Rachel Shackleton of Green Key Personal Development: “Lead with integrity and show your vulnerabilities — be yourself”

Lead with integrity and show your vulnerabilities — be yourself. Divorcing your heart from your leadership role, for me is almost impossible. Team members are not assets as in a piece of furniture or equipment, they are human beings who have hearts, they hurt, they feel and they bleed, as do all leaders. A leader who is […]

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Lead with integrity and show your vulnerabilities — be yourself. Divorcing your heart from your leadership role, for me is almost impossible. Team members are not assets as in a piece of furniture or equipment, they are human beings who have hearts, they hurt, they feel and they bleed, as do all leaders. A leader who is open, shows his or her vulnerabilities as a human being. The pay off in my view, is respect for who you are, demonstration to your team members that you are approachable and not infallible. Making a mistake is fine, as long as 1) it is not repeated and 2) you learn from it. Showing learning through your vulnerabilities builds individual and team relationships, it strengthens the leader’s position within the team and leads to an environment of open communication, creativity and adaptability.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Shackleton.

Rachel Shackleton is the founder of Green Key Personal Development and Green Key Health. She is a business trainer and corporate health specialist with over 30 years training experience providing solutions in leadership, communication, customer excellence, and corporate wellbeing. Working in Russia for 20 years she founded a successful business that she later sold to an international organization. Clients include JTI, Intermedia and DellEMC.

Rachel has been featured in Thrive Global, Up Journey, and has also been interviewed by Rick Nuske on the My Future Business Show and UK Health Radio. In September 2020, she was a guest speaker at the 2nd International Health Congress in Geneva on Non-Communicable diseases. Rachel presented on “The key to wellbeing, productivity and performance.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As with most things in my career, I just fall into them. I left the corporate world to begin a business of my own in Russia, which I grew despite the ups and downs of the political and economic climate in Russia in the 90’s. As time flew by — it seems to speed up with age, I realized that it would be a good idea to think about what I wanted to do later in life when I could no longer, or no longer wanted to work 12 hours a day. This personal enquiry led me to follow my heart and train to be a kinesiologist whilst still running my business. Several years later after returning to the UK, anticipating a broader client reach, I increased my qualifications with herbal medicine and naturopathy modalities.

In earnest when I started practicing full time stopping the training work with organisations, I realized that I love working with groups. Nothing like stopping something to realize what you are good at and what you love? This got me thinking why have I been gifted with this diverse array skills? After some time it became clear that my alternative medicine skills and knowledge are not only applicable to individuals, but also to working with organisations that are ready to improve the work environment by making it a healthy and rewarding place to be a part of and to work in. In so doing building their competitive advantage and decreasing internal costs including medical bills, decreasing sickness days and increasing productivity, loyalty and ultimately profitability.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In our younger years, it is quite normal and acceptable to burn the candle at both ends. I was no stranger to this phenomenon often starting work at 730 in the morning, finishing at 9pm and then going out to a pub, restaurant and often a nightclub, getting home in time to grab a couple of hours sleep and then do the same all over again. Probably up to mid 30’s the mind and body is resilient, but at some point it simply says “enough is enough.” If you listen to your body, you get the messages to slow down, if you do not you end up like I did on the floor of a friends flat, having been flown out of Russia, looking up at the ceiling in great pain, asking myself the question “Why me?” For the reader, it is probably obvious, but it took me a while to work it out, burning the candle at all ends over long periods of time, taking personal responsibility for the payroll of 25 people and frequenting social establishments until the early hours, all of sudden became too much. In fact, it was not all of a sudden? I simply avoided listening to the messages my body was giving, and therefore it took over forcing me to rest due to overwhelming pain.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

During the Covid months of varying degrees of lockdown, I have accelerated the development of e-Learning modules for “Wellbeing in the Workplace”. The first six modules include: Maximizing Energy, Stress in My Stride, Natural Immune Health, Me and My Values, Brain Health — Mental Agility and The Art of Self-Empowerment. All modules have been designed to address the increasing trend towards mental health, sickness and absenteeism and the rising costs associated with. Each module educates on how to achieve maximum energy, positivity and balance, that not only benefits the individual employee, but the employer as well through improved wellness, focus and resilience that leads to a decrease in absenteeism due to both mental and physical sickness.

Many people do not know how to create healthy balance in their life, they are lost when it comes to a so-called healthy diet, often workaholics sabotaging other aspects of life including exercise, sport, social activities and down-time, that is so important to overall performance and wellbeing. These e-Learning modules answer all the questions around how to fit everything in, without additional demand to time, through small changes to routines, understanding who you are and what you want from each stage of your life and how to use skills of assertiveness, positivity, gratitude and self-empowerment to benefit both themselves and those around them.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

In no particular order of importance, my personal opinion is that there are a number of reasons that make the workforce unhappy:

  1. Changing needs of the workforce. The younger generations have a more balanced view of what is referred to as work-life balance. In general they want more from life than climbing the career ladder and giving up all other aspects of their lives to achieve the top position.
  2. Increased speed of information transfer and communication mobility has resulted in greater employer expectations to always be available and to deliver more in less time.
  3. Globalization of business that has led to the possibility to trade 24/7 with often ill-defined opening and closing times and effective shift management.
  4. Increased pressure on leaders to deliver on financial targets to meet shareholder requirements has led to a distorted view and demands on middle management, ultimately the workforce.
  5. Lack of personal integrity and spirituality of today’s leaders has led to an imbalance in priorities, i.e profit management over people management. The skills of positive feedback, recognition, empowerment and trust have been undermined through financial incentives and in some cases an imbalance between financial and non-financial goals and targets that form the basis of a bonus scheme that due to this imbalance sabotages effective people management.
  6. Living under constant stress, not only as a result of workplace pressure, but also lifestyles that put importance on consuming the “latest” products, rather than sustain relationships, communities and social networks.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

These questions are dear to my heart. When individuals and teams are unhappy, productivity suffers not only through delivery of less, missing deadlines and targets, but also through re-work due to poor focus and application to what we are doing. There is often a sense of apathy resonating in an attitude of “this is not my job”, lack of initiative, creativity and teamwork. When the work environment becomes individualistic rather than based on collaboration, teamwork and cooperation suffer. This in turn often initiates and drives a carrot and stick leadership approach, that triggers a blame culture. When all this is going on, how can the workplace be enjoyable and the company achieve profitability targets on a sustainable level?

Working in a toxic environment, an environment that lacks nurturing leadership, personal recognition, active positive feedback and encouragement, defies the very essence of who we are as human beings. All humans require social contact, recognition and interaction with others. In other words we require reinforcement that we are wanted, needed and our performance valuable to the overall result. When absent, stress levels increase, unhappiness sets in and rumors start, all of which when combined with a demanding work environment result in the destruction of teamwork and cooperation and consequently effective work performance.

Working constantly in a toxic environment literally makes a person ill, triggering the body’s stress response that floods the system with cortisol. In the short term, for most it is not an issue, over the long term it can lead to many different manifestations of dis-ease. As each one of us are unique we manifest our stress in different parts of the body. Some might suffer from migraines and headaches, while others have backache, problems with digestion or fatigue. This process weakens our immune system making us more susceptible to the seasonal cold or flu bug.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Share and live core values

Values are so dear to each one of us. It is natural that we gravitate towards employers and leaders that share our personal core values. Working in an environment and for a boss that has different values to you, is a recipe for disaster, as differing values will always show up and lead to minor disagreements or major conflict. I had a recent situation with this exact issue. As part of induction of a new employee, I explain in detail about my values as a leader, and in relation to this my expectations of the employee. The value that came into question was openness. My belief is that being open with one another we create a platform to solve most problems, and in most cases can be proactive rather than reactive to the situation. The difficulty comes when you realize a team member is not being open, not because you are looking for it, but because you stumble upon it, which is exactly what I did. Finding out, due to lower work performance that one of my team members have a second job. This realization led to an open conversation to understand why and then to find the solution that could work for both parties. In having this conversation, it was apparent to me that what is “openness” for one person may not necessarily be the same “openness” for another. Our conversation around this issue, built deeper clarity for both parties.

Lead with integrity and show your vulnerabilities — be yourself

Divorcing your heart from your leadership role, for me is almost impossible. Team members are not assets as in a piece of furniture or equipment, they are human beings who have hearts, they hurt, they feel and they bleed, as do all leaders. A leader who is open, shows his or her vulnerabilities as a human being. The pay off in my view, is respect for who you are, demonstration to your team members that you are approachable and not infallible. Making a mistake is fine, as long as 1) it is not repeated and 2) you learn from it. Showing learning through your vulnerabilities builds individual and team relationships, it strengthens the leader’s position within the team and leads to an environment of open communication, creativity and adaptability.

In my career I have been faced with several very difficult decisions that have affected individual team members and the team as a whole. The decision to sell my business was huge. Ultimately, after carrying out due diligence I strongly believed that it was for the better for the future of company and for all team members, opening up new international possibilities and therefore individual opportunities for further growth and development. Informing my team was not easy. The announcement showed deep vulnerabilities of the conflict that had been going on between head and heart, highlighting the need for courage and compassion to myself, but more importantly to those who had loyally served and grown with me over the many years of working together, to deliver the message in the “right” way. Despite extensive rehearsal, my true authentic self took over in delivering the message showing my vulnerabilities and true feelings and deep gratitude to each and every one of my team.

Observe and engage team members

The way to observe and engage is leading by walking about. When doing this you acknowledge everyone — genuinely engage with them on different work-related topics including asking how they are doing, their opinions on different processes, procedures, ideas and improvements, as well as engaging around their private lives. For example, plans for the weekend, their family, how they spend their time out of work and their hobbies and interests. The gain here is that you learn from your team members about their thoughts on different things, you hear the truth about what might be going on, giving the opportunity to nip it in the bud before it becomes a real issue. Not only this, but you also notice changes in their work routines, such as often working late or skipping lunch, giving you the possibility to be curious as to why this is happening, and provide support if needed to rectify the situation.

Very early on in my career I worked for a wonderful general manager in the hotel where I was training to become a hotelier. This man was always calm, he was a logical thinker, a quiet, but true leader. The main secret to his success, and the one he taught me was to lead by walking about, to predict the areas of the hotel that might be experiencing difficulties or high volumes of customers and to always be there at that time to observe and if necessary, step in to support and help. The following day to discuss openly within the team, how the situation was handled, why there were problems, if there were, and how to improve to avoid repetition of the same issue. But above all to give positive feedback and thank everyone.

Create an environment of positive reinforcement and gratitude

This leads me on to my last point of creating a constructive and fun environment through positive reinforcement and gratitude for the small things as well as the large things that people do. Creating this environment leads to a more positive, trusting workforce who not only trust you as the leader, but each other. When there is trust, there is no fear. In a constructive environment Individuals are not afraid to take responsibility for what they do and authority for doing it. Nor are they afraid of making mistakes, knowing they will not be chastised, but rather the situation will be seen as an opportunity for learning. Find team members doing things right and acknowledge these moments. On the times when they do make a mistake, constructive feedback will be accepted and acted upon. Celebration of birthdays, achievements and important calendar dates such as International Women’s day, Christmas and the company anniversary are all opportunities to show gratitude, and pride in your team. You don’t need to show gratefulness through one big event, such as a Christmas party. It can be done through several or many small events and spontaneous moments.

Every month we celebrated birthdays of that particular month with a selection of finger foods, wine and juice and a birthday cake. Each person was presented with a small gift (for all the value was the same irrelevant of position) and those who wanted showed their gratitude to that person through a small speech. This was so inspirational as it gave insight into how others truly appreciated that person. Inevitably after all speeches, team banter resumed, giving everyone personal recognition whilst highlighting and celebrating the many funny moments in the workday.

Train leaders to recognise the importance of mental and physical health in the workplace

Our work cultures have become dis-balanced measuring productivity in many sophisticated ways, often at the cost of employee mental and physical health. Leaders need to be able to recognise the traits of an employee who is struggling to perform due to pressures within the work system, which might be combined or triggered by personal issues that are also affecting them, before these manifest as an illness. When combining leader education in this important area with individual employee education in the same area, it becomes a two-prong attack that supports the employee in understanding how some habits, such as inability to say “No”, a carbohydrate loaded diet or lack of self-esteem might be weakening them mentally or physically and to do something about this before it is too late.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

If I am not mistaken the US is the only country that gives 14 days statutory paid holiday days per year. I remember applying for and being offered a job in a hotel in China about 20 years ago where the requirements were seven days on and one day off with 14 days holiday per year. Even 20 years ago, I thought this was “backward” thinking. I simply could not understand how anyone could do a good job under those conditions, let alone expect this? Needless to say I did not take the job!

The reason I hone in on this point, is the fact that the attitude to paid holiday reflects the work culture before we even experience it. Suggestions to lead change and create the work culture for the better might include:

  • Be true to your word — set an example and live in accordance with your expectations.
  • Make the work culture one that celebrates successes however large or small.
  • Review any bonus schemes to ensure they reward non-financial goals and targets as well as financial goals. Identify if the bonus scheme creates unnecessary competition and conflict between team members and different departments. For example, a sales team who bring business in at any cost that ties up production in low profit contracts that have no other benefit.
  • Give recognition that is genuine and has value. Avoid falling into the trap of going through the motion, but having zero or even negative impact.
  • Get back to man management — lead by walking about. Show interest in team members, gain feedback from the shop floor, and notice individuals doing things right. When you start out doing this, don’t be surprised if team members appear nervous at first. It takes time for them to understand the reason for doing this and your genuine interest.
  • Understand that the human body and mind is not a machine, it requires time to switch off, to be nourished by a nutrient rich diet and a lifestyle that is active. Socializing provides down-time, stimulation and many impressions that can lead to creative ideas for the work environment.
  • Give time to enjoy themselves with the attitude that we work to live and not the other way around.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

In the old fashioned term, I am a democratic leader. By this I mean that firstly everyone in the team is briefed on the company and department goals and what is expected of them within this framework, including how their efforts and work output, as well teamwork contributes to the overall goal. I believe in knowing all my team members by name, their interests, family issues and so on giving me the possibility to show a genuine personal interest in them as human beings.

Leading by example and living my values is essential to me. Therefore, I walk my talk. I am definitely not a person who says one thing and does another, at least not consciously. I believe team members would describe me as a driver of both myself and others, but at the same time someone who is fair, open and honest, irrelevant of how difficult the conversation might be. Humour and accessibility are leadership traits that I use to show my human side. Caring deeply for the welfare of others, I take a personal interest in employee health through encouraging a good nutrient-rich diet, movement and exercise and the importance of personal and down-time, avoiding encroaching on this, unless the issue is urgent. In difficult times I might ask for more, but that is balanced in less challenging times.

As someone who has given a great percentage of my life to development of others, I challenge team members within their capabilities to help their self-confidence and ultimately stimulate development. Personal growth is a key aspect of being human. Keeping individuals away from boredom and possible robotic actions, but rather stimulated and inspired and opening doors to opportunity, is the role of a leader.

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 about that?

Guardian angels, as I call them, have come along at different stages in my life. There is no one person who has been instrumental in where I am today, but rather many persons. However, the biggest group of “angels” who I am grateful for is each and every employee, past and present who has come along to teach me something. When I have learned that lesson, they have often moved on in their own journey. A story that springs to mind, was the dismissal of an employee who was a “square peg in a round hole”. I tried many things to support, assist, and train this particular person, only delaying the inevitable. We came to an agreement that he would leave the company and find a position that was better suited to his skills, which he did. On re-connecting several years later he openly told me that “Dismissing him was the best thing that ever happened to him.” This particular person and the need to dismiss him showed me that sometimes you have to be “cruel to be kind”. Have the courage to help others understand that their skills are not best suited to the current position and help them move on.

The second category is of course my clients. I am really grateful to those that have enough trust in me to challenge the parameters of how we work together. For example going from in-room training of their employees to on-line courses, as well as those that have loyalty to me and the results we have jointly achieved over the years of cooperation.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a trainer and healer, bringing goodness to this world is the fundamental foundation to who I am. Whilst I might not make tidal waves of goodness, with every person that I work with I am adding a drop to the ocean, slowly and steadily equipping young leaders of today to be great leaders of tomorrow through thinking and behaving differently to make the work culture fun, creative, focused, healthy and a productive place to be. Being the linchpin that helps someone see and then grow their potential is a special honour. Dancing on the spot with each person to meet them where they are is vital to building confidence, planting the seed for greater things and providing the environment for those seeds to grow and flourish. Sound values, compassion, empathy and integrity are essential leadership characteristics to bringing our business world back into harmony between company performance and profitability and work-life balance that addresses healthy stable mental and physical wellbeing.

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

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give permission to others to do the same.” Marianne Williamson

This really beautiful quote resonates totally with me. Each and every person has a light that deserves to shine. Creating the environment to enables this is a gift that ripples outwards to others. Every training and every health consultation reveals to each person the power and beauty of their inner light that is waiting to shine. In other words the soul path of that person. I have been lucky to not only follow my own soul path, but to contribute to others in recognizing what they are able to contribute to this world.

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. 🙂

Taking away any boundaries, I would like to see all nations respecting allopathic and complementary medicines equally. In some countries such as China and India, complementary medicines of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, and Ayurvedic medicine and Yoga have as much trust and respect from the people as allopathic medicine. More importantly these medical and lifestyle modalities are considered to be prophylactic reducing the numbers of people who will suffer from chronic disease as they address all factors that contribute, including environmental factors, genetic predisposition, food intake, and lifestyle choices. Chronic disease, including cancers, Diabetes II, heart diseases and Alzheimer’s disease are on the increase especially in the Western world. Providing people with education and knowledge to protect and enhance health combined with an attitude of prophylactic treatment through complementary approaches will result in reducing individual illness taking the pressure of medical systems and leading to a healthier, happier global population.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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