my career habit

Sandy Wright interview - How to survive corporate life

October 25, 2021 Steve Kimmens Season 1 Episode 3
my career habit
Sandy Wright interview - How to survive corporate life
Show Notes Transcript

Sandy Wright is an Executive Coach and Learning Designer.

She’s got great insights on how to navigate and manage the trade-offs of a corporate career.  How to survive the 'deal with the devil' and what strategies you need to put in place to manage your mental and physical wellbeing.

Sandy shares her personal experience from speaking up in a role and the consequences she faced afterwards.

We discuss why the focus on having a career plan can put unnecessary stress and pressure on people, by forcing the expectation that everyone must have a perfect career plan to be satisfied.

Go to the website for tips and tools for the content covered in this episode of my career habit with Sandy Wright.

my career habit is the podcast where professionals share how they have taken control of their career to support the life they want to lead. 

Each week Steve Kimmens interviews professionals to share my career habit – the experiences, skills and insights that have helped people to make their job work for them.

Sandy Wright:
On my last day, one of the executive directors took me out for coffee and said, "What you did was right, but I have a family to support."

Steve Kimmens:
Welcome to my career habit, the podcast where professional share, how they've taken control of their career to support the life they want to lead. I'm your host, Steve Kimmens, and each week I interview professionals to share my career habit - the experiences, skills and insights that have helped people to make their job work for them.

Today's guest is Sandy Wright. Sandy is an executive coach and learning designer. She's got great insights on how to navigate and manage the trade offs of a corporate career. And as we heard at the top of the podcast, Sandy shares her personal experience from speaking up in a role and the consequences she faced afterwards.

Let's get on with the podcast.

Welcome to the podcast, Sandy.

Sandy Wright: 
Thank you, Steve. It's my pleasure.

So first question would you say, you know you need to have a plan? Here's all the things you need to do for your career is the kind of the lesson from your career.

Sandy Wright: 
No, no. For example, my sister always knew that she wanted to be a teacher. Always never wavered. I was the one who thought, Oh, this sounds nice. Oh, hang on a minute. That sounds interesting and go off on tangents.

So, you know, I worry about some of the advice that's out there around people saying, we'll find your passion and you'll never work a day in your life. All those sort of very. And I'm using simplistic in the right way here.

It can make people think that, oh, if I change careers and so on, then I'm a flake or, you know, I can't. There's something wrong with me. I think some people really respond very well to having a plan and just going for it and all power to them.

And for those who go, I don't know, I want to try this and I want to try that, and that's OK as well. And and just taking advantage of what happens along the way because both pathways can work.

Steve Kimmens:
Yeah. And I think it's that thing where expectations are put on top of people in terms of find your purpose in, you know, your love your job and say, what are those expectations real? And do you end up putting stress on people? That's that's the the holy grail that they must be searching for.

Sandy Wright: 
And think how often people go up to University, follow their chosen subject, the stuff they were interested in and have a passion for only to go into the workforce. And that's not respected. You know that passion and effort that put into it. And that's a problem.

Steve Kimmens:
In your career. You've kind of you've had like career chapters. So it's not necessarily, say career pivots. We've, you know, moving from teaching into corporate life. You've had these other moments where it's kind of like a career chapter which has sprung you on to other things, like going off to Columbia Business School to do work over there , you know? Were those key moments in your career in terms of motivation and engagement? This is what I want to learn. This is what I want to do next.

Sandy Wright: 
Yeah, indeed, I would never have sat back and, you know, university in my early twenties and thought that I'd be running leadership programs in corporate or with people that are in business. And you're right, it was a kind of fell into that and sort of Scott, because there's a lot of latest despite all their privilege and all the effort and investment in them, are really quite lonely and and have a hunger to be better. And I love to tap into that. So you talk about going to Columbia was in my role in leadership programs people wanted me to coach one on one and I was very aware that I could be overstepping boundaries because I didn't know enough about the coaching process. I didn't know enough about the psychology of that. Yes, I understood learning theory and I could see it playing out. What's next though? So it was that drive to I don't want to make things worse for people because I'm an amateur in this what do I need to learn more about?

Steve Kimmens:
How is that in terms of a personal experience in terms of shaping your next steps or challenging your existing thinking?

Sandy Wright: 
It's interesting because it's probably me going with it kind of inferiority complex. Oh my god, I'm going to one of the ivy schools in the world and all the people there will be these high fliers and so on, and I can't wait to meet them, only to find the issues they were having in their organizations were exactly the same. And in many respects, some of the things we were doing here in Australia were way in advance of what some of some of the things that they were doing there. So I've created some lifelong friends through those and keep talking to them.

So that was kind of nice and that was pivotal and helping me understand how I could sit with people one on one and and do things without causing harm because of my amateurness.

Steve Kimmens:
On the topic of coaching, one of the things I talk to people about is why are you in this role? What do you want to get out of this role? How is this going to help you? one of the things that you talk about is this idea of trade off. What are you willing to trade off?

Sandy Wright: 
Yes, I think that's a really important thing because one of the things about corporate life is it's tough and we actually have to play a number of roles, which is what human beings do anyway. We're social beings. We pick up signals in the environment and we will adapt our behavior. And one of the things you hear people say is human beings hate change. That's just so wrong. We are the most adaptable species on the planet and that's because our brain developed as a result of being a social being.

The only way that our species was going to survive and flourish was to collaborate and to pick up signals that the people around us, what what they neuroscientists are calling social cognition is picking up what's going on in the environment and adapting our behavior accordingly.

Because our brains are looking for threat all the time. So in order to fit in, we will subtly adapt our behavior. And what I notice with a lot of people is that we're coming into corporate life, had all the trappings of, you know, they got to certain titles, they had a certain income. There was kudos with where they were and still thinking, Is that all there is? Right? And and there's I've got to all these jumped all these hurdles of career that I wanted to do, and I'm still not that happy with myself or content with my life. And I'm also worried about how I'm affecting the people around me. The vast majority of leaders really do care about their team. And yet this trade off, we have to make about being the voice of the organization and doing the right thing by the people that we lead is huge.

And there's an element of when you go into corporate life is almost like being a pact with the devil, you have a contract, you must represent the organization. You must. That's what you paid to do. How far do you does that role work with what you are willing to live with for yourself and and not have sleepless nights about what it is you have to do? And so a lot of the coaching is around. At what point are you willing to make the trade off and what point will you not go beyond? Yeah. And having people accept that if you are intending to do this as part of a corporate say, for example, making people redundant, and that doesn't sit well with you and you have to do the job, that's what you're paid to do. So if you can't and don't want to do that and it's causing great distress for you, then you either have to live with that and find ways of living with it or you get out of it , because you are not going to move the the organization. You just that's not, you know, the organization has an entity of its own, which you are buying into. And here we have to buy into into that corporate culture and what it stands for. If you're going to take a salary there and take all day the rewards of being with that organization.

Steve Kimmens:
And would you say in your own career that that's something that you experienced in terms of having to step back and go hold on a minute? There is a trade off going on here, and I need to be conscious of that.

Sandy Wright: 
Yeah. Certainly in the first organization that I was in, because that was such a contrast from, you know, working with kids and working in this really behemoth of money just everywhere and access and so on. And and for a while, I bought into it.

You know, you had to there was this kind of this a psychological understanding, and you have to confront that. I am loving all of the results I'm getting from this. I'm being paid very well. I'm working with very bright people.

There's a lot of investment in what I'm doing, and I do see results at the same time not liking what what we are doing here. And for a couple of years, I I bought into this and I want the rewards.

So if I want the rewards, then I'm going to have to push down my values for a while. And but there was a point where I couldn't do it anymore. It became just stressful for me. I actually suffered from some depression, and it wasn't until later that I realized that. And there came a point where I had to stand up for something that I believed in, which ultimately led to me being exited. Right? So that was a point, and at least I could live with myself. It was brutal going through that experience of that.

And I got no support from anybody. The people that I thought were my allies. Well, here's an interesting thing. On my last day, one of the executive directors took me out for coffee and said, What you did was right, but I have a family to support. And the message I got was I cannot stand up and support you, even if I think you're right, because the cost would be too much for me.

Steve Kimmens:
Yeah. I've certainly experienced that on a smaller scale in terms of I didn't quite realize it, but I was in an organization where I was told to ask lots of questions, and raise things, and I naively thought that I should do that. I also kind of, you know, character wise, value wise, I was like, Oh, you know, that's why I should do, and I may be intellectually as well. Like, like asking questions, trying to find stuff out. But what I found discovered was that actually terrible idea, because just because leaders don't necessarily want certain things challenged or the kind of the emperor's clothes pull back, even when you're not necessarily intending to pull them back, you're just asking, what if you say this? Doesn't that mean this? And one of the other things I found that was interesting, which supports your one, is I discovered that I then fell into this role within a relatively large team where I was the one who would ask awkward questions so everybody else could kind of sit back. And it might be from a trait of perspective that I want to take the risk. They might not have the courage and they might just be like, I will let Steve do whatever Steve is going to do. But I then had this role where I was one who would ask awkward questions. I was the one who would take risks, and I was the one who's getting shut down. And and it's interesting because you're kind of left in this position where it's like, should you be taking those risks?

One of the things that seems to become a buzzword within corporate life resilience and one of the things that I've come across with resilience is where resilience is almost used to shame people. Yeah, it is almost. It's used to say effectively if you took the word resilience out and put strong in there and it's like, you're not strong enough, you need to develop your strength to do this. And it's not to say that you don't have to put up with stuff or you don't have to work through things. But but often it seems that resilience is used as a way to just pile stuff onto people. This shown onto them, and if they can't survive, they weren't resilient enough. Yeah.

Sandy Wright: 
I think that it's very clear in a lot of organizations and not just corporate life, you know, we hear around it in the medical profession, you know that, you know, frontline workers and so on that if they complain, you know, well, this is how it is and you've got to put up with it. And that's. That that's one of the worst things we're doing for mental health is to beat people over the head metaphorically, that they're not resilient enough, they're too negative and so on. Whereas really, those behaviors are giving us data about how our people are coping and we should be watching those behaviors and listening to that and using it to say, we've got to do something about it. And I don't think resilience and idea of bouncing back actually is what resilience is to my way of thinking. Resilience is endurance, you know, having the tenacity to endure because we keep hit, we're being hit with stuff all the time.

This idea of resilience, as you know, for a short period of time, we're going to be stressed and then there will be a break and we can bounce back and get ready just for the next one. But we are experiencing times where constant stress, yes, there's no let up. So resilience is now about endurance. And how do you find the skills to endure and recognize they may not be periods of, you know, of of a rest? And it is going to be constant. And if we accept that as a premise, then we've got to change some of the ways that we manage people and help them perform.

Steve Kimmens:
Thinking back to your experience of of being excited, the challenging times against your values, how did that influence your, your next roles?

Sandy Wright: 
So what I learned from that experience is whatever learning and development and leadership development I get into, I'm going to take more risks around really tapping in to what matters to people, not about leadership skills like how to negotiate something or have feedback is 11 area that I spend a lot of time in because that can make the difference for somebody. If feedback stand in the right way. But looking at cultural mores and values within the organization and leadership programs that look at that and understand the really important way of setting up the right environment because we are social animals, and if you have the right environment, then people can put up with a whole lot more and will be more forgiving and more tolerant if they recognize that most people are trying to do the right thing and moving forward on that. It's when things are espoused, and that's not what's really happening. Yeah. And you know, that's that's a real tricky thing. And and that's also why eventually I had to get out of corporate because the trade offs that people were having to make were just too great for most people.

Steve Kimmens:
As you recognize, those trade offs was the earlier experience in your career. Were you able to reflect on that and say, Well, actually, yeah, I've seen this kind of play out before for me. I know what I need to do. I need to kind of exit this and move on.

Sandy Wright: 
Yeah, that that's true. And certainly when I'm coaching people, if people come to me and say, you know, I've got this huge dilemma, I can see this going on. This is my responsibility and I am being asked to close my eyes to it or I've tried to do things that I can't seem to get any headway with this. It's balance coaching, so what's important for you? So on the one hand, as an organizational development practitioner, I'm always interested in those behaviors that are going on in the environment and telling me something about the culture. When I'm working one on one, it's what can I give?

What tools can I give you to deal with this? If you are going to live with this, despite knowing that it interrupts your values, then these are the things you're going to have to put in place to keep your mental health.

Steve Kimmens:
Mm-Hmm.

Sandy Wright: 
So you you're going to have to let go of resentment, for example, or anger if you are going to accept it. And here's some tools to help you do that. Yeah, it's you much for you to accept, then these are the ways you're going to and you will have to keep safe in order to do something about it. Are you got if you are going to speak up? These are all the possible consequences. What can you tell? What, what can't you learn? What? Yeah. And if you are going to leave, what are you going to take with you in leaving, making this decision?

So it's a really interesting role being in, really interested in the culture and what's going on in that. But working one on one where sometimes you've got to let that go, but there's data that you can take back as they organizational development person interested in culture around these other stresses we are seeing in the environment. And if we don't pay attention to them from a cultural point of view, they are going to keep causing problems, not out people's mental health, but performance.

Steve Kimmens:
So corporate career, leadership development, organizational development, and now you've gone off and set up your own leadership program.

Sandy Wright:
Yeah. And I'm doing that with a colleague of mine who was a clinical psychologist. So it's kind of a nice blending of understanding the psyche and psychology that's going on and blending that with learning and development. Anthropology, anthropological, understanding of culture and how that that influences the social constructs that we set up and also the latest research around neuroscience and what we know about what's going on in the brain and how that drives behavior and beliefs. We do take risks. It's not standard leadership program. It's not based on competencies. It's based on attributes like awareness like self-awareness, like vulnerability. What we try to do is go much deeper then and just not pay lip service to those, but actually. And certainly in the design of it, we don't just talk about neuroscience, we actually use it in the design.

Steve Kimmens:
Awesome. Fantastic. Thanks, Sandy. Thanks. Thanks for your time.

Sandy Wright:
My absolute pleasure. Thank you, Steve.

Steve Kimmens:
Thanks for listening to my career habit. To subscribe and listen to other episodes, go to mycareerhabit.com