The Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace

Episode 36

Turning an almost ill-fated sporting career into a healthy business.

​Alastair Lynch
Director
Healthy Business Partner Group​​

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Alastair Lynch knows how it feels to reach the pinnacle in professional sport. He played over 300 games in the AFL, captained the Brisbane Lions, and won 3 premierships. His was an impressive career, but one that was almost derailed due to a debilitating illness in his prime.
 
Alastair fought an illness that professionals knew little about, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. CFS patients suffer from extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by an underlying medical condition. The fatigue worsens with physical or mental activity, but doesn’t improve with rest. Alastair also suffered from depression that he attributed to the exhausting effects of CFS. Despite the health challenges, and an ageing body, he was able to succeed at the highest level in the game.
 
Upon his retirement from the AFL, Alastair chose to dedicate the next part of his life to helping others. As a director of the Healthy Business Performance Group, he applies his on-field lessons to help others.
 
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Chris:

Hi, I’m Chris Lukianenko. And this is The Intelligent Workplace, brought to you by LiveTiles. My chance to speak with the industry experts, and explore the new ideas and technologies that are shaping and transforming the modern workplace.

Chris:

LiveSmiles is a LiveTiles initiative designed to create a global community working together to make wellness at work an intrinsic part of our lives. The LiveSmiles solution is technology built on top of Microsoft and LiveTiles platforms, and is provided to every company globally at no cost.

Chris:

LiveSmiles is not a [inaudible] for sale, it’s a movement to accelerate the discussion of wellness into an active and intrinsic part of work, and to ultimately drive happier, healthier people at work and home. It’s a combination of tech, expertise, advocacy, and community involvement. LiveSmiles is driven and designed by its community. To find out more, click on the link in the show notes.

Chris:

I hope you’re sitting comfortably as you listen today, because we’ll be covering a lot of ground. I feel like today’s interview is a bit like a movie. You got your first, your second, and the third act, as my guest has certainly experienced a lot in his lifetime. He’s gone from his small hometown of Wynyard, in Tasmania to the heights of winning a premiership in his chosen sport of Australian rules football. The lows of dealing with a serious illness, and a bad depression that almost derailed his career.

Chris:

While still involved in the sport he loves, he now works as a commentator with Fox Sports. And he’s also turned his tails to the business world. He’s a director of the Healthier Business Performance Group. And he’s able to follow his passion while drawing upon his life experiences to help other people with their own challenges in life. So welcome to The Intelligent Workplace podcast, Alastair Alastair Lynch.

Alastair:

Good day, Chris. Great to be on today.

Chris:

Fantastic to have you here, mate. Thank you so much for joining me.

Alastair:

My absolute pleasure.

Chris:

Yeah, mate. I mentioned in the opener that I feel like this is a chat that’s going to flow a little bit like a movie. So let’s go back to the main character’s backstory a little bit. You’re a small town boy from down here in Tasmania, who climbed to the dizzying heights of a sporting superstar, and being loved by thousands. That pretty much sounds like a movie pitch, doesn’t it?

Alastair:

It does. Actually sounds like a good one. And a happy ending as well. But I suppose I was then … I see my story as a long way from a movie script though. I mean, as you said, I grew up in a small country town in Tazzy. Did what young kids like to do, and I stayed pretty active, played all sorts of sports. And yeah, got through school without too much stress. I mean, I probably didn’t work as hard as I should have. But no, I mean, I really enjoyed growing up in Wynyard.

Chris:

Do you remember being a kid and dreaming of playing sport on the big stage?

Alastair:

Yeah. Absolutely. My first recollection of an AFL grand final was at a friend’s place. And I think we watched Collingwood-North Melbourne grand final in ’77.

Chris:

Oh, wow.

Alastair:

And I just think in that day … And I wasn’t a bog football person. I mean, I played a bit of AFL, a bit of soccer. But just remember seeing that on TV, and thinking, “How good was that? What an incredible stage.” And yeah, I think we all had those sort of dreams. So there was the football dream. And I think like a lot of other kids, yeah, I wanted to open the bowling for Australia in the Boxing Day [inaudible 00:03:19].

Chris:

I love it.

Alastair:

So nothing too unusual. It was pretty typical of a lot of kids in that era.

Chris:

Yeah. I always hear sporting greats talk in that way. And I often wonder if that’s just the standard response that we come to expect from sporting heroes, because they always say, yes they can remember that they wanted to kick the winning goal, or holding the trophy up. I never had those memories. And I’m not sure whether it just was the fact that I was not very good at sport, or I had other dreams.

Alastair:

I can sincerely say that … And maybe these, on reflection, maybe your memory is convenient at times.

Chris:

Yeah.

Alastair:

But I do remember those days. Yeah, I was plying under 17s football with Wynyard. And basically, that was just mainly, not to be … There was never a dream of being a professional footballer. And there wasn’t really a profession back then. I mean, there was opportunities to go to the VFL. And in a lot of the little country towns around Tasmania, you knew of someone that came from that town to play in the VFL.

Alastair:

So there was that dream. But mainly, I played footy just to hang out with my mates. That was the biggest thing. And so the center point of the town was football during the winter, and cricket during the summer. So that’s what dragged me there. Now I think back to my childhood, and there was, yeah, that dream of playing high level sport. But it was almost … It was a dream. It was just like, “That’s what other people did.”

Alastair:

And you mentioned sporting heroes before. And I think you thought of sporting heroes as being supernatural people that you didn’t really know, and they were a little bit different to other people. But the reality is that they’re people that have been able to maximize their opportunities, and yeah, sometimes be in the right place at the right time, and get those opportunities to be on the stage that they dreamt of being one day.

Chris:

Probably what you didn’t realize back in the day is you actually were setting yourself up for your business career early on by building relationships. Because as you and I both know, relationships make this entire world go round, whether it be in business or sport.

Alastair:

Yeah, there’s no doubt about that. And I suppose from a very early age … And it wasn’t … Yeah, it wasn’t a conscious thing about even business. But one of the things that I always remember my late father used to say, he said, “Look after people on the way up, because you’ll need them on the way down.”

Chris:

Yes.

Alastair:

It was a point about respecting people that you not only work with, but come across. And it wasn’t a selfish thing, or I didn’t take it as a selfish thing that you want to look after people so you can use them later on. It was just about doing the right thing by people, and building that support network, I suppose, for whatever you wanted to do. And that’s something that I always remember. But yeah, I had no dreams of being in the health industry, or thinking I was going to be a professional sportsman. But I suppose those relationships that you build early days will come back and look after you if you’ve done the right thing by them.

Chris:

Yeah, 100%. Now, look, in the mid to late ’80s, you took the first step to live out your dream and move to the big smoke to play Aussie rules football at the highest level, which would see the start of what was almost a 20 year career in the game. At that young and impressionable age of 18, you had the world at your feet, you’re playing professional sport in a city that treated players like rockstars. I think of myself at 18, and to me, and that sounds like a bit of a recipe for disaster.

Alastair:

Yeah, [inaudible 00:06:51]. When I made the move … So it started probably a year or two before that really. I was still in Wynyard. I was working with the hydro down the West Coast at Tazzy. So I was living in a single room quarters at essentially 16. I dropped out of school halfway through year 11, which probably wasn’t the smartest move. But I worked down there during the week, then come back to Wynyard on the weekend. And probably getting to the age of 16, 17, I was probably starting to have a few beers with my mates. Again, not a great thing. Not a great choice.

Alastair:

And dad made the decision for me really. He rang a mate of his in Hobart, and promoted that I could come down and play footy. Now, I was playing okay football at the time at Wynyard. Nothing more than that. And then dad’s mate was a guy called Peter Hudson. And obviously one of the greats of all time in the VFL. And he just started coaching the Hobart footy club.

Alastair:

So it wasn’t so much to move down for football. It was to move down, play some football, but have a big of a change. Get away from just drinking on the weekend, and working during the week. But go down and try something a little bit different. I worked at the Granada Tavern in [crosstalk 00:08:07].

Chris:

I know it well, yes.

Alastair:

Yeah, so I worked there as a … I was an underage barman at 17. And Peter Hudson trained me pretty hard, or very hard, to get a game with the Hobart Football Club. So it was more of a change. Just get out and experience the … I suppose the city life of Hobart. And the byproduct was that I had this great mentor in Peter Hudson who pushed me hard to get through those stages. And ended up getting drafted to Fitzroy. And then over to Melbourne. Yeah, I was no different to everyone else. I was training hard, playing hard. I got a job with the National Bank via the Hobart Football Club to start with. And so things were getting along quite nicely. But yeah, it was a dream come true. You think, “How good is this?” I mean, it was just fantastic wide life.

Chris:

What kept you on the straight and narrow? Because I’m assuming there wouldn’t have been an official mentor program part of your induction to the footy club back in those days.

Alastair:

No, there wasn’t. I suppose keeping me on the straight and narrow … I suppose my … Peter Hudson always stayed there. And my father. They always, I think, guided me in the right direction. When I got to Fitzroy, I was coached by David Parkin, who’s, again, an icon of the game. And there’s a bit of a balance. But whether I stay on the straight or narrow and really enjoy myself, straight and narrow and really enjoy myself was, I was living with a bunch of great, high quality people.

Alastair:

It was Michael Gayle who was drafted to Fitzroy or signed by Fitzroy a couple of years before. Matthew Armstrong, who was drafted the same year as me, but went. I stayed an extra year in Hobart, and he went over straight away. Darren [Kapla 00:09:48], from South Australia. And I think Brendan Gayle even moved in with us as well.

Alastair:

So this bunch of guys that were all training hard, and working hard, and at that stage of our lives, doing reasonably well in our footy. But at the same time, we were having a great time. It was an amateur game, we all had jobs. We had fun, and yeah, we trained hard. So I think with the support we had around Fitzroy, and the people I live with, we all kept each other working hard, and trying to make the most out of our footy careers, and hopefully open some opportunities down the track. But yeah, that group of people really pushed me. They were integral to the way I developed in my football especially.

Chris:

I was thinking it was more like some of the more senior players might have just said, “Okay, these are the bars you want to go to on a Friday night, because they’ll give you free drinks. And this is where the after parties are.”

Alastair:

Well, there was that as well. I think Matt Rendell picked me up when I first went to Melbourne. We went and watched a few bands at a place called The Venue in [inaudible 00:10:53]. I think we went and watched The Party Boys, and The Angels, I think was … And so yeah, there was those opportunities. And I think in the late ’80s as well, there were bars that would give you free drinks, and drink cards, and that sort of stuff. So yeah, it was a balance. You certainly made the most of those opportunities. But you still had to keep pretty professional the way you looked after yourself so you could play at a reasonable level as well.

Chris:

And so your career went on. Let’s fast forward to the mid ’90s. And your name is thrown around with the best in the game. And all of a sudden, in around ’95, you were struck down with chronic fatigue syndrome. Now, at the time, I remember being pretty scared of CFS, as there were so many differing pieces of information floating around about the disease. Now, there was everything from it being linked to [inaudible] virus, and glandular fever, which I was actually suffering from at the time myself when you were diagnosed.

Chris:

And even for those who didn’t understand the virus, there’s all these talks of it being, “Oh, that’s in people’s heads. Maybe people made it up.” And all that sort of thing. But I know for you, it was extremely debilitating, wasn’t it?

Alastair:

Yeah. It was. I essentially … So that was 12 months after I’d moved to Brisbane. I’d signed a two million dollar contract, and my … Basically, financially I was secure for the rest of my sporting life. And everything was going really well. As you said, at the time, I was rated highly in the competition. And got up to Brisbane, and things didn’t go great. And then I had a couple of broken collarbones, a knee operation. And as we all have, we all have stuff going on off the field as well. And my mother-in-law passed away, I had a car accident, we had a house break in. There was just stuff going on.

Alastair:

Then I got to the end of that first season, and my health just left me basically. I mean, we had a bit of a weekend. And although probably the start of this podcast, it sounds like I used to drink a bit. I wasn’t a big drinker. I mean, like probably a lot of young guys at that time, I used to have a few drinks. And we got to the end of that season, and after playing only 13 games, and having all the injuries, we had a bit of a footy trip and went away for a weekend.

Alastair:

And I had a big weekend. But I came back on the Monday, and I was well and truly hungover still. And Tuesday, I was still pretty dusty. And then it was the Wednesday that I went from a very fit 26, 27 year old athlete, to actually being bed ridden. And that started to scare me. And I’d get assistance to get to the bathroom, and I was passing blood. I had pains in the guts. I had a bad headache. And just no energy whatsoever. To think, to be a 96 kilo super fit athlete, and not being able to get yourself out of bed, that was really worrying.

Alastair:

And over the next period of time, of weeks, there was … I went through a process of almost elimination to start with, but also some blood tests. And they were saying, “Just rest for two or three weeks, and you’ll be fine.” And two or three weeks turned into three months, turned into six months. And then it was really through a process of elimination that they eliminated all the other known disorders, and said, “You have something called post viral syndrome, or chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Alastair:

And I’d heard the term chronic fatigue syndrome before. And I thought, “Oh, great, now I can go to a chronic fatigue specialist and get fixed.” Well, as you’d probably appreciate, I mean, there’s chronic fatigue specialist out there. But as far as fixing the disorder, that’s not available at the moment. So that’s, what I truly believe was a physical disorder. Maybe it came from being run down over a period of time. But a physical disorder left me essentially bed ridden for most of that time. And something that we just couldn’t find answers for.

Chris:

Yeah. So you were fighting a disease that doctors didn’t really know a lot about, hard to find answers. And your body wasn’t recovering in the way that you’d hoped as an athlete. That must have been a really difficult mental battle for you to take on.

Alastair:

Well, and I think the toughest thing became the mental battle for me. As I said, I clearly see whatever this disease is, or disorder is that’s called chronic fatigue syndrome, I see that as a physical disorder. The byproduct of it, for me, was that, psychologically, it became even more so of a concern.

Alastair:

Because I think whether we think of ourselves having, whether it’s a hangover, or a bad flu, that you know you look after yourself for a couple of days, you’ll come good. Or if you have some illness, you can go to a specialists, have an operation, have some tablets, and you most are all right.

Alastair:

And in sporting terms I suppose, we look at sporting injuries in say, in AFL football, an ACL anterior cruciate ligament is the bad injury that we all hear of on a regular basis. But you know you can get an operation, and in 12 months, you’re back. The problem that I was finding with my health was, one, I didn’t understand exactly what it was. And sometimes I would feel okay, and then the next day, I’d be terrible again.

Alastair:

But there wasn’t a protocol of medication, or there wasn’t a treatment plan. There wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel. So that became … I would wake up every morning hoping that this hangover would be fine. Every day I’d wake up, and mostly it wasn’t fine. So that would mentally run me down. So yeah, I got to a stage where yeah, I was down in the dumps.

Alastair:

And maybe this is a play on words by me, I don’t see that I had depression, I feel that I had a physical disorder, and then I became depressed because of this physical disorder. So yeah, maybe, yeah, it’s the same thing. But I see it as, it was a byproduct of having a physical disorder that I had to get over before I could physically get over the other illness.

Chris:

Yeah. So you obviously had scars from the illness. Were there, in the same way that the illness left you scars, did that depressive period for you also leave mental scars as well?

Alastair:

No. So I look back at those times now, and I wouldn’t change much at all. I would have liked to have gone through my prime athletic years of 26 to 32, or something like that, and be fully fit, and be able to train flat out. Yeah, I would have loved to have been able to do that. But I look back now, and I feel that I appreciate what I had, and what I have more than ever. I appreciate the people around me more than I ever imagined I could, because I needed support. And those people supported me without question, through that period.

Alastair:

So I don’t see that I have mental scars. I more come out of it the other way thinking, “I wouldn’t change Much with that.” Because I learnt so much about the people around me. And there were some negatives around me as well. But as you said earlier, it’s got me into the business that I’m in, and I think I appreciate my health, which I didn’t appreciate until it was taken away.

Chris:

Yeah. Look, it was a long battle for you, but you eventually ended up getting healthy again, and you reached the pinnacle of your sport, you won three premierships in a row, and then retired as a legend of the game. After that first premiership in 2001, was there a personal sense of relief for you? And not for the fact that you won, but the fact that you had overcome all of these personal battles to actually get there.

Alastair:

I found that, in the couple of years that I was starting to come back into football, it felt like I was two steps forward, one back at times. And sometimes, it was three back. And as I said before about trying to get back to 100%, I shelved that thought. And so I had the mentality that, “I’m going to do everything I possibly can today, whether it be nutrition, activity, the way I think, to give myself the best opportunity to be a little bit better tomorrow.”

Alastair:

And that was a very different mentality to thinking, “I want to be great.” Or, “I ant to be 100% tomorrow.” Because yeah, as I said before, most time I would wake up, and I wasn’t back to 100%. So it was a kick in the guts basically. So there, I shelved that dream of being 100%. And so everything I used to do was, “What can I do now? What can I eat? What can I exercise?” And it wasn’t about doing more, it was about monitoring what I did. And it was enough exercise really to more stimulate my immune system rather than make sure I’m the fittest person on the footy ground.

Alastair:

And it got to the stage where we started to perform well as a footy team, and got to that year, 2001, where we ended up winning … We won 15 games in a row to get to the grand final day. I was playing full forward, and had an okay game. I missed a few shots, which would have made it better. But I had an okay game. And then I got moved up to center wing. I think Jonathan Brown … I was the oldest on the ground at about 34, or 35. 34 I think it was. And Brownie was the youngest man on the ground.

Alastair:

And so he’d worked hard all day. And he’d been moved to my position. I was up onto the wing. And I took a mark. And it was about the 30 minute mark or something. And I could see the scoreboard behind … At the punt [inaudible 00:20:08]. And it was getting a bit dark at that time. It was 31 minutes I think it was. And I thought, “Jeez, it can’t be long to go.” And at that time, the siren sounded. And when that siren sounded, it sent a surge of adrenaline through my body, because for the first time in six years, I believed that I had hit the finish line.

Alastair:

And that was from a health point of view, and a sporting point of view as well. And I think that resonated with a lot of my teammates who … Because everyone has their ups and downs, and their own battles to get them to that stage. And that final siren was so good for me, because I’d hit the finish line with my health. It made me feel so good that so many people had helped me get there, they got to share in that adrenaline rush of that final siren going.

Alastair:

And [inaudible] in front. And it was an incredible sense of satisfaction, because yeah, like so many kids growing up around the country, you have dreams that, sometimes you think, “Mate, they won’t come true.” Or, “They will never come true.” But sometimes they do. And that was that moment for me. I don’t know long the sensation went for, but let’s say it was 10, 20 seconds, something like that. But it was an amazing sensation. Everything rolled into one to get to that finish line was just … Was incredible.

Chris:

That’s great stuff, mate. So great to see you finally reach that pinnacle. I wasn’t so happy in the following two years. I said you won three premierships. And in 2002, 2003, you went on to beat my team, Collingwood, in two more grand finals. So I think that’s probably a great place to close the book on your footy career, mate.

Alastair:

To win one was unbelievable. To win two … I mean, actually, the second one was a relief, because I think we were heavy favorites for the year. And then to get a third, I mean … Yeah, you would never have dreamt that.

Chris:

All right, all right, enough of that. You’re bringing up old wounds for me now. So mate, look, you retired at the end of the 2004 season. Some may say you went out swinging. And that was 15 years ago. So we talked earlier about the … Pretty much back in the day, there wasn’t really an official mentor for you at the start of the career. What was it like at the end of your career? Who was around you to help assimilate into the real world and find a real job, so to speak?

Alastair:

Yeah, that was a hard one. I fell into it. I didn’t really know what I was going to do at the end of footy. I think I was … Physically, I was starting to fall away at 36. I was starting to get some soft tissue injuries. And I think mentally, I was cooked more than anything else. And I was offered an assistant coaching role with Brisbane, that I knocked back. I was actually offered to play with the Sydney Swans for the next two years, which that was from my close mates, Paul Roos, spoke to me about moving down there. And ironically, they played in the next two grand finals, which would have been interesting.

Alastair:

But I was just over footy at the time. And it was one of the great jobs you’d ever want. But it was seven days a week, and it was just a grind, day in, day out. So yeah, I was looking for things to do. And actually, one thing that I haven’t spoken publicly about, not for any reason, [inaudible] probably forgetting. I got a call the week after the grand final. And you mention I went out swinging, which was probably the low point of my footy career. So I was down the dumps. We drove, I think, on the Thursday, from Brisbane up to the Sunshine Coast, just to get away and have a bit of a break with the family.

Alastair:

And I got a call. And you know what some of your mates can be like. And I got this call from a guy who’d introduced himself as Mark Williams, the coach of Port Adelaide footy club. And I thought, “Ah, yeah, [righteo 00:23:50], here’s someone … This is a cruel joke.” And Mark actually … After a couple of minutes, I realized, “This is Mark Williams. This is strange.”

Alastair:

And he was really nice. He said, “Congratulations on your career.” And all that sort of stuff. And obviously, he was happy about their victory. He said, “But I’ve got a serious proposal for you. So I’d like you to come to Port Adelaide and be an assistant coach with me.”

Chris:

Oh, wow.

Alastair:

You’re kidding. I thought it might have been a bit uncomfortable for a few players there if I was their assistant coach. I said no at the time. And he was really nice. And he gave me time to think about it. And he said, “Look, you don’t have to come until February.” And all that sort of stuff.

Alastair:

In the end, I decided not to, because yeah, I just wanted a break from footy. And then I got an invite to a mine site on the West Coast of Tazzy, to go down and do three days of presentations, to talk to the shift workers down there about the importance of looking after your own health and wellbeing. And not so much for your at work performance, or anything like that, but more about understanding your health, knowing what you can do to make sure that you can get through your working life safely, and in a healthy manner, but also get to your time off, and actually be able to enjoy your time off.

Alastair:

So I went down and did that. And then I ended up … They contracted me for two years to do it. And then I met a couple of very smart guys that I jumped into a business with. And now we rolled our health and wellbeing program out around sites all around Australia, New Zealand, and PNG.

Chris:

So that was the start of the Healthy Business Partner group.

Alastair:

Absolutely. I fell into it. And again, when I said to you before that I wouldn’t change anything, is I wouldn’t change anything about my healthy, because that made me understand my health, and what’s important to an individual’s health. And it got me the invite to go to this mine site in Rosebury, on the West Coast, and do these talks, and then grow it into what is a business now, which I’m extremely passionate about.

Chris:

Yeah, talk about a sliding doors moment there.

Alastair:

Oh, absolutely. And it was just the right person thought I would be the right person to come to that mine site. And again, because I’m Tasmanian, from the area, a lot of guys on that site, I’d either played footy with, or gone to school with. So it was the right place at the right time. And presentation seemed to hit the mark. And that’s why they kept me on there for a while. And yeah, then we grew it into a business.

Chris:

Yeah, I know you’re passionate about your work with the Healthy Business Partner group. And I guess it allows you to draw upon the lessons that you learned through your playing career, and then pass on that knowledge, and share it with others so that they can learn from maybe some of your experiences.

Alastair:

Yeah. And I think from my personal experiences, and from what I’ve seen even with the evolution of professional sport, or professional football, I think when I first got drafted, the mentality was … And I think a lot of people would understand this, or remember this type of mentality, or may even still have it. But it was the theory that, work harder, longer, more often, and you got fitter or better. And even through the ’80s, training in hot weather, we were told, “Don’t drink water, because we want to make you mentally tough.”

Chris:

Oh, really?

Alastair:

I know, which is ridiculous.

Chris:

Yeah.

Alastair:

But there’s even that … And I’ll use my demographic as case in point. I’m 52. But you especially go onto an industrial site, and guys probably don’t have a true appreciation of how important their health is. Good people that work hard, but there still is the mentality, “I’m going to push through the pain barrier.”

Chris:

Yup.

Alastair:

And that was something that evolved over time in sport, was, “How about we don’t go until we break, but when we start to feel that there’s issues, let’s address them.” And I think that’s what I realized, is rather than have this illness, and go get an operation, what can I do with food, activity, hydration, water, and quality of sleep to help my body fix itself? Just and so that we don’t get to the end of our working week and we’re just totally cooked, and you don’t get to enjoy your time off.

Alastair:

And so I’d learnt that through my sporting career. I learnt that through my health battles. And that’s basically the message that I send out on sites now, and our exercise physiologists are rolling out on sites. It’s about having an awareness of what your body needs to function properly. And we’re not here on earth just to work day in, day out, and get to the end of the week and just be cooked. It’s about, “How can I generate the income, generate the time off, and get to that time in a physical and mental state where I can actually enjoy the things I want to do with the people that I want to share them with?” So it’s an evolution in sport that I saw clearly over my 20 years in professional football, and we’re seeing more so now in the workplace.

Chris:

We often draw parallels between the sporting and business world. Is that inconsistent with how you’ve actually built your overall wellbeing model? Have you stolen a few things from your days in the club, and that sort of thing?

Alastair:

Yeah. And from a leadership point of view, I mean, you look at … We have one of the great leaders of all time in Lee Matthews when he coached our club, and then he coached your club as well [crosstalk] back in ’99. But he’s a great leader, because … And it’s not so much about his tactics or anything like that. But he could make the most complicated sound simple, and he could get everyone in the room to embrace what he’s saying, and go in the one direction.

Alastair:

And he had this mentality that, rather than each individual go out and climb over each other to be the best, he had the mentality that with team success, the individual will get rewarded as a byproduct. Clear KPIs with goals, and points, and wins, and losses being byproducts was something that we understood, and something that worked for us in the business field as well.

Chris:

Yeah, it’s amazing. Making the complicated simple. You just about pretty much described the LiveTiles way of doing things. And I’m sure there are many other businesses that have similar thoughts.

Alastair:

Well, the one that he made probably famous, he said about Essendon, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” Which is the old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, [inaudible] Predator.

Chris:

Predator, yeah.

Alastair:

Yeah, you got to laugh, when the coach says something like that, you laugh. But then he went out and said it in a press conference. But what motivated that was, now we’ve all played in a game, or it might be a sport, or whatever. But you come up against this opposition that you think, “Actually, we can’t beat this mob.” And Essendon were that mob at that time.

Alastair:

And realistically, when Lee would speak to us, “Can we beat Essendon this week?” You thought, “Well …” You’d never say, “No, we can’t.” But you thought, “Jeez, have you seen these guys over the last two years? They’re unbelievable.” And then so what he did, he changed the narrative around that. He said, “Right, can you execute your role on the day?”

Alastair:

So my mentality changed, “Can we beat Essendon?” Thinking, “Oh, probably not.” To, “Can I do that?” Absolutely, I can do that. So he went through every player, and clarified their roles. And all of a sudden, this whole group had this change of mentality. “Yeah, I can do that.” So the win and the loss was a byproduct. So that was the flirts game of our winning streak. And in the end, it was 16 wins in a row to win that flag, on the back of that change of mentality.

Chris:

That’s awesome.

Alastair:

So you don’t have to win it off your own boot. Don’t think about something you can’t control, which is in two hours time, or five days time. Control what you can control. And so that was the great part of Lee’s leadership.

Chris:

That is great advice.

Alastair:

How he turned that around was amazing.

Chris:

Mate, I’m loving the stories that you’re telling here, because I’m a huge fan of storytelling. And especially in the business world. I’m wondering if your sporting stories are a real key element in getting people engaged with what you’re doing, and being able to deliver those quite serious messages on the way you should look after your health, or what might happen to you if you don’t. You wrap them up in a sporting story. Do you feel like that really breaks down the barriers for some of your clients?

Alastair:

Yeah, I think so. And I think sometimes, if there’s an academic presentation that may be a sterile, people can tune out. But if there’s a sporting analogy, or if … Not even, you don’t even have to be a follower of AFL football. But if you can put it in a sporting sense, a lot of people get it, and can put themselves into that situation, or can draw from that story, and put it into their own life, or situation.

Alastair:

And again, things that Lee spoke about is anxiety, and stress, and nerves came from thinking about what might happen in the future, or what’s happened in the past rather than obviously … Because we’d go into a season wanting to win the premiership. But that was the last time we ever thought about it. And he’d always bring it back to what we can control. And again … So that made us … And I think we didn’t finish on top of the ladder in any of the years of our three premierships.

Alastair:

But we performed well on big games, because I think we handled the pressure better, because again, I was only thinking about getting under the ball, and trying to make a contest, and get the ball [inaudible] rather than thinking, “Jeez, I hope we don’t lose this. Shit, this is a big game. 100,000 people here. I hope we win.” Which brings that stress, and anxiety, and focus away from what you actually should be controlling.

Chris:

Speaking of stress and anxiety, the world is just full of it at the moment due to this COVID-19 pandemic. What are the businesses that you’re speaking with, how are they dealing with it in terms of looking after their mental health? And are you actually able to help them even though you can’t get out to see them?

Alastair:

Yeah. Oh, no, a lot of our sites … And especially mostly being industrial sites, we’ve been restricted on site access on many, because unessential contractors have been pushed off a lot of sites. But we’ve continued phone coaching. So essentially what we do, we tend to do a one-on-one consult to start with, and get an understanding of … And again, this is not work related. So it can sometimes be work related. But about how healthy the person is, or unhealthy, or their major issues, whether it be a physical or mental issue.

Alastair:

So we’ve done that in the past. And then we can continue it on through these times with phone coaching, just to touch base on how they’re performing. We’ve developed an app where you can do a health survey. Again, that is around physical, and mental health, lifestyle health as well, so we can keep in contact with the person. And that’s something that happens in sport these days. They do it really well.

Alastair:

And probably the extreme is, as I said before, in the ’80s was the train harder, longer, more often until you break, and then we’ll fix you. To now, in professional sport, basically when you enter a training room … Say, Brisbane Lions as an example. You’ll go up to the iPad, and you’ll do a list of survey questions around your health and wellbeing. And if any red flags pop up, you’ll be called by, whether it’s the welfare manager, or the high performance manager, or the doctor, just to make sure what’s causing this issue, and jumping on that issue before it actually becomes a problem.

Alastair:

And so that’s how we do it as well in our one-on-one consults, and our phone coaching as well via the app. So it’s something that’s … It’s really important. And again, the mentality is, “Let’s jump on it before it actually becomes a major issue. And let’s make sure we turn things around before you actually break, and it impacts your life, whether it be at work or at home.”

Chris:

You can just see so many parallels to the business world. We’ve got HR managers sitting in one part of the globe, and all of their staff sitting in lounge rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, offices all around the globe because of being sent home to work. Being able to do that check-in to make sure that people are okay, or just to work out whether they need some help, and that sort of thing. It’s a really difficult thing to do remotely. But it sounds like you’re on the right track there I reckon.

Alastair:

Well, the thing is, it’s just important [inaudible] we all know that communication is really important, whether it’s in our high performing team, or just your normal business environment. And if that easy communication by walking past the water cooler, or at the coffee shop, or at the desk, if that’s been taken away, need some structures in place to actually make sure that that still happens.

Alastair:

And it can be laborious at times if you’re just going to go through and make call, after call, after call. But if you have a system in place where people can check-in, and if a red flag does pop up, again, you jump on it quicker than might happen if you just ignore it, or you don’t know about it.

Alastair:

So that’s something that we see as extremely important, is communication. Making sure you’re there to support people. And when they do fall, or just starting to fall on hard times, giving them the tools to help themselves. And again, it’s like sport again, you don’t want to come in and actually do something for the person, and … But you want to give them the skills, or the resources to better help themselves.

Alastair:

And I think with all our health consults, it’s about coaching. So again, understanding the benefits of, say, drinking water. Where in the old days, it was told, “You don’t drink water.” But how important that is. So once you’ve got that knowledge … And you might not even live the most pure life, but you know when you’re starting to get run down, you know what to put in place. And that’s the same whether it’s physical or mental health. And so to have those resources in place to support people as we go though these really difficult times, is essential I think, for groups.

Chris:

I love it. You’ve got the principles of coaching, you’ve got all these tried and true, and tested procedures, and all tat sort of thing. And then just technology is the enabler that’s connecting the two sides together. It’s just fantastic.

Alastair:

Yeah, it’s something we really enjoy. And as I said, I’m really passionate about it, because it’s coming from my own experiences about understanding how my body reacts to different situations, how important diet is, how important water is. Mentality around exercise. And we often think of exercise as, “I have to join the gym, and I have to run, or I have to lift weights.” It’s not about that. It’s about doing something that’s sustainable over a period of time that you can do today, but you can actually [inaudible] and do it tomorrow.

Alastair:

Because I think when I had my health issues, there was days where I could do some activity, but I would go and try to make up for lost ground. And we see this in the workplace all the time, whether it be for workload, or physical activity, that people will push themselves, and then they’ll break. And that’s not sustainable.

Alastair:

So I think we’re trying to coach, or help people have the resources so they can actually slowly give themselves the right things to help their mental health, help their physical health so that they not only can perform better at work. And again, that’s not the major focus of what we do, that’s a byproduct of what we do. But if we got healthy, happy people at work, they’re going to be better workers.

Chris:

Absolutely.

Alastair:

And most importantly, they’re going to be better dads, moms, kids. They’re going to be happier people. And I think that’s something … It’s shattering to see people work so hard, get to the end of their working life, and they’ve got all these plans, but they’re physically and mentally not capable of actually enjoying the rewards of all that work.

Chris:

Yup. Agreed. Agreed. Yeah, you work your guts out your entire life, and then you can’t enjoy the next period of your life when you should be. But, mate, look, the work that you’re doing, yourself and others in this health and wellbeing space is just so important, more than ever right now with what we’re going through with COVID-19.

Chris:

It’s so great to be able to talk to you, and gather your insights from a sporting career that maybe some of our listeners over in the other side of the world wouldn’t have a clue about. But everything that you’re talking about rings true in life in general, isn’t it? You make those parallels from one to the other, and it’s all about just making sure you got a good foundation, and you look after it, and all the rest will come.

Alastair:

Yeah. I think … And sometimes we go through stages, and I imagine there’s people going through stages now where sometimes, and I went through this, where it’s easy to blame others. You say, “Well, they haven’t looked after me in the right way.” Or, “This pandemic, it’s its fault.” And I found that I was blaming probably doctors, because thought, “Well, they should know. They should be able to fix me. So why can’t they fix me?”

Alastair:

So I was just down in the dumps feeling sorry for myself. And that’s probably unavoidable at times. But what we need to do is, “Okay, I understand that. But what can I do about it?” And I think in many situations, especially in the mental health space, is communicating, and tapping into those networks around you. Speaking to people. And it’s really important to communicate, to let people know how you’re going, and that you need help.

Alastair:

And I think obviously through these times, we’ve got a lot of people that are really struggling. But there’s people that want to support. Maybe they don’t know about it. And I think, yeah, it’s really important that we tap into the people around us, we tap into the people that we’ve got at work, or in our families to help find the right sort of help. And hopefully that help is something that is sustainable moving forward. So I think that’s our mentality, how we try to … We don’t want to turn people into Olympic athletes, or anything like that, that’s not the focus at all. It’s about, how can we help you be a little bit better tomorrow, and then a little bit better the next day, and then influence people around you as well?

Chris:

Sounds like great advice, mate. Thank you very much for letting us take a bit of a trip down memory lane with you, and sharing some of your insights where your sporting career has crossed over into your business career. Sounds like things are going very well. So, Alastair Lynch, thanks for joining us today.

Alastair:

No worries. Thanks, Chris.

Chris:

Cheers. Thanks for joining me on the Intelligent Workplace Podcast brought to you by LiveTiles. If you have any feedback, or want to suggest a guest for a future show, email podcast@livetiles.nyc. Thanks for listening, I’ll catch you …

 

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