Edward Sullivan: “Time in Nature”

Drink Less — Studies have shown that Americans are drinking more now than at any time in recent years. Yes, the boredom of quarantine lends itself to find joy in a glass of wine or a beer. But over time, alcohol is a depressant. It wears us down and makes us LESS resilient. Instead of reaching for […]

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Drink Less — Studies have shown that Americans are drinking more now than at any time in recent years. Yes, the boredom of quarantine lends itself to find joy in a glass of wine or a beer. But over time, alcohol is a depressant. It wears us down and makes us LESS resilient. Instead of reaching for the bottle, try anything from 1 through 4 above.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

Edward Sullivan is an executive coach and author, whose 20-year career has taken him around the globe coaching and advising start-up founders, Fortune 100 executives, and heads of state of foreign nations on 3 continents.

His client list includes executives from Bombas, Charles River Ventures, DoorDash, Foundation Capital, Google, Hatch, Hinge, MasterClass, Salesforce, Slack, Thrive Capital, and many others.

Edward holds an MBA from the Wharton School and an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School. His upcoming book, The Power of Insight, will be released by Harper Collins in late 2021.

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?

I grew up with an independent streak which led to years of travel and exploration in and after college, including living for six months on an organic farm in Oregon and a 14 month motorcycle trip through South America that was written up in Forbes in 2003. My first job out of college was running an environmental non-profit in New Mexico, after which I got involved in progressive politics, both domestically and abroad. My career as an Executive Coach grew out of those early years working with candidates, which eventually brought me to my current role as CEO of Velocity Group.

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?

One of the more interesting stories from my career is actually how I become a coach. Sitting at the lunch table during business school, I was regaling my classmates with stories from when I was an international political consultant. Finally, a friend reached across the table and said, “Will you be my Executive Coach?”

Surprised, I responded that I didn’t do that sort of work, to which she replied, “If you’ve helped get two people elected President, you can help me get a promotion at BSG!” I hadn’t really made the connection between my prior career in politics and being able to coach business leaders, but in hindsight it was a no brainer.

The key takeaway for me was that other people often see gifts and abilities in us that we can’t see for ourselves. We have to seek those people out (and believe them!) when they tell us what they see.

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

Velocity Group is a coaching firm like no other. Like my story above, all of our coaches came to us after being “drafted” into coaching by someone who saw the gift for coaching in them. All of our coaches have decades of experience as “operators” working in many of the fastest growing companies in the world, and at some point someone asked them, “Would you be my coach?” Our coaches have valuable and diverse toolkits and an innate ability to deliver great value to our clients in a short period of time.

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?

I’ll always be grateful to my mentor James Carville, the Ragin’ Cajun, who I worked with for three years in international politics. James taught me the importance of keeping things very simple and memorable, and that when you need to give direct advice to someone, it’s best to start it with, “As my Momma used to say…”

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?

To me, resilience is the ability to grow and get stronger in the face of adversity. Resilient people “look for the gift” in every difficult situation. What can I learn from this? How can I grow? What will I do differently next time? Resilient people have practices that help them sit with discomfort and ambiguity. They face their challenges and fears with courage and perseverance. When we work with executives, we aim to help them become more resilient leaders.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

When I think of resilience, I think of civil rights leader and politician John Lewis, who throughout his career endured nearly every kind of adversity and setback, ranging from horrible physical attacks and imprisonment during the civil rights era to marginalization and systemic racism as a member of Congress. Yet, Congressman Lewis never stopped fighting for equal rights. Even after his death in July, his office released one last hopeful and encouraging speech advocating for equal voting rights for all Americans.

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?

As a white American man, I have known no hardship or obstacle anywhere close to those faced by the millions of Americans living with the seemingly insurmountable odds imposed on them by system racism, unfair immigration policies, intergenerational drug addiction, homelessness, and more. What’s truly inspiring to me are the stories of individuals who have overcome REAL adversity — not simply a parent or an investor telling them something is impossible, as in my case, but when the entire world seems like it’s conspiring against them. I used to volunteer to mentor teenagers whose parents were drug addicts. These kids felt like nothing was possible. Yet, I was so proud to see many of them work hard in high school, save up money at part-time jobs, and apply to college on their own. They learned to rise above the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse they were raised with. Those are the stories I hope to read more about.

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?

About 10 years ago, due to various influences that came together in the perfect storm, I fell into a prolonged period of anxiety and depression. The experience was quite humbling and scary because I’d always been such an extroverted and optimistic person. But I learned that no one is immune to these maladies, and that the more we talk about them, the more people will ask for the help they need. Luckily, I was surrounded by friends who saw what was going on and helped me get help. Now, through daily practices of mindfulness, exercise, and doing work I’m proud of, I have kept the “black dog” of depression at bay for years, and I’m able to use what I learned through that experience to help me help others who may be facing a similar situation.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

From the outside, my childhood was an idyllic suburban dream. I lived on a quiet and safe street. I went to a private school. There were 13 acres of parkland behind my house I could play in. But inside my home, things were different. My father was an alcoholic, and my childhood was marred by emotional and physical abuse. Many kids raised in similar situations succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse, or went on to become abusive parents themselves. Luckily, I had a college professor who helped me understand that my upbringing was oddly a gift — it gave me a heightened sense of empathy that today allows me to help my coaching clients and many of the young people I’ve mentored.

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. Exercise — Physical exercise is one of the most important daily activities to build a sense of self-worth and resilience. When we exhaust our body and they find that it is actually stronger as a result, we build neural pathways that equate overcoming difficulty with progress.
  2. Mindfulness — I don’t need to tell your readers the importance of mindfulness. Even just 5 minutes a day has been shown to reduce stress, improve concentration, and enable us to recover faster from emotional disruptions.
  3. Time in Nature — During Quarantine, I had the good fortune of being quarantined in a small farming community. Being able to take walks every day, to watch the sunset over rows of crops, to breathe fresh air — this did more for my personal wellbeing during this difficult period than anything else.
  4. Service — They say if you want to learn something, teach it. When we help others build their resilience, we learn the lessons of resilience even more than practicing them by ourselves. We all have friends, family members or neighbors who are suffering right now. When we reach out to listen, have real conversations, and coach them through what they are going through, we also heal ourselves.
  5. Drink Less — Studies have shown that Americans are drinking more now than at any time in recent years. Yes, the boredom of quarantine lends itself to find joy in a glass of wine or a beer. But over time, alcohol is a depressant. It wears us down and makes us LESS resilient. Instead of reaching for the bottle, try anything from 1 through 4 above.

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. 🙂

There are so many problems facing us as a nation today, it’s hard to say where to begin. One idea I’ve had is that many of our problems today have to do with the fact that too many people do not have work that inspires them and makes them feel proud and useful. Too many people are punching the clock doing menial tasks just to pay the bills, or worse are out of work altogether.

When you feel “useless” you are more likely to do drugs, to drink alcohol, to adopt xenophobic or racist poltical views, etc. If we could find a way to create more jobs that more people could feel proud of, I believe many of the societal ills that plague us today would start to diminish.

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 🙂

Hey, Barack Obama. Let’s get lunch. 🙂

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I wish I posted more than quips about my life, but I can be found at @edwardlsullivan on Instagram and Twitter, and @esullivan1 on LinkedIn. Also, check out what Velocity is up to on Linkedin @velocitygroup

Thank you so much for joining us!

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