As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Bronwen Sciortino.
Bronwen Sciortino is an International Author and Simplicity Expert who spent almost two decades as an award-winning executive before experiencing a life changing event that forced her to stop and ask the question: ‘What if there’s a better way to live?’
Embarking on a journey to answer this question, Bronwen built the ‘Keep It Super Simple’ principles that are now being applied globally to significantly change the way people are living their lives.
With international critical acclaim and 5-star awards for her books, Bronwen spends every day teaching people the simple pathway to creating a healthy, happy AND highly successful life.
Sourced globally as an expert in simplicity, Bronwen works with individuals and organisations of all sizes through corporate programs, conference platforms, retreats, professional mentoring and in the online environment.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
As a young university graduate, I was driven to achieve career success in an industry that clashed with my values and crushed my soul. I spent almost two decades pushing myself to the limits (and beyond!) so that I could tick the boxes I thought were expected of me. I spent so much of my life moulding and shaping myself to meet the expectations of others instead of focusing on what I really wanted out of life.
I was an intelligent person who ran around making sure everyone else was looked after, but I didn’t ever look after myself.
I pushed way too hard for way too long and suffered a breakdown — something that’s becoming more and more common amongst professional women who have forgotten how to slow down.
In the space of less than a minute I went from being an award-winning executive to being on the floor, unable to cope with even the basics of life and unable to stop crying. In less than 60 seconds my life shattered into a million pieces on the floor around me, and everything I thought I had known about my life was gone.
It took two years of intensive and overwhelming work to pick up the pieces, put myself back together again and be able to cope with the basic things in life. It was a further 12 months of this same work before I knew who I was, what I wanted to be doing, and HOW I wanted to be doing it.
As part of this recovery, I started exploring the question ‘What if there’s a better way to live?’
As part of that, I wanted to understand: How I had gotten myself to where I was? What were the things that went together to create this situation? How could I do things differently so that life isn’t always such a struggle?
One of the things I discovered was that I had a massive a fear of putting anything personal into writing. I was terrified that if I wrote something personal down that it might be used as evidence that I wasn’t perfect. To overcome this fear I started journaling, and as I started to write about the areas of my life that had become complex and overwhelming, my first book (‘Keep It Super Simple — Tips from a Recovering Perfectionist’) came to life.
When ‘Keep It Super Simple’ was published, it gained international critical acclaim and 5-star awards, which then saw people approach me to find other ways of working with me. So, I started creating workshops, leadership development and mentoring programs, delivering keynote speeches and appearing as a Simplicity Expert through global media channels.
Meeting the demands of a global business meant I needed a structure that would support my health and wellbeing on an ongoing basis, so I created the ‘Keep It Super Simple’ principles to keep me on an even keel.
It is these principles that are now highly sought after and that are significantly changing the way that people live all over the world.
I have since published two additional books: ‘The Economy of Enough’ and ‘Beyond Ah-Ha’. I have been featured in three other books: ‘Reboot Your Life — Phoenix Edition’, ‘The Book of Amazing People’ and ‘Successful Women in Business’. I have also launched an online program specifically designed to assist busy professional women beat burnout.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The reality is that when I was at the very beginning of my business I was still very fragile and in the middle of a recovery process. This meant that there weren’t very many funny moments — life was raw, it was serious and it was very, very real.
Working through a recovery process at the same time as quickly building a global business carried an intensity that could have easily become overwhelming. For most people, this aspect seems extraordinary, but for me it became an opportunity to really decide how I wanted my business to be run, who I was going to be within that, and how my business and my life in general were going to be set up to support me, no matter what was happening.
One of the clearest aspects of this was how important it was to me for every day to be fun. Having come from a life and an environment that took everything I had and then demanded even more, I understood intimately what it was like to have to drag yourself through every minute of your day. I knew how much energy it took to present a calm and successful façade to the outside world, while hiding the truth of how miserable life really was. I knew how exhausting it was to appear to glide effortlessly through everything life threw my way, while pedalling desperately beneath the surface to stay afloat and stop myself from drowning.
So, when I had the chance to build something from scratch at the same time as rebuilding myself, I not only made sure the two things matched, but I also made sure they were both infused with loads of fun. That fun extends to people, places and things that I am doing and/or involved with. Until I made the decision to infuse my life with fun, I had no idea of the zing that being a rebel in your own life brings. I challenge everything, question the status quo and constantly find new ways of doing things that match who I AM as an individual.
If someone tells me I ‘have to’ or ‘should’ do something, it immediately raises a red flag for me and I stop and question whether that’s right for me. When everyone else is turning right, I’ll be the one turning left to see what’s down that pathway. If there’s a ‘road less travelled’ then I’ll be the one setting out on an adventure to find out how it works for me.
Having fun every day also means I’m just as happy to find out something doesn’t work as I am to find out that it does. When something doesn’t work it is a clear signal that it’s time to change direction and try something else. If it does work then that’s great information to help you keep moving in that direction.
When you drop the pressure and the stress out of everyday, life becomes more about the fun of being on adventure than it does about success and failure.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are three people who have significantly helped shape my success along the way.
I have been extraordinarily privileged to have had two exceptional female mentors during my professional career. The first is Mary Dwyer, who is the Founder of Impact Solutions International. Mary taught me how to remain a female in a male-dominated world. The second is Melaney Ryan, who is the Founder of the Melaney Ryan Institute of Applied Consciousness. Melaney taught me the importance of understanding energy and the ways that you can navigate everyday life at a different level of consciousness.
The absolute number one person I will be grateful to for the rest of my life is to my husband — Jon Sciortino. When I broke, he loved me unconditionally and held the space for me to recover. He has supported me through the writing journey and in building a global business. He is my #1 fan and talks about my work more than I do.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
One of the first things I learned when exploring ‘Is there a better way to live?’ was the power of developing your values and then using them to guide the way you move through the world.
My values are:
I AM energised. I love finding the right energy for every situation.
I AM connected to who I am.
I AM responsible for, and conscious of, the footprint that I leave. I AM graceful in my actions. I respect the flow of life and the impact of my words, actions & thoughts.
I treat every part of life as an adventure. Exploring the flow of life allows me to find the right pathway for my journey.
Having clearly defined values means I know what is important to me. Knowing this makes it so much easier to clearly see an opportunity or a next step in life that is a match, and then I find the simplest way for me to move forwards.
When I first established my business, I felt like the corporate structures available to me didn’t match the way I wanted to work in the world. So I decided to use one of the existing structures and then run my business in a way that better matches who I AM as an individual.
My business is set up under a ‘for profit’ structure, but I run it as a ‘not only for profit’ organisation. I don’t believe that individuals or organisations should be shut out of accessing life-critical knowledge and know-how simply because they can’t afford to purchase a good or service at the market rate. There is always a conversation that can be had about ways to mutually create a win-win relationship or transaction.
My core purpose (mission) is to show the world the pathway to simplicity in life, emphasising the importance of reducing stress, increasing happiness and redefining what success really means.
My vision is to empower simple connection throughout the world.
Sure, I work with organisations and individuals who easily have the means to access my products and services. But I also partner with organisations that make it easier for women to access critical growth and development pathways. I find ways to work with not-for-profit, community and charitable organisations. I find ways for those women who never think twice about giving everything to those around them, but think 500 times before getting anything for themselves, to gain access to my work.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
COVID-19 is a great example of just how quickly life can change. One minute the focus is on ‘life as normal’ and then the next the whole world is in lockdown, living behind closed doors and uncertain about what’s coming next.
It is my experience that your ability to truly lead in times of significant disruption will be completely dependent on the things you do everyday to maintain your health and wellbeing. When COVID-19 hit, the world went into meltdown. Some people lost their jobs, others moved their work to their homes. Some lived in countries where immediate measures were put in place, others where freedom to move about was maintained for long periods of time.
For almost everyone, life as we know it has changed. For most people, making a decision to change one thing in their lives is a massive undertaking under ‘normal’ circumstances. To be wrenched out of comfort zones and have wholesale change forced upon them is painful and chaotic, and it carries high levels of stress, panic, worry and fear.
The end result of this is stress that is added on top of the high levels of stress and burnout that were already being experienced. The ultimate outcomes of this global pandemic — and the seismic shifts in what will become the new ‘normal’ — is yet to come, but we’re already seeing higher than normal rates of burnout being reported as people sag under the weight of the enormity of this time.
My experience of this situation has been different. Because I live my life governed by simplicity principles, my stress and exhaustion levels coming into the pandemic were very low. When the chaos hit, I didn’t have to cope with additional stress levels. I simply stopped, took stock of what was happening, and then shifted into gear to provide information and services to people around the world so they could more easily transition through the chaos in their lives. I was easily able to adapt and quickly move forward in a different way.
In direct contrast to the millions of businesses that moved into the online environment and started to ‘mass motivate’ people to ‘pivot’, ‘change’ and ‘emerge’ as a changed person, I stepped in a different direction. I educate people on the importance of stopping, absorbing the shock and taking stock of the stress … and then I teach them to create the perfect step to move forwards in a different way.
True leadership, in my opinion, is all about showing people how to find the perfect pathway for themselves. When you do this, you empower people to be connected to their health and wellbeing, and you create a collective of people who understand what they need to be happy, healthy AND successful.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I think there are always points on the journey where things seem a bit tough, and you find yourself thinking that it might be easier to give in and go back to a more traditional corporate role. They don’t happen all that often for me, but when they do I remember what it was like to live the way I was living before. I reflect on the way that my work significantly changes the way that people live their lives, and I can’t help but change my focus to finding my next step forwards.
My motivation comes from the connection I have to the way I live my life. I know what it’s like to be happy, healthy AND highly successful. The way I live my life everyday proves that it can easily be done. 95% of the time I don’t need to be driven. I love what I do, and because I am so connected to my work and it is created around the things that are important to me, it becomes natural for me to want to do what I do.
I’m human, so of course I still face challenges, and there are absolutely days when I’m tired and I just want to sit still. But they’re few and far between because I’ve tailor-made the life that is perfect for me, and having it based on simplicity makes it really easy for me thrive every day.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
No matter the circumstances, people will always look to someone else as to what is an appropriate response to a situation. This is especially the case when a challenging situation arises.
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to be seen. It’s so easy to relax into being part of the pack, and there have been too many times in recent decades where leaders seem to just walk at the front of the pack rather than stride out and actively lead their people, and challenge them to change direction, adapt and transition in an active way.
In every challenging situation there comes a moment when you have to say ‘Let’s face it, the ‘normal’ way of living wasn’t working’. This then moves to a place where you need to find a different way of doing things so that everyone move forwards.
In the best of times a true leader will show their people the way forwards through the way that they live their life themselves. If they’re stressed and exhausted and struggling to get through a day, then that’s the message that the people following them receive as being a ‘normal’ and ‘appropriate’ way to live. If accepting ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ is the norm, then that will be how the pack follows.
In challenging times, the ability to absorb the hit, shake it off and then transition to a new pathway quickly will be dependent on the way a leader has role-modelled the appropriate way of living.
The level of stress and exhaustion that the individuals within the organisation are carrying when a challenge hits will determine the speed with which the group can change direction and create a new pathway forwards.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I think one of the most important skills is to learn to separate the emotion from the facts in any given situation.
One of the greatest things I’ve learned on my journey is that it is always the emotion that causes us to get stuck. Something goes wrong and you start to worry about how it might be seen, what people might think and what it might mean for the success of your life.
With those thoughts comes shame, fear and guilt. These emotions get trapped within our energy system and create havoc in our mental and physical health. The longer the emotions stay trapped, the longer you stay stuck in the situation.
Take change for example.
Our conditioning has taught us that change is hard. Most of us grow up believing that it’s so hard that it just isn’t worth changing unless you have to. Because we believe this, we do everything we can to avoid having anything in our lives change. When it is forced on us, we don’t know how to deal with it because we’re not in the habit of making change, so it becomes painful and chaotic and can take significant time for us to transition through it.
When we learn how change actually works and actually understand what happens within us on a physiological and psychological level, we learn to understand the signs and symptoms within ourselves and it becomes easier to embrace change.
Actively embracing change means you’re more likely to include new things in the way you operate every day. Like any habit, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Then, when turbulent and difficult times come around, you’re ready for the challenge and you’re already accustomed to stepping into change.
Motivating and inspiring your team is so much easier when they’re already primed for change in the workplace — when they’re already in the habit of creating new pathways.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Honest, transparent, accessible and open communication.
When times are uncertain, there is nothing worse than feeling like you’re not being told the truth, or that something is being hidden from you. Fear is a massive driver in people’s lives, and they naturally move to a position of ‘what does this mean for me?’ when presented with difficult information. Everyone is different, so even when everyone is given the same information at the same time every individual can hear different things. This means it becomes essential for leaders to provide a way for individuals to ask the questions and gather information specific to their circumstances.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Sometimes we can get caught up in trying to see the big picture all the time. We saw this when every business in the world was suddenly thrust into the online environment and we saw them all trying to ‘mass motivate’ people into buying their products.
Overnight we saw motivating messages like ‘How will you pivot?’, ‘How will you use your time wisely’, ‘How will you reinvent yourself’ and ‘How will you emerge from the lockdown?’.
The reality was that COVID-19 hit hard, and it hit fast. We’d already seen a significant increase in the occurrence of stress, exhaustion and burnout globally, and then ‘normal life’ was ripped away and people were forced into lockdown with no certainty of the future in sight.
Often, when people are faced by trauma, what they actually need is someone to tell them that it’s OK to acknowledge the enormity of what they’re experiencing. Great leaders in a significant challenge transition to ‘checking in on’ their people instead of ‘checking up on’ them.
The best plans a leader can make when the future is unpredictable is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their team, because when you make this your focus you protect the future of the team’s ability to help you move forwards in a different way.
Once the individuals have been supported to stop, acknowledge, absorb and heal, then you have a collective of people who are inspired and engaged to build a new future moving forwards.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Always safeguard the health and wellbeing of your greatest asset — your people. Teach them to put in place a life structure that supports great energy and health levels all the time, and they’ll be able to ebb and flow more easily with the ups and downs that life brings.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Disappearing into their shell. When things get rough the natural order is for people to start worrying about what the trying times mean for them. When leaders disappear, close their doors and stop communicating it magnifies tension, increases stress and creates an environment of distrust.
This applies to both internal and external communication. When times are tough, it’s so important to keep communicating with your customers as well so they don’t feel like they’ve had their money taken and no products or services being delivered.
If the leaders of a business give constant, regular and honest updates then everyone knows what’s happening and it makes it easier for everyone to pull together to move forwards.
It seems like such a small thing, but regular communication can be the difference between being able to move forwards easily and starting again from scratch.
Not looking after their greatest resource. Investing in the health and wellbeing of your human resources is critical to having an engaged and inspired workforce. When you have a healthy organisation, they can draw on energy resources and help change the direction of operations more quickly, with more enthusiasm and so much more efficiently than if they’re disengaged and unable to perform basic tasks easily because of stress and exhaustion.
The cost of creating and implementing a health and wellbeing program is often the biggest detractor from an organisation maintaining this focus. But health and wellbeing programs don’t need to cost a lot — they can be championed and implemented by internal employees and can easily be built around the specific needs of the individuals within the organisation, and there are loads of activities that can be included for very low and/or no cost.
Not evolving / maintaining the status quo. Getting stuck in traditional operational methods is a massive trap when it comes to facing difficult times. When you’re entrenched in ‘this is the way we do things’, it makes it next to impossible to make changes when you’re faced with times that demand them.
Being nimble, flexible and having an engaged workforce that is creative and can apply new world thinking is critical to being able to move forwards in a different way.
Holding regular think tanks, brain-storming ideas and asking everyone to participate in sharing ideas about how things could be done more easily, in a different way or new ideas for products and services that could easily be added means that your workforce are already in the habit of coming up with ideas on how things can be done differently.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Knowing the unique value you bring to the world is essential to being able to creatively transition no matter what is happening in the world around you. Understanding the importance of a strong health and wellbeing culture and making sure it is implemented and openly supported from the very top of the organisation down is critical to being able to build, develop and implement strong operations on an ongoing basis.
The ability to meet your customer where they’re at — no matter what is happening in the world — is the true mark of a great organisation. The more you understand your values, the more you’ll be able to infuse them through whatever you do. When you do this, you engage the individuals whose values match your own as both employees and customers.
Where you have a values match, and you create opportunities for your employees and customers to actively participate in activities associated with these values, you create long-lasting advocates. These people then move with you, support you and actively assist you when challenges arise.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1 . Take stock of your own health and wellbeing. Know who you are. Know what’s important to you. Know where your stress is coming from and know what you need to give yourself to refuel your energy tanks … and then make sure you give it to yourself. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Everything — absolutely everything — is easier when you’re not exhausted. Your mind is clearer, you can think more quickly, and it doesn’t take anywhere near as much effort or courage to step forward and do things differently when you don’t have to get past exhaustion first.
When you ‘super charge’ yourself, you positively role-model the importance of health and wellbeing to your team. The flow-on effects of this are significant because your team will then adopt this as a normal way of living. When the challenges ramp up, their energy will be refuelled and they’ll be ready to tackle whatever comes their way with enthusiasm and passion.
2 . Show your team you care. Respect the value of your greatest asset. I was once in a situation where the business I worked for was struggling financially and was in the process of being sold. It was uncertain how many, if any, of the staff would retain their jobs in the new structure moving forwards. However, because my team knew how much they were respected and appreciated, they stayed with me until the absolute last minute, rather than jumping ship and finding other employment. They knew I cared about them, and they reciprocated when the chips were down and times were tough.
Adopt a ‘check in on’ rather than a ‘check up on’ mentality that shows the team members they are being supported through the challenge. This will inspire the team to focus on their health and wellbeing, which in turn will create a collective force that is primed and ready to move forward more quickly.
Give them the support they need to adapt to the situation and then encourage them to step into life in a new direction.
3 . Know your values. When you know what your values are, you know what’s important to you. When you align this information with what and how you want to do things, it becomes easier to find your next step forwards.
Making decisions becomes easier because you can simply hold opportunities and decisions up against your values and know very quickly whether what you are looking at doing is a match.
4 . Open, honest and transparent communication on a regular basis. Keeping people up to date and in the loop with communication stops rumours, mistrust and fear from growing at a time when you already have a significant challenge to deal with.
People always want to know how a situation is going to affect them, so keeping communication lines open and regularly sharing the information you have is critical to keeping motivation and enthusiasm high in times of significant change.
Even sharing that you don’t have answers, or can’t share information yet, is brilliant communication because it shows that you’re not trying to hide anything. This isn’t weakness; it’s honesty and integrity. It will keep the level of trust and engagement high and encourages employees and customers to stay on the journey with you for a little more time.
5 . Challenge the status quo. Learn to question everything — the more you question, the more answers you uncover. The more answers you uncover, the more information you have to work with.
Because we’ve been taught to be so afraid of change, it can be so tempting to hide when times are tough — especially if you go into the challenging times with already high stress and exhaustion levels.
But the more you can use questions to help you separate the emotion that comes with fear and uncertainty from the facts of the situation, the more you can find new perspectives and angles to view what is happening.
Asking questions gives you the opportunity to find new information and new information gives you the opportunity to find new ways of doing things.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling:
‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important!
You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’
And each day, it is up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say:
“NO! This is what’s important.”
I love this quote because it’s such a fabulous reminder of just how controlled we are by the people and the messaging we’ve been given throughout our lives. We’re ‘sold to’ thousands of times a day, and every time we follow what someone else tells us is right for us, we take a step on a life path that isn’t ours to follow.
Every single one of us is a unique individual. We know exactly what is right for us and exactly what we need, yet we don’t trust our intuition or our instincts. We’re so afraid of getting our lives wrong that we look to ‘experts’ outside ourselves to provide us with our answers.
The reality is that your answers are inside you. It is up to every single one of us to put our hand on our heart and stand true to what is important to us. That is the only way that we can give ourselves what we need for us to be OK as an individual and, as a result, truly thrive as a collective.
How can our readers further follow your work?
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