I recently wrote about some of the key lessons that I learnt from meeting Professor Laura McAllister at a joint event sponsored by Finance Wales and Barclays. The event was aimed at Women Leaders to help and inspire us to build lasting, rewarding and fruitful careers; Laura achieved this by sharing her own story and offering up her own recipe for success.
In my last blog I also shared some of the personal attributes that Laura exuded, which struck me as part of the foundations of her success. But it was also interesting to learn about the strategies she uses as a leader. I use the term strategy as I think each of these topics are something that you can learn about and learn how to do, however, it is their execution that takes real skill. Laura made them sound second nature to her, but I think she would say that is mainly because she had learnt from experience, and refined and fine-tuned these skills.
As a woman, I was particularly struck by how female some of these strategies are, and that, thankfully, we are starting to see women succeed by acting like women. For me that is what true equality is about, when we each bring the best of the different aspects of our gender to the fore, and then together we can achieve truly great things.
It was not until I became a director myself did I realise truly what a skill this is, to remain calm whilst other are not. This might seem quite obvious, but actually it is more skilful that it might appear. For one, you need to keep a clear head and have clarity about what you think, and what you hold true, and, on the face of it at least, you have to look like you are in control. Whether you know what to do or not is not really the point - in fact, I actually feel that being honest about not knowing what to do but the fact that you have an interim plan, actually instils confidence in others.
Laura used this term a lot. She made it perfectly clear that she is not interested in anyone who is not interested. I have often used the phrase “I want to work with great people who want to be even better”, and I am hoping it is a similar attitude. If you are not aspirational, if you don’t want the best for your organisation, your teams and yourself, then frankly why are you interested in leadership? The key difference for me with Laura was that it was a given, it was obvious, it was an expectation. How many leaders do you know where you feel (you just know it) that they are aspiring to greatness? And I don’t mean just personally ambitious.
This was in my last list as a personal value of Laura’s, but it makes this list because of the numerous examples she gave of how hard she works to build diverse teams (especially in the face of bureaucratic processes). It is a sad reflection, but not many leaders that I meet are actively aspiring, let alone deliberately trying, to build diverse teams.
Have great emotional intelligence, be honest, empathic and build trust. Personally I think these are particularly female traits. As women, we are often more in tune with what is not being said, and are more likely to check out what is going on. Also, we are great at support and empathy!
An obvious one, but for many of us it is a big step up from being operational and tactical to strategic. Challenge yourself to keep asking the crucial questions that leaders need to keep asking - “what is our purpose”, “what are we trying to achieve here”, and then “is this going to help or hinder”? Laura assured us that it got easier with practise!
This is often cited as our (women’s) Achilles heel, so I am not surprised it came up. What was interesting was Laura’s take on building self-confidence, and for her, it seemed to me, it came from her complete apathy to making mistakes. Well, not complete apathy but making mistakes doesn’t bother her personally at all. Laura’s emphasised that it is not a personal reflection on you if you make a mistake. I think many of us lack confidence from fear of getting it wrong, and it would be liberating to not have that worry.
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Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning
Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.
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