Sue Langley has long been a positive psychology enthusiast, and now she’s an expert. Her objective, in both life and work, is to help people and employers guide employees and themselves towards peak performance, using the field of neuroscience. Not flimsy advice based on hearsay or guesswork, but research, studies and cold hard figures.
Today, Sue is CEO of the Langley Group, which offers consultancy and education for businesses looking to find the edge, calling upon vigorous research that has proven to bring results. Her purpose, and that of her business, is “to inspire and equip individuals, teams and organisations to show up more frequently as the best version of themselves.”
Having held a variety of leadership roles in her native UK, Sue emigrated to Australia in 1999, intent on setting up a business that aligned with her purpose. It was a course she did in 1997 that touched on principles of positive psychology (though it didn’t yet wear that label), that was to set the course of her business journey.
“My intent was always the practical application of positive psychology, emotional intelligence and neuroscience,” she shares over the phone. “I seem to have a knack of translating the science into the normal everyday. I think the average readership of a scientific journal article is about seven people. And one of them is usually the person’s mother.”
Many founders say their business was born from a problem or pain point that they felt needed fixing. This wasn’t the case for Sue. For her, building the Langley Group was about an ideal. It was about being the best version of herself, and in doing so helping other people be the best version of themselves.
Of the businesses who seek the Langley Group’s counsel, many want help with improving the wellbeing of employees. Which makes perfect sense: happy workers with high levels of wellbeing will deliver greater productivity. The business also assists in providing the foundations for varying initiatives to work, such as Dry July.
Another area that’s in demand is, unsurprisingly, leadership and culture. “There’s still a lot of organisations that have negative, stressed cultures, and we’re trying to work with some of those organisations to really help tackle this issue and shift into a positive strength-based leadership model,” says Sue.
“So many organisations are saying, ‘We want innovation as one of our values,’ or ‘We’ve got an innovation program.’ What they fail to recognise is, from a neuroscience perspective, we know that if you are in a stressed, pressured, overwhelmed space, your brain cannot be innovative,” explains Sue. What’s required then, is a culture shift, so that new ideas can foster and take root.
How exactly is this change enacted? When a company comes knocking, whether it’s a small to medium business, not-for-profit, or large corporation, the Langley Group will listen to the challenges they’re facing and where they might be heading. The solutions are many and varied including workshops, keynotes, masterclasses, coaching or even lunch-and-learn sessions, where the principles of emotional intelligence, positive psychology and neuroscience can be explored, such as gratitude and mindfulness.
“Obviously, if you want to change culture, you’ve got to get the leaders shifting,” stresses Sue. “For a company we’re currently working with, it’s probably taken us between 18 months to two years to start to notice the culture shifting.”
And the change is palpable, says Sue. “Now it’s really interesting when you walk into their offices, you feel the difference. You notice the difference. Even the CEO, he’s talking about strength-based leadership.”
Over time, rather than always consulting, the Langley Group can build the capacity of internal team members to provide some services, such as psychometric debriefing. “We don’t want to be the consultant that’s always coming in and trying to fix things, because that’s not helpful. It’s about shifting the culture so it’s sustainable,” says Sue.
The biggest challenge for Sue so far has been in developing the world’s first Diploma in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing (10653NAT). She says jumping through government hoops for accreditation was tiresome, but worth it. “At the time we launched, there were only two master’s programs in this area in the world. And we wanted to create something very much more practical for anybody to do, not somebody who wanted to spend anywhere between $40,000-$100,000 on a master’s.”
Another worthwhile aspect of her journey has been the feedback she receives every single day. She recounts one woman who, about three months after completing the Diploma of Positive Psychology (10653NAT), lost her husband of 22 years in a motorcycle accident. “I rang her, not expecting her to answer, a couple of days after when I heard. And though she actually sounded pretty good, I was worried it was going to hit her later,” shares Sue.
“About four months on, there was an article published in a local industry magazine about her. In the article, she actually says, ‘I am so glad I did a Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing (10653NAT) before my husband passed away, because it gave me the tools I needed to handle it.’ And that, for me, is the biggest thing. Whether I’m helping leaders in organisations or whatever, something like that still gives me goosebumps, the fact that it helped somebody deal with tragedy.”