Accept that there is no right way — The very first step on this journey is in the acceptance that there is no right way. There may be a way that you do things, a way that you were taught to do things. Only one way to do it ‘right.’ Newsflash: There is no one right way. As soon as a ‘right’ way is professed, there will always be a better way on the horizon. Someone will be figuring it out. And why shouldn’t it be you? When you are told something, be curious and ask why? How?
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joanna Swash.
Joanna Swash is Group CEO of Moneypenny, a business which employs 1,000 people globally and supports over 21,000 clients through telephone answering, live chat, switchboard, and multi-channel services. Joanna is well known for her commercial acumen and hands-on leadership style, and she is passionate about developing people and creating a culture that breeds success and innovation.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Having had my own small business, I recognised the importance of customer service and ensuring you provided an exceptional first impression to clients, so it was an easy decision to go and work for Ed and Rachel (Ed Reeves and Rachel Clacher co-founders of Moneypenny). I believed in the business and what we were trying to achieve right from the very start and had experienced the need for it first-hand having had my own small business. I knew that it would be difficult to work for others having worked for myself, but I had such respect for what Ed and Rachel were doing and the amazing work culture that I knew it would work with them.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There’s two that stories that I’d like to share. The first is acquiring VoiceNation and NinjaNumber in Atlanta and the second, a story from my very first job in as fish and chip shop…
Welcoming VoiceNation and Ninja Number to the Moneypenny family has been an exciting time, especially as the acquisition went through days before lockdown when coronavirus was taking hold. Listening and learning from the founders and discovering such similar approaches to business, the combination of people and technology, was fascinating. Only heightened by the fact we had to finalise everything virtually, from merging our technology, integrating teams and meeting new team members. We opened our new stunning offices in Atlanta earlier this year so it is really exciting times.
The experience taught me what can happen when you believe in yourself, live by your purpose and surround yourself with awesome people.
The second story is from my first job, aged 14. I was working in a fish and chip shop. It wasn’t glamorous in any way; I was washing dirty pots from the café and the greasy paraphernalia from the shop. All for £1.50 per hour. After only two weeks in the job Mel, who ran the café, went on holiday and I was parachuted in into a pinny and front of house.
This particular day was extremely busy and will always stick in my mind. As I rushed to plonk a couple of plates of fish and chips on a table, the elderly woman touched my arm and said “I know you are very busy love, but it doesn’t hurt to smile.”
This comment has stayed with me for life and has really helped both in business and personally too — a smile on your face is contagious and allows us to empathize and even experience other people’s feelings, something that is really important as a leader. This customer wasn’t afraid to give feedback, and I wasn’t afraid to take it. To this day I passionately believe that getting stuck-in and having a smile on your face is a key ingredient in leadership
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our culture, which is all about our people and giving them superpowers through our tech.
Our culture. It is is at the heart of everything we do. When our founders launched Moneypenny, at the center of their vision was creating a place where they would want to work. And, twenty years later, it remains at our core. It is a business-critical element, a mindset and something to be nurtured.
To succeed in today’s ever-changing business landscape taking your team to the next level is essential. I have said this many times: brilliant people do brilliant things. And creating a safe environment for them to realize their potential is the key.
For us, this is about continued development and improvement, for every single employee, top to bottom. It is about building it into your daily schedule and it is becoming a mindset. As a leader or leadership team, if you are continuously seeking to improve as a business then you are consistently engaging with your employees, motivating and empowering them and involving them, as a team, in the evolution and growth of your business.
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?
It’s actually two people; Ed Reeves and Rachel Clacher, our founders. Their determination and belief in the business was inspiring and amazing. In my early career I came to the conclusion that working for other people wasn’t for me but the very first time I met them I realized that I was wrong.
As one of their first employees, they have given me the respect and flexibility to grow to where I am today. I feel so lucky that I have had people who trusted me without proof. It blew my mind that what they were telling me about their people-centered business model and that it wasn’t just a sales pitch, it was actually true. From day one it felt like a family environment. It was so friendly and enabling and gave me the same freedom and environment as having my own business.
They had, and still have, a brilliant attitude and always put themselves in the shoes of the client, as that is how they had started off themselves. They also really thought out of the box and challenged norms so that problems were turned on their head and solutions were always found.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, a crisis. Taken in reference to substances or objects it also describes the ability to spring back into shape. The latter illustrates the future of business, the ability to innovate, evolve, react, and succeed, and potentially changing its shape permanently as a result — that is how I would define resilience.
As for the characteristics you are looking to foster, for me, it is about self-awareness, empathy, and optimism.
The ability to understand, listen and hear is fundamental in providing clarity, encouraging openness, and developing trust. No one is perfect and sharing a tale of a lesson learned is not about vulnerability it is about authenticity. Some of the most successful organisational cultures are built around transparency and trust, connecting people and teams together. They are also curious, continually learning, asking questions, and connecting. This should be among your core values which should be reinforced through everything that you do.
Before we can show empathy, however, we need to understand ourselves, our own strengths, and our weaknesses. And we need to own them openly and honestly. In doing so, you are naturally more aware, tuned-in and you are more adaptable, able to foresee reactions and capture positive experiences.
In building resilience, it is imperative that you build positivity. It is about acknowledging that challenges will come your way, but they are manageable, temporary, and opportunities to re-evaluate and re-route.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage and resilience are inextricably linked. If you see resilience as the ability to bounce back, courage is the optimism and self-belief that powers your resilience. It is that innate feeling inside that helps them make good decisions, based on everything that we have picked up on our journey to date, both consciously and unconsciously. Some call it trusting your gut, but it comes from being self-aware. If you know yourself, then you can trust yourself.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
In the business world it would have to be Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. He co-founded the business as a mail-order rental business in 1997 and has led from the front in evolving and innovating and really turning the industry on its head. If the business isn’t a case study in resilience, then I don’t know what is, adapting to disruptions, crises even, foreseeing them, and quickly changing strategy in light of new trends. First reacting to disruptive technology of the internet and the impact on the film industry, then adapting its business model quickly enough to meet user expectation and demand, through innovation, tenacity, and strategic thinking, creating their own content when license fees proved a barrier (think The Crown, Orange is the New Black) and a great example of the cycle of resilience.
They were not undone by the challenges that they faced, having the vision to see them as a moment in time, not letting anything get in the way of a sustainable and strong future.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
At the start of the pandemic we managed to transition all of our employees to working from home in under three weeks which back in 2019, before the pandemic, we had said was impossible… But we did it and worked tirelessly as a team to make it happen…
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I am a firm believer that decisions in the past make you who you are today. We learn from everything, positive and negative so anything changed in the past would mean I am not where I am now. So, no regrets — if you learn one important lesson from everything you do, it has been well worth the experience.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I believe that resilience is something that takes a little nurturing. Only when we go through hardships and failures in life do we learn if and how to bounce back. That is why it is supremely important that we continually learn about ourselves and situations so that we can move forwards with greater experience and wisdom.
Looking back I learned this early in life. When I was 11 years old I lost my father to suicide. This showed me the importance of self-care so that I had the strength, energy, and mindset to move forwards, not just for myself but for those around me. After grieving I realized that focusing on the present moment helped me to take control of this sadness, it is a moment in time that will be with me, always, however, focusing on the now, kept me from dwelling in the past and worrying about the future. It helps you understand what is truly important in life.
Everyone goes through tough times in life, both at work and at home. In cultivating resilience, that awareness, learning, and letting go to some extent, improves your ability to empathize and be happier in life.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
#1 Accept that there is no right way
The very first step on this journey is in the acceptance that there is no right way. There may be a way that you do things, a way that you were taught to do things. Only one way to do it ‘right.’ Newsflash: There is no one right way. As soon as a ‘right’ way is professed, there will always be a better way on the horizon. Someone will be figuring it out. And why shouldn’t it be you? When you are told something, be curious and ask why? How?
#2 Know yourself
We speak often of what it takes to be a great leader, the myriad of characteristics and the soft skills that the thought leaders lay out before us, yet before we can even begin to develop our leadership style, we need to have a good look at ourselves. It takes work and willingness to learn continuously but self-awareness is at the heart of so many of those characteristics we discuss and read about that make up our emotional intelligence quotient. Before we can demonstrate empathy, for example, we need to understand our own emotions. When you harness your self-awareness skills you naturally become more understanding, more compassionate because of your heightened consciousness. And you become more adaptable.
#3 Keep an open mind
As humans we are unique. We are all different, we all have different viewpoints, experiences, and skills. This is a strength, and one that some businesses still have not realized is a huge pool of potential. Accept people for who they are, what they can bring and because they are different. Sometimes it is only by talking to people, family, friends, or work teams, that you notice and realize things, as they provide dialogue and feedback and even new perspectives. These conversations can help you figure out an issue, and/or adapt to change.
#4 Be kind
To yourself and others. This means looking after your mental wellbeing, taking time out when you need to. Showing that you value your people in their completeness, encouraging them to take advantage of the wellness and social activities on offer, making sure they switch off in this constantly connected world, celebrating important occasions, fostering flexibility, cultivating compassion, and recreating those all-important watercooler moments wherever your teams may be based. Good mental health is essential for leaders to lead and your people to support you.
#5 Fail forwards
Everyone would prefer success over failure. But both are simply snapshots in time, they don’t last forever. But they should be acknowledged for the lessons learned. Accept that you are human and be open to making mistakes, embrace them as an opportunity and learn valuable lessons. Know who you are and accept that, know your strengths and areas for improvement and proactively lookout for ways to improve. And take responsibility.
No leader is perfect. No leader has all the answers. By saying I made a mistake, and this is how I am going to fix it, by being authentic and open, you are demonstrating strength, courage and, ultimately, respect
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Understanding and kindness.
Kindness is a universal human requirement, and its significance is overlooked in business and in daily life. It doesn’t cost a penny, but its effect is endless. Share your smile with one person and the ripple effect perpetuates.
One of the most important skills in a great leader’s competency kit is the ability to understand, listen and hear. This applies to all stakeholders, customers, partners, people, and the marketplace. It provides clarity, encourages openness, and develops trust. And as good leaders embrace the recognized benefits of a focus on softer skills, kindness is linked to real people and real leaders. No one is perfect and sharing a tale of a lesson learned is not about vulnerability it is about authenticity. It helps us connect, another crucial human requirement, influencing the behavior of others and the effect continues. Smile, engage, help, make time, congratulate, appreciate, and slow down. Kindness boosts your own wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of others and more than anything, it doesn’t cost a penny.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
It has to be Ryan Reynolds. Along with Rob McElhenney, owners of our local football club, Wrexham FC, and that really excites and intrigues me. I look forward to welcoming them to our hometown and I love the fact that neither of them professes to be football experts, but they are up for a new business challenge and learning all about it.
Having read all about Ryan’s involvement with Aviation Gin, I would love to pick his brains about his approach to business and the lessons he has learned, his work ethic and how his career as an actor has helped or hindered this side of him.
Plus, I think he would be good fun too and we both have links to Wrexham and the US now. He comes across as really enthusiastic, energetic and witty (his lessons on parenting had me in stitches), not taking things too seriously.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!