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That time when I felt our collective heartbeat

Pre lockdown, I was lucky enough to hear some words of wisdom on leadership from Owase Jeelani, Paediatric Neurosurgeon at Great Ormond Street (special thanks to businessfourzero for making that happen). He’s a remarkable human who has become famous for the work he has done on separating conjoined twins.

As you can imagine, this isn’t a one person job by any stretch. There is a whole surgical team that needs to come together to create a successful surgical outcome. That team may need to assemble quickly and though some may have experience of each other, many won’t. This team then has to find a way to work together in the right way on this incredible task. Fast.

He spoke of finding the right flows of working together quickly, and having the right people in the right roles. The interesting thing with those in the medical profession as opposed to the startup space I am working in, is that we get to cherry pick the people we invite into the business, and they often don’t. They have to find a way to make it work with the team they are presented with, united by a common purpose.

At Launchpad we are building businesses and therefore assembling teams quickly, so I’ve become super fascinated (even more than I was before) on how we support teams to find their rhythm together as fast as they can, and to come together united by this elusive yet essential common purpose.

Our challenges are seldom life or death in the tech space happily, yet there is almost always a beating heart in the middle of it, driving things forward. Often that heart may come in the form of our Founders. The first team we have to support them build is that of the Founding team itself. Happily I don’t need to embark on a study of team dynamics to get this nailed down, Google did a pretty good job of that already with Project Aristotle. For the uninitiated, those things are:

Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed? That takes love, respect and honesty. 

Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time? That takes consistency and commitment. We have to keep showing up for each other and ourselves. 

Structure and clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear? This comes from the top, and has to be felt by the entire team. 

Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us? It’s easy to find meaning in saving lives but how do we find the meaning in the business we are working in so that the team can translate it into their own lives. 

Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters? A follow on from the above, how do we plug in what we need to feel as human beings, that what we do has value. 

[Taken from re:Work – The five keys to a successful Google team with some Penfold edits at the end]

I would completely back all of the above when it comes to building teams, but there is a little bit of new data I want to share with you that I learnt from Owase. You see friends, our bodies have physical responses to one another that we aren’t aware of consciously. Some of us find a way to tune into our own bodies and our reactions, and I am happy to say I am now one of those people. I can feel things like stress and anxiety when I am in a new situation but what I hadn’t thought about was the impact that even nuanced reactions may have on other people.

The fact is, we can all instinctively hear, see and feel those nuanced reactions in others; our bodies, without our brains being aware, are constantly listening and responding to the data they are being given from the body in front of them. Our bodies are always in tune with each other and can literally hear the beat of one another’s hearts.

We can feel the none verbal clues that someone is in stress response and their heart is beating faster, but we can also sense when someone feels super comfortable and their heart is in a happy rhythm. What happens when the people around us are super comfortable? We get more comfortable too. Without realising it, we enter into a chemical reaction with the people around us, where our own systems react to what we are presented with. In a difficult interaction, this often exhibits in stress responses and can cause us to reflect the same. By total reverse, when we are truly aligned with others and working in a state of flow, our heartbeats can also align.

YES. Our heartbeats can ACTUALLY align.

We can become so in sync with one another that our hearts can beat together in a perfect rhythm. Incredible right?

So when you have a team in balance, like that of Owase’s, who have managed to establish the right dynamics that allowed them to really love and support each another through something huge, they fell into rhythm with each others hearts. When a team gets to that place, that’s where the magic happens.

We often hear stories of the magic of the early days in startup, where the team finds this incredible symbiosis. People within that team will describe those moments of time as some of the best of their lives. Of course the challenge is that, even if we get to this magical place, nothing is fixed and things are constantly moving and evolving. Which means to keep creating and being part of that kind of collective team experience, we have have to keep moving and evolving with it.

To do that, and to find these moments more frequently and allow them to happen quickly within teams, I honestly believe this starts with your connection and commitment to yourself.

Every day offers a new opportunity to show up for yourself and those around you. To show up in love, to show up in commitment, to show up with purpose and intention, to show up being clear and managing expectations of those around you well, which ultimately builds trust. Your steadiness will support the steadiness of the team around you.

At Launchpad we were a team of individuals who were thrown together quickly, and had to find a way to come together fast to unite towards a common purpose. We were all bought in to the mission around energy transformation when we joined, but have definitely had to put in a little work to create the kind of team dynamics I speak of above.

Yet in this moment in time we are living in, I have recently felt a shift within my very own team. The new world order dynamics have meant that we have become closer together and more in tune. We have had to pivot quickly into a new way of working, support one another and make fast decisions. For us, we are fortunate that unlike Owase, those have not had the weight of life or death, but they have still been significant for those within the team and within the lives of our people.

Whilst we can’t be together as a team at the moment, if I take a breath in the middle of a video call, there are moments where I can feel our collective heartbeat. I can feel this rising sense of common purpose, I can feel the energy of supportive forgiveness and I can’t wait to feel into the rhythm of the team when we come back together again. And for the teams that we are supporting, building and nurturing in our resident community, we can’t wait to beat alongside you until your hearts beat in a collective rhythm of their own.

That time when I learnt the real meaning of respect

Late Middle English: from Latin respectus, from the verb respicere ‘look back at, regard’, from re- ‘back’ + specere ‘look at’.

Aren’t word origins a little bit awesome sometimes? I guess most of us feel like we know what the word respect means, but when you break it down to the origins something even more fabulous appears. Respect quite literally means to see again, as if to see as the first time. So re-spect really is about seeing people afresh, each and every day, letting going of whatever baggage you might have with them and what things you might feel you know about them.

That surely has to be the essence of actual respect right? How different might our relationships be if we were able to see one another afresh each and every day? I can’t lay claim to unearthing this little gem personally, this was something shared with me by Atif Sheikh at the Businessfourzero offices this week.

When we meet new people, whether personally or professionally, we have an opportunity to see them truly afresh. I wonder if it’s possible to create that opportunity as a relationship evolves; to meet one another time and time again without judgment and with total re-spect.

Relationship building is a bit like walking on thin ice: one wrong step and you lose your foot, perhaps even a whole leg, into an icy pool. When that happens, it can take quite a lot to thaw out and bring things back on track. It takes love, it takes care, it takes patience and a whole lot of re-spect.

When we find ourselves in a new role in a new organisation, or joining a new team, with the smorgasbord of triggers, emotions and reactions that come with relationship-building, it’s super easy to become a shadow of who we really are in the process.

When both sides of the equation are forming all kinds of assessments and judgements about one another it is more important than ever to be bringing your whole self to work. People need to have the chance to meet and connect with the truest version of you.

“I don’t like new people”

Human beings are a funny old bunch and we really don’t differ that greatly to one another. The spectrum of emotions we experience when we meet new people usually falls within a fairly safe spectrum of sameness. Things like:

The dark art of putting someone up on a pedestal, supported and enabled by that old foe, imposter syndrome. It’s not equal and it’s not cool. Plot reveal: we are ALL equal but it’s up to us to give ourselves the permission to be.

We can find ourselves tripping over our words and preening for the attention and affection of a new person. When we put ourselves at a lower status level to other people, we step away from ourselves and start making choices from something outside of ourselves.

Another might be ego driven fear. We go into protection mode and feel like the world is out to get us. We try to keep ourselves and our work separate so we don’t risk attack. Truth is, that energy only works to ostracise us further from the place that we really want to be; part of the community of humans we want to spend time with.

Whilst all these reactions are completely normal. They definitely get in the way of us being who we really are and can cause reactions to one another both physically and mentally. Perhaps there’s another path, and one that means we get to establish our rhythms a little sooner.

Building trust

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; good relationships are born (and borne) in love. Yep. All of them. Even the workish ones.

The fastest way to establish trust between two humans is to allow the space for you to see one another as you really are. Because what you really are is incredibly similar creatures, likely with a lot of the same worries and concerns, even if they manifest in your behaviours slightly differently.

When people don’t know you yet, you have to make sure you give them a chance to do so. Find the opportunity to see and be seen.

Perhaps it’s a walk to get lunch, perhaps it’s a commitment to a coffee break. Perhaps it’s just living there in the middle of the day to day melee; a five minute hello that says “how are you really?”.

As quickly as possible I try to find a way to look deep into a person’s eyes and allow them to do the same with me. The quicker we can really see one another, the quicker we can see each other as human.

Let’s also not forget re-spect here. Try as often as possible to start afresh with each person each day, forgive quickly and keep your focus on relationship building.

Dial up on your sense of self

As a newbie, this is the time to double down on your commitment to you. How can you make sure that you are giving yourself your absolute best during that crucial bedding-in period? What are the things you need to feel truly whole?

If you can spend as much time as possible operating from your truest sense of self, you give the people around you the best opportunity to get to know the real you.

We have total responsibility for our part in the interactions that populate our lives. If you aren’t having a great experience in a relationship, the simplest thing of all is to consult the person in question and see whether you can co-create a better one with them.

I find a straightforward feedback or relationship reset conversation works wonders here. It helps to be as straightforward as you can about what your intentions are when arranging it and be as honest as you can whilst in the moment. Openness begets openness. Love begets love.

Before you know it, who knows, you may just find yourself in a joyful workplace, surrounded by friends who are all rooting for each other. That doesn’t mean that things don’t go wrong, but when they do, we love and re-spect one another enough to fix them.

That time when I realised that I was a tumbleweed

A friend of mine told me a little something recently about tumbleweeds. Apparently, even having been all dried up, shrivelled and blowing around the desert for an untold amount of time, when they land in the right conditions and are fed and watered the right way, they burst back to life.

Amazing right?

It then occurred to me that my own life very much mirrors that of a tumbleweed. I was lost for a very long time and most certainly not thriving, then I changed my conditions and low and behold, I burst back into life.

A lot of people who didn’t know the tumbleweed me might find it hard to reconcile that I was once living a very different life to the one I share with you all today. Just as we can all burst into life in the right conditions, we can go the other way also.

There is a very personal part of my story that I recently realised I haven’t really talked in much detail about: how I found myself in an abusive codependent relationship for 12 years.

I am only sitting here writing this because I was inspired by the love and determination of others, so I felt it was time for me to share some of that story in the hope that it might offer someone else the same. I share this as a message of hope.

What I hadn’t expected was the challenge I faced in writing it. The last draft I wrote  turned into some kind of white paper on domestic abuse where I academically removed myself from the story. Trouble is; I can’t remove myself from this story. I can’t make it academic. I just have to make it real. So here it is.

My name is Ruth Penfold and I was in a codependent abusive relationship for 12 years.

I met my ex husband when I was just 19. I was living in Bristol, having grown up there, and was struck by this guy that seemed so worldly (he’d just moved back from London). I was infatuated. He was five years older than me. When I look back, within the first week of meeting him, my alarm bells should have been ringing. There was so much about him that made me feel anxious, but those feelings could well have been ‘love’ for all I knew, so I dove in deeper.

He very quickly learnt my operating model and what was likely to worry me the most, and then used that data to begin to take control of my world. Who I saw, where I went, what I wore. This was where I gradually lost myself. After about six months of dating I moved to London to start university. It provided the perfect foundation for him to encourage me to let go of any of the friendships that I had created during my teenage years.

From the deep understanding he gleaned early on of my blueprint, he was also able to show me just enough care to boost me enough to stay. Like a child starved of affection, those well timed little gestures felt like the most magnificent thing of all. A ruffle of my hair and my heart felt full, even if just for that moment. Those tiny little sporadic scraps of love sustained me for 12 years.

Very quickly we established a relationship that existed entirely on his terms. He would constantly break promises and was controlling and jealous. At the time my 19 year old self put that down to infatuation or ‘love’. It’s nice to feel wanted right…? My life with him became an island, and any relationships I sustained at that time were purely superficial, even with my family. I kept the world at arm’s length.

People who met me during that time would have found me cheery enough, when the truth is, I was living in a constant state of hyper anxiety, never quite knowing what he was going to do next.

I wasn’t passive this whole time by the way. I actually called him out on his behaviour often. The sass you see today was still there somewhere. Each time I did, he managed to fire it back in my direction with such force that I would either just be afraid of what he might do, or I’d end up feeling like I’d done something wrong. The fear hit me on a multitude of levels actually; fear of his reaction in the moment, fear of what he might do later but also the fear that he might just leave and not come back. Crazy right?

When you are in this kind of relationship, on some level you know what’s happening, but you just become paralysed in it. You are terrified of what they might do when they are there, but you are even more terrified of them leaving you. You are on the island that you have co-created and you don’t know how to get off. You lose your grip on reality and allow yourself to be tossed around by your partner and their myriad of emotions, you fall down a rabbit hole of codependence and you can’t find your footing to scramble back out.

I read somewhere recently that it takes you seven times longer to leave an abusive relationship. That makes sense to me. People often ask me that question; ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’. The truth is, I was in so deep it didn’t even occur to me. Until near the very end, it didn’t even cross my mind.

My path to freedom

In 2007, nine months before I got married, I met my now best friend Emily. She jumped into my world and forced a friendship in a way that others hadn’t been able to. She saw a light within me that had all but been extinguished and found a way to penetrate my exterior and find a way in. She gently managed to inspire me to dare to consider a different kind of life by encouraging tiny loving steps and changes in the way I was living and importantly, the way I regarded myself. Even though she only got to see a fraction of the life I was actually living, it was enough for her to see even at a glance that I was in a very dangerous place indeed.

I am thankful for her friendship and her unapologetic determination each and every day.

Over the next three years I continued to be inspired by the people I came into contact with until finally I’d grown big enough within myself to be brave enough to even consider leaving. In that time I’d lost 3.5 stone in weight, and the view I’d held on myself had begun to shift. The voices within grew louder and stronger, but it took coaching to help me respond to them.

In November 2010, though still terrified by doing so and what the repercussions might be, I finally left.

I’ve spent the last decade rebuilding myself from the inside out and learning to make better choices, blessed by the love and support of my family and closest people. It has taken a lot of work to learn new thought patterns and behaviours. Though my work here is far from done, I have managed to build a whole new life for myself: one with love at the very heart of everything. My tumbleweed is flourishing and alive once more.

Some thoughts on codependency

In a codependent partnership, there is typically someone who adopts the taking role, and someone who adopts the giving role. The taker is often the abuser and the giver is often the abused. Both parties are operating from a place of deep personal pain, but the taker directs that pain towards others, often cruelly, whereas the giver holds that pain deep inside as an emptiness to be filled, no matter the cost.

All beings are born with the same default setting of love and goodness, things can just go a little wonky from there, when our childhood experiences form our ability to relate to the world around us. Both parties therefore learn their operating model from a place of fear, and it’s that fear that gives rise to the dysfunction between two people.

To completely avoid these kinds of scenarios, we need to get better at supporting our children to grow with a more complete sense of self. To grow without the feeling of emptiness that so many of us arrive in adulthood trying to fill, to operate from a place of security over fear.

As long as the more holistic cure eludes us, for those of us that are already at adulthood, it’s important that we become aware of the early warning signs of abuse so we can treat the symptoms in the interim and move away from the stranglehold of codependency.

So whether you are experiencing this first hand or whether you notice a shift in the behaviour of a friend, here are some of the things I would look out for:

Sign 1: Manipulation and fear

Just like in my case, the taker is super wily and will quickly learn the blueprint of how you operate and what matters most to you. They learn quickly what hurts you the most and how to use it to maximum effect. They find your monsters, learn what feeds them and use that knowledge as a means of control. You might notice changes in the way your friend behaves or what they start saying yes and no to.

Sign 2: Isolation and control

To really start to gain control of someone, they have to remove you from the world that they found you in. Whether they know it consciously or not, their desire is to truly possess you. That can start small at first, it did with me. It started with comments and judgements of the friends I had, with a campaign against them and their suitability as friends. Does this resonate for you? Are you aware of someone who dived into a relationship and you hardly saw them again?

Sign 3: Becoming a shadow of your former self

He would bark at any man who looked my way, even by accident. Gradually I learnt to make myself invisible. I put on weight, wore no make up and dressed in shades of beige and brown until I’d all but disappeared. I just found myself glibly choosing the path of a quiet life and stopped wearing things that might ‘gain attention’.  This is one of the most obvious signs; the physical manifestation of deep unhappiness.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or have someone close to you whom you are worried about, there are a myriad of wonderful support groups who can offer more practical support like Refuge, who have a 24 hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Place yourself in the wrong conditions and it’s very easy to find yourself in the middle of a relationship that doesn’t serve you. It can happen to anyone, but I also want to remind you that this doesn’t have to be your life forever. Change is always possible and however painful it might seem, I’m pretty sure it’s nothing compared to what you are living right now.

Instead use this as your catalyst to start creating a new set of conditions for yourself and see if you can find a way to allow your tumbleweed to flourish once more.

That time when I learnt the power of giving authentic feedback

Giving feedback can be a bit of a nemesis for a lot of people.

There’s a feeling of awkwardness when you know you have something to share but would rather run away from it. There were so many times in my life when I kept schtum and then later wished I’d said something. The times where you ‘learn’ six months later what you already could have called out at the beginning by simply being a little braver.

On realising this fact a couple of years ago I made a pact with myself to level up my ability to give feedback.

It’s just a skill like all the others; invest some time into learning it and practicing it and you get really really good at it. Promise. I can’t say its always easy, but I can say the dynamics of my relationships have improved immeasurably with the level of honesty I am able to bring to them.

So here’s my take on how I managed to get those awkward conversations right, whether personal or professional.

Good feedback starts from the place that should be the foundation of everything: LOVE.

In a recent blog, I shared a definition of love according to Scott Peck as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

If extending yourself outside of your comfort zone to give important feedback to someone isn’t love in action, I don’t know what is.

Right attitude

To give feedback effectively you have to care deeply about the person you are giving the feedback to.

That doesn’t mean that you have to know them super well, it could actually be your first meeting, the key is about caring enough to understand (and take responsibility) for the imprint that you leave on the humans you interact with day to day.

Even the smallest things that you present and project onto another can have huge ramifications. Becoming aware of this will hopefully bring a sense of responsibility with the nature of your interactions all of the time, not just in feedback conversations. Every moment counts.

Right energy

When you are considering giving feedback to someone, it’s worth checking in on your own energy and intention. Is the thing that you feel you need to share honest? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Is it a desire to support the other person or is it actually a patronising, condescending ‘I want to make myself feel bigger that you’ space. I’m sure most of us have experienced being on the receiving end of feedback given in the wrong energy; where you can come away feeling chastised and belittled. It’s completely avoidable.

What we are looking for here is an authentic drive to enable the growth of the other person; only you can be the judge of when and where that occurs.

Trust is the foundation of all good relationships, whether professional or personal. Will your feedback support the development and continuation of trust, or will it break it?

Right people

Once we have established that we deem the feedback is being presented in the right energy, it’s important to check it’s happening between the right people; is it your place to give this particular feedback?

In a work context, folks can sometimes be a little overzealous with feedback, and it’s common for people a couple of layers up to get embroiled in conversations that should be happening a couple of layers down. My general rule of thumb, is that the person or people closest to the thing (whatever the thing is) should be the ones discussing it.

Right place

I’m probably trying to teach grandma how to suck eggs here, but for the avoidance of any doubt, the right time and place for feedback is critical.

Feedback should almost always be given 1:1 and ideally in a timely manner so that the feedback conversation is close enough to the actual event itself. It should also be given in a place that the person receiving the feedback is comfortable with. That can obviously vary dramatically from person to person.

I was once given some rather challenging feedback by a former boss in a glass meeting room where I was facing out to an open office; I literally had nowhere to hide. It made an already tough conversation much much harder.

Right time

As I mentioned above, timing of feedback is everything. Some feedback becomes irrelevant if it isn’t given in real time. Other times it is more important to make sure that you are in the right environment to give it.

When it comes to timing though, it is perhaps most important that it occurs at the right time for both the giver and the receiver. If you are giving feedback; are you in your best energy? If you are even slightly out of sorts, the feedback could come out completely wrong and be misinterpreted. Meditation is hugely supportive for me here.

As the giver, it is you that is driving when the conversation happens in the main, so you have to dial up on your emotional intelligence to make sure that the timing works for the receiver also. If they are clearly having a challenging day, perhaps a kinder thing might be to wait and have the conversation later.

I remember a time when I gave some feedback on the fly, after being asked for it. My answer should have been; let me reflect and we can discuss this later. Instead I broke all of my own rules, and gave clumsy feedback that not only didn’t land well, it actually got completely lost in translation. I had to work much harder to reset that relationship to rebuild the trust than the effort it would have taken to get the conversation right.

If you work with someone quite closely, it’s worth asking them how they like to receive feedback and take the time to understand what does and doesn’t work for them.

Putting in that kind of effort to understand someone has love at its core, and when things start from there, you have a much better chance of ending up in a good place.