Scope - Design - Deliver

Human Being not Human Doing

Steve Rush: Joining me on the show today is Ben Renshaw. Ben is a thought leader who specializes in purpose led cultures. He is a speaker and author of nine books. The latest is called Being, which is a practical playbook for leading in the age of fast change. Ben, welcome to the Leadership Hacker Podcast.


Ben Renshaw: Steve, great to be together. Thank you very much.


Steve Rush: I am really intrigued in your backstory and how you’ve arrived here and I wondered for our listeners perspective, you can give them a little sense of how you’ve arrived here. As life did not start out in the world of business and coaching, and leading. You started out as a classical violinist, right?


Ben Renshaw: Yeah, it is very true. Mine, in fact, my whole family and background was music and education and I grew up as a violinist, but you say a little music school called the Yahudi Menuhin School, which is nestled in the kind of countryside of, Surrey. It is a very beautiful patch, right now it is next to Chelsea football club, so their training ground is next door. And in fact, my father was the headmaster, so he ran the school. There was no intent when he took the role. I had one sister that we would go to the school, but we played music and went to local schools, but then all my friends are at the school and I auditioned went through all the normal channels and somehow got in and I had a very kind of love, hate relationship with it. I was talented and I was good but music was not my thing and I kind of sensed that from quite an early age. However, I really did not like academia, so there was a trade-off there. It was just easier to stay at the school, excel in music than have to peddle away on my GCSE and A-levels. When I left the school, I landed up at an institution, the Guildhall school of Music at the Barbican in London and hated it. I am not an institutional person. I rebel I rally against it, and so very quickly I quit and I fell into the world of person development, and I actually landed up in America and I did all my initial training there and just got completely passionate and ignited about human potential and what was possible and that really then began to unfold. And I went through a few incarnations. I specialized initially in the field of relationships and actually many years ago, I was kind of known as the relationship expert and fronted shows. There was a show called Perfect Match on channel 4-pre reality TV, and I did a lot with Richard, and Judy and GMTV a whole bunch of stuff.

And then I ran a project called the Happiness Project with a colleague Dr. Robert Holden, and we specialized in positive psychology. That then took me into the world of business and started working with organizations like British Telecomm in the mid-nineties when there was a lot of change and transformation, and it really went from there. And then I fell into the world of coaching and absolutely loved that as a methodology and approach for getting the best out of people and then transitioned to the leadership and that took me to where I am today.


Steve Rush: Super backstory and I wonder, do you notice some parallels between your life as a musician in terms of the discipline, rigor, practice, as well as noticing those same parallels in business?


Ben Renshaw: Yeah look, it is interesting as a great, great point, and I think they fall into a few categories. So one is about talent and if I think about the way I spend my time now, kind of really as a connoisseur of talent. I specialize in catching talent and igniting talent, getting the best out of talent in other words, people and I think growing up in a specialized environment that was very much top of mind. Secondly, around performance so again, as a musician, practicing four to six hours a day with a relentless, relentless focus on performing at your optimal ability, again, absolutely translate that into business. But I think in terms of my qualities as a coach, what I bring a lot of my music with based on things like listening, empathy, understanding, and really having that connectivity into playing together. So actually, the music I enjoyed the most was a string quartet, which is very much a team effort, a team experience, and again, I spend a lot of my time developing high performing teams, so there are a lot of parallels that I draw upon.


Steve Rush: And ironically, when you hear that metaphor, we can get the violins out. You are probably one of the few people that actually can get their violin out. Right?


Ben Renshaw: Well, not anymore. Now I actually, I kind of burnt out on the violin, which is a shame in a way, because, you know, by the age of 20, I mean, I think it was Malcolm Gladwell, the author that taught about 10,000 hours and, you know, for mastery. And I don’t think I quite reached my 10,000, but I put in a lot of hours, but because it wasn’t my passion and it wasn’t my purpose. I burnt out and I, and again, that is something I really look at cause, you know, I am fascinated about mastery and excelling and what you do and peak performance and what that means and take. And I think that there’s a whole bunch of ingredients that contribute to that. Discipline, effort, persistence, never giving up is certainly one of them and grit and determination. And I had a lot of that, but I think it also has to be married with absolute passion and love for what you do, because I think that’s where I fell down in music.


Steve Rush: It is one of the only things that you can almost not train, you can’t train passion. It is an innate, isn’t it, it comes from other things that obviously you can train around, you to create passion. But actually if you haven’t got that far in the belly, it’s probably one of the hardest to coach out, isn’t it?


Ben Renshaw: I agree, yeah absolutely. And for me, that’s all about the discovery process and that’s, you know, through my work and coaching and development of leaders, for me, it’s all about drawing out that sense of purpose and that passion in order to get the best out of people on a very consistent basis.


Steve Rush: Got It, so your new book Being is based around six principles for leaders so that they can be more agile and adaptive in the world that we’re in at the moment. What was the inspiration behind this book?


Ben Renshaw: All my writing is all based on experience. Essentially what I’ve learned over the years is I’m very, I think I’m very intuitive and I do stuff without really knowing what I’m doing. I then go through a process of writing about it and then it kind of comes and makes sense and it goes, oh, okay. So that’s what I’m doing. Now this concept of Being, and the fundamental idea here is a shift from human doing to human beings. And really the reason for the book is because the feedback I always receive from leaders I work with. With probably the most powerful and impactful thing they took from my work was this concept of being, and in essence, I think what tends to happen particularly in business is that the language I user say, look, we become human doing, and we forget that we are human beings.


And what I mean by that is the level of task and transaction that people get consumed by. They literally become machines and they forget the humanity. They forget that at the end of the day, we are human beings and that quality of being is absolutely essential in order to be visionary, be inspiring, be effective, be connected, be relational. All of that starts with the quality of your being and leadership ultimately is about how are you being, which will then definitely go and shape what you do. So this is not about not doing, but you’ve first and foremost, you’ve got to be clear about how to you want to be.

Steve Rush: Really neat and you’ve created six principles that sit underneath the principle of Being that will help us as leaders to step through some self-discovery and self-awareness, before we get into that doing stage. I thought what would be really helpful for our listeners is to maybe take a brief tour of each of those six principles and the first one you call out is being humble, which sounds really simple to people. It is academically simple but behavioural; it is much more challenging, isn’t it?


Ben Renshaw: Oh, absolutely. This for me is probably the biggest challenge for leaders. Why? Because most leaders are recognized, then they get promoted, you know, on their expertise and they begin to think that they really good at what they do and they may be good at what they do. But when you get to a position, a leadership, it’s a different ball game and just being good at what you do is not enough. Being a content subject matter expert will get you so far but then what happens is, oh, you get people. Actually, then it’s a completely different proposition in terms of creating followership and actually being able to get the best out of people and you just been brilliant at what you do. Yes, that is going to help and of course, it is going to get your credibility, but it is not enough. And actually the way that you then really begin to connect and build relationships and create the conditions in which other people can be at their best and do stuff is through humility because probably the number one switch off in an organizational context is arrogance.


Steve Rush: Yeah.


Ben Renshaw: You know, I have seen so much of this where, you know, on the whole I don’t question people’s intent, leaders intent in organizations. You know, I think most people on the whole show up and their intent is to do a good job and help the organization and not deliberately undermined people, but because we’re human, which means we’ve got blind spots. And for the majority of people, they don’t have a level of awareness that they need in order to really understand how they come across and the impact they have and the shadow that they cast as a consequence of that. I mean, the number of examples I could give you where literally people’s lives have almost been destroyed by so-called, you know, leaders. Their arrogance, their narcissism, their cynicism and it is unpleasant. So I feel very strongly that you need to start with this concept of humility and there are a few bits to that. That means you got to be able and be willing to be vulnerable. You’ve got to take the risk to show your humanity. We are human we are fallible. We all make mistakes. If you make a mistake, just say, sorry, if you need help, ask for help. It is really simple stuff but actually for a lot of leaders, they find this very challenging.


Steve Rush: I guess this comes from that place of brand protectionism or most of themselves and showing humility. There is this maybe nagging doubt that they will be less strong as a result.


Ben Renshaw: Completely and look, I think that, you know, if you look at the impact of coronavirus and you know, my experience now is wherever you go, nobody knows what is going on, nobody’s got the answer. Who can predict? Who can predict tomorrow? Let alone today. So I think actually what that has really accelerated, you know, in organizations and for leaders, it absolutely precipitated this need for vulnerability and openness and humility. And in particular an amazing term coined by the psychologist, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety and psychological safety is essentially creating the environment and the conditions where everybody has voice. Everybody feels safe enough to speak up without negative consequences and it is within those conditions where people can really hear what is going on, what they see, what is their experience. They can challenge and out of that, you know, you create the Aah and the ideas in order to be able to move forward as a collective.


Steve Rush: It is really neat. Super, love it. The next one of your six is being present. What is the concept of being present?


Ben Renshaw: Yeah, so the idea here, I will bring it to life with a fellow father. I’ve got three kids and a fellow father a while ago told me how his 10 year old son came running home from school. This was pre COVID and came into the kitchen. Dad, dad, I want a chocolate biscuit and his father said, what is the magic word? Now, you know, we live in this instant generation. We want everything now and yet what’s really interesting. We are so bombarded by information, I mean, neuroscientist estimate that we are having to process 11 million pieces of data and information at any given second. The conscious mind can only manage about 50 and that is on a good day, so we have to really learn to be in the moment to be present and available because otherwise what happens is we get run by something called the autopilot. It is a great friend is part of the brain, which essentially is associated with fight flight. Yeah, so it’s literally becomes a condition response and it’s just habit and it’s familiarity and it’s great. Because it’s quick and it’s fast and it’s reactive and it, you know, and it’s there to protect us, but in order to be conscious and deliberate, which we require today, we need to be very intentional, very present for instance, about how are we going to be? How are we going to show it? What impact do we want to have on others? And in particularly, as you mentioned earlier around the need to adapt today, you know, this chapter really talks about things like navigating speed and embracing emergence when we’re in an environment of the unknown and welcoming disruption in order to navigate all of that, we’ve got to be able to be present in the here and now. And probably the main tool that I encourage people on that is mindfulness. I mean, mindfulness is simply about awareness. It is the ability to pay attention to what is, and to remove distractions but anybody that has practiced a little bit of mindfulness knows it is not easy. It is not straightforward, so it really is a discipline that you’ve got to build


Steve Rush: And like anything disciplines need practice and practice comes from repetition.


Ben Renshaw: Absolutely.


Steve Rush: The next part of your journey is around adaptability being adaptable. That kind of makes sense that mostly there’s today in particularly the ever changing world where we need to be adaptable, but what is it you’ve observed that stops us being as adaptable as we like?


Ben Renshaw: Yeah. Look, I will give you an example. I was actually just working with someone this morning and they have just taken over a new role and executive officer role within a very established organization. And they were saying that, you know, pre-empted by COVID, but change needs to happen. They cannot continue working in the way that they didn’t even though some of those working practices didn’t work, people still want to go back to them and revert to them. Why? Because of course, they are familiar and they are comfortable, even if they don’t work. It is very rare, my experience. Is very rare to come across anybody that wakes up in the morning, it goes, yippee, all changed today. Some people, if I was being really generous, I’d say 10% of people love change, thrive on change, drive change, lead on change. Probably say about 5% in reality, most of us mere mortals, you know, we need to get comfortable with it. We need to then adapt to it, so if we take what is going on at the moment with, you know, homeworking. Initially, you know, it was hugely challenging for people and for organizations, you know, for many, many years, even though people said they wanted to work from home. Companies thought, no, you are just having the day off. They did not trust people, all of that. Now, you know, we’re actually at a trend where people are, you know, yes, there are obviously huge challenges come from working with home in particular, you know, in terms of those young children or if they are not equipped for it. And of course it takes away from that social interaction, et cetera. But people have adapted and they’re now saying they want to say working from home. We can adapt, but it is not straightforward and this chapter encourage people to think ahead, to be able to anticipate the change that’s coming down the line to flex themselves and then be prepared and willing to stretch and take a few risks in order to adapt quicker and better.


Steve Rush: And in my experience as a coach, sometimes the motivation, the light bulb, if you like happens after the event, particularly if you look back over what we’ve just experienced.


Ben Renshaw: Completely, and again, we need to be able to build it in and so therefore that adaptability also will include that yes, there will be a bit of lag time as well.


Steve Rush: The next principle is a brand being connected, which is much deeper than just collaboration and networking. Isn’t it?


Ben Renshaw: Yeah, it starts with the whole premise of trust and it’s quite interesting. There was some fascinating research done last year by an Institute called ADP and they interviewed over 19,000 workers globally. And really, you know, what they synthesize was when you’re talking about engagement and people being engaged, you’re talking about trust. And what they found in particular as an example was that those people that trusted their line managers were 12 times more engaged, 12 times more engaged because of trust. What is really fascinating, again back to neuroscience is actually you can measure trust, so we have, what’s called neural mirrors. We get wired up to trust and pick up, and I’ve seen studies done where they’ve wired up, people’s brainwaves, and you can actually see the brain frequency entered how much I trust you and whether I trust you or not. So, yes, when you’re talking about being connected, it starts with that trust then out of that comes real partnership, which means obviously, and in particular in today’s world where we need a lot of sensitivity, we need a lot of understanding. We need a lot of acceptance and compassion and out of that, you can then create an inclusive environment where everyone, everyone feels that they have a sense of belonging.


Steve Rush: And that sense of belonging also plays into your next principle too, doesn’t it? around being curious and how you create the environment for curiosity in the workplace?


Ben Renshaw: Yeah, it is. I was interviewing for the book. I got to interview a lot of the leaders I worked with and there was one CEO. I said to him, so what is the one thing, the one thing that you are looking for from your, you know, your employees? And without hesitation, he just came back and he said, intense curiosity. Most people don’t know what is on, so therefore actually, what is going to help you navigate that? Well, you’ve got to be curious. Intensely curious and ask questions and explore, create the time to think, you know, one of the things I have really challenged leaders with as a leader, you are paid to think, but most of the time you are too busy to think. Thinking is a form of work, so you’ve got to recognize that and out of that, then it unlocks creativity and all of that then really helped to accelerate growth for organizations.

Why? Because you are doing better thinking, you’ve got that curiosity and a real kind of growth mind-set to a company.


Steve Rush: And let’s face it. It is more fun as well. Isn’t it?


Ben Renshaw: It is a lot more fun. I mean, you know, I am an educationalist at heart. I have an absolute passion for learning development and helping the next generation become better and create a better world. That is one of my core drivers. If you are not curious, you are not going to get very far. So, you know, asking questions like what if, and what is possible? And that just really opens up that world of possibilities.


Steve Rush: And in the book, you’ve got a great model that helps people think about their creativity and you call it the act model, A-C-T. Maybe just give us a quick summary. Of what the act model is and how it can help us?


Ben Renshaw: So look, it starts with autonomy and you know, I think we all need to have a sense that we have the space and we have the conditions to think and to think for ourselves. And, you know, most, most people I work with what they really value and what they really value from leaders is where they are just allowed to get on with it. I have never, ever yet met anybody that loves to be micromanaged.


Steve Rush: Exactly, right.


Ben Renshaw: Let me be in the detail of your thinking and all your actions. It is one of the biggest turnoff. Now I get it, people need the detail. They need to know what is going on. They need to escalate. They need to manage senior stakeholders. Yes, I get that but please give people autonomy. You are dealing with adults here treat them as adults. Secondly, then you are talking about capability and we all have our strengths and that is critical, critical to really, really know and understand your strengths. And a strength is not just what you’re good at, but it’s where you get your energy from. It is what really energizes you. And so, as an example, you know, writing for me is not a strength or am I don’t think I’m particularly good at writing. It, it is not like a natural thing for me. I have had to learn to write. I have to apply massive discipline to my writing, but it really energizes me. So strength, isn’t just what you’re good at, but broadening and building your capability, then obviously it’s critical in terms them being able to act and be a better version of you.


And then T is for thinking, and again, part of the reason I write, for instance, literally it forces me to think. Because I am a doer, I am a man of action. I love getting on with stuff. I find that really easy where I’m very, very challenged is when I’m asked to think about stuff, so writing is my discipline for thinking


Steve Rush: It is a great tactic as well, to get you to think, and literally by just asking questions and then writing responses. Forces a habit of thinking as well, doesn’t it?


Ben Renshaw: Correct, Absolutely.


Steve Rush: I love that, and then the final principle of your six is being inspired. Tell us a little bit about that?


Ben Renshaw: For me, when you look at leadership, the number one ingredient that people look for in leaders, inspiration. To inspire, you need to be inspired yourself. So where do you draw your inspiration from? And there are a few elements I talk about here in the book. Number one is around purpose, and I have a complete passion for purpose. That is kind of what I am known for, is around leading with purpose and, you know, purpose is your big why. It is why you do what you do. It’s your absolutely fundamental intrinsic motivator, which really enables you to be the best that you can be, so that’s a key element. Another element is about values and really living to your values and being true to yourself. Another, as I just mentioned is around playing to strengths, also having vision and really creating a compelling picture for yourself of a future that really excites you and energizes you and move you in that direction. Out of that, I think you get your energy and it builds your resilience as well. What I have noticed for myself is most of my resilience comes through from adversity and all the challenges and hardship I face, and I build that resilience and I finished the book, you know, refine, reflections, back to purpose in terms of putting purpose first.


Steve Rush: And when I skipped through the book, I just loved the practical application of it. So for me as a leader, as a coach, but also just taking away some ideas and tips, the books, pumped full of great ideas as well. So we will share with our guests how they can get hold of a copy of Being, shortly Ben, but before we do that. We are going to turn the leadership lens on you now. So this is where we get to hack into your great leadership mind and the first place I would like to go is to find out what your top three leadership hacks are?


Ben Renshaw: So look, I love the question. So number one for me is about being yourself. I deliberately avoid using the word authenticity, cause I think it’s overused, but the concept of that is be yourself. Now, the challenge with being yourself is that you’ve got to know yourself. That is all very well telling somebody, you know, be who you are, but you’ve got to understand who you are, and know who you, and that for me to lifetime exploration. But I think anybody, anybody that shows up as themselves, people value it and warts and all – there’s no such thing as a perfect leader. There is nobody, that’s got it together. You know, being human means we are fundamentally flawed and your ability to understand those flaws and actually bring them as part of your hack humanity is absolutely key. The number one is in terms of being yourself.


I think number two probably what I feel most strongly about is about appreciating others. You know, what really drives me and why I do what I do is I have seen so much of the outcome of poor leadership where people are not respected. They are not listened to, they are not valued. They are not appreciated. They are not cared for, they are not listened to. I mean, what for me is so basic and fundamental, and yet people don’t do it. You got to be kidding me, but it’s what goes on. So for me, that genuine, genuine appreciative of others is key. And I think the third one is, I’m not quite sure how to frame it, because it sounds a bit frivolous, but enjoy it, you know, have some fun along the way. I mean, my experience of life is life is hard, so that is just my experiences. Life is a struggle, it is hard every day, you know, challenge after challenge after challenge, somewhere within that, you know, you have got to be able to really enjoy it and be energized by it and I think therefore all of that therefore makes it worthwhile and meaningful.


Steve Rush: More focus we have on enjoyment of the things that we do. It creates that positive mental model in our mind to help us keep focused on doing the right things versus focusing on adversity.


Ben Renshaw: Correct.


Steve Rush: About mind-set, I guess. Right?


Ben Renshaw: Absolutely. Absolutely.


Steve Rush: So the next part of the show we are going to kick around with you is what we call, Hack to Attack, and this, is where we have learned from adversity or something that has gone wrong in our life or our work, but we have used that learning and it is now a positive in our life. What would be your Hack to Attack?


Ben Renshaw: I think the main one I have had is around honesty. I found this the most challenging within an organizational context where I grew up in an environment, like I mentioned, you know, my father was my headmaster, run the school. It was a little boarding school and then age16; I found out that he had affairs throughout the marriage. My parents divorced, it was very public. It was very painful. It actually was one of the triggers for me into my own personal development. So I kind of vowed about this need for honesty and then what I found myself, working in organizations at the most senior levels around executive tables. The politics and agendas and the dynamics made for honesty, very, very difficult. And now there are certain organizations that talk about radical transparency, so like the Netflix and stuff, and they’re kind of known for that. I think my biggest learning is because what I realized I used to try and get people just to hang out all their dirty laundry to dry. Did not work really did not work and actually often created more friction because people, were not ready, they were not prepared. They did not have the skillset, they did not have the mind-set, they didn’t have the ability to navigate a lot of that sensitivity, so I’ve had to really learn to be more considerate and thoughtful about how you bring people together. How you broke a relationship, how do you create that cohesion and how do you create the environment and the conditions. And again, that probably for me, it’s where psychological safety, I feel so strongly about that and I have so much resonance with that. Because most of the time, a lot of the environments I’m in people are afraid. They are afraid of losing their jobs. They are afraid of the potential implications of that. They are afraid of making mistakes. So again, helping people feel safe is key, but I have had to really learn on the way in order to do that in a way that feels right and true for me.


Steve Rush: That is super learning and I can reflect back on my career as well and I think honesty is always sort isn’t it, we always want people to be honest with us, but it’s also being candid and being honest is actually quite a skill because it takes thought, it takes awareness of how we communicate that too.


Ben Renshaw: Absolutely and most people don’t have that awareness. Most people are not aware of the impact they have on how they come across. So even if they got good intent and they are thinking about being honest, they haven’t thought enough about how that may land, what are the implications of that and potential unintended consequences. So all of that need to be taken into consideration.


Steve Rush: Diffidently does. The last thing we are going to do with you today Ben is take you on some time travel. You get a chance now to bump into Ben at 21 and give them some advice. What is it going to be?


Ben Renshaw: Relax, relax, relax. You know, if I look back, I think about all the things that I’ve neuros about, all the things I’ve worried about. So I am 53 now. So that is what? 32 years since I was 21. Most of those anxieties never came, never happened, and yet when I think about the amount of energy they took, then that was a lot of wastage, a lot of wastage. So I think that the message will be relax, trust, but of course the challenge is that until you’ve built muscle, in order to be able to know that you can genuinely relax and trust, you can’t just tell it. So I love the idea of here is my 21-year-old self. Relax, trust the process, but I get, I also really get with that. The actually in order to get to that place where you can relax, you probably got to accumulate the scar tissue along the way,


Steve Rush: It is a real shame, isn’t it? We can’t kind of hardwire into our fifties when we are 21 and kind of bring some of that muscle memory forward. I think I would have been much more practical 21 year old as well.


Ben Renshaw: I know. I know. I know. You know, obviously I tried that with my kids and I would like to think, I mean, my daughter’s 18 and you know, like just getting a level results and yeah, I was genuinely, I had no anxiety around it. A I really don’t about those things in turn the results. I care that she is, you know, rewarded for all her work and what she does. But not the yeah, the actual letter or number, and I’d like to think that because I’m able to be a bit more like that now that rubs off on my kids, so that’s kind of where I see it.


Steve Rush: Super and actually I did some research for my book quite a few years ago around entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial spirit, and most entrepreneurs that I interviewed and researched have actually funked most of their high school or their education ironically.

Ben Renshaw: Oh yeah. Completely. Certainly if you are in the entrepreneurial space, I would almost say it is a prerequisite. Why? Because you are a rebel, and you think differently and you don’t care, you don’t care about the rules and you know, so absolutely. So whether you are a Jobs, Zuckerberg, oversee all the big famous ones but I would agree. All the entrepreneurs. I know they are not there because of their A level results, that is for sure.


Steve Rush: So where can our listeners get a copy of Being, Ben?


Ben Renshaw: Oh look, I mean, obviously, the easiest places, is Amazon. So you know, go on there and you are welcome to visit you know but probably where I am most active is LinkedIn. So, you know, be great for you just LinkedIn me. I was doing like daily thought for the day during the whole COVID run. I have just taken a break. I have come back. I will start kind of reigniting that, because that was really helpful for me as well, just in terms of more time to think for me. I love just being in touch and great to get your feedback and let’s keep the conversation going.


Steve Rush: And we will make sure we help you with that conversation and our listeners to connect with you by making sure all of those are in our show notes, as well as on our website for when we are done.


Ben Renshaw: That is fantastic Steve.


Steve Rush: Ben I have super enjoyed reading the book; I have particularly enjoyed the times that we have met and I really wish you all the success with Being, I have absolutely no doubt it is going to be a huge hit and I wish you every success for what happens in your future, but thank you for being on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.


Ben Renshaw: Steve that you so much, you are doing brilliant work and it is great to be part of it.


Steve Rush: Really, appreciate that. Thanks Ben.


Ben Renshaw: Lovely.




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