Episode 15: The Potential for What? Podcast with Tracy Forsyth

The importance of processing emotions at work with Tracy Forsyth – The Potential for What? Podcast

Welcome to The Potential For What? Podcast, where we explore the importance of processing emotions in the workplace. This week Tracy Forsyth, a Leadership Coach & Mentor for Senior Talent in the Creative industry, is joined by Jo Taylor (MD at Let’s Talk Talent) to discuss her passion for coaching and mentoring talented individuals who have struggled with self-doubt and limitations.

Tracy provides valuable insights into unlocking potential in people and the importance of encouraging women to be self-aware and overcome social conditioning that may hold them back from fully fulfilling their potential.

In today’s episode, we talk about:

  • 🛠️ The tools and techniques to navigate criticism and self-doubt
  • 😁 The importance of purpose and finding joy in one’s work
  • 🏆 The importance of pausing to process emotions, understanding one’s factory settings, and cultivating inner champions

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Transcript of Episode 15: The Potential for What? Podcast with Tracy Forsyth

Jo Taylor  00:04

Welcome to the Potential For What podcast. On this podcast we explore how a range of business leaders unlock the potential in people. We’ll hear how they’ve done it, find out what’s worked, what hasn’t, and why this is so important in getting and keeping great people. Most businesses focus on the here and now: that is, all about performance. But at Let’s Talk Talent we like to think differently, as we fundamentally believe everyone has potential. The question is for what? So let’s explore that together. I’m your host, Jo Taylor, Managing Director of Let’s Talk Talent, a talent management and organisational development consultancy based in London, the UK. I have a request: if you value this show, if you enjoy these stories, or find this wisdom or inspiration useful, please subscribe to the Potential For What podcast to listen to future episodes.

Jo Taylor  00:57

Hi everybody, and welcome to the Potential For What podcast. I’m Jo Taylor, MD of Let’s Talk talent, and I’m really excited to be joined today on our next episode with Tracy [Forsyth]. She’s a leadership coach working with senior leaders across the creative industries. And funny story, I started off my career at the BBC and worked with Tracy probably about 30 years ago.

Tracy Forsyth  01:19

That’s right, happy days. You were an absolutely brilliant production manager, I think it was at the time, all your productions were ship-shape and Bristol fashion. We always knew where we were with you. Everything was always on time, on budget, on schedule.

Jo Taylor  01:33

Oh, that’s very nice, thank you. Thank you very much. And it was a pleasure all those years ago working with you. And you’ve had a really eclectic career since we worked together, do you want to share a little bit about your journey and unlocking your potential to start off with?

Tracy Forsyth  01:48

Yes, of course. Very briefly; at a very early age, like from the age of five, I knew I wanted to work in television. I thought back then that I wanted to be a newsreader because it just looked so glamorous and so much fun. And then, when I was 13, I had a careers talk, you know, one of those sessions when they say “What do you want to be?” And for some reason, I just knew that I wanted to be a producer director, because it meant – I didn’t know what that meant – but what it meant for me was being around cameras, lights, action, and I couldn’t think of anything more exciting. So when I did leave school and education, I did whatever I could to try and get a job in television. So I started off at the very bottom as a Trainee Researcher/Runner. I was a freelancer for many years, hustling my way up the production ladder, so from Researcher to Associate Producer to Producer, Director, etc, etc. So I had a long and varied career in television production. Then went into commissioning, which is like the- you work for a broadcaster and you commission the programme, so that was a very different experience. And then I became a senior leader, senior part of the global leadership team at the BBC, looking after a big department that oversaw investment into content, investment into companies, and the global rollout of things like Top Gear, Bake Off, and Strictly Come Dancing. So then what I realised is that I kind of had loved that, but I felt that I had reached the top rung of the ladder. And I didn’t- even though there were a couple more rungs above me, I just didn’t fancy it, just didn’t energise me, didn’t fill me with excitement. And at that time, I was being asked to mentor a lot of people. And what I realised in mentoring other people is that I was surrounded by younger versions of me. Talented people who were full of self doubt. People who held themselves back through worries about saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, seeming the wrong way, etc, etc. And I thought, well, this just won’t do, because too much talent is going to waste. And so I decided I was going to devote the rest of my life, or certainly this next chapter, to coaching and mentoring what I call ‘self critical overachievers’, so people who are talented but are full of self doubt, and where people are getting self doubt and limitations, and kind of thinking they are obstacles in their way. So my life now is really about helping those people- release people from self doubt and perceived limitations, so that they can be fearlessly them. So, that’s what I do. So I work mainly as a coach across the creative industries. I do work outside those industries, particularly with women in leadership. So that’s me, and I have a very busy and wonderful purpose-filled life doing exactly what I love, and seeing a positive impact as a result

Jo Taylor  04:52

Oh that’s amazing. And you can hear it in your voice, and I can see you, for the listeners who are obviously just listening to this, you know, I can see Tracy kind of lighting up when she’s talking about it. And that just kind of leads me, because you touched on it a number of times, about women in particular, and both of us being, you know, I’d like to say successful women in our careers, what role does gender play? And what role has gender played, do you think, in you realising your potential, but also how you’re coaching women to really think about harnessing that power?

Tracy Forsyth  05:25

You know what, in television, it’s- particularly in the kind of television that we were in, like factual entertainment and entertainment, there are a lot of women there and a lot of senior women, so I can honestly say that in my television career, in that production career, certainly, I never really experienced sexism or being held back. But when I got to a corporate leadership position, where there were a lot more commercial men in suits around the table, I really started to notice that the people who were really at that board level, in positions of power, and probably the ones that were earning the big bonuses, tended to be men. The women tended to be in arguably the softer areas like public relations, or HR. I’m not denigrating those at all, but the big sort of CFO, CEO, you know, COO, all tended to be men. And for the first time ever, really, I was aware that there was a way that women thought about leadership. And a lot of the people that I coached, were wanting to step up to that board level, and were thinking that they had to act like a man in order to be taken seriously. And I really became aware that things like if a woman argued for something – well, and this happened to me, you know, I was arguing a point about my department, and one of the C-suite men turned around to me and said, put his hands up and said, “You are being too much.” And in my head, I was like, “What?” You know, “I’m not being too much, I’m basically- I’ve come to you with my proposal, my arguments, etc, etc.” I knew I was not being too much. And I knew that that was his perspective of it. What really kind of hit home to me is that there is an expectation from both sides, I think, in a lot of places about how leaders behave. And that can be a – and I’ve witnessed it in some of the people that I’ve coached – a limiting behaviour or a limiting belief about, “If I’m a woman, I don’t want to be seen as pushy. It’s not becoming. I don’t want to be seen as bossy. I don’t want to be seen as aggressive.” But it you know, like, aggressive and assertive are, I think it’s so depends so much about the eye of the beholder. Pushy and driven, you know, pushy, passionate, well, you know, who’s calling what, who. And the interesting thing about bossy, is that if you think about the word bossy, it’s like an adverb, adjective, whatever. But, you know, the ‘y’ at the end of a word normally means ‘to be like that’. So I kind of think, well, bossy means to be boss-like, so what is wrong with that? But you look up in the dictionary, it’s not that. It’s like, oh, “fond of giving orders”. And it’s seen as a negative context. And I did, I have my own personal theory that it was written by a man. And actually, the other day, I looked up, I Googled: “definition of a bossy man”. And there isn’t one. All the examples are of women. So I don’t- I do think that women- listen, we haven’t even really properly had the vote, I think, for 100 years, women. You know? So we are still, in terms of equality, etc, etc, and representation, we’ve still got a long way to go. And you think globally, I mean, my goodness, you know, there’s a huge way to go. But I do think that one of the biggest things to be aware of, in terms of a woman fulfilling your potential, is be aware of social conditioning, and how much it is holding you back, if at all. What lens do you see yourself through? Like, are you comfortable being an assertive person? Or are you being- are you holding yourself back for fear that you will be seen as aggressive or too much? To me, I think I’ve always been pretty assertive. So I think I had the self knowledge to understand that when that man said to me, put his hands up and said, “You’re being too much,” inside I was going “well, F you, no I’m not.” You know? But I think other people might, might not. And I think it’s just- I think women, ideally, need to be self aware about what is actually going on. Be aware of the conditioning that they are- they may be under, and in terms of how they’re expected to behave, and whether that is masking their true potential as a leader.

Jo Taylor  09:52

There will be lots of different people from lots of different backgrounds on this podcast, and they’re thinking “I can really relate to that, I’ve been called that,” or, “this has happened to me.” I mean, I’m listening to it and thinking I’ve had those sorts of comments in my career. And, you know, it’s quite hard sometimes to be resilient, especially if it’s something that you’ve heard quite a few times. What are the tools and techniques that you use, or you’re using in your coaching, to enable someone to sort of, in a way, look at it as rationally as you’ve described, when the emotion can kind of get in the way?

Tracy Forsyth  10:29

Well, there’s a couple of things there. I want to say that, you know, we are organic living human beings. And feelings, thoughts, emotions, are, I think, like a manifestation of thoughts, fears, values being trod on. So I think first and foremost, I think, is to really pause, and process what the emotion is, because we often say- often react in anger. The other way of looking at it is like; if you’re cross with somebody, say somebody at home, like your other half or whatever, and that person says, “What’s wrong?” You often go, “Nothing. No, I’m fine.” And we all know you’re not fine. It’s just that there is- that you cannot necessarily, at that point, put into words, what you’re feeling. There’s a whole thing that you’re thinking and feeling, then there’s a smaller thing that you can actually put into words, and then you might want to edit that into what you say. Because if you actually came out and said, “Well, I’m really pissed off that, you know, you did such and such,” you know it’s going to be a fight, and you’re trying to avoid that, right? The first thing, I think, partly, is to just pause for yourself, and process the emotion. Process, what is going on, so that you can really think, “Well, what is it that I’m feeling? What is the anger? What is the emotion? What is the hurt? What is the pain? What is underneath that? Is it that it’s unjust?” I don’t know, “I’m feeling unfairly treated,” or “I’m feeling not valued or not appreciated.” And just look underneath it and go, “Well, what need is not being met? What value is being stepped on? What is it?” You know? And then from that position of having processed it and seeing what’s at the bottom, then decide how to proceed. What is it that you need? Is it that you actually need to feel that, you know, your presence is appreciated, you know, maybe in your role back in the day, you know, you would have been the one keeping everybody on the straight and narrow. So people would have said, “Oh, you know, she’s not letting us do something,” or whatever. And that can feel unappreciated, and whatever, because actually, if you didn’t do that, nobody would have a job. You know, if you manage the budget badly, nobody would be there. So it’s a question of like, thinking from that position of like, well, what is actually going on underneath the emotion? It’s like how to proceed is that actually we sit down with that person say, “This is the issue, this is the big picture. If we don’t stick to the budget, then … So what I need from you is to …” So it’s that, that’s one thing. The other thing that I think is really important, is to understand you and your factory settings. You know, that’s why I always say, “Be fearlessly you. But becoming fearlessly you takes work.” Because we are in it, we, you know, we look at ourselves through a particular lens. And it’s not always an objective lens, you know? We tell ourselves- we have a whole inner narrative going on, that is normally very different from the narrative that other people see us through, you know? Which is why so many people are so self critical, and other people would never believe it. Most of the really, you know, high achieving top leaders that I see having a very strong inner critic, and their team would never suspect it. One of the things I think, is really to understand almost like what your factory settings are. How you operate, in what environment you thrive and what you don’t thrive in. So for example, I always kind of do this exercise saying, imagine you were a toy bought from a shop, and you’d come with instructions, you know, like say you’re a Buzz Lightyear toy, and you say, Put two AAA batteries, then pull the string and he’ll say, “To infinity and beyond”, right? So it’d be like, these are the instructions to make it work. And then they’d always be, like, warnings, like do not submerge in water, otherwise, you’ll break the thing. So we think about ourselves, it’s like, well, what are our- if we really think objectively, what do we need in order to make us work? What environments do you thrive and do not thrive in? And what are your do not submerge in water warnings? So for me, what I’ve learned in my time is that I can work in a big corporate environment in a big global matrix, but I don’t thrive. You know, I actually thrive being independent and running my own time and being footloose and fancy free. Similar thing, like, if you think about your socialising, like, you know, if you put me in a big party without a purpose, I’m going to be like, once I’ve had a drink and eaten all the canapés, I’m gonna want to go home. But if you put me on a one to one, or just like with a small group over dinner, then I can talk till the cows come home. So, understand yourself without judgement. You know? So and going back to your original question, well, how do you cope in terms of resilience? It’s like, well, what makes me work is feeling appreciated and valued. So if I get 10 people coming to me and moaning, etc, then that is going to feel rubbish. That’s my do not submerge in water. So conversely, what do I do about that? Well, I know that I need a top up of appreciation, and whatever. So I’m gonna go and ask for some feedback of people that I know, are satisfied customers, you know?

Jo Taylor  16:02

It makes a lot of sense. And I think I’ve definitely noticed that, sort of coming out of corporate myself, that I need feedback – and in a way, some of that validation – more than I did when I worked in corporate, because you used to get it. Whereas I think, when you work for yourself, a lot of the time, especially now that we’re all, you know, working from home, and we’re not necessarily interacting in the same way, and that interaction is very much on a screen, if it can feel a bit more clunky asking for that. And what I like about what you’re saying is that, fundamentally, what gives you joy, is driven by purpose. And I always say that purpose drives my passion. And that’s what, in a way, is the rocket fuel that you’re talking about. And sometimes we forget that, when we’re caught up in the moment of criticism, or self doubt, or inner critic. Nikki Gatenby was on our podcast, probably a couple of episodes ago. And she talked about, we all have an inner critic and an inner mentor. And I really love that concept of sort of being your own inner mentor and figuring out who else you can connect with.

Tracy Forsyth  17:08

Yeah, I call it inner champions. Yeah. So you have your inner critic, and you might have a whole bunch in there. But by the same token, you can have, like, either people you admire, characters from movies that you love as your inner champions, and you think, “Well, what would they say to me right now? What would they say to my inner critic?” And they are, some people in coaching, sometimes people call that your ‘future leader’, it’s your future self.

Jo Taylor  17:32

I remember doing an exercise once with a coach that told me to write a letter to myself in five years time. And I remember it being really, really difficult, but actually got me to really think about what gave me joy. And I think that’s what, for me, potential is all about. It’s finding that joy, and only you as an individual know that. And coaching, mentoring, sponsorship really helps. But until you understand yourself, it’s really difficult to kind of unlock that potential, right?

Tracy Forsyth  18:05

Well, I think understanding yourself and embracing that helps you stop comparing yourself negatively to others. And I think sometimes it does come with age, because I’m a lot wiser now, you know, because I’ve had- in my 50s now. So I think- I do think that actually, when you’re in your 20s and 30s, you are on a voyage of discovery. You’re collecting the experiences, you’re collecting the adventures, you’re collecting the highs and lows, which, when you’re a little bit older, you can look back and reflect on. So, you know, I think it’s really easy at this age to start thinking about purpose and all of that kind of thing. But I think my definition for people who aren’t- haven’t got all that behind them is to say, well, you can live a purposeful life without having a very clearly defined purpose. And what I mean by that is doing the things that energise you, and having the impact that you find meaningful, you know? So if you’re in a job, you know, ask yourself, “What is it that I’m doing most of the time? And do they energise me? You know, what is my favourite meeting of the day? What is it about that, that I’m actually loving?” Because those are the things that energise you. And then also, “What is the outcome or the impact that I find satisfying?” Part of understanding your factory settings is understanding those two things. What are your doing words your energising doing words? And what is the impact that you find meaningful? Because many of us on those adventures end up in jobs because we’re either, you know, we’re good deliverers and, you know, we are hardworking and- but it doesn’t mean that you always end up in a job that really sparks joy or has purpose for you, because we’re all very capable people. So I think the thing to ask is, “What are your doing words and is that in my job? And if it’s not, can I make it more so.”

Jo Taylor  19:57

Love that. So, Tracy, if people wanted to find out more about what you do, you know, have some coaching or get involved with any of the great initiatives that you’re running, How can people connect with you?

Tracy Forsyth  20:08

They can find me on my website, which is fasttracktofearless.com. And I’ve called it Fast Track to Fearless because fearless is how I want people to feel about themselves. I met too many people who were uber-talented, but live their life in self doubt. And then fast track – time is of the essence, I don’t want to waste time. And I’ve learned, in my life, lots of tools and techniques, you know, how to network like a ninja, how to do an elevator pitch, all this kind of thing, confidence, you know, all that kind of thing. So I’ve got all kinds of tools and techniques to help people get there. So ‘Fast Track to Fearless’ is my website, or they can contact me through LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. And I’m Tracy Forsyth Coach on LinkedIn.

Jo Taylor  20:52

Brilliant. And the final question I have, are there any articles, blogs, podcasts, videos that you would recommend, if people are really connecting with what you’re talking about, that can start them on that journey?

Tracy Forsyth  21:07

Yes, I obviously have my own, fasttracktofearless.com. But, I mean, the books that I’ve loved – I’ve always loved loads of books – one of the best books I’ve ever read is ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey. It’s a very old one. But it’s all those seven steps. I think he’s got eight now. But 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a brilliant one to begin with. That one for me was a game changer. 

Tracy Forsyth  21:13

Love it. Thank you. It’s been really nice to reminisce a little bit about our time working together all those years ago at the BBC. And it’s just so fantastic to hear about all the amazing things that you’ve done and that you continue to do in Fast Track to Fearless, so thank you so much.

Tracy Forsyth  21:50

Thank you for having me. And if I didn’t express my appreciation for your many talents back then, let me do it now. You were a fantastic Production Manager, Head of Production, etc, etc, Production Exec.

Jo Taylor  22:01

Thank you, Tracy. Take care.

Jo Taylor  22:06

Thanks for listening to the Potential For What podcast. If you’re hearing this message, you’ve listened to our new episode all the way to the end, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you did, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Please share this episode with others who may be interested in this topic. As always, you can head over to letstalktalent.co.uk/podcasts to check out all the links and resources in the show notes and to sign up to our email list.