What is your backstory?

I grew up in rural Wiltshire, went to an all girls school, took a year out between school and university to work as a volunteer supporting recovering drug addicts in Hong Kong, then went to Birmingham University to study English Language and Literature.

I remember thinking to myself ‘I don’t want an ordinary 9-5 job’

After writing consistently to the BBC in Birmingham to ask for work, I got a job as ‘hospitality coordinator’’ on a daytime TV show, but contributed ideas and researched some items for broadcast.

I left the BBC to go home and help my mum with a tribunal case: she’d been fired because she’s Indian. She won the case and donated the money she won to have wells dug in rural villages in Gujarat.

I got a job with a communications company in Somerset, and had the best boss possible, with whom I’m still in touch. She was an entrepreneur who’d set up her own business and we worked not with local Somerset companies, but with national and global organisations like the NHS, OFWAT, BP, Amoco.

I married and moved to Scotland and couldn’t find a job so temped for a while and then set up on my own in marketing and PR.

As part of this, I held a contract with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, (then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) as commercialisation manager, with the role of securing additional income streams for the academy. I set up an agency for students and ran drama-based training programmes for the corporate sector.

I was promoted to Head of Development and Public Affairs, responsible for marketing and fundraising and had a team of 5... but I had no experience of leadership at that point, so it was all guesswork.

I left to set up an arts-based training company with a friend.

That was 18 years ago, my company name has changed in that time, but I’ve worked with leaders at all levels in major organisations during that time, in the UK, Europe, USA , Middle East and Far East.

 

What are 5 things I wish someone had told me when I started, and why?

 

1) Don’t be afraid to speak up

 

One of my first jobs was at a TV company. I was just the ‘hospitality co-ordinator’ at this stage, ensuring that daily guests were welcomed and looked after, but I was keen to research and produce some items for broadcast.

However, I was surrounded by confident people and I was far from confident myself.

I was chatting to one of the directors one day, and ran some ideas past him.

‘They’re good’ he said, and advised me to go and speak to one of the producers.

I did so but she didn’t seem too impressed, so I backed off and left it, assuming my ideas hadn’t been up to much after all.

A week or so later, we were all in a forward planning meeting: I was there because of my interest in contributing something to the show.

The producer that I’d given the ideas to chipped in ‘I’ve had a few ideas’ she said, and proceeded to reel off the ideas that I’d shared with her the week before.

I was mortified, but I said nothing

After the meeting, the director came up to me and said ‘those were your ideas! Why didn’t you say something?’

I couldn’t really answer. I’d been afraid, that was all.

With the director’s encouragement, in the next meeting I spoke up and put forward some ideas, and they were accepted. I got to research and produce some items for live broadcast on a national TV show.

Speak up. Your ideas are as good as the next person’s...possibly better

 

2) Have the courage of your convictions.

 

In my first job, I’d had a ‘discovery meeting’ with a potential client. I went back to my office and enthusiastically told Steven, my (older and more experienced) colleague about the conversation, and outlined my initial thoughts for a proposal.

‘Oh no’, he said ‘You don’t want to do that, you want to...’  and he proceeded to give me his more informed ideas as to the approach I should take.

I was rather crestfallen that I’d obviously read the meeting all wrong and I ditched my own ideas and wrote a proposal based on Steven’s.

We never heard from the client again.

I should have followed my gut and gone with my own ideas. I still might not have won the work – but I’d have felt better about myself. I’ll never know though.

 

3) How you view yourself is more powerful than how others view you. Be bold.

 

A little while ago, I wrote an ebook with recorded downloads that was aimed at second-language speakers of English to improve their spoken English accent. I drew diagrams of the position of the tongue in the mouth, wrote practice sentences for every phonetic sound and recorded sentences for listening and repetition practice.

When I put it online, I was approached by several people asking if I coached, would I run online webinars and so on.

I got a bit spooked – here were these people acting as though I was an expert on elocution and I was thinking ‘I’m just Annabelle from back end of nowhere!’

Whilst I did realise that I didn’t want to be an online English teacher – I also learned, more importantly that once you’ve put your stake in the group you must hold your nerve.

If you step up to lead, people will see you as a leader. If you DON’T see yourself as a leader, it’ll all unravel so be bold.

 

4) don’t start worrying about the 100th step when you’ve not taken the first one.

 

I used to be a terrible worrier in the early days of my business: what if this doesn’t work what if that happens, what if it all goes pear shaped.

I was catastrophizing to a friend on one occasion and she said ‘why are you worrying about things that haven’t happened?!’ as though it was absolutely ridiculous.

It was a throwaway remark for her and she probably doesn’t remember the conversation, but for me it was a moment of insight.

Be clear about your purpose and direction, but don’t focus too far ahead on the finer points of your strategy. First things first.

 

5) It’s all in your head

 

This is the biggest lessons of all: I recently came across the ‘The Three Principles’ , which points to the concept that our experience of life takes place in our thoughts.

For me it’s had a profound impact and I’ve been weaving the principles into my work.

So much of what goes on in the workplace isn’t ‘real’ per se, it comprises stories, anecdotes, opinions, tones of voice, perceptions.

If we can clear these out of the way, we allow space for presence of mind.

If business leaders can do this, clear thinking allows for massive steps forward in problem solving, working relationships, strategy development.... everything.