NWB confessional style interviews are made up of 3 questions. They are not self-promoting, or carefully selected quotes to make you sound good. They are full of useful, actionable insights from experience, not egos. If you like NWB’s style and have something useful to offer, we’d love to interview you. Tweet @nowankybollocks
The interviewee is Hilary Anne Stephenson, Managing Director at Sigma
1. Biggest mistake you made in the last year & how you fixed it?
Attended and inadvertently promoted too many meetings that were clearly draining the life from the attendees and resulting in very little productive outcomes. To appear confident (and corporate) I started to schedule meetings with agendas when 5-minute chats would have done the trick.
I also started to see team leads copying this behaviour, holding similarly formal meetings. To add to it, I got involved in networking meetings where the same stuff was discussed over and over again without any commitment to “doing stuff”. As a team, we quashed it by holding shorter, sharper team sessions where everyone gets to speak each week but only for two minutes, with a 15 minute Q&A at the end.
I also stopped going to (too many) extra-curricular things just because I felt obliged or because someone said, “you really should go to that…”. For family, work and sanity it’s good to say no to stuff.
2. A lightbulb moment
Language and how you speak to people really matters. This includes the sales and marketing messages you put out there. If you value things like diversity and inclusion then state it. Make it part of your identity. We gained more respect when we started to say “we care about [these things]” when we met new customers. Doesn’t mean we always win business or share the same ethos as those clients but at least we are being genuine.
I started to volunteer for a charity, Diversity Role Models, who tackle LGBT bullying in schools. I’ve always had a dark, sarcastic, sometimes sardonic sense of humour, possibly as a distraction tactic when I personally felt exposed. It meant I was always quick to make a joke, sometimes at someone’s expense. I like satire and sarcasm but it shouldn’t tip over to meanness or lazy persecution of others.
DRM focus on the negative impact of phrases like “that’s really gay”, “man up”, “don’t be such a girl about it” and it’s powerful to see how young people respond. I have been lazy with phrasing before so I really try to choose the right words. Seeking to be inclusive and politically correct is a good thing in business and shouldn’t be seen as a weakness or liberal effort to please. With events this year, I think we need to look at how our language effects others more than ever.
3. Tip for tomorrow
Try to get exposure to new and varied stuff, including meeting new people with backgrounds different to your own but don’t feel pressure to act confident if you genuinely don’t know or understand something.
Sharing your view and being authentic is appreciated but it’s also ok to say, “I don’t really have a view on that” or “I’m undecided”. Leadership is less about knowing all the answers but more about showing you know where to look, who to ask, admitting where the gaps are etc. Basically stop blagging or lying to impress others, as you will be found out but be confident when you do know something. I read an excellent article from Clare Moriarty on this recently, which summed up issues of confidence in leadership and vulnerability really well.