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  • Claire Barron

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


Tell great stories I LOVE a good story! I have worked with some of the best storytellers Pete Marsh, Gaetano Capozollo, Terry O'Brien and his theatre of dreams, and many more mentioned in Part1 and above. The beauty of a great story is in ensuring that those you are telling it to can see themselves in it, that it has meaning to them, that it can inspire, motivate, reassure, invigorate, and be remembered often years later. The greatest storyteller - was my dad, he could hold court like no other, I hope I have told some stories in my time that have meant as much to others as his meant to me.


Lesson 22


Look after your mental health and that of those around you. I have kind of touched on this before, but this is so critical now and I feel so passionate about this - please take a breath and consider for a moment or two how you are. No, really. How are you? One thing that Covid 19 has done is meant that we ask that question more frequently and also we listen to the answer. With 1 in 4 people (before Covid) suffering from a mental health issue each year, and figures increasing hugely during this crisis, I think (hope) we are having more open and honest, productive discussions about mental health and wellbeing in families, with friends and across the workplace. Are you?

I have spoken to a few leaders who are struggling a little, with their own emotions and those of others, on the whole they are ok with asking the question "how are you?" but they are a little bit worried about how they handle the answer, especially on a zoom call. It's not easy huh? Everyone is dealing with this situation differently, and sometimes differently multiple times across one day! Kids, partners, pets, housemates, the exposure of vulnerability medically or psychologically, isolation, this is a really heady mix and as we head back to workplaces there will be some positive, optimistic and desperate to be back and others who are terrified, or grieving for who and what they have lost. There are many resources to help (almost too many) and some companies are super empathic but I guess I am asking you how YOU are with this. I am happy to talk to anyone who is struggling with this, as an individual or as a leader, just drop me a message.

How I learned this lesson? I suffered from depression and anxiety for around 4 years, it started with post natal depression and was compounded by the loss of my dad, at breaking point my team at work (in the beautiful Durham store) sat me down and told me to go to the doctors. I will be forever grateful to them and I had a little time off, medication and counselling. Although at the time it was awful, I look back on it as a real turning point in my life. My career took off AFTER this, my capability as a leader was transformed by the experience, and I am in no way ashamed of it. I am not weak because I had depression or anxiety, I am strong because of it, I and many others fight battles you have no idea about to even just get to work and still do an incredible job. At Vodafone I was proud to speak about Mental Health and to be a Mental Health First Aider, to see the impact that support can have on the lives of others. So much more can be done by businesses small and large though, this isn't about a few elearnings on resilience folks, it is again about learning, self awareness and holding up a big mirror to your team or organisation and understanding where you may be part of the problem before seeking a sticking plaster solution. I want to thank Keah Forino-Joseph for the work she does at Vodafone and wish her the courage to fight for more and the support from those around her and the other incredible young MH advocates to drive real and sustainable change across the business I love. And, I would like to thank my therapist, who is just spectacular, if I can be even a fraction as good a therapist as she is, I will be outstanding.


Lesson 23


It's ok I know this article has been a bit heavier - but stick with it - can almost see the end from here! So, on that note ...lesson 23 is WRITE! Huge thanks to my ex-boss, ultra cool lady, and friend, Catalina Schveninger who encouraged, urged, hmm, insisted, that I write. If you look back at lesson 13 you will understand my inner critic says "who the hell would want to listen to you?" but I shushed her and wrote anyway and I have really enjoyed it. I am still worried that in reading this you are bored, you think I am wrong, that I have made a mistake but I kind of hope that there is just one thing maybe that resonates, or that you can have a smile at a pink flamingo inflatable or my OMG moment. So I am going to continue, this is my looking back piece, which I really felt I needed to do, to hug Vodafone so super tight before I let it go. Future articles will of course have the weight of all of the last 25 years behind them so I wanted to acknowledge that, but will be about other stuff, new stuff, my stuff and your stuff.

So, if you have an inner critic shouting at you, acknowledge it for what it is, but shush it, write anyway, and if people disagree with you, thats amazing as you get to see another perspective (Lesson 18) and to learn from that (Lesson 17) and some people will love it. We all have such amazing lessons within us that we have learnt and can teach - get your thoughts out there and see what it brings - I dare you!


Lesson 24

Young women are going to change the world, we need to support them to do so. Seriously, without apology or reservation, our future is about young women, your colleagues, your daughter, your sister, your friend. If we want technology, business, the environment, the economy, leadership, mental health to change - we need to be raving with support for young women, listening to them, backing them, making way, kicking doors in and giving them a platform. I have listed lessons above and I have named many amazing men and women who have taught me them, but I tear up when I think of the multitude of young women who have taught me more than anything about things I can't share in the same way. About humility, about struggle, about fear, about insecurity, about love, about hope, about innovation, bullying, desperation, positivity, resilience, crazy fantastic ideas, prejudice, unending support, gender, eyelashes, inspiration, white privilege, bravery, confidence, sexism, sexuality, generosity, empathy - I could go on. I am so very lucky to have worked with so many young women who will change the world, but only if they are heard and helped because the odds are stacked against them, no they still really are stacked against them, the latest World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report now estimates a staggering 257 years to close the gap on economic participation for women – compared to 202 years in last year’s report. Yep, that.

Bias, often in the form of false narratives about women, continues to be ingrained in our workplaces, our policies and our talent discussions about women and how to fill senior roles. Despite all evidence to the contrary, too many people in power still believe myths like women lack ambition, lack confidence, must carry more of the load at home, are opting out of big roles and that there aren’t enough women in the pipeline to increase representation in the C-suite. Leaders at the top of our organizations – men and women – along with HR managers, outside consultants and even self-proclaimed gender-equality advocates continue to reinforce these outdated and disproven notions.
Not only are these narratives just plain wrong, they cause us to focus on fixing the women vs. fixing the systems and norms that perpetuate the global gender gap. We continue pigeonhole gender equality as a women’s issue."

World Economic Forum 2020 click here for the full insight


I can assure you, these brilliant beautiful women do not need to be fixed but they do need your help in changing the system. I will name some here, this list is not exhaustive but every single one of these amazing individuals taught me something I will never forget. Amy Keenan, Ciara Tully, Laura Williams, Naomi Reynolds, Kimberley Harcombe, Vicki Page, James Harding, Lara Wainwright, Ezdihar Ebdulmula, Lara Alverez Garcia, Gemma Sinclair, Keah Forino-Joseph, Olivia Gilbert, Rhiannon Mahoney, Amy Ross, Charlotte Boem, Larissa Kopp, Felizitas Lichtenberg, Rachel Morgan, Rachel Collier and Caitlin Barron - my daughter who in 20 years has taught me more about everything than everyone else put together.


Lesson 25

You made it! The last one... and it is simply .... roll the dice


I took a big risk in leaving the awesome Vodafone, and I didn't quite expect a global pandemic to affect my odds - eek - but sometimes in life you have to simply roll the dice, take a gamble and back yourself. I think the dice are still yet to land so I am not sure if I am a winner yet, but it sure is invigorating finding out.



If you have enjoyed 25 Years, 25 Lessons and if anything has resonated with you or you have any concerns and you would like to chat then please book one of my consultation calls or drop me a note for a chat


I am also offering some free consultation calls that you can book online on the Services page

  1. Empowerfulcoaching - could coaching help you or your team to gain clarity, achieve more, stress less?

  2. Empowerfuleadership - who are you as a leader? Who do you want to be? What do you need to change? How are your leadership team going to evolve?

  3. Mental wellbeing - individual, team and organisational -very simply, what support do you need?

  4. Empowerfulwomen - if any young girls (of any age!) are thinking of changing the world, how can I help? You don't need fixing remember but you may THINK you do ... what is concerning you, confidence, clarity or do you just need a confidant?

If you or someone you know would benefit from a chat on any of the above, please get in touch.

And finally add your own lessons in the comments - I would love to learn from you

C x

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