – can you learn from those and use them to your advantage? What would your ex colleagues say about you?


It is really easy to wind yourself up into a state of frenzied anxiety or defeated gloom. People will be able to smell desperation on you though, so do your homework – on the new company and on your team, but most of all on yourself. The more prepared you are on what your contribution you will make, what benefits you bring, as well as really knowing this deep down within yourself, the more confident you will be when talking to your employers on your skills & attributes. I would also strongly urge you to remember that the interview is a two-way process. You need to know if this new place is the right fit for you or not. By desperately trying to get a job wholly unsuited for you will merely damage your confidence even more.


Returning back to work after a break is a challenge. Your mindset will likely have changed, perhaps subtly, but changed nonetheless. Improving your confidence (a whole topic in itself) will come with greater self-awareness and clarity of thought. These in themselves, as well as actively seeing help and support from friends & family, and professionals, well help ease the trepidation one experiences. Just remember that this time off was not wasted. Things happened and you learnt a lot, no matter how hard. These will contribute to who you are today and what you bring to the workplace.


I hope that some of these abbreviated examples will give you some food for thought and also to remind you that whilst returning to work after time out can be a difficult time, you can do it – with some preparation and support.



Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk


#tbt #returntowork #backtowork #maternityleave #mentalhealth #workplacestress #stress #redundancy #confidence #support #thrivewithkaren #sabbatical #traveladventures #resilience, #journal #psychology #personaldevelopment #strengths #skills #attributes #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #entrepreneurs #corporatelife

26 Jul

Case Study: Curiosity killed the Cat – or did it?

Over my years of coaching I have met a lot of clients who have come to me for help in a variety of areas, from looking for a promotion, to feeling demotivated and wanting a change. Others are looking to improve team dynamics within their division to board members wanting to communicate better with their colleagues.


I want that promotion but everything I do seems to be overlooked’


In each of these situations, the individuals are smart, intelligent and ambitious professionals who have a strong desire to succeed and to contribute to their businesses. Most want more than their current circumstance and intellectually, they know that they need to do something to bring about change. Yet, they are unable to bring about the transformation they are require. In fact, as is the habit of human nature, we tend to keep repeating actions and habits that have proven favourable in the past, possibly doing even more of them more frequently, in order to keep producing winning results. The problem is that more isn’t always more, unless it’s a fabulous pair of shoes or ice cream. The strategy undertaken was relevant for a particular time and situation but the circumstances today might be similar but are not exactly the same. We have all heard this quote being attributed to Einstein:


‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results’                                             Albert Einstein (not confirmed)



The Expert


As with all coaching mandates, each situation is different and everyone’s personalities are unique. However, something I have noticed about every client is that the longer they have worked at a particular role, the more of an expert they become in that area. To the point where they could turn up hungover and tired and could still do their jobs with their eyes closed, per Patricia Benner’s Clinical Model of Skill Acquisition (1984). Not a bad place to be huh?


‘The Expert operates from a deep understanding of the total situation’

           Benner, P (1984)


And yet…


The Expert now assumes he/she has ‘deep understanding of the total situation’ and therein lies the problem. She may conclude that by doing her job really well, that’s all she needs to get the promotion. He presumes to know what his fellow team members are thinking and so continues to behave as before, possibly ordering them around even more. She thinks that the board members will agree that following the same strategy will yield improved returns for their P&L.


By not thinking curiously about oneself and one’s actions, as well as being curious about the thought processes, feelings and behaviours of others, things will not change. Making assumptions (‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’) and preconceived judgments about people will merely keep you in a state of stagnation and worse still, a deterioration of relations.


Take the lady looking for a promotion. Her bosses are impressed that she is doing her work superbly but they are not incentivized to promote her. She has not shown any interest in doing anything different than for her current role. By portraying a more inquisitive outlook to leadership eg taking a greater interest in the wider organization, launching new initiatives for the benefit of her team and the firm, networking with others internally and externally, she is demonstrating that she is more than her current role. The first step to this is curiosity.


When there is a communication breakdown such as in the scenario above with the board members, the CEO assumed that he knew what his colleagues were thinking and that they would continue with the strategy as has been for the last five years. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. However, your results will be the same, if not worse. Your shareholders are expecting better and more. Not more of the same.


‘I think we need a 12-step group for non-stop talkers. We’re going to call it On and On Anon.’ (We’re curious only when we’re listening and genuinely interested in understanding what the other person means – not when we’re talking).                                                                                                         –Paula Poundstone


Curiosity leads to innovation and change.

Virtually all entrepreneurs will tell you that they came about their ideas due to their innate curiosity – eager to offer a unique and different experience, or to improve a legacy and sluggish system. When accessing successful CEOs and entrepreneurs, one of the items most common to all is that of ‘Openness to Experience’ (Big 5 Personality Traits – Goldberg, L.R 1993). One of the tools I use most whilst helping my coaching clients, is curiosity. The more inquisitive and less judgmental I am, the more I will get from my clients. By not being wedded to preconceived hypotheses, the better I can help the individual self-reflect, change their assumptions and take the necessary steps to moving forward.


For most, people have honed their beliefs and values over several decades. It takes a lot to change this ‘expertise’ of themselves. Instilling a sense of curiosity in thought process is a step in the right direction. All changes of mindset, even seemingly insignificant ones, will reap new habits and big changes.  And while you’re there, think of all the new, exciting and different things you’ll learn on that journey! This is the objective of the coaching session.




#tbt #casestudies #curiosity #transformationalchange #executivecoaching #thrivewithkaren

15 Mar

Daily Act of Feminism: Mentoring and Championing Women And Girls

Championing other women can empower them and you 💪
From: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/amp/entry/how-to-support-women-empower-others_uk_5a957eeee4b036ab0142cb1f/

05/03/2018 11:05 GMT | Updated 05/03/2018 17:54 GMT

By Amy Packham

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, HuffPost UK is considering the practical habits you can adopt to support women in your everyday life.

Empowered women empower women, so this International Women’s Day, pledge to champion other women in your life – an act that can be as simple as giving a colleague a compliment, or as involved as mentoring a young woman looking for a sense of direction.

You can begin by supporting women with whom you spend time daily and already have a close personal relationship – friends, colleagues, mums, sisters and aunties. Celebrate their successes. “We all need genuine encouragement and you can do so much good by pumping the positive to the women in your life,” says Relate counsellor, Barbara Bloomfield. “Never pass up an opportunity to make an appreciative comment by noticing the many ways in which your friends and relatives enrich and support your life, and the lives of others.”

Professionally, empowering women around you is also important. At HuffPost UK, I’m part of a female-only online group at work built solely for the purpose of sharing and championing each other’s work. It really makes a difference.

Karen Kwong, a business coach and director of consulting business Renoc, encourages women to collaborate with female colleagues, “Use their strengths, and share yours when they need them,” she suggests. “We aren’t and can’t be good at everything, but by sharing skills, we can achieve great things and meet our goals.”

Kwong also argues that managers should challenge women who work for them. “It’s how we are going to get to the top,” she says. “Challenging women allows us to not only find solutions, but to push ourselves and find our strengths and go beyond our limits.”

Beyond working with your peers, consider reaching younger women through mentoring schemes which aim to boost girls’ self-esteem and give them role models to aspire to. “We see shy girls find their voice,” explains Jane Kenyon, founder of Girls Out Loud, a mentoring scheme based in Manchester. “We see newly-confident girls standing up for themselves, moving into new peer groups and excited about their future.”

Girls Out Loud runs a ‘Big Sister Programme’, where they train and support women who want to be involved via a peer mentoring process. “This is a very unique and emotional relationship,” explains Kenyon. “The Big Sister is likely to be the only adult in this young girl’s life without an agenda. Their relationship is rich, multi-faceted and most importantly without judgement. The girls feel validated and that they matter and start to get a sense of their identity and potential. The women go on a similar journey in terms of feeling empowered and fulfilled.”

In London the Girl’s Network, aims to inspire girls aged 14-19 from disadvantaged communities by pairing them with a mentor who they can work with one-on-one on everything from career advice to checking a CV or asking practice interview questions.

If you can’t find a mentoring scheme in your local area, it may be worth approaching schools and youth groups to see if they’d be up for creating a similar-style programme.

And remember, mentoring schemes work both ways. Don’t be afraid to seek out one-on-one support in your career by seeing what your workplace may offer, or heading to career networking events for women – do a quick search on meetup.com for women’s business networking near you.

12 Mar

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018

1. Who inspires you?
The people who inspire me have a mission and drive to succeed, but not at the expense of people and the greater good. They are phenomenal leaders who are focused and support others on their journeys too. To me, these individuals have great resilience, energy and courage and yet are able to remain humble and willing to learn. People like Serena Williams, Melinda Gates and many of the Leaders I work with at the Shackleton Foundation (http://shackletonfoundation.org) demonstrate these qualities on a daily basis. They truly inspire me.

2. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Knowing that if I don’t get up quickly, I’d be in bed all day?? Joking aside, coaching my clients really does. Only today I started with a new client – I was concerned that I had bitten off more than I could chew but I decided a challenge was what I needed and I wanted to learn. The session was fantastic, I really upped my game and in turn, the client was really receptive to our coaching conversation. This is what I get up for – helping people make changes that improve performance. Changes that work for them and for those around them, all for the better. Who wouldn’t want to do such rewarding and tangibly effective work on a daily basis?

3. What keeps you awake at night?
Even when I am agitated, I tend to sleep really well (touch wood) to the point where we’ve had hurricanes and house alarms go off and I’m still fast asleep in bed. On the one or two occasions when I have had insomnia, it’s usually something sub-conscious and I genuinely don’t know what’s bothering me, but I know there must be something, to not be sleeping. Practising mindfulness on a daily basis helps with this – whereby I sometimes have a better insight to what is going on in my sub-conscious, and/or the mindfulness helps me relax the mind a little by focusing on the present. I also make sure that I don’t get even more frustrated not being able to sleep. By accepting that I can’t sleep, I stop fighting it, and therefore remain relaxed. I am usually able to fall back asleep quite quickly thereafter.

4. What’s your signature meal and who would you cook it for?
Although I love cooking, I really don’t cook at all. Amongst my siblings, I am known as the one who washes the dishes and drinks the wine. However, once a year, I have my closest friends round for Chinese New Year dinner (these friends are my UK family for mine are scattered all over the world). Additionally I host Christmas dinner once every few years for my family. On both occasions, I ensure that grape juice is flowing aplenty before feeding people. Apparently I bake a good hazelnut meringue cake and two-toned brownies. Who knows? As a practical form of mindfulness, I would thoroughly recommend cooking – very therapeutic, armed with some cool music one can dance to.

5. How do you manage your time?
An interesting question. Although I am not the most organised person on this planet, I seem to be quite good at scheduling things well so that I am never rushed one way or another. I tend to make sure expectations are managed by knowing when deadlines are and offering them to others as well. I typically leave lots to the last minute but those who know me well know that I will keep people in touch in the interim with updates and I will definitely deliver. If I can’t, you’ll have been kept abreast of things. What might help is that I am pretty relaxed about change so if things happen last minute that require a pivot, I am usually calm about it, unless it means letting someone else down. My advice to those who don’t manage time well is to break projects down to manageable sizes, communicate on where you are, and respect others’ time ie, never assume that others’ working practices and priorities are the same as yours –so you might as well be clear about how you work and understand theirs.

6. Best bits (s) of advice ever received?
‘Be yourself because you’re the only one who can be best at that’. Societal and peer pressure have been around through the ages, and it has only be exacerbated today with the prevalence and dominance of social media. It is really easy to lose sight of oneself, one’s abilities, confidence, potential and mission when others are so keen to impose an unrequested opinion on almost everything – personal or professional, 24-7. It’s hard to remember who you are at times. I’ve had a career change and although many can’t see how I could have made that very dramatic switch, I have and I have no regrets – both having loved my last career and am loving my current one. I’ve been me – it hasn’t always been smooth sailing but it had to be done.

7. What is the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?
What a brilliant question! It always has to be shoes. My first ever expensive and amazingly gorgeous pair of shoes – a pair of Sergio Rossis from Paris. I am so angry that I wore them in the rain once and they are now watermarked and ruined but I can’t bring myself to throw them out. Worse purchase, aside from my many 80s shoulder pad numbers, and a lot of bad haircuts, I am sticking with shoes again. A pair of black patent, platform Christian Louboutins. They cost an arm and a leg – I can’t walk in them because the platform is so unyielding and I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I WAS THINKING. So if anyone wants a pair of size 39 shoes, you know where to find me.

8. What is the closest thing to magic?
The fact that some people can easily bend over and touch their toes and I can’t?? When I was travelling in South America, I had never really been one for nature, always preferring my Sergio Rossis to Merrell hiking boots. However, this trip was life changing – the diverse people & cultures, flora, fauna and environment, it was truly magical. Experiences can be magical and they can’t really be exactly replicated – isn’t that magic?

9. Do you have a mentor? What value do you think a mentor brings to a business?
I had 2 mentors when I worked in financial services. Both were so different and that was when I learnt and grew the most. Both of them challenged me, supported me, encouraged me and were my champions when I needed that. They had very different styles and approaches but to me, that was an advantage. Their patience with me was also very much needed and necessary. One of them really took me out of my comfort zone and threw me in the deep end for something that I hadn’t even considered, but he had the foresight to know that I was not only ready but very prepared to take myself and the opportunity to the next level. Left to my own devices, I would never have been that ambitious let alone taken that leap. Good mentors are vital for true, rounded progress. Today, I don’t have a mentor but I have a peer coach who is just amazing. She and I meet up regularly to talk about our work, coach and advise each other – all the while enjoying ourselves. It is the perfect setup.

10. What unusual food combinations do you enjoy?
Well, my all time favourite, common in the US but not here, is peanut butter and jam (PB&J) on toast. Great for hangovers or lazy weekend mornings in bed. At school, we used to love marmite on granny smiths. Not really a food combination but my sisters laugh at me, I really like eating stale crisps and biscuits.

11. How can female entrepreneurs further support each other?
The entrepreneurial community is large and it can be very easy to feel like you’re drowning, alone or lost, even if it is temporary. Building up a support network of like-minded people, even if they are at different stages, can be helpful. For example, even if you are an experienced entrepreneur, mixing with novices can remind one of the importance of remaining somewhat free-spirited, innovative and mission-focused. It is very easy to get lost in the ‘language’ of investor demands, board meetings and reports etc. Some statistics suggest that there are only half as many female entrepreneurs as male ones and as such, your voices aren’t going to be as loud or well heard. Sticking together, learn from and supporting each other and where possible collaborating and advocating for each other will make all the difference in the world – for yourselves, for others and for future generations.

12. What’s something that will always be in fashion, no matter how much time passes?
My mother and sisters always say stripes. For me, anything that is a ‘classic’ will always be in fashion – be it the colour black, the little black dress, black shoes, the “Burberry’ mac, red lipstick or nail varnish (and rouge noir), a croque monsieur, Laurent Perrier Rose, Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ – shall I go on?

13. What was the last thing you did that made you really proud?
I stayed up late to watch the first half of this year’s Superbowl (Fly Eagles Fly!)… Being someone who wakes up at 5am most days (a hangup of my time in the City) – this was a feat…! On a more serious note, it was when I ended a working relationship with a business partner on excellent terms. This was never going to be easy to end given the amount of time and effort towards the business but our priorities had changed. It could have been ugly but the conversations turned out healthy and very constructive. Like most people, I find having difficult conversations really tough but they are entirely possible and through working with my coaching clients, and therefore myself, I have learnt a few tricks and made several observations to help me through this process.

14. If you were to give advice to a fellow female entrepreneur what would it be?
Keep learning and don’t lose focus on the mission by losing yourself. I have worked with so many clients who can’t see the wood for the trees. One even ended up in hospital because of stress. Another said the stress was like having a permanent year-long hangover. Who wants that? It isn’t good for your business if you don’t help yourself, develop your leadership skills and your business nous. As women, we are equally as capable as men in being successful but due to unconscious bias and societal barriers, we have a harder task. Don’t make it harder for yourself. Get a mentor to help with that journey. Find a coach who will help develop you, your resilience, your performance and your psyche to really make that difference. Find yourself a team that works with you and shares your vision – you don’t all have to agree on everything but a shared vision really will make your journeys a lot less painful.

15. What does success look like to you?
Success for me is having the time, health and financial ability to do whatever it is I want for me to be happy. So far, I get the feeling that I am heading in that right direction – but I am a work in progress!!

If you have any questions at all, you know where to find me!