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How To Build A Resilient Organisation By Understanding Risk – Insights from a Special Operations Medic

When working in war zones, planning and leadership is paramount, as is having to make life-saving decisions during crisis situations. In this episode of my  ‘Wine and Wisdom’ show called ‘How to build a resilient organisation by understanding risk – Insights from a Special Operations Medic’ I speak with the very talented Jeremy Holder from TacMed Australia.

We discuss:

  1. The insights Jeremy has learnt about crisis and high-pressured times from his time working as a medic with special forces operations in places such as Afghanistan.
  2. How leaders within organisations can draw on the insights he has learnt from the frontline?
  3. What advise he can give to people when things don’t go to plan.
  4. How does a PACE plan (a plan that is used on the frontline) help us through this current crisis? P-primary plan. A-alternate plan. C-contingency plan. E-emergency plan.
  5. Plus lots lots more.

You can either watch the Q&A here or read the full transcript below.

H – Hello, it is the Wine and Wisdom show. And tonight we have an amazing guest who I’m going to introduce to you in a minute. He’s got a different shape glass than I have, which I will ask him about in a moment. But, what is this Wine and Wisdom show? So firstly, cheers, I hope you’ve got your glass of wine. I’d love for you to tell me in the comments whether you have a glass of red, a glass of white, a beer, a bubbles, what is it? In this current time, especially right now, of social isolation, having a wine together virtually is a really beautiful way for us to stay connected. And our social health is so very important and that is why, just having these casual conversations where we can share stories, share wine, share laughter, and share wisdom, is so important to our society right now. And speaking of wisdom, the whole idea of the other half of that title, is that I have been lucky enough to surround myself with amazing people all my life. And I really wanted to bring them onto this show so I could ask them questions and share their wisdom with you – whether you’re watching right now, or whether you’ll be watching this in the future. So, tonight, I have someone, he’s so unique and fabulous, and his wisdom is so deep and long. And I think especially during this time of crisis that we’re all going through, where there is so much uncertainty and stress and change, to have somebody who’s actually been in the most high level, high pressured moments that any of us could ever imagine, is here to share his wisdom tonight on how we can better deal with crisis. How we can better make sure that our organisations are resilient enough to get through this really, very volatile time. And he’s going to share the insights that he has learned on the front line in places like Afghanistan. So I would like to now introduce you to the incredible Jeremy Holder. Cheers to you Jeremy, what is in your glass?

J – Cheers, Heidi. I’m not a wine drinker unfortunately, so I’m just rum.

H – Oh, you’ve got rum.

J – I’m a rum drinker. And especially with the kids being now week two and a bit for us, have been home and homeschooled, it’s definitely time for rum too. So definitely. But my wife doesn’t normally drink anything and even she’s drinking Baileys right now, I think with the kids.

H – I love it. Well I have to say, I’ve never thought that I was a rum drinker ever, but I had an incredible holiday in Cuba earlier this year, and that’s all they drink. I had some amazing rum-rum, we used to call them, rum-rum experiences in Cuba. So good on you for having your rum.

J – This is a Caribbean spiced rum.

H – Is it?

J – Yes, it’s called Seven Fathoms, so they actually barrel the rum and take it down to seven fathoms depth underwater. And they let it age underwater at pressure at seven fathoms. A very cool story, yes it was hand written in pencil, the numbered bottles.

H – And, can I just say, these are the things that the wisdom that we hear on the Wine and Wisdom show. So thank you for sharing that story.

J – My pleasure Heidi.

H – But Jeremy, what I’d- I’d love you to start off with just telling everybody who you are, what you do, and also about the positive impact that you are making in this world.

J – You know well, firstly, thank you very much for that very nice, very bubbly intro. I’m very humbled to be on the show. So my name’s Jeremy Holder, I’m the founder and managing director of a company called TacMed Australia. We’re a first aid company, veteran owned and operated. And we specialise in bringing all the lessons that we’ve learned on the battlefield, like Iraq and Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, and also the streets of our cities. And we take those lessons learned and we pass them onto mainly first responders who work in high threat environments. So, police, military, government first responders, is who we primarily work with. I started it, this is our 10th year. So starting to be a bit of a long time that. Ten years ago we started in a room in Sydney. And so we do a lot of things, we do equipment, we do training, we do consultancy. One of the things we’re very, very proud of to have played a part in recently, we were recognised at the World Policing Awards in London at the end of last year. Where the program, the tactical first aid program, we helped sort of Queensland Police start, won an award for innovation. Which is cool, but for me, the best thing for me is that in the two years of this, since the program’s been rolled out, They’ve been supporting it, they saved, police have saved over 40 lives, with the training and equipment that we’ve helped provide. And again, we didn’t save those lives at all, but it’s just amazing that we’ve played a very small part into 40 people being able to go home to their families. So, very, very proud to have been a part of that.

H – Well, you know, it’s just the proof in the pudding of how small things can have really big impacts. And for you, what you think is such a small part has actually been a huge impact for many, many people. So, and I just want to say, talking about awards, I’m not going to let this slip, because- I know that you are a finalist in a very, very special award here in Australia, right now. Can you please, I’m not going to let this slip, so please tell everybody what that award is that you’re a finalist in.

J – Sure. Yes, I’m very lucky to have been nominated as a finalist, for the Department of Veteran Affairs Prime Minister’s Veteran’s Awards for Entrepreneur of the Year. It’s a bit of a mouthful isn’t it, especially after rum. So yes, Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, Prime Minister’s Veteran’s Awards. I think it was last week, it was meant to have been announced, and we were heading down a Canberra to go to the great hall in Parliament House for the awards ceremony, to find out who the winner was. But, unfortunately, COVID-19 got in the way of that, so not sure when it’s going to be announced to be honest. But it’s postponed, for, I don’t know how long.

H – COVID-19 seems to be getting in the way of a few things, doesn’t it? But we have no doubt, I mean, even being a finalist is extraordinary.

J – Oh, huge.

H – And we look forward to finding out, Jeremy, when those awards will be. But I’d love you now to talk about, was there a defining moment either in your job, or in your life that has made you now do what you’re doing? Has made you start the business, and made you create this, the training and services, and products that you offer at TacMed Australia?

J – Yes, for sure. I mean, for me, I don’t think that there’s anything that particularly defines me, with who I am and such. But there’s certainly been, probably a number of incidents or moments in my life and career that’s very much pushed me in the direction that I’m now in. One of the big ones for me, to get into, well to continue that, sort of, medical training, equipment and what not, was one just I absolutely love it. It’s been, I left high school at 17 to join the army, and then over time made my, deployed to Afghanistan. And there was certainly lots of things over there that was for 21, I turned 22 in Afghanistan, so yes, deployed at 21, I turned 22 over there. And looking in hindsight now, it’s pretty crazy to think of the, to be that young, relatively inexperienced in what I did, and I feared doing it, and most that’s training and what not. To have the lives, of 40 other men in your hands as a sole medic in the middle of nowhere, certainly no back up coming for any short period of time, was pretty crazy looking back on it now. And then we had lots of different things that sort of made me learn very quickly and what not. But one of the big moments was we were coming in the end of our deployment actually, and we had a call come in that there was a helicopter coming in with three children that had been injured with a landmine. And so we, obviously prepped all of our resuscitation bays and what not. And the helicopter landed and they brought those three children into the resus bays and we’re there with some Americans, well split teams. We were treating a young boy, probably maybe, 10 or 11 ish, and there was about a three year old girl and then I believe an eight or nine year old girl, on the other side. Over time, we saw some commotion happening over on that bed and so we went to help. And to make the spoiler long story short, the young girl had stepped on the landmine, had very, very gruesome injury to her leg, and the medics out in the field, applied an arterial tourniquet and saved this girl. So this little girl had just enough blood circulating through her body to keep her alive. Unfortunately, a very junior coalition medic, not an Australian, junior, very junior medic, took it upon himself to release that tourniquet to check for bleeding and to see if it stopped, or if the wound was enough. So unfortunately the blood, when he released that tourniquet, the blood she had, popped the clot, and she bled out and she died. So to me, that was just an eight or nine year old girl, and I’m totally, I’m very glad I didn’t have kids at the time, because, as a medic, you always used to hear about the older guys say, “Oh kids will change your life.” For me, that was just another passion at the time, now that I have kids, and especially now that I have an eight year old son, I think that it’d be completely, completely different. And yes. It’s not to say that little girl wouldn’t have died of infection or maybe from her wounds later on, but certainly she didn’t have to die from that. And so for me that was something that was very, ensues lesson learned and I never want to have someone die of a preventable death again. And so that for me was a big driving factor in bringing some of the equipment that we now bring in, and certainly the training, the training we do. And on a positive note, like that training and what not that we now deliver, a few years ago now, but you may have heard on the news where a highway police officer was hit by a tradesman texting on his phone, not sure if you heard about that day in Sydney a few years ago?

H – Yes.

J – Cool. And so the police officer was hit by this trader texting on his phone. He sort of woke up on the ground and he looked under the highway patrol car that was badly damaged, and he’d seen a foot, and his partner was there standing with him getting traffic cones out of the car. And he’s gone to grab his mate’s foot and he’s yelled at his mate, grabbed his foot to pull him, to see if he’s all right. And he’s just had this excruciating pain in his leg, and he looked, and it was actually his leg, that had been amputated in the incident, was just being held on by a few ligaments. Now, he’d done one of our courses, one of our first courses around a number of years ago. He had actually bought his own trauma kit off our website and had it in his highway car. But due to his injuries and due to how bad his car was busted up, he was unable to access that. And so the police officers on scene, thought they were doing the right thing, and their taking off their belts and trying to apply a tourniquet to his leg, and it wasn’t working. Belts have been pretty much proven that they’re ineffective without windless. And so he’s asking for his tourniquet, SOF Tac tourniquet, and coincidentally, in the area, was another, a canine police officer, and he’d bought his own tourniquet off our website and had it on his belt. So he’s arrived and he’s got his tourniquet, he’s placed it around the officer’s leg, and he’s started doing it up. And tourniquet’s are very painful, obviously you need the pressure that’s going to constrict the muscle to stop the blood flow, and it’s very painful. Especially when your leg’s been amputated quite badly. So he’s, as he’s started to turn, the police officer’s yelling in pain and sort of feinted. And so he’s stopped turning, and the officer’s woken up, and he knows that he’s got to keep turning it and it’ll be painful, so he’s himself giving the command, “Turn, turn, turn.” And again he’d pass out and wake up and tell him. So he’s had the mindset, after doing it at training, to be able to know that you’ve got to tighten that tourniquet. He was my age, he had two kids about the same age as my kids and thankfully because of the actions of obviously himself and his sort of mindset and knowledge, and then that of the other police officer, he was able to go home, and eventually go back to duty with a prosthetic leg.

H – Wow.

J – It was amazing. When you look back on it now, something that happened in 2006, has now led onto so many factors that this guy can go home to his family.

H – Yes, I mean Jeremy, they’re amazing stories, and what it brings up for me is that education is the key. I’ve always, I’ve got education in my DNA because education changes lives, right. And the education and the training that you can give, to whether it was on the battlefield in Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan, or if it’s to our amazing first responders here in Australia, or even I know that you’re also doing training in workplaces around. Well what happens when one of your staff members has a heart attack, do you know, what to do? Can, when you call 000, and call the ambulance, do you know the cross streets for them to be able to park and how do they get up on to your floor? And all this is about education, isn’t it. That, it’s just this training that is necessary.

J – Yes, and it’s not complex. It’s a little bit of education and it’s relatively basic stuff. But, a lot of people just don’t know it. And it’s, the average emergency response time for an ambulance in Australia is 10.4 minutes. So you’ve got, let’s just say 10 minutes, that that patient is potentially about some preventable causes of death that you, with some simple interventions, you can have a massive, massive difference on the outcome of that person. And there’s lots of things that can lead up to that. So, yes I think education and having plans is a huge part of that. And we say that all the time, because we would much rather you do some training before we sell you equipment. Because otherwise, you just paid money for things you don’t know, really how to use.

J – Absolutely. Yes, and I know for everyone right now, they’re is just all, workplaces have been very disrupted. People working from home, and everyone’s in kind of this operational, “How do we “continue to operate?” But, you and I both know that whether it’s two weeks, four weeks, eight weeks, ten weeks, we’re going to come out of operational and we’re going to have to continue to train our people. Train our people in those necessary things with professional development, either technical or non-technical, the health and safety aspects that you train people in. So that during crisis, during something that is life-threatening, that there are people within an organisation who can actually do what it takes to prevent that death, if there’s only 10 minutes until a first responder comes. And I think it’s really worth us, I mean, I know it’s like speaking to the converted, you and I, with this, but I know that you are a great believer in the fact that we need to get, we will need to get back to training and development eventually, won’t we.

J – Oh definitely. This is, I think it would be naive for us to say that we’re going to go back to normal after this COVID is over. But we will get through it, there’s no doubt about that. When? Nobody knows, but we will get through this. And once we are on the other side of this, it’s going to go back to something. I think I’m a big believer, is everything happens for a reason, so this is, well this is really shitty. I think it’s happened for a reason. And hopefully they’ll be a lot of things that come out of it, for the good. And who knows, again, it’ll be retrospective when we look back on it. And everything happens for a reason, there’s no doubt about that.

H – Yes, and I’d love you to share right now, with the leaders within organisations who are really grappling with how to do this at the moment. It’s such unknown territory on how to lead people teams, businesses, even solopreneurs, how to lead themselves. From someone who has been on the front line, in such crisis, in such high pressured times, yes the crisis’s that you’ve been in on the front line are different to the ones that we have now. But it’s kind of same-same, but different right. It’s still a crisis and we’re still, we still need to be equipped with tools and strategies to get through that. Do you have like, one, two, or three top tips to help people who are trying to deal with this crisis, trying to deal with these high pressured times, on how to navigate through it?

J – Yes, I suppose, I’ll provide a disclaimer, I’m far from perfect, and I’m learning all the time. And I will, I don’t know who said it, was it Muhammad Ali said that everyone’s got a plan until you get smacked, punched in the face. Was it Muhammad?

H – Sounds like something he’d say.

J – Yes, yes, you’ve always got a plan hopping in the ring until you get that first punch in the face. So, I think that’s something that I’ve learned, it’s been a big takeaway from my time in the military. When we were going out on kinetic operations outside the wall, obviously you don’t plan to fail, we would have, a lot of the time, work on a PACE methodology. So we would have a primary plan, your Plan A, that if everything goes well, we’re going to fly in, land here, kick in this door, kill or capture this bad dude, hop on the same plane, and take off. But then you have like an alternative plan. So Plan B. So you fly in, and maybe they heard you coming, or were told, so they met you, and you come up against a force in that area so you have to go around to another side of the village or building or anything like that, so you’ve got an alternative plan. Sometimes that doesn’t work, and so you’d have contingency and emergency plans, so PACE. So a lot of the time we’d have multiple plans and everyone would know them. And some of them, definitely the primary plan, is generally well-structured, with quite a lot of details that everyone would know what their role is, where they need to be, when they need to be there and what they need to do. And that was very, very clear to everyone, from the platoon commander, down to the young, skinny, red-headed terribly beauty medic. So everyone would know that. It was very clear. And same with the alternative, contingency, emergency, everyone would know it, but they wouldn’t be as detailed in the other plans. Because when it’s that fluid and dynamic, like we are now in this COVID situation, that you just can’t plan in that much detail. But I think you still need to have a plan. Certainly a contingency and emergency plan as a last ditch effort. So that’s one of my big ones, is have a plan, and B, C, D, plans as well.

H – Yes, and I think we’re seeing, we’re going into plan B, C, and D, even E , it’s changing so quickly that it’s so hard to stick to it. But, there is something about having a focus. And even if that plan is going to be different in one day, two days, one week time, the fact that you’ve been able to come up with this and stick to it for the period of time that it’s been useful. When we’re all struggling with being able to have any kind of control because we’ve lost control over everything, but having control over just setting a plan, even if you never get to put it in place, it actually makes you feel pretty good, doesn’t it? It gives you the confidence that, “I can do this, and I’m going to get through it.”

J – Yes, yes, definitely. Definitely. And I think that it’s really important, I think it’s so important, I made it one of our company values, is agility, as well. Having not just your own mindset, but the whole culture of your team to be agile, to be able to, I think we were talking about it earlier today in another group with the reset and reinvent. And I think it’s really important that for us as a company, 15 full time people, that we maintain that culture of agility as we grow to a bigger, bigger company. That you still maintain agility. Because it’s really, if something happens, like this is, obviously, the most extreme example of a world-wide pandemic. But it’s really important to be dynamic and agile in your plans.

H – And you, going into the scenario you just described on the front line, if you felt that the only way that you were going to get through that, and come out the other end with your life, really, because that’s what it would boil down to, what if everything was all about plan A only? If you thought the only way we’re going to come out alive is if plan A works, then you’re not going to go into that situation very confident are you? You’ve got to know that we have a plan B, C, and D, we know how to be agile and we know how to respond really, really quickly when things don’t go to plan. And I think, that is a wonderful insight I’m hearing from you about how that, on the front line, converts into this crisis. That leaders are trying to deal with right now on, “How do we just continue to reinvent our plans, day by day.”

J – If you’ve only got that plan A, and it’s stringently followed to the death, then you’re planning to fail, you really are. So, I think a lot of the times, certainly in operations, and then very much in business that I always, that the plan is that A, if it’s well thought out, and hopefully A’s going to work. But I think it’s naive and silly to not have any other plan B, C, and D in an emergency.

H – And Jeremy we may have already answered that with what we’ve just discussed, but you’ve led teams now, you’ve led teams with what we’re doing in the armed forces, and you’ve been leading teams within your business for 10 years now. And even when you’re doing training, you’re leading a team, you’re leading all different teams, teams that you’ve only met for the very first time. So to me, you’re kind of a master at it, by the way, I don’t know if you know that about yourself, but you are a master at it. So-

J – Thank you. I don’t think so, still a lot to learn.

H – Yes, but that’s good to know that we’ve all got a lot to learn, but still, even when we’re a master like you. But, what would be your number one tip when it comes to leading teams and performance, and ensuring that they are performing to the best of their ability. Whether it’s in these times of crisis, which we’re having to draw different ways that bring out performance of everybody, or whether it’s just in normal working life. What’s your number one tip for that?

J – In terms of my number one tip, I think it’s, for me, and I’m not sure even where I learned it from, in theory wise, but for me, it’s really about people and making sure that the people on your bus, are the right people. And not just the right people, but they’re also in the right seat on that bus. And I by no means made this up, I’m sure , I just don’t know who. But it was the same in the army. It was make sure you had the right people. And especially in special operations, it was very selective about who went there. So you have the right people on the bus, but they got to be in the right seat. And so you, by having the right people, in the right job, that to me is one of the biggest things. The next thing is going to be, for me, I’m probably the opposite of a micromanager. So, for me, I’m know with the right people, we’ve got an amazing team, and so for me it’s, give them a mission, give them what I want the end goal is. But you know, if the people I hire, I try to hire people that are way better at what they’re doing than I am. So the best thing for me to do is to give them the mission, and let them get there. And just to help them, maybe try to minimise the roadblocks for their job to get to where we need to be. So yes, I really don’t micromanage the team, I just try to give them their mission and stay out of their way. Try to give them ownership in that role of their mission as well, sort of help them come up with those primary, alternative, contingency, emergency plans, and let them get there.

H – Yes. I think if you’ve got smart adults on your team, they don’t actually like being micromanaged either, so I think that’s a great way to really turn up. I’m just remembering, I believe that getting the right bum on the right seat on the bus, Jim Collins, Good to Great, was that the book, do you think? Have you read that one, ‘because that’s how I’m remembering it, that book.

J – I think it is, I think you’re right.

H – Yes, I think it is, anyway. Thank you Jeremy, if you weren’t the first one, we acknowledge you for that.

J – I said that didn’t I? I can’t own that.

H – No, we’re not allowed to own that one. Okay, I have one final question for you, and that is, out of everything that you have been taught and learned, and handed down, what do you consider, the wisest piece of wisdom that you have been given, and why?

J – The wisest piece of wisdom. I think, there’s probably a couple of things, but one of the ones that I’m a big believer on, is that if something goes bad, or it’s just a really important decision, is to try and not be emotive. And so the best bit of advice, and it might’ve even been my dad that told me this, to be honest, is just to sleep on it. So even if you’ve drafted that email, or drafted that plan, or had a difficult conversation, or anything like that, is to just sleep on it. Get it out there, get it on paper, get it on the computer, whatever you need to do, just to sleep on it. It’s very rare that something can’t wait, that 12 hours overnight. And that can make a huge difference by sleeping on it, letting the emotions sort of cool down, that cortisol to get out of your system, to then make that decision. And you know, a lot of the time I’ll get to work that next morning and I’ll either delete that email or cancel that plan of that conversation and you have a very difficult conversation. So that’s a big one for me, and then the other one, which I was reminded of this week, actually one of my newest employees, who I poached from the army, she’s an amazing, amazing young medic who I brought onto our training team. And poor thing, after 12 years of stable government employment, within six weeks of her joining us, we’re at the toughest time ever experienced and hope we’ll ever experience. And, she’s like, “Oh, you’re pretty cool “and calm about this.” And my first thing was thinking about that duck that’s floating on the water looking cool, but then underneath is just like, just paddling like mad. But, come down to perspective. And so for me, I try to have a lot of perspective on things and I think that’s something I’d like to pass on as my sort of, the thing is , the girl I’m talking to, she’s deployed to Afghanistan with special operations as well, first female to do so. And so she understands, “Well, we’re not getting “shot at, our lives aren’t at risk in this.” Generally speaking. I know that it’s a pandemic, but for most young, fit people it’s very much, statistics show . In terms of the business being tough at the moment, my life’s not in danger, my kids’ lives aren’t in danger, from economic or business, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? I lose my house? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wanna lose my house, but I’m still not getting shot at, I’m not going to take a step out to get my newspaper and step on a landmine. When it comes down to it, we live in a pretty amazing, I think, the world’s best country, and I think we’re very lucky and it’s just that perspective of things sometimes when you get worked up or something’s not going your way. Chances are I’m still going to be alive tomorrow morning.

H – Well, fingers crossed. It is, and thank you for saying that out loud, because for most of us, we haven’t been in situations where the possibility of walking out of our home or tent or wherever is a risk of stepping on a landmine and either losing our lives or losing a limb or being shot at, when we’re just walking down the street. Where so many people are dealing with that day by day. So, Jeremy I want to thank you firstly, firstly for representing our country and serving our country in the way that you have in the past, but not only that, the way you represent and are servicing our country right now. Because, whatever way you look at it, we are going through a crisis. And I think if you’ve got someone like Jeremy on your team who can advise you and mentor you on firstly putting things in perspective and secondly, being able to help you navigate out of this crisis, I mean wow. Could you ask for a better person to help you with that? So for those who are watching, he doesn’t know I’m, he’s smiling now, ’cause he’s like, “You didn’t tell me “you were going to say any of this.” But, it occurs to me that-

J – No, no.

H – You are an absolute asset to organisations right now and it might not be in the way that you have always done that. But I think right now, leaders within organisations need people like you to help them navigate out of this crisis. And having your wisdom shared with them, well this is what the world needs. So thank you Jeremy, I want you to know, that I’m going to put all his contact details here in Facebook and things, so you can contact him. I will be editing this, and put the transcription, so if you will find this beneficial, to perhaps share within your organisations or with your community, I’d really appreciate that, because I really believe Jeremy has such a gift to share with the world right now. We need smart, calm, kind, and visionary leaders and this is your man. So thank you Jeremy.

J – Thank you Heidi. Thank you very much, my face is as red as my beard now.

H – I wish I could see it, I can’t see you that good so much. But, goodnight everybody.

J – Yes, I put the red-head filter in.

H – I hope you are enjoying your wine, or your rum, as Jeremy is, cheers to you all. And yes. Any questions that you have, that you’re thinking about when you’re watching this perhaps later, please put them in the chat, and we will certainly come back to them and answer them. So goodnight everybody great to speak with you.

About Jeremy Holder:

Jeremy Holder is the founder and Managing Director of TacMed Australia, a first aid company specialising in tactical and emergency medical equipment & training. Jeremy served as a Medic in the Australian Regular Army for 7 years. Qualified as an Underwater Medicine Clinician, Jeremy served within Special Operations Command for 4 years, which included a deployment to Afghanistan and Domestic Counter-Terrorism as a platoon medic before moving onto a civilian Intensive Care Paramedic for NSW Ambulance for 10 years.

  • Former Medic in Army Special Operations
  • Intensive Care Paramedic
  • Deployment to Afghanistan
  • Domestic Counter-Terrorism
  • Fellow of Australian Tactical Medical Association

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