We all have experiences which help forge the sort of leaders we become. One of mine came early in my first CEO role as Director of an International charity. I left the public sector to take on this role which back in the 90’s was still a place of stable, if sometimes stagnant, job security. Within a few months of starting in my new role and after full exposure to the accounts, I had to go to the chair of the board and tell him, we were essentially a Champagne organisation on a beer income. We simply could not go on as we were and survive. It was a question of cutting costs or going to the wall.
This is not an easy conversation to have with any charity chair. Luckily I had one with sufficient insight and skill to realise that we had to cross this Rubicon or sink. In brief, we had to cut jobs very significantly. Any credible survival plan had to include redundancies.
I didn’t come into the charity world to put people out of a job, particularly those who were so passionately committed to helping service users. But I kept telling myself as I weighed up the least worst employee cost that service users needed a service and that could not continue without painful cuts to our back room headcount.
I tied to be open and completely honest about the task ahead with senior managers and staff. Virtually none of them could see things my way either through fear for their own roles or because they felt I was fundamentally wrong. It was a period of incredible stress for me and for those who feared for their jobs and the organisation they loved. Every time I felt sorry for myself and wished I had stayed in the cosseted public sector, I repeated the mantra, ‘It’s not about you.’ I would be safe at the end of the process, others would not.
What experience has taught me over the years is that in managing stressful situations it actually is about you. Your mental resilience, your facility for making the right decisions under pressure, your ability to take advice but be decisive when it counts is absolutely crucial to managing difficult and challenging situations well. In today’s dynamic business world, leaders need to be in top mental shape to make god decisions and the health of the organisation relies on the wellbeing and hardiness of its top people. The people that must make the right decisions in good times and bad. Good CEOs know what makes their company tick, great CEOs know what makes them tick and the impact this has on their business decisions and their relationships with their people.
Sampson Hall has developed a unique mental toughness assessment tool which has been developed in conjunction with Sir Clive Woodward, England’s Rugby World Cup-winning coach, and Team GB’s Director of Sport at the Beijing, Vancouver and London 2012 Olympic Games, who has spent over a decade working with individuals in business and sport developing his DNA of a Champion model.
This online assessment tool can be used by anyone in your organisation to provide a detailed assessment of your mental toughness and help you understand your own strengths and weaknesses when you are under pressure. How do you rate in terms of challenge, commitment, confidence and control – some of the essential ingredients to great business leadership? How confident and adaptable are you in today’s complex and fast moving business world? I guarantee our mental toughness ‘MOT’ will surprise and intrigue you and it might just give you the tools to gain that important edge over your competitors outside – and inside – your boardroom!
I had the fortune of being able to rely on my experience as a prison Governor 20 years ago when I saw those people on my list, one by one, to tell them the bad news – they had lost their jobs. Managing difficult situations was by that stage almost an instinct. But I recall being nearly physically ill with nerves before that office door opened. I still vividly feel the loneliness and isolation of the task and the crushing anxiety that my strategy was wrong. That’s why I really can endorse our mental toughness assessment and ongoing support. Because I’ve been there and when you are called to make the right decision and stick by it, it really is about you.
Author: Ian Acheson
Ian Acheson a 47 year old Ulsterman has 25 years’ experience in working at senior and board level across the private, public and NGO sector.
Ian was educated at Durham and Cambridge universities and after some adventures in freelance journalism for BBC Radio Ulster and Radio 5, he joined Her Majesty’s Prison Service on the graduate fast track scheme serving at command levels in a variety of prisons including HMPs Wandsworth including a spell as in-charge Governor at HMP Erlestoke.
Ian left the Prison Service to become Executive Director at the international charity, Prisoners Abroad. Following the birth of his children, Ian returned to the West country to head up the Youth Justice Board, the Government agency responsible for the criminal justice system for 10-17 year olds.
Promotion to the Senior Civil Service at the Home Office saw Ian in charge of crime, drugs and counter terrorism targets and policy in the South West of England as part of the regional government office. Further promotion saw Ian appointed as Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Ian is a qualified life coach and an EU recognised expert on Youth Justice. He has lectured and written about radicalisation in prison custody.
Ian lives with his wife, the wine writer and journalist Susy Atkins and his two boys on a smallholding in Dartmoor National park. Here, he enjoys hill walking, writing poetry and fighting a losing battle against brambles and nettles.