Leading a Bigger, Braver and More Meaningful Life with Elke Edwards

Elke Edwards is the founder and creative director of the pioneering leadership development company Ivy House, she is the author of Extraordinary: How to Lead a Bigger, Braver, More Meaningful Life. In this episode you can explore:

  • The extraordinary skills you need to unlock a bigger, braver and more meaningful life
  • How an epiphany with a client changed her life and work
  • Why you can’t be an extraordinary leader without an extraordinary life
  • The importance of taking 100% ownership for your behaviour

Plus load more hacks!

Transcript:Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: We would all agree that innovation is a key part of any leaders core tenants these days, but imagine trash cans or bins as we call it in UK, that could sort out the recycling themselves or alert the local council when they are ready to be collected. Well, mathematician, Dr. Hannah Fry said that smart bins might sound like science fiction, but they’re now just one of the weird and wonderful new technologies that is explored by herself and her new co-presenter Suzi Ruffle in their new podcast on 5G power tech called Whatever Next.

In two new episodes, Hannah and Suzi explore how 5G is changing the way we do our jobs and unwind at home. With technologies such as hologram style, 3D calls, smart trash cans, or bins, and even smart toilets. It’s a version of the future we can really get behind Hannah, a smart city where it bin chases, a rubbish truck down the street. Many of the technologies that Hannah and Suzi counter are already changing people’s lives right now. In their home episode, Hannah and Suzi speak to locals in Orkney, islands just North of Scotland, where a 5G network has replaced wide internet and bought films, music, and social media to entertainment, staff locals. Faster connectivity has had a massive impact said Suzi, apparently the BBC Asian network is one of the most popular stations now on the Island of Orkney. New volume metric images and also video can be used using 5G to bring 3D models to life, for hologram-like 3d calls. Suzi said there are so many benefits of hologram, call. You can walk around a picture. You can see it from any angle. You actually feel like you’re in the room with that person or that product. The technology can be used to bring 3D models of houses to life, Suzi explains, or to show off the shapes of proteins. It can help brainy people do crazy jobs, she said.

So, my leadership thought of the day is, as leaders how open is your mindset to new innovation? and what often appears to be wacky ideas at the outset, an open mindset allows us to explore the unthinkable, unlock potential in people, systems and processes. But pay attention to the voice in your head; the one that might say these ideas are trash, see what I did there? Well, it could bring our bias and our worldview right to the fore and close down new opportunities and it could hold us back. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have any insights, information or stories you want our listeners to hear, please get in touch.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Our special guest on today’s show is Elke Edwards. She is the founder and creative director of the pioneering leadership development company Ivy House. She is also the author of Extraordinary: How to Lead a Bigger, Braver, More Meaningful Life. Elke welcome to the Leadership Hacker Podcast.

Elke Edwards: Thank you very much.

Steve Rush: Delighted that we have the opportunity to get inside some of the things that are extraordinary and why they are maybe for some, but maybe not for others. But before we do that, perhaps you can give our listeners just a little bit of a backstory as to how you’ve arrived at leading the business you are in now and what you’re doing right now?

Elke Edwards: So, I’ll start if I may, with what I’m doing right now, because that’ll give you a bit of insight into how I got here. Well, actually I don’t run Ivy House. We have a CEO, I’m the founder of Ivy House and Ivy house is an organization that has a mission to put human development at the heart of how we educate people, whether that be in schools or in organizations. So, I spent my whole career working with leaders. So as a leadership developer, as an executive coach. We worked with about 40, over 40% of the FTSE 100; did it for about 20 years and worked all over the world. I think by the end of it, when I sold our last business, we were working in 37 different countries.

And while I was doing that work, I think I had a bit of a realization. I had a realization; I think I had a realization. I had a realization that there are a set of skills and knowledge that literally make a game-changing difference to how your life turns out. And of course, you know, I was working with CEOs and their boards and their teams. And actually, it started to really bug me that this knowledge was only being given to people that had already in many ways, created some success in their lives. So that sort of, I got that bee in my bonnet. And as a result, ended up selling my last business and setting up Ivy House. And we’re really now focused on emerging talent, future leaders, graduates, apprentices, but also, we have a program that works in schools as well. And so, I guess I’m really in my element, I found my purpose.

Steve Rush: So, what was the initial kind of bug for you? How did you end up in the career you’re in now? Where did it start?

Elke Edwards: I had the most unplanned career known to man. I did a degree in media and communication and by default I ended up interviewing a marketing director of Laura Ashley, which back in the eighties was super cool by the way. And so, she offered me a job on graduate placement. So, I ended up becoming a graduate trainee at Laura Ashley. Supposed to be a two-year program. I come from a family of sort of self-employed people. I’d always worked within the family business. So, they put me on the floor in that Cardiff branch. After the first two weeks, I’d sold more store cards than the whole company put together.

Steve Rush: Wow.

Elke Edwards: So, I got, well, it’s quite simple, really. You just ask people and tell them the benefits and they say, yeah. But I got a call from the CEO who told me this news and said, you know, you’ve done this incredible thing. I’d like you to go on the road basically and train every one of our stores, how to do what you’ve been doing. So, there I was 21. I was literally, I think almost the youngest person in the store writing my first sales training program, which really no idea other than what I actually did myself and set off on the road which I did for about a month. And then when I came back, it was my ninth week. They gave me my own store to run. And these are just my sort of sales, but, you know, the store was 93rd in the country. And after three months it was number one. So, but I’m not joking. I really was just doing what came naturally in ask customers, help customers find out what they need, you know, change the window every few days, so it doesn’t get boring, that kind of thing. And then to be honest, I went on a really higgledy-piggledy journey through Ad sales, through recruitment, where I really learned about people and then ended up running a call centre for a travel business that went spectacularly broke and was on the nine o’clock news, so really higgledy-piggledy journey, but what was always within it was leading people, managing people, having targets, understanding what has to happen. And eventually, as luck might have it, I got offered a job with a consultancy in London called the L&R Group. So, a guest really taught me my trade. They taught me to put, I didn’t know, I guess, into some form what I’d been doing naturally to date. So, I became a consultant to organizations that were looking to improve their performance. Then I got headhunted by Ogilvy and work there, and eventually, we set up Blue Sky, which was a company that we run for 20 odd years.

Steve Rush: And award-winning company as well.

Elke Edwards: Actually, we won 43 awards in the last 10 years. In the last 10 years of me being there actually.

Steve Rush: Amazing.

Elke Edwards: And I think our closest competitor had six awards, so we’re quite proud of that.

Steve Rush: So, what do you put that down to?

Elke Edwards: Bloody hard work. Am I ok to swear.

Steve Rush: Of course.

Elke Edwards: Actually, I’ve never been asked that actually, lots of things. We recruited an incredible team. We were very, very blunt and honest with our customers. So, we took on our customer’s problems as our own. So, for clients that, you know, one of my famous calls. I got a call from Sky once on a Friday night, the marketing director at Sky had been an old client of ours at American Express.

And he really just arrived at Sky and he went. We are launching digital in two weeks. And nobody in this building knows what it is. And we have 3000 people in call centres that need to be able to sell it in two weeks’ time. And literally, you know, I turned the car around, went straight back to the office, called everybody in. And over that weekend, you know, we created a program for him that we had 30 people on site by the Tuesday delivering.

Steve Rush: Awesome.

Elke Edwards: So, I think we were just, we didn’t, you know, we didn’t have big company mentality. We just thought certain things were always doable and we worked really hard to get them done. We were also really results orientated. Like if it wasn’t going to work, if it wasn’t going to move the needle, if it wasn’t going to improve engagement or improve sales or customer experience, then we didn’t do it.

Steve Rush: And that’s really important, isn’t it? I find in the conversations I have with my clients, there almost seems to be a little bit of shyness around being so results-focused, but actually, it’s what drives everything as a result. Right?

Elke Edwards: Yeah, and it doesn’t matter what the results are, but you know, it could be improved engagement or it could be, you know, less, more customer attention or whatever it is. But I think as a nation in Britain, we certainly around sales, you know, people don’t like to say they’re in sales, so there’s a shyness. But I always say to people certainly in the businesses I ever run is, if we don’t sell, quite frankly, we don’t have a business. You know, I think we have to get over this idea of results. But what I do think we’ve often got wrong is measuring things in too narrow away. So, I think we, as businesses, we need to look far broader to understand, you know, if for example, your staff retention is really bad. That is going to cause you massive problems very, very quickly. So just measuring the sales performance or the customer retention, that’s not going to be okay. We have to take a holistic look to what we measure.

Steve Rush: Totally agree.

Elke Edwards: And then we have to hold people accountable to those results.

Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely so. So, you just had published. Your book Extraordinary and it’s how to lead a bigger braver, more meaningful life. And I just wanted to say two things, firstly, it was a brilliant read. It was really well-constructed and I loved the flow. That’s the first thing, but also congratulations because it’s had some fantastic early reviews and it had some real great traction.

Elke Edwards: Thank you, thank you.

Steve Rush: There was one thing in the book that I read that was almost the epiphany for you, sounded like the call to action for you to put pen to paper, which was when you were having a coaching conversation with one of your clients, maybe you could just tell us a little bit about that?

Elke Edwards: So, part of my role at Blue Sky was I would coach CEOs and their teams and I was with a client, a really lovely client. About 20 minutes into his session, he looked at me and he said, are you okay? And I’m like, yeah, fine, why? And he said, because you’re crying. Unknown to me, I literally have tears streaming down my face and he’s like, what’s wrong? And I said, I can’t do this anymore. And he just came out and trust me, you know, when clients are paying you a vast sum of money to coach them, that’s not the best answer. And he said, what do mean you really can’t do this? In fact, I think his words were. What do you mean? You chucking me? And I said, I just, I can’t do this anymore. It’s too much like hard work. I think what was becoming really apparent to me in that moment was that you just can’t help people or develop people unless they’re ready to be developed.

It just became like pushing something up a hill or whatever that phrase is, I don’t know. And he literally looked at me and he said, are you saying that I’m, you know, I’m hard work? And I said, well, yes you are. Because actually all you’re doing all the time is defending your current behaviour. And actually, if we’re going to create change, you’re going to have to change your behaviour. And if you’re going to change your behaviour, we have to look at your mindset. So, if you’re not prepared to do that work, set me free. I’ve got other things I could be doing, and he looked at me and he said, okay, well, if this is the last session we’re going to have. What I want from you is to tell me what needs to change? What am I not doing? And it was in that conversation that I actually started to frame the skills and knowledge that are in the book. That I started to articulate what I believed or what I’d experienced in all of my work to make a game-changing difference to how people’s lives turned out. And that conversation then went on for hours. And we sat there for hours, he counselled his meetings and in fact, I still have the pad of paper that I was mapping out on.

Steve Rush: Amazing.

Elke Edwards: Yeah, that was it. That was a real epiphany, and I went back to the office. It’s really interesting. I went back to the office and I said to the team. We need to change our focus. We’re getting to them too late. We need to start sooner, and they looked at me and he went, oh God, you’ve been going on about that for 10 years. And I said, have I? Have I really? I literally had no idea. And I guess that was the beginning of the end of that, the beginning of this business.

Steve Rush: So, within the book, you’ve got seven extraordinary skills and they’re wrapped behind the reason why and the reason why not. And the irony, I guess, of what you’ve just shared is perhaps the extraordinary skill number one is the pre-epiphanies if you like. The 10 years that you’ve been unconsciously sharing the list because it happened at the time before, hadn’t it?

Elke Edwards: Yes.

Steve Rush: Tell us a bit about that.

Elke Edwards: Very personal situation for me. So, it’s probably worth me just explaining what I mean by core strength. So, within the book, we look at people as if they have a blueprint. So, we all have our own vision, our own purpose, our own driving forces, our own value system. And when we understand these things about ourselves, when we understand our own personal blueprint, it actually means that we’re able to live and create the life that we were meant to live. Now, in my experience, the majority of people don’t actually know this blueprint about themselves. So, they might well feel out of balance in life, but they can’t really nail exactly why it is. So, we take on our programs, we take people on a journey to understand what their personal blueprint was. For me personally, before I knew this myself, I was in a marriage with a very lovely man.

We had all everything. You know, I had a very successful business. We had a beautiful house. We had two gorgeous girls. You know, we sort of looked like the golden couple. But within me, literally deep within me, there was just a feeling that I wasn’t living my right life. And I did everything. In fact, I left the business for a while to see if that was the problem. I tried to move this house. I was thinking maybe we’ll just move to a different area. Maybe I’m with the wrong kind of people. And eventually, I realized that actually, I was in the wrong relationship. And even though it tick so many boxes on the outside, on the inside, it really didn’t work. So, I had to, I didn’t have to, but I chose to pick up my two girls, leave the gorgeous family house, move into a rental property. And literally other than my girls, start my whole life again and start with a blank sheet of paper and go, okay, well, how do I want to spend my days? How do I want to spend my minutes and hours? You know, what work really matters to me. And you know, what kind of relationship will really enable me to thrive and bring joy to my life and what kind of friends and all of these questions. And that’s exactly what I did

Steve Rush: Incredibly courageous act; and one where your extraordinary skills, if you like, that, you’ve now mapped into your book have probably been as a result of that learning. Would that be kind of a fair assumption?

Elke Edwards: I love that you’ve asked that question. And the reason I love it is what drives me mad about leadership development is people sort of think leadership development is something from outside of them.

Steve Rush: Right.

Elke Edwards: You know, like leadership is outside of us where you’ll notice the Ivy House strap line is extraordinary leaders, extraordinary lives. Those two things sit together. So, understanding who we are and therefore what kind of life we were meant to lead and what kind of leader we were meant to become. So, another big thing I’ve got is that, you know, leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. I say, I’ve set up three companies. I’ve never been the CEO of one of them because I’d be a rubbish CEO. So, within my blueprint is to be a creative director to be the voice of the business, to be the thought leader. And within my life is to have a certain kind of relationship, a certain kind of family. And actually, those two things are so intrinsically linked.

Steve Rush: Aren’t they?

Elke Edwards: I mean, they’re one, I’m one person and I live different parts of my life. So yeah, you’re completely right that the skills throughout the book apply to people’s outside of work lives and inside of work lives. But I think the two things are the same.

Steve Rush: And I love you’ve called that out. It’s been a real bugbear of mine for a number of years where people have often used the phrase /analogy, “You need to bring your whole self to work”. You need to bring what you do at home to work, you are that one person and how you behave and work is a complete carbon copy of how you behave at home. You just might push and pull some of those behaviours in different directions, but the core you is you.

Elke Edwards: Well, it should be, it should be, it should be the same, but this is really interesting because on the program we often ask people to look at their behaviours. So, I always say, imagine people that you live with and I’m going to go into your house, you’re not there. And I’m going to say, give me the top three or five behaviours that you see from this person every day and consistently, and then I’ll do the same at work and what comes out, which is people go, oh, I choose my best behaviour at work. And I often don’t choose my best behaviour at home. But the other thing that comes out all the time is people saying, you know, I’m living two life.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Elke Edwards: Well, you are not. You’re living one life. And they go, no, no, one, I’m one person in work and I’m one person at home. No, no. The question is, is what behaviour are you choosing in those two environments? It takes them a while to get it. When they finally get it, the massive relief that comes over them. Is that, oh. I can just be me.

Steve Rush: It’s also really energy-zapping, isn’t it?

Elke Edwards: Yeah.

Steve Rush: So, if you’re pushing behaviours that are not authentic, then that’s really going to take its toll on you physically as well as mentally.

Elke Edwards: Yeah, although authentic behaviour is a really interesting, where are okay to go off of in a tantrum on this.

Steve Rush: Yeah, let’s do it.

Elke Edwards: Authentic behaviour is a fascinating thing because I really believe that behaviour is a choice. Authentic behaviour is a really interesting thing because people will say to me, well, look, I’m an angry person or I’m an emotional person, or I’m a you know, a shy person. Actually, our behaviour is driven by our thinking and the thinking we hang out with, we have a choice over. So, people that have stories about the kind of person they are actually have missed the piece that actually their behaviour is driven by their thinking ultimately, and they get a choice about which thinking they hang out with. So, if I want to choose kind of behaviour, I get that choice. It’s not okay for me to just go, oh, well, I’m just not a very kind person. The real sentences is, I am consistently choosing not to be kind. I’m consistently choosing not kind behaviour. Does that make sense?

Steve Rush: A hundred per cent makes sense. And can we go another level deeper?

Elke Edwards: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d love to.

Steve Rush: So, if we’re hanging out with the thinking that informs our behaviour, well, what informs our thinking is actually our mindset. So, it starts with our mindset, right?

Elke Edwards: Yeah, and what makes up our mindset, there’s a whole host of other things around our beliefs system.

Steve Rush: Our value, belief system.

Elke Edwards: All of that stuff. Yeah, completely.

Steve Rush: But it is the one thing, the one thing that we have 100% control over, which is ironically your extraordinary skill number two, right?

Elke Edwards: A hundred per cent ownership. Absolutely, yeah. A hundred per cent ownership is, aren’t you going to take 100% ownership for the behaviour I bring to every situation, every single situation? So, it started to shout at me.

Steve Rush: Right.

Elke Edwards: I’m going to take 100% ownership for the behaviour I choose. If Boris Johnson said, we will have to go into lockdown, I’m going to choose 100% behaviour. I’m going to take 100% ownership for the behaviour I choose in response to that event. And what’s fascinating is though people get that intellectually. I would say 90% of the population live in a place where they are blaming things outside of them and people outside of them for how they’re feeling and how they’re behaving on a daily basis. So, they’re blaming the bosses, giving them too much work, or they’re blaming the fact that they can’t go out to the pub on a Friday night because we’re in lockdown. And they’re saying, well, I’m feeling rubbish because of that. And that, of course, ultimately isn’t true.

Steve Rush: Yeah, a hundred per cent subscribed to that.

Elke Edwards: People don’t like that though. People don’t like that.

Steve Rush: It’s because it turns the lens on the one person that’s in control. And we don’t like often to face into some of those really tough thoughts and those tough decisions that we might need to make because it comes with a consequence and it could be positive and it could be averse. But our brain’s job is to keep us safe. Isn’t it? And therefore, when we challenge the status quo, it’s going to give us a wobble in one direction, but it’s the brave that carry that forward.

Elke Edwards: A hundred per cent agree with you.

Steve Rush: So, if anybody’s read any of the work I’ve done in the past and in my book, they’ll know that I love equations. And you’ve got one in your book as well, which is event plus behaviour equals results, which is exactly what you just talked to. Isn’t it?

Elke Edwards: Exactly that. The theory behind it, so event plus behaviour equals result. The theory behind it, not even the theory, but the thinking behind it is that, you know, the majority of events that happen to us, we can’t control. It’s raining, our buses late. You know, we get put into lockdown, but the behaviour we choose in response to that event is 100% in our control. And it’s the equation, the summary. The event, plus behaviour. that’s going to drive the results. And that affects literally every few minutes of your life. I mean, minute by minute, we’re making decisions about how we’re going to respond to every event, minute by minute.

Steve Rush: Now, one of your extraordinary skills is courageous learner. That really prickled me because I love the whole principle of learning and lifelong learning. But there is something that is about being a courageous learner that is somewhat different. Maybe you can give us your view on that?

Elke Edwards: So, learning is really interesting when we talk about learning, because most of us equate it to reading books, watching videos. Academic learning, which of course, where we start learning isn’t in schools or, you know, it’s where we sort of formally put a title on it. In schools and we’re learning academic stuff. A courageous learner actually has the courage to recognize that their opinion is nearly their opinion and that other people have opinions too, and neither are or wrong or better than worse than the others. So, a courageous learner, number one has the ability to look to themselves to recognize that they have the courage. We talk about having the courage to look at the raw facts and understand that maybe the behaviour I chose yesterday when I was in a meeting, wasn’t great. Therefore, I may want to apologize, but also has the courage to recognize that if you and I have a completely different opinion on something that I am able to shut up, the voice in my head that is ready to defend my opinion, ready to argue my, you know, stand up for what I believe to be right and recognize that you believe what you believe to be right too. And recognize that you have your opinion based on all the data that has informed your opinion over your lifetime, and just have the courage to, we call it sitting above the line to go into a meeting or to a conversation and go, wow, you have a completely different opinion to me, brilliant. Tell me, tell me what you think. Tell me why you think it, what data informed your decision and not with the motivation to prove you wrong, but with the motivation to go, wow, you’ve just added a whole load, more data to my thinking so that together we can resolve the problem.

Now, what’s interesting. I did talk to a massive global organization a couple of weeks ago, over a hundred top leaders. And this was the thing they were stumbling over most. Because culturally it’s true for all of us, I think. We’re brought up in an environment where we say stand up for what you believe in. Whereas actually, how about listen to what other people believe in. Consider other people’s opinions and they really came back at me on this and eventually, they went, oh my goodness, we are stopping our learning because we don’t listen. And I was like, yeah. My work here is done again. Yes, start listening and recognizing your opinion is just your opinion.

Steve Rush: I observed this to be one of these leadership superpowers, really, because it’s so academically simple to get your head around, but this behaviourally very difficult to apply. Folks just don’t really get to grips with it. And I did some additional kind of research on this and there’s an element of psychology called motivated reasoning. Whereas part of the learning, we’re looking for ourselves to find evidence that suggests I’m right, or I’m finding through my learning evidence defined that another way is wrong. So rather than being in the service of just learning and being prepared to be wrong when consciously still have this battle that says, I’m right, I’ve got the evidence I’m confirming versus, ooh, that hypothesis could be completely different to what I thought. And therefore, I’m going to explore that.

Elke Edwards: And I think what you’ve just outlined very beautifully by the way. But I think where you’ve just outlined is so habitual and so deeply buried within us. When we talk about being above the line of being open to learning and being curious about different. As you just said, get it intellectually. But actually, the minute they’re put into a situation where people disagree with them or where they feel under pressure to come up with the answer, which is another massive problem with leaders, you know, they feel like they’ve got to resolve things and they’ve got to come up with the answers and they got to make all the recommendations. Actually, changing that habit of a lifetime, I think is harder than it sounds.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I concur.

Elke Edwards: I always give people the example that you’re at home and you’re arguing with your partner about where you want to go on holiday, but that would be a nice argument. You’re arguing with your partner, my argument with my husband is I want to go holiday to anywhere that will have me. And he’s like, well just wait and see what happens, we will be safe. But you’re arguing and he’s saying, oh, we should do this. Now, I always say to people, are you actually listening to what the other person’s saying? Or are you constructing your argument so that when they take a breath and you get the opportunities to speak again, but you are perfectly communicative and eloquent in what you say and pretty much 99% of the population put their hand up and go, yeah, I’m doing that. I’m not listening. I’m creating an argument so that I can speak well. And wow and win, when I get the opportunity to speak again, now, if we take that, which exists wholeheartedly in our organizations today, if we take that sort of attitude, then how are we ever going to learn?

Steve Rush: Exactly right, now there are a number of extraordinary skills I wanted to get through, but probably not going to be able to dive into them all in the way that I’d ideally love, which is also a great call to action for those to get hold of this and explore it themselves. But the one that I do want to get into is this whole principle of intentional relationships. What was it that caused you to call this out as a theme?

Elke Edwards: I think what caused me to call it act actually is two things. Firstly, the massive dysfunction that you see in business through relationships. So, you know, I was working with another CEO. Actually, you had two members on her team that she never spoke to unless they were in a meeting and only then when she could, you know, have to literally could not avoid it. And what became so abundantly clear is this level of dysfunction. I mean, that was an extreme example, but this level of dysfunction happened constantly in sort of microelements throughout organizations. And secondly with people’s home relationships or family or friends or loving relationships. So very often when you coach people. Clearly, you know, I believe we a whole person and we bring everything to that coaching. What became really clear was people’s inability to have decent, effective, meaningful conversations with the people they were in relationship with outside of work as well.

So those two things brought it to my attention. I think where I ended up was giving people this idea that relationships are the thing that drive our happiness, as you would have seen the researchers as I have, but, you know, sorry, the thing that drives our happiness more than anything else in life is the quality of our relationships, but we leave them up to chance predominantly. So actually, why don’t we become slightly more intentional about them and determine what is it that you and I want out of our relationships. So, as I said, I’m divorced and remarried. And when I got remarried, I took that really seriously and sat down with my husband and said, right separately, we both need to write what our independent vision for our lives are, but what our vision for our relationship is. And what’s interesting is we’re quite different people.

He’s far more traditional, far more safe, I guess, than I am. And actually, you know, freedom is one of my core values. So, you know, we had to really understand what individually we wanted and then together what we were creating. And once we understand what together we’re creating, then we know what behaviours we can show up with to deliver the vision.

And it plays out in work all the time. So, one of the things we teach people on the programs to do is to sit down with a boss and go, what does good look like for you? Oh, by the way, this is what good looks like for me and. So, what’s on the outside of that and how do we deal with it when things go wrong? So, there’s the vision piece, but there’s also the piece around behaviour and conversation. So, I think one of the key skills, this is a passion of mine is this to be able to have effective conversations. And I believe we would cut the amount of time that we spend in work in half if we knew how to do that.

Steve Rush: Hallelujah.

Elke Edwards: And then meetings, endless meeting.

Steve Rush: Yeah, you see it everywhere, don’t you? people are speaking for the sake of speaking. There is a lack of direction and lack of purpose in the communication and the conversation. And as a result, we burn hours and hours and hours, right?

Elke Edwards: Yeah, and then people then don’t say, we call it naming the elephants in the room. So, then they’ll go out and have, when we used to have, you know, coffee room conversations or water cooler conversations and the corridor conversations about what should it be talked about in the room. So, you know, actually teaching people the skill and we do this in schools as well, teaching people at a very, very simple framework of how to have an effective conversation. And it all starts by the way, with what your intent is, which takes us back to the courageous learner piece. So, if my intent for this conversation is to be right and win, then you know, actually the conversation isn’t going to go so well, if my intent from the conversation is together to resolve this issue that we’ve identified, then we’re going to have a very different kind of conversation.

Steve Rush: That’s awesome. And my intent from this conversation by the way, is to extract as much learning as I can from you, for our listeners in the time that we have together, which means now is the time in the show that I get to hack into your leadership mind and to start thinking about some, the tools and tips that have really served you well, that our listeners could also learn from. So, first place I like to go Elke is to ask you, what your top three leadership hacks are?

Elke Edwards: I have never been asked this by the way, and I thought it was a really, really good question. So, I had to sit and properly think about it. Because of course, I would say seven, the seven skills. Actually, I went to a different level. So, the first is a skill in the book. My top leadership hack is play to your strengths and allow others to do the same. So, I mentioned earlier, you know, I’ve never been the CEO of the business, I found it, but I’m a good founder and I’m a good voice and I’m a good thought leader for business, but I am not a CEO.

Steve Rush: Right.

Elke Edwards: And what’s interesting about leadership is so many people think that leadership is about being the CEO, being the Director or running the show. And that’s just not true. That’s just one form. That’s just one shape that it comes in.

Steve Rush: Right.

Elke Edwards: It’s just as important to have people that are brilliant at other things. So, find out what yours is and allow other people to do the same. Then my second one is, is that I believe wholeheartedly that people bring their best selves when they find meaning in their work. And we have to create businesses that are meaningful and help people find meaning within your organization. And the third is to take 100% ownership for how you personally show up as a leader. I can’t tell the number of leaders that I’ve worked with that believe it’s okay and justified to behave like a stress ball or to, you know, be aggressive or passive-aggressive or avoidant in their situation and blaming everything else that’s going around them for how they behave. The minute that we take ownership and voice that we’re taking ownership. I make mistakes regularly, but I will always get on the phone and go, I’m sorry, I’ve got that wrong.

Steve Rush: Right.

Elke Edwards: Owning the impact we have. I believe that’s what creates the kind of cultures people want to work with them.

Steve Rush: Super advice. The next part of the show we call Hack to Attack. So, this is a time where things haven’t gone so well, maybe at work or at home, but we may be even screwed up. But as a result of the situation or the experience, we’ve got some learning from that and it now serves us well in our life. What would be your Hack to Attack?

Elke Edwards: My attack that happened to all business like everybody else was COVID. So, we we’d had an interesting time through Brexit. And March of this year, we had a number of programs that were full to the brim and were just about to launch when we went into lockdown and our programs were all face-to-face. People flew in from all over the world to do our programs and they were deep and emotional and they are deep, emotional, intense, and locked down happened in every single thing on our books literally got cancelled or postponed multiple times. And you know, it was a moment. In fact, I was in the pub just before locked down, happened with some brilliant friends of mine. And they said to me, you have to take your programs virtual, or you have to shut your business down. And I was like, you don’t understand what we do. It’s so deep. It goes to people’s core. And then they come out full strength. So, you don’t understand, we can’t do that virtually. And they said, we’ll shut it down then, it’s just not going to work. And I had rather sleepless that night. And I woke up the next morning and I called our CEO and I said, we have to go virtual. And I’ll put my hands up and say, we weren’t in any way technical experts. You know, we always about the relationship and looking people in the eye and hugging is an Ivy House thing. And we had a conversation later that day. And within days, our team were refocused and set, and the question of product director, Clare Mitchell, who’s an absolute stone. Nobody coached approach her please, she’s brilliant. Said to me, this is not about how can we do what we do virtually, this is about how we can become the best in the market. The very, very best, and be truly brilliant at developing people virtually. And they just set themselves the target of that. And literally, I didn’t know this, you can’t take a face-to-face program and put it on a virtual platform. You have to rewrite the whole thing. And our programs are very long and very intense and not all of them. We have no shorter programs. So actually, what I would say is let’s say the world went back to normal tomorrow. What I know is that our programs are now even better, we had a 96% NPS face-to-face, which we were incredibly proud of them, very protective of, we really worked hard for that. And it’s now running at 97%.

Steve Rush: Awesome.

Elke Edwards: On our virtual programs. So, we’ll never go back to a hundred per cent face-to-face unless a client particularly wants that because of the nature of people having to leave their families and, you know, get the kids cared for and all of that stuff, we think we’ll end up doing blended programs. So, the people get the best of both worlds.

Steve Rush: Yeah, and you’ve got the core foundations to do both now.

Elke Edwards: We have, and yeah. And the other thing that’s happened is we manage because we weren’t taking expensive venues and people weren’t traveling all over the world is, we’ve managed to cut the price of the programs. So, all of a sudden client that were ruled out because of price you know, are coming go, oh no, no, that makes sense, we’ll have that. We’ll do that. And we’ve also created a shorter program as well, which allows them to put it across their whole talent base and all of that creativity and intervention and upskilling came because of what I thought was one of the worst crisis that has ever hit me in my professional career.

Steve Rush: Super lesson. Thank you ever so much for sharing. I’m really grateful for that.

Elke Edwards: No problem.

Steve Rush: The last thing that we want to do is hindsight being a wonderful gift, give you the opportunity to bump into yourself when you were 21 and give Elke some advice. What would your advice be to Elke at 21?

Elke Edwards: I’ got three pieces of advice. If that’s all right, the first is pay real attention to what you’re good at. But more importantly, what you love doing. I was one of those people that was quite good at most things that I turned my hand to, and that meant I spent years doing jobs that weren’t quite right for me. So, there’s a cross section between what we’re talented at and what we love. My first advice at 21 is notice where that happens, where your passions and your strengths meet, and then follow a career path in that direction. I still would have still ended up here, but I’d have ended up here much quicker.

The second thing is don’t overthink things. I believe that we go into our personal thinking far too often when we’d have challenges. Actually, if we get really, really quiet and quieten our mind, and we allow our wisdom and our inner knowing to do the work, then the solution comes far easier and generally for quicker. And the final thing is have more fun. I think I’ve worked too hard, that’s the truth. When I was married to my last husband, he had a business that took him to San Francisco all the time and he would always say, come with me, come with me, and go and stay with friends in San Francisco. And you’d have an amazing time. And I’d always say, businesses too busy. We’ve got too much work on. And I always said no. And you know, I really, really regret that. I really regret that. So that doesn’t happen anymore. Now I say yes, when people ask me to go to San Francisco.

Steve Rush: And if you’re having fun. It makes the work get done too.

Elke Edwards: Oh, I haven’t heard that before, that’s good, yeah.

Steve Rush: I stole this from a good old friend of mine. His name is Dr Wolf Rinke. He’s an author and great sage and he had this business cards that said “FUN” on the back of every single business card. And his mantra was, if it’s fun, it gets done.

Elke Edwards: Good, I like that. I will still steal that too.

Steve Rush: So, Elke, you’ve been an amazing guest on the show. I know that our listeners will be thinking, how can I find out some more about Ivy House and how can I get a copy of Extraordinary? Where would you like us to send it?

Elke Edwards: Well, that’s very kind. Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. So, our website is ivyhouse.co.uk. You can get the book off Amazon. The other thing that we have is extraordinary unplugged, which is our own podcast. And it’s all people that have put their hands up and said, I’m on a journey to create an extraordinary life and their coaching calls really where people bring challenges. And that’s getting a lot of amazing feedback. So, if people are interested in this kind of journey, they might be interested in that podcast too.

Steve Rush: We’ll make sure all of those links are in our show notes.

Elke Edwards: Thank you very much.

Steve Rush: Elke on behalf of The Leadership Hacker Podcast and our listeners. Thanks for taking time out of your diary. It’s been an absolute blast speaking with you. I think we could probably carry it on for hours and get into some of the details. It’s been super you being on the show. Thanks ever so much.

Elke Edwards: It’s a pleasure. Thank you very much.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler their @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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