Recording #78:

Beth Stallwood 00:00:00 - 00:01:51
Welcome to the WorkJoy Jam podcast. I'm your host, Beth Stallwood and in this episode, I am joined by Lesley Woods. Lesley is a Senior Royal Air Force Reserve Media Office and she has some wonderful stories to tell us about the challenges of working in the military, of the stories that need to be told, of connecting people, of thinking about how you can remove your ego in the situation and work together to achieve the outcome and have the impact that you are looking for. What we found throughout this conversation is even though these examples are from the military and from some pretty hairy situations that Lesley has been in herself, there are so many lessons that can be learned from here that are applicable everywhere. Wherever you work, whatever your situation is, it's just looking at how to take that advice and apply it wherever you are. I really enjoyed recording this episode. I hope you enjoy listening to it.

Welcome to the WorkJoy Jam podcast. I am delighted today to be joined by the wonderful Lesley Woods. But rather than me introduce Lesley, I'm going to hand over to you. Can you tell us who you are, what you do and tell us a little bit about your career story and how you got to where you are today?

Lesley Woods 00:01:51 - 00:02:21
Well, thank you so much for having me, Beth. I am a third generation woman in the military, so I'm a military media officer and I like to go around and share my stories because there aren't many of us that are out there. Many people don't identify with air crew and know that the female fast jet pilots and helicopter pilots, they don't realize that actually there's a military media officer job. So I like to go out and share and chat about my adventures and things like that and just share some lessons in my adventures and the hope that those tips and techniques might help other people.

Beth Stallwood 00:02:22 - 00:02:45
Amazing. I've got so many things to ask you about how this all came about. So you're a third generation military woman, so that is unusual in itself, I imagine. What was the inspiration for you to move in and become part of the military and specifically, in this media role, which is something that you probably don't think about when you think about the military.

Lesley Woods 00:02:45 - 00:04:02
So my maternal grandmother drove ambulances for the ATA in World War II. It's how she met my Granddad, who was in the Army, which is quite nice. Then my mum and my father met in the Royal Air Force. Mum was a dental nurse and dad was a nurse, a medic nurse. So they met in the Royal Air Force. My uncles, my granddads, everybody's either been in the Army or the Air Force, but all as medics and engineers. So when I decided that I wanted to do this thing called media. What does it do? How does it work? We don't understand. Does it fix people? But it does share stories and obviously it shares the stories of the people that did all the engineering and the medical stuff, which is quite cool. So I come from a long line of that history, and growing up with all the memorabilia, the hats, the uniforms, the trinkets and the treasures from everywhere around the world that ended up in my bedroom, I used to nick them all from my parents. You find your way in. I mean, I joined as an air cadet when I was a little kid. I was the first ever female cadet warrant officer for my unit that I joined and I just thought, this is quite cool. I quite like the uniform, I quite like bouncing around, quite like airplanes, and it just went from there, really. I find myself here in my late 40s, somehow having a career in the blink of an eye, which is quite scary.

Beth Stallwood 00:04:02 - 00:04:26
It's so interesting. I always think you either go two ways when you have a big legacy of a particular industry, don't you? You either go, I'm really excited by this, I'm really into it, or you go, I don't want anything to do with the things that my parents or family did for years and years and years, like the whole family business thing. How did you start off? What did you do? First of all, obviously, beyond your air cadet thing, how did you get into it in the first place?

Lesley Woods 00:04:27 - 00:06:04
So I always wanted to do journalism and public relations. I think my mum tells the story that my first word was Why? I've been kind of saying, Why does this thing? Why can't I do that? Why does this thing happen? What's wrong with that? So I was always going around and interviewing people from a young age. My little brother rocked up five years after me. Ironically, as you say, he wanted nothing to do with the military and the frustrating thing is that my parents gave him the name Robert Andrew Francis RAF. And I’ve got my Dad saying, I've got a son to follow me into the family business. Little did he know. So it's a bit weird. I think from there, I was just sharing stories. I didn't actually join the regular RAF because there was no permanent job that did this kind of thing. They're all reservists and so what I did was I went off and developed a civilian career. I worked for the Eastern Daily Press, Global Media, Heart FM, as they are now. Spent quite a bit of time bouncing around in f media outlets, learning my trade, if you like and then I realized that you could actually join the RAF as a Reserve Media Officer. That was kind of an accidental find, really and then from there it was an obvious game changer for me. So I left doing media jobs, moved into the military, realized I loved it so much that I then went and got a job in the Ministry of Defence. So I now have two jobs, I work in the Ministry of Defence, Directorate of Defence, Comms, as well as being an RAF Media Officer. So it's like a busman's holiday. They're very similar jobs, just with different outfits in different places around the world.

Beth Stallwood 00:06:04 - 00:06:08
You have to be in a different uniform depending on which one you're doing?

Lesley Woods 00:06:08 - 00:06:55
Yes, basically it's a bit messed up upstairs in my house, actually, because you've got wardrobes of green stuff, wardrobes of blue stuff, wardrobes of civilian suits, and then my accessories cupboards of which combat boots do you want to wear today? When you go away on a big exercise, or if you go somewhere where you actually need more than one type of uniform, you find yourself becoming very OCD with wardrobes, as in, hang these shirts here, hang those shirts that they can't touch, obviously, and you have to hang them all up. I must admit, I feel more comfortable in what we call the combat PJs, the green outfit. That's the working outfit. That's the one that you wear when you're running around the world, flying and hanging out helicopters. It's the cool one. But not many people recognize the blue suit. They don't understand that actually you can have a normal working uniform as well. So lots of outfits upstairs, lots of choice.

Beth Stallwood 00:06:55 - 00:07:13
Lots of outfits and choosing the right thing for the right day. We'll come back to that when we talk a bit more about some of the stuff that you do for us non-military people who are listening, including myself. Can you tell us a bit about the difference between being enlisted and being a reservist? What does that mean?

Lesley Woods 00:07:14 - 00:08:07
So when you are a regular, you join up and it is your full time job and you normally commit a period of your life, however many years, whether you're going to join as an officer or as someone in the ranks. When you join as a reservist, you commit a minimum, I think it's 27, 28 days a year, depending on what service you join and what unit you're doing. Those days can be spent in just about anything. You can be going around the world on military exercises, military operations, and for me, it's telling the story of wherever the Royal Air Force is. So whatever jobs we are doing, there's always usually one of my team there with a recorder, with a camera, with a notebook and pen, going old school, whether we're tweeting or writing feature pieces or making documentaries. So it's very much wherever the Air Force is going, you go with them and you tell their story, and that's when it can get into the slightly dangerous and sporty environments where you wouldn't be able to send a normal journalist from a civilian company.

Beth Stallwood 00:08:08 - 00:08:20
Yeah, okay, cool. I understand that now. So it's like a part time, fixed term contract gig if we were looking at the corporate world for your reservist world.

Lesley Woods 00:08:20 - 00:08:57
It’s two jobs, so you have your permanent full time job, one that pays the bills, and then you have your other job. It's not a hobby and I always get a bit annoyed. People say, oh, you've got this hobby of being in the military. No, it's full on. It's just part-time service. So one of the old adverts for the reserves used to say twice to citizen because you still serve your country, you still take all the same risks, and you still have to go through training and you collect medals and you collect adventures and you get shot at along the way, etc but you're just doing it part time, not full time. The same way that I guess people that do when they do volunteer fire service or they do the same with the police force, you can still do it part time as well as full time.

Beth Stallwood 00:08:58 - 00:09:58
Wow. Amazing. Thank you for explaining all that to me so I got it clear in my mind. So tell me a little bit about, you say you're going on these adventures. I'm kind of so drawn to the adventure side of life, going out with people, you said something about kind of hanging out of aeroplanes or helicopters. I'm like, okay, this sounds like fun, but you're so right, this is a job that I don't think I would ever known existed until I spoke to you. So one thing I always say about all these different industries, all these different places, there are so many jobs we don't know about, there are so many opportunities and interesting things that we could be doing, but knowing that they're there is half of the battle. I love the fact that you say your job is about telling the stories of the RAF and what's going on there. So can you tell us a couple of stories about some of the things that you have done in your work that are interesting, different, exciting, scary because I imagine there's some scary stuff that went on there as well.

Lesley Woods 00:09:58 - 00:10:07
Yeah, so I've got a few interesting sporty ones. I can tell you the story about how I found my purpose, how I knew I was in the right job and doing what I was meant to do.

Beth Stallwood 00:10:07 - 00:10:08
Yes, do that.

Lesley Woods 00:10:08 - 00:11:12
If I go back to 2010. So I was to go to Afghanistan, back when we were still out there in quite big numbers for the British military, and I was due to go out there to cover Christmas. So I was flying on my own, flying the week before Christmas with my little rucksack, one woman media team, all my cameras and my microphones and notepads in it. A bit of tinsel, few Santa hats, you know, all the stuff you need for Christmas. Went out there and landed in my little media office and went around thinking, great, everybody's going to come and chat to me. I was recording Christmas messages for the media. You guys might have seen them on TV when you turn on Good Morning Britain or anything like that, and it says, Hi, I'm Bob, I'm in Afghanistan. I'd like to say hello to my lovely wife, Julie. So I was out there to record all of those messages and I thought, this is going to be great, people are going to be queuing up to see me and no single person wanted to go near me. So I hadn't basically banked on the fact that most of the military don't like the media and they certainly don't like being on TV, and they will do pretty much anything they can to avoid it. So what I was doing was going around with a camera saying, hey, do you want to record a Christmas message and they were legging it the other way.

Beth Stallwood 00:11:12 - 00:11:15
Running actively away from you?

Lesley Woods 00:11:15 - 00:13:03
Yeah, actively. I could actively clear an aircraft hanger or a mess hall or anything, just by walking in with a little badge on my arm saying, Media Officer and a camera in my hand, which is a dead giveaway, and they would leg it the other way. So I went to see the Padre. I need some help, Padre, you're really good at finding people and finding stories. So I basically teamed up with the military padre who can get in access all areas. So I was effectively, because of God's right hand woman that day, which is quite nice, going around with him. He helped introduce me to a few people and he found me a couple of volunteers. I'm putting air quotes around that we call it gold in the military when you get told to volunteer something. So I did a couple of them, sent them back to the UK and they went out on air, on TV, on radio, and I thought nervously, they're either going to hate it and I'm going to get loads of stick or I'm going to have people actually come and see me. The next morning, when I went in from my tent to my media office, I had a door full of post it notes. You have, like one of those little scribbly notice boards and that was covered in messages and I had a queue of people and I'm like, what's going on? This doesn't look good, I've done something wrong. Apparently, the wives of the chaps whose TV sessions I'd done had seen them, had gone on Facebook and said, you were amazing, little Johnny, loved seeing you on TV. When are we going to see more of this? Why don't you get your friends to do it? So, of course, the power of the families, which I'd underestimated, was, please come and put yourselves on TV. So I became this person that could connect the families across the miles at a very important time when parents were missing their kids Christmases, and I was so busy, but it was so valuable and so rewarding and I absolutely loved it. I could really understand the benefit of just one person who's able to help others share their story to greater effect, just like that, in one week. I knew I was in the right job from then.

Beth Stallwood 00:13:03 - 00:13:43
I love that. I do think sometimes there are these moments, aren't there, in our careers where we're like, oh, yeah, that's the thing. That's what I'm here for. That's why I do what I do. And we have to be ready to notice those things. Sometimes they're not massive, are they? Sometimes they're just, okay, I've just connected all the dots between these things. It was there already. And I'm just noticing now what it is that happens here. And I'm a little bit like, oh, it's so sweet, isn't it? Being able to give messages to people's families when they're away from home, when they're in dangerous situations, when they've been away for months or years at a time. What a lovely thing to be able to go and do.

Lesley Woods 00:13:44 - 00:14:33
It really was. I think it helps you understand that one person can make a difference and that all of the people who join the military just say, I'm just doing an ordinary job but they are absolutely extraordinary people. It's never about me, it's never about the media officer, it's always about them. I remember there's a couple of quotes in Brene Brown's book, Atlas of the Heart, where she talks about having the courage to walk alongside somebody else and share their story, not yours. So you really do have to park your own ego and you'll never see a byline, you'll never see my name against a story, but I might have written it. It's just that I've shaped it and sent it in and the journalist has picked it up, topped and tailed it and gone, thanks very much, that's nice. I'll have that. It's got to the point now where family and friends can read stories online in newspapers and go, Is that one of yours? And I'm like it might be.

Beth Stallwood 00:14:34 - 00:14:36
I cannot confirm or deny.

Woods 00:14:36 - 00:15:02
Exactly, it may have been me. I was once very famous for being the dog correspondent, if you like, the military working dog correspondent. There was a whole influx of them, went out to Afghanistan and other places and I went with them. So, literally telling the RAF story to the point where I actually media minded one of the RAF police dogs at Krufts FM, would you believe, which is the highlight of my career, media minding, a dog. But, yeah, he was very good.

Beth Stallwood 00:15:04 - 00:15:17
I mean, seriously, I think you might have just said what my dream dog is. My dream job is dogs. Right, that sounds amazing. You get to go and be the dog correspondent. Like, that's an actual thing that somebody does as a job. You did that as a job.

Lesley Woods 00:15:18 - 00:16:02
I mean, obviously you talk to the handlers as well, but you do have to sort of spend time with the dog, hope that the dog doesn't attack you or savage you to the point where they find it. The thing about a media officer is that when you get sent one, if you're in the military, you try and play with it. I think it sounds really wrong, but when you get sent to somewhere like the fire service, they go, great, we've got someone, we need someone to dress up and be our stooge and to play all the things for us. And so they'll dress you up in the giant flame retardant suit and set fire to you just as a practice all the time you're recording it? Yeah, it's absolutely great. Then when you go and do search and rescue with the helicopter force, they'll dress you up in the giant wetsuit and drop you in the North Sea and winch you up all in the name of practicing. So you get some great content, but it can be a bit hairy.

Beth Stallwood 00:16:02 - 00:16:29
So you've got connecting families, you've got sending the messages across the ether to people at home at Christmas time, like, feel good, amazing. You've got probably the best job I could ever do, which is be a dog correspondent. I can go and talk to the dogs. I would love that. Can you tell us about some of the more tricky, challenging situations, and obviously only ones that you're allowed to talk about as well?

Lesley Woods 00:16:30 - 00:16:35
So I did once save the life of Julie Etchingham, ITV News at Ten correspondent.

Beth Stallwood 00:16:35 - 00:16:39
Right, tell us about this, because that's quite a big claim.

Lesley Woods 00:16:40 - 00:20:28
So we were out filming Women on the Front Line, a documentary about all the different roles that women can have in the Royal Air Force and the British military when they're out and about on operations around the world. I'd gone with her because I was the only female media officer and she wanted an all-female team. We were following a female firefighter, a female police person, female air traffic controller, and it was the night that one of the neighbouring camps in Afghanistan caught fire. So it'd been a a fuel depot leak spill, and there'd been a fire that caught and it raged through the night and it got quite bad to the point where we'd been filming and, of course, ITV cameraman's like, oh, this is interesting over here. Let's go and film this big smoke plume over here that looks so dramatic. And so you are effectively ambulance chasing, you're going straight into the fire. We didn't know how big it was, and then we couldn't get out again. So I was left responsible for three people, plus myself, because you're not just the media officer that drives them round, gets the camera in the right place, you're their life support. You have to look after them and try and keep them alive. So I was trying to find somewhere that I could shelter them that weren't getting in the way of what was happening with the fire. And at the same time, a dust storm had hit. And dust storms out in Afghanistan are quite epic. You can't see your hand in front of your face, it just blows the sand everywhere. So I found this nearby tent and I thought, right, get them in the tent, toggle it all up, zip it all up, protect them from the dust. It's all fine, went in there. It was a US Marine Corps base that we'd accidentally stumbled onto in the dark, and it was a toilet tent. And there was a guy sat there doing a number two, reading Stars and Stripes and this massive ITDVcamera crew. Lesley, in a little outfit, rocks up. Hi, we're so sorry to come into your tent. I mean, literally, this guy was just doing a poo and I toggled the tent up and protected us all and thought, this is great. We'll be safe here. We'll wait out the dust storm and the tent started to get a bit hot and fill up with a bit of smoke, which is obviously a bad thing. So I went back to the door and I thought, I'll undo the toggles, like these giant, white, big, industrial sort of tents, if you can imagine them. Undo the toggles and go for the zip and I couldn't do the zip, it was too hot and it started melting. So I was like, what am I going to do? And I turned around and the faces of the three guys, Julie Etchingham, and the producer and the cameraman looking at me in sort of abject horror, like, we're going to die in a toilet tent. And I was like, no, not on my watch, we're not going to die in a toilet tent on my watch. So we emptied our pockets and it's one of the most important leadership lessons that my dad taught me. Empty your pockets, share your resources and calm yourself down by looking at what you’ve physically got in front of you. So very much like, mindfulness, emptying your pockets. And I found in one of my pockets the penknife that he'd given me before I deployed, and I remember his voice now. You'll always need to carry a penknife in case you ever have to cut yourself out of a burning tent. And I was like, I don't know what you mean, Dad. When I graduated in my posh outfit, I didn't know what it was all about, but here I was, stuck in a burning toilet tent, no less, and I got my little penknife out and I started stabbing the inside of the tarpaulin, if you like. I wasn't getting very far, but it was enough of an action for the people outside to realize there was somebody in there trapped. Then this great knife, this really big knife came through the other side and cut open the opening and this guy looking like Close Encounters of the Third Kind came in, a US Marine Corps Firefighter with all these torches on his head, did the whole Arnie thing where you reach your hands through and say, come with me if you want to live. So we snuck through the opening, and I think he had me over one shoulder. One other guy had Julie over the other shoulder and then the chaps running behind us, and we evacuated out to a slightly safer space. So I technically did save her life if she wanted to play it that way.

Beth Stallwood 00:20:28 - 00:20:36
So you saved the life of four people that day? Well, five including yourself, because it was those three, the guy who was having a poo and you.

Lesley Woods 00:20:36 - 00:20:39
Yes. And none of us died. All got through.

Beth Stallwood 00:20:39 - 00:20:57
It amazing. Now, I'm loving the leadership lesson here, though. Empty your pockets. What resources do you have? How can you share them? What can you do with it? Because the other thing that that does as well as practically, oh, look, there's a penknife, that could be helpful, it focuses your attention away from the drama that's going on in your head.

Lesley Woods 00:20:57 - 00:20:58

Beth Stallwood 00:20:58 - 00:21:03
Away from worst case scenario. Going, okay, what's the next practical thing we can actually do here?

Lesley Woods 00:21:03 - 00:22:06
And you can sort of take away responsibility from yourself. So, yes, emptying your pockets is a really good tip and trick to take the responsibility out of your head and get you into the scenario of what's actually happening. So are you responsible for just you? Are you responsible for other people? And you can almost see the switch flicking between it's not just about me anymore. I have to look after other people. And looking after other people, they call it showing up in the service of others, and it actually takes a hell of a lot of pressure off you. If it had just been me in a burning tent, sat in the corner, I may well have just started rocking backwards and forwards and saying, wibble in a corner, but I didn't have that luxury because I had three other people or four if you include Mr Poo, looking at me and wanting to know, what are we going to do about this? How are we going to get out of here? And that's where officer leadership training kicks in, because people will look to you if you've got a bigger barcode on your chest because you're a senior officer, they will look at you and go, what do we do? Okay, right, I've got to come up with an answer, if for them, if not just for myself. So it is a really good leadership tip.

Beth Stallwood 00:22:06 - 00:22:13
And in this situation, you weren't even with other military people, were you? You're with civilians who don't have that kind of training.

Lesley Woods 00:22:13 - 00:22:21
Well, I don't know. I don't know to this day what rank Mr Poo was. I never met him again. I think he's probably too embarrassed.

Beth Stallwood 00:22:22 - 00:22:25
I mean, it is quite a moment, isn't it, having a film crew march in on you.

Lesley Woods 00:22:28 - 00:23:18
The actual documentary, when it was finished, was absolutely amazing. You talk about living through these fearful things. We'd eventually got into a little truck and I managed to evacuate us out of the area, but it was quite sporty driving and it wasn't until I watched the documentary footage back before it went on ITV that I was like, oh, my God. I was actually in that. You can hear my voice off camera. I was actually in that. I actually lived through it. It's not until you see it on the lens, you’re kind of one step removed when you actually see it for real, it's quite sobering. So, yeah, it does make you think that there's a couple of times I might not have still been here, and that was one of them. But, yeah, very hairy. I did lose half an eyebrow and I got a bit singed, but no one died. And miraculously, there was a lot of damage on the camp from vehicles and tents, but no one died. There's a few smoke inhalation things, but we were very lucky that night.

Beth Stallwood 00:23:19 - 00:23:41
Wow. I mean, it's incredible that that's actually your job to do that and that that situation occurred and that you managed to get everybody out. I always think they say every tough situation has a lesson in it, if you're prepared to look for it. And the other side of that is, how cool is your Dad knowing you'd need that tool one day? And how cool were you for keeping it rather than going, why on earth have I got this?

Lesley Woods 00:23:41 - 00:24:48
He's been gone three years now. He was an RAF Wing Commander. He died of lung cancer a few years ago and he left me a giant box of memorabilia and in it are all his photos from basic training, his rank tapes. All these sort of awards and things like that, and there's no monetary value to it, but it's so precious, and I open it every so often and at it and imagine the stories that he didn't have time to tell me, all of the lessons that he taught me about how to survive in this job have absolutely stood me in good stead. I honestly didn't believe him when he said, you might need it one day. Put it on your belt and thank the Lord that I actually had it in a pocket, because that's the good thing about the uniform. There's so many pockets. You can carry lots of things, but you've got to be so careful what you do and don't carry. I also had in there my eye protection, which was really valuable because when I got back to my tent, I looked at my boss. I was completely black with soot. I just had little white panda eyes where my goggles had protected my eyes from all the smoke and the dirt. So, again, I never go anywhere without a pair of those now. So, yeah, even commuting in London, you never know when you might need those.

Beth Stallwood 00:24:49 - 00:25:42
You never know. In fact, you're probably quite likely to need them in London at some point in time, even if just to get rid of the kind of pollen and hay fever and all that kind of stuff. I think it's really interesting what you're talking about here, and I'm trying to relate it to outside the military and things that you might need to do and having that benefit of somebody's wisdom that they have gained over experience and that idea of having a mentor. Now, you had one, well many of them inbuilt into your family because that's what they did, and you went into the same area, but actually, anybody in any workplace, in any situation, in any new job, go and seek out some people who've done it. Go and seek out the people who've done it for 20 years and who have got the battle scars to prove it and can help you find your way through and can help you get through some of the difficult challenges and help you understand what you might need in your toolkit to get that work working for you.

Lesley Woods 00:25:42 - 00:26:28
That's exactly it. I don't know who the original quote was attributed to, but there was somebody who once said, never take advice from someone that hasn't walked the path you want to go down. That's always stuck with me in that it's like people can say, oh, you don't want to be doing that. I'm like, well, have you done it before? Well, no, okay, so please don't advise me. It depends entirely on where you want to go and what you want to do, and you'd be surprised. There's so many lessons from the military that are applicable in civilian life. I do actually spend quite a lot of time chatting with civilian colleagues and corporate companies, even some charities, just to tell them some of my adventures and share some of my stories in the hopes that they'll pick up a few tips and tricks that can then serve them today. So it does translate, but yeah, it does sound a bit fantastical when I hear myself back.

Beth Stallwood 00:26:28 - 00:26:39
The thing is, living through it, I imagine you're in the zone of total adrenaline and working your way through it and then recalling it back. It's like, actually that was quite a big deal.

Lesley Woods 00:26:39 - 00:28:08
We didn't get a lot of sleep. I think we were awake for something like, I think it was 30 odd hours. We didn't get any sleep that night because obviously you're busy running around keeping yourself safe. Then I do remember coming down back to Earth with a massive bang because the next day when I had had a shower and had a little bit of food, I got a call from the Head of Mechanical Transport Mt. So the truck that I had borrowed to drive my media guys around, I'd had to abandon it because obviously it had fuel in it and obviously as fuel gets hot, that's a bad thing. So I'd left it in an unidentified lane. I didn't know what part of the base I was on at this point in time and the guy said to me, you need to go and find the vehicle that you've signed for, get it back, clean it, and it better be working or you're for the high jump, lovey. And I was like, oh my God, it could be in trouble over a truck. So I went to go and find this truck and would you believe it, like a sort of mini act of God, this little truck was in this little tiny patch of not scorched earth. Everything else was black. This little truck was intact, it was filthy, dirty, but it was there and I got it back, it worked and the guy said to me, right, you can clean it now. So I thought, okay, I rolled my sleeves up, went out there, started cleaning it, and Julie and the other guys also, she came out, she put a thing over her lovely blonde hair and she started helping me clean the vehicle. And I thought, you know what, there's a really lovely lesson in humility that she's a well known ITV news presenter, famous around the world for being on Sky and ITV, and because she knew it wasn't my fault and because I'd used this truck to help us, she decided to come help me. So that was a nice lesson.

Beth Stallwood 00:28:08 - 00:28:26
Such a lesson in the power of connection and teamwork as well, isn't it? Is that actually help each other out because you did save their lives. So it probably was quite a nice thing to help you clean the car, but I love that kind of back down to earth from life saving. Can you clean this vehicle now? Thank you.

Lesley Woods 00:28:27 - 00:28:45
Military moves on very quickly. Yeah, we survived that. Right, what's next? Crack on. It's like, oh, my God, but, yeah, I could have been potentially in lockdown, because vehicles are very hard to come by and when you signed for them, basically you're responsible for that truck and so I don't want to think about what would happen if I'd gone and not been able to find it.

Beth Stallwood 00:28:46 - 00:29:08
Yeah, number one, well done for finding it and well done for sorting it out. I think that's probably another lesson there. For beyond the military, just because you've had a big moment, stuff still needs to happen. You can't have a big moment and then say, for three months we're just not going to bother because we're going to live off this high or this low, we're just going to carry on, find the next thing that you've got to do and just get on and do it.

Lesley Woods 00:29:08 - 00:30:59
Well, there's a thing in the military called concurrent tasking, which I'm sure people will understand, in that you've got to have several things done at once. It's all about teamwork. The only way you get through basic training is through teamwork. Now, the instructors won't teach you this, they just want to sort of throw you in the deep end and see if you can make it work for yourself. But when I went through basic training when I was slightly older. I was 33 when I would do my officer training. I'm now 47 and most of the younger lads that I was going through training with were sort of 19, 20, 21. So I wasn't quite their mum's age, but I was a lot older, slower. I'm only five foot six, almost. The kit is very heavy, very big to put on and lug around and when you've got to run around fields and climb over barbed wire fences and pretend to be at war, I would tire very quickly, whereas they were much younger, fitter, muscular chaps. So we learned the lessons of, if one of them carried my bergen for a little while, then I would get the brew on and make him a cup of tea when we stopped for a rest. Or if one of them would actually help me through some of the big obstacle courses, I would help them study for a classroom based test. This is exactly what the instructors want to see. You've got to get several things done at once, so they only give you, say, for example, a 4-hour period in which you've got to eat a meal, clean your rifle, clean your kit, get your tent set up and get all your stuff squared away for the next morning's prep. So you can't get it all done in that period of time, if you do it on your own, you just can't. So you have to you say, Freddie Mc whatever your name is, you clean the rifle, someone else cleans the boots, someone else gets the dinner on, someone else puts the tent up. They don't teach you this. You just have to learn it by doing and I often think that's why in many civilian companies, people are like, let's go back to my earlier point about the ego. It's not just about you. You have to be able to park your ego and do it as a team, and if you don't get the credit, it doesn't matter because ultimately you achieve success. The mission worked.

Beth Stallwood 00:30:59 - 00:31:51
So it's not about the individual success, it's about the group success and achieving your mission, getting the right outcome, not dying in a tent, all of those things. I think it's really interesting because what I would call that if you were to break it down into the learning side of life, is that's just strength based leadership and concurrent tasking together. It's going, hang on a minute, you can easily carry this backpack and still run at the same speed. I can run that fast, but not if I'm carrying stuff, and actually I'm really good at making a brew, so let me go and do that. Or I'm really great at putting a tent down, or I'm really great at cooking and you use the stuff that you're good at and I would say what you really love doing because you've got that bit and you can all share in that, then you're going to get it done so much quicker, better and in a good mood than you have to do this thing again because I'm on a list to do it.

Lesley Woods 00:31:51 - 00:32:27
Also it builds those friendship and that camaraderie very quickly in that when I think about some of the training weekends I did through the Winter where you had to build your little bivvy. Basically, you get a tent sheet thing and you have to go and build a little den for you to sleep in and it's snowy and it's cold outside, so you dig down the drier leaves, you build a little foxhole thing. You put your little tent sheet over the top at an angle so the rain can run off and then you take all your kit off and you pack it in there to try and keep it dry and warm. And then you curl around your colleagues like you're all little doormice in a burrow and you get quite close quite quickly.

Beth Stallwood 00:32:29 - 00:32:42
Yeah, I imagine you do. You definitely said earlier about hanging out of a plane or helicopter have you got a story about something that we could talk about there?

Lesley Woods 00:32:42 - 00:34:32
So if you go back and ask Carol Vorderman, she will tell you this is her best day at work ever. So, a few years ago, we had the first ever F35s with the Harry replacement. The first ever F35s were coming across to the UK from where they're built in America to come into service with the Royal Navy and the RAF and I was lucky enough to be able to go and do an airborne media facility. So I had borrowed, I hadn’t done this properly, I'd borrowed a US Air Force Hercules, which is the big one that's gone out of service now, where the ramp would go down and you could get quite close to the aircraft behind it, so it would refuel the jet. So I had the ramp down, the two refuelling hoses were coming out the sides, plugging into the little jet planes behind, and when the ramp went down, and I had a load of media on the back, I'm not kidding, you could see the whites of the pilot's eyes we were so close to them. You were quite high up and obviously the back going down, big blue sky outside. You have to be harnessed to the aircraft, you can't just wander around once you get out, you see, because if you fall out, that's it, game over. So I was harnessed to the aircraft and Carol was harnessed partly to me, partly to the aircraft, and was sort of moving down, edging slowly to the ramp. She sat on the edge of the ramp with a camera, she was filming for the BBC One Show, and she was merrily sort of looking away, thinking, this is great. She flies herself, she's not fazed by high heights, etc, and I just remember sitting there and taking photos of her and thinking, I'm going to look back on this as a really random thing that I did. Afterwards, she took me for a dinner in a local pub near the airfield, which is quite nice, but that was one of those ones where she had the most amazing day and actually, I lived a bit vicariously through her because to me, it was a bit blase. I'd done it quite a few times, so it's quite nice to see something through the eyes of somebody else and you can actually remember that these things are special and that they are more adventures to be treasured.
Beth Stallwood 00:34:33 - 00:34:47
You've just told me in the last 27 minutes, I think it probably is, 3 incredible stories about your work and the things that you've done in your work. And I can imagine we are just scratching the surface.

Lesley Woods 00:34:48 - 00:37:09
There's a few, there's a few, but I won't bore you with all of them. The one that I really love, that I go back to a lot, which is pertinent to mental health and looking after yourself, is the night that I almost died was when I did a kitten puzzle and it was the kitten puzzle that saved my life. We were stuck on Kandahar Airfield, it was another Christmas would you believe, I'm that lucky that I get to go Christmas time. And the Taliban were bombing the airfield. They were sending in bombs, sending in rocket attacks, and the alarm goes off and you have to hit the deck in your little office and you wriggle into your body armour and you have to lie there until you hear the all clear, the all clear signal that goes around and it can be a long time, and you can hear the bangs, you can hear the whizs, you can hear different things going on outside and you don't know if it's going to land near you, on you, whatever, and all kinds of sort of thoughts go through your head. I wasn't alone in the room, I had a female photographer colleague so I couldn't panic, it wasn't about me anymore. She really wasn't having a very good time, she was very worried that she wasn't going to see her young children again. She didn't want to die in that office block at Christmas time and so I got down some of the gift boxes that had been sent to us by members of the public back home in the UK. Little old Grannies had sent us f like knitted scarves, and kids had written us messages, and we had sweets and we had chocolate, and I got down one box and in it was a puzzle, and it was kittens with a ball of wool and I got it out and I thought, a thousand pieces, right, this will keep us quiet, I'm not kidding you there, we did this puzzle on the floor in full body armour, helmet, vest, all the rest of it, in this little corner of the office, this little den that I'd made for her to feel safe. And it was exactly what I used to do with my little brother when we were kids and there was a storm and you felt bad, you're trying to provide that psychological sense of safety for someone else to get you both through something a bit icky. And we did it, and we had the all clear. We hadn't finished the puzzle, but it served its purpose. She was starting to really panic. I was starting to lose it a bit, thinking, what do we do? And also, what if it comes down on the building and I have to go and help someone else, or someone else needs me to do medical? We'd all been medically trained, but you've never had to put a tourniquet on or anything like that in anger until something like that happens nd you think, what if I have to do the scary stuff I got trained to do. But that kitten puzzle, I don't know where it went, I left it behind for the next person after me, thinking I need to leave it as a present, but it was awesome. And that little old granny that put it in that parcel that night, I will always be grateful to her.

Beth Stallwood 00:37:10 - 00:38:09
I have to say, as well, I do like a puzzle and I find them to be very good for my mental health. So I actually have one set up quite a lot of the time just to do for ten minutes if your brain is feeling overwhelmed or stressed out or fearful, because, again, you cannot concentrate on anything else other than where this piece goes, it's really hard to be thinking about other things. So whether you are in that situation, that huge, horrible situation you're in, which is really dangerous and actually the fear is genuine and really dangerous to you. But, you know, in work and in business, we feel that fear sometimes anyway. Even when it's not a life threatening situation. The fear response is still there. If we're scared about something that's coming up, if we've had a horrible conversation with somebody, if we think we've got this big thing that we're trying to go for and we don't think we're going to get it. Fear is all around us all the time. Some of it's because there is physical danger and some of it's because there's like mental, psychological, emotional, kind of social danger. So actually doing something that takes your brain off of that is a really good thing to do.

Lesley Woods 00:38:10 - 00:38:41
It really is. I mean, that's the thing, having felt physical danger a couple of times in my life now it's reaffirmed for me how I cope with, say, the psychological or the mental sense of danger instead. When I've had to have difficult conversations at work or when I've had conflict brought to me to resolve as the boss, you just think, hang on a minute, there's more than one way to cut this and then what else can I do? What else can I do? Can I empty my pockets? Can I do a puzzle? What can I do? What can I do to help these things?

Beth Stallwood 00:38:42 - 00:38:57
And I imagine also there might be, tell me if I'm speaking out of turn here, but there might also be this situation isn't as bad as potentially burning in a tent. So actually, whatever this is, this is resolvable. We can fix this particular thing.

Lesley Woods 00:38:58 - 00:40:09
This is the thing, I think. I've been in long enough now to see I'm very lucky that I've never lost anybody that I've known very well or I've seen many people come back. I've been on what they call the ramp ceremonies when you've been stood there, when somebody who's been killed in battle has been sent home, and I've been to what they call the Ramp ceremonies, where you stand there to attention and you pay your final respects as their body's flown home. I've seen a lot of that. I've seen quite a lot of nasty injuries in the hospitals and things when I've been filming in there and I kind of think, do you know what, if nobody died then it isn't the end of the world. But we can in our minds, we can blow it up, can't we? To this massive, oh my God, the world is going to end. My other half works in a car garage and I mean, I love him, he's so not like me and he comes from a completely different world. He comes home so stressed at night, and I talk him through it,nobody died and he's kind of like, oh, my God, I couldn't do all these things. And I'm in my head thinking, dude, you wouldn't survive ten minutes in my job. Then I thought, hang on a minute that's the Lesley ego talking. To him this is as bad as being stuck in the tent because that's how he's made it in his mind. So yeah, don't be stuck in your mental tent. There's a good title for you.

Beth Stallwood 00:40:09 - 00:41:00
There you go. Yeah, I love that. I'm writing it down, don't get stuck in your mental tent. Yeah, that's what we're going to call it. That's what we're going to call the episode. We also have to remember that everybody's job is different and our worst days might not look the same as your worst day, might not look as drama-ful, but it feels the same. It can have that same emotional impact on us. So whether you are stuck in a tent that's burning or whether you are stuck in an office environment that's making you feel really unhappy, that sense of gloom is something that you’ve got to have some tools to deal with. So is it the. what are my resources? Who do I need to have a conversation with? How can we help each other? How can we be in service of each other? And the bigger mission versus our individual outcomes and our individual ego? All of those lessons that you were talking about are all applicable everywhere.

Lesley Woods 00:41:00 - 00:41:45
You're all about work joy, finding joy in the moment and I think that's such a good way to antidote to stress in that that's one of the reasons why I was drawn to becoming an unofficial dog correspondent because when you're stuck out in the desert and not very nice and bad things are happening, the military working dog camp has always got a paddling pool. The dogs had a paddling pool. We didn't get one. They had to be cooled down. They had to have air conditioned kennels. They had to have regular meals, they had to have a paddling pool. We didn't get that luxury. So I was like, I'm going to go and visit the dogs because I can stroke them, put my feet in their paddling pool if I'm lucky, and just have a bit of chill time with an animal that will help sort of calm me down. Even though it's a vicious, scary patrol dog, when their harnesses are off, they are lovely and you can still pet them. It's such a morale boost.

Beth Stallwood 00:41:45 - 00:42:12
Definitely. So many things and so many great lessons. Thank you so much for sharing them. I've got some quick fire questions for you. Are you ready? Quick fire in the sense of not actually firing things. You're not being shot at. There are no bombs in this situation. You are not going to need to do a kitten puzzle at the end. However, if you want to, feel free. Right, question one for you personally, what is always guaranteed to bring you a little bit of work joy?

Lesley Woods 00:42:12 - 00:42:23
I think asking someone else about their day, because you take the pressure off yourself and you listen to someone else's story and it will always give you a different perspective.

Beth Stallwood 00:42:23 - 00:42:35
Yeah, great one and it's so simple as well. It takes zero effort as long as you actually listen in and see where it leads you. Oh, love that one. Question two, what book are you currently reading?

Lesley Woods 00:42:36 - 00:42:40
I'm a bit weird. I tend to read two or three at the same time.

Beth Stallwood 00:42:40 - 00:42:42
Me too. I can't help myself.

Lesley Woods 00:42:45 - 00:43:41
I've just got Happy High Status which is a brand new book that's just been released. I've also got Fast Like A Girl. I'm looking at whether or not intermittent fasting might be a good thing for a menopause woman in her mid 40s. So I don't tend to read fiction, I only read fiction, funnily enough, when on my adventures. I only got through, I'm slightly ashamed to say this, Jilly Cooper's books when stuck in places like Afghanistan and Africa, where you just need that chapter, that separation between day and bedtime. Even if it was the sound of chinooks flying over my tent or the sound of distant gunfire or whatever it was, I would read a chapter of Rupert Campbell Black Did A Thing, and I would read that chapter and then I'd put it aside and all the blokes would take the mick out of me big time. And I'm like, do you know what, I need pink and fluffy because this is not where I'm stuck, it is not pink and fluffy. And so I only ever read fiction when I'm on my adventures, which is a bit weird, I suppose. And when I'm at home, it's all professional development and self help books.

Beth Stallwood 00:43:41 - 00:43:54
Yeah, well, I tend to read mainly non-fiction, and then one of my lovely guests once told me that there's some research that says if you want to sleep better, you should read fiction before bed.

Lesley Woods 00:43:55 - 00:43:57
Okay, that sucks a bit.

Beth Stallwood 00:43:57 - 00:44:16
And I was like, oh, but I have read one fiction book this year, and I've read about 20 nonfiction books, so I think I'm with you but I like the idea of having your fiction to get away mentally, get away from the situation you're in. Sounds very sensible.

Lesley Woods 00:44:16 - 00:44:36
Yeah, it has to be, like, really far away. It can't be. I mean, there's actually currently some very good documentaries on at the moment on various TV channels about the work of the military, and I can't watch them. I can't watch them at home on my own, I watch them in the office when I go through them for clearance, but I can't watch them at home because it's that separation.

Beth Stallwood 00:44:36 - 00:44:52
Yeah, I totally get that. What is one, oh hang on, I'm doing the wrong question. What is one bit of advice that you have had in your life that you have always find yourself coming back to?

Lesley Woods 00:44:53 - 00:44:55
I once had a - am I allowed to swear?

Beth Stallwood 00:44:55 - 00:44:56

Lesley Woods 00:44:56 - 00:45:26
I once had a mentor that said, Lesley, remember that nobody gets out of bed to be an asshole. So when you are literally like, this person's out to get me, they're being so disrespectful, or they're undermining me, or they just don't get me or whatever the narrative that you're running in your head is like, literally scratch the record and go, hang on a minute, they didn't get out of bed and think, I'm going to annoy Lesley today. I'm not that important to them. They're important to themselves. That's a really cool thing to remember.

Beth Stallwood 00:45:27 - 00:45:38
It is and to remember that everyone else is just busy living their own lives. Nobody, I don't know anyone who has the time or the energy or the inclination to be deliberately bothersome to other humans.

Lesley Woods 00:45:38 - 00:45:46
No and yet we automatically go straight to that place of, they're out to get me and you just have to sort of calm yourself down and take a few deep breaths, don't you?

Beth Stallwood 00:45:46 - 00:45:48
Calm down, love. You're not that important.

Lesley Woods 00:45:48 - 00:45:51
Yeah, none of us are, really. None of us are indispensable.

Beth Stallwood 00:45:51 - 00:46:04
Exactly right. What is one super practical bit of advice that you could give to our listeners, something that they could do today, tomorrow, the next day that you think would help bring them a little bit more work joy in their lives.

Lesley Woods 00:46:05 - 00:47:07
So I start with the process. I've been a media trainer for a long time now, so one of the things I do in my job is train other people how to do media interviews. Whether that's appearing on telly, giving a radio interview, or even just writing something down for an article or a quote for a newspaper thing. Owning your own story gives you so much joy. If you don't tell your own story and tell it in the way that you want to tell it, somebody else will. It's all about getting in there and owning your own narrative. I was like, do you know what, people could take the mick that I'm not a medical or an engineer, but if I own my story of being a third generation woman, to join up and sort of follow in the footsteps of my gran and my mum and being really proud to do so, even though they had very different jobs to me, it's my story, and I own it, and I talk about it. So before you can go in there and start thinking about, oh, I need to tell the story of my business or the story of the organization that I work for or come up with my own new brand for a new business that I want to launch. Think about your own story, because people buy people. And if you don't believe your own story, then no one else is going to.

Beth Stallwood 00:47:07 - 00:47:37
I totally, totally support that. In fact, there's a whole chapter on how do you build that story, how do you understand what your story is? How do you unpick the bits that are no longer your story? Chapter 5 in my book, because that's the thing. Sometimes we're carrying around old stories, we're carrying around previous versions of ourselves and actually catching up on always thinking about, what's the latest version of my story and owning it. That owning it bit so important, because you're right, if you don't tell it, other people will fill in the gaps and they'll make stuff up.

Lesley Woods 00:47:38 - 00:48:49
The thing for me, I think, was hitting my late 40s. So my dad died three years ago and I went through a bit of an existential crisis saying, did I only join the military to make him happy? Discuss in your own little head. And I thought about quitting, I thought about doing something else, did I really want something else? And the answer was, no, I actually quite like this, I'm going to stay. But then when I started coming up with quite sort of debilitating menopause symptoms, it's not easy running around in the military when you've got brain fog and other stuff going on. And I was just open and honest about it and I went straight to the medical center to get help. I talked to my bosses and I talked to anybody that will probably listen, probably a bit too much, bless them. But if I have to become the Davina McCall of the RAF to help other people come after me, then I will, because there aren't many women in senior positions and now I understand why. You see all these older men that have got to f very high ranking positions, but as a woman, you have to go through menopause and all of that other stuff beforehand before you can get there. So I'm like, if I can help, because I'm serving till 60, so I've got another twelve years left effectively to go, but if I can help someone else come after me and have a slightly easier journey because of it, what I call clearing the runway for other people to take off, then it's time well spent.

Beth Stallwood 00:48:51 - 00:49:14
That's such a good point, isn't it because it's a system and an organization and jobs that weren't originally designed for women, that wasn't in their design and that is going to take some taking things down, building things up, changing the way it works. Somebody's always got to go first. So if you want, I think that's what I'm going to call you from now on. The Davina McCall of the RAF.

Lesley Woods 00:49:15 - 00:49:34
You talked about letting go of the old story, parts of your story, old chapters, this is a new chapter for me. I don't quite know how it's going to end, but I am very conscious that by spelling it out for other people, it makes it okay for them to talk and just come forward. To see a senior officer say something and they're like, oh, maybe it's okay if I say that I'm struggling a bit too. It's absolutely OK.

Beth Stallwood 00:49:35 - 00:49:42
And in the words of Natasha Beddingfield, the rest is yet unwritten on this particular story.

Lesley Woods 00:49:42 - 00:49:45
That song is on my ipod. Yeah, I love that song.

Beth Stallwood 00:49:45 - 00:50:02
I talk about it all the time and people look at me like, who are you? And I don't care. I love that song and I love what it means is that you have the opportunity to write this next chapter and what that looks like and what you'll be known as is Lesley Davina. You'll just get a middle name, maybe.

Lesley Woods 00:50:02 - 00:50:04
I have to check it, obviously, with her, bless her first.

Beth Stallwood 00:50:06 - 00:50:25
I think she'd be up for it because I think she wants to help people. Why not? Love it. Thank you so much for being part of this conversation. It has been absolutely fascinating and sharing all of those wonderful things and your career and those amazing stories. If people want to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

Lesley Woods 00:50:25 - 00:50:49
So I'm mostly on LinkedIn. That's where I go to share my tips and tactics and I'm all about helping people become more courageously creative in their communications. Also a big fan of alliteration, if you couldn't tell. So I go on there and often share tips and tricks that I've learned on my adventures in the hope that they might help someone else. So I do share them on there. And please do connect and chat with me on there.

Beth Stallwood 00:50:49 - 00:50:58
Brilliant. And I have been following you for a while and there's lots of great tips and tricks that I'm sure lots of people will enjoy. Lesley, thank you so much for joining me today.

Lesley Woods 00:50:58 - 00:51:00
Thank you for having me, Beth. It's been lovely to chat.

Beth Stallwood 00:51:01 - 00:52:33
Thank you so much to Lesley Woods for joining me today to talk all about work joy and her experience in the world of the military. So many great bits of advice here. How do we pay attention to things? How do we use our resources that are available to us? How do we all empty our pockets and understand what we've got in terms of our toolkit? How do we seek out mentors and people who've been there before us to help us understand and navigate situations? And also thinking about how we clear the runway for those future people, for the people who we might need to help dismantle some structures and help rebuild new things that work better for everyone, especially if we're in positions of leadership or being the first. So huge. Thank you, Lesley, for talking to me about your amazing stories and I'm sure we've only just scratched the surface. If you are looking for some help in terms of getting more work joy, there’s a couple of things you can do which I mentioned in the podcast. We do have the Stories chapter in the book, which is available at all good online retailers. Workjoy. A Toolkit for a Better Working Life and if you head to our website,, you'll find there a freebies page which has our tracker and reflection questions. It's called WorkJoy: Where Do You Get Yours? which can be really helpful for understanding where you're at right now and what you might want to do next. And also one that's called Fall Back In Love With Your Job. So do go and download those and see what works for you. Thanks for listening.

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