Ken Way - Spotlight


Business leaders say it’s lonely at the top, but leading GB yachtsman Alex Thomson really does know what it takes to get to the top all on his own.  Alex begins his fifth Vendee Globe round-the-world solo race on Sunday and Sladen Consulting’s Ken Way has been helping him prepare for the gruelling three month, 40,000 km race.

Just Alex, the boat, and the sea. And the benefit of Ken’s one-on-one mental coaching. Learn more about Ken’s work with Alex here.

Directors, VPs and business leaders are increasingly turning to specialist coaches to help them prepare for the challenges and responsibilities of increasingly powerful jobs.  They need expert input to assist with handling sensitive personnel issues; with getting the most out of their colleagues and themselves; with creating a single team from disparate personalities to achieve a major corporate goal.

Business leaders often talk about it being lonely at the top.  But they’re never really 100% alone. Never really facing a crisis – a real crisis – fully and totally on their own.

And then there is Alex Thomson. Who? Mr Thomson is the UK’s premier yachtsman, and he begins his fifth Vendee Globe round-the-world solo race on Sunday.

For the uninitiated, the Vendee Globe is widely-accepted as the most gruelling, physically and mentally-torturous sporting event in the world. Three months-plus of battling 60 ft waves, days spent plumbing deep loneliness, and weeks of strenuous management of a boat that resembles (and moves like) a ballistic missile on water. Covering over 40,000 km, the VG redefines the word ‘gruelling’ and is the epitome of genuine life-affirming and life-threatening challenges anyone could face.

All this is achieved completely and utterly alone as a solo round-the-world sailor.  No colleagues to swap stories with over a nightcap.  No team to help lift the heavy load.  No sharing of little victories or dissecting daily defeats by the water cooler.

Just Alex, the boat, and the sea. And the long-term and detailed benefit of years of Ken Way’s one-on-one mental coaching. Ken Way is a key associate with UK-based global management coaching team Sladen Consulting. His background in sports psychology has equipped him with some of the most intuitive and in-demand coaching techniques available.

Applying Management Techniques to a Three Month Solo Sea Battle

Alex Thomson is seen as one of the favourites for the VG 2020. He came second in 2016, thanks to a damaged boat, but still managed to break the world record for distance travelled in 24-hours (537 nautical miles at an average speed of 22.4 knots).  He’s a high achiever, like many Sladen clients. In 1999 he became the youngest skipper ever to win a round-the-world yacht race.

When the Vendee Globe 2020 begins (Sunday 8 November) Alex will take with him a set of bespoke management techniques similar to those applied to top business leaders on a daily basis.  But taken to the nth degree.  Very few corporate VPs are subjected to training where they enter a state of deep relaxation only to be woken 20 minutes later by a 110-decibel alarm signalling a potentially life-threatening problem.  And then taught to relax again to snatch a few desperate minutes of sleep before they’re woken for another vital action.

“On the surface, our corporate clients seem worlds away from Alex’s reality,” says Ken, “but, in truth, the principles are the same.  For top sportspeople and business leaders alike, the need is for discipline and quick-thinking, for negotiating and channelling ambition.

“As in many fraught, strategic business situations, we’re dealing with the whole gamut of human emotions, from anxiety to euphoria; from fear to boredom; and from despondency and fatigue to some form of ecstasy.”

Ken has worked with Sladen Consulting for a few years now and has the track record of a man who is only called on by the best in their field – and it often is an actual field.  Remember the Leicester City team that shocked the football world by winning the 2016 Premier League at odds of 500-1? Ken helped build their confidence and team ethos.  RAF pilots needing to hone their performance? Ken is there for them, too.  A global bank needing to unite offices around the world to work as one?  Ken’s your man.

Distilling Vital Management Techniques into a 90 Minute Skill Bite

Ken is a key player, too, when it comes to Sladen Consulting delivering its Skill Bites sessions – 90 minutes of distilled and easily-digested motivational and inspiring management technique as favoured by major corporations across the business world.

Ken’s specialisms are Skill Bites focussing on self-motivation and making responsibility count.  Both of which translate directly into his work alongside Alex Thomson.

“My relationship with Alex is really special,” says Ken.  “This is the fourth VG I’ve helped him prepare for and we meet more and more regularly in the lead-up to all his major races.  But the VG is the big one.”

Many of the specific techniques that Ken works on with Alex remain a tightly-guarded secret. Techniques which may, hopefully, contribute to Alex Thomson being crowned winner of the 2020 Vendee Globe.  For the businesspeople with whom Ken and the Sladen team work, the challenge may not be quite as gruelling or lonely, but it is often equally as critical in terms of achieving an important goal and raising performance standards.

“Part of my job is to give Alex mental exercises that enable him to flatten out the highs and lows so he can concentrate on the vital task in hand – and as this is the Vendee Globe, there is always a task in hand!

“As in business, people have to manage the situation and manage their emotions. Excitement has to be enjoyed but also controlled because the next challenge is around the corner and there is no time for complacency.

“In some ways, racing yachts is similar to managing many of the businesses I have worked in – lots of emotion and a double-dose of energy” explains Ken.  “But the Vendee Globe takes it all to the max!”

Rise, Shine and Restore - Richard Colley Interview

Eoin Walker has put together a series of podcasts where he has “restorative conversations with real people”. 

The ‘real’ person in this episode is our very own Richard Colley! Take some time out and listen in to find out more about what drives him, what his vulnerabilities are, and get an insight into our unique Sladen team culture. This is a very open and honest insight from our founder – thank you Eoin.

Listen Here

Simone Douani - Spotlight

“There is ‘magic’ inside all of us”

Simone Douani is an accomplished coach and facilitator, he is also an actor and singer, having trained in these disciplines in Italy and in the UK.  London is now home, and he took the time out of his busy life to answer some questions about his approach to coaching and facilitation and why he enjoys working for Sladen Consulting.

Personal Learning Journey

Much as many of Sladen’s clients go on a learning journey when they engage our services, Simone has been on his own personal learning journey, making the move from being a professional actor to a skilled coach.  On moving to London in 2009 Simone was appointed by a corporate client to do role play at various events in Europe, using his acting skills and developing his facilitation ability more and more.  This quickly led to more corporate work and Simone, realising his passion for the corporate world proceeded to train as a professional coach accredited by ICF (International Coach Federation) since then he has been in huge demand as a coach and facilitator.

Why Sladen?

Simone has many reasons for being part of team at Sladen Consulting.  He loves the “family feel” that Richard and Julie Colley have created, and the team are often referred to as the ‘Sladen Family’.  This feeling of being part of a family is something special that gives a very personal approach to the way Sladen works.  Simone also acknowledges and celebrates the fact he works alongside a very diverse team.  The team is diverse in many different things; speaking over 20 languages, based all over the world, with different backgrounds; each person with a unique skill set but with shared values.   The opportunity to skill share, network, exchange ideas, with diversity of thought and a very professional but personal way of working is what draws Simone to working with Sladen.

Coaching leaders requires honesty and flexibility

One of the areas that Simone’s skills are in demand is coaching leaders, where he stresses “a flexible approach is essential to be able to understand what they need and therefore how to support them”.  Establishing an effective level of communication to be able to have clear and honest conversations is one of Simone’s many skills; he is transparent and “says things like they are” and this honesty is appreciated and valued by those who work with Simone.

A lot has changed in the last year and Simone stresses that it has never been more important to embrace the human aspect of being a leader; to understand the need to flex leadership styles and the need to care for teams because everyone reacts to situations in a different way.   We cannot just listen to the words that people are saying, we must also look for the signals we receive when we communicate with people.  Moving team members from a negative mindset and help them to think in a more positive way has certainly been a challenge this year.  Leaders have had to work hard in the last 12 months to adapt their leadership style, and Simone has been by their side to support them where needed.

Coaching leaders is all about balance: giving the right amount of support, but also the right amount of challenge; working on professional needs but also the human aspect.  To be an effective leader you need to work on your vulnerability, to understand you are a human being and you can make mistakes, and to accept you need support from your team, and when you do that you and your team are ready to share ideas and innovate.   Simone is firm believer that you cannot be innovative without accepting that you can make mistakes as well.  A good leader must be able to empower their team, have a diverse team, and be able to listen to their teams.

There is ‘magic’ inside all of us

A recent testimonial received by Simone, referred to him “doing magic”, but it is Simone’s opinion that there is magic inside all of us.  He says “my work as a coach is to help clients find this magic, to be able to see this magic and be able to use it.  It is not coming from the outside world, it is from a journey that we do together”.  Simone helps people see themselves from a different perspective, to make the magic clear, and find it together with the client.  Simone is also an expert in performance and presentation coaching, supporting leaders and employees being more effective (both virtually and face-to-face) when presenting to a large audience or when running meetings with their team.

The most common feedback Simone receives from participants is that of “surprise”, that they have received a different kind of experience from other training or coaching sessions.  In delivering Sladen Skill Bites for example, they appreciate not being faced with lots of slides and the level of engagement is often mentioned, how valuable the learning journey has been and the memorable experience they had.   Sometimes people expect a ‘ted talk’ type experience however Simone’s style is about connecting with people, whether face to face or virtual.  He always tries to connect and embrace the human aspect, not just thinking about ‘participants’ but about everyone being human beings.

Above all Simone has developed a holistic approach in coaching and training: he believes that through a deep understanding of ourselves and how we react to others we can unlock our full power and achieve our personal and professional goals. Challenges and curiosity are often great opportunities to move forward towards a fearless future

You need a Plan B and even a Plan C!

Simone loves facilitating small and large virtual meetings.  When asked about what challenges this presents, Simone stressed that technology is the number one issue – it is essential that you know the technical platform you are using, he always has a plan B and even a plan C!  After technology, the biggest challenge is engagement.  Virtually it can be easier to get distracted, to check mobile phones and emails, and do something that is not relevant.  “The biggest challenge is to get people on board right at the start, the beginning of the event is the key point, no matter how many people are in the event or meeting, you have to catch their attention, make them laugh, get them on board, this makes it much easier moving forward”.  He makes his sessions as interactive as much as possible, encouraging people to talk or use the chat box, and also incorporating breaks and reflection time.

Tips from the stage

Simone often draws on his training and experience as an actor when running meetings, and there are a few things we can all learn from this.  “You must understand that every time you have one or more people in front of you it is a performance; as a performer you need to be ready, you need to know what you are going to say, much like having a script but in a very flexible way”.  And we can all do some breathing or mindfulness exercises which can help us focus more and reduce any anxiety.  Then whether on stage or in a meeting, we need to be ready to be present in the moment.  Actors can forget lines and will not always follow a script, without the audience ever realising.  The relationship you have with your agenda or meeting content is extremely important, be in the moment and know what you want to say but don’t be stuck with a rigid structure.  The level of energy and the way you deliver a message are the only thing that changes between meeting with 1 person, or delivering to 1000, a high level of energy is essential for larger meetings and presentations.

Diagnosis to Delivery

Simone’s enjoys initially developing relationships with clients.  “I like the journey together with clients, the follow up conversations we have, things that we can build together.  The designing part and the diagnostic, this is where the creative part comes in, working out what tools I can use and delivering them”.

Each morning I wake up and feel fortunate

Simone is motivated by being able to help others and doing something he loves: “The last year has been so difficult for so many people; I feel blessed, I love what I do.  I used to travel a lot, a couple of times a week, I loved travelling and miss that.  But I was already delivering virtually with Sladen before the pandemic and I feel blessed to be able to work in this way.  Each morning I wake up and feel fortunate, there are busy days and sometimes it is tiring, but I feel happy to be doing something I really love.   Also, I feel I am helping others, through our work we are able to really give support to people who are having difficult times with the current situation.”

Learning while laughing (and singing!)

Before the pandemic, Simone also loved organising away days and working on team building.  He strongly believes the learning process is more effective when “a good laugh” is involved.  Simone will always try to find a moment to relax and laugh and introduce a fun element.  During away days what he wants to achieve is that everyone finishes having learned and established strong team relationships without even realising it.

On a final note…given Simone’s background he has on occasion, even in very formal corporate environments, been asked to sing a song at the end of a training session!  He has sung in Italian, a cappella two or three times.  So, if you are fortunate enough to work with Simone, you know you will be engaged, with transparency and humour, and you may even be treated to a song, learning without even realising.