The Business Interview: Sonia Saxton MD Saxton Partners
Windsor House, Harrogate. Photo: Graham Hermon
It was Agatha Christie who coined the phrase “little grey cells” with the creation of her fictional Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who solved puzzling crimes with, as it turns out, using only 40 per cent of his brain.
I’m reminded of this, whilst hurrying past Harrogate's Swan Hotel, where Christie famously retreated to escape the pressures of life, en route to Windsor House.
I am meeting an executive coach, who believes that by utilising ‘grey matter’ and understanding how chemicals work in the brain, the result can lead to a positive impact on productivity and growth.
Sonia Saxton. Photo: Graham Hermon
Greeted by Sonia Saxton, Managing Director of Saxton Partners, in her consulting room, she immediately and enthusiastically starts telling me about the workplace benefits of neuro-linguistics: chemical reactions inside the body can speed up or reduce effectiveness. By learning how to release the right chemicals has an enormous positive effect on mental health and business success.
Ms Saxton, has a “proven recipe for success” to help individuals develop emotional resilience and thereby improve workplace productivity.
She started her business in 1999, when Ms Saxton decided she wanted to be in charge of her my own destiny.
Planning her future, Ms Saxton, who had been working as a training manager for the Sun Alliance Insurance Group, as it was called then, chartered a new career to develop some thinking behind research into her field.
“I was developing my neuro-linguistics research. I found it was a great way to work with people and change productivity. I was so successful I was asked to double the amount of people I coached. To do this, I fast tracked my neuro-linguistics research work. I had recognised how using these techniques got straight to the cause of an individual’s problems, i.e., what was getting in the way of performance, the blocker if you like, and how to fix it.”
Explaining the science behind neuro-linguistics, Ms Saxton says: “Neuro is the mind’s pathways; the linguistics side is the language you use both inside your head and with other people. Your values; what is important to you, your beliefs and what switches you on and off is your programming.
“For example, if you say to yourself; it’s going to be a difficult day, then it probably will be. If, instead, you say it will probably be a challenge and I will find a way to resolve those challenges, it puts you in a totally different mindset.
“When you’re talking to people, instead of saying what you need to do is this, consider saying ‘here are some
of the things you might
consider’. Using ‘some’ and ‘might’ is more engaging and you don’t actually dominate people. Instead you listen and help them in a way that will feel more motivational because they are deciding how they are going to run things.”
Another technique is using the past tense and words that end in ‘ed’ such as achieved or finished for example.
How does this work I wonder? “It’s about visualising situations to achieve”.
To illustrate the point, Ms Saxton asks me if I have any challenges on the horizon. As it happens, I do. I explain I‘m just about to cycle a gruelling 150 miles in day, Coast to Coast from the Lake District to Whitby.
Can I use this technique I ponder?
“Of course. You must visualise. See yourself as having achieved it. Roger Banister, when he set about running the first 4 minute mile, remarked he visualised having achieved and heard the applause.
“It’s about focusing on the outcome. Notice too, the ‘ed’ on end of words. He achieved, delivered and produced. That takes you to the end game and in doing so releases noradrenaline as a chemical in the brain. This enables one to concentrate on the end game. It gives you the momentum to move forward to focus on what you have achieved and think about what’s in it for you. Dopamine is released and this is the interest chemical. When mixed, the two chemicals partner each other creating a fantastic recipe for success. Noradrenaline keeps you focused and dopamine keeps your interest firmly in place.
In layman’s terms, it is the ‘ooh’ in everything you are doing to get to the end game.
“These things are really important for businesses. Leaders who are creating strategy and running businesses get the noradrenaline and dopamine to work in their favour to generate success. You might know where you are going, but if you don’t have enough dopamine running to sustain the interest, that is when it can go wrong.
“If you have the right chemical mix and the right language in your head, you will always find a way. I say to my coachees: ‘it is only a question of how?‘
“As long as you have the intellectual and physical capability along with emotional resilience, you can do most things in your life. If you are missing one of those, surround yourself with people who will make up the deficit."
According to Ms Saxton this is one of the keys to being an entrepreneur. Thinking about the end game, using “artful vaguerism”.
Ms Saxton believes when her clients combine and use the access to all the ideas and knowledge they have seen and heard it acts as an enabler to success.
“I see it as pulling up an individual’s mental databank. I don’t think it is necessarily about having the ability, although a person will have seen somebody at some point having achieved the things they want. It is about how to tap into that. I have always been a strong advocate of the maxim that states: if you surround yourself with those who have a lot more going for them, you can only learn. That is the exciting thing about the world today, it is full of new information with TED talks, podcasts, webinars, lectures and so on. It’s about stretching yourself. There’s always someone who has a learning experience and its about understanding how to tap into it."
Ms Saxton works with all sectors but predominantly at the moment it is manufacturing and sales organisations that are taking advantage of neuro-linguistic coaching.
She and Mark Ashton, Managing Director of North Yorkshire-based consulting and coaching firm, Resolve Gets Results, are helping founders of start-up businesses from several European countries to improve their personal performance and psychological resilience in an exciting new mentoring venture called Cocoon. It was set up last year by the President of the Estonian Business Angels Network, Rein Lemberpuu, who is the largest investor in start-ups in the Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia). He has recognised that a big part of the risk in start-ups and early stage businesses is about people.
Mark and Sonia are using the lessons they've learned from Cocoon to build a UK mentoring programme that will accelerate personal growth and effectiveness for leaders of all businesses experiencing disruptive
“The four day session was interesting. Day one was full on. We went out to the forest and observed all the managing directors and their fellow co-directors going across tight ropes and building bridges in the pouring rain. Day two, the debrief session was helping the businesses understand the behaviours we had observed, helping them think through different scenarios. Some quite deep stuff. On day three all the mentors got together, which was quite challenging, as we were asked to really develop our thinking and be challenged ourselves about everything.
“It was a fascinating experience dealing with people whose second language is English. Fortunately I have had a fair bit of experience of working in this environment.
“I took the opportunity to do a couple of hours coaching for a director whilst I was there. Picking up on what I had learned from the process I could see what it was that was getting in the way of him moving his business forward. At the end of the session, I asked him to go and work on getting twenty examples of how his co-directors had noticed changes in his behaviour. I then followed up with him on Zoom once I was back in the UK and we discussed the examples he had gathered.
“I got to the root of what was wrong quite quickly. He was very surprised how quickly things were fixed. He also found that his home life dramatically improved too. It is incredible that two hours invested in Estonia achieved these results.
“It’s not anything special about me. All I am doing is using neuro-linguistic tools to enable me to go straight to the cause of an issue.
“It is something that Saxton Partners has developed with its CORE® profiling. It means that people have something that helps them understand and be objective about their behaviours.
“As a starting point it’s about getting to the ‘core of your success’. What an individual’s motivations are, what excites them and what their belief patterns are that switch on or off.”
Ms Saxton explains: “if you believe in something you will be switched on and the reverse is true too; if you don’t believe in something because you have a fear of the unknown or you don’t want to listen to other people, or you’re fragile around asking what you need, that switches you off. It is about understanding the first step is getting to the core of you as a person and understanding motivations, excitements and belief patterns.
“I produce a graph that enables a coachee to visualise and objectively see what is getting in the way. That’s stage 1.
“Stage 2 is understanding the significance around how to get rid of unhelpful behaviours, such as being too defensive all the time, which has a negative impact on colleagues or co-directors. The result is it leads to more collaborative engagement and that helps companies grow.
“Stage 3, I referred to this earlier. I encourage people to go and collect 20 examples of them doing things differently. This is the process of developing new habits and positive behaviours.
“When you have new habits it leads to better results. CORE® enables a person to see themselves as others see them.
“Instead of saying to someone, ’you are a bit defensive’, it works better because an individual produces a report that he or she has inputted their answers to using a simple click agree or disagree process. The generated report presents an objective perspective on what is going on inside the person as if they are looking from the outside in. They feel comfortable because they ticked the boxes.”
How, then, is this different from psychometric tools?
“I think the challenge with psychometric tools is they tend to tell you what is wrong but don’t tell you how to fix the problem. CORE® is a solutions driven approach that provides signposting as to what to do next in moving forward.
“It is also guaranteed, If someone can’t get me a minimum of at least 18 to 20 examples over three sessions demonstrating how they have improved, I give their money back. In reality they often get between 40 and 60 examples.
“I think any coach worth their salt should always give a guarantee otherwise is it really honest to say just come for some coaching sessions? Where is the measurement?
“It is part of my belief pattern to have a more morally based honest and open relationship.”
It’s about using your brain’s grey matter or as Poirot would say the little grey cells.
“If you understand how you brain produces more energy for you to do the things you want to do in the day, and what you might be doing to sabotage that, it can be fixed. We’ve already discussed the end game focus. About 40% of the brain which directs action is your grey matter, whilst 60% is considered white matter, which is all the pathways taking you to where you want to go.
“When you are starting out, the thalamus directs a lot of the traffic and, simplistically, if it is not working for you it goes down what might be called the low road to your limbic system, in other words, the emotion going on inside. If you start from a position of visualisation your outcome will always get you a better result. Then it can transfer to your frontal lobe and work out the logic for that and getting yourself there. Because one of the things people sometimes miss is that the most powerful part of your brain is being able to visualise.
“Remember though, keep your brain hydrated. Once you start draining your energy you can’t use what you have got. Your brain is 20% of your energy budget. Taking that to a business; when you think about the budget in the business would you really want to waste that 20%? I bet not. You would want to find a way of making a good return on that 20%, so use your brain effectively.
I start to think about the issues in today’s business world that keep popping up.
According to Ms Saxton, statistically based on our data it is “anxiousness”. In layman’s terms “awfulizing”, thinking about what could go wrong, what might go wrong, what may go wrong. An example could be Brexit.
“Secondly, it is defensiveness. People think about who might be out to get at them. Who have they got to watch? We work in competitive environments so they think ‘what can I do to protect myself?’
“If you have these two - 'awfulizing' and defensiveness combining - it can become dangerous as the patterns will inhibit business growth. Because of suspicions, when people think the worst, it’s not good for energy or optimism about the future and the behaviour becomes contagious.
“See yourself as the people are seeing you and how that looks to the rest of the world and stay with that constantly.
“My business is about mental health and how to be resilient. You can take care of your mental health and enable yourself to bounce back whatever the challenge, using your 20% budget your mental budget effectively. You get so much more out of it for you and everybody around you."
“Mental efficiency for your life means you can achieve far more. It’s about getting the right balance of energy and using your 20% budget in a way that benefits all, not just your business but yourself and dependents.
“Why not have better mental health, live longer and help your business grow quicker. With all this and the positive unintended consequence, your family will be chuffed, it is a win-win all round.
All it leaves me to do now is test it out on the Coast to Coast cycle ride.
Always be outcome focused
Have a vision what think about does that look like when you have got to your destination? What would that have looked and sounded like use your ’ed’ words?
Check your physiology keep your chin up you keep in outcome focused part of the brain when you have it down you go in to emotion
Check the most important component of physiology breathing. If your breathing is hit and miss, you sabotage the oxygen getting to your brain.. enable it to travel to your brain.
The mind automatically when you are inside yourself, deletes, distorts and generalises what it is experiencing. As an example, if you are running an anxious pattern, when someone says this is going to happen and you think it will be OK, it will distort it, so you can’t trust them. If you see it from the outside, it might be case of, wait a minute it might be worth listening to that person because there might be something in what they are saying so I am not going to let my own stuff get in the way. So see it from the outside and search for the facts rather than actually distort and generalise.
*It worked - I completed the Coast to Coast on the hottest day of the year.