The lunch and learn with Paul Stobart, CEO of Sage UK and Ireland, took place a few weeks ago, and keeping in with my usual tradition, I have given myself a little time to mull things over. This usually gives me time to find the deeper learning, taking away the insight and advice I have been given and using it to change my perspective on certain situations, as well as finding new ways to approach challenges and learning things about myself I didn’t already know. A month down the line, the lessons have sunk in and (hopefully) I’m a slightly shinier version of my former self.
Not the case here however. Not because the wonderful advice given by Paul wasn’t insightful or in any way helpful. In this instance, the learning was instant. Immediate inspiration you may say, and yes, I have already benefited from this wisdom in the four weeks or so since our group meeting took place. I’m so shiny off the back of it, I’m practically glowing.
Our lunch and learn took place at the Sage headquarters in Newcastle, an impressively angular and light building in the middle of beautiful countryside. Danielle, Carla, Angus and a lovely lady called Regina from O2 and I all travelled up the M1 for what was our first lunch and learn, to meet with a man who Sherilyn promised was a great storyteller, and as it turned out an afternoon of awe inspiring stories and (almost) a few tears.
Now, the set ups with lunch and learns are a little different to mentoring. No one on one conversations, no pre-preparing and providing of three questions to pose to your mentor; just of group of interesting and interested people and a relaxed environment with a few sandwiches to sit back and soak up all you hear. If the mentoring allows you to get to the heart of issues you face with an expert in their field, the lunch and learn mentors take you on a journey you hadn’t expected, passing on the benefits of their wisdom, with the laid back atmosphere allowing you to take it in all the better.
So, on to the moving stories and the brilliant lessons we learnt. Paul took us through his beliefs about good leadership, what it looked like and why. In a much more eloquent and engaging way than I can ever explain, his basis for good leadership was having the right people in the right roles with the right support from you, the leader. The wrong people not only make difficulties for themselves but also impact the relationships and potential of the whole team, so one piece of advice that stuck with me was to never be afraid to move these people on.
Within any organisation, situation or team, you need to have a vision for people to work towards, something to achieve in a greater sense, and under this, objectives for both the team and the individual to frame the part they play and what they are expected to achieve towards the greater goal. Expected behaviours are important here too, as is the role of the leader. Being a visionary is very necessary, encouraging people to move forward, but without some direction on occasion, teams can fall into anarchy. Too much direction however becomes controlling, and the team loses drive and motivation.
Some of what Paul shared with us had been covered in the Personal Leadership Programme we went on at the start of the scholarship with Penny Ferguson, an amazingly inspirational woman, and to hear another hugely successful person such as Paul bring the lessons to life through with great examples and a good deal of wit helped embed the lessons further. In some instances, his framework made the ideas a lot easier to recall too, such as Paul’s beliefs around the characteristics that make a great leader:
Authentic: Being open, honest, humble, pulling the best out of the team and pushing their achievements forward. Never be afraid to make or admit your mistakes.
Appreciative: Ensuring people know what it is their strengths are and how much you value them, not just saying thank you for the work they do. It has to be personal.
Communicative: Keeping open dialogue with your team and build strong relationships.
Enthusiastic: Paul quoted that a great leader was ‘a realist with unconquerable hope’. (I can’t tell you where the quote was from however as I can’t read my own scrawl)
Sensitive: Listen to your team, understand their lives and their motivations, and provide the support they need to realise their strengths and deliver the best for themselves and the business
As well as great examples, Paul made quite an impact by giving us a lesson in appreciation. Sitting with Danielle, one of our fellow scholars, one on one he directly shared what he appreciated about her after only a few minutes of being in her company. Without going into the personal detail, he hit Danielle’s best traits on the head, gave her something to think about and work on and made it personal, which was incredibly impactful for Danielle and for the rest of us looking on.
Paul also told us about his time in Zimbabwe undertaking his national service, and how it changed his life and strongly shaped his ideas around what great leadership looked and felt like. If you are ever fortunate enough to meet with Paul and are lucky enough to hear the stories, you will understand the full impact it had on him and us, the listeners, who were very nearly moved to tears by the retelling and without doubt brought the lessons to life. The power of great storytelling should never be underestimated.
So, what impact has it had on me so far? It has helped me realise what great leadership looks like. I can now see where the right people make the difference and how the wrong people might detract from what is trying to be achieved. I can see where the teams and people that have a clear sense of what they are trying to achieve are more focused and effective. I now know why I follow leaders in my organisation, on account of their authentic nature and fantastic sensitivity as well as their ability to inspire by finding out what motivates us and encouraging us to deliver off the back of it.
It has helped me focus on what is good and what works, learning and embedding these behaviours so that I can be more effective and create a better working environment, even though I have no team to lead as such. I can also see what is not so good and what doesn’t work, and thanks to Paul why this is the case, and where I can try and find ways to help it work better. I now make sure I have a good catch up with everyone I work with each week, and take the time out to appreciate those who really bring something to the team. Its making a huge difference already, and all it took was an hour and a half and a lovely spread to start the change. Feasting on inspiration indeed!