My guest today is Barbara Walsh. Barbara has a deep understanding of what it takes to succeed in complex, rapidly changing environments. In corporate roles, she’s led teams through periods of upheaval and uncertainty. And as an entrepreneur, she’s experienced her own fair share of failures along with successes.

Barbara is the co-founder of SupraLimina, which is the next iteration of our highly successful consultancy, Metaco, founded in 2009, which rapidly grew to become a leader in Executive and Team Coaching and Leadership Development solutions in Southern Africa, expanding into many parts of the world. Now based in the United Kingdom, she and partner Danny Tuckwood have grown a strong international reputation for partnering with senior teams to level up that executive leadership capabilities and deliver systemic value across their organisations and strategic stakeholders.

Barbara’s approach to coaching embodies the resilience practices we explore throughout our Rising Resilient series. Especially as she navigates the specific challenges of executive transition coaching. Noted for the authoritative mind, the gap white paper, Barbara brings an arsenal of wisdom to the fore, sharing invaluable tips for emerging leaders and business owners alike.

From navigating cultural shifts to harnessing resilience practices, she’s here to discuss how she equips leaders, not just to survive, but thrive. Barbara brings two decades of acumen in steering individuals through the tumultuous waters of corporate leadership. But what does it take for first time executives, especially women to step confidently into their roles and shatter ceilings. The same might be asked to business owners as they grow and scale their enterprise.

With candour and a touch of humour, Barbara shares her expertise on bouncing back and why the traits of a self-care, compassion, and perspective taking are particularly potent for women entrepreneurs. They might just be your superpowers in disguise. So, tune in for this episode. There’s a tapestry of resilience, learning and the invincible spirit of entrepreneurship.


Jay Allyson

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    Welcome Barbara. Thank you for joining me today. It’s really exciting, this rising resilient.

    It just felt like such an important theme of rising resilient. We’re all facing so many different things, and all tackle resilience in different ways. The subtitle was all the C’s: tackling challenges and changes in your life and business with confidence, compassion, and courage. Those are the words that often came up in conversations in coaching. So let’s start with like what part of the theme speaks to you the most and why.


    Yeah, so I like the C’s, and particularly the ability to bounce back, no matter what, so to find your way, to find your resources, and it’s very likely to be different ones each time, but I think it’s Almost ingrained or bred into an entrepreneur to be able to do that one way or another. It’s maybe an ingrained optimism, but what really resonated with me was just the way that we do it, the way that we always managed to do it.

    We, as in, particularly women entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs generally, they have a bit more of the resilience muscle, I think, than necessarily people in careers.

    It’s not so easy for us to just decide to move on or find something different or change. Very often we’ve got a lot invested in the business that we’ve started. And so, we can’t just give up. We really need to find our way through and the quicker we can pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and find new ways, find different ways, probably the faster I suppose we’re going to find the one way that does work.

    Well, absolutely. It’s great that you’ve kind of dived straight into talking about entrepreneurship as I think we’re a particular breed. It’s not only that we’ve got a lot invested, which is true. It’s also that it’s in our blood.

    It’s like, I think once you become an entrepreneur, it’s really hard to go back to like working for someone else. And the more you become unemployable. Yeah, I exactly that’s the word that I often use.


    Let me just intro you, Barbara Walsh, you’ve come from South Africa, you’re now landed in the UK, tell us a little bit about the work that you do, who you help, how you help them.

    Yeah, so I’ve shifted my approach slightly now. My background is in executive coaching and specifically in working with, with leadership teams, senior executive teams, sometimes with boards, sometimes boards and, and the team and the executive team together.  And coming to the UK, I thought that I’ve worked a lot with senior leaders. I’ve seen what makes them successful, how they need to adapt. The shifts in thinking needed and so our business is here is very focused on that. It’s helping people hit the ground running a lot earlier to find the differences between being a manager and being a senior leader, an executive leader and be able to manage that transition a lot more smoothly and with a lot less anxiety and  yeah, a lot less having to learn through trial and error, which can be very traumatic and become successful a lot earlier.

    That really ties exactly into the resilience question, isn’t it? It’s like, we started talking about business and entrepreneurship, but then your clients are employed in, you know, fairly large companies, senior roles. Most of it. A lot of anxiety, as you mentioned, and stress, and I’ve talked in previous interviews about that sort of level of vulnerability that we don’t always want to share and we don’t want to own up to, certainly not in the workplace.

    So, we go outside the workplace to get support for that.

    We’ll talk about your own experiences in terms of resilience in a moment, but first with the clients that you support, and especially given everything that’s been happening over the years you know, we’re still in the midst of all kinds of things, which is impacting business and our own lives and families. How does anxiety, stress or overwhelm show up for them?


    It can show up in different ways, and I think they are distinctly different. Stress would probably be: how do I get through this workload? How do I manage everything that’s on my plate? How do I find time for my family? So, that would be very much around the stresses generally related, I find, to volume. They’re just the volume of things they need to get through. Anxiety is related then to, so what does that mean? And, perhaps to even some kind of perceived or real threat to themselves, what could happen as a result of this. Overwhelm is what leads to burnout when there’s just so much on our plate and we cannot find any way through it. And that’s where either depression or fear, that for me would be the most serious out of all three of those.


    I like the fact that you’ve categorized them almost. At what point does stress plus anxiety lead to overwhelm that leads to burnout? What’s the kind of order of play of these? How do we recognize the signs, I suppose, is behind my question?


    Yeah, so stress can be quite healthy and it can often challenge us to, to do more and be a lot more productive and efficient with our time and find smarter ways of doing things. So stress is not necessarily a bad thing. When stress starts to become a bad thing, that’s where it starts to lead to anxiety. And what does that mean for me? And, am I going to lose myself? Am I going to lose my family? Am I going to lose my job? So there would be, some kind of a fear underlying anxiety. But again, it’s not something that’s necessarily unresolvable fairly quickly by putting some boundaries in place or talking through it. But when you get to overwhelm, and I’ve absolutely been there, when you cannot see your way through it.  And overwhelm becomes almost like this deep dark pit that you start to sink into. And that for me is by far the most concerning thing. And the quicker you can catch that and help them find ways of addressing that, the better. Because if they don’t and overwhelm continues, it is going to seriously affect the person.


    So how might that show up?


    How might it show up? So, I can speak from personal experience where overwhelm did lead to burnout. And, it wasn’t all work related, it was partially work related. And that was when we were moving from South Africa to the UK in the middle of Covid, trying to sell a house and dispose of a whole lot of our, a huge amount of, of personal possessions and, and try and get stuff moved across and animals moved across and get into a rental and manage 10 days of quarantine when I wasn’t well and couldn’t get to a doctor … I came out of there and put my feet on the ground and suddenly realized I needed to get to work fairly quickly after that and suddenly realized I couldn’t. I absolutely couldn’t. I could not face getting onto a Zoom call and speaking to a client because I knew that I was not going to be able to show up for them. I wasn’t in any mental state.  And, and it became, it was quite a serious thing. By the time I realized I was in burnout and I’d never experienced that before.

    And I’m an A type personality of note. So, you know, I can push hard.  It took me actually six months to work through that, to work through that and get back to being myself again and being able to be fully present to a client in the ways that I used to be, but with a slight change. I lost that A type, that real A type drive. So yeah, I became a lot more realistic and perhaps compassionate and understanding of where the limits are, that there are limits actually, because I don’t think I ever accepted limits for myself before.


    That’s so interesting. And I can put myself exactly in that because it’s actually why I kind of leaned into the work smarter, not harder, because I do a lot of work, I do a huge amount of work, as you know, on business strategy and operational improvement and all of those things on the mechanical side.

    But on the mindset side, it’s all about avoiding entrepreneurial burnout because I find a lot of the people I work with. And you’ll be the same with these high achieving execs that they are of those personality types where it’s a lot of push energy, it’s a lot of, you know, I must succeed and there’s a lot that’s driven from all kinds of different places.

    You know, psychologists would have a field day on us. So, I totally relate to that and resonate with that. And I had my own experience as well, which is when I came out of that, that’s where I started the academy and the focus of my book is all about leverage because it’s about you know, just taking care of yourself while you’re building your business and not kind of running yourself ragged.

    So that really speaks to me as well and why I do what I do.

    I guess the fact that you’ve been through that personally really helps you to help your clients to see the signs and avoid them. And that’s sort of where I was going with these, with these particular questions.


    Well, absolutely. What you can do, if the signs start appearing and that would even be at probably at the anxiety, even at the stress level, what you can do there to perhaps stop it.

    For me, one of the biggest things that I found was sleep, because at the time that you start to shift into anxiety and overwhelm, and I’m really speaking from, from personal experience here, I’m not a sleep expert or, or I’m a trained coach, not a trained psychologist, but I found that I was getting maybe three or four hours sleep a night.

    I’d be awake at 2 a. m and my brain was going crazy and then I’d eventually get up at about four and you know and start doing stuff and Yeah, and I just got into this whole cycle of sleep deprivation that I could do nothing about.


    It’s funny what you’re talking about, what I call is wired and tired. You know, when you go to bed and your brain won’t switch off and I’m not even thinking about specific stuff. That’s the thing.


    And I think that was probably the biggest trigger for me to go into overwhelm and I can see it now. I can absolutely see it now when I’m overtired, I start feeling those feelings again. The first thing that I feel is the sadness. It’s probably not a depression, but I start to feel sad. When I start to feel sad, I know I’ve got to, I’ve got to just cut it and sleep. Get that sleep back on track.

    And so that’s been a huge, a huge focus for me is just making sure getting out of that sleep cycle with help.  And, making sure now that I get the sleep that I need. It’s the absolute number one priority and I do other things. I eat healthily, I exercise regularly, I meditate. But if any one of those has got to drop, it’ll be any one of them but not sleep.

    And, you know, it’s the opposite, isn’t it. If we’re these people that drive ourselves, and I’m speaking for, like, a number of listeners here, I’m sure we’ll be in the same boat, is we drive ourselves hard, and it feels like you haven’t earned the right, or you don’t have permission, or it’s lazy, or there’s a story we tell ourselves around things like you know, taking time out to meditate or sleep, it feels like nothing type activities, you know.

    BARBARA: Not productive.

    JAY: Yeah, exactly. There’s this drive for productivity that I don’t think self-care is a big enough part of. And so, what we need to do is bring those self-care – for you it’s sleep and those other things; for other people it’s something else – is to make those part of the priority of our productivity.

    BARBARA: Absolutely, because the productivity actually doesn’t happen without it.


    Yeah, yeah. I was talking to Lily and I said, you know, it’s one of those things that we probably all coach on. It’s like, do I go for a walk or do I do the next thing on my list? Yeah. Actually, it’s more productive sometimes to go for the walk, even though it costs you time, because then you work through the list a lot faster.

    So, I think that’s what was coming up for me when you were speaking is that, it feels a little bit like you’ve got to experience at least some degree of burnout before you get it. I have clients that really aren’t prioritizing some of these self-management, self-habits, even boundaries you mentioned.  You know, they’re not prioritizing some of those things because they think they’re for other people.


    Yeah, yeah I don’t need those. Jay, I was like that. I can remember being, and I was in my early 40s. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was late 20s. I’ve been running my own businesses and I can remember being in my early 40s and I was in the travel industry then and I would keep going literally into the early hours of the morning and I would get through a six pack of Red Bulls every night just to keep going and that was about the time that I met Danny and he said to me, you’ve got to stop this. And I started to, but that was how hard I drive myself. And, and now I look back at that and I think I was absolutely crazy. And it’s a huge thing for me now working with my clients.

    Yeah. I was just working with one of them who’s been a very successful young leader, moving up the ladder very fast. And she was getting maybe three or four hours of sleep a night. And I explained to her and sent her an article that really changed my view on that completely: for every hour of sleep that you miss, it’s the equivalent of drinking a bottle of wine before you go to work in the morning.  It’s that hectic.

    JAY: A hard-hitting fact.


    Yeah, and so how much are you slowing yourself down by not giving yourself that time to rest and that time to recuperate? Because then you can just be so much faster the next day. Fortunately, she got it.

    JAY: Well, we hear these stories though, don’t we, of like, famous leaders like Margaret Thatcher only slept four hours a day, four hours a night. But I think she took a lot of power naps.

    BARBARA: Well, she did. Yeah. But look, she also got dementia, right? What was the strain that she was putting on her brain by doing that? Yeah, the long-term impact of it, of it all. I mean, that’s a really important point. And I can’t say that that was a direct correlation. Yeah, who knows, who knows.


    I think the other thing that you touched on, because you were talking about being a young leader, is that I think sometimes when we’re in our twenties, we feel sort of we’re invincible. Yeah. And then as things start to like impact us a bit more, we can’t stay awake as long or we need more sleep or we don’t exercise maybe as much. And we’re getting older… that’s when we perhaps start to pay more attention – like taking action, preventative action, rather than waiting till it’s too late. So we do it with our health, but we don’t necessarily do it with our self-care.

    BARBARA: Yeah. We always prioritize something else, but not ourselves.

    JAY: But it feels like a luxury we can’t, we can’t afford or we can’t, we don’t have time for . So yeah, that’s coming up a lot.

    When you’re working with clients and that sort of thing comes up, as I’m sure it does, what would be the first things that you help them with, to see some of those habits that aren’t helping them with productivity or whatever else that to see the direction towards burnout that they might want to think about.


    Well, I mentioned one of them now about the young leader who wasn’t sleeping and with her, it was just explaining, first of all, what burnout feels like, and secondly, what would happen if she did, and she’s not in a position right now where she can afford that and she doesn’t want to, and she’s really on an amazing career trajectory, and so it’s built in now into her career plan. Is that she gets enough rest and that she gets enough sleep. I think that the bottle of wine thing really hits her.  That was one of them. So, showing them what the impact might be in a way that they, they can really almost resonate or feel it rather than almost like conceptualize it.

    It doesn’t, yeah, that’s somebody else you know, that won’t happen to me kind of thing. So I do share personal experiences with my clients and I share experiences of other clients as well, because I think that I’m not a purist coach at all. So, if I was to try and do one of the ICF exams now, I’d absolutely fail it. But I find that that my clients resonate more with me being a lot more human and sharing things and telling them things. And then we discuss them and discuss what that might mean for them or what the impact might be if it did happen or what they can do, and we’ll toss it around, you know, we’ll toss around all sorts of different things and I’ll give input and they’ll give input.

    So together we’ll come up with a plan that they feel is realistic and they can work with and it works really well. They typically do tend to follow it and it does result in a change of approach and behaviour.

    JAY: Maybe it’s almost like you’re giving them permission.


    Yeah, I think if they can see somebody else has done it, it does almost, and especially if it’s somebody who’s in a coaching relationship, which although all the coaches say It’s a relationship of equals and coaches do, do their best to make it a relationship of equals, I think there’s still always that underlying dynamic that the coach actually does hold the power. Yeah. The coach is always trying to balance that, and just the fact that the coach was human enough for that to happen and it happened to somebody like that, but then, you know, could happen to me too. Yeah.


    Interesting, interesting, because it’s the other side of what I spoke to just with Irma – and that interview will be coming up in a few weeks’ time – where she said if she shares some vulnerability, not necessarily the client, but just in general with people is that suddenly you’re throwing yourself off the pedestal that they’ve put you on, and that that can sometimes be a shock. It’s like, oh my god, you know, and there’s a judgment that happens there. So I think it’s one of the reasons we keep quiet. We don’t share how we’re feeling sometimes.


    I do, I absolutely do. And there’d be times when I’ve been either in a room or on a call with a client and cried with them.

    JAY: Yeah, you resonate so much with it.

    BARBARA: Yeah.


    I think one of the things I really would love to explore with you, Barbara, is, you know when someone is starting to see those signs, feel the stress, the anxiety, the unease.  That part of it is, I think you mentioned earlier, stress related, it’s volume and it can be like temporary, whereas some things become chronic, they become perpetual. So, how does someone know when to tolerate the pressures of work, the pressures of life, and a particular event that’s happened in their life, and when it’s becoming more of a long-term issue that they need to, to do something about?

    I think it’s all about perspective. So, in every job, and certainly in senior leadership, there are going to be times of extreme stress. It’s just part of it. And so, we work with the concept, not of work life balance, but of work life harmony. So there’ll be times when it’s, it’s all systems go, and then they’re going to be other times where you can actually really pull back a lot and getting them out of this manager mindset  almost, there could even be an employee mindset of having to be “on the job”, having to be available, because other people are, etc. to being able to set their own boundaries and push back in a way that they are still respected and is respectful  and makes sense to the business. How do they almost present the business case for not being like everybody else, for being different? If that’s what they’re wanting to achieve, being able to disconnect from what might be a culture, if it’s not serving them, and yet still to achieve their results.

    So, we work with that and that would be very much more around the stress and even the the anxiety part. If you’re going to overwhelm, that’s different, and it is different because overwhelm is really about setting boundaries and becomes almost more preventative rather than proactive.

    And working with a client yesterday, she arrived in the coaching session and she looked at me and she said, I’ve actually really hit the wall, how do I motivate myself? That was how she started the session. She looked at me and her face was just really, really down, so, we looked at what was going on for her, and just dug a little bit more deeply into how her day is structured and what was really getting to her. What was really getting to her was her boss, but she was allowing that to become pervasive over everything. So, we started to shift the conversation around to okay so you’ve got this boss and this is what’s happening, but what about your job is good? What are the parts that you really enjoy and she came up with maybe five or six of those.

    And I got her then to, she was working from home, to go get some coloured pens from her kids and to write them in colours and to start to really feel that gratitude. And then I thought, you know what, she was dressed in black and the background behind her was white. And I said to her, so what are the pictures on your wall like?

    And there were no pictures on her wall. I said, show me the flowers, the beautiful flower in your office. And there was nothing there. And, she freely got into this whole, there was nothing. There was nothing for her there. I said to her, when you were a child, what did you love doing? And she said, well, I love doing crosswords, I like doing Sudoku and I like going to movies. So I said, okay, how are we going to start doing those again? And her face just lit up and yeah, and she booked herself while we were on the call, she booked herself a ticket to go and see the movie on her own that evening.

    And, she now had the coloured pens and she was going to write down all the things that she was grateful for in her job. And that was things she’s a South African client. So, that was in spite of the economic situation, it’s part of the fact that it’s not easy to find another job, so the chances are she needs to stay there. How is she going to manage staying there with the kind of boss that she has and at the same time still be able to find the parts of her work that she really enjoys so she can wake up in the morning and think, oh well I’ve got that on today and kind of have a much, a much brighter outlook for the day rather than what kind of engagement she’s going to have with her boss.

    And she had, there were probably nine or ten things that she came up with in the course of that conversation that she really liked. And so I said, so you’ve got 9 or 10 things here on your paper in beautiful colours, and you’ve got one boss written in black, where are you putting your attention? And her whole face changed. It really did.

    And it so depends on the client and as a coach that’s your job. It’s to find that point of leverage. And you talk a lot about leverage. That point of leverage is going to make the difference for them that they can really connect with. I know way back from the movie, she’s going to stop at one of the stores that’s open late and go buy herself either a big bunch of flowers or a plant for her office. And at the weekend, she’s going to go and choose a picture. And so, she’s got all these things she’s so excited about. And this was all in a 90-minute session. This was all in the space of an hour. As we came up to the hour, she said, can I go now? Because I want to get started. I don’t want to talk anymore. I want to go. Absolutely. We don’t need to talk anymore.


    I love that. What a rich and very powerful story. That’s got so much in it. A lot of it is about gratitude, you mentioned that word, and when you said pervasive, it came up in another conversation as well, of like, we focus on one thing in a very big world – our world of life and work – and it overshadows everything else. So as you said, it’s, it pervades everything else and it’s kind of just getting that perspective, that balance perspective back again.

    Also what I heard you said was something about take some kind of action, even if it maybe feels like it’s a frivolous action that to connect back to, you know, your joy and yourself as a person and put some fun into it.

    So there’s a whole rich tapestry in that one story that you shared, which is super powerful. There is, and there’s an important thing in that as well, and that is you have to get them starting to take action on the call. Yeah, so it’s not something they’re going to delay and do later. They need to be doing it with you on the call so that the first steps are really underway.




    So if somebody was like working on their own, they didn’t have a coach, and they’re running a business and they’re starting to feel all of these things that we’ve talked about today, what would, what would you advise them to do that they could take action on for themselves?


    Get a coach. Seriously. And even if it’s just a life coach, not an entrepreneurial coach or a business coach or executive coach or whatever, and life coaches come a lot cheaper, but they are worth every cent because they help you get out of your own perspective and open up a whole different world for you. So if I find a good one but that really would be that person is your champion and that person is a different set of eyes on your life that will help you shift.


    Brilliant. And the advantage of a coach over a close friend and family is that there’s no, like, no judgment, they’re there to help you see things differently, as you said, to bring a fresh perspective.

    So, we’ve travelled around a few different things. This has been absolutely fantastic getting your perspective on it from the work that you do and also from yourself. What would you, in a nutshell, say is your one kind of positive superpower for rising resilient? You mentioned sleep. Is that the one? Is that the superpower? Have we already covered it or is there something that you want to share?


    Yeah, well, sleep is something, it’s an acquired thing. I think probably my one superpower is that I have this absolute drive about everything else to learn. I’m curious and I just want to learn and I want to know more and, and so I think that’s probably what it is.

    It’s learning and actually probably would be the curiosity that’s sitting behind the drive to learn. So what is it about this? What are the other ways around it? And so that curiosity and that constant questioning, I think that’s probably what it is.


    Brilliant. And you know, one of the things that I remember and a couple of people have touched on is going back to that fear and anxiety and all of those negative feelings is actually if you can switch it to be curious about what’s going on for you. Like, where are those feelings coming from, how is it overshadowing everything else and, leaning in with curiosity.


    Curiosity and compassion. Yeah. And compassion. Yeah. Compassion for yourself as well. Yeah. Yeah. And then the curiosity about, okay, so if I’m going to change one thing, what’s it going to be?


    Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m really glad you reminded us of that compassion as well because we take so much of it on ourselves and like it’s for me to fix. Even with a coach, it’s still, it’s my problem, it’s my life, it’s my issue. So just being compassionate and also thinking it’s not necessarily about you and what you’ve done wrong or what you’re not doing right, that kind of thing. It’s actually, well, okay, I’m seeing some signs here that I may need to make some different choices. Yeah. And then take some of those actions to go forward. So great advice.

    Thank you so much. This has been awesome.

    BARBARA: My pleasure.

    JAY: Any final words that you want to share that we haven’t, like, touched on already?


    Yes, so I think the only other thing that I would say is if you’ve really hit a wall in one way or another, well, it’s kind of like a sign that you need to find a different way. And maybe that means changing direction or changing focus or whatever it is, but there do come times as an entrepreneur when you are flogging a dead horse, literally. And so, what can you do with the skills that you’ve got? How can you use them differently? And all skills can be used in in a variety of ways. So don’t be absolutely fixed on having to do one thing one way. Yeah. Explore. And that’s a curiosity, I guess. Find what else you can do. Yeah.


    I like that because sometimes it’s like, I’ve got to find the solution. I’ve got to break through, you know, this bottleneck, I’ve got to get through this obstacle that’s in my way, but actually maybe it’s in your way for a reason. It’s because it’s blocking the path that isn’t the one that you should be taking. Sometimes yeah, change of direction is the obstacle’s too big, not because you’re not good enough to get through it, but because it’s telling you that you need to do something else.

    Yeah. Yeah. So that’s great wisdom.

    BARBARA: That was the last closing bit from my side.

    JAY: I love that. I love that.

    So, this has been lovely. It’s been a very different perspective than the others, which is what I was hoping for.  I’m really enjoying this so it doesn’t feel like work at all. Just chatting with some really interesting people with lots to share. It’s been great.

    Thank you so much for joining me. Barbara Walsh everyone.