The emotional well being of our people has never been more important in recent history. For our company in the travel and tourism domain, as we sailed into this economic steel curtain we first made it clear that no matter what our people were going to be our first priority. We knew we needed great and fast feedback as well — we quickly formalized an employee advisory council that meets regularly and helped us effectively crowdsource ideas rapidly.
As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Clark Twiddy.
Clark is the President of Twiddy & Company, a family-owned North Carolina hospitality and asset management firm along the Outer Banks managing more than a billion dollars of private investment.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I grew up in the same place that I now work although I’ve taken the long road to come back home. I’ve lived in six cities, worked in several professional and volunteer capacities at various levels, and at each step have been fortunate to be surrounded by people who believe in me. I was proud to have served in the US Navy for a decade and then I’ve also had the chance to attend some great schools — both formally and informally — to learn from some great masters. My brother and I are now the second generation of a family business that has been at work now for more than 40 years. I’m a people person and we’re a people business rooted in a great place. It has been the privilege of my life to work alongside so many great professionals and the honor of my life to help guide our company in some small way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In terms of a story, to me as I grow older I’m realizing that the best story is our bumpy journey through life and most importantly the pivotal moments along the way. So much of who we become as leaders is based upon where we were and when as these pivotal moments shaped us. I will say though that my time in the Navy was the single greatest teacher about responsibility, humanity, and selflessness. For a good specific story, I will say that several of my best and most long-standing client relationships have come about from a simple cup of coffee invitation that let me listen to the little things in their lives.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
For me, I think the twin disciplines of both self-awareness and self-reflection have never been more important to understanding the impacts of competing outside forces upon us as people. I think to thrive we need to know ourselves and to avoid burnout we need to trust the people around us to give us the very best kind of candid, constructive, and empathetic feedback possible. On the flip side of that coin, if you don’t trust the people around you to share exactly what they’re thinking with you that is a sign of work to be done.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
We’re still a work in progress on that idea so I’m slow to give advice, but I do believe that a great culture is a combination of a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose around something greater than self. Pick any organization you admire — for profit, not for profit, public, or private — and chances are they’ve done a great job at bringing people together under common goals and a shared vision and then created a sense of belonging to the team around that vision.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I am a big collector of quotes and have them spread out across many of my work places. In short, though, I think I’d share two; one is a quote from then Marine General Jim Mattis — he asked simply for leaders to “serve others first” as a prerequisite to earned leadership. I’ll share a second story, as opposed to a quote, that was the single finest act of leadership I have ever witnessed: In 2003, as American forces were in the early stages of the Iraq War, President Bush showed up for an unannounced troop visit for Thanksgiving and actually got in the “chow line” and served, in person, a hot meal to some very dirty and very tired young people. All politics aside, that was an astounding — and to me defining — act of servant leadership.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives you have taken to help improve or optimize your employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
I agree with you — the emotional well being of our people has never been more important in recent history. For our company in the travel and tourism domain, as we sailed into this economic steel curtain we first made it clear that no matter what our people were going to be our first priority. We knew we needed great and fast feedback as well — we quickly formalized an employee advisory council that meets regularly and helped us effectively crowdsource ideas rapidly. In addition, we provided channels for group opportunities around social outlets — movie night was a hit — but also licensed counselors were popular on both a group and individual basis. On the practical business side, we also quickly made the strategic decision to increase cash reserves to make sure we had a better set of “shock absorbers” on the company so that we could withstand, from a payroll perspective, more prolonged market disruptions. We also shared with our customers and staff that the role of our leadership was to directly support the front line of human engagement by making sure the front line had both the ability to recognize problems fast and then solve them just as quickly. There is some discomfort there from a management perspective, but in a crisis speed counts. Lastly, we worked hard to stay in touch with our team as remote work separated us physically — regular digital town halls, “ask me anything” sessions, and simply walking around remains something that worked for us.
What you are doing is wonderful, but sadly it is not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
I believe that the best leaders are the best listeners so I’d start with that as a strategy — in essence, I’d make sure the company was a world class listener and actively sort for candor. I’d ask a simple question of any employee — how well is the company listening to you? How well is the company doing at removing barriers to your ultimate potential? And what is the leadership team doing today to solve for that? Around that, I’d set a big goal — for example, I’d love to have a charter that simply stated “We’re going to be the best listening company in the world. And I really do mean the world. And to do that, we’re going to need you to give us the best feedback in the world. My covenant with you is this — if you share, we will act.”
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?
Step one for us has been to do something that for many years has not been easy — we’ve got to normalize the stressful emotions and remove, in thought and in action, any stigmas around emotional well-being. As we normalize it, we also have to link cause-and-effects in a way that is candid and transparent to every last stakeholder across the organization and hold management accountable to those same causes-and-effects. I’ll also say that wellness — the proactive pursuit of the maintenance of the human operating system — must be accorded in budget cycles the same levels of investment that reactive health treatments receive. Experience teaches that every budget number tells a story, and if it’s not in the budget it’s simply not a strategy at all.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
One great habit that is both important and yet seldom urgent is the habit of pausing to check in with the leader within — self-reflection and self-awareness are incredibly important as we seek to hold others accountable for any strategy and to do that we must understand that we are first and foremost accountable to ourselves. On the practical side, I think time — time clearly set aside every day via a calendar — directed toward thought around reflection and awareness is a remarkably underestimated habit.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
I do believe, as we’ve discussed, in taking time to reflect and in the importance of silent retreat amidst relentless complexity. I also believe in something I call the anchor system — meaning what kinds of anchors do I have outside of the business organization that keep my energized, confident, and still down to earth. Family and faith are strong anchors, but so are friends and healthy hobbies. This is a great opportunity to get out of a comfort zone; non-profit involvement, local community involvement, or even thought leadership are all great anchors. Try it out sometime; in looking to assess resiliency in a management team, I have a suspicion that resiliency is strongly linked to the strength of an anchor system both positively when it is vibrant and negatively when it is absent.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I am a ferocious reader so it’s tough to name a single book. I will say this — if I were stranded on the proverbial desert island and could only take three books, here are my three: U.S. Grant’s Memoirs as the single greatest biography in the English Language as a function of its precision of language, the Peloponnesian Wars from Thucydides as the sum of all human conflict, and Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenant’s as a study in command, leadership, and human discovery.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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.
I’d start a movement where getting out of the bleachers and down in the arena — succeed or fail — is the measuring stick for how we assess a life well lived. As a country and world, we simply can’t afford any spectators if we are to thrive — we must act individually today. Like Toastmasters for public speaking, I’d start a society where action is its own reward.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
That’s a flattering question. I’ll try to get really good at Linked In but I’m there now.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!