Samreen McGregor is an executive coach and founder of Turmeric, a strategic advisor to business owners, leaders and teams aiming to reframe ambition, see differently, align behaviours and propel performance.
Samreen has a unique ability to create the conditions leaders need to stretch beyond their existing capabilities and her interventions lie in a unique cross-section between business performance, behavioural change and embodied consciousness. She inspires leaders, teams and organisations to embrace adversity as a catalyst for empowerment and wellbeing.
In her new book, Leader Awakened, Samreen explains how leaders can use their experiences as a powerful point for learning, empowerment, agency and improved wellbeing. In it, she unpacks how people’s personal experiences and attributes impact their behaviour, values and beliefs, and how they can use them to their advantage in the workplace.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role. How did you get started as an executive coach and founder of Turmeric?
I began my professional life in finance-portfolio management, followed closely by graduate studies. I then went into consulting with Ashridge Management College (now known as Hult EF). I was part of the team who set up the Centre for Executive Coaching in the late 1990s. The organisation had a fierce learning ethos, and I was immersed amongst psychological, psychotherapeutic, neuroscientific and systemic practitioners. In contrast to my behavioural training and work, I was also invited to train and practice Eli Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, a methodology that helps to get to the nub of what drives and undermines performance in an organisation.
Since then, I have worked with organisations, functions, teams, leaders and people across a variety of industries globally. I set up Turmeric over ten years ago to combine my experience and understanding of business, an ability to drive behavioural change and a growing interest in helping leaders develop and use embodied consciousness.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Absolutely not! But, when I look back there is a clear thread of work that involves helping people and organisations get the best out of themselves and achieve breakthroughs. Like any journey, a mixture of emergent opportunities, influential relationships, fortuitous timing and unexpected adversities created the conditions I needed to learn and find ways to navigate, curate and harness possibilities that fulfil my aspirations and enable me to make a living.
Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you overcome them?
Yes, for sure. In my experience, a fulfilled life involves facing and overcoming the tough hurdles. My most painful and destabilising hurdles as a girl, woman, mother and professional have all been related to a deep desire to be recognised as unique and a competing need to fit in and enjoy a sense of belonging. Developing the courage to be open and honest about this existential dilemma has enabled me to traverse situations as a female professional, third culture child and mother. With great discomfort and bravery, I now feel more skilful at engaging the awareness and curiosity of those in a dominant culture without running the risk of antagonism or blame.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Dropping everything to navigate the unwanted journey following my son’s unexpected cancer diagnosis and then building myself back up again to a thriving, flourishing business owner with energising possibilities.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
It’s a quality I’ve learned and honed over time: being open and honest about what I feel, learning to be my ‘whole true self’ no matter what the circumstances are or the level of controversy. Age, maturity and life has given me the confidence to harness this.
What is your favourite thing about your job? Is it the variety? Or maybe working with so many people?
What I cherish most about the work I do is being given the privilege by clients to create a rare and intimate space that enables them to see, feel and explore themselves deeply. I value learning from the skilful work people do in my presence and seeing them ‘refract’ or shift their mindset and approach. I love giving people my undivided attention and care and helping them understand themselves to such a level that conscious choice and personal agency becomes possible.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
The mentoring I’ve received throughout my life has been invaluable. This gift is precious because it involves a mentor ‘giving their time’, one thing they can’t get back! I delight in the intuition, experience and foresight my mentors have given me throughout life. In my book, Leader Awakened, I dedicate two pages to acknowledging the impact of my mentors. Good mentors balance sharing personal experience with creating the space for individuals to come up with their own clarity, direction and answers. I love to mentor, and currently have four mentees, all very different, two in consulting or coaching professions, the others in industry.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
I would love to be able to influence the quality, depth and capacity for listening and the capabilities involved in how people seek to understand each other. I would love for opposing parties to have open dialogue supported by a climate that enables people to exchange with real curiosity about each other’s assumptions, life stories and the norms that legitimately underpin the view of the world they hold.
A systemic view of the past, the present and the future of gender differences and inequalities would also offer new and different vantage points to examine the complexities of gender equality as a subject. It would place less emphasis on blame and more on the casualties that stem from the system. This depersonalises the problem and encourages us to view it with a sense of emotional detachment so we can try and solve some of these issues pragmatically.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Don’t be afraid of discomfort, don’t fear anger. Whatever you plan and think might happen will get derailed.
Lots of leaders and professionals struggle to combine mindfulness with their everyday working lives. What is the key tip you would give anyone trying to be more conscious of caring for their mental health and wellbeing at work?
Start small, and gradually increase the time you dedicate to mindful activity. Diversify it – a fifteen minute walk, a few stretches or yoga postures or a short session of breathing exercises. What helps me is a repetitive, consistent routine: ten to twenty minutes daily at the same time if possible (first thing in the morning or just before bedtime). I also tend to meditate with my daughter for ten minutes a day during busy weeks as this is time we can be together and decompress.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is to do what I encourage my clients to do and with even more accountability and consistency – to quiet down my ambition and balance personal drive with doing what serves my vitality, purpose and livelihood. Writing this book, balancing revenue generating work with promotion has tested this significantly!