Punks in Suits: Redefining Leadership with Blaire Palmer


In this episode of Evolve: A New Era of Leadership, I’m joined by Blaire Palmer, author of “Punks in Suits.” Blaire shares her profound insights on bringing authenticity and disruption to leadership.

Blaire Palmer

Blaire’s book, “Punks in Suits,” challenges traditional leadership models and calls for a revolution in how we utilize human talent, akin to the industrial revolution’s impact. She advocates for abandoning the industrial-age mindset that treats humans as second-rate machines and encourages leaders to trust and unleash the full potential of their teams.

Blaire Palmer is a former BBC journalist turned leadership consultant and keynote speaker, who has worked on flagship Radio 4 programmes like Today and Woman’s Hour. For the past 24 years, Blaire has worked with organizations helping to drive real change in their businesses and create places where people can come and do their best work. Currently, Blaire speaks internationally at conferences and events, calling on audiences of senior leaders to rethink what leadership means in the modern era. 


🔑 Key Themes & Takeaways:

  • The Need for Disruption: Blaire discusses the necessity of challenging the status quo and embracing disruption to drive meaningful change in leadership and organizational cultures. 🔄

  • Reconnecting with Authenticity: Exploring Blaire’s philosophy on the crucial role of authenticity and vulnerability in effective leadership, guiding leaders to reconnect with their inner “punk.” 🧠

  • Trusting Human Potential: Insights into Blaire’s advocacy for trusting and empowering individuals, drawing inspiration from her experience with home-educating her daughter. 🔥

  • Redefining Leadership: The conversation dives into the distinction between management and leadership, emphasizing the need for leaders to address systemic root causes rather than merely managing symptoms. 📚

  • Business as a Force for Good: Blaire introduces the concept of businesses being a positive force in the world, standing for ethical principles and earning trust through competence and integrity. 🌍

  • Finding Work-Life Balance: Blaire shares a powerful moment of self-awareness, realizing that true balance lies in a balanced mind rather than external circumstances. 💼

We talk about:

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 03:28 The Concept of ‘Punks in Suits’
  • 07:41 Impact of the Pandemic on Leadership
  • 08:20 Revolutionizing Human Talent Utilization
  • 10:39 Challenges in Modern Leadership
  • 18:28 Trust and Authority in Leadership
  • 25:30 Reconnecting Through Music and Memories
  • 26:16 Challenges of Maintaining Connection
  • 28:06 The Importance of Trust in Leadership
  • 29:59 Trusting Others and Reducing Limits
  • 31:55 Home Education and Trusting Children
  • 36:19 Impact of Education on the Workforce
  • 37:55 Business as a Force for Good
  • 40:55 Personal Reflections and Practices
  • 45:02 The Power of Music and Final Thoughts

🌈 Closing Thoughts:

This episode with Blaire Palmer provides a thought-provoking exploration of authentic, purpose-driven leadership and the transformative power of disruption. Blaire’s insights challenge conventional thinking and offer a fresh perspective on cultivating leadership that unleashes human potential and creates positive global impact.

We encourage listeners to reflect on their own leadership journeys, embrace vulnerability, and consider how embracing disruption can ignite positive change within their organizations and communities.

#PunksInSuits #AuthenticLeadership #TrustingHumanPotential #Disruption #BusinessImpact

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Carolyn: Welcome to evolve a new era of leadership. I am your host, Carolyn Swora. Today, our guest is Blaire Palmer. Blaire wrote this awesome book called Punks in Suits, and we are going to talk all about it. Blair has some tremendous insights and she writes in a fun, playful, meaningful way with lots of information and research to support her positions.

Well, I am so excited for today’s episode. My guest today is Blair Palmer. Blair, welcome to the show. Welcome to Evolve.

Blaire: Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me on.

Carolyn: Well, I know I have several guests that come to us from over the pond. I’m here in Canada and you’re from the UK and I know someone with your background though, from the BBC being a former news journalist, I’m really excited to hear how that experience that you’ve had in that world of work how that led you into leadership.

And this most recent book that you have written, Punks in Suits. I love the title of that. Maybe we could just start there. What inspired you to write this book and how does this fun title really encapsulate what you’re trying to say about leadership?

Blaire: Yeah. So, it’s a great question. I’ve been working in the leadership field for 25 years. And as you say, before that, I was a BBC journalist, and maybe we’ll come back to that. But In that time, I went from being someone who was obviously learning a huge amount about leadership in practice, but also in theory, you know, reading a lot and getting accreditations and listening to podcasts and subscribing to Harvard Business Review and kind of absorbing all of this conventional wisdom to get into a point probably a decade ago, where I thought, The stuff that I’m reading about and the stuff that I am told by these experts is the correct model and the right tool and all that.

It’s not working. It doesn’t actually work on the ground. And I reflected on, well, a lot of the people that are writing these books don’t really work with clients.

The corporate world or they’ve carried out a kind of case study or something, but they’re not there for.

a year, 18 months. In fact, they may never have worked in a corporation themselves because they’ve been in academia or they’ve been writers and journalists.

Carolyn: right.

Blaire: So that sort of started me thinking about what is the reality then on the ground? What are the problems in businesses? What are the problems around leadership in particular?

And what are the actual solutions that through experimentation and coaching and listening to leaders and kind of collaborating with them, what’s actually working and in 2019, I was going to write this book. I’m a keynote speaker primarily these days. So. I’d been speaking about the future of leadership, and I had a speech called Punks in Suits and I was going to write a book called Punks in Suits, and luckily I gave up on it because then 2020 happened,

, everything changed. So stuff that I was predicting was You know, a decade away, maybe five years away happened overnight. And

Everything I wanted to happen, suddenly happened. Which is people have this flexibility to work from home and, inevitably they needed to be trusted more because they were not, being able to be supervised in the same way, except it didn’t play out in this idealistic way that I had hoped it would.

So, then gathering the learning from that, seeing as we came out of the pandemic, what were the big themes revising what I was saying on the stage and then eventually thinking, okay, I’m now ready to go back to the idea of punks in suits and get it on page. And so that’s what I did.

Carolyn: so the suit was a little different. Still punks, but in a different suit 

Blaire: yes it is. So Turnpunks in Suits is a quote from a film called Kick Ass 2. I don’t know if you know it, it’s a

Carolyn: I have not heard it.

Blaire: film. And quote is, There’s no room for punks in suits, just real heroes who can really kick arse. I love the quote, but it doesn’t work in reality because, you know, superheroes and leaders are different.

We don’t need heroes going around kicking arse. We need a few people who are willing to reveal some of the punk underneath their suit. So, it’s that willingness to reveal. Who you really are at core and to be different and to stand out and to stand for something that might be different to what other people are standing for and for that difference and uniqueness and a bit of rebellion and a bit of bravery for that to be at the heart of What we need from leaders today, which is quite different to the idea of leadership that we might’ve had in the past, which was really about polish and being better than, in fact, being a little bit superhuman.

Carolyn: Well, and that’s what I was going to say when you said the hero part, I’m with you. Like we need to ditch that, especially the whole wonder woman. Like we can do it all. Like we need to get rid of that, but it really, it’s about being a hero to yourself or reconnecting to the hero within yourself.

Cause I think we can easily forget it.

Blaire: Yes. And I think, you know, the audience I’m talking to in particular is my age group. So leaders, Gen X leaders, because we’re the ones running. The corporations at the moment, and it’s a very interesting time in your career because you have 30 plus years of experience under your belt. You’re not, I mean, people are still trying to prove themselves, but you shouldn’t have to at this point prove that you deserve to be there.

But also you’ve got something in the bank account, right? A bit of credibility, but you’re also seeing not very far in the future. I’m going to be walking out the door for the last time in the next. So what am I going to leave behind? And how brave am I going to be over this next decade? Or am I going to Just kind of try to get out of here without anyone noticing You know and keep myself a bit safe and that is the bravery I think is to come face to face with You know, you probably were in the 70s or 80s a punk or a goss or a new wave or you were a pop princess or something.

You were something.

Carolyn: Yeah. New wave.

Blaire: Where is that? Yeah, a new wave all the way for me. But you were something and that’s in there still. Let’s bring it out. Let’s find it again.

Carolyn: Well, and you just mentioned a word there that’s near and dear to my heart, which is safe, what feels safe. And so I’ve been on a real journey to unpack what this word means psychologically, but also physiologically. And I’m curious to hear What changed? So you said you were going to write the book in 2019 and then the world changed overnight.

What sort of themes or premises really shifted in your book? I mean, yes, change happened. It accelerated. But what else changed about your book?

Blaire: So initially I thought that what was needed was some tweaks in how we lead. A more authentic human connected style of leadership that I thought was missing.

What I realized during the pandemic and then after is that. It’s much bigger than that. So the way I describe it is that we’re on the cusp of a revolution in how we utilize human talent as significant as the industrial revolution.

So we still operate our businesses. Along industrial revolution lines, we have hierarchy and we have job roles and we have teams and it’s very processes and systems and we have a couple of beliefs that sit at the heart of of that, that justify it all, which are humans are second rate machines.

So. Ideally, you get a machine to do it, but if you have to get a human to do it you do, but you try to get them to be as predictable and as efficient as possible. So you put a lot of processing systems in place to make them like a machine, which doesn’t work very well for human beings because we don’t like that much.

So then we’re not only not able to bring our humanity, but our humanity is suffocated and then we become ill. the very reverse of what works for humanity. So that’s the first. And the second belief is that people are trying to get away with something.

And so we need to have processes and systems and hierarchy and structures and controls and measures to stop people from stealing from the stationary cupboard and lying about their expenses.

And the only way to unpick those and probably some other beliefs, but to me they

Carolyn: Those are the

Blaire: justify quite a lot is to say that industrial model. We have to scrap it. We have to think about in a world where we have AI, which can do a huge amount of the stuff that we currently have human beings doing, how do we then use human beings in a fundamentally human way to do work that we’ve never asked them to do before because they’ve been busy doing the stuff that a machine should do.

Because they are actually second rate machines,

Carolyn: And being monitored and controlled

Blaire: Yeah. So we don’t need any of that if what we need is their humanity to thrive. And therefore we have to completely think how we organize people. We have to completely think the leadership model and we even have to rethink the purpose of business in society.

Carolyn: Wow. And so what did the pandemic do then compared to this, like with this fourth industrial revolution or this, you know, this new age of technology, that time in 2020 really shift? How we were going to respond in organizations.

Blaire: Yeah, I think what came to the surface was probably some stuff that had been simmering underneath. So like I said, I was kind of anticipating some of this stuff. I just didn’t know it was going to happen so soon. I think it became, and not just during the pandemic itself, we were in emergency mode. So people were doing what they needed to do and it was survival,

Carolyn: Yep.

Blaire: But when we came out of the end of that, I started to notice that What I thought the gains would be we were pulling back from that. So we had an opportunity, business leaders had an opportunity to say, you know what, people are amazing. Like what they did over the last two years is amazing. We don’t need to treat them the way we thought we needed to treat them.

What we could. Allow them to choose where to work, how many hours to do, what to spend their time on. We could allow them to spend budget. We could allow them to decide on their own metrics and their own goals between themselves. They didn’t do that. Instead, they said. Everyone back to the office, three days out of five.

Everyone, you know, we’re going to install some new technology so we can monitor your keystrokes. We need to have more meetings because we need to know exactly what’s going on. I don’t want to, you know, have a look at you on teams and your green light isn’t on. I want to know exactly where you are.

This fear came to the surface really strongly and I was so disappointed.

Carolyn: I hear you. And it’s still happening, Blair. In fact, I continue to hear more examples of it and it is, it’s just, it is, it’s so sad. It’s so sad.

Blaire: Yeah, there was a real opportunity there. But I think that because leaders and it’s not their fault. So my clients are leaders and they’re all wonderful people. They’re doing the very best they can, but of course it’s not their job. It’s my job to think about what are. The fundamental beliefs that keep people stuck with certain behaviors and attitudes are driven by beliefs but it’s not necessarily for them to do that digging.

They’ve got a full time job. It’s for me to do the digging and to say, I don’t know if you realize this, but when you tell people I’m just trying to think of an example. Well, the three, come into the office three days out of five, that is because you fundamentally do not trust them the way that you trust yourself.

You, you know, that you. Want to do the very best for the organization and want to do great work and want it to be meaningful and want to be proud of it and don’t want to let anyone down. But you don’t believe that other people are as special and as sophisticated as you. And that is why you put these controls in place.

It’s my job to point that out and then they can do something with that or not.

Carolyn: you know, what I find Blair is, and maybe this is a little bit of projecting from my experience being in the corporate world is I wanted to be a good leader and tow the company line, so to speak. What I didn’t understand was the system was. Different than what I wanted it to be like that the reality, right?

And I think trust is a perfect example. I was out of the corporate workplace as an employee. I mean, I’ve been consulting now for 8 plus years. And I would have no issue with people working wherever they needed to work. However, if it had been mandated from, you know, the higher folks above that your people need to be tapping in their card three days a week, otherwise, Carolyn, your ass is on the line.

Now, all of a sudden I’m complicit in a system that doesn’t really align with my values. I think there are a lot of people out there, Blair, like that.

Blaire: Yes and I think that certainly that causes a huge amount of distress. So when there is that tension that moral distress between what you believe is right. And the system in which you operate, where you don’t feel you can be yourself, where you don’t feel you can speak up about the system that creates a huge amount of stress.

And we know that there is a lot of stress and the stress is put down to, Oh, we’re asking a lot of our people at the moment and they’re putting in long hours. I don’t think that’s the stress. I think the stress is the moral distress of that misalignment. So, that’s why I think it’s more fundamental than just let’s run some resilience courses and let’s do some lunchtime yoga.

The system has got to change. So, so yeah, so there’s that moral distress and then there’s also, yeah, I mean, it’s your livelihood, right? You, it’s your job and that is also the way it is. You know, there’s a saying life’s a B word and then you die.

And think people kind of were like, well, it’s work though, isn’t it?

Like, this is what you have to do.

A lot of people aren’t saying, do we? Do we have to do it like that just because they’re doing it like that? Do we? And just to pick up on one other thing, which goes back to this idea of the system, for me, management is about making the best of. The situation.

So a lot of what’s called leadership is actually management. It’s about being a good manager, being thoughtful and towards your people. It’s about trying to do the best for them and for the organization. But within the system for me, leaders do is they look systemically. And then they try to address the systemic root causes of a lot of presenting issues.

They don’t just pick off the presenting issues one by one. So instead of saying, well, we’ve got a bit of stress over here, let’s do some resilience training. They say, well, we’ve got a bit of stress over here, and we’ve got some stress over here, and I’m stressed, and we’re getting a lot of sick leave. What is fundamental that is also leading to poor engagement scores, high turnover of staff for some reason Gen Zs don’t want to work here you know, we don’t have diversity and all these other presenting issues.

Is there something at core? And I think the thing at core is we’re operating an industrial age model in a post industrial world.

Carolyn: I really admire that definition, Blair, between management and leadership. I agree completely with you. And I think what this part of our conversation is connecting me to is back to the, we need the punks. We need that connection with our inner values and beliefs to really challenge these old systemic, old fashioned ways of working.

Blaire: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. And if we don’t do it, then we are leaving that to the next generation. Or maybe even the generation after that, by which time, you know, the world is going to be different again. So we have a responsibility, I think, in fact, it’s more urgent than that, because, you know, our world is really not in a great place.

So in the book, I quote the Edelman Trust Barometer, which is a report that comes out every year on levels of trust in authority figures.

Carolyn: Yep.

Blaire: I think it’s been running for 20 years that it always is worse every year. And, you know, it’s completely unsustainable as a planet for us to live in a world where we don’t trust politicians.

We don’t trust the media. We don’t trust businesses and we don’t trust NGOs. That means. We don’t trust anyone. We only trust our family maybe the person we sit next to at work. life becomes very small and therefore hugely dysfunctional. So how do you Live a healthy and meaningful life.

How do you create a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren in a dysfunctional world like that, where it gets worse every year? You can’t. So the responsibility to do something about that is actually huge. It’s much bigger than I want to be a nice boss for the people that work in my team.

It’s, I have a part to play in changing the world. I don’t want it to sound too grand, but I mean,

that is ultimately the way we live is influenced largely by the way businesses, by the way we interact with businesses, either as employees or as customers or suppliers. the way we dress the hours, when we go to bed and when we wake up, the food we eat, where we live is pretty much, our society is created by the way business is.

So if we can change business, we can change the world.

Carolyn: Absolutely. You know, if you think, let’s just imagine a hundred years ago and that trust barometer was being used back then. Do you think the level of trust was any different back then?

Blaire: I think it would have been hugely different. 

Carolyn: Say more about 

Blaire: I mean, I think maybe wrongly, but I think people were much more blindly trusting of authority. There was very much, and I mean, in the UK, very much so, a class system, and it still exists today, and it’s still quite powerful today, but a hundred years ago, you absolutely knew your place.

Carolyn: Right.

Blaire: And you doffed your cap to the lord and lady of the manor. And you called your boss, sir. And you wore different clothes depending on where you were. You know, did you work on the production line? Did you work in the executive suite?

You parked in a different car park. If you had a car a hundred years ago, or, you know, some people came to, to work in the horse and carriage and other people walked or came on their bike.

It was very much respect for authority. You trusted what was in the newspaper. Journalists spoke to politicians with huge respect. There was none of this. So when I worked at the BBC, that the style of the show that I was on was very much minister. Give me a yes or no answer. We are not moving on.

It was very combative. A hundred years ago, journalists didn’t speak like that. It was, you know, Mr Disraeli, could you tell us about your government’s plans for, you know, this? And then they would write it down and then that would be printed like a press release in the

Carolyn: So, what I’m hearing you say, and I agree with you 100%, is there was more blind trust back then. And as our society evolves and grows and the blind trust becomes seen

it’s not too pretty. And so, you know, what this conversation is making me realize is it’s a pretty amazing time to be part of this society this time because we have a chance now to actually see and create.

What is possible instead of blindly following whatever level of the system we’ve been assigned to.

Blaire: yes, it is a massive opportunity. I would also say that those in authority positions are more manipulative and are more intentionally trying to mislead, in my opinion, than in the past. 

So it is a sort of cause and effect thing. It wasn’t as necessary in the past because no one was watching. You didn’t have to justify yourself.

And people were more respectful of authority. Today, people are less respectful of authority.

And We live in a society of mistruths and half truths and false news and politicians and, well, everybody is very well attuned as to how to manipulate information. And that then means, well, we don’t know what to trust, so yes the opportunity for principled, individuals or communities of principled people, particularly principled people that have some authority, is to say, I am going to hold myself to a higher standard.

I’m not going to manipulate the message. I’m going to trust people to be able to handle my truth. Which I’m going to present directly and then I am going to listen to their truth, no matter how uncomfortable it might be to hear it. And then together, we’re going to work out what to do about this.

And that is a really different, but hugely exciting opportunity. Yes.

Carolyn: And very different skills. And, you know, as a fellow member of the Gen X, it’s really allowing, I’m going to come back to the punk inside of us. It’s allowing that punk inside of us to truly come out and really show itself versus being buried in, into this teenage angst.

Blaire: Yes. Thank you. Yes, that’s right. I think it requires a lot of bravery. I think it requires a huge amount of self awareness to tap back into who that person is who maybe got a bit lost. In the, you know, you have to be a certain type of person to succeed in business today, so you have to hide some of that.

We do a fun game sometimes when I’m working with a leadership team, where even if it’s a team that’s worked together for a long time I feel like there will have been probably a layer of formality around the way they work, or they’ve just got into habits of working together. And so what I ask them to do is to bring in from home on day one of the session, we’re running something that tells us a little bit about who they are.

And the very act of bringing an object from home kind of blurs the boundary between their work self and their home self. But very often they will bring in a piece of music. Not really. as we sit and listen to their piece of music, Or a photo of them in a band or a photo of them at a gig, or, you know, from that is so, or a ticket stub from a concert they went to when they were 18 years old, all the years of formal polish and pretense and playing the game fall away and they.

Reconnect with each other. I’d go so far as to say they fall in love with each other a little

Carolyn: Hmm. 

Blaire: And then we can start our meeting. Then we can have actual conversations. Cause it’s very hard to hide again after 

Carolyn: is. 

Blaire: And so now we are a bunch of human beings talking about human things.

Carolyn: And what’s your experience, Blair, when they leave that experience and they get back into the environment where the formality is like just a strong presence. How do they maintain that connection that they had in that time?

Blaire: Yeah, well, that’s very difficult. So, it can be anywhere on a spectrum. So some groups are so enlightened by that, that they make that happen. Over and over again. Oh, they involve me. That happens too. And some think that, oh, that was for that, but now back to the real world and anywhere in between. The, there’s actually a danger around that connection though. So one of the things I have seen, which I’m very wary of is that group, let’s say it’s the executive team, really connected at a human level, and now they have this. Level of trust and openness with each other that they’ve never experienced before at work, but they keep it to themselves. And so then the team beneath them suddenly starts feeling excluded. Like, Oh they’re a team separate to us. Well, what I’ve very rarely seen, and I have to encourage it and actually sort of make them do it is to say that can also happen there and there and kind of that, that, that is the way you need to be now.

And that is the bigger leap, you know, people are quite happy with team building but the concept that we need to have this level of connection with anyone. That we relate to at work and outside. That’s huge and terrifying for a lot of people.

Carolyn: And I know in your book you talked about sort of two elements of trust. And I think that really, you know, if we are to bring the conversation back to trust, that’s how this kind of change is going to permeate our organizations to really shift the system and change ahead of the 1st industrial revolution into the 4th will probably be the 5th or 6th by the time we get to it.

Can you talk a little bit more about how leaders can. Be more intentional about how they’re using trust in their leadership.

Blaire: So, like you said that two aspects to this, the first is, am I trustworthy? 

And the second is, am I willing to trust? So the trustworthiness is a little bit more obvious, right? Am I a person of my word? Do my words and deeds align? If I say something’s important to me, do I stand up for that? And we need people who will particularly when it’s uncomfortable to do so, we don’t necessarily need them to win.

We don’t need people to say, this is what I believe and I will go to my deathbed. You know, it’s, they’re just part of the conversation, but it’s the, Willingness to put it on the table, at least for consideration. And the other part of being trustworthy is that willingness to, to reveal something of yourself.

You know, the, when we reveal something of ourselves, then people are more likely to trust us because we’ve shown that vulnerability. We’ve shown up as a human being. So that’s being worthy of trust,

but the willingness to trust. Is more challenging because we have this idea. Well, you have to prove to me.

That you are worthy of trust before I’ll trust you. So I’m not just willing to trust. I don’t trust you, but if you prove to me over the next six months, five years, whatever, that I can trust you, then I will extend more trust to you. That’s just not going to work because of vicious cycle that the less you trust people, the less.

You will have reason to trust them. so this is really about examining the limits that you put on your willingness to trust, and then extending your, or reducing the limits on that willingness to trust, and then doing that some more and some more. So you look at all the ways you demonstrate that you don’t really trust people, and then you take those out.

And that might be, I mean, the example that I use is the signing off of expenses. And it goes back to this idea that, well, people are probably trying to get away with something. What if they aren’t? What if they really can see that investing here will deliver a benefit far beyond The cost, and if they, if you trust them enough to share with them the full financial picture and all the different moving parts that they will have to consider, and you trust them enough to share your expertise with them, and you trust them enough to connect them up with other experts in the organization and outside so they can make informed decisions.

Then you can trust them to decide whether that investment is worth it or not. And humans, people are managing their budget at home all the time. And most of them are doing a pretty good job. So they know that, yes, it would be nice to buy a Ferrari, but I can’t afford a Ferrari. The same way as it would be nice to buy a new tech system, but we can’t afford a new tech system.

But. There is something we can do with our current tech system at a fraction of the price if I can just spend that money without having to go through a lot of hoops to get it.

Carolyn: If we, and if we were, Blair, to take that concept cause I think that this willingness to trust, I don’t know if people realize how limited their ability to trust is. Do you agree with that?

Blaire: Oh, yeah. Yeah,

So I have a teenage daughter and She is 16 and since she was nine years old, she’s been home educated. . What happened when she came out of school initially is, Having been actually quite a diligent student, she refused to do anything at all. Because I’m her mum, not her teacher, and I don’t have the authority to make her work. And I understood from other home educating parents that this was normal.

And that what you had to do was just let that happen.

Carolyn: Yep.

Blaire: You had to trust that children are innately curious and want to learn and want to know about the world and how it works. So for about six to nine months maybe, well, Then it just became the way we do things. I intentionally didn’t teach anything. I didn’t insist she got up in the morning.

I didn’t take her computer away when she was on YouTube all day. I just let her be.

And I, we did what she wanted to do. And we went where she wanted to go around my work and all that kind of thing. We even traveled quite extensively. No learning, no formal learning. And what I noticed was how she learned, what she was interested in, what she, once she had seen everything there was to see on YouTube, which happened relatively quickly, then what she wanted to dive into.

And she asked for Hebrew lessons, and she asked for math lessons, and she wanted to do a bat mitzvah and she wanted to explore her Jewish heritage, and she wanted to learn geometry and she wanted to learn about the second world war. Okay, great. And what I realized was, I had to trust her to want to learn and to be curious.

And she had the space to do that right at that fundamental level. Most parents don’t trust their kids. feel awful saying that because it was a terribly difficult lesson for me

to learn. And still I struggle with it. All

Carolyn: well, I mean, it’s very much based in Maria Montessori’s model. So I was going to be a teacher. That was what from grade six on, I wanted to be a teacher. And I purposely, when I graduated, I did not go into that system. And I’m so glad that I didn’t. And I agree with you.

And again, here is the system, right? We see this model, this archaic industrial revolution model in our school systems as well. So yes, , it might feel like we’re getting a little bit off topic,


I don’t think we are. 

Blaire: that, that is the feeder. Yeah. into work. It’s the feeder into how we structure our society, how we communicate how we connect with ourselves or don’t. You know, so if we could change that system, then eventually it would filter through. But of course, that would require us examining those fundamental beliefs around You know, can we trust a child to be, have agency over their education?

And most parents, most adults would say, no that children need to be controlled because they’re always trying to get away with something. And then we take that same belief and we apply it in the workplace, but only because we’ve actually taught people to be that way since they were four years old.

Carolyn: I would say Blair, we blindly follow what’s been done before us and we don’t question it. And so anybody who knows Maria Montessori’s work, she firmly believed that children could learn to teach themselves. And I think it’s wonderful what you did with your daughter and I’m sure has set her up for. Yeah.

a more motivated way of being with learning versus being told what to learn, how to learn, you know, put in this assignment. And then we wonder why they, you know, we go through here in, in Canada, we have 12, 12 grades and then kindergarten and maybe junior kindergarten. So you go through 13 years of being evaluated and told right, wrong right, wrong.

And then we wonder why people get into the workforce. And carry on the exact same way we’ve got it. We’ve got to build, we’ve got to build this critical thinking such as such a younger age and bring that into the work into the workplace more. So,

Blaire: And it’s a real problem for businesses. I mean, a lot of the leaders that I speak to say, you know, we’ve got young people coming into the workplace today who don’t know how to work don’t know how to work in that environment. And there’s one reason is that this generation. The Gen Zs that are entering the workforce now were massively impacted by the pandemic.

So their education was hugely disrupted. The first few years of their working lives were remote. They just didn’t get a lot of the experiences that the rest of us got. But it’s also because more and more the education they’ve had is out of sync with what the organization needs, which is People who can think, people who aren’t afraid of authority, people who will speak up, people who have original ideas, people who are going to bring the diversity of their perspective into the room to challenge conventional wisdom.

And of course you can’t get that because they’ve not learned how to do it.

Carolyn: I also think they bring this relationship with technology that’s very different than ours. I mean, I think I’ve adapted relatively well, but at the same time, there’s just times where I want my paper and pen again, right? I don’t think my kids own a pen. Like they have to come in and get one from me.

Oh, Blair, we could talk, I think for hours I really, really appreciate your work and your perspective and how we tied that into, you know, the next generation and what we need in our workplaces. Is there anything before we head into the final segment of the show, is there anything from your book or from your speaking journeys that we haven’t touched upon that you think would be really helpful for the listeners as we close off?

Blaire: There’s something that I think it’s the last chapter in the book, which is business as a force for good in the world. And I think You know, we think of businesses at the very best benign and probably a little bit evil but you know, that’s the way it is. I truly believe that work can be hugely meaningful, not necessarily because you’re doing hugely important work that changes the world, but because.

Humans get huge reward from making a difference, whether that is making a difference to your colleague’s life or making a difference for a customer or, you know, making someone’s day a bit better or. Really, you know, moving the needle on something kind of, world changing. So work can be meaningful, but then I also believe that business of the four institutions, governments, media, NGOs, and business is the most trusted still.

It’s seen as both competent and ethical, just. And so we do have this opportunity to say, listen, all right, maybe we can’t trust politicians. You know, maybe you can’t trust what you read or hear on in the media. But. We do have still a little bit of trust for business and particularly the business that we work for, the organization we work for.

And therefore there is this opportunity to say business could be a really positive impact in the world. And we’re starting to see a number of businesses that really are. That are really willing to stand for something. And they’re willing to stand for that thing, even when there is a financial cost you know, companies like Patagonia or there’s a company called mud jeans, or Wales, which is obviously part of the UK has a basically a minister for seven generations.

And so all government policy, has to achieve a certain level in terms of the impact it’s going to have seven generations

So there are starting to be these moves to think really differently.

And there’s no reason why whoever’s listening to this and whatever business they’re in, there’s no reason why that business couldn’t do that too. And by the way, it would probably be more profitable if they did.

Carolyn: Profitable in so many ways, not just monetarily. Yeah. Oh, Blair. Thank you so much for that. Where could our listeners find out more about your work? Where can they buy your book? How can they bring you in as a keynote if they’d like to?

Blaire: So best place for me is my website, which is that people thing. com. And you can also find out how to contact me to book me for an event through there as well. I also love connecting with people on LinkedIn. So, if people want to do that, then they can find me on there as well.

Carolyn: Wonderful. Well, we will make sure that those links are in the show notes. Now, before we sign off, I like to ask all of our guests the three evolve questions. Are you, game?

Blaire: I’m ready. Yeah.

Carolyn: All right. So the first question touches on self awareness and I’m going to invite you to share Blair just an experience, an anecdote, just a short little snippet of your perspective where your self awareness really expanded or grew.

Blaire: So I mentioned that when we started home educating, we traveled a bit. we sold our house, bought a camper van, and we traveled around Europe for seven 

Carolyn: Oh, 

Blaire: together with our dogs. Yeah. It’s amazing. 2018 and I thought that was going to be the cure to my work life balance issues because, you know, move away from home, live on the road.

I was really stressed and I didn’t feel I had any work life balance. And I had a kind of insight in one particular moment where I realized there’s no such thing as work life balance without a balanced mind. And my mind is not balanced. It’s nothing to do with how many hours I do or don’t do at my desk.

It’s to do with the balance here. And then I realized. Very often the thing that we hold on tightest to needing to be true is the very thing we have to let go of. I needed it to be true that there was a solution to work life balance. And it was about how much you work and how much you don’t work. As soon as I let go of that, I was like, Oh, okay, something else can be true.

So that was a massive realization for me. And these days when I’m feel like I’m trapped, I think about. What is the thing that I’m holding on to, needing to be true? What if I let it go?

Carolyn: Wow, you got me thinking of that. The balance of the mind. I’m like, yes. Woo. So my second question is it’s probably going to relate to the first one because a balanced mind is going to mean a balanced nervous system. And I’m curious what sort of rituals or practices do you turn to, to help you find some stillness or some calmness to bring about that balanced mind?

Blaire: Yeah, so actually this is something I started doing then, but then I stopped doing for a while, and then I reinstated at the beginning of this year, which is an appreciation Diary. 

Carolyn: Yep. 

Blaire: So I do it twice a day in the morning just before I leave my bedroom to go downstairs. And in the evening, just before I turn the light out and in the morning I write down only three things.

I write down one thing I appreciate it can be from today or the day ahead, or just something that’s in my mind. One thing that’s important today and one quality that I want to bring 

into the day. And then at the end of the day, I write down three things that I appreciate about the day that I’ve had. And I can’t, I don’t allow myself to get into a whole, well I appreciate this because in other ways, you know, it was a bit rubbish.

I I just write three sentences. So I’ve been doing this now for about four or five months now. Of this year. And at the beginning, of the year, I would get to the end of the day, think about the thing that was important and the quality from, that I’d identified in the morning and thought, I’ve not,

Carolyn: Hmm. 

Blaire: that.

I’ve let myself down, but you know, still had to write down three appreciations. But actually now I’m more able to hold it in my mind and more able to to do the important thing, which sometimes is a doing, and sometimes it’s a being and the quality is always a being.

Carolyn: Wow. I have never heard somebody share journaling in that way. Yes. That’s amazing. Thank you. Now, the last one, the last question comes a bit to music and it is a question connecting to something bigger than yourself, which I believe we can do through music. So is there a song or genre of music that really inspires a sense of awe or wonder or something bigger than yourself?

Blaire: So my favorite music is the music from my teenage years. You know, bit of Duran Duran, bit of Blondie, the Cure But when I was thinking specifically about this question that connects me with my self when I was a teen, and that’s important for my sense of who I still am today, but actually.

The piece of music that I’ve chosen is the is Handel’s Messiah,

Is obviously a huge, you know, Many hours long piece of music. So I’m cheating in a way but the reason for that is it has some meaning in my family every year. There’s a Big concert in London at the Royal Albert Hall where members of the public and choirs come and sing the Messiah.

There’s no audience. It just, the whole place is full of people singing and it’s divided up into four. So all the altos sit over here and all the basses, et cetera, sit over there. And you might be sitting next to someone, you know, you don’t know but you’ve been rehearsing at home. And. I did this some years ago with my mom, who’s now passed away.

And we had the most amazing time practicing for it and then actually being in it with, I don’t know how many, 20, 000 voices, something extraordinary. And we also on Christmas day, all always have the Messiah on when we wake up in the morning and we start preparing for the day, so. I find that music has so much resonance and so much power and always different bits of it bring a tear to my eye.

So that’s what I’ve chosen.

Carolyn: Me as, I mean, as you were, I had like four different times there where chills were just going down my back. It is, it’s, I find it a moving piece as well. And maybe there’s something to like my British heritage. But I do, I find it very powerful and I do need to say that my new wave years or my youth my favorite bands were mostly from the UK orchestral maneuvers in the dark

is, um, My most favorite band.

They’re coming again this year in to Canada. Yeah. So yeah, I love that music as well. Well, Blair, it has been just an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. I am going to encourage all of the listeners to buy your book, hear what you have to say. Cause it’s inspiring. It’s not it’s not like sad.

It’s hopeful and inspiring and fun and playful, which, yeah. I think we all need a little bit more of in our life.

Blaire: We do. Yeah, we do.

Carolyn: thanks for joining us, Blair. Take care.

Blaire: Thank you.

Carolyn: Well, after this conversation with Blair, I just want to go turn on my music and listen to all the new wave music that I, I so adored when I was a teenager. You know, I’m really grateful for this conversation with Blair. Because she reminded me of the inner punk inside of me. Maybe I wouldn’t have used that word before this conversation, but that inner punk, that, girl back in my teen years was much less inhibited.

Much more resolute with what she thought was right and wrong. And somehow that. Got a little bit muted over the years. So I’m really thankful this, for this conversation with Blair really reminding me to trust in myself and trust that breaking the status quo is a good thing is a good thing. I hope you enjoyed our conversation.

I know we talked about a lot of different things. Yes, we talked about punks and suits and we went into a little bit of parenting there as well, but all really in search of finding deeper, more meaningful ways. to do our work. If you would like to learn more about me and the work I do, you can find me at carolynswora.com. And if you like this podcast, please feel free to share it with your friends, family, coworkers. And if you could leave a review, a rating and subscription or press the button to subscribe, really appreciate that too. Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you again soon.

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