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Listen and be yourself!

Having read through blogs from previous scholars it has become clear that the time has come for me to face my fears and write something myself… I hate writing anything like this and over ten years in a marketing role have so far resisted. But, in the spirit of development and overcoming fears, this shall be my first ever blog! For such a monumental occasion I have spent weeks thinking about what would be a good start for this blog. Should I talk about the application and interview process? Should I talk about my experiences in general? Or should I talk about the things I leave off my CV like my series of “useless talents” (which include gurning without needing to remove teeth and being great at creating sculptures out of clay when blindfolded playing the board game Cranium…).

In the end I decided to face my fear head on and talk about the mentoring sessions as and when they happen. The plan being that this will force me to write at least 12 blogs over the course of the scholarship… I can’t say this fills me with delight but I can say that by the end of the twelve months I am sure this will be something that seems a lot less daunting than it does right now.

So, back to the mentoring session. It almost started off on completely the wrong foot. Having read the reviews from the 2011 scholars for advice on what to expect I saw that one of the main recommendations was “Don’t. Be. Late”. As someone who would rather arrive 60 minutes early than 5 minutes late I was sure I had this covered. However I got off the train in London to a text from the mentor asking me if I was lost and what time they should expect me to arrive as I was due to twenty minutes previously… After an enormous panic and a quick call back, it turned out to be a mistake, I was still in plenty of time albeit slightly more nervous and adrenalized (if that is a word!) than before.

I shouldn’t have worried, my mentor was fantastic – we spent the next 90 minutes talking about so many different things that it was really hard for me to choose just one great insight to pop on the feedback form. But I have read through my notes and tried to pull out some of the key points that I think I can use immediately.

• One of the areas I found very useful was when we talked about change and how people react to a changing environment. In conflicts or periods of change “people calm down when they feel in control”. My mentor told me about some challenges they had faced – setting up new teams, joining the Executive board as the first ever Marketing Director and managing a team during a period when the media were reporting negatively on the organization. During this period of negative reporting, they explained how the role as a leader is to protect your team so they can do their job. They were there to deal with the stakeholders and manage the crisis internally so the team could carry on doing what they do best. This developed into a discussion about “letting go” of some of the areas you may have managed previously when heading into more of a “leading” role and becoming a good Manager. Make sure that you “delineate” in teams. Give people specific roles and jobs to do, especially when there is an issue to tackle. Don’t try and do it all yourself and be aware of your strengths and the strengths of your team to allocate those roles out.
• On top of this, from a team perspective, it is important to tackle issues in two different ways – separating out “how did this happen” or “how did we get here” from “how do we move forward to fix this”. Fixing it should be the main priority initially, not the path that led to the issue. There will be plenty of time when the problem is under control to learn from it, review what happened and why. This is something that I know I can find difficult – often you get too caught up in trying to explain why a situation has occurred rather than concentrating on how to move past it to a resolution.
• One question I had was around starting in a new role and what to do when dealing with people who may not yet recognize the value you can bring to the business. A great recommendation was to “talk to other departments in the language of the business” concentrating on areas they are most concerned with. Every business needs to have a commercial focus and talking about marketing from an ROI point of view shows the value we can bring to the business – not that we sit there all day colouring in and drawing pretty pictures!
• It is important to “take people with you”. Make them feel involved so they don’t think something is happening to them but rather than they have a say in what is happening and are in control of their own careers. As a leader you need to provide some direction but also make sure you include your team – how do they think the areas should be addressed? What would they do?
• Finally one of the points I noted came down to just one word. My mentor reiterated how important it is to “listen”. Listen to your team, listen to other departments, listen to your customers. If you are in a global role, make sure you are listening to the local teams and vice versa to really understand the business and areas that are important to them. Don’t become so driven by your own objectives that you forget to listen and understand what is driving the rest of the business.

I could carry on about more of the great insights they shared with me but I thought I would end by trying to pull out one piece of advice. During my interview for the scholarship there was one statement that really stood out in my mind. I asked Kevin Allen, who was interviewing me with Sherilyn, what one piece of advice he would give. “Be yourself” he said which is something I now try to remember when worrying about presenting to people or meeting people for the first time.

So to do the same from this session, I think the one point I would pull out is “listen”. It sounds so easy but is so hard to remember to do when planning campaigns and spending budget. It is easy to go with what you think is the right message or the audience pain points, it is much harder to remember to actually ask them and listen to the answer. The same goes when managing people – listen to what is important to them and what they think about organisational changes.

To conclude my first ever blog, I look forward to sharing the next 11 pieces of advice with you over the coming months. Gulp……


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