Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #51 Performing under Pressure in Leadership and Sport with Mylène Baxter

May 01, 2023 Jean Balfour Season 2 Episode 51
Ep. #51 Performing under Pressure in Leadership and Sport with Mylène Baxter
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
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Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #51 Performing under Pressure in Leadership and Sport with Mylène Baxter
May 01, 2023 Season 2 Episode 51
Jean Balfour

I'd love to hear any questions or comments you have about the show. Send me a message! Jean

How well do you perform under pressure? Join Mylène Baxter, executive coach and equestrian psychologist in this latest episode of Making Sense of Work. 

She shares psychological commonalities between competitive horseback riding and leadership in the workplace and also the factors that affect one’s confidence, motivation, and capacity to perform effectively when confronted with pressure.  

Jean and Mylène discuss: 

  1. The parallels between equestrian psychology and leadership 
  2. How mindset affects our performance at the moment and what we can do about it
  3. What is required of leaders to perform under pressure.

Meet Mylène Baxter
Mylène Baxter is an executive coach, talent and Leadership Consultant and Equestrian Psychologist–as well as being of the faculty member of Bailey Balfour. Previously, she was the Director of Talent Development and Communications reporting to the CEO, and with 25 years experience working at a senior level in global commercial organisations. 

Mylène Baxter understands the challenges faced by leaders and senior teams. Her interest is in helping leaders change their own beliefs and behaviours to influence change in their teams and the wider organisation. Mylene’s coaching philosophy is that everyone is resourceful and has the answers within themselves–these answers may not be clear at first, but with help and a desire to change, they soon emerge.


Book recommendation: Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff: https://www.amazon.com/Self-Compassion-Proven-Power-Being-Yourself/dp/0061733520

Experience an Introduction to our Coach Training Programmes with our Free Taster Course: https://courses.baileybalfour.com/course/coach-training-introduction

Sign up to our newsletter to learn more about upcoming programmes: https://baileybalfour.com/subscribe/

Show Notes Transcript

I'd love to hear any questions or comments you have about the show. Send me a message! Jean

How well do you perform under pressure? Join Mylène Baxter, executive coach and equestrian psychologist in this latest episode of Making Sense of Work. 

She shares psychological commonalities between competitive horseback riding and leadership in the workplace and also the factors that affect one’s confidence, motivation, and capacity to perform effectively when confronted with pressure.  

Jean and Mylène discuss: 

  1. The parallels between equestrian psychology and leadership 
  2. How mindset affects our performance at the moment and what we can do about it
  3. What is required of leaders to perform under pressure.

Meet Mylène Baxter
Mylène Baxter is an executive coach, talent and Leadership Consultant and Equestrian Psychologist–as well as being of the faculty member of Bailey Balfour. Previously, she was the Director of Talent Development and Communications reporting to the CEO, and with 25 years experience working at a senior level in global commercial organisations. 

Mylène Baxter understands the challenges faced by leaders and senior teams. Her interest is in helping leaders change their own beliefs and behaviours to influence change in their teams and the wider organisation. Mylene’s coaching philosophy is that everyone is resourceful and has the answers within themselves–these answers may not be clear at first, but with help and a desire to change, they soon emerge.


Book recommendation: Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff: https://www.amazon.com/Self-Compassion-Proven-Power-Being-Yourself/dp/0061733520

Experience an Introduction to our Coach Training Programmes with our Free Taster Course: https://courses.baileybalfour.com/course/coach-training-introduction

Sign up to our newsletter to learn more about upcoming programmes: https://baileybalfour.com/subscribe/

Jean:

Hi everyone, and welcome to Making Sense of Work. Oh, today I'm joined by my dear friend and colleague, Mylene Baxter. Welcome Mylene.

Mylene:

Welcome. Thank you. Thank you for having me today, Jean, and so good to talk to you as ever.

Jean:

you. And you. So Mylene is an executive coach, talent and leadership consultant and equestrian psychologist. We're gonna hear more about that later uh, as well as being on the faculty of Bailey Balfour. Previously she was director of talent development and communications reporting to the CEO in an engineering firm. And with 25 years of experience at a senior level in global commercial organizations, she really understands the challenges faced by leaders and senior teams. Her interest is in helping leaders change their own beliefs and behaviors in order to influence change in their teams and in the wider organization. Her coaching philosophy is that everyone is resourceful and has the answers within themselves, even though these answers might not be clear at first. But with help and a desire to change, they soon emerge. And I would say having been coached by Mylene, that she is an exceptional coach. More recently, she has also combined her passion for coaching and for dress art, and has started coaching professional rider to prepare mentally to perform at their best in national and international competitions. We have known each other for 20 years. I worked out, and we first met when we joined our lovely friend, Val, to be a peer coaching trio really, and for many, many years. We met several times a year to share our. Career stories and where we were and our opportunities and our challenges. And I'm incredibly grateful to you both because I don't think that I would've done some of the things I did without your support, and you and I and Val, I think are living proof of the power of peer coaching. So I'm grateful to you for that. Mylene. Oh, thank you for joining us today.

Mylene:

Well, thank you Jean. I remember these sessions very well and I think we are all spread on, you know, the, Both sides of the world now, but I remember this sessions very well. I always remember leaving these sessions having replenished my oxygen tank and feeling re-energized to face whatever it was that I was facing. So yes, absolutely

Jean:

They were wonderful. They were, they were always made better by the fact that we met in very beautiful hotels

Mylene:

indeed,

Jean:

to

Mylene:

indeed, indeed. And we always found something to celebrate. I think celebration was also

Jean:

We did well, there was a lot to celebrate. We all, you and val particularly, just some extraordinary things during that period. So,

Mylene:

Hmm.

Jean:

so how's work at the moment?

Mylene:

Work is, good work has, you know, gone through a lot of change. Thank you for just reminding me about the journey that I've been on and certainly the last three years of, Have been a big change for me from a, a busy corporate life to a life where I'm now working, and working for myself and working with you. So completely, reorganized my day, my priorities. But it's good. I'm really, really enjoying it and I feel privileged. I genuinely feel privileged and lucky every day to remind myself that I'm doing what it is that I love doing. So, you know, I feel very blessed for this. So work is good. Thank you.

Jean:

Wonderful. So that leads nicely into to the next thing that I'd like to ask you, which is, when you have a really good day at work, what does that look like?

Mylene:

With the word that comes to mind, Jean is balance. and balance has always been a topic that I've brought to coaching and certainly it's a topic that people bring to coaching is finding the right balance. And I'm not just talking about balance of work and life, but I'm talking about balance of energy. Balance of, replenishing energy levels as well as, you know, giving energy and spending energy. And for me, the perfect day is one, when I feel that my energy is, plentiful to be able to share it with the people I coach. and at the same time, I find time to replenish it. So, you know, and for me, coaching is a way to gain energy. I feel very energized after a coaching session, but at the same time, I'm conscious that you give ed energy to other people when you coach. So, a balance there would be a day where I would coach, and at the same time, I find other ways, whether it's reading or learning or teaching or riding or walking where my energy would be replenished. So that's, that's a perfect day for me. That's. Does that,

Jean:

gorgeous. It does. It does. Yeah. No, the idea of finding that sweet spot, isn't it? Between the things that both give us energy but also require energy, and then the things that feed us. That give us energy back. Yeah.

Mylene:

Yes. I think feeding us it's is the right word.

Jean:

I shared a little bit about you and your career, but it would be really lovely if you could share a bit too about how you came to be doing the work that you are doing. What was your journey?

Mylene:

So my journey was never one initially where I knew exactly what it is that I wanted to do in life. It became clear. I remember vividly, it was at the turn of the, you know, in the I guess 20th century when I was working for a large construction company that was bought by an Australian company. And I remember this Australian company being so, so focused on people and at the time I was working in marketing and their interest in people and in people development interested me. I moved to that company. to lead what was known at the time of the, as their foundation, which was just purposely designed to develop people, but not just people as employees, but people as family members, people as community members. And I thought he was so forward looking. Um, I absolutely loved it and I knew at the time that had found my purpose. and from then, Started to be involved in learning and development and training and then change industries, but continued in that path of developing others. Then got my coaching qualification and if you remember, we went on that journey together, of learning how to coach. so my last job as director of people development and communication was just about that. It was about, People engagement. It was about development, it was about talent. and there was something else as well about the culture and the importance of culture, which I think is a topic on its own cuz it fascinates me. But the importance of organizational culture. And yes, and the role of leaders and helping leaders raise their own awareness. And personal awareness. So these are topics that really interested me. And then in parallel to that, I started, you know, I, I love dressage. That's been my passions ever since I was a child. Uh, I have my own horse and I went through the highs and lows of. Succeeding in failing as a rider and the emotional rollercoaster and the loss of confidence, the loss of self-belief. And I thought, oh, this is interesting. There's a lot there that I do in my corporate role supporting people with gaining confidence, with gaining self-belief, with recovering from setbacks. So I started to coach myself, I guess, in it, but I started to coach others. And I thought, I want to do a little bit more of that. So it was my incentive to think, well, I've, given what I could to the corporate world, I'm just going to grow this and continue to support leaders, and now this is what I do. So yes, support writers, amateurs, professionals to, I guess, to be and enjoy their horses and be the best they want to be. Whatever their dressage. Or even riding ambition is

Jean:

Hmm. Yeah. It's amazing because you've described a journey of discovering passion and then connecting your. Passions really discovering purpose, connecting riding and coaching and psychology, and bringing it all together, and that's really amazing to be able to do that

Mylene:

absolutely. Absolutely. And I really am where I want to be right now. Do doing this. Absolutely. And it's been through a personal journey of self-discovery. And I think when, as you know, when you learn to be a coach, you grow for this massive learn, you know, journey of self, self-discovery, self-awareness, and personal growth as well, which I think helps us be, you know, become the coach that we are.

Jean:

Yeah. Yeah. That journey continues.

Mylene:

Absolutely.

Jean:

So it would be great to hear a little bit about, this work that you're doing in the equestrian field. And I wonder if you could start by talking a bit about the, the relationship between mindset and performance and how they're connected.

Mylene:

Well, it, it's interesting in the sports world, and maybe I know more about the. Dressage or equestrian, you know, world. I've always noticed that riders spend a lot of money training their horses, training themselves, work on their own fitness, but very few work on their mind on getting mentally prepared to do what they want to be, to reach their goals. And for me, what I've noticed is that this mindset is the difference between. Winning and losing. It's the difference between performing and not performing. It's the difference between being focused or losing focused. So it so much happens in our minds, which can affect our ability to perform, whether we compete internationally, or whether we just want to go on a ride in the countryside and enjoy it. So, once people realize that, they say, wow, we really need to work on this. I really need to improve my belief, my enjoyment. so it has a absolute, you know, it's so closely linked together. and that's what I do. I just get people to understand. How they get in the way of themselves really. And with writing the challenge is that it's two athletes working together and in dressage in particular, and I always say the writer is the conductor, but imagine you have an orchestra. If your mind is too busy, you will play the wrong music and the horse will perform the wrong. The wrong music. The more focused you are, the more clear you are about your instructions. The more confident you are, then the better the music will be. so it's absolutely essential,

Jean:

And what have you learned about Um, I was gonna say the right mindsets, but there probably isn't one mindset, but there's probably different ways of being that are helpful for people.

Mylene:

I guess the challenge or what you are aiming for is to be. To be present, to be absolutely focused in what has happened in the here and now. When people approach a competition, their mind is really busy. They anticipate what the score is going to be. They might be worried about who's watching them. They're worried about the weather, they're worried about their horse. They're worried about other people's expectations of them. They're worried about their own expectations of themselves, which creates a lot of noise. which then, Can generate so much worry that they lose the ability to be really focused on the here and now, what they need to do, how they need to ride, feeling the horse, feeling the movements, and really just riding the test. The dressage test is four minutes, five minutes at all. So they have four minutes to be absolutely focused and let go of everything or anybody. That just doesn't need to be in their mind. And that's what we work on. We work on being in the here and now reacting to the here and now. And yes, and that's, you know, I find that sometimes it's also challenge that leaders face, you know, it's just, I need to clear my mind with the noise, with the worry of. what if, I guess, to really say right now, what's the best decision I can make right now? What's the best movement? How am I gonna do, what decisions do I need to make? So that's, that's what we work on.

Jean:

Yeah, that parallel is, is particularly at the moment where things are moving and changing so fast, the sort of, the parallel to being in the arena to being a leader is so clear, isn't it? That we, we can only come into the moment and see you with the information we have in the moment. Think what's the best thing to do now.

Mylene:

Absolutely. And I've always found that there is a parallel, you know, leaders under pressure to make decisions. Most of the time with incomplete information, incomplete data, with a constantly evolving environment. and as we know, the environment at the moment is, so different from what anybody would've said even two years ago. So in absence of this perfect data, perfect information, perfect environment, you have to make a decision which influences people around you. And as a writer influences the performance of your horse. And yet you need to decide and you need to be focused to make the best decision that can be made right in that moment. and it can be lonely. It is a lonely, Process, I guess. So the support they get from somebody to just listen to them or hear them is important.

Jean:

Really important. Yeah. Yeah.

Mylene:

Absolutely.

Jean:

Without giving away the secrets of the trade, how do you help riders do that? Because it's about, I imagine, really silencing all those voices in our heads that are going on. If you know, particularly if something goes wrong in the arena, you know, how do they get back into the present moment so they can keep going so that happens? What, how do you help people do that?

Mylene:

So one of the most powerful exercises that I do is visualization. so I actually, and I did this this week with a rider. We actually walked in the arena. In the arena, and I got her to really visualize being there it's really being in the moment competing, anticipating the crowds, the flags, the cameras, everything around her. And I could feel the tension grower. She was just really living the occasion. And then the next challenge was to say, okay, so you aware of this, and now I want you to really focus on what's going on with you. So visualizing the emotions. The movements, the occasion helped her just say, okay, I'm there and I make abstraction to all of this, and I'm gonna focus on what I need to do and what I need to do right now. So visualization is really powerful exercise, and it also allows you to visualize success. So you visualize the perfect movement, the perfect. test, which then helps you actually ride it when it comes to it. and it also helps you then react to the unexpected cuz you remember what you have to do. so that's one exercise. What I encourage riders to do is to really feel so they feel themselves. Feel their feet in the stirs, they feel their seat in the saddle, or they have ways to actually ground, you know, themselves in the current reality. So just, you know, the, I do an cycle to see and feel and, what do you see that Can ground you? What can you feel that can ground you, is really important so that in that moment when you feel distracted, They can just come back,

Jean:

Come back to the grounding. Yeah. Yeah.

Mylene:

centered.

Jean:

It's a shame. This is only audio because as you've been describing that you've actually been sitting in the saddle. I could see you sitting in the saddle yourself there. Suddenly your back went very straight and I guess those, you were living it then yourself, even as you were describing that visualization

Mylene:

Absolutely. And I can see, the, you know, riders just be really just change their body language, their um, physical presence, just by doing the exercise. And actually I have done this with leaders as well, just to. Breathe and sit, and step into their body is really

Jean:

yes. yes. I mean, I'm certainly noticing in my own coaching that I'm increasingly bringing in this I idea of grounding, because when situations are high pressure, Same in leadership. You know, people need to be able to ground to come back into that present moment, to find their breath, to find their feet on the floor, to feel that kind of centered nature in order to clear their minds in order to make the right decision in

Mylene:

Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, we talk a lot about the doing of leadership, but this is much about the being of leadership. So I think the more you are, the more able you are to do.

Jean:

Mm mm And you've talked a little bit about this, but it would be lovely to hear a bit about this kind of connection to communication. So you talked a bit about the connection between the rider and the horse, and that's a communication, a sort of two-way communication, and I'm curious about that, but I'm also curious about the parallel to leadership of that as well.

Mylene:

So somebody said to me, uh, recently, which I hadn't actually, Realized was the parallel process between, I guess, leadership and the people they want to engage and rider and the horse. So as a rider, you want to bring your horse with you. You don't want to do it by force. You want the horse to do this with you, and you are forever in a process of communication. So the horse is tense, you relax them, you are tense. The horse sometimes relaxes you. It's a constant. Process of communication. You know, I've heard riders said, I was really tense and my horse just said, no, I've got it. Just trust me. I get it. So just trust me. And I think there's something like that about communication within an organization with leadership and the teams. It's, you know, I don't believe it's a top down anymore where the communication comes from the top and. And people listen, and whatever the leaders says goes, it's a forever process of engagement in communication. You know, leaders engages their teams, listens to their team, listens to the knowledge and the ideas. Without that, I think they can't possibly respond on their own to the challenges. So that process of listening, of hearing, of feeling really the system. You know, I guess the system around them is also very important. They feel the pulse of the organization. They respond to it, they influence it, obviously. Um, it's really important and you know, we, we've talked about this sort of symbolic act of leadership in really feeling I guess that, yeah, that communication, I don't know whether I'm describing it very well.

Jean:

no, I can hear it really clearly. I can hear this. it's the subtle listening to each other, isn't it? It's that kind of being curious with each other and seeing how we can help each other in

Mylene:

those moments Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely. And it requires the willingness to do something without listening. So, you know, you are the person who's in charge, but you need authenticity and maybe vulnerability to say, oh, okay, I've heard you, and in this instance, I really need to hear this. I need to hear what's going on and respond to that. And the writer needs to do the same as well. not to enter a conflict, but to be, you know, mindful of somebody else having maybe the best answer in that moment.

Jean:

I've got such a beautiful picture of this and, I feel like I'm in the arena with you and your, your coaching clients as you're describing it, Mylene. let's gonna move on from that now and come back to you and a bit more about your experiences. so I wonder if you have any critical career moments or whether there's one in particular that's a particular learning p for that you could share.

Mylene:

think the moment that I described earlier when I suddenly realized, That, supporting people was going to be, my vocation. Vocation was very influential for me, and. I can't remember the exact day or time, but I remember what was happening around me and the dynamics of these organizations and me finding my path through it and then thinking, yes, I'm home. I know this is it. This is what I want to do. I'm at my best when I'm behind people supporting them. When I'm just, well, you know, when I always felt when I'm in the shadow, not in the shadows, but just, you know, giving that nudge or that challenge just to say, here you go, you can do this. and realizing that's what I wanted to do and what I was doing. It's probably the turning point, so yes, absolutely.

Jean:

It's great to hear you use the word vocation. We don't use that word often enough, I think, but when I hear you use that word, I think, oh yeah, you do have a vocation. It's had different expressions in your career, and yes, it's the same. Think it is that vocation to be there put your hand on people's backs and supporting them.

Mylene:

And it's interesting cuz sometimes clients come and say, you know, I don't, and they review their career or they just don't know, or they feel they need that vocation. They don't have it, especially at the early stages of the career. And I think it can emerge, you know, it's probably when in my forties that emerged. So, it doesn't have to be when you're 20 or 18 and sometime we ask these young people to make these decisions about what it is you want to do. Let it emerge. I guess you can. So I didn't think I had a vocation. I was younger. I know now this is what it is. So it does let it come through really, is

Jean:

journey, isn't it? Of things happening? Yeah. Hmm.

Mylene:

And as I said, I feel really lucky to be exactly where I want to be right now. having let all of these insights emerge and come to where it is where I am now.

Jean:

Wonderful. I would love to ask you a question about what it's like to be training on the coaching program. So you've been working training coaches now for nearly five years And that's a very different part of your journey, and what's that experience like?

Mylene:

Oh, I love it, Jean. I mean, you know, I love it. what I love about it, I love, uh, seeing people come on the program wanting to coach, wanting to become coaches, and some of them already having insight about what it is. Some of them just not knowing what it is. and as they start to coach, as they start to understand what coaching is about, realize that it requires them to be different. So, and most of the time the journey is, I'm brought up to solve problems. Pay to solve problems. What do you mean you are asking me not to solve my client's problems? And we don't. And they fight against that a little bit until they realized that, oh my, my god, there is a much more powerful to get people to, to make decisions. It was just to let them make their own decisions and just keep them, the space to think about their decisions. And when coaches get that, and they all do, it's phenomenal. and you know, when you get to the end of the program and people say, I'm you coach, I can coach. and they say, I've learned to listen. I listen to my family members more. I sit there, I give them the space. I don't feel the need to interrupt, and it changes the way they look at relationships they have with other people. It's great. It's really, really rewarding. So, I mean, if I'm a little bit, you know, a little part of that, then, That's fantastic.

Jean:

I agree. It is incredibly wonderful to be with people on that journey.

Mylene:

Absolutely.

Jean:

so final question from me. Do you have a book or a podcast that you would recommend?

Mylene:

Yes, there is a book that I read and read again, it's Self-Compassion by Christine Neff and actually the subtitle. They say, stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. And I love that book Because so often I hear people shooting themselves or just giving themselves such a hard time about who they would like to be, who this should be, and just having so little self-belief that I think. this book has really helped me just develop this muscle of self-compassion and just give myself a break, because I, for one, um, sometime need it. So a beautiful, beautiful book and I listen to it ever again as a reminder that self-compassion is important.

Jean:

Fantastic. Thank you. I also love that book and we will put a link to it in the show

Mylene:

Please. Yes, please do.

Jean:

Mylene, what a great conversation. You are so inspiring and this story and connection about riding and leadership is really fantastic and I believe will help people get a vis really lovely visual image of how to be as a leader. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today.

Mylene:

You're very welcome. It's been a pleasure, Jean. I always enjoy and love talking to you, so thank you for inviting me.

Jean:

My pleasure.