What it’s like being a real life Wendy Rhoades
“I’m a high-performance coach.”
“You’re a what?”
“A high performance coach.”
And then I’d see it on their faces. The reaction instant. Palpable. The furrowed brows, the looks of bewilderment – people dazed and confused. The look that says “you just sound like a weirdo to me”. I could see from their expression on their faces their inner voices asking the questions – “what on earth is a high-performance coach? Is that another word for shrink? Is she analysing me? This was my life before Billions aired on television for the first time in 2016.
These days, you would be hard pressed to find anyone on the planet who hasn’t seen the gripping TV drama series. Just in case you haven’t, its set in the gritty and glittering worlds of corporate New York and the outskirts of Connecticut. The series tells the story of hedge fund king Bobby Axelrod as he amasses wealth and power to the proportions of King Midas. His offensive and unscrupulous tactics and ongoing war with the US Attorney journey make for gripping viewing.
While watching these guys ‘duke it out’ makes for entertaining yet somewhat nauseating antics, perhaps the more and unlikely heroine of the story is the character of “Wendy Rhoades”, a Psychiatrist turned High Performance Coach who steps in as Axelrod’s ‘secret weapon’ to turn his millions into squillions, his market penetration into world domination and steals his heart in the process.
I have spent the last twenty years of my life playing the role of confidante, mentor and high-performance coach to some of the world’s most well-known movers and shakers supporting them to step into their full potential and realise lives of ‘unreasonable ambition’. Unlike other occupations, living out my professional life as an organisational psychologist and high performance coach has also meant flying under the radar as a trusted advisor to ASX-20 and Fortune 100 companies, millionaires and billionaires across every industry you can imagine – from toilet-paper manufacturing to investment banking, from oil wells to railways, from entertainment to technology. Enter “Wendy Rhoades”.
In creating her character and brilliantly played by Maggie Siff, TV writers have blown the lid on my profession – one that traditionally operates behind doors closed shut all the while weaving dreams and magic in silence. Her appearance ‘on the stage’ has made it way easier for people to understand what it is that I do for a living, and I have the persona of “Wendy Rhoades” to thank for that!
The reality is that being a high-performance coach in the high stakes world of international business exposes you to another stratosphere of leadership. It puts you in rarefied air – watching and supporting key decision-makers navigate through the complexity of multiple existential challenges that have the rest of society on its knees.
If the events of the past ten years have made it abundantly clear, living in a volatile and destabilised world is resulting in casualties at an accelerating rate. From natural disasters and climate change to a world pandemic, digital disruption and catastrophic increases in mental ill health, humanity is buckling under the strain of modern-day advancement.
As a race, we are all standing at the edge of our most extreme challenge. We are being forced to rethink our approach to life and work and find creative ways to amplify our ability to evolve. Being able to adapt to an unchartered future that involves both people and the planet is mission critical if we are to remain on this earth.
It’s time for a new leadership logic; one that is unreasonably ambitious, bold, adaptive and radically human. One that is capable of building thriving, prosperous and purposeful organisations during these transformational times. The world needs leaders who progress humanity and worship the planet at the same time.
There are a few things I have learnt over the past two decades and it’s to stay the course no matter the ‘weather conditions’ leaders need to:
- Manage the stress that comes from trying to navigate an unknown future.
- Make sense of a future they cannot fathom.
- Not turn into the worst version of themselves as they struggling to keep up with the pace of change.
- Engage support to power up their personal and workplace ambitions with the greater good in mind.
But I am also a realist. Not everyone has crazy life dreams and ambitions to make a dent in the universe. Not everyone wants to be a changemaker, a rainmaker or a modern-day revolutionary. But if you’re one of those who does, it’s time to clear the path to blaze your trail and lead the world better.
A look back to history shows us that just about every great monarch or notable leader had a trusted advisor or ‘side kick’ to help them become great and realise ambitions that were viewed by others as unreasonable and impossible – because it’s harder to do on your own. To be more, create more and do more on your leadership journey, I’d like to leave you with three little secrets to help you lead today for a successful tomorrow:
- To be ambitious is survival.
- To be reasonable is dangerous.
- To be unreasonable is necessary.
And it always helps if you have a “Wendy’ in your life who’s up for the ride, no matter what.
Written by Vanessa Vershaw.
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