Declan Edwards of BU Coaching: “Set your employees up for success”

Set your employees up for success. This means having a really honest look at your onboarding process. Make sure you’re really clear from the start about what it actually looks like to work at your company and what expectations you have. As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, […]

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Set your employees up for success. This means having a really honest look at your onboarding process. Make sure you’re really clear from the start about what it actually looks like to work at your company and what expectations you have.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Declan Edwards.

Declan Edwards is a thought-leader in the field of wellbeing and the Founder of BU Coaching — an organization that is growing global wellbeing by empowering people with the tools and the team to thrive.

An avid believer in the potential of people, Declan has seen firsthand that when people are equipped with the strategies to manage their emotions and master their mindset they make a positive impact not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of those around them.

It is this impact that he is passionate about spreading.

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’ and how you got started?

I always find the backstory question a challenging one to answer because I guess the question is where do you really start with the backstory?

When I reflect on my path to what we’re doing now with BU, I think what really started me off on this journey was realising that something wasn’t working within my own well being. I was the kid who struggled with self esteem all throughout school, I was overweight, I had no sense of purpose in life. I really wasn’t doing well with managing my own mindset or my emotions but I didn’t know where to turn to get help with that.

I didn’t think I was clinically depressed or anxious enough to go to a psychologist. I also didn’t resonate with this new age life coaching because I just didn’t feel that it was authentic or evidence based. And so in a roundabout way I ended up deciding that the one reason I wasn’t happy was that I was overweight and if I lost weight, then of course I’d be happy.

This resulted in me losing over 30 kilos in under a year, and putting myself in and out of hospital with disordered eating. As a result, I began to see quite clearly that, as much as we can work on our physical well being, if we’re not directly developing the skills to look after our mental and emotional well being we’re always going to be falling short of thriving.

This is what led me to reach out to my first Coach and deep dive into this field. Now here I am, all these years later running a company that I’m very proud of and that is empowering other people to access the right tools and team of people to help them thrive.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think the biggest thing that helps BU really stand out is that we are blending strengths from two traditionally competing approaches to mental and emotional well being.

We look at psychology and how evidence based it is as well as how practical it is, but we also see that unfortunately, it can be quite stigmatised and disengaging. Then we look on the other side of the coin that is life coaching and we see that it’s engaging, it’s fun, but it is lacking that evidence base and that practicality that comes with psychology.

I know what’s really resonated with me, with our team and with our members all around the world, is that when we combine these two things together and we use the strengths for each one it balances out their weaknesses. This is what gives us the flexibility to tailor solutions that match what people need as individuals, rather than forcing them to fit a process.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I think one of the most interesting stories that’s happened to me since starting BU is finding myself working closely with a remarkable woman from Missouri. We’re based in Australia, and I’ve never personally been to Missouri.

I first connected with Laura through a video that she put up through the very first coach I’d ever worked with. She had contacted him and said that she’d been struggling with depression, anxiety and chronic pain for years. She had tried everything and really didn’t know where to turn or what to do anymore, but she thought she’d try mindfulness and meditation.

Something about that first video really spoke to me.

When I reached out to her I knew that there was no way that financially it would be feasible when she was on disability payments but I told her that we were going to put together the first ever BU scholarship, and give her a chance to enrol in her Freshman Year at BU entirely on us.

The results were incredible. I feel so connected to her and I think I learned as much out of that experience as she did. It helped me grow as a leader, and as a person. To this day, and I’m very proud and very grateful to say that, Laura is still thriving and continuously practicing what she learned throughout that first Freshman Year with us at BU.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was reflecting on this question with our Head of Marketing, and we were laughing about how many mistakes there have been in this journey so far. One of the big ones was when we decided on a whim that we wanted to run an international retreat in Africa.

So we booked it all, paid for everything, and then launched it and really didn’t sell anywhere near enough spaces to make it work. I left the company for 3 weeks for the first time since we had started it. The problem was that I hadn’t enabled the team, or empowered them, to look after the company effectively.

When I came back from that Africa trip the company was tanking, we’d lost half our value in a matter of weeks. It really looked like we were going to go bankrupt. I think it gave me a bit of a wake up call as a leader. I needed to change how we operated, I needed to change how we built the team and I needed to begin empowering others to take responsibility for this company. In the end it helped me have a much deeper sense of appreciation for this crazy journey that is being in business.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

The best piece of advice I can give is be proactive, be practical and be fun about how you invest in your staff well being. We tend to see companies that are investing in staff wellbeing, engagement and development in a ‘tick box’ fashion. They just do it to say “yes we’re investing in our staff”, but they’re not really doing it in a way that serves their team and puts them in the best position to thrive.

If we look at those three components more closely:

  1. Be proactive — please start looking after your stuff before sh*t hits the fan.
  2. Be practical — get data driven insight into what your team actually needs to help them thrive and avoid burnout, rather than just buying whatever topic someone’s walked into the office and sold you.
  3. Have fun with it — be a little tongue in cheek, bring that playfulness to it, because that is what’s going to encourage your team to continue working on their own well being.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as developing and empowering people to solve great problems and develop great processes. If we look on the other hand at management, I think management’s more about the processes, the outcomes and ticking the box to say “yes this is efficient, yes this is working”. Leadership is more human centred. It focuses on how we create a culture and a team that can achieve those key company outcomes in a way where they are fulfilling their potential as individuals as well.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I do my best to be consistent and intentional with my self care emotionally, physically and mentally. On a day to day basis this may consist of reading, meditation, outdoor walks or practicing mindful breathing. If I know I have a particularly stressful or high stakes meeting coming up I make sure I’ve set myself up for success by exercising in the morning, planning my approach to the meeting and having a check in session with my Coach or one of my team beforehand.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

In an earlier question I alluded to a great lesson that I learned early on in running BU. I wasn’t onboarding people effectively, I wasn’t leading a team effectively and I wasn’t empowering our team to show up as their best selves. Over the last few years I’ve become a lot better at having those difficult conversations, providing clear expectations and giving feedback to help our team grow.

I think a big part of that has been learning that “clear is kind”. It’s a great quote from Brene Brown, who I absolutely love. A lot of the time we beat around the bush with how we give feedback to people because we’re trying to protect their feelings, but all this does is create ambiguity and confusion. When we can be clear, and compassionate with our feedback it facilitates a much better outcome.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

It all comes back to clarity. Being able to give honest and direct feedback is essential for communicating and upholding boundaries, clearly conveying expectations and building an effective and high performing company culture. At the end of the day it facilitates more effective workplace relationships, a more efficient approach to achieving key outcomes and overall a more enjoyable place to work.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Set your employees up for success. This means having a really honest look at your onboarding process. Make sure you’re really clear from the start about what it actually looks like to work at your company and what expectations you have.
  2. Make your company values actionable. So often we see companies just put some nice sounding words up on the wall but never exploring what those mean in a practical sense. If you can get really clear on three behaviours that move towards the company values, and three that move away from them, you can sit down with your team and deliver feedback in a way that ties into the values rather than it being a ‘you vs them’ situation. For example; one of our values at BU is ‘proactivity’. In a practical application this would look like the team taking action on, and completing, tasks before their due date. This makes the value more visible and the team more accountable to upholding it.
  3. Ask more questions with a sense of curiosity and compassion. A lot of the time we create our own stories in our head, and we deliver constructive criticism having already decided why that person is behaving that way. At the end of the day, it’s impossible to read minds and to know everything that is going on in that person’s life. It’s much more valuable to come in with a bit of curiosity and compassion than it is to come into the conversation from a place of judgment and resentment.
  4. Frame it as the two of you working together as a team, against a problem, instead of a you vs them dynamic. Giving feedback can quickly feel like a conflict zone. This only puts our team into a state of fight or flight. When you frame it as “this is us working together to solve something” it feels more collaborative rather than combative. A subtle yet effective way to do this is to sit next to your staff member when delivering feedback rather than sitting directly across the table from them. This small change in body language can signal that you’re on their side.
  5. No problem without a proposed solution. We have a rule of thumb that if you’re coming into a meeting recognizing a challenge or a problem, you should always bring at least one proposed solution to get the ball rolling. It helps facilitate conversation and problem solving. It can also facilitate buy in from the team by helping them take ownership over whatever change ends up being decided upon. Rather than it feeling like change has been forced upon them, it feels like a decision that they’ve been involved with.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

In terms of delivering constructive feedback over email it’s similar to how we would deliver it in person. I would still highly recommend coming in with “clear is kind”. Don’t beat around the bush with a fluffy email to try and protect someone’s feelings. That will just lead to confusion.

I would also recommend expressing gratitude early in the email. Gratitude is a profound emotion and is a fantastic way to help someone avoid going into that fight or flight response that may come up if we’re perceived as harsh or too critical.

We also want to highlight that this is not an attack against them as a person. This is a healthy constructive criticism against a particular behaviour, or action. You’re not attacking their identity, you’re addressing a behaviour or an action that could be performed better.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

As a rule of thumb, in the moment is better than after a moment.

If you catch it in the moment you can help people stay on track. It’s important to realise that behaviour change doesn’t happen from one meeting, it’s something that is tweaked and refined over time.

The exception to this arises if you’re poor at managing your own emotions. If something happens and you’re frustrated there’s a great test called the HALT test. The test states that if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired you’re not in the best state to be having a difficult conversation.

In terms of regular check ins, I do feel that challenging discussions and constructive criticism should be things that we encourage in our company culture as a regular occurrence. Whether that’s as part of a weekly Scrum, part of a monthly check in, or a quarterly review on how your team is upholding the company values. As long as you communicate effectively to the team and everyone knows the expectations of how constructive criticism is going to be delivered within the company it’s a great process to follow.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think of what it means to be a great boss is to consider what your team would say about you if they were asked anonymously. I’ve experienced this before in past jobs, we all know managers and bosses that the team complains about as soon as they leave the room. There’s a great saying that people don’t leave workplaces, they leave their bosses. One of the most cited reasons people look for new jobs is they don’t like their boss. So again, when I think of being a great boss I think of what my team would say about me when I’m not in the room.

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. 🙂

If I could inspire any movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people it would be the movement that we are spreading through BU; which is to empower people to realise that wellbeing is a skill. So often people think that their overall mental and emotional wellbeing is something that they either inherently have or they’re lacking at birth. But in reality, these are skills that can be taught, trained and developed over time, especially if you have access to the right tools and the right team to guide the way.

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are so many quotes that I could share for this so I’m just going to share the one that’s been playing on my mind a lot lately and really making an impact in my own journey.

“Progress over perfection”

I can still get caught out by imposter syndrome, or self doubt and overwhelm. I still have anxious feelings come up. When this happens I always come back to moving forward one step at a time. Focusing on progress is so much more valuable than trying to make giant leaps and getting caught up in the perfection trap.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

If you’re a reader you can follow my written articles on the BU blog here:

If you prefer to listen to your information make sure you subscribe to the BU with Declan Edwards podcast, available on all podcasting platforms.

And if you’d like to connect with me personally you’re welcome to do so via LinkedIn:

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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