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#17 Helicopter Pilots in The Royal Air Force and A Beginner's Mind

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Virti Team
July 1, 2020


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Summary

This week our guest is Sarah Furness who has spent 20 years in the military as a helicopter pilot for the Royal Air Force and who also is an air safety and human factors trainer. Sarah is now transitioning her coaching skills which have worked for helicopter pilots in combat operations to high performing organisations and executives to empower highly pressured, high functioning people. Sarah is a qualified Mindfulness Coach, Health and Wellbeing Coach, Human Factors and Error Management Facilitator and a Trauma Risk Manager.
We discuss the ROI and importance of mindfulness for employees and the workforce as well as the necessity for transparency and growth mindset when learning from errors. We also discuss what it means to have a Beginner's Mind and why this is important for organisations and their people. Sarah also gives her top tips for maintaining focus during lockdown and why multi-tasking could actually lead to less productivity.


Contact Sarah: wellbeitcoach.com/
Tweet Virti: @virtimed
Contact Virti: virti.com

 

Transcript

Alex (Host):

My guest this week on the podcast is Sarah Furness. Sarah is a helicopter pilot and air safety and human factors trainer at the Royal Air Force. She's taking her experience and now applying that to mindfulness and cognitive coaching for executives of high-performing at her company Well Be It. She helps tough, busy people to feel as strong as they look.

Alex (Host):

We talk about everything from mindfulness to what it means to have a beginner's mind in your organizations and to get the best out of your team and employees.

Alex (Host):

Hi Sarah, how you doing?

Sarah Furness:

Very well thank you. How are you?

Alex (Host):

Very well indeed. Welcome to the Human Performance Podcast, it's really, really great to have you on. I was amazed when I was reading through your background and your blog and website, which is amazing. But rather than me telling everyone about you, it'd be great if you could introduce yourself to everybody listening?

Sarah Furness:

Well, thank you very much, Alex. Yeah, so I'm Sarah Furness, Well Be It coach. I'm currently still in the Royal Air Force, a serving helicopter pilot in the RAF having done 20 years, but I've changed direction and I've decided I want to launch myself into wellbeing, wellness and performance. It has become my new passion, partly because of the amazing people that I've worked with in the military and I've discovered that I can help them. That's where I am today, and I'm delighted to be talking to you about my experience in the RAF and also with my coaching clients.

Alex (Host):

The Royal Air Force, I mean, even just getting into be in the Royal Air Force is a massive achievement, but reading some of your background, you've served on tours, you've done some incredible stuff. I was wondering, specifically, could you speak to your experiences of both training and flying in the Royal Air Force around this human performance and team-based and human factors that you experienced on that journey?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it takes a long time to train to be a pilot. Maybe just about as long as a doctor, depending on how many holes you have to go through. But-

Alex (Host):

I think probably harder than any doctor.

Sarah Furness:

Oh much harder, definitely. But yeah, in the Air Force, I don't know if it's the same in doctoring, but we have what you call constructive feedback. But from a very early age when you're probably still quite immature, I know I certainly was, you're getting quite robust feedback and of course there's always this fear that you're going to get chopped.

Sarah Furness:

And I actually started out trying to fly fast jets. I flew the Hawk, which most people will know as a Red Arrow, and then ran out of talent really and ended up flying helicopters, which I was hugely happy to do. But I suppose as a young person being thrown into that you're very quickly facing up to your limitations, which is quite a humbling experience. I'm not necessarily sure I had the maturity to deal with that.

Sarah Furness:

Then of course there's also a huge amount of emphasis on human factors, because you need to be on your A game every day. So, you want to be eating, sleeping, exercising, all that good stuff that you have to do.

Sarah Furness:

Air crew tend to be overly obsessed with fatigue and how much sleep we have, which is why we all have to stay in hotels whenever we go anywhere, because we must have a good night's sleep. The human frailty and human performance is something that we're very alive to in the RAF, particularly in the flying world.

Alex (Host):

And I guess just taking a step back, you mentioned that this was something that you entered into when you were quite young. What was your, I suppose, motivational factors for going into something like not just flying but also military aviation?

Sarah Furness:

A hundred percent it was Top Gun and anyone who [inaudible 00:04:33] is lying. Everybody joined the Air Force because of Top Gun. But no, I mean, I suppose joking aside, yeah, the military, it's a very exciting life. You're going away all the time on tours, going to hot, sandy places where you might be in danger which is incredibly exhilarating.

Sarah Furness:

So, it's that sort of excitement, adrenaline kind of thing. I think also I just wanted to fly. I mean, you don't really know when you're young if you're going to get on with it, but I just knew I wanted to fly. So, that's what I did and I was incredibly focused to that agenda all the way through school and university.

Alex (Host):

For anyone listening who might not know about military training, or even actually learning how to fly a plane, can you just speak to I guess the length of that journey and what you need to do to become completely proficient?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. I mean, it changes all the time and we change the way the flying training is structures. But broadly speaking, you start off on something like a Grob or a little light airplane, having been through officer training to fly on that.

Sarah Furness:

Then they'll decide which stream you're going into, so they'll decide if you're going to go into fast jets, helicopters, or big heavy aircraft, and obviously fast jets are at the top of the pecking order. Everybody wants to go fast jets but you'll get streamed depending on how well you did in your light aircraft flying and then you'll go down your stream. For me, I went fast jets and then had to start retraining on the helicopters.

Sarah Furness:

Then you finish your training and go to the frontline, and then that's when you become combat-ready and you'll be going out to war zones basically. That process for me took six years.

Alex (Host):

Wow. I mean, it's very interesting because we were speaking just before we went live on the podcast, but we have got a number of people with military backgrounds in our company and a lot of it is ... I suppose the training and the human factors elements to the training especially are very, very similar to medicine.

Alex (Host):

One of the things that we've spoken about on the podcast before, and I always harp on about, is there is that period of when you finish your training and you are effectively signed off or you're told that you are now good to go to the frontline, whether that's to a battle zone or a military theater or an operating theater in the case of medics, actually when you're put into those environments of high-stress and emotion it's very, very difficult for your training, which is typically done in safe environments, to really effectively translate and prepare people for that emotional element.

Alex (Host):

Could you speak a little bit about how your, I suppose, training before you were deployed was like compared to what it was actually like being in high-pressure environment?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. Okay. Good question. We get taught about human factors, like you say, and actually we take a lot of lessons from the NHS about things like confirmation and that kind of thing. But you're talking as well about the emotional side of it.

Sarah Furness:

I mean, I can't say I really remember any kind of training on that, and that's not having a poke at the RAF in any way or form. But I think it tends to be, our emotional training is probably the fact that we're there for each other and we have this tremendous camaraderie and we go through it with each other and we understand each other. And that's probably the kind of emotional support that we have before we pop out onto a war zone and find ourselves dodging bullets, as it were. So, I think that's what the military has in abundance.

Sarah Furness:

They did a survey ... Not a survey, sorry. A study on mindfulness in the military. And what they found was that team mindfulness, which is really just another way of saying camaraderie, i.e. being aware of each other, is probably one of the greatest weapons that we have in our armory. But I don't know if that was very well understood when I was going through flying, if I'm really honest. Certainly I didn't understand it.

Alex (Host):

It's interesting. I think it's one of those unspoken elements of team performance, where I think it is something that's quite difficult to quantify and often it's taken for granted in any teams. And I think people listening, whether you've been in a sports team or whether it's in your current business role, often you will just naturally perform better with teams that you either get on well with the individuals or, as Sarah's talking about, the mindfulness element and that pulling together and team support.

Alex (Host):

But it is very difficult to quantify. I mean, I think the other interesting point is around the actual technical training parts of aviation especially, not just in the military, but for things like simulation training and how you can try and evaluate people before they get into real-world environments, aviation has always been one of the real leaders. Whether it's with things like physical simulators or whether it's things like virtual reality technology and those types of technologies where you can put people into these repeatable scenarios in a safe environment.

Alex (Host):

I was wondering if you could just share some of your experiences of the types of training you had when you were going through I guess both your aviation training and your military training.

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. When we are preparing to go on operations, on military operations to place like Iraq and Afghanistan, we do a lot of simulation training, like you say. If I'm going out to do a flying role we do a lot of that in a simulator, but also we have war fighting simulators as well.

Sarah Furness:

I'm not sure I'm allowed to talk about here. You set up mock headquarters almost. And I think they call it Rock Drills. Some marines will know what that means. And red-teaming and war gaming and all that sort of stuff. We do an awful lot of that. I think the idea is that you train hard to fight easy. So, the harder you train, when you are under that pressure and when you are maybe afraid for your life, you almost don't have to think. It becomes instinctive because it's been trained into you.

Sarah Furness:

Again, going back to that emotional support, if you are in a scenario where that's draining your emotional capacity it doesn't matter so much because you've got that muscle memory and that automatic reaction that's been trained into you. So, that's what all of the pre-deployment training will be geared towards, is making sure that we're as safe as possible when the chips are down and things aren't going very well for us.

Alex (Host):

Even in that pre-deployment training, I mean, it sounds, even when you're describing it, potentially very, very stressful, like some elements of healthcare or any high-performance environments even in training. Did you see many people burning out even during training or quitting?

Sarah Furness:

Yes, I have. And that's again another reason why I decided to change direction, because I think certainly ... I can't comment on other industries, all I know is military, but I know that we tend to be very can-do. We have incredibly high expectations for ourselves and we don't really have an off button.

Sarah Furness:

And during a time when we should be perhaps spending time with our family because we're not going to see them for six months, we're actually going out on various exercises and ramping up our training. So, a six-month deployment actually turns into a year where you're not really at home with loved ones. And obviously, as you get older and you have mortgages and children, other people start to feel the strain too.

Sarah Furness:

I think what I've learned while I've been teaching air safety, what I often say to people, is, "Your job is not to say no, but you should have it in your vocabulary." Because I think in the military we dislike that word and we want to be forward-leaning, which I think is a tremendous attribute but it also can lead to people just pushing and pushing and pushing till they've got nothing left to give.

Alex (Host):

In your current role where you're dealing with things like air safety, I mean, again the aviation industry has been probably the global leader on safety really. Obviously, things that become synonymous, like the black box, that's all come from aviation. Could you speak to a little bit about what your role involved with that and what you're doing on a day-to-day basis in aviation in the military?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. I actually teach for the military aviation on [inaudible 00:14:12] and I teach air safety courses. We do like to think that we are hopefully world leaders in terms of safety, and we take our air safety culture incredibly seriously and I know that the team that I work with are very passionate about it. We're in the business of making sure that people don't die if they don't have to.

Sarah Furness:

Unfortunately in the military it is going to happen, so you cannot completely eliminate risk. You just can't do it. And people are going to get things wrong. So, the key is that we're learning from our mistakes and we have this growth mindset and this learning culture, as opposed to the blame culture, which gives us permission to make mistakes but then crucially what do we do with that, how do we learn from that, how do we make sure that we don't do that again or that we can reduce the amount of risk to as low as reasonably practical.

Alex (Host):

There's a number of things there that we're going to touch on in a second. But just taking a step back. I think one thing I just want to pull out from that is healthcare in particular over the last 10 to 15 years in the UK, and I think globally across a number of industries, one of the key words with translating safety into organizations and actually sharing it between sectors, one of the buzzwords has been transparency.

Alex (Host):

Certainly in the UK, there were a number of investigations into hospital death statistics and errors where actually, not necessarily that some of these hazardous events had been covered up by anybody, but they weren't being adequately reported either at a local, regional or national, certainly not global level.

Alex (Host):

And I think that's one of the things that aviation in particular is very, very good at doing, perhaps partly because in commercial aviation you can't really not share what's happened if there's an aviation accident. Have you seen that side of the reporting and sharing knowledge across industries change during your tenure?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. Culture is one of those things that you don't notice it changing around you and then you look back you think, "Oh yeah, we have moved on." I mean, I would say that I've always felt very lucky to be in the Air Force. I've always felt like it's quite progressive, also just in terms of gender and we have equal opportunities. I think it's quite progressive in that area as well.

Sarah Furness:

So, I do think that we are very lucky but I would never want to rest on our laurels. The direction of travel is to move away from that blame culture, which is going to completely undermine any transparency, and to move towards that just culture. And making sure that people understand that just culture doesn't mean blame free.

Sarah Furness:

So, if you do make a mistake it doesn't mean that if you put your hand up there's going to be no consequences, because we do have to learn from it and if you've been negligent then there is a personal responsibility that one needs to and should take. But I think certainly that's the direction of travel I think we have improved, and I think we could do better than we are today.

Alex (Host):

Really, really interesting. And I think really good to get your opinion on what you're now doing, which is obviously translating all your amazing experience and knowledge around human performance, and coaching and training high-performance people into coaching and training organizations and people outside of the military and aviation. Before we jump into that, I was just wondering, obviously you're working with people at the moment both on an individual and team basis in the military and outside, what are some of the traits of high-performance people that you think put them at risk of things like either burnout or even just not performing at their highest ability?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. It's something I'm really, really passionate about, and again it's one of the major reasons that I changed direction. I include myself in this number, but I think there is a bit of a culture of, "Man up wet pants," in the military.

Sarah Furness:

I think to a degree that's entirely healthy, because I listened to one of your earlier podcasts about sometimes talking about something might feel like the right thing to do but you can overdo it and start dwelling on things and picking things apart, so that you turn a molehill into a mountain. But equally, I think we come from a culture where it's still not that usual to speak up. I think particularly air crew I used to work with, we probably have quite high expectations for ourselves. We want to present this image of being very macho, whether you're male or female, and that makes it very hard to talk about difficulties because we see that as a vulnerability, we see that as weakness.

Sarah Furness:

Now, I do think we're moving on, but I do think that that sort of culture can lead to people just bottling it up. And in my time in the RAF, I have seen people have fallen over and they're the last people that you would expect that to happen too because they project this image. And the truth is they've just been struggling. They're like the swan looking all serene on the top of the water but paddling away furiously at the bottom. I think a lot of us feel like that if I'm honest, and I think a lot of us have a fear of failure. And my wish for people is that they understand that it's okay and they give themselves permission to not be perfect all the time.

Alex (Host):

Yeah, I completely agree. And I think certain types of professions, certainly the ones that we are in, so military, aviation, certainly healthcare, especially surgery, and people who go onto start businesses, it's a certain type of personality type that goes into that.

Alex (Host):

Especially for company's founders or team leaders or anyone who's taking a risk and putting themselves into position where they are taking on that risk, it does lead to significant stress and things like that. I think it's very, very important that people speak up, certainly when they're struggling with things.

Alex (Host):

And going back to what we were talking about a second ago, it's also involving the people around them, so their team members, and sharing things amongst their team and making sure that everyone is supported. What are some of the things when you start working with people in business sectors or you start coaching organizations that you do initially to I suppose get buy-in to coaching and training and supporting people within organizations?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. I mean, and I teach this on all of my courses, we mentioned before the podcast about this thriving at work paper that was commissioned, I think it's something like £46 billion per year that the government ... not the government, sorry, the UK spends-

Alex (Host):

Wow.

Sarah Furness:

... just on absence or presenteeism or any kind of loss of output just because of mental wellbeing. Not even physical wellbeing, just because of mental wellbeing. If you've got your corporate head on and you think, "How can I make money?" well, invest in your people.

Sarah Furness:

But in terms of my sphere and the safety-critical element, we've got lots of people, whether they're flying aircraft, whether they're air-traffic controllers, whether they're fixing aircraft, why would you not want them to be on their A game when they are doing safety-critical roles?

Sarah Furness:

If they're not feeling, they don't have the mental capacity because it's been drained because they're stressed, they know they're dealing with lots of uncertainty which is really common in the military, does it not follow that they might not make the best decisions that they could do?

Sarah Furness:

Because we've only got so much resource, and if we don't fill that resource up and invest in that wellbeing then we're not going to make as good decisions as we could do. So, I always say it's not just that it's the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do because we will be better at what we do and potentially save lives as well.

Alex (Host):

Yeah, I completely agree. And I think there's a huge benefit from adopting not just I suppose a culture of coaching within your organization, but actually a culture of support and of really highlighting your people needs and your people plan, and how you're actually supporting your individuals to power up your entire organization. For anyone listening, what are some of the I suppose practices or guidelines or things that you might do with some of the people that you work with to effectively power them up in that domain?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. Well, as you know I'm a huge fan of mindfulness. You have to be a little bit careful how you use that in the military, because some people start squirming on their seat a bit when you talk about mindfulness. But you can call it mental fitness if you like.

Sarah Furness:

But I think the first starting block and the foundation is mindfulness. In terms of if you're only interested in performance, mindfulness is going to increase the neural pathways in your brain. It's going to increased the connectedness, so it can connect the logical left with the creative right. It can help with emotion regulation. It increases our heart rate variability, studies have been done on pilots about this, which means that we can deal with stress better and why wouldn't you want that for people that you're putting in stressful situations?

Sarah Furness:

There's loads and loads of scientific evidence that mindfulness can increase our performance and increase our ability to work under pressure. But also the attitudes of mindfulness, things like beginner's mind and all that kind of stuff, mindfulness and vision, team mindfulness. One word can be applied in so many different ways. That's the thing I'm trying to infiltrate if you like, but maybe not always calling it that because then people will probably switch off.

Alex (Host):

Yeah. I mean, it's a great point. I mean, I think often people don't realize the actual performance benefits, because certainly I'm aware of a number of papers specifically in the training sector where doing things simply like a five to 10-medication or mindful exercise before you go into what is effectively a knowledge-retention or learning task, will improve your actual short-term memory of topics.

Alex (Host):

There's a number of studies that have been done in the education domain around that. Then actually reciprocally, actually, we have had some studies published about actually improved training leading to reduction in stress and anxiety for your people. So, I think having what is effectively an integrated training approach, where you've got high-quality technical training as well as human performance training, and mindfulness and let's just call it resilience training for want of a better word, in my opinion that's what all HR or learning development departments and organizations and CEOs should really be looking at for their people.

Alex (Host):

Especially looking at this current period where there's been a huge change to working environments. Some people are now at home and in stressful environments with children, and you've got to take extra care about looking after their wellbeing when they're not in an office and their whole routine's been disrupted and you can't go to the gym. That in itself has completely turned I suppose the business world's approach to looking after employees on its head. Have you seen any repercussions of COVID and the lockdown on any of the clients you've been working with?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. Well, that's why I started doing classes for everyone doing lockdown. I've been doing Wellness Wednesday, which by the way is open to anybody but mostly it's been a military audience.

Sarah Furness:

And one of the first things I did was how do you establish a mindful working practice that you can do at home. Because the temptation now is we've got so many distractions at home, and lots of people have been reporting a lack of ability to focus or a lack of motivation. Some people are thoroughly bored, some people are completely frazzled. So, one of the first things I did was to talk about how multitasking is a terrible idea and there's lots of reasons why our brain actually do two things at once even if you think it can. And it's completely counterintuitive.

Sarah Furness:

But actually, if you try this uni tasking, where you just give yourself one thing to do at a time, which can be difficult when you've got children running around, I understand. But if you can try and separate your tasks and do them more mindfully, you will be more productive. And I think it's something like 40% your production goes up by if you try to work more mindfully and just do one thing at a time.

Alex (Host):

Wow.

Sarah Furness:

The sort of thing that I've been working with is that kind of thing. Very much giving facts and figures from the science, because again military people tend to be quite analytical, and if you go in with a wishy washy let's all do yoga may not be so receptive. But when they understand the science behind it they realize, "Oh, maybe I should give this a go."

Alex (Host):

Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the interesting side effects certainly that I've noticed, and a number of I guess my peers have noticed in healthcare and also business, is that with the disruption to people's normal routines, especially with things like no longer being able to go to the gym or having to change people's exercise regimes or not being able to see friends, that focus is really one of the things that takes a hit first.

Alex (Host):

And people become very, very challenged at just getting stuff done. And I think anyone listening will probably sympathize that things tended to go very, very quickly during lockdown, and people don't know what day is what. What are I guess some of your top tips on things like remaining focused? What could people do in this current environment, or if they're in any similar environment, to really make sure that they stay focused on what they're doing?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah, sure. Well, again, first thing I'd say is if you're struggling to focus then first thing you should do is yourself permission, forgive yourself, because being annoyed at yourself is not going to help, you're just adding extra strain. So, this is really normal, there are lots of statistics out there by the Office of National Statistics that are reporting this kind of thing so we are all feeling it in some way.

Sarah Furness:

But I do have to say that, like you, I really, really rate meditation. And the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is I've deliberately moved my phone and my devices away from my bed so that I don't just mindlessly reach for the phone and start scrolling. And I take five mindful breaths just to set my intention for the day, to do things at my pace. Then I write down in my diary the things I'm going to do and I write blocks of when I'm going to go and do them.

Sarah Furness:

If I've got a presentation that I'm preparing, I'll put my phone out of sight. Just really removing those distractions can be really helpful, but also understanding ... I'm homeschooling at the moment so I've got a delightful five-year-old who's constantly pulling for my attention and there's only so much you can do. But what's within your control is just removing those distractions.

Sarah Furness:

There are also great meditations you can do on focusing. You can focus on the sounds close in, the sounds far out, and then choose maybe one sound to focus on. There's lots of ... Headspace, Balance, all that kind of out there. I have a meditation as well. But what that's doing is it's training your brain to focus on one thing, and because of neuroplasticity, the more we practice that the better we get at it. So, it's just about removing those distractions and then increasing that muscle memory if you like in your brain to be able to focus.

Alex (Host):

Yeah, I think so, so important. I mean, I've got a similar routine where I wake up early and I have a checklist of things that I do. Whether that's reflecting on things I'm grateful for, or doing some mindful meditation and then doing exercise as well. That sets me up for the rest of the day.

Alex (Host):

And as you say, doing the most important or vital tasks early certainly is the thing that works for me, and then leaving any phone calls or conversations for later on in the day perhaps when you're a little bit more sleepy is often one of the things that I talk to our team about.

Alex (Host):

One of the things you mentioned earlier was the beginner's mind, and it's something that I am a massive advocate of both for myself and our company. We mentioned actually, just before we started recording, one of the first self-development that I read was Zen Mind Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, which actually I've just got a 50th anniversary copy of for my birthday so I've recently reread it.

Alex (Host):

But I guess for anyone who's not familiar with the concept of a beginner's mind, could you just speak to that and explain why that's important and how it relates to everything you've been talking about?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah, sure. And obviously you're all over this too so feel free to jump in. I actually just did a session on beginner's mind, and ultimately it's almost impossible to have an original thought. We are very much informed by our lived experience.

Sarah Furness:

So, we will see a situation and our memory will tell us what it's most similar to, and then subconsciously we're creating expectations. Drive down the same road every day, maybe not quite so much at the moment, but it ends up being that you predetermine the outcome because you're not approaching with the beginner's mind. It's really, really normal. I mean, it's a survival thing actually so we shouldn't be hard on ourselves about this.

Sarah Furness:

But if we can approach it more with a beginner's mind, i.e. as if seeing it for the first time and understanding that even if it's the 50th time this moment right now is unique, and just really being present and really trying to dislocate those expectations and just being genuinely curious, then actually again that's great for creativity. It really opens up your mind. I'm luck enough to have a five-year-old. If anyone else has got young children just watch what they do because they're brilliant at this. I mean, they haven't formed any assumptions about it.

Sarah Furness:

And we reflected on this as a group, and one of the ways that you can incorporate that into the workplace is that when you get new people into your team, that's essentially one way of looking at beginner's mind because for them it's a new experience. So, getting that insight from them and being open to it as opposed to tell them what to expect can be really valuable. It's quite counterintuitive, but there are ways that we can learn to really cultivate that beginner's mind and it can be hugely valuable in the workplace as well as at home.

Alex (Host):

I completely agree. If I'm ever trying to explain it to somebody who doesn't have a clue what I'm talking about, I think the quote, hopefully I get this right, is, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." I think that's very, very true.

Alex (Host):

Especially in sales. If you're selling into big corporate organizations, one of the main barriers is just adoption and convincing people that any type of new or exciting thing is going to deliver return on investment and should basically be used by them. And often one of the blockers there is just convincing people who've done things the same way for many, many years, and that's worked for them, then convincing that something new needs to be adopted and is useful and is going to benefit them is hugely, hugely difficult.

Alex (Host):

And equally, if any organization is trying to get their team to be more proactive or to really solve problems, as every single organization wants team members and employees that think for themselves and solve things creatively, beginner's mind is one of the things that can really help with that. In that, if you have a diverse team, or you have people from different backgrounds, or you have whatever it is, people coming at problems from different angles, you're likely to get some really, really interesting, innovative solutions.

Alex (Host):

I guess especially for what we do at Virti where we use some crazy technology to integrate into teaching and training and things like that, we always, always, whenever we begin thinking about how we're going to develop new or a new product line or tweak something, we'll always take a step back and just say shut down any assumptions we're having. And think about what can we do, even if it's not possible right now, and come at it using that beginner's mindset. I think it's incredibly valuable. If you're teaching people that, how can you integrate that into organizations who might not know a huge amount about it?

Sarah Furness:

Well, obviously I've been running that class. The last couple of weeks I've been going through all the attitudes of mindfulness and what it means and how can we cultivate a sense of it, and I think it starts with education.

Sarah Furness:

Obviously, leadership is really important. It doesn't matter what the ... I mean, it does matter what the people at the bottom think, but if you want to create a culture of beginner's mind, and I think that's closely related to things like growth mindset as well, I think it needs to come from the top. So, I think we need to find a way to educate our very senior leaders and allow them, like you seem to, to, like you say, see the possibilities of it.

Sarah Furness:

Again, one of the things that my coachees came up with was, when we were talking about beginner's mind, was it's almost like a lack of fear of repercussions. Whereas a non-beginner's mind will be like, "Well, I don't know how that's going to end up if I do it like that, so I'm not going to try that." And of course it's natural to have a fear of repercussions, and again it's a survival thing so it's not a bad thing, but how much does that hold us back?

Sarah Furness:

And what I see so often is that it's not so much what we need to strive for, it's almost getting rid of the barriers that are holding us back. That's what I want to be able to go into organizations and unpick that for them and say, "Okay, this is how you can remove those barriers."

Alex (Host):

Yeah. It's a great point and I think having these type of concepts really integrated into company culture, and having that integrated into how people behave on a day-to-day basis, is absolutely key to getting it adopted and getting it used throughout certainly a massive organization where you've got 50, a hundred, a hundred thousand people plus, whatever it is, that's going to be absolutely critical.

Alex (Host):

When you work with organizations specifically, are you looking to I suppose integrate a coaching methodology between departments so that when you are not there that they're still doing all the things you teach and train them? Or are there any other sort of things that you embed in your coachees and mentees?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. The first thing I would do is I actually teamed up with a company called Wellbeing Works, and they measure psychological safety, so that I can identify the specific pain points that are holding the company back. Really commonly reported ones are people don't feel like they're in control of their work.

Sarah Furness:

And if you take people's choices away from them, that's incredibly debilitating, which is ironic given in the military we just follow orders. But feeling valued, feeling like they can be at the center, those are the sorts of things you can measure and you can find out what the pain points are. And then what I would offer is a bespoke program, but it is around a framework that I call The Conscious Revolution that is designed to unpick those pain points.

Alex (Host):

For employees who might be listening to this, whether it's now in lockdown when people are remote or when people start to return back to work, what would be your top two or three things that they should be integrating into their daily practice with regards to all the things we've spoken about?

Sarah Furness:

My top tips? Well, I do believe that mental wellbeing is the foundation on which you build performance. Although I might say to someone, "I'm going to help you increase your performance," really what I'm going to start off with focusing on is that emotional and mental wellbeing.

Sarah Furness:

If I could give everybody a gift, it would be the gift of self-worth and feeling valued. And usually what holds us back is a fear of failure or a fear or rejection. So, I would want people to first of all not be too hard on themselves because it's really common and all of the coachees I work with say similar things. At some stage, we're all a little bit afraid of letting someone or ourselves down.

Sarah Furness:

So, the first thing is to realize that that's really normal, and then to understand that you can choose to hold onto that belief or you can choose to let it go, and mindfulness is the tool that I use. If you were to do nothing today from this podcast, I would say please take mindfulness really seriously. It's not clear to me, not knowing you, how this will benefit you, but I can guarantee that it will and there are so many ways that I can use that tool. That would be my number one thing.

Sarah Furness:

And the benefit of that is letting go of the things that are holding you back, in order to really let just be the awesome person that you are. Human beings are awesome and I just want them to be able to realize their full potential by getting rid of the things that are weighing them down.

Alex (Host):

Very cool. Just to finish up, we always talk about amazing feats of human performance on the end of our podcast. Do you have any examples, again either from your background or anything external, that you really hold dear as something that's just blown your mind and is phenomenal with regards to human performance and development?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah. I was thinking about this, and I feel bad that I'm not going to come up with a military example, because there are so many fantastic, amazing people in the military that have done amazing, brilliant things. But actually the thing that really sent shivers up my spine was when I went to Wellbeing at Work Conference at the NEC. And again it was company called Wellbeing Works, they measure psychological things, so I hope they don't mind if I talk about their example. But there was a doctor called Dr. Malik Ramadhan, who worked at St Bart's. And they were really struggling to service their patients and they were struggling with the ... is it four hours you have as a target to get possible through A&E?

Alex (Host):

Yeah.

Sarah Furness:

And they had their version of auditors come in and they really bombed their audit. So, Wellbeing Works went in and said, "Right, let's find out what's going wrong here?" The number one thing that they found was the staff did not feel valued.

Sarah Furness:

Dr. Malik talked about it and said, "Well, I don't understand that, because I tell myself all the time that they're brilliant," but in the study it came out that there were things like they'd been asking for lockers for the last 18 months and they still didn't have any lockers and purses were getting nicked and things like that. Or they'd been asking for the protective doors to be fixed and that hadn't quite happened yet, and then someone had broken out of the psych ward and was throwing acid over the staff. Fortunately it was water in the end so they weren't harmed. But their point was, "You say this, but what are you doing that allows us to feel value?" Because actually it's the little things that you can do that really speaks volumes about our worth.

Sarah Furness:

And again that's why I come back to the big thing everyone's searching for I think it self-worth. Dr. Malik said he implemented all of the changes, and not only were people happier, they were making better decisions in operating theaters, the nurses were making decisions and all that sort of stuff. He said, and I'll never forget it, he said, "Being nice saved lives." Which just made me well up, I was like, "Wow." They were happier and people were getting better results, leaving hospital weller than they would have been, just because they were looking after the staff and making them feel valued.

Alex (Host):

I mean, it's a great example to finish on and I think it's something that all organizations really need to focus on, especially in healthcare because it's so rushed and so busy and there's such a high number of doctors and nurses, allied health professionals, burning out globally because of the hours that they put in.

Alex (Host):

Again, I'm a massive fan of studies and data on this, but one of the big ones is the highest-performing employees don't necessarily want to be remunerated with pay rises or cash. What they want is to know that what they're doing within an organization is valued.

Alex (Host):

And the follow-on to that is exactly as you were saying, Sarah, that's got to be demonstrated by organizations and holding their opinions to a high regard and actually implementing their suggestions, such that they feel that what they're asking for or the things that they're suggesting to improve the organization, or in healthcare improve patient care, are actually being not only listened to but actioned to move things forward.

Alex (Host):

Because again I think I can probably speak on behalf of certainly the people we've had on the podcast in healthcare and some other sectors, but if you're a high-performing employee or any individual you want to see the suggestions you make actually have impact within your organization. That's really what can drive people, and as you say, improve people's self-worth and their emotional quotient within their organization. So, I think it's a great point.

Alex (Host):

Just to finish up, final thing. It's been fantastic speaking to you on the podcast. If people want to reach out to you for coaching or for any other information, where can they find you on socials or the Internet?

Sarah Furness:

Yeah, great. Well, I've got a website. It's wellbeitcoach.com, but also that's my social media handle. So, on Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn. I haven't managed to drum up the enthusiasm for Twitter yet, but those are the socials that I'm on. I'm delighted to hear from anybody.

Sarah Furness:

Yeah, as I say, I do offer programs to businesses, but whilst lockdown is going on I am doing free sessions every Wednesday online and anybody is welcome, so please do come along and join. You can sign up for that online if you go to wellbeitcoach.com.

Alex (Host):

I'd highly recommend doing so. And it's been an absolute pleasure speaking with you, Sarah, and I look forward to catching up very, very soon.

 

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