Tina Paterson has worked across 9 industries and 12 countries over the past 20+ years. She has led large departments across multiple locations, governed billions of dollars of assets and her teams have delivered Transformation Programs and Projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
She has achieved all this while raising 2 kids with her husband James, running marathons, raising a million dollars for charity and taking 3 month sabbaticals every 5 years with her family.
Following her own story of burn out (where she ended up in the local Emergency Department due to being at work with pneumonia), she now partners with large organisations (Microsoft, Amazon, GE and Sky to name a few) across 6 continents to help their Leaders to lead from anywhere and embed the strategies she has learned, lives and breathes.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Tina Paterson: I do what I do now because of one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my career. It was about eight years ago when I was working in a senior role in a fastpaced, global corporation. I really loved my job. I thought I had everything under control. I spent a lot of time with my husband, James, and our children, who were six and four at the time, and I felt like I was doing a good job at leading my team. I ran three times a week. I did yoga once a week. I caught up with my friends on a regular basis. I had balance, despite the demands of my intense corporate job.
One day, the CEO asked me to take on a special project in addition to my normal responsibilities. I saw it as a great opportunity to learn from him, so I was super excited to take on the project. And it was going to be great for my career. Why would I turn it down? Burnout doesn’t happen straight away. It took me about three months.
At night, I’d put the kids to bed, open my laptop, and sit on the couch to get some extra work done. At about 10 p.m., I’d clear out my email inbox. I’d work until midnight to try to get on top of things. I wanted to feel like I was in control. At 6 a.m., I’d get up, do what I needed to do to take care of the kids, and start my workday again.
At the end of each day, I’d take a look at my workload and make a decision. Do I go for a run or get more work done? Do I do yoga or do more work? Each time, I chose work. Even when it came to sleep, work won. After that, other bad habits crept in. I’d pick the kids up from school and day care, go home, and start thinking about what to make for dinner. Because I usually hadn’t given it any consideration beforehand, I’d look for the easiest option. And I ended up on this downward spiral until one weekend, when I knew I wasn’t well. On the Sunday night, I opened my work laptop. I stared at my calendar, with the goal to figure out when I could take a sick day that week. I thought a day off was all that was needed to make me feel better and then I’d be back to 100 percent.
But as I stared at my calendar, all I could see was important meetings. Every day. Monday through Friday was filled with important meetings, which left me no time for a day off to get better. So on the Monday, I simply showed up at the office for work. I was coughing and fighting fatigue, but I pushed through. By Wednesday, my cough was sounding like a barking dog. I just kept pushing. I was focused on getting to Saturday, thinking that would be my day to recharge. But on Friday, while meeting with my boss, he said, “Tina, are you OK?” He was genuinely concerned.
I paused, took a deep breath, and said, “No. I’m not.”
I knew we were in an important meeting, but I couldn’t function properly. I had to leave right then. I packed up my things and went straight to my doctor. Within five minutes, he sent me to the emergency department of my local hospital, where they diagnosed me with pneumonia. I had worked all week with pneumonia. As I lay there in the emergency department with James now by my side, I kept apologizing. I kept saying to him, “I tried to be strong and push through.”
I’ll never forget what he said to me. “Tina, no job is ever worth you lying here in the emergency department.”
Of course, I knew he was right. No job was worth being so sick that I needed that many painkillers and antibiotics running through me. But I didn’t
know how to fix my problem. I had prioritized everyone else over myself. My husband, my kids, my team, my stakeholders, my boss. My health came last. And while lying there in the emergency department, I thought, I’m not being a great leader for my team. I’m not being a great role model for them. I’m not being a great employee. I’m not being a great wife. Or a great parent. I hadn’t returned any of my friends’ phone
calls, so I thought, I’m not even being a great friend. I was putting everyone else first. James had called his parents to look after our kids so that he could be at the hospital with me. I felt like I was letting everyone down. The reality was, I had let myself down. That wasn’t the life I wanted. I didn’t want to be so exhausted that I needed the emergency department.
Telling this story now reminds me of the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water. If you put the frog in the water while it’s boiling, it immediately
jumps out. But if you put it in cold water and turn up the heat slowly, then it doesn’t realize it’s too hot until it’s too late. I was the frog and the pressure I had put myself under was the water with the heat slowly turned up. I’d been making micro-decisions, focused on work instead of myself, and that led to a serious burnout.
After taking a month to recover, I realized that I wanted a different life for me and my family. Even though I loved my corporate job and I wanted to continue to have a wonderful career, I had to make changes. I analyzed my old habits in detail and sprung into action. I took the time to look for every article, video, and piece of information I could find on how to have a successful corporate career AND a life outside of work. For me, that meant having a strong marriage and raising our kids aligned with our values. It also included yoga, running, giving back, traveling and many other activities associated with an active and meaningful life.
However, I became really frustrated, because all the advice I came across said the same thing. You’ve got to fit your own oxygen mask first.
It was an analogy. Like being on a plane where there’s an emergency, they always tell you to fit your own oxygen mask before you help someone else fit theirs. In other words, they were telling me that I couldn’t lead my team effectively or care for anyone else if I wasn’t taking care of myself. I got annoyed because I agreed with them. It made sense. However, every article, book, and video fell short of telling me how to do it.
I knew I needed to look after myself, but I didn’t know how. When I had back-to-back meetings from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and my “real work” started at five, when I had to pick up the kids, make dinner, and try to get eight hours of sleep, that seemed like an impossible task. How could I fit it all into twenty-four hours? So, I went on this journey of discovery, experimenting with different work, productivity and well-being hacks. I read everything I could find on the subject, to find out the secret to this thing called work-life balance. I wanted to know what actually works for a leader in a fast-paced company, not just the theories.
Every time I found a nugget, something I wanted to experiment with, I’d ask myself, “Could this work for me? Could I apply this to my role as a senior leader in a large, global company?” I wanted to work out which tips were practical, realistic, and sustainable. To do this, I’d try them on myself, and check to make sure they stuck over time.
Once I started seeing results, I started teaching my teams, colleagues, and mentees how to apply them too. In parallel, I knew my leadership style was different from most other corporate leaders. I’d led my teams for several years with the mantra, “Outcomes over hours in the office.” My team knew that I didn’t care when or where they worked, as long as they collaborated effectively to get their most valuable work done. Way before “remote teams,” “hybrid teams,” “virtual teams,” and “distributed teams” were phrases common in today’s corporate language, my teams
worked in this way. We worked out together what was needed to make this way of working … well, work.
And this is what I now teach to leadership teams in other large, global organizations around the world.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Tina Paterson: The only constant is change. Many leaders are realising that their resilience and adaptability muscles need strengthening. I’ve learned that great leaders are the ones who are constantly learning, constantly connecting with their teams to assess what’s working and what isn’t right now, those who EXPECT things to change and so face into this instead of burying their heads in the sand or lamenting about the “good old days”.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Tina Paterson: Carve out time to future-proof your business and work through where you need to adapt. This should be a regular exercise. So many leaders wait until AFTER to look in the rear view mirror and discuss what they will do differently next time. In projects, we call this a “Post Implementation Review” or “PIR”. However, I encourage leaders to do this earlier i.e. before they implement the project / new product / enter a new market or whatever it may be. Think through AHEAD of time what the mistakes could be and plan accordingly.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Tina Paterson: I started my own business just before the pandemic. My business was going to be focused on providing Project and Transformation solutions to large companies. I had my first year in business, 2020, mapped out and had just got a large Growth Transformation Program signed off by the CEO of a large company who were my first client.
In February 2020, the Chief People Officer and I had a conversation that “this Corona virus thing could get quite big”. Within about 72 hours, major cities in Australia were starting to discuss lockdowns, which would have a big impact on my first client. We realised we had to press pause on our Transformation agenda. Almost overnight, my first client no longer needed my original services. Coming back to the important theme of adaptability, I quickly pivoted what I could offer this first client of mine and we agreed that I would help their leaders and their thousands of employees in a different way: I would create some online modules to teach them how to effectively work and lead from home. And by embracing the change and quickly adapting, I found my true passion for helping leadership teams to lead from anywhere, so that they can achieve extraordinary outcomes AND look after themselves and their teams.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Tina Paterson: I live and work in Melbourne Australia, which has the unfortunate label of being the city with the longest amount of days in lockdown in the world. I wish I’d known it was going to go on for as long as it has – so many people have really struggled due to the longevity of these lockdowns. I would have focused even more so on getting my message out to the corporate leaders who need it sooner.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Tina Paterson: We’re not going back to the “old ways”. Employees have shown that they can work effectively from outside the office, consumers have shown that they are comfortable buying most products and services online, people have shown that they want options. And for many, convenience plays a really big part in shifting their preferences, be it for work, purchasing or other aspects of their lives where they now expect the option to choose based on their own preferences.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Tina Paterson: Nearly all of my Group Coaching Programs are done virtually, as opposed to in an office. This means I’m often in front of a screen for several hours a day, be it presenting, coaching or other work connecting with senior leaders around the globe.
As I work with leaders across six continents (I haven’t connected in with Antarctica yet!), I need to be really clear on what my boundaries are when it comes to screens and when I work, given my clients’ broad time zones. To do what I do, I protect my boundaries to ensure I still get my 8 hours’ sleep a night and time with my family. This means that I’m rarely in front of a screen if it’s not to do with work. I maintain really strict boundaries with how I engage with my phone in particular, so that I drive what I focus on daily, as opposed to letting my phone dictate where my focus goes.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Tina Paterson: This is one of my favourite topics! People remember stories much more than they remember facts and theory. Whenever I connect with a potential client, the first thing I do is share with them why I do what I do. I tell them my burnout story (notice how I shared my burnout story up-front in this interview?) and explain it’s why I do what I do. Corporate leaders either relate and want to work with me immediately or, if they believe that working 100+ hours a week in the office is what’s needed to succeed in corporate, we both work out pretty quickly that we’re not a good fit for each other.
For all the modules in my “Outcomes Over Hours” Signature Program, once I’m clear on the core message and strategies to teach, my next step is to think through which story will best help leaders learn it.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Tina Paterson: I see so many companies still trying to get their knowledge workers back into the office 5 days a week, wanting things to go back to how they were pre-pandemic. The challenge is that certain companies and leaders are not adapting, despite their people’s expectations and capabilities to work in a different way significantly changing over the past 2 years.
As Charles Darwin said, “it isn’t the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, it is the one that is most adaptable to change”. What applies to the species of animals, also applies to leaders.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Tina Paterson: I believe in being a “student for life” i.e. continuously learning. In 2022 I’ve been contemplating the impact I want to make in the world and what my legacy will be. I’ve worked out that it is to inspire corporate leaders around the world to see and experience that they can have a successful corporate career AND the time and energy to focus on whatever is important to them outside of work.
Creating this legacy involves me delivering world-class, pioneering Group Coaching Programs that truly impact corporate leaders in a sustainable way. Therefore, I’m reading a lot of books and listening to several podcasts about providing an exceptional customer experience. My favourite book so far this year has been “How to never lose a customer again” by Joey Coleman.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Tina Paterson: I think great leaders are curious and think “perhaps it could be me? What conversations do I need to have with my team to talk through what’s really going on for them and how their career aspirations might have evolved?”
Mediocre leaders aren’t giving much thought to this data, which is a big mistake. The war for talent is real, particularly in technology-driven roles right now, and the leaders who aren’t discussing this issue with their teams will be the ones who will lose. Great employees always have options and expect to work for exceptional bosses who get this and face into what’s really going on, both within and outside of their company.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Tina Paterson: The ability to THINK a response to an email and it automatically get sent. I have lots of ideas to communicate, that often come to me at a time when it’s not practical to convert voice to text. Having the superpower to automatically share my thoughts with others would be a game-changer … but I realise it could also get me into a lot of trouble!
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Tina Paterson: It’s summed up in 3 words: “life by design”.
In business, for me this means having the courage, passion and discipline to continue to create a business where I work with clients I love doing work I love that has long-lasting impact on the leaders I serve.
Personally, it’s similar. It’s about doing the things I love with the people I love. And having blinkers on to the rest of the noise.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Tina Paterson for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Tina Paterson or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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