Unleash Your Potential: How Focusing on Well-Being is Driving Success in Business

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How focusing on well-being drives success

Sue Rees in Conversation with Hilary Rowland – Next Chapter Retreats

There’s been a lot of talk in my network recently about well-being and personal development. I think it’s excellent that the traditionally hard-edged and stoic world of business and entrepreneurship is now much more open to discussions about mental health, the loneliness of leadership, and the real risks of burnout.

Hilary Rowland is a sought-after business coach and mentor who has recognised that even the most successful people can sometimes lose their sense of purpose and direction or run out of steam. Sometimes we all know that we aren’t performing at our best anymore, and perhaps don’t know why.

Along with Peter Hyson, Hilary has founded Next Chapter Retreats (https://thenextchapter.guru/). Her company is focused on helping emotionally intelligent and self-aware clients who need additional help to nurture those qualities to bring renewed energy and focus to their business and personal lives. She works with business leaders individually but also helps senior leadership teams.

I wanted to learn more about her new business and how its unique approach of traditional 1:1 coaching and residential and day retreats has gained praise from business founders, leaders and senior managers.

Sue Rees: Hilary, it’s lovely to meet you! Before we talk about Next Chapter Retreats, I wonder if you could give me a bit of your background in business and in coaching and development?

Hilary Rowland: Thanks, Sue. Well, my management background is pretty diverse. I’ve worked for blue chip organisations like the BBC and was a director of PWC, and those roles were all based around leadership development and transformational management. But I’ve also worked with CEOs of SMEs, where my focus was much sharper on the day-to-day needs of a growing company.

It was meeting other senior leaders and entrepreneurs through these experiences that started a fascination with personal development and how important individuals are to the success of organisations, no matter how large or small.

I went on to develop a coaching and mentoring practice. I was retained by clients such as Legal and General, World First, NHS London, and the Defence Scientific Technical Laboratory. I also chaired groups for the Academy for Chief Executives and Vistage.

SR: A huge amount of experience there! And you’ve now taken that experience and joined forces with Peter Hyson to form Next Chapter Retreats. What makes this new organisation different from some of the other business coaching companies out there – some of whom you’ve worked for in the past?

HR: Traditionally – and rightly – there’s been quite a focus on leadership in the executive coaching world. The skills you need to manage and motivate individuals and teams, how to handle difficult work situations, strategies for selling your ideas to investors, and so on.

Of course, these are skills you will need to help build and grow a business and take your people with you. But this approach tends to forget one important aspect – and that’s the well-being of those leaders. If the people at the top are struggling to cope, or to keep their motivation, or are at risk of burning out, the rest doesn’t matter. So Next Chapter Retreats design and deliver retreats for senior executives focusing on purpose, direction and well-being. We help business leaders continue to be successful.

SR: And who comes to your retreats? What are the kinds of support they are looking for?

HR: People come on the retreats with various needs and motivations – no “typical” client exists. Some are executives looking for support with a career change. Some are approaching retirement or facing a post-business exit; for many successful people, that can be a challenging time personally. Some are very stressed and either suffering from or at risk of burnout. Others are looking to refocus and re-energise as they are about to enter a critical stage in their new or growing business. Some have suffered a personal loss or a traumatic life event.

We also offer retreats tailored to senior leadership teams. These use a similar approach to our individual retreats but look at team goals and personal development.

SR: Tell me more about your retreat model. What does a typical Next Chapter Retreat look like?

HR: We host retreats at the Cowley Manor country hotel and spa in the Cotswolds. It’s a beautiful venue and, importantly, a rather tranquil place. Removing ourselves from the usual pressures of daily life is one of the benefits of a retreat. Due to demand, we’re also looking at retreat venues outside the UK.

We split our flagship retreats into an initial three-day stay, and then after a period of reflection – around 10 to 12 weeks – a follow-up two-day retreat. The programme is designed for no more than eight people. Clients have preparation work to complete before the sessions.

The first session examines what can happen if you retell your stories from a different perspective and what that shows you about your values and priorities when you are at your best. This helps you create a “LifeStoryCanvas”, clarifying your next chapter's purpose. These stories help us spot the trends and themes to create your Next Chapter and show you at your best and most fulfilled. They also show what is holding you back.

After several weeks of further reflection, thinking, and planning – with our support – part 2 helps clients write that Next Chapter and the action plan that will help them live it.

SR: What a fascinating approach. Are you seeing any common threads in executives seeking your support now?

HR: In a word, no! The reasons people join our retreats are as varied as the people themselves. However, the one thing they all have in common is that they are prepared to be open and honest with themselves, and they value an opportunity to truly step back and view the bigger picture.

SR: Do you ever have to deal with executives or entrepreneurs with an ego?

HR: They don’t tend to come to us in the first place! But, if anyone with such a personality trait approached us, we’d be very unlikely to accept them on a retreat. We’re not an open house in that sense – we get to know our applicants and prospective clients, and because we work in very small groups, we don’t allow people to attend who we feel may disrupt the dynamic. We might offer 1:1 support or an alternative coaching path, but our Retreats are successful because we ensure the right people are there.

SR: Is there a particular industry or occupation over-represented in your retreats at the moment? Are they dominated by one sex more than another?

HR: No. We have a really good mix of men and women who attend, and we get leaders, senior executives, business owners and founders from all industries and sectors. That range of experience and background is one of the reasons why the retreats work so well for participants.

SR: I know you are currently developing a welfare-specific programme. Can you tell me a little bit more about that yet?

HR: This is very much aimed at people suffering from burnout. It starts with a retreat to allow people just to stop. This gives them the space to take stock of where they are and how they got into this position – what in particular is affecting them, both circumstances and their psychology and history. Then we provide tailored content on physical wellness, recovery, resilience, emotional well-being and techniques for managing stress.

SR: I know that one of the interesting concepts you use is “ikigai”. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

HR: On the first three days of a retreat, we use the Japanese concept of Ikigai. Research was done into the inhabitants of the island of Okinawa, many of whom live to significant age with a much larger proportion than average over 100 years old. It was discovered that they have something that provides a purpose, meaning, and significance. In other words, they have something that gets them out of bed in the morning.

That doesn’t have to be your work. It can be a hobby, or it can be a relationship. Whatever it is, we use this as a framework and model for building your Next Chapter.

SR: If you had to sum up the benefits of a Next Chapter Retreat in a few words, what would they be?

HR: You will get a clarity of purpose and direction; you will be able to deal with what has been holding you back in the past; you’ll come away with a defined, achievable plan for the next 5 years; you will be part of a community of people who will provide you with ongoing support.

SR: And finally, as well as being a coach and mentor, you are also running a business. What are some of the challenges you are facing at the moment?

HR: Primarily, it’s the current economic conditions. Some people are fighting for business survival, which affects their ability to recognise that they are burnt out – or will be soon. There’s also a reticence to invest in yourself when times are tougher. The pandemic gave lots of people pause for thought. It has paralysed some and put plans on hold.

However, we’re also seeing plenty of people who recognise that when things are tough, you must look after yourself more, not less. Those who are refocusing and developing plans for success are in a much better position to weather any storm.

We’re finding clients coming to us who realised that what they were doing for a living wasn’t giving them much satisfaction and for whom the pandemic has been a bit of a catalyst. We’ve been helping people find their ikigai and support career change or moving from being an executive to set up their own business.

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