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  • Claire Barron

25 Years, 25 Lessons - Part 1


So, on the 31st of March I left my 25 year career with the tech communications giant that is Vodafone, and due to our current circumstances I have had time to reflect on those 25 years and the amazing lessons I have learned along the way, from some pretty incredible people, in a company I am very proud to have worked for. I have decided to publish it in 2 parts, and it is in no particular order, so stay tuned for Part 2 if you like what you read, or if you didn't get a mention this time round and feel sure your lesson will be in here :) ...


Lesson 1


If you don't love your job, find what you do love in it! Sub-heading: Always do as your parents tell you. I started with Vodafone (then a rather more yellow Peoples Phone) straight out of Uni, my dad made me apply for the job at a time when only big businesses, salesmen and hm, maybe criminals, used mobile phones! I didn't love technology I promise you, and I didn't know or care about mobile phones and pagers (remember them?!) so I very reluctantly went to work.


I sold phones like the CTN 7000, the Motorola Startac and the Sony Mars Bar. And I didn't love any of them, I did, however, love talking to people, the customers who came into the stores I worked in, hearing about what they needed, solving their problems, helping them. And I loved selling, was pretty good at it, and in time I got my own store and learned over a good few years how to lead others which I also absolutely loved. I truly loved coaching people to be at their best before I knew what coaching was and seeing people develop gave me a real thrill. And as time evolved I also loved my job as I was able to mould my role as I moved through the company to do everything I loved best. No job is perfect, but all jobs will have something that makes your heart beat faster. Find what that is and do as much of it as you can, it will lead to more fulfilling opportunities and help you work out what you want to be when you grow up ;o)


Lesson 2


Be authentic. I learned this from one of my managers who, to this day still inspires me and his many words of wisdom echo about my head, Graham Ingram. The only thing that truly separates you from the crowd is your you-ness. Embrace it in all its flawed, funny and formidable power. Think about the people who you admire, I betcha they are authentic, no one said I love Jimmy he's such a great fake. Stand up for your convictions, your values, show your foibles to the world and be ... exceptional.


Lesson 3


Laughter is life. So Graham definitely influenced this one too, particularly the day we nearly got thrown out of Durham Cathedral for crying laughing during my daughter's bible recital. It's a long story and you kind of had to be there, but the message is critical, at home, at work, in business, if you can't have a laugh there really is no point. Go find people who make you cry laughing, the ones who have you gasping for breath, I have worked with so, so many especially during my 16 years working in the Retail field, too many to mention, but if you are reading this and you remember our laughs together, thank you. Simon Webdale, got to mention you here, "I believe" you will know the kind of laughter I mean when you can't even breathe, unforgettable career moments. All of the teams I have worked in have brought those moments to my life.

Cheeky side note, humour can help you sell, get hired, influence, inspire and build relationships, and neutralise the odd mistake shhhhhh!


Lesson 4


Face your fears. What are you most afraid of? About 14 years ago, I was most afraid of public speaking, and I got offered up a "development opportunity" when I was a store manager, to present at a Vodafone Retail Conference - despite being petrified I did it, loved the whole experience and spoke at every Conference until I left the UK business. The pinnacle was hosting the Consumer Conference in front of nearly 1000 people and Tinie Tempah (!) and getting them to do a Mexican wave! I now LOVE public speaking and have been lucky enough to speak at conferences and events for Vodafone, RBS, Nationwide, 3M, all manner of Learning and Development and Leadership events and on many subjects that I am passionate about. I love to help people to face this common fear too. Standing up, knees shaking and tears pricking the back of my eyes in Brighton all those years ago, has led to some of my proudest moments speaking, hosting, chairing, facilitating, training all over the world. If I can do it, you sure as hell can. You may be scared of not being able to do something, just remember, once you couldn't do anything for yourself, but you learned, this applies to everything in life. And this kind of brings me nicely to ...


Lesson 5


If you are passionate about something talk about it. You will find amazing people to interact with, fabulous differing perspectives to challenge your thinking, wonderful stories, and amazing opportunities. You may find real inspiration and mentorship - you may even be able to provide that. I am a passionate feminist, and as a quite good, and authentic public speaker (see above :)) I was asked to be the first Chair of the Vodafone UK Women's Network - I had to google what a Chair actually was supposed to do! But I was so passionate about ensuring that the women and girls I worked with felt confident in their role and their future that I said yes and had 2 fantastic years there meeting inspirational women like Sally Gunnell OBE, Darryl Fielding, Heather Melville OBE and Helen Lamprell OBE whose stories and experiences pushed me further than they may ever know. Me being noisy about my passions in Coaching and Mental Health have led to some pretty life changing experiences too.


Lesson 6


Leadership - look for the fire in their eyes and fan the flames. I can't write this one without getting emotional as it means so much to me. I am incredibly lucky to have worked with some amazing leaders over my career in Vodafone, who have genuinely impacted my life in so many positive ways.


One stands out, Jamie Tait, who genuinely noticed where my energy, passion and excitement lay even before I did and supported me to not only recognise it but also follow my heart. If you have someone in front of you who's emotion you can see, who has that fire in their eyes when they are talking about something, take note and fan the flames, even if it is not their day job, their objective, their performance KPI. Jamie helped me to get on a Professional Coaching course that started my journey to being an Executive Coach, and he also bought me a book called Counselling for Toads when I came in one day after watching a TV programme and pronounced I wanted to be a therapist when I grew up (I was 44 at the time)! The book cemented it further and Jamie and Vodafone supported my desire to study Psychotherapy, I am now 2 years into my studies and loving every second, supporting a client base out of a GP surgery and really helping people through the most difficult of times. I was also pretty good at my day job, and Jamie helped me to believe that. He's one in a million and also really funny - see lesson 3.


Lesson 6


It's ok to be emotional. Two of the awesome leaders I have worked for have told me to be less emotionally involved with my work, don't take it so hard when a project doesn't land, a pitch doesn't get accepted. And both went on to change their mind and tell me my passion and emotional connection with my work and the teams I work with is my super power. So don't be afraid to show how much you care. Will Gibson, a former leader of mine, wore his heart proudly on his sleeve, if it wasn't for him I would still be the Manager of the Vodafone Store in Durham. So, let it out, show vulnerability from time to time, get excited, it is all good.


Lesson 7


Your mistakes won't define you, but they may just make you. I have made sooooo many mistakes, HUGE ones, small ones, slight misjudgements, calculation errors or just misplaced trust. Mike Durbridge who was another fab leader I have worked for, he handed me a role to write and develop for myself, it turned out eventually to be the best job I have ever had, working with the best team, leading 45 fantastic individuals in Retail Operations, managing Customer Experience, Training and Comms, winning countless awards. At the start though, I made a pretty huge and public mistake. When I was crying my heart out about it, feeling unable to go back to work, Mike said this mistake won't define you, but it may just be the making of you. He was right, I learned from that mistake, put it right (thank you Paul Burns for the support), and went on to drive sales and customer service performance throughout Vodafone Retail. I have gone on to use the story to inspire others. It's ok to mess up, its what you do after that counts.




Lesson 8


Don't be afraid to ask the question. I am not very good at asking for what I want, but when I have, awesome things have happened, and no one, ever, has said no. How mad is that? Whether it was asking if I could move back to Durham and commute to my job in Newbury, because my entire support network for myself and my daughter was in Durham, or asking to change my working hours to support my purpose and ensure I could still do a brilliant job... all Yes. If you have a good employer and I most certainly have had, you can ask the questions that enable you to be the very best you can be, or as we say in the North East "shy bairns get nowt"



Lesson 9


Ok this one is important! Communication is critical, in fact it is everything. So anyone who has worked in a team I have led will know the "the meaning of communication is the response it gets" is my mantra. I learned it many moons ago when on an NLP Practitioner course that Vodafone put several of its leaders on, and it stuck! I am a communication junkie, super passionate about it, I even built a communication model that can be used as a sales or service cycle, an email template, a framework for training and leadership and more. But more of that in future articles!

With every single form of method of communication - think what is this communication for, what is the response I want? Do I want the recipient to feel something, do something, stop doing something? What is the consequence I want from this text, call, email, training, slide, meeting, pitch, keynote? And how do I say it simply so it is understood by every one who receives it? What is the very best method of communication to ensure the intended response? Honestly, I still get it wrong, and it is usually when I haven't considered the above before communicating!

Another cheeky side note - I also used to work for someone who used to say "just give me the f*ckwits one pager" (I may or may not have mentioned them in this article) and that really helped my comms! Get it down to one page, 5-7 points and entice the reader in to find out more, make the action crystal clear! In this world of social media, getting your message across in an instant is critical.. grab attention, state your intention and entice to learn more. I'm also super visual, as are so many people, does it make sense visually? Get feedback from others, make the time for that, or you'll only need to communicate it again.


Lesson 10


Connect the dots ... ok this one is simple, too many of us work in silos for multiple reasons, unaware that someone else is doing something similar, that there is something that could derail what we are doing, or someone who could help hugely, or information that would revolutionise our approach. I call it "head down" when our head is down working on something we may do a great job but we miss out on all of the other stuff going on around, or how the world is changing, so look up and look around, talk about what you are doing and most importantly, what others are doing. And always, always ask your leader to do the same and keep you informed about what else is going on in the organisation and externally that could affect your work. Take time to connect the dots and ask for help in doing so. For this one, I owe Sharon Doherty thanks, she was a true inspiration in connecting the dots and helping her team to do the same.


Lesson 11


The person closest to the customer is always right. Now I think it was Mark Paine who said this to me, but he could have got it from Terry Connolly, both great people leaders. Whatever the source, it is 100% right. I am very lucky to have worked with people at all levels of the Vodafone business, to have interacted with the CEO and so many senior leaders, and also the most important people in the organisation ... those on the frontline.

I have absolutely adored my role working with those in retail stores and contact centres all over the world, and if you want to know about your organisation and how effective it is, ask them. They live daily with how customers feel and think and all of the challenges that get in their way of ensuring those feelings and thoughts are positive ones.

Ensure their views impact yours - wherever in the organisation you sit. Trust me, they are right.


Lesson 12


Don't have a snappy title for this one ... I have a couple of sayings, one not originally mine "Live for the nights you can't remember, with the people you'll never forget", and one that maybe is mine; "delight in the colleagues who become friends, and the friends who become family". I was at Vodafone for 25 years, a lifetime, the longest relationship in my life outside of my immediate family, leaving was heartbreaking in some ways, as it was a firm part of my identity, kind of like a break up.



I am so very lucky that both of my favourite sayings are based on my time at Vodafone. I have had the BEST nights ever, I think ;) and I have made some incredible friends along the way, who despite leaving the company will be in my life FOREVER. Some are now a true part of my family and it is this that I thank Vodafone for more than anything else.

The lesson is simple, it's all really just about relationships, cultivating amazing, incredible, funny, drunken, inspiring, solid relationships and enjoying spending time with the people around you. Which I have, I really, really have. There are way too many people to mention here, from the OGs Tracy Liddle and Jonathan Bone, to the one and only Jenny Beaton, my constant ray of sunshine Joanne Walls, my badgers George Aitken and Rushton Bradshaw, and the Louise to my Thelma, Nick Denholm... even those on the other side of the world like Nathan Ratcliffe and Lori Thornhill. I have been blessed with so many more... I hope you all know who you are, and how much you mean to me.


Ok that brings me to the end of Part 1, many thanks if you have stuck with this so far, more thanks to come in Part 2 and more lessons ....

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