Leadership coach and acclaimed author Kevin Lawrence shares the key messages of his highly-praised book “Your Oxygen Mask First” and explains why the pressures of organisational and personal change are so pertinent to the publishing sector.
Tell us what you cover in your books and your talks – and why it’s such an important topic for execs and industry leaders.
The root of what I’m talking about comes from my experience of working with numerous high-performing individuals who have had massive success, been responsible for companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and who are seen as great leaders and drivers of success. One of the common themes I’ve found among these incredibly high-performing individuals is that they get amazing results. But, as stress increases, or crazy situations come up, or major changes take them out of their comfort zone – sometimes the stress gets the best of them and creates a major mental setback for them. And what I found along the way is that people are great at listening to conventional wisdom, such as how they must look after their teams and how they must do the best for everyone else – but they aren’t good at taking care of themselves. What can happen in those cases is that they can lose complete belief in themselves.
It’s a silent epidemic in the world of business, caused by the additional pressures and pace that people face – and nobody talks about it when it happens. Often, when someone burns themselves out and their mental function and performance are impaired, they think they are the only one and they feel very alone. But their neighbour is probably going through the same thing. People are really afraid to talk about it. But it’s just part of the game and I want to make this something that people can talk about.
Is this a topic that’s particularly relevant to our industry, given the fact we have seen so much change and transformation? Is that one of the drivers for people feeling lost and out of their comfort zone after years of success?
That’s definitely the case. The additional stress, pressure and uncertainty that comes with major changes in industries creates further pressure – and there’s a certain point where that additional pressure breaks us. It’s the old story of the straw that broke the camel’s back. These are people for whom pressure creates performance. But at a certain point it stops doing that and it creates a mental meltdown and cognitive fuzz that makes you lose your ability to think clearly, that effects your brain function and makes you mentally disabled. I’ve seen it happen to the best of the best.
You cover organisational transformation as well as individual change. That’s obviously another area that’s particularly relevant for our sector.
That does make it really interesting to talk to this audience. A lot of people have the ability to change and adapt to any circumstance. But under that pressure, sometimes we stop seeing the right options and the things that we should do. In the book, which is my experiences of 25 years of working with hundreds of high-performing CEOs and executives, we set out the 17 different conversations that I have with them when things get difficult. These people do not lose the appetite to adapt and grow. They just lose the ability to do it. We talk about what they have to do to get the personal tough resilience back – and that can be a number of things, including making sure you have the right advisers around you, who may not be the advisers you have had around you all of your career. There are a multitude of things. But in the midst of those big stressful events, sometimes the situation gets the best of people and they need new perspectives, tools or options to find their way through it. And that’s what we’ll explore.
Is there an element here that it’s good to share and to hear from other people who have been through something – so people can see that they are not the only ones?
That’s exactly it. It’s exactly why I do this. Two years ago, I was working with a guy who sold his business for a billion dollars. Before the cheque was in the bank, he went from a 9.8 out of ten intelligence level to about a six. He was mentally and emotionally destroyed. Right after that, he got a big, prestigious ‘entrepreneur of the year’ award. Now, he didn’t tell anyone about his breakdown or how his incredible intelligence had dropped away as a result of him feeling the pressure and the stress of the sale. He just told me. Because he didn’t believe anyone else had been through it. My job was to help him see that he wasn’t alone and that what had happened was as common as a late train or a car crash. That’s why it’s really important to share some of these stories and these experiences. Because there will be people in this industry who are also feeling like that, and we need them to know that change and transformation can do this to anyone. It’s normal.