Published in ILM Edge online February 2012
Leaders’ retreats can help attendees push themselves even further.
Leadership retreats offer a unique mix of personal reflection, spa treatments and consultations to help attendees focus on their business goals and achieve their potential. Two high-achievers who attended a recent retreat tell Matt McAllister why these masterclasses are a valuable resource
When you head up a large UK organisation and have over 20 years of business success behind you, it might be difficult to imagine how you could achieve much more.
Yet Ian Filby, CEO of sofa specialists DFS, and Jan Pieter-Lips, managing director of UK reward programme Nectar, say they’ve both been able to push themselves even further after attending a retreat in the Cornish countryside.
Laurence Udell, business mentor and author of The Next Level: Aligning Business Success & Personal Fulfillment, set up the retreats for executives and celebrities as a way of helping high-achieving individuals understand their formula for success and the dynamic of fulfillment.
To do this, Udell mixes one-to-one consultations, personal reflection, energy and consciousness work and spa treatments. The inspiration behind it, he says, comes from two very different sources.
“Having travelled round the world working with top performers, I came to realise the importance of the two ways of looking at the world,” he explains. “One is the Western way, which is very logical, very psychological and has more of a material sense. But in the East they take a more energetic look at the world, and it’s tied to wellbeing and people’s emotional and spiritual sides. When you combine the two, you can look at the individual in a much more holistic way.”
Udell says that a core aim of the retreats is to explore the formula for attendees’ achievements.
“It’s about helping them understated how they got to the top of their game,” says Udell. “And there are four elements of that. The first is ‘adventure’ – about trying to stop looking at the world as a stable state. As human beings we want to control the world but it’s actually very fluid and flexible, and that’s where new possibilities and opportunities come from.
“The second element is ‘awareness’. What we’ve got in the world on the outside starts from a thought or feeling or emotion inside us. That takes us to ‘authenticity’, which is about being who we truly are rather than following models of leaders in the past.
To be effective at work, you also need to focus on your physical fitness and your relationships with people. But that won’t mysteriously happen behind the scenes – it will only happen if you actively plan them in.
Ian Filby, CEO, DFS
“The final one is ‘alignment’. After being on the journey on the other four elements, this is about taking responsibility for yourself. It’s about making the adjustments in your life that will give you more success and fulfillment.”
Ian Filby, one of the ‘high achievers’ on last year’s event in Cornwall, explains that he had worked with Udell prior to becoming CEO of DFS. The retreat, he says, helped him to focus on his plans both for the company and his life in general.
“Having three-and-a-half days to reflect meant that I could create the space to really plan out how I was going to achieve my personal and business goals,” he says. “In the immediate term I came away with a three-year vision for DFS. My ‘four-pillar plan’, which I’ve been talking to the business about over the last four or five months, was created during my time there. As well as creating that business vision, I also created a plan with one-year steps around a number of personal and work dimensions.”
Filby says that he keeps a copy of his one-year plan in his briefcase and regularly checks on his progress. “It’s been a valuable tool,” he adds.
Nectar’s Jan Pieter-Lips also came away with an action plan that he keeps close at hand. He explains that the retreat gave him a chance to focus on his priorities.
“The problem with a lot of coaching is that you can be really fired up during the session, but you then walk back to a phone call or meeting and find it difficult to make progress,” he says. “But by spending dedicated time over a number of days on my development, and going through the notes I had written on the coaching discussions, I’ve been able to make sure it lasts rather than just making small, incremental steps.”
A key part of Udell’s philosophy is that personal wellbeing and work life are intrinsically linked; “The health of a leader is directly aligned with the health of the organisation,” he says. Filby thinks that more business should consider this ‘holistic’ approach.
“I’ve increasingly been a believer in the [work-life] balance,” he says. “The more I keep myself fit, the more stamina I have and the more alert I am at work… Laurence was able to show that to be effective at work, you also need to focus on your physical fitness and your relationships with people. But that won’t mysteriously happen behind the scenes – it will only happen if you actively plan them in.”
“The combination of physical and mental wellbeing puts you in a good frame of mind to think,” adds Pieter-Lips. “You can take time out and come up with real insight – which you then make tangible by implementing.”
For Filby, the retreat, along with his other work with Udell, has had a direct impact on his approach to the business – an impact felt by employees.
Filby says that his vision of making DFS a “world class” company has energised employees. Other tangible actions that stem from focusing on his goals at the retreat include bringing in sickness pay, looking at the male/female balance (“it was not the mix I thought was right for our customers”), and trying to stop staff working excessive hours.
“People see that I often don’t come into work till 9.30 and I tell people it’s because I’ve been out exercising before I go to work. So they see overt messages like that which reflect my own values, as well as the more traditional ones like setting high goals, setting challenging budgets, being very competitive and achieving week-in, week-out.”
Udell compares the high performers on the retreat to the explorers who first went from the North to South Pole, always pushing themselves just that little bit harder. The key to all this, he says, is to provide a ‘safe spot’ where they can be honest with themselves.
“In their manic world where they drive so hard, finding this calm, safe spot is where they feel most powerful and this is the route of fulfillment,” he says. “That might sound soft but it’s actually very powerful.”