I had the pleasure of interviewing Kedge Martin, coach mentor, trusted advisor, entrepreneur, former CEO of Prince Harry’s charity, Sentebale, The Princes Foundation for Africa, businesswoman, mother, wife!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get to be where you are right now?
I’m extremely blessed to be where I am right now — I believe you can only get to where you want to be through a combination of knowing where you want to get to, considerable luck and finding amazing people to help you on your way; to support you and to challenge you — the latter not always easy to accept but invaluable. To be wholly and unconditionally supported all along my unconventional career journey by my husband (a ghostwriter) and my children has been critical too.
From an early age I have wanted to ‘change the world’ without exactly knowing what that ‘change’ is — but I think we all have a deep down desire to leave a positive impact on the world. My first job was working for a MEP (Member of the European Parliament) and a small public affairs consultancy in London — definitely more by good fortune than academic credentials (I chose not to go university — keen to get on with life rather than continue studying). At 18, I was travelling to the European Parliament in Brussels and striding the corridors of power in the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament), London absorbing the incredible atmosphere of influence, history, legacy and power and being privileged to meet diverse people and work on a variety of projects — a baptism of fire but a great way to launch into the working world. Then, in the early 90s, along with my newly-wed husband, we set up and ran a laundromat and dry cleaning business in Poland.
Returning to the UK in the late 90s, I was determined to use my operational experience to make a difference — and set about turning around struggling charities. When not-for-profits operate at their optimum effectiveness, their impact in the world significantly increases. It was a time when many charities looking to professionalise in order to improve outcomes. Transitioning out of the sector after 15 years, I became an advisor to a number of philanthropists (both individuals and corporates) on effective philanthropy.
I am always looking for ways to make a greater positive impact, so I decided to create my current (commercial) businesses which help people achieve enduring and often profound changes in their lives. Longbow (www.longbownxg.com), the family office for human capital, works with UHNW families juggling the challenges and the opportunities of significant wealth. Youngbow (www.youngbow.com) helps young adults both in education and early career find their right path and Rutbusters (www.rustbusters.org) works with senior professionals at career transition/retirement — when they want to make the move but don’t know how.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How did this quality help you overcome obstacles on the path of becoming an influential and inspiring leader?
By nature, I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert; I need space and quiet to recharge and enjoy being alone. But because I am passionate about what I do, I can be extrovert and a bit of an evangelist too! So, people often think I’m an extrovert. I think if you believe in what you do and walk and talk it — then people are engaged.
What it means to be mentally-strong in the hyper-competitive world of running a business or an organization?
Building and running a business requires a great deal of resilience. You need to juggle a lot of plates, deal with setbacks, shrug off hostility and often cynicism, so it is critical you believe and have 100% commitment to what you’re trying to achieve.
I agree with Winston Churchill’s quote ‘When you’re going through hell, keep going!’ but sometimes you simply can’t — you need to stop and remind yourself that you’re not superhuman. There is no shame in putting your hands up and saying ‘Hey, I need some help here; I’m struggling’. In fact, there’s a strength to it. Admitting to vulnerability shows you are human and honest; everyone needs support — you just have to be open enough to ask. And people are keen to help, too.
As a working mother, there are of course other challenges. I certainly seem to have a default ‘guilt’ gene that nags that I was never ‘there’ enough. But I have the most wonderful relationship with my children — both young adults now and the reality is I think we all just try to do the best we can.
Is there a particular person, a book, or place of wisdom that has inspired you to become a successful and mentally-strong leader?
Goodness, that’s a difficult one. As a young teenager, the book that had the biggest impact on me was ‘The Prophet’ by Kahil Gibran. It is so simply written and thought provokingly about the important things in life from love, marriage, children to pain, talking, good and evil. It was like having a wise advisor as I read it again and again in my boarding school where not all the teachers were half as inspiring or wise!
As an adult, perhaps the biggest inspiration has come from Viktor Frankl, — the Meaning of Life. What an extraordinary man. He said, ‘Striving to find meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man’. I entirely agree.
Can you give us 5 tips on maintaining strong mental health stamina to succeed in the modern business world? Tell us a little about why each point matters.
- Firstly, be aware of what you need to be the best you. This may be an annual retreat, a daily fitness regime, learning something new, time in the sun (or a mixture of things). Work out what you need to feed your soul and maintain your wellbeing and don’t try to make yourself do stuff that other people say is right if it doesn’t work for you. Many times, I have tried to force myself into a fitness regime — either going to the gym or working with a personal trainer. But it is simply not me. What I need, is to spend time in nature and fresh air — in the countryside, or even in a city park; without that physical and environmental fix, I feel mentally drained.
- Try to understand what others need, communicate honestly and kindly. So often stress and unhappiness is caused by strife and conflict — by a disconnect in people’s needs. This may be with a colleague, a family member or even a stranger driving a car. If one can try to understand another person’s perspective and needs, then it becomes easier to understand their behaviour and therefore be more forgiving. It is very corrosive holding on to anger and frustration, so I try to understand where the other person is coming from and not dwell on the irritation; it’s hard not to water the weeds but I try. It’s one of the things that worries me about social media and emails — so often these channels engender frenzies of negativity.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable. And to stop. Allow yourself to ‘Stop!’ Sometimes we are so busy, managing and driving so many things at once, that we can neglect ourselves and are forced to stop. I have certainly been guilty in the past of keeping running and failing to ask for help — and then been pulled up, on one occasion, with a suspected heart attack — fortunately it was actually two slipped discs in my neck compressing the main nerve — but it forced me to stop and ask for help. Asking for help and showing vulnerability has a powerfully liberating effect — and people like to help. And in reality, the world keeps turning and life goes on — even when we take a break.
- Be aware of negative self-talk. Did you know, from birth to the age of two, we believed that anything was possible. We were born with only two fears: the fear of falling and a fear of loud noises. From two upwards, we gradually adopt the beliefs of our parents, peers and teachers, and this influences how we see the world. Our childhood beliefs may now seem silly, such as tooth fairies and Father Christmas, but some of the ideas we picked up from adults have also been less than helpful and cause needless worry and fear. When we are held back by a worry or fear, we need to first recognise and articulate it. Ideally write it down and question it. Is it a thought or a reality? If it is a thought, then it is important to realise that thoughts are optional. You can decide to think something else. There are many techniques for helping people to overcome habitual thoughts, but they boil down to rationalising the facts and altering the mindset.
- Breathe. As a young child, when I got angry or upset, my father always used to say, ‘Count to ten’. I only recently understood what he was trying to teach me — to stop and breathe. Breathing deeply calms the nervous system, allows us the time to think and respond more rationally rather than emotionally to situations and exhale what we no longer need (negative thoughts alongside the carbon dioxide).
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It seems that despite this being the most peaceful era and healthiest of times in our human history, we are increasingly unhappy, unconnected and losing our sense of selves. The reasons for this are not yet clear though much has been researched. What’s true though is that if you were to look inside each person’s head, you would find the same worries and concerns in rich or poor, young or old, single or married (work, family, money, home, health, success). It seems to me a shame that many people go through life not really knowing (in most situations) we can take responsibility for our state of mind, our reaction to circumstances and chose to drive our own life-bus. Although our life span has increased (men 79.1 years; women 82.8 years — UK data), — that’s an average of 30,00 days — a remarkably short time to be on this wonderful planet. I believe we should aspire to make each day one of joy; to smile, be grateful for what we have and where we are; to grow, to learn and to help others. I recognise just how fortunate I am to be where I am now, with businesses which aim to create a better world through helping people make positive and enduring change in their lives.
If the readers of this interview series would like to read more about you, how they can reach out?
Originally published at thriveglobal.com.