I had an early introduction to the business world. As a child, I was pretty much raised in the tearoom and cake shop that my parents took over when my dad left the RAF.
From a very young age, I worked in the business as a waitress. When I was 17, my dad had to go into hospital for several weeks, I stepped in and covered for him.
Thinking back, I learned some invaluable lessons about what a rollercoaster it could be to run a small business. The biggest lesson I learned from my parents was what a difference feeling like you were part of a great team and going the extra mile for customers could make.
When I left home aged 18, I moved to London to work as a stockbroker’s clerk. The city could be a harsh and unforgiving world. Particularly when you had an unsupportive manager who had favourites.
I was to join the Civil Service in 1987. Early on in my career, I remember being pretty much written off by my bosses because I was going through a divorce and I was struggling to cope. I worried about holding everything together as I made yet another life transition. I remember a time when our department was due to move to another floor. Things needed to be organised with almost military precision. The manager suddenly went off sick and it caused panic; everyone was running around like headless chickens because they had no direction. But I stepped up, calmly took control, and the move to the new floor went smoothly. As a result, the Senior Leads noticed me, and I suddenly became one to watch.
I can recall a time when I was given a new role and told, “We doubt you will succeed in this role as you lack the ability to concentrate.” But what they hadn’t realised was I had a gift of delving into the details and getting to the bottom of things, which was a great strength in the role I was doing to resolve people’s debts. Before they knew it, our office was top of the region because of our success rate.
Throughout this period I was also the office union representative. This taught me a lot about finding the middle road and collaborating. It was a role I loved because people needed support and were often under a lot of stress and pressure. Just being there and listening to them often helped. It often involved signposting the person to the right organisation and that skill is still as useful today.
There weren’t many opportunities for promotion in that role, so when my youngest daughter reached the age of 14, I applied for a promotion in different locations. I didn’t really believe I’d be successful, but I applied for two other roles anyway. Amazingly, I was offered both roles!
The role I eventually accepted was a big step up for me. I was excited about the job, but I also had major impostor syndrome. Who was I to think I could do this job? I really got myself worked up about it. I remember looking for ways to calm my nerves and I went to a herbalist who gave me this ‘calming potion.’ After taking just one dose, I felt completely zoned out. I glanced at the label and saw that there was Valium in it! Needless to say, I didn’t take any more!
That big new role was really the start of my management and leadership career. I worked in a good team, but it was a bit of a learning curve for me. I took away some really valuable lessons on collaboration, being vulnerable, and having each other’s back in the senior management team.
One of the memories that has stayed with me is the weekly catch-ups we did as a management team, at lunchtime off the work premises. It was so valuable because it gave us time to thrash out problems and reach understanding.
From there, I moved into operational management where again I had the chance to enhance my leadership skills. I learned how to navigate managing people who were more senior than you, and how to listen, share concerns, and agree on ways forward that worked for everyone.
After that role came the job I loved the most. Why did I love it? Well, one of the main reasons was my manager. She encouraged me to grow and develop, and she supported me every step of the way. It was a stressful role, but the culture of inclusion and continuous improvement that existed in the workplace buoyed me up, and it was something I would take with me into future roles.
I was quite a few years into this role and I needed a new challenge. I was promoted and worked in another office managing teams for around six months. Just as I was settling in, I was asked to return to my previous workplace as part of the senior leadership team.
What struck me as a female Senior Lead was how much men dominated the senior roles. At times, it had an ‘old boy’s club’ feel about it. Thankfully, things are changing, though men still dominate business leadership at the very senior levels.
Several managers later, it was 2014. Work was incredibly stressful and on top of that, my dad was ill and in hospital. It was an exhausting 4-hour round trip to work, then going to visit him after a long day at work. For three weeks, I juggled the journey and going to visit him, then he passed away.
That was the final straw for me. The stress in my life became unmanageable and I had a heart attack.
My hallmark as a manager was the way I dealt with people with kindness and compassion. When I was going through all these major life stressors, I didn’t get the support, most of the time, I so freely gave to others.
That was the catalyst for wanting to start my own business.
I studied for a professional consulting diploma, and in late 2015, I finally launched The People Mentor, my management consultancy and leadership mentoring business.
I worked part-time as I built my business alongside it. In my part-time role, I worked in a Continuous Improvement role. As time went by, I felt as if ageism was starting to rear its ugly head. I was being overlooked for roles and I shared my concerns with a senior leader who was completely oblivious to what I felt was going on. After that, I finally got some new opportunities which involved managing some exciting projects.
In March 2021, I finally left the organisation I was working for and now I can concentrate on my business full-time. I have been influenced by so many great leaders and managers and I feel so lucky that I can share what I’ve learned with other leaders and managers. I’ve helped so many great clients take their businesses forward and I’ve been so proud to be a part of their journey.
The challenges the business/market is facing:
I think the biggest challenge the business is facing is the amount of uncertainty in the world at the moment. Yes, there’s always going to be uncertainty and change in the business world, that’s part and parcel of it. But it’s challenging to persuade managers and leaders to spend money on training or mentorship in these difficult times, even though it’s so vital for them going forward.
The key I think is to talk to them about what might happen if they don’t invest in themselves and things stay the same as they are in the business.
The opportunities the business/market is facing:
Managers and leaders have had to deal with some unprecedented challenges in the last few years. The increase in remote working. Trying to retain their best employees who’ve had time to think about what they really want to do with their lives. Navigating uncertainty and rising operating costs. A change in the way consumers buy goods and services. Sometimes having to pivot completely because their business model is no longer working. No matter how experienced you are, you’d struggle to deal with this sort of thing. The good news for managers and leaders is that you don’t have to do it alone.
Leadership mentoring is a great opportunity to work with someone who is completely impartial, sympathetic to your situation, and most importantly, has been there and done that. When you can’t see a way forward, an outside perspective is often just the thing you need.
Advice to others about business:
To managers and leaders, I’d say remember that you won’t succeed without your team. If you want to build a successful business, building a strong high-performing team who’ll be by your side and work hard for you should be your starting point.
As important as the strategic and operational side of leadership is, times have changed. There needs to be a focus on softer skills like compassion, empathy, and meaningful communication. You need to work on your own self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Gone are the days when you can rule by fear or bark out orders and get things done. You will get things done this way, but it won’t be in the way you want, and good employees won’t stick around for long.
Leadership mentoring can explore where you are now, and where you want to be, and it can give you a roadmap for getting there. Maybe you’re a leader who struggles to have difficult conversations with employees and it’s harming the business. Maybe it’s your own leadership style that’s causing confusion and conflict in the office. Investing in mentoring can help with this and much more.
Leaders have so much influence in the workplace, for good and bad. It’s time to uplevel your leadership skills so you can truly lead from the front with a loyal, confident, and productive team at your side.
Feel as if you need support with your team then book an exploratory call to see how I can help you.