top of page

25 Years, 25 Lessons - Part 2

Thank you for reading, sharing and commenting on Part 1 - apologies for the delay in Part 2, but I have been decorating and also, much more pleasurably ....the weather has been glorious ;o) so, where were we?

Lesson 13

Recognition - give it, seek it, enjoy it

So this one I owe to Steve Leach ... oh and my own cripplingly low self esteem. Yeah so look, I am far from confident, despite appearing as though I am, and getting recognition in any form is really important to me. I had picked up some external recognition prior to Steve's stint as my leader, but he really shone a light on the hugely positive impact it can have on individuals, teams and organisations. Oh and I also LOVE champagne!

Steve took over as Head of Retail in Vodafone UK and immediately said, we are going to win some awards, and that is just what we did! The reason this is important is not just for the night out, the fancy frock and free champagne, and rest assured I know that these ceremonies come with costly tables and sponsorships and all the fabulous and the cringeworthy elements, but they really are fantastic in a number of ways. You finesse your story, you totally reflect when you are writing the submission, you back it up with data, you canvas the reflections of others and for once you totally consider what is outstanding about you and your team or your project. You show your team, or individual colleagues that they are worthy of external recognition, they aren't just good, they are world beating. You get to see what amazing stuff other companies are doing. You can set truly ambitious and ground breaking goals that really push creativity and results around that common purpose of being the best in the industry, the segment or innovation. In 2012 I won two awards, a Retail Week Rising Stars Award - for Customer Experience (fantastic ceremony and an opportunity for a telco to show its worth amongst the good and the great of Retail!) and the one pictured above - Leader of the Year at the everywoman Retail Awards, it built my confidence, and that of my team, it made awesomeness a reality and gave it a certificate and fancy-dancy ornament!

Funny story - our table was nearly in the car park of the Dorchester, and in the big award of the night I was up against Judith McKenna ummm THE Judith McKenna now CEO of Walmart, then COO of Asda - truly famous in the retail world and someone I completely was in awe of, she also went to Hull Uni like me, but when we get to net worth our paths divert somewhat ;o)... anyway ...obviously Judith was going to win so our table decided to REALLY enjoy the evening as we weren't going to come away with the funky purple glassware on this occasion. So imagine my surprise when in fact my name was called, for several seconds my whole table just looked at me, I was trying to figure out if they had just read my name out twice in the nominations - the rest of the gang realised first and were up shouting and screaming and had to drag me to my feet to make my way to the stage (pictured above). I had to make a speech, do you know what I said? No neither do I....I only remember the first remark: "OMG!" yup, that's what I said, my opening statement, my chance to inspire the room and show my gratitude, OMG was the best I could do, and eventually an emotional thanks to every one back in the stores and operational teams I had worked in. Rest assured, Judith went on to win an incredibly well deserved lifetime achievement award instead and I went on to walk what felt like miles to a nightclub, take my shoes off and dance like I was the queen of the world.

My team won Team of the Year at the Mobile awards for an innovative project that improved the sales and service in our flagship store generating huge revenue benefits, and I, last year, won Learning Professional of the Year at the LPI Awards. Never underestimate the value, whether internal, external and your own employee recognition schemes, if you can help people believe they are award winning, they sure as hell will be. Thanks Steve and good luck at your next ceremony!

Lesson 14

Learn to switch off - you will never get back that time you could have spent with your family

Ok, this really hit me in Newcastle Airport (of all places!) a couple of years ago as I faced into becoming an empty nester. Yup, my daughter was heading to uni, we are incredibly close and it is fair to say I was a tad emotional at the prospect! I was heading off on a work trip, not a long one, but when I got to the airport there was a big display of beach stuff for want of a better description, atop the display was a giant pink flamingo inflatable. And, in front of it, there I stood, in my business attire with my laptop and wheelie case looking every inch the professional, with tears streaming down my face thinking I should have bought Caitlin more inflatables!!

Not literally, what I am saying is, I guess, that I was stood in the airport grieving for the loss of her childhood, and wishing I had played more... it brought to mind all the Saturday mornings on the laptop, "just one more email" and times when my focus was elsewhere. I can't get that time back, so the lesson is, figure out what your "inflatable" is - where should you be spending your time, creating joy, having conversations, playing - with friends, partners, family, parents, children and prioritise the life out of that! The last few months have, I hope, taught us about what is important in life and how critical it is to appreciate those moments of human connection. Leaders have had a tough ask during this time, and when restrictions start to ease they have a huge responsibility to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of a traumatised workforce getting used to new demands on their time and a brand new way of working and living. I'd like to thank the leader who was incredible during my last weeks at Vodafone and led his team brilliantly to appreciate the moments and buy the inflatables, Richard Graham.

Just an update - in case you were worried about my daughter's lack of pink flamingos ... on Friday when the sun was blazing in the North East of England (a rare occurrence!) I grasped a metaphorical pink flamingo, I stopped working, filled a paddling pool with her and we sat in the sunshine drinking gin cocktails and laughing our heads off. It's ok, it's legal she is 20 now, but I promised on our next holiday whenever that is, I will buy her a pink flamingo inflatable. She said she wants a dolphin... kids!!! Spend your time wisely.

Lesson 15

Everyone you meet has something to teach you yeah, absolutely everyone, but sometimes you have to look hard for the lessons and sometimes they are in abundance, take every opportunity to learn though.

As a coach I am really lucky to be listening to and learning from those who I coach, wow, their experience, energy, diverse thinking is incredible and it is an honour to coach them, I want to mention one in particular, Ebru Ozguc, I had the absolute privilege of sitting in a room with Ebru for 90 mins a month for over a year and I have never met a more bold, brave, innovative, exciting and also open colleague. I couldn't believe my luck! You don't have to be a coach - but you do need to seek out the brilliance, the mavericks, the disruptors, the people who are driving change, and who are generous enough to share, the ones who you will read articles in Bloomberg about in the future, find those stars, and bask in their light, soaking up every drop of inspiration and learning. Look for those who's communication style you like, who have asked a brilliant question, and especially those who are different to you and ask them for a chat.

Look to the younger generation, and look to those with more experience but make time to LISTEN and in your everyday interactions ask yourself frequently, what have I learned from this? I was taught so much by the people I have met whilst travelling to other countries. In particular, South Africa and India. What an absolute blast I had with amazing teams from L&D and the frontline, they taught me about humility and pride, about generosity of positive spirit and how singing and dancing can always make your work day better! I also learned from the frontline teams who were bussed in from the townships for training, if they aren't performing, one of the first questions their manager will ask is "have you eaten today" and how many times they hadn't eaten because their salary was stretched to support their wider family and they couldn't afford food every day .... everyone has a lesson to teach, some are more poignant than others and some are more transformational.

You can learn from bad examples too- I worked at Top Shop in my teens, it was a great job, working with loads of girls and getting a discount on my clothes! One Christmas Eve, we had a crazy busy day, and back then sales started after Christmas, so we had stayed really late to merchandise and mark down all of the sales stock. Keeping spirits up, having a laugh but all keen to get home, or to the pub! Our manager came down from the office at around 7... we were all finished, proud of the monumental effort, standing covered in Rimmel make up and waiting for our heartfelt Merry Christmas and thanks for your hard work. And she said "thanks to all the mistakes you b*stards made on the till I have missed my drinks reception" and left. I found out a week later it had been a record breaking day for the store and KPIs were smashed, we never got that thank you. She lost her team forever that day - she even ruined a few Christmas holidays, I learned there is a time and a place for everything, address the specific problem and not the people and never, ever, ever keep a team of young girls from getting to the pub on Christmas Eve. No one put in any discretionary effort ever again in that team, and many left. Which brings me to...

Lesson 16

Be aware of the impact you have, what is the lesson that you are teaching those around you? Is it how not to be? Or are you role modelling the positive behaviours that you wish to see in others? You may have heard it as "the shadow that you cast", anyone leading a team (or parenting a child!) casts a shadow from their behaviours and they have to be 100% aligned with what you are expecting of the team. It is easier said than done I have learned! You can't say I respect your time with your family, and then email at 10pm at night. I am not going to share a funny story here - this is a real one for you to contemplate. The shadow is mostly noticed in what you pay attention to, how you respond to a crisis, deal with conflict, the things you do, the stories you tell and quite simply how you treat people. Right now, in the midst of Covid 19 and the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests - what are your behaviours saying? Who are you showing up as and what is the impact on your team?

2020 really has been a transformational year and we aren't done yet, how will your leadership transform to support new ways of working or the repatriation of your teams back into the workplace? The world has changed considerably how are you going to show up as a leader in that? Have you got the required empathy to deal with a traumatised, grieving or angry team member along with the optimists and those who are happy and positive? How can you maintain engagement and role model behaviours remotely or when some of your team are in an office and some are isolating? Remember lesson 1 about being authentic, how do YOU become the best leader YOU can be and ensure the shadow you cast is a positive one? If you are concerned about this I may be able to offer some support. I will share at the end of this article.

Lesson 17

Never stop learning rolling neatly into the above, it is vital to keep learning whether it is how to cook the perfect brownie or sour dough, how to speak a new language, or how to write a linkedin article (work in progress :)) What are you learning now?

Well let me be very honest, right now I am learning about white privilege, and I am ashamed that I haven't explored this before. Over the last few days I realised that not being racist simply isn't enough, I need to be actively anti-racist and to be so, I need to educate myself. Among other things I am doing, I am currently reading "Why I am no longer talking to white people about race" by Reni Eddo-Lodge and I am expanding my Instagram and Podcast list to ensure I am following black activists and other people who don't look like me and have a very different life experience because of that. I take no sense of pride in this, I am just telling you what I am learning right now, and I am very aware it is about time.

I also have signed up for Masterclass (thanks Ebru) and currently I am consuming Anna Wintour's videos on leadership, and I am going to complete on Linkedin learning Online Marketing Foundations (thanks Rush) to help with my new business ventures.

More traditional study in the form of my Diploma in Psychotherapy also keeps my head in the books and practicing with clients, wow this has been an emotional rollercoaster of discovery and it has really enhanced my ability to coach, to lead, and to communicate and I can really see how that knowledge can impact my working life too - working with teams and leaders to improve, well, everything!

Lesson 18

One of my favourite words is perspective and I guess it could tie into the above about always seeking another perspective on things, we often surround ourselves with people who think similarly to us, and miss out on other perspectives entirely, I have definitely done that so many times, sought opinion from only those who will give me the opinion I want! Its really comfortable when you are in it, but can bite you on the bum (pardon the expression!) if you get lots of feedback from other perspectives further down the track! So embrace it, do the hard yards up front and then the perspectives you have chosen not to consider are for a well thought through reason, maybe, or they could be just wrong ;o)

I also love the word in terms of keeping things in perspective, sometimes I can catastrophise a little, am I on my own in that? Surely not! The worst day ever, the biggest mistake, the most disastrous meeting... sound familiar? Well, in truth, I am not working as a bomb disposal expert, or conducting brain surgery, or hostage negotiation - so the worst that can happen is really pretty tame in comparison. Someone who worked with me wrote an article very similar to this and was my inspiration for it, and one of her lessons was about perspective and was from me. She entitled it "did anyone die" which is exactly what I said to her after her "worst day ever" and no one did, so I said it's ok then, let's move on. Kimberley, thanks for the inspiration and for quoting me, and for retaining your perspective.

Lesson 19

Never be afraid to ask for help, if you don't know something, if you are worried about how to approach something, if you are overwhelmed, if you aren't getting the result you want, if you just need someone to listen to you and give you their perspective (see above!) then Ask. For. Help. I want to thank Karen McMillan, Pete Marsh, Darren Philpott, Natasha Marko, Ali Rothwell, Nick Denholm, Adrian Boruz, Lori Thornhill among countless others over the years who have helped with sound and quality advice or hard work, delivered with patience and empathy.

Lesson 20

Work with brilliant people, I don't mean good, I mean absolutely phenomenally brilliant people, people who will challenge your thinking, who will push you further than you could imagine, who will get excited by your ideas and take them to a level that you didn't think possible ... those amazing sorts! I have really worked with some stars over the years but the ones I want to highlight are the absolute best. Nigel, Coral, Marc, Nick, Jules and the entire gang at what feels like my second home - Purple Media. You are INCREDIBLE and I am so proud of the body of work we have achieved together, from egames with rainbow lounges to ground breaking D&I training that started with a rap, so many gems on Ready2LEAD... and a breath taking narrative for the digital transformation of our frontline.

Scott and Tim at Ambidect, Scott you are a true genius and I cannot thank you enough for making my dream a reality in the form of the Vodafone Coach app, it is a spectacular product and the work and partnering you did on this, and patience you showed was brilliant.

Elizabeth and the gang at Global Fire - again you made my dreams a tear inducing reality and helped me show how incredibly important the work of our retail stores and call centre teams is.

Sandeep at Talenteam so much appreciation for helping me create my vision with Ready2LEAD using a combination of technology and suppliers to truly engage the frontline and develop the most innovative programme they have seen.

Karen, again, and Ignacio at Moebius - our target was 70,000 people across 22 countries and I think we all doubted ourselves - now 130k have been trained, I value your friendship, hard work and determination beyond measure.

Lesson 21