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Natasha Wallace: “Be proud of what you’ve achieved”

…you won’t get to where you want to be by working your way through the problem. We need to reconnect with who we are as people, to become conscious of what is going on in and around us, in order to make better choices about where we want to be and how we want to work. […]

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…you won’t get to where you want to be by working your way through the problem. We need to reconnect with who we are as people, to become conscious of what is going on in and around us, in order to make better choices about where we want to be and how we want to work.

We can’t keep on peddling at one hundred miles an hour and expect our bodies, let alone our minds to keep up. If you think you’re doing a remarkable job, or even a very good one, I would challenge you about the cost of doing such a great job. What are you neglecting? Your own needs — are you really happy? The needs of your family — are you really connected to them? Your team — are you really providing them with what they need? It takes a big person to ask this question and be prepared to listen to the answers that you find. Most of us are repressing our true selves in the service of the system. Most of us aren’t brave enough to stop and spend some time in solitude, to really considering if we are where we want to be.

Only through becoming more conscious can you honestly answer those questions and only through becoming conscious will you grow — whichever direction that growth may take you in. The fact is, most of us don’t really know ourselves yet getting to know yourself is one of the most liberating and transformative things that you will ever do.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natasha Wallace.Natasha Wallace is the founder and chief coach of Conscious Works, a coaching company specializing in the development of Conscious Leadership in the workplace. A former HR Director, Natasha chairs the Engage for Success Wellbeing Thought and Action Group and is the author of The Conscious Effect: 50 lessons for better organizational wellbeing.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

My passion has always been to help people. Right back to when I was a recruitment consultant, I have always been fascinated by people, by what makes them tick, and what makes them happy. Having worked in recruitment for a few years and have seen the difference HR could make to people, I decided to do an MA in HR Management in my mid-20s. That’s when I started to get more involved in organizational development, working on brand development, building programs and an HR function that could support leaders in the best possible way. I realized quite early on that if leaders gave great direction and support, people flourished. I have always worked with senior leadership teams and Boards, as recruiting and retaining talent are two of the biggest challenges that most companies face. It means I have gained the insights that come from working at the intersection between leaders and employees — understanding the needs and challenges of both.

Being in HR can be tough. You are often playing good cop and bad cop, which is a challenge, especially when you want to be able to support people to be at their best. If I’m honest, the bad cop bit never really did suit me and what I’ve realized as I’ve progressed through my career is that you often don’t need to be tough to get people to where they need to be. What I love about the work I now do is that I get to work with leaders and their teams to bring out the best in everyone. Through raising self-awareness and deep understanding of each other. I’ve always got my eye on the commercials, but I firmly believe that when you take care of the people and help them to understand each other, the commercials take care of themselves to a large extent.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I guess it is the story of what made me set up my company, it was an experience that changed the way I looked at the world — it was my wake-up call. I was running a leadership development event in London. It was the final event of the program where the participants on the program had to present their ideas for business change to the Board — they all had great ideas on how to create a better culture and more effective business. We all went to a bar for a drink afterward and on leaving the bar, I was approached by a man on a bike with a bad cut on his arm. He wanted money for a cab to get to the hospital. I gave him some money and asked the cab I’d hailed to take him to hospital. The cab driver said no and explained that the guy was a scam artist. He told me to get in the cab and explained that the guy had been ‘scamming’ people for years and that he kept the wound on his arm ‘live’ to trick people. That was the moment that everything changed for me. The cab driver didn’t show any level of emotion when he was telling me this story. He’d become totally desensitized to the situation. This man who clearly had severe mental health problems was an irritant to him. The situation and the behavior surrounding it has become normalized.

I drew a straight parallel to my workplace. I knew we weren’t leading people as well as we should be but that poor leadership behavior had become normalized. It wasn’t specific to my company either; I saw it everywhere. Leaders were not taking good enough care of themselves or their people at work, the data proved it, but we’d normalized it. Work was making people sick, mentally and physically and society was saying that is was OK. And I was the cab driver — suggesting that it was OK by not trying to fix it. That’s when I decided that I needed to do more. I needed to help leaders to wake up.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

I never doubted that I’d write a book. I knew it would be an important aspect of the re-education of leaders to a more conscious approach. I wasn’t trying to be an evangelist; I’d been one of those leaders too, who didn’t know how to take care of themselves and others well enough. In an overloaded world, where there were too much to do, and too many things to improve, we were all suffering. My challenge was to find a way of sharing a message that would help people to wake up to that fact — and do something about it.

You’ve got to realize, that at this point in my career, my confidence had been shattered. I felt responsible for having not made the difference I’d wanted to make in my workplace. The strapline for our People Strategy was ‘creating the best place to work’ and I felt I’d let people down. It took me months to get back on my feet again to get the clarity I’d need to write the book.

It became so apparent to me by that point that it was a lack of consciousness that led me to burn out and it was that same lack of consciousness that was running the world of work. Leaders thought they were focusing on what mattered most — but they weren’t. Our relentless pursuit of profit and delivery was leading to a ‘dehumanizing’ of the workplace. Leaders weren’t taking care of their people and they weren’t taking care of themselves either. They were on automatic pilot, achieving success through what was being measured — and what was measured was normally the money, the client acquisition, and the efficiency.

The biggest lesson I learned from writing the book was to be true to myself. Not to look at all the other books out there to see which ones I liked — or who had the best thinking. I just wrote my book from the heart, based on my own lived experience, and then I did the research to back up the thinking. Speaking my truth meant that the words came flooding out of me, I just had to create the space to get the words down on paper.

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 made an assumption that I could set hard targets for delivery — that I’d be able to write a certain number of words every week, 10,000 to be specific. What I soon realized is that sometimes I was in the flow and sometimes I wasn’t. Although I had a clear project plan so I knew who I needed to speak to and by when, when I needed the draft to be with the publisher, when I needed to have the book peer-reviewed by, but being scientific about when I would write was less of a certainty. I had to write when I had the energy. Sometimes that would be first thing in the morning, sometimes it would be the last thing in the evening, and sometimes it would be all weekend. I followed the flow of energy.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I didn’t know when I started out what I would end up spending most of my time doing. I knew I wanted a portfolio career, in that I wanted a mix of work and clients, and I knew I wanted to build a movement of Conscious Leaders — and inspire a good world of work. I also knew that I wanted a platform to speak about this topic — shining a light on what’s necessary to properly support people and their wellbeing at work (with a nod to performance in there too).

What’s been interesting is to see what companies are coming to me with. Overall, they either want me (and my company) to coach leaders, to be better leaders, or they want to build coaching capability amongst the leadership team. People are seeing the ability to coach as a significant part of a leader’s role, and they understand the importance of self-awareness and responsible leadership too. What’s interesting is that there is no shortage of leaders out there who want to do things differently, they just don’t know what to do.

Like the way I coach is grounded in positive psychology and research around what leads to healthy, happy workplaces, it’s more than just coaching. It’s about building deep self-awareness, focusing on goals, beliefs, strengths, solitude, and presence, in order to enable people to reach their potential.

I also advise companies on what they should focus on to improve culture, working with them through some of that and I’m also doing heaps to speaking — mainly about Conscious Leadership, what leads to belonging and inclusion and how to build healthy cultures. The room lights up when you start speaking about how we need to allow people to be more human.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

It is about Sam, a normal, everyday leader doing her best to do a good job. The problem is, she’s in a constant whirlwind running in between meetings, often unprepared, having to keep on top of the hundreds of daily emails, while trying to figure out how to keep her team and boss happy. With so much on her plate, she finds that she simply can’t keep on top of it all and what ends up being the thing to give, it’s Sam’s mental health. She visits the doctor as she doesn’t feel great and he tells her that she’s suffering from stress. She can’t believe it and can’t take any time off. She’s also having problems in her relationship as she simply doesn’t have the headspace to take care of that. Sam is unhappy and as a leader, she is struggling to keep her team happy. Without any time to think and step back, she’s heading for burn out.

So many people have told me that the story resonated with them and many could empathize with Sam’s tale. In a world of constant overload, people are struggling to stay on top of their work, their emotions, and their team’s performance. The book is written in the service of all the people who feel similar to Sam but who want to do something to fix it.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

That you won’t get to where you want to be by working your way through the problem. We need to reconnect with who we are as people, to become conscious of what is going on in and around us, in order to make better choices about where we want to be and how we want to work.

We can’t keep on peddling at one hundred miles an hour and expect our bodies, let alone our minds to keep up. If you think you’re doing a remarkable job, or even a very good one, I would challenge you about the cost of doing such a great job. What are you neglecting? Your own needs — are you really happy? The needs of your family — are you really connected to them? Your team — are you really providing them with what they need? It takes a big person to ask this question and be prepared to listen to the answers that you find. Most of us are repressing our true selves in the service of the system. Most of us aren’t brave enough to stop and spend some time in solitude, to really considering if we are where we want to be.

Only through becoming more conscious can you honestly answer those questions and only through becoming conscious will you grow — whichever direction that growth may take you in. The fact is, most of us don’t really know ourselves yet getting to know yourself is one of the most liberating and transformative things that you will ever do.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. You need a (visual) plan — I actually used an infographic creation tool online to create my project plan, to set out the full contents of the book visually, and to list out all of the people who I’d need to ask for help to write the book. I surrounded myself with these graphics as a constant reminder of what I was trying to achieve. I even created a goal poster to clarify what I wanted the book to achieve. I only took these down once the book was published.

2. Sometimes you’ll be in flow — and other times you won’t. I purposefully booked out weekends where I would go away and sit in a hotel room and write. I rewarded myself with hotel coffee (the nice kind) and meals cooked by other people. By locking myself away I was able to truly focus but I’d give myself time off too, to reenergize myself. That solitude really helped me and it’s when I wrote large sections of the book. Having the headspace to be creative is so important.

3. There will be an end — I was sad when I’d finished writing the book. It was the hardest yet most rewarding thing I’d ever done. All that time to research and crystalize my thinking was wonderful, and I knew that when I’d finished, I’d be disappointed. I’m already planning my next book.

4. Be prepared to keep on writing — someone told me while I was writing the book that it’s just the beginning of the writing and how true that was. I am regularly asked to write articles now and not just that, I do podcasts, webinars, and interviews. Be prepared to bring your book to life for people because even though you’ve been on the journey with it, it’s only when it hits the shelves does everyone else’s journey start.

5. Be proud of what you’ve achieved — writing a book is no mean feat and it’s very easy to get to the end and crack on with day to day work without considering what you’ve achieved. It took a lot of other people to recognize what I’d done for me to acknowledge that it was an amazing achievement. Before you write your first book you don’t really know whether it’s something you will be any good at. Yet as with anything new, you develop the skill as you work on the book and through practice, you get better at it.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or an example?

Discipline is such an important part of writing a book, especially if you don’t want to spend years completing the book. I blocked out regular time every week, purely to write, and if I had energy in the evenings, I would stay in flow and keep going. I then might take time off the following day. Aside from discipline, as you’ll probably be asking people for input and contributions, breaking up the writing time with interviews and conversations helps. Writing can be lonely and so I’d fill my days with a combination of writing and speaking to all the amazing people who contributed to my book. I also had someone who I trusted to help with the referencing. I knew that it would be a distraction for me, as referencing is a finicky job and so in order to play to my strengths and to stay focused, I got help.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I read lots of books and an endless supply of research papers and articles. A few of the books I really enjoyed were:

My favorite place to source from is The Oxford Review produced by David Wilkinson at Oxford University, it’s packed with which is packed with evidence and data around all thing’s wellbeing, performance, and engagement.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

It would be the concept of Loving Leadership. When I was employed, the suggestion that we should bring more love to the workplace would have made me laugh. Yet, through all of the work I have done with people over the last three years, I have realized that the one thing that is vitally lacking in organizations is love. Not just for each other but love for ourselves. So many people are riddled with imposter syndrome, doubt, fear, anxiety, and so much of it is fueled by a lack of belief. We’ve fallen out of love with ourselves and I’m afraid to say, if you don’t love yourself, it can be very difficult to believe in and accept others.

I believe we need to introduce a new kind of Radical Love. It means recognizing the importance of feelings in the workplace, understanding that everyone has a primal need to matter, and then it’s the ability as a leader to have the confidence to listen to the people around us. Too often do I say leaders who say they care, yet they don’t listen. Leaders who want to support wellbeing, yet they are happy to overwork their people, and leaders who doubt themselves, which drives them to doubt others — that’s fear-based leadership. Through loving ourselves and through believing in others and through show compassion and empathy, we help people to believe. The most successful leaders I see are the ones who truly believes in the abilities of their people. They ask if people are OK when they seem as though they may not be, they ask if they can help, and they stay connected to people. They aren’t afraid to discuss emotions, and they aren’t afraid to say they don’t know the answer. They behave in a loving way.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on LinkedInhere, on Twitter here or on Instagram here.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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