Questioning everything I thought I wanted has made me a better parent and business leader
November 17, 2021
In 2015, Carter McNabb, Managing Director, Supply Chain and Operations, felt that he had achieved external success, but something was missing in his life. Sound familiar? Taking a six-month break to focus on his mental wellbeing and exploring ‘polyvagal theory’ (developed in the 90s and looking at emotion regulation, social connection and fear response) changed his approach to life and business. Read his story.
I’ve spent more than 20 years working with businesses to improve their supply chain operations and processes, reducing costs and implementing more efficient systems. That’s seen me working with ASX200 companies, as well as businesses internationally, and delivering courses within Monash University’s Logistics & Supply Chain Management Post Graduate Program.
But in 2015, I felt like I had achieved external success, but a lot of things weren’t working for me anymore. I was working and playing with a level of intensity that no longer felt healthy. The competing pressures of work, being an engaged parent to my children (Campbell, 17, and Lotte, 13), relationships, and the expectations I put on myself all weighed on me. I often felt isolated, like no one else would or could understand, despite having an active social life and solid friendship base.
I became involved with men’s groups during this period and learned how fundamentally important community, mentorship and eldership are in developing healthy individuals and society. As a result, I’m now on the leadership team for ManKind Project Australia, and together with my son, Campbell, have founded That Guy, a mentoring program for boys as they transition to become spiritually, emotionally and physically healthy young men. Both ManKind Project and That Guy have common themes around helping boys and men with exploring their whole selves and encouraging emotional growth. It’s all about becoming responsible, strong and compassionate individuals, and supporting men to live more wholesome and purposeful lives.
I’d also spent time doing counselling, Buddhist meditation and yoga, but I realised that I was avoiding the hard stuff. It’s what’s often called ‘shadow work’ – looking at those parts of ourselves that we try to repress and deny, the deep parts of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge. I decided to take six months out of my business life and take some time explore the changes I needed to make.
Learning to become comfortable with the uncomfortable
During my career break, I explored multiple avenues and modalities, including polyvagal theory. Learning to recognise my emotional responses and deal with those in a conscious way was an important step. Through all the therapies, counselling and community mentorships I’ve been involved in, I’ve found that the common thread is that we need to become present in the moment, accept our reactions, and not run away from discomfort. Being able to address my challenges – even when I was uncomfortable – is where I found healing, growth and acceptance.
When I came back to work after six months, I was really passionate about all of this. I wanted everyone to know more about taking a holistic approach to mental wellbeing. To be honest, it scared some people. That permission to bring your whole self to work, recognising all your emotional responses, and being allowed to ask for help and surrender to getting that help can be confronting.
But that’s where I think I’m uniquely placed to give back, combining my spiritual and corporate experiences. For example, I think polyvagal theory is a scientifically supported modality that appeals to a corporate mindset. It’s a simple model that is a powerful tool for self-awareness and repatterning. That’s why I run workshops on this approach to share its applications in the workplace. Polyvagal theory helps to explain the biological responses in your body during stressful situations – something that we all regularly experience at work – and creates an awareness that can help us recognise when we need to step back to regain control.
In the corporate context, leading companies have identified psychological safety as the key element to unlocking team potential. Our own Accenture research shows that when employees are net better off, they are 5 times more likely to experience increased performance at work. And when performance is high, innovation follows. That’s why I think polyvagal theory is so powerful for corporate environments as it supports our employees to understand their emotions and their responses to situations, which helps to promote overall mental health and wellbeing in our teams. Encouraging our people to have self-compassion and a growth mindset aligns nicely to Accenture’s Thriving Mind training which helps you recognise the patterns of thought and behaviour, as well as steps to take action to recharge your brain and improve your resilience.
As a leader, learning to have a better awareness of my own response to stressful situations, like business negotiations, means I’m better able to manage relationships with clients and team members. Equally, for my team, if I’m carrying stress and I’m amped up as a leader, that is picked up on by the people I’m managing. Ultimately, I’ve learnt that self-awareness as a leader and managing how I do things, rather than what I do, is where there is the chance for the biggest impact.
Since joining Accenture after the acquisition of GRA earlier this year, I’ve seen how the business supports people with clear goals around diversity, inclusion and wellbeing. It’s not just talked about, it’s measured, and that gives people the safety to be themselves at work. With programs to encourage our people to keep their bodies and minds healthy, like Thriving Mind, I look forward to sharing what I know and continuing to promote open discussions about mental health and emotional wellbeing in the workplace and beyond.