Today is the publication day for The Soft Stuff: Reclaiming Kindness for the World of Work by Matt Dean. The book challenges your normal, breaks the cycle and unleashes the power of individual agency.
Instinctively we know that happy people work harder, yet many of us work i climates of fear. Prompted by 2016 – Brexit, Trump ad the author’s second cancer – this is a book about what can happen in workplaces when populism takes hold and lies abound. The solution offered is for each one of us to challenge our normal and take responsibility for creating kinder, fairer and more productive workplaces. If we’re going to succeed, each of us needs a clear purpose, to choose integrity as our default and to ground ourselves in now.
For 15 years, in workplaces all over the world, people have asked Matt, “Why’s that my job? Why should I take the risk?” More fundamentally, where does the spark, the resolve actually to do something come from? How or why do we start to live our purpose? Matt uses his cancer experiences to shine a light on the challenges all of us face to motivate ourselves. He writes, often very personally, about his difficulties changing himself and challenges you to unleash the power of you.
Advanced Praise for The Soft Stuff
“Matt Dean has achieved a rare thing – a compelling fusion of personal memoir and wider wisdom about leadership, empathy and what it takes to be our best selves at work. In the era of #MeToo, this is a vital resource for women and men looking to navigate the challenges of leading with integrity in increasingly complex times.” – Kathryn Perera, Barrister and NHS innovator
“Matt’s book is extremely thought-provoking, particularly for those of us in leadership roles towards the back end of our careers, with responsibility for influencing thousands of people around the world.” – Ian Gray, Executive Partner, Eversheds Sutherland (international), Chairman, Eversheds Sutherland Europe
“Matt Dean really gets it right – he skillfully relates his moving personal story to the important interactions we have at work culminating in a set of useful tools to enable us all to be better people leaders – at the same time his own story is a compelling read.” – Angus MacGregor, HR Head for Bank in EMEA and the Securities Internationally, MUFG
“In this inspiring book, Matt takes us with him in his personal journey during which both author and reader learn valuable lessons. Its contents are essential reading in today’s complicated world and shifting workplaces.” – Dame Janet Gaymer, formerly Commissioner for Public Appointments and Senior Partner, Simmon & Simmons
About Matt Dean
Matt Dean has always struggled to balance his personal and work lives. A workaholic and inveterate worrier, he worked as an employment lawyer in the City from 1989 to 2003. Recognised as a truly inspiring facilitator, since 2003 Matt’s worked all over the world using straightforward ideas that challenge people to change their bit of the workplace. Matt’s proudest achievement is a (currently 25 year) marriage with life/work partner Victoria Byrne. They live in Sussex with three boys apparently insistent on becoming adults and possibly more animals than Matt would have chosen for himself. Together they co-founded byrne.dean in 2003, a firm dedicated to creating kinder, fairer, and more productive workplaces.
A word from Matt Dean
Early in the morning of Saturday, 22 August 2009, I saw the place in the world where all good comes from. Nearly four months into aggressive treatment for head and neck cancer, I was alone in bed at the Royal Marsden Hospital, Sutton. I was immuno-suppressed (with no resistance whatsoever to infection) and weakened by chemo and radiotherapies. My blood pressure had collapsed and I was running a temperature of 40-something. I’d been enjoying a crazy light show of dancing neon shapes on the back of my eye-lids; probably the drugs.
I learned later that my wife was preparing herself mentally to give our boys bad news. I was, characteristically, in denial. I just wanted someone to turn on the bloody air-con! Suddenly, I felt a faint breath of air on my skin and I was deeply grateful. My mind flitted to the prisoners of war in Second World War jungle camps we’ve seen in films.
Then, the place was suddenly there: clear, golden and bright. It was in the corner of the room but, strangely, a long way away. I knew immediately that it was the place where all good came from and I could go there. I also knew that getting there would be an effort. I surveyed the place from my bed. I don’t remember making a conscious choice, I just left it there.
Beofre now I have told very few people about my experience that morning. But whil writing the final chapters of this book, I realised that properly understanding that moment and that place could be the stone on which I built the whole edifice. The first time I told someone else about the place was, perhaps, a year after I’d seen it. Whether it was because the person I told was religious or because, by then I’d come to accept I’d been close to death that day, I confused myself into thinking thta I had seen something like heaven.
Now years later, I’ve come to see the heaven thing as a distraction. The place had nothing to do with death. It’s what I first understood it to be: it’s where good comes from. The more I’ve learned about the extraordinary subconscious power of the brain, the more I’ve come to see the place as a creation of my limbic brain. The place exists inside me.
What’s really exciting is that I’m a normal person and if this place is inside me, it’s inside you too. It’s inside the people I struggle to reach out to. Am I just lucky that my first cancer showed it to me? Perhaps I’m doubly lucky that some of the things I write about in this book: my second cancer; my related mental health problems; and, indeed, sticking with writing this book has helped me to understand more about the long, hard slog we all need to undertake if we’re going to make good use of this place that’s inside us.
From a place of clarity, and having written the book, I now see what it’s about and who it’s for. Fundamentally it’s for anyone who has thought (perhaps during the sort of sessions I’ve run in the last decade and a half) I really want to change what I do and who hasn’t been able to.
If you can find your place, your humanity, you can use it as your spark. There are tools and ideas to help you. Also, because we live in an increasingly fractured world, it’s a book for anyone who’s alarmed by society’s polarisation and wants to do something positive; who doesn’t want to wake up in a few years and feel like you’ve been sleepwalking through seriously changing times. It focuses on what you can do in your own life and particularly in your own workplace. How do we find the humanity and kindness within ourselves to create something more productive and less polarised? How do we change our behaviour to allow that?
You might already be a leader, you might want to become one. I’ve got a view, by the way, that we are all leaders. You might just be someone who feels helpless watching increasing fractures and polarisation in society and wonders what you can do. It’s a book about doing something to challenge what’s become normal for you and changing the workplace you inhabit. The ideas were formed before #MeToo, but they’re ideas whose time has come.
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