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Westminster Centre for Resilience in conversation with Michel van der Bel of Microsoft

13 April 2018

Michel van der Bel in conversation with Dr David Peters

The Westminster Centre for Resilience provides high quality, evidence based human resilience training, consultancy and evaluation services to the corporate and public sector.

The Centre works with a variety of organisations to develop reliable ways of assessing resilience, create resilience-promoting interventions and explore new approaches to their evaluation.

They have been working with Michel van der Bel, President of Microsoft Europe, Middle East, Africe (EMEA) and followed up with him, a year after his visit to the Lab.

Hello Michel – firstly how are you? And how is James (your fox terrier?)!

Good to talk to you again David and I’m doing fine thanks. James is still full of beans and is keeping us busy - in a good way of course!

It’s been over a year since we ran the ResilienceLab 360 with you.  What would you say were your biggest takeaways from the experience?

The report provided me with a fascinating insight into how my body is managing energy. It showed me what gives me energy, where I restore energy and the ‘influence’ we all have over it as individuals. I learnt the importance of good quality sleep as a key to energy restoration and how breathing the right way makes a huge difference to personal balance. All up, the ResilienceLab360 provided me with valuable insights and data about how my body is really doing versus how I think it should be doing.

You said you now know whether you’re running in the red (activation) or the green (recovery/recharge/reset) side of the nervous system? How does this work for you in your daily life and what are your green moments?  E.g. are you still playing the piano?

Balancing work life with personal life is an ongoing process for all of us. It means finding moments during the day and in the evening that help you re-energize, and either prevent you going further into activation or recovering from it. Both your work and your family deserve your best energy and that means taking time to “fuel up” along the way. It is less about finding a full hour to restore in a quiet place, and more about finding short moments to restore - this can be on the go or in the office. For example, taking just 10 minutes to get clear on your thoughts on something can ‘free up’ a lot of headspace.

Many people consider time as their biggest constraint, but I think it’s our attention. Focusing and concentrating on one topic without interruption is quite hard these days, particularly with app notifications, emails, messengers all fighting for our attention. For me, playing the piano is a perfect moment and a doorway to a different world.  Finding time for it means I have to actively schedule it and not wait until everything else is done, otherwise it would never happen!

You and I have talked about the difference between warrior leaders and wisdom leaders.  Now you mention there has been a change of leadership style towards empathic leadership.  Can you tell us a little more about what that looks like/means? And the impact?

It all starts with the notion that we are not machines. Wisdom means that humans to do their best work when they understand that Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity – the VUCA world - essentially has two sides. This applies to employees, partners and customers alike. Empathy is an invitation to discuss all relevant topics in an open, transparent and a non-judgmental way, allowing us to focus our energy on solving issues, making progress and leading and inspiring teams. Impact is gradual as this is clearly something that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s about small things leading to big things. People need to feel that there is trust to have these, sometimes tough, discussions in a psychologically safe environment.

Where previously the focus was more on physical wellbeing, do you see a trend in businesses focusing on mental and emotional wellbeing to support staff resilience and engagement. Is this something you’ve seen at Microsoft?

There is definitely a trend that looks at physical and mental wellbeing more holistically. A lot of people create a lot of pressure for themselves through having unrealistic expectations of themselves, their career and their achievements. Being balanced is critical to staying healthy in the long run and alongside that, being able to realize your full potential. Thankfully, more and more people have woken up to the fact that working longer and longer hours is not the recipe for success and personal fulfilment.  

Why is this so important?

Burning the candle on both ends gives a lot of light but only for a short time. I’m sure we all have the intention to stay around longer, and be both a good professional at work and a good parent and partner at home.

Finally, what would be a top tip you could share with other leaders and influencers about resilience? Personal and supporting teams?

A few things come to mind. Firstly, start with self-awareness and learning - see this as an opportunity to develop and improve yourself as a leader. It is important to learn to lead yourself before you can lead others in times, particularly in times of transformation. Practice resilience – it is not about who can work the longest hours but about who can demonstrate the best leadership grounded in values alongside a healthy physical and mental balance to make good decisions.

Secondly, set the tone and expectations for the team you are leading. What you say is not as important as what you do on a daily basis. Your behavior is critical and small things will lead to bigger things.  If you look at your team today and how they work together, ask yourself - do they have a sense of purpose? Do they support each other and get things done? The answers to these questions are a reflection of your leadership. It’s the same with resilience.

Find out more about The ResilienceLab 360 and how it can help you optimise your performance.

Find out more about the Centre for Resilience's other services.


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