COVID-19 – Don’t Quit

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Back in early April as the grip of COVID-19 tightened around the UK, the BBC presented a message of hope – Idris Elba read the poem Don’t Quit.

It took me back to my childhood as that is when I “discovered” the poem.  The BBC cited the author as John Greenleaf Whittier but the printed version I have kept for over 40 years simply states “Anonymous”.  There has been a dispute that it was actually written by Edgar A. Guest and originally called “Keep Going” but even if the author is in doubt, the strength of its message during the pandemic, to me, is unquestionable.

On Day 58 of our lockdown I find “Don’t Quit” even more relevant.  A very much needed positive mindset boost.  “The silver tint of the clouds of doubt” is maybe my pandemic “silver lining”. It is that glimpse of hope when everything seems hopeless.

My business, like millions of others, is unrecognisable from late February – how quickly life has changed, and priorities altered.   Do you furlough yourself and “rest if you must” or as a company Director, continue at a financial loss to market your business as “you may succeed with another blow”? 

Each of us will faces different challenges around the work that we do – this poem may help you if “the road your trudging seems all uphill”.  You may find other inspiration within its verse.

For me, the “twists and turns” are all the shocking new statistics we hear on a daily basis, the global events, stories, surprises, limitations, successes, and failures that we are all undeniably witnessing.

But do we stop and give up?  Do we stop dreaming, hoping, searching, or trying to make the best out of each locked down day? John Greenleaf Whittier suggests we do not. We simply do not quit.

The science around COVID-19 is currently neither exact nor conclusive. No country is yet 100% in control of the pandemic or its impact on the lives of its citizens. So, for the vast majority the surrounding circumstances will be the most challenging they have every faced.

When you are out of control, when you cannot fix things, when your helplessness starts to overwhelm, then all we as individuals can do is to take back control.  We cannot control the circumstance around us, but we must be brave enough to take control of how we respond to them.   We cannot and will not quit.  That is going to be a whole lot easier if we do it together.

So, in Mental Health Awareness week, seek out those that you have not heard from recently, send texts or emails to friends or relatives that you may have lost touch with.  Phone people or even write a letter or post a card!  Set up virtual meetings even if the person has never done it before.  Even if you are in isolation and continue to social distance it does not mean you should leave others alone.  Even if you do not believe you have the energy or desire to do it – try – stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit.  It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit



When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit


Worry and fear can also impact our confidence dramatically

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Even for the most experienced professional self-confidence can be damaged by events with high impact (health worries, financial changes, job changes, family concerns), and COVID19 most definitely ticks those boxes!

Confidence returns/grows when you take positive action and face challenges that you find daunting.  The more you push yourself (in small ways) the more progress you make, and your inner support crew enables your confidence to grow/return.

During my 121 mentoring I work with many clients who have experienced confidence issues and my advice remains the same even in these unique times.   Here are a couple of tips if you are struggling with your own confidence right now:

TIP 1: Use auditory cues to retrain your brain – make a song list of uplifting songs and associate them with positive messages [e.g. “I’m strong”, “I’ve got this”,  confidence is just another skill – I can develop it with practice] so when you play the songs it reminds you of your messages or with an overall goal to increase your confidence.

Tip 2:  Use visual reminders – post it notes on a bathroom mirror, PC desktop, iPhone screen.  Pick two or three positive statements and create positive visual reminders and place them somewhere where you will keep reading them. E.g. caring about my family IS my job right now, 2020 is about learning about a new version of me which will be even better

Forcing yourself to change your mindset and think positively will work.  It’s about getting from a fixed to a growth mindset in difficult times when your inner self isn’t helping you as much as usual.

Worry and fear can also impact our confidence dramatically.  In the movie After Earth, there is a powerful scene where Will Smith’s character prepares his son to face the dangers they are about to encounter. Fear is not real,” he says. “It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.”

Choose to be positive, don’t let your own thoughts make you fearful and take action (however small) and then anything is possible 😊

Authentic leadership

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Last month I posted on LinkedIn my top 10 leadership behaviours using the info-graphic below and followed it up with a short video .  The first posting reached over 1700 people and the video over 400 so I was pretty happy with the reach and I received a number of messages and emails and one in particular stood out.

One person contacted me and said they would like to challenge the leadership behaviours I had published – in particular he asked me why I had not included authenticity.  Our conversation was so engaging I asked if it would be OK if I wrote about it and here, we are 😊

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Being comfortable feeling uncomfortable

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As I run my own company I have to juggle things around a bit to make sure I spend my time earning money as well as investing time in exploring new avenues with new clients (some people would call that marketing but I’m not going to compare my activities with those of true marketeers as I know there are very few similarities 😊.   

Marketing makes me feel uncomfortable.  Networking makes me feel uncomfortable.  Infact anything that requires me to sell myself makes me feel uncomfortable.   Most of my work thankfully comes from repeat business (~50%), with referrals probably around 30%, leaving a somewhat generously calculated 20% for uncomfortable marketing activities that I have to partake in and which this year I have to say I’ve seen greater success.  You see just because something makes me feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean I can’t, or don’t do it.

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Are you holding out for your holiday from work or worrying about it?

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Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash


As I am sure you know there is lots of research that demonstrates the value of sunshine, being outdoors and basically enjoying the summer months.  There is no doubt with the vast majority of people I talk to their spirits are lifted with the lighter mornings and longer days.  Just the simple option to sit outside after a day at work makes it feel like you aren’t working 24/7 and there is more to life.  It’s a more positive time of year for many.

However, I have also noticed with a number of leaders I have mentored they appear to be “holding on” for their planned summer break.  They have placed a significant amount of importance on “getting away for a bit”, or “spending quality time with family” or “not having to do the commute”.    They talk about their vacation/holiday as if it is a magical period that once they leave work and embark on it somehow that short period of time will not only replenish their energy levels and allow for more positive relationships but it will rather miraculously make everything at work be better when they return.

In addition, there is a third category in an even more difficult place.    These people work even more ridiculously long hours on the run up to their holiday (business standards organisation Investors in People report 51% of people work extra hours before their holiday), they explain why they absolutely have to take a couple of critical calls when away and why their mobile phone will be used to check their emails so they can stay “on top of everything”.  They are completely convinced all they need is a week (or 2 if their family insists) away physically but need to stay connected “a little”.  If asked what happened last year, many will repeat the same story – explaining it’s just the way it has to be “working at this level” or “working here”.  To be honest I can hear myself saying very similar statements in the past and finding it difficult to break away.  I had amazing people around me so there was no real need to stay connected and it took my a few years to bring in the change to take a real break.  What tipped the balance was being hypocritical when almost insisting others forgot about work while on holiday when I didn’t – it became a credibility issue and appeared as a lack of trust in my teams so I wasn’t helping myself or others.

This is not just a seniority or UK issue but I can comment more on the UK as I’ve seen the statistics and according to a YouGov/Croner poll report, only one in three UK employees take their full holiday entitlement. Many people are reluctant to take annual leave because of the challenging economic climate, feeling compelled to work longer hours and take less days off.     Add to that heavier workloads (because employee levels are kept lower) and tighter deadlines and the pressure to perform to the highest standards builds – even if this means not taking necessary breaks from work.

Let’s be clear – everybody needs a break to relax and unwind.   The best thing you can do for yourself, researchers suggest, is look at time off from work as a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle.

Sounds logical – should be easy but still so many people struggle to get the balance right and to leave work alone for a short period of time.  If you can’t convince yourself that your health is the most important thing, or your friends and family need time with you or that you’ll actually be less impactful by working more, then connect with me.  I will happily book a session with you to talk about your challenges this summer (or any holiday period) and how it is possible to overcome any obstacles to taking time off even it means planning now for your next holiday!

An exercise to help you define what “leadership” means to you

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I am currently designing a modular based leadership programme Follow a Leader’s Journey© using insights, tools and techniques from my own career on areas that I believe were instrumental in my own leadership development.  I’m hoping my learnings and experience will inspire those that attend to embrace their own authentic leader’s journey.

I’m so excited by all areas of leadership it has been tricky to narrow it down to the topics I believe will bring the greatest value and therefore success to others.  I’m not going into the programme content or design here because it is the process of deciding what to focus on that I found interesting as a blog topic. I hope you do too!

Narrowing it down

I decided to start by writing down what I see as the enablers of memorable leadership (i.e. what does my own experience tell me and what do I hear people say when I ask them about their leadership role models – “what did they do that made you see them as a role model?”.  I asked myself – what really allows a leader to influence people to achieve something together?   I ended up with enough potential content for a 6-year programme!

I then decided to try a different technique – one I use sometimes when I want to trust my inner me and let ideas flow.  Below is the outcome of this exercise.

You will see the word LEADERSHIP in purple across the center of the page.  This simple exercise was to find words that have a connection for me to leadership and fit them up or down corresponding letters.

Clearly it isn’t rocket science – there are so many letter combinations the critical readers will say any word would fit.  Maybe they would.  But without studying my output try the exercise yourself.

There are lots of ways to complete the “puzzle” but even if you take the simplest approach of writing down all words that come to mind and then force fitting them into LEADERSHIP you will still have too many words and you will have to make choices.

Lesson learned

I left out so many key word like vision, communication, empowerment and included words that I know some people will question have any link to leadership.  But you see that’s the lesson – I had to prioritize based on what connected me to leadership and make difficult choices that fitted with my values and my preference.  Leadership is personal and this exercise reinforced that to me.

When I finalized the puzzle and looked at it again the following day what heartened me was it was largely reflecting HOW a leader should BE and not WHAT a leader should DO.  Perhaps at an earlier stage of my career my focus would have been different and words like accountable, strategic, agile, team work, decision making would have appeared.

Reflecting on why

When I looked at the words I had chosen some were because of experiences I had during my career that I knew made a difference to people at work (e.g. at Roche Wellbeing was not just a through-away word – there was true commitment and encouragement to “Live well, find your balance “.

Below are other thoughts, quotes or feedback I’ve had in the past that perhaps drew me to pick the words.

Influence: “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” – John C. Maxwell

Wellbeing: Live well, find your balance (a wellbeing week held at Roche sites once a year to promote awareness of and education about healthy lifestyles, nutrition, emotional wellbeing as well as resources offered by Roche to its employees).

Motivate: “What I have learned is that people become motivated when you guide them to the source of their own power and when you make heroes out of employees who personify what you want to see in the organization.”  Anita Roddick

Diversity: As a leader it is importance to promote acceptance, respect, and teamwork despite differences in race, age, gender, native language, political beliefs, religion, sexual orientation, or communication styles.  For me I wanted to surround myself with people that not only embraced those but also thought differently – I have always delighted in honesty and diversity of thinking.

Engagement: Ultimately a leader is not judged so much by how well he or she leads, but by how well he or she serves.   The more you engage with those around you from a place of service, the more effective you will be at harnessing their talents, and the stronger the results you will achieve through them.

Courage: I think courageous leadership is not fearing being different because when all we do is try to fit in, we negate the difference our difference makes.  I also think speaking up takes courage and sometimes I got it right and sometimes I did not.  I’ll always remember my boss at Roche writing in my leaving announcement “I knew I would be working with someone…. very different from me and who will unhesitatingly enlighten me in the areas where I lack natural insights” 😊

Inspire: Literally means “to breathe life into” – so for leadership it’s about giving life to a vision that really motivates people.  It’s about believing in people so they feel you’ve breathed life into them so much so they share your vision and have a real desire to reach your shared goal.

Change: It’s a reality of day-to-day life inside and outside of work.  Today it is not about a leader sponsoring a change initiative or budgeting for posters or t-shirts.  Leaders have to embrace a culture of co-creation, create communities and listen to people because that, alongside a shared vision, is what will change an organisation. The Global Head of my change group at Roche enlightened me very early on that “organisations don’t change – people do”.

Authentic: Tell stories – about yourself in particular.  When you share your own opinions, thoughts, fears, choices, challenges, failures and decisions and talk or write about it people will begin to see who you are and what you stand for – it makes you genuine. Authentic leaders tend to be genuine, transparent and trustworthy, display a strong moral code and can be counted on to keep their word.

Passion:  I have to be honest and say I struggled to not be too passionate from an early age.  Even at school one of my teachers wrote “Jacqui needs to learn to channel her passion….”  😊   I still believe you should be passionate about what you believe in and live by your values – as a leader don’t look upwards for instructions or downwards for gratitude.

Passion, like negativity, is contagious. “Rather than trying to light a fire under people, great leaders light a fire within them. So, are you clear on what it is that you are truly passionate about … and do you inspire passion in others?” Todd Cherches

Over to you

Now you have your words representing LEADERSHIP, take some time to consider why they arrived in your final selection.  Then if you are a leader or an aspiring leader honestly ask yourself “how am I doing and where do I need to focus more?”  If you are a courageous leader – share your story and ask those around you the same question.  Be genuine 😊

Why do some new leaders like to “shake it up?”

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Everything is working well in your eyes, perhaps some minor adjustment could happen if there was time, and then a new leader comes into position and –WHAM – everything changes. 

 What drives a new leader to want to makes changes?  


New leaders that have been hired internally do not have the same opportunity to build a reputation from scratch the way external candidates do.  They have “history” and in some cases this can create a desire to launch into a new role vigorously in order to prove themselves (or dis-prove any concerns of others).    

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Why Managers need to take time to reflect

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Year End!

I can easily recall a time when myself and the managers around me found ourselves in the joys of October to December (Q4) where performance reviews, budget completion and preparation, annual objective planning, salary assessments and goal evaluations all merged into weeks of lengthy emails, complex spreadsheets, endless meetings, discussions, videos and debates.     There never seemed to be a period of “winding down” towards the end of the year.  In addition to the increased expectations and multiple deadlines, managers also had to think about resources and talent pipelines or redundancies or recruitment plans and make sure they kept their “manager” happy and approachable face on at all times.

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Can “something for nothing” be part of every workplace?

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something for nothing – phrase [PHRASE after verb]: If you say that someone is getting something for nothing, you disapprove of the fact that they are getting what they want without doing or giving anything in return.

My ideas for my blogs usually start with an experience or a memory and then I look around various social media sites to make sure no one else has written about the topic the same way I am thinking – from there I just let my thoughts flow.  This blog was inspired by a comment someone said to me last week “what do you get out of this”?

I am at the phase of my career where I spilt my time between working for clients and then volunteering my time to companies or individuals that I feel need a helping hand and may not have access to resources.  This month I launched anything is possible ltd 2017 social responsibility projects because I wanted to also bring it more formally into my business.  Don’t get me wrong – I need to work and so does my partner but we choose to work differently for this part of our careers after having been in a very busy, corporate job for decades and experiencing personal events that gave us great perspective and clarity on what is important to us.

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10 Clever Things Great Managers Do

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When I run courses for line managers or speak one on one with line managers I nearly always talk about the line manager sandwich – it’s not a pleasant analogy because it relates to the fact that line managers often “sit” in an almost impossible place in-between senior leaders and direct reports.  With everyone wanting something from them but not always getting much in return.   It often must feel like a no-win situation.  It therefore takes a special person to fill that sandwich.

A line manager is the first port of call for their reports; their supporter, motivator, teacher, counsellor, communicator and font of all knowledge.  The expectation is that a line manager knows everything that is going on but in reality, they often have to spend time extracting what they need to know from senior leaders, pushing for information and news, protecting their staff from unrealistic deadlines and impatient leaders and walking a precarious tightrope to manage everyone around them.

Senior leaders sometimes believe that line management isn’t a full time, dedicated job, or that line managers cannot manage people if they are too removed from “the business”.   This often results in line managers having dual responsibility for people and for business projects, activities, systems or processes.   Their sandwich then becomes a triple decker!   I could write an entire blog on the pitfalls of such an approach but suffice to say whatever approach an organisation takes they must follow one simple rule:  A line manager has to be able to put their line management accountabilities first.

In my experience expert line managers, comfortable in the sandwich do 10 very clever things:

  1. Proactively network with other line managers – because of their own challenges around access to information and timely communication they happily give and share information openly with each other. For example, when one has discovered the timelines that HR have set for goal assessments they quickly and expertly make sure everyone has the details.  Knowledge sharing and networking saves time and that’s the most precious commodity for a line manager
  2. Actively listen – not just acting as a sounding board (although this remains a regular occurrence) but listening attentively to what is being said and what is not quite being said, and demonstrating they ARE listening
  3. Treat people as unique individuals – when it comes to line management there is no “one size fits all” model. Employees are unique and have very different needs that change at different stages of their lives. Expert line managers know that and continuously adapt.
  4. Invest in employee engagement – the single best predictor of employee engagement is the employee’s relationship with their immediate line manager. When line managers are given time to manage effectively then they can demonstrate they care, they can show interest in their repots lives, they can care how their report feels and they can support their health and well-being.  They can show a genuine interest which fosters a strong relationship.
  5. Understand their role in managing change – change in organisations isn’t an event it’s now a way of working. Managing through constant change takes resilience and that is what great line managers have.  They can be agents for change and help others to explore and commit to change
  6. Create trusting relationships through vulnerability – this is with those more senior than them. By expertly talking about and describing the impact behaviour, lack of information, poor communication, ineffective change leadership or other challenges are having on people in the organisation, the line manager can be the eyes of the organisation for senior leaders.  By carefully sharing the reality rather than trying to fix or hides things very powerful, trusting relationships are created.
  7. Remove obstacles – understanding what is keeping people from moving forward to do their job or increase their knowledge or progress their career and put in place a framework to overcome the obstacles that can mean direct reports can move forward (however small the steps may be)
  8. Adopt a growth mindset – line managers that ensure their direct reports maintain a growth mindset (believe that failures and setbacks always provide an opportunity to learn and improve) help develop employees with perseverance and a passion for long term goals (both personal and professional).
  9. Understand the importance of delegation – creating an environment where the line manager is actively relying on others to help carry projects/business goals.  Still informed, but letting others lead so they can grow their abilities and perspective
  10. Laugh – It may well be a coping mechanism to survive the roller-coaster world of line management but successful line managers I have worked with don’t take themselves too seriously and make sure fun and humour is part of work. People like to laugh and it’s good for wellbeing so strong line managers never forget to bring fun into the work place.


I know from personal experience when I was a leader my global departments greatly benefited from the partnerships I had with the line managers I was lucky enough to have alongside me.  At times of expansion they had to drive the recruitment and training of new team members and yet in times of reorganisations then had to play key roles in redundancies or restructuring.

My managers were well positioned to identify problems with our strategic planning and their input was essential for organizational learning when planning for and executing organisational change initiatives.

Now working at Anything Is Possible I strive to make sure the leaders I work with appreciate sandwich they can create for their line managers and make sure they appreciate the clever things they do.


Jacqui Spencer