In conversation with: Simon Weston CBE
On Tuesday 9th May, we were thrilled to welcome Simon Weston CBE to the Forum. Before he made what transpired to be an intriguing, enlightening and often-humorous address, Simon kindly took time out to be interviewed by us. Paul MacKenzie-Cummins interviews.
We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we certainly enjoyed speaking with him.
1. In business, crisis can happen and when it does, different business leaders react in different ways. Lord Howard was recently accused of attempting to escalate the war of words over Gibraltar, suggesting that Theresa May would be prepared to go to war over the Rock à la Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands. What is your take on that situation, and what lessons can business leaders learn when faced with a potential inflammatory situation?
The Gibraltar story it was nothing short of hysteria fuelled by the media who wanted it to be more problematic than it actually was. There seemed to be an agenda – to look for division within the country regarding Brexit. But like it or loathe it, it is happening and we all need to just get on with it.
When you actually listen to what Lord Howard said rather than interpret it in a way that suits one agenda over another, it's a storm in a teacup. We all need to calm down and understand the context by which any comment is made. If you’re a key player in what could be a major furore, you need to take control of the situation yourself.
Making a statement is all very well, but it needs to be backed up and the biggest thing you can do in life is invest in yourself. While you may not be exposed to the media on a daily basis, like I have done many times throughout my career, undertaking some form of media training is important.
It will enable you to better deal with any crisis or controversy affecting your business; you need to learn how to deal with the media who will be looking to feed off that controversy. Remember, the media have the power – the influence – to build your business and break it at the same time.
2. In the book by Ryan Holiday, ‘The Obstacle is the Way’, the author about the time when Napoleon was planning the French invasion of Italy. But the Alps stood in his way but he was undeterred and he reportedly stated that the obstacle had become the way. You have that same single-minded determination, so when you meet and speak with business leaders - some of whom face their own mountains of challenges - what do you say to them?
A lot of businesses already know the answer, many of them have been down the path of facing and overcoming various challenges. Rather, I try to add some context, to make them see that although some of these challenges may seem particularly bad, they may not be quite as bad as they seem at first.
In business, if you truly believe in it, you have to keep going – to be confident. There are many great adages that can be found on the internet, but one that resonates with me most is when life seems like hell, just keep going. The point is this: don’t leave the stones unturned.
If you have job to do and you want to build on what you have, you need to turn every stone and explore every avenue before even thinking about quitting. But don’t try to overcome these challenges alone or seek to find the answers within your existing circles, because the answers may lie elsewhere.
The people who have helped me most are those who came into my life at the right time – they were the ones who gave the answers I needed, not those that I wanted. When I was in hospital, there were those who were telling me I’d be out next week, or next month. It took four years before I was finally able to fully leave.
Sometimes the road we are on is treacherous and painful and there are no short cuts to getting where you want to be. But you have to keep going because eventually it will turn – there is no success that comes in straight lines.
3. This is Mental Health Awareness Week, with the media’s attention very much focused on raising awareness of the issues and personal challenges that many people face. It was something you have said affected you for 24 years, which we now call PTSD, so how do you thing it has changed over the last 35 years?
It is still so new, for the average person on the street. It goes back to what I said earlier about seeking support in business; mental health is not something that should be dealt with alone. If things do not seem right to you, speak to someone who can help and advise you. Think about it in a sporting context: if you developed an injury you would see a doctor and it is the same if you have a mental health issue.
Physical health and mental health needs to be viewed and treated in the same way. Our understanding of mental health has come on leaps and bounds in recent years – psychologists and psychiatrists today can brilliantly pinpoint where the issues stem from.
So while we were once told kids to ‘snap out of it’ or say thinks like they will ‘grow out of it’, we now know this to be wrong. They don’t get over it, it carries over into adult life but we’re now better armed to address these issues.
4. You received your OBE in 1992 followed by a CBE in 2015. From the work you do for charity and the speaker engagements you attend to writing books and the TV work you have done, what gives you the greatest pleasure and enjoyment?
The next thing. There is pride you have in all that I do, and even if I sometimes feel that I haven’t necessarily been on my best form I always want people to feel like they have gotten something from what I have said or done. I gain great pleasure from that.
Success is its own reward but I do feel that people can sometimes put too much pressure on themselves in terms of what they are looking for. It’s great to admire and aspire to achieve the same success that others have, but put it into context – have a healthy envy but never be jealous of anybody.
5. Of all the things you have seen, done and learnt over the past 35 years, if you could pass on one single piece of advice to business leaders what would it be?
On a personal level, simply like who you are. Be at the point where you can respect who you are and what you have done and when that happens you will soon find that you get a lot of respect from other people. On a business level, make sure you continue to invest in yourself.
If you invest in yourself you will gain a greater understanding of what it is you are trying to achieve and in doing so, you can invest more in your business. And always seek advice, especially from those who have been down the road you are travelling before you. They have already made the mistakes that you might make and they can help guide you so that you can avoid repeating what they have done.
Never try to be an island – everything that I have achieved I have done with the support of others. We’ve all made mistakes, especially the most successful business leaders – they’ve each failed at some point along their journey.