In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, you’ll hear from Ian Snape, CEO of Frontline Mind, on resilience by design, leading Antarctic expeditions and relaxing in high-stakes environments.
Ian has over 30 years of experience leading and managing teams in strategy, innovation, and adventure. His speciality in coaching and training is on the topics of resilience, performance, recovery and wellbeing, especially to people who operate in complex high-risk situations such as Special Forces, police, paramedics, as well as Olympic athletes, company directors and senior executives.
He has a PhD in Geochemistry from the University of Edinburgh and also has a Graduate Certificate in Neuro-linguistic Programming. He has led teams on expeditions to the Antarctic to conduct research on pollution issues in cold regions that were crucial to policy and regulatory decisions.
In this episode we talk about:
- Building a foundation of focusing on relaxation instead of stress;
- Resilience strategies to manage tricky situations and decisions;
- Leading Antarctic expeditions; and
- The difference between your state and your emotions.
Connecting with Ian Snape
You can connect with Ian via LinkedIn
Books and resources
“Every piece of training you need to be doing is about relaxation, not stress. We place our attention on the stress, but in fact, the best way to respond to the pressure is relaxation, high quality breathing, getting your posture right. And then work out what to do.”
On trusting your team
- On an underwater dive, my air got cut off, so I started making my way back to the surface. I’ve got a buddy with me, and I signalled to him that I was out of air and that he needed to pay attention. And I remember thinking, there’s a pretty good chance I’m not going to make it back to the hole with the air that I’ve got. And I need to really relax. I need to go super slowly. I need to slow everything down.
- I remember thinking it’s really important that I don’t panic and rip my mask off. I don’t want to ingest any seawater. I don’t want that stuff in my lungs. I just need to go out if I’m going to go out. I’ve got 100% commitment with my team that they can revive me. That was a pretty interesting moment.
- As it turned out, I kept it together, kept really calm. They got me out of the hole really quickly and I didn’t run out of air. We found what the problem was with the system. We fixed that and got straight back in again. But I’d have been a whole different person if I didn’t have a team that I trusted.
On relaxing in high-stakes environments
- In some of the training I’ve done, it’s easy to think they are stress tests. They’re not, they’re relaxation tests.
- I’ve spent a long time learning martial arts and coaching martial arts and you learn how to keep it together under pressure at the elite level of competition. And it’s very similar in life. If you tense up or you put on that aggression, you’re going to get taken out.
- The best athletes, that’s not what they’re doing. They’re in flow, they’ve got great breathing, they’ve got relaxation right up to the point of impact. And at that moment of impact, they’ve got all the tension, all the power they need, and then it switches back off again. There’s a really important metaphor in there for leaders no matter what you’re doing.
On resilience – what it is and what it isn’t
- I think there’s a lot of confusion about what resilience is. Resilience is about adaptability, it’s about being able to endure a situation that you might be in when there are in fact few choices.
- However, I think for a lot of people, there’s this misnomer that resilience is in some way about just putting up with anything that seems to come your way, as if you’ve got to passively just take what’s being dished out.
- Now, this is absolutely the case in workplaces because for a lot of workplaces, workers are absolutely overwhelmed. They’ve got unrealistic expectations, poor management, poor systems, no feedback.
- And there’s a bit of pushback at the moment about this idea of a resilience programme for your workplace. But one of the key things about resilience is knowing how to adapt, how to respond to the situation you’re in.
- One really important choice you’ve got is the choice to leave. And that’s a resilient strategy. That’s not a weakness strategy. If you look at the environment that you’re in and you go, “This environment is going to kill me. There’s no question here that I’m going to go down if I stay in this environment. I’ve got all the signals in my body,” and by that I mean stress, trauma, anxiety. If you’re freaking out about going to work on Monday because you’re terrified of your manager, well, you’ve got a few choices there. You can carry on being stressed and probably die young. And that’s not a resilient strategy.
On developing resilience
- It’s developed through experiences and it can be taught. One technique is changing the way that you think by bringing in more anticipatory thinking.
- It’s the process of the planning. And the reason this is really important in resilience is that you can go into a situation with a game plan, but what’s more likely is that you’ve got a set of processes and relationships with other people that allow you to quickly adapt, rapidly repurpose some of the planning that you’ve done to fit the situation that you find yourself in.
- This is where your relationships and your networks come in very helpful. So it’s your relationships that help you respond when you can’t know a perfect answer.
- And what’s the number one problem or situation that CEOs face? What do they first say when they come in the door, more or less? That they’re lonely. They’re feeling like there’s no one there to support them.
- So if you don’t have trusted advisors and trusted people, develop those relationships right now. You need to be connected within your business. You need to be connected outside your business.
On state choice
- Your “state” is a better term for “emotion”. But there’s a distinction.
- There are four elements that make up your state in the moment: our physiology, our neurology, our biochemistry and our microbiome. So these four facets combine to influence our state in the moment.
- With emotions, however, we often pay attention to a felt sensation in the body, and we give that a label. And it often describes part of our state that we’ve paid attention to. “I’m anxious,” for example.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- The next generation, I think they’re going to be more compassionate. I think they’re going to be more connected to the world that we’re in. I think they’re going to be more connected to adjacent companies, adjacent agencies. Less about competition, more about collaboration. I think the next generation are going to bring some qualities that I don’t think we do anywhere near enough these days.