I was chatting with Jude Jennison, author of Leading Through Uncertainty: Emotional Resilience and Human Connection in a Performance-driven World, at a virtual campfire recently following my virtual writing retreat, when she casually mentioned: ‘You know, having the book saved my business these last few weeks.’
Of course I asked her to explain, and she kindly agreed to this interview…
You have a business that’s fundamentally experiential, working with teams with your horses to help them embody leadership: how have you been able to adapt that model in the current crisis?
Firstly, there can be no substitute for the emotional connection that you get by working with horses. However, my work with teams improves communication, deepens emotional connection and enables teams to embrace their differences. This is needed now more than ever.
When the when the whole country went into lockdown, emotions were all over the place. I instantly recognised the polarisation that was happening in people’s experiences because I’d written about it in my book, Leading Through Uncertainty.
I knew that uncertainty would generate a wide range of emotions and that everyone would have different coping mechanisms to handle. I also knew that, because we try to shut down painful emotions, people would put themselves under pressure to be seen to be coping.
The baseline of the country was already one of high stress. Most people were operating under extreme pressure, working long hours and pretty stressed already. With the lockdown, anxiety levels went through the roof. Add to that the challenges of remote working, getting used to new technology and homeschooling, and for many stress was off the scale.
I’d been giving masterclasses on leading through uncertainty for clients before lockdown so the first thing I did was to shift those online. I adapted my approach: not just talking through the concepts from the book, but giving people space to speak to their experience.
And it was mind blowing. As people spoke to their own personal experience and emotions, suddenly there was this sense within the team that something profound was taking place. Teams began to make sense of their own experience but also to understand each other better. And this of course is why I’d written the book in the first place.
In an hour and a half, with a team of 10 people on a Zoom call, we created a deeper level of connection. Who knew that that could happen?
You have said that your book, Leading Through Uncertainty, ‘saved your business’: why was that?
I have four horses to keep so no chance to reduce my running costs (you can’t furlough horses). I knew I needed to cover those costs or I might have to have them put to sleep. To secure the future of both the horses and my business, I needed to generate income to replace the revenue lost now that people couldn’t come to work with us in person.
I started talking to clients and realised that leaders of organisations are struggling. They feel they have to hold it all together because if they show they’re falling apart, the whole organisation could fall apart. Those who were also parents felt they had to hold the family together as well. The pressure was enormous, and unsustainable.
Having written the book, I had done my research. I was credible to new clients who didn’t know of me or my work. I was able to support teams through this uncertainty and generate income that has continued to pay my costs and secure the future of my horses.
I’m confident that as a result of this, I will still have a business. The online work based on the book has bought me time until we can get back out in the field again.
When things return to normal, how will your business be different?
I now have a new offering for clients online which is an easier access point than coming out to work with me and my horses. I would probably never have done that before.
Over the coming weeks and months, I plan to re-organise my business to combine blended learning, meaning clients can do online self-study before they come and work with the horses, enabling a deeper connection and a more profound behavioural change.
Working online is no substitute for standing next to a horse with your hand on their soft coat, looking into their eye and feeling their heartbeat, or their breath on your arm or your face. The work with horses can’t be replicated, but what I can do is help people make sense of their emotional responses in uncertainty. And in the process, I’ve secured the future of my business and my horses so we can continue this important, life-changing work.
Jude Jennison is the author of Leading Through Uncertainty: Emotional Resilience and Human Connection in a Performance-driven World.