The Agenda

#12 - Leanne Spencer - How to embed wellbeing in your organisation

January 11, 2022 SHERPANY
#12 - Leanne Spencer - How to embed wellbeing in your organisation
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The Agenda
#12 - Leanne Spencer - How to embed wellbeing in your organisation
Jan 11, 2022

Lifespan versus health-span: Introducing wellbeing as a core competency in organisations

The Agenda podcast series uncovers the path leaders take from challenges to decisions. In this podcast, Co-Founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited, Leanne Spencer speaks about how to embed wellbeing in your organisation.

For more podcasts, stay connected at 

The Agenda is brought to you by Sherpany #Leading Together

Thank you for listening! Visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn for board, board committee, and executive meetings solutions.

Show Notes Transcript

Lifespan versus health-span: Introducing wellbeing as a core competency in organisations

The Agenda podcast series uncovers the path leaders take from challenges to decisions. In this podcast, Co-Founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited, Leanne Spencer speaks about how to embed wellbeing in your organisation.

For more podcasts, stay connected at 

The Agenda is brought to you by Sherpany #Leading Together

Thank you for listening! Visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn for board, board committee, and executive meetings solutions.

Nisha Pillai 00:00:06

Welcome to this special edition of The Agenda. I've just moderated a live event looking at some of the key leadership decisions facing organisations as we enter another dark winter in the COVID pandemic and we were all blown away by the keynote speaker we're about to hear from.

My guest today has focussed her immense energies and expertise in answering two big questions. How can super stressed time pressed executives better support their own health and wellbeing and do the same for their employees and take them with them?

Leanne Spencer is an award-winning entrepreneur. She's the Founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited, and she's created a programme called 'The Agile Business Athlete'. She's also a speaker in huge demand. So what is the connection between business wellbeing and personal wellbeing?

Leanne, I hope you're going to tell us all about it. Welcome to The Agenda.

Leanne Spencer 00:01:07

I will, and thank you.

Nisha Pillai 00:01:08

Now, 10 years ago or so, you yourself were a super stressed, time pressed executive, and then you pivoted your career into this area. How did that happen? Tell us about it.

Leanne Spencer 00:01:19

Well, like many of these things, it happened very, very slowly and then very quickly. I had 17 hour days in the city working as an account director for various different market data companies. And to start with, I loved the prestige, the excitement of it, the salary and all that kind of stuff.

But over a number of years, I've just become quite disenfranchised of what I was doing. I looked very different. So I was dressing in authentic way. You know, long hair, skirts, tights, heels and you know, you see me now. You're well entitled to laugh because it's very different.

Nisha Pillai 00:01:55

For those of you who can't see Leanne right now, listening to us on Spotify or Apple Podcast. Leanne is wearing a bright orange jumper, jeans and some very nice and comfortable looking trainers.

Leanne Spencer 00:02:07

Quite different from how I just described, yeah. I also found out I was mixing with people that I didn't match my values how to get out of bed if a deal was worth less than 50 grand and laughing because the BMW is parked outside, and they've no idea how they drove it home, all of that kind of thing. And that's just a small subset, of course.

I realise that I'm spending a lot of my time looking at the clock in the bottom right hand corner of my PC. Wishing days away, weeks away, months away. Life is short and precious, and I mean that in a very positive sense. I felt like I was wasting it.

I felt also like what I was doing is a bit like the myth of Sisyphus. You know, you roll the boulder up a hill and it rolls back down again. You roll it back up, it rolls back down. And it came to a head when I went into a meeting, I can tell exactly when it was, the afternoon of Friday, 23rd of March in 2012. and I was expecting a big deal to be confirmed.

I walk into the meeting and take off my coat. I'm drinking my little vending machine coffee in that squishy brown cup, and I look at the client, Gustav. And he says to me, Leanne, I'm really sorry, but there's no deal. My clients pulled out. Therefore, my data was not required for a system that wasn't going to be built. And I knew then, you know what? Enough's enough.

Two-three stone overweight, chronically abusing alcohol, drinking bottle and half of wine every single night for 10 years. Sometimes double that. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes at lunch, always in the evening, and I'm burnt out. I'm burnt out because I'm doing something that doesn't meet any of my values. That is not representative of who I am. I'm bored. I'm unfulfilled.

So, I took the train home. I thought about it. So you could say the idea was sloshing around in my mind for the weekend, resigned on Sunday. It was accepted rather quickly on Monday morning. By Friday, that was it, the BlackBerry back, the pass...

Nisha Pillai 00:03:53

That was in the BlackBerry days.

Leanne Spencer 00:03:55

The BlackBerry days. That does takes me back slightly.

Nisha Pillai 00:03:57

That was so quick. How were you able to make such a quick, such a bold to decision?

Leanne Spencer 00:04:01

It was a quick, bold decision 10 years in the making, because it slowly was sort of disintegrating that aspect of my city career, and I knew I needed to do something completely different. Something that was predicated around health and wellbeing.

Something that enabled me to to get some some treatment for alcohol abuse and then give that up. And I'm celebrating coming up a decade of sobriety next April, but also do something that I was passionate about, that met my values, which I got much clearer on once I got myself out of the city as well.

So, I've got good experience of that kind of environment, but I'm also now doing something that I'm incredibly interested in, that allows me to live the type of life and lifestyle that I want to be living, which is the intersection of business and wellbeing.

Nisha Pillai 00:04:48

And what do business leaders make of this story that you tell? Do they connect with it or do they think, Leanne Spencer, she's way out there? I have no connection with that.

Leanne Spencer 00:04:59

No, I think they do, in the main, connect with it because a lot of the commonality is that they're always on environment that I found myself in, for example, the lack of any cadence in the way in which we're living our professional lives and social lives.

Cadence is having some ebb and flow, and I talk about my methodology, which I'm sure will come to the 'Agile Business Athlete'.

But it's looking at athletes like Serena Williams, not Wimbledon fit all year round. She'll know when her Wimbledon's or the Wimbledon and other big tournaments and personal events like her daughter, the birth of her daughter, and her daughter's significant events.

They will be her Wimbledon's, special predict when they are prepared for those by really doubling down on key elements of her wellbeing, deliver on that event, and then take some time out to recover. And that is cadence. That's predict, prepare, perform, and then recover.

Nisha Pillai 00:05:53

That is so interesting, Leanne. And how can we all learn from that? Because we're not athletes with a number of fixed championships in our programme that you can see down the year? What's the relevance to us?

Leanne Spencer 00:06:07

Yeah, of course. So I think if a leader sits down and thinks in the next three months, what are the big events that I need to be ready for now? In their personal life, that could be a house move. In a professional lives, that could be an IPO, I guess a significant event could be quarterly results. It could be a product launch. It could be a restructure. It could be a team. You know, a new hire coming in, perhaps. That would be a Wimbledon for someone at that level.

So, are they prepared for that? Have they given created some space before that big event to double down on sleep, to maybe make sure there's a couple of things in there they're really looking forward to fishing trip, golfing day, spa day, whatever it is, that just enables them to relax mentally and physically a little bit before they gave up for this big event.

Because what I think many, many leaders are doing now is expecting themselves to be Wimbledon fit all year round. So, there's no cadence. It's a flat line, it's a high line, it's a top line of high levels of performance with no opportunity to recover...

Nisha Pillai 00:07:15

That's fascinating. So you have to be kind to yourself before and after you have the really big, important moments in whatever it might be, business or personal life. Fascinating.

Leanne Spencer 00:07:26

To give you an example. Before today, so we're recording a podcast now and we've just had a two hour show, which we've been doing,  four or five hours to prepare for.

Last night, I did a light workout, had a massage, had someone come to the house and do a massage. That's available to everyone who's got a room and 70 quid, it's not super elite. Ate a meal. Went upstairs, read for an hour and a half. Light was off at 10:00.  There's nothing revelatory about that, and people said, my God, I never thought about it.

I made sure I did that so that today I'm at my best, and the afternoon is very light. There's hardly anything in there. A couple of things I've got to do just to de-load. And that's just from doing a 20 minute talk, and then a podcast. But you do need to get ready, and that's a micro example of what I'm talking about, rather than having things you're dashing straight into afterwards.

Nisha Pillai 00:08:18

So if you're running a big organisation, how can you give yourself permission to do that? The business leaders you work with, do they struggle with that?

Leanne Spencer 00:08:27

Some do, but most actually, the cadence that I introduce in the 'Agile Business Athlete' gives them permission in some respects. But also, I'm not talking about it when I say recovery, which I think is the key aspect of that methodology.

I don't need to teach anyone how to perform, certainly not at leadership level. They could probably school me on a single thing or two about perform. But the recovery piece is key, but I'm not talking about even an hour of a massage. I'm talking about slivers of recovery that they can have throughout the day, 60 seconds of breath work.

Sometimes when people are a couple of minutes logging onto a Zoom call, I'll look out the window on the side of the office, and just drift off for two minutes. I'm still present. I'm not like, oh sorry,  hi. I know when they come on, but I'm ready, but just allow my mind to drift off.

Looking out the window, sometimes my dog comes to the office and I'll just gaze across at her. We may stare in each other's eyes. And when you look into a dog's eyes as a little diversion for about 20 seconds or so, she gets a ton of oxytocin. But, so do I. The bonding connexion hormone. We get it if we were to hug even a stranger for 20 seconds. You both get oxytocin as a major caveat.

Don't do that, and definitely don't do that at the moment, but it's a little slivers of recovery. Planning a trip, looking at some photos on the wall of a holiday you're looking forward to, that's recovery, as well as the deeper stuff, the massage, the holidays, the finishing early on a Friday, and making sure you're not over-scheduled at the weekend. There's levels of recovery if there is anything.

Nisha Pillai 00:10:03

I think you're saying that even the most time pressed, super stressed executives can build in moments of recovery or moments of off time in their days.

Leanne Spencer 00:10:14

It is as little as I say slivers that can be put into the day, whether you actually can do those, or whether you're just taking those little minutes to relax, to breathe. Breathing has an incredibly powerful effect on your physiology.

It brings down blood pressure, it brings down resting heart rate. It can even, and I don't know the exact science about how long you need to be doing conscious deep breathing for, but it can take some of the cortisol out of the blood, and it's cortisol that makes us feel stressed. It's actually very important.

But at the right times, we want to manage it. You don't want a big flood of cortisol when you're about to open an early school or make a presentation to the company, you want to better manage it then.

Nisha Pillai 00:10:56

So what you're talking about, what we've been discussing or what individuals can do, to manage the stress in their life, to perform better, to recover and then move on to the next big challenge?

Leanne Spencer 00:11:08

To have longevity as well. It is health span, not lifespan, isn't it? Well, I say, isn't it? It's not an obvious thing. You know, often we think about living a long life as a mark of success. But if you go to 96, but from 74 onwards, you've had to be assisted in just about every function or something we were talking about, dementia.

You want to retain that cognitive prowess. You don't want that decline. It's actually health span. Put another way, energy span, not lifespan. I want to have the healthiest possible life for as long as possible to be as engaged and productive as possible.

Nisha Pillai 00:11:43

So what are the learnings from that at an individual level to whole organisations? How can you create healthy organisations and healthy workforces? Bearing in mind some of these principles we've been discussing?

Leanne Spencer 00:11:55

The big thing is culture, which if we were to sit here for hours we couldn't get to the point where every company has its own culture and you can put resources in place. You can have speakers come in and talk about this stuff with the culture needs to support wellbeing.

I think game changing companies will lead with wellbeing. It'll underpin all the major decisions they make. But in terms of influencing a company, assuming there is that cultural wellbeing, the leaders of the place that I would start, the leaders need to embody a culture of wellbeing.

Whether they're particularly sporty, or they just have a few little things they do keep them well. I think it needs to be role modelled by leaders.  It's OK to take these little breaks. It's OK to do this. Look, this is what I do, and it makes me feel mentally well. It gives me good resilience.

Resources throughout the company, training for managers to ensure that managers know what to spot when somebody's wellbeing might be slipping, when they're going from stress, which is a very normal scenario for us, to deal with as human beings, into chronic stress, which becomes OK if it's very intermittent. And as that moves towards burnout, which is obviously not OK, something we need to reverse very quickly. Training resources, role modelling are things that we can do.

Nisha Pillai 00:13:09

During the COVID pandemic, we've seen an epidemic of mental health problems caused by stress and anxiety.

Leanne Spencer 00:13:16

We are starting to see, I would argue.

Nisha Pillai 00:13:18

OK, maybe we're just at the beginning of a wave. You're the work you've done over the last 10 years. What can you take away from that, so that we can deal better with the anxiety and the mental health crisis that we are now confronted with?

Leanne Spencer 00:13:37

I think in large part it does come back to introducing cadence to the way we do things. I think we're going to need to recognise there's a lot of scar tissue, which is just another way of describing what you've just described.

Scar tissue from people coming back when they're having to leave dependents, you know, not wanting to come back into an office environment. It suited a lot of people. Equally, it hasn't suited a lot of people. So we're going to have a lot of scar tissue.

I think being aware of that, being mindful of that, letting people work in their own way again, having resources and training to be at a spot who's not doing so well, particularly in a remote world. But just changing the cadence at which, it comes back to that one word really, cadence, changing the cadence in which we do business.

It doesn't mean slowing down, selling less. It just means having having more cadence so that we don't expect people to be at their very best. Realistically, a rhetorical question, but in the last 12 months, have you been at your best every single day? I haven't. Nobody has. I haven't had huge highs and huge lows, but we can't expect there to be this, this flat line of top level performance all the time. We have to recognise that we need more of an ebb and flow.

Nisha Pillai 00:14:49

So, since you asked me a personal question, I work on a project basis, so it's much easier to include cadence if you work in that way. Because a project has a beginning and an end, you can give yourself a bit of time off before you start the next project.

But what about employees who don't work on a project basis? How do they build cadence into their life? How do their managers, their line managers, help them to do so?

Leanne Spencer 00:15:14

Line managers, I'd start there, need to be trained to see this model. What exactly does it mean? Am I supposed to let people go at three? Am I supposed to say 'no' to that piece of work because it bucks up against this piece of work? No, it doesn't.

It's introducing what I'm all about is small, almost imperceptibly, small changes over time will make a big impact, slivers of recovery. For instance, Dave Brailsford has this model of the aggregation of marginal gains, which is just small, little changes in the area of sleep, in the area of energy, in the area of mental wellbeing, for example resilience.

Small change, just like a one-two percent shift in a behaviour. Not that much in and of itself, but if you make a small incremental shift in that behaviour, and that behaviour, and that behaviour, brought together it has a much greater impact. So we're only talking about small little changes, perhaps put, in other words, the minimal effective dose.

What's the smallest thing that you could bring into your day that has a positive impact, particularly when it's aggregated over time? But it's so easy that if I said to you, let's make some changes. What could you do? I could definitely breathe for 60 seconds consciously. I hope you are breathing, consciously and deliberately for 60 seconds every hour, and I could do that four times today. But is that going to make any difference?

Tell you what, let's do it, because it's so easy that you're absolutely convinced you can do it. And then once that's bedded in, then perhaps look at something else.

Nisha Pillai 00:16:50

Do you think that the COVID pandemic means that this way of thinking, that embedding wellbeing into the way in which organisations work, its moment has come?

Leanne Spencer 00:17:02

Yeah. I think its moment has definitely come. I mean, one thing I've noticed from a business perspective, in the last 18 months, is that decisions around wellbeing firstly are being made.

And fruit bowl wellbeing as I call it, with no disrespect to the fruit bowl, but it is not a wellbeing policy. It's not a strategy. It's fruit on a desk. And even that's gone now because people are not all in one place. That's a thing of the past. Decisions on wellbeing are being made and they're being made quickly.

And I think we can definitely capitalise on that. But the time is now, not least that there's a shortage of labour, there's a shortage of people available for work. Companies are going to need to compete at the senior level. I think corner offices, company calls and bonuses are no longer going to be such a jewel.

I think it's going to be about true remote working. It's going to be about the wellbeing strategy a company has. Do they have a genuine lead with wellbeing policy or is this wellbeing wash? I think those companies will lose out on the talent, though they won't be recruited in, and they'll have difficulty keeping hold of people who've been there now, and who come into the organisation.

I think it's going to be imperative that companies really sit up and take notice of wellbeing.

Nisha Pillai 00:18:14

So do you think it should be a corporate, value wellbeing?

Leanne Spencer 00:18:16

Yes, it absolutely should. But you'd be surprised at how few companies have wellbeing as a stated value. I think that will change. I also think it should be a core competency.

So when somebody is recruited into a company as well as questions about their suitability as an engineer and previous companies they worked in and problem-solving and all of that. Questions also about how you look after yourself? and you don't want to ask intrusive questions, like what's your diet like, and do you know your digestive health?

That's for that individual. But questions about, you know, how how do you value sleep? What do you do when you feel like stress is creeping into chronic stress? What do you do if you have sleep problems over time? I don't think it's unreasonable to ask questions in that area because as an employer, I think I should have a responsibility towards educating you on the importance of those first critical things sleep, mental health, energy.

And there were others, as well. I don't think it's unreasonable. I should have an interest in that and provide you with resources and tools, and so on. And as an individual, I think that's the three things that you should also be very interested in for yourself.

So there's kind of perfect 360 there. Wellbeing is a core competency, and then questions also a prospective candidate around how have you spotted signs of poor stress in your teams before? What have you done? What more would you love to do if you had a free rein?

Nisha Pillai 00:19:38

That managers should actually be assessed for these as part of...

Leanne Spencer 00:19:42

You can. You can spot that in the team. Managing a team is looking after a group of people and having everyone pulling in the same direction when it is needed whilst allowing diversity to flourish within the team, of course.

Knowing what questions to ask, what to look for, the different presentations of burnout because it can vary quite a bit and it can be subtle.

Nisha Pillai 00:20:00

On a slightly different point, as our conversation is drawing to a close, I know that you personally are a diversity role model. What do you get out of that? Why?

Leanne Spencer 00:20:09

For the benefit, everyone is not sure what that is. It's a charity. And what we do is we go into schools and we either speak as role models or facilitate workshops to combat the effect of homophobic, bi-phobic and transphobic bullying.

And I got involved with it because as someone who's in the queer community or the LGBTQ+ community, same thing, I wanted to get involved and do something in that area. And we still have an issue with the language is used in schools, and in other places as well.

So I wanted to get involved in that, and it's incredibly powerful. It's incredibly energising, but also very intense. You know, you're doing five back-to-back classes like a school day, talking to 30 plus kids.

Nisha Pillai 00:20:51

It sounds like you yourself get a lot.

Leanne Spencer 00:20:52

I get a lot for me, as well as the ability to convey a message, which just be kind to each other. Be careful what language you use. Be an ally.

Nisha Pillai 00:20:58

What would your message be then? Not just for kids, but for every leader out there of a large organisation?

Leanne Spencer 00:21:05

Well, ultimately, it would be to consider two notions, that the idea of health span, not lifespan. So going as hard as you can for as long as you can is not going to give you that longevity of health span.

But also that word again, cadence. Think about introducing some cadence, and it's not a set of large changes. It's small changes that you could subtly weave into your lifestyle, that would give you greater longevity, give you more energy, so you can have a beat, burn out and have more fun.

That's essentially what my work is all about. And in you doing that, you will be role modelling that to the rest of the company, and the company itself will have more longevity as well. That's how you grow that. That's how you'll thrive, particularly coming out of the pandemic.

Nisha Pillai 00:21:53

That's an inspirational message, and I myself am going to do the 60 seconds of breathing right away. First though, let me say a big thank you, Leanne, for joining us on The Agenda.

Leanne Spencer 00:22:03

Absolute pleasure. Thanks, Nisha.