Friend: Michelle

How do we know each other?

In 2007 I joined the King’s College London Marketing Department as the Director
and had the good fortune to have Liz as part of my team.

What did you write to me in the early days of Coraline’s arrival?

I told you about my nephew, Kody, who has Down's Syndrome and when he was six months old he had that same operation Coraline might have needed. Then I said I was going to his 12th birthday that weekend! I told you he is fabulous and obsessed with the muppets!! I also told you I was praying for you guys, I’m not very religious so I pray to Heath Ledger and George Michael :p

Talk to me about 'Leadership'

I’d like to talk about leadership, which probably seems like a funny topic for this blog. However, I believe leadership is an important skill for all of us, for life, and it applies to parents too. And it’s quite simple, or is it?

I’ve had the opportunity to lead many teams in my career and my approach is always the same. I create an environment where people want to come to work, where they feel valued and safe and have an understanding of where we are

Leadership is about influence and impact. Trust and cooperation are vital to this.

Leadership is actually very difficult. You have to be selfless, you have to be focused and you have to accept that you are ‘out of the club’. My favourite example of this is when you (the Director/boss) dance at the Christmas party. Everyone looks at you and goes….wow the boss is dancing….as if you are an alien. You’re no longer one of them.

As a leader, you need courage.

My secret, and you’ll laugh at this and say, how is that a secret?! But it must be, because so many people don’t do it! My secret is to show respect to all my staff, at all levels. I live by the Kevin Roberts, Lovemarks mantra - No respect. No love. No respect. No love.

Respect really is the key to it all. The definition of respect talks about admiration for someone’s abilities, qualities and achievements; regard for the feelings and rights of others.  This goes for children as well as staff. But it only works if it goes both ways. And how do you earn respect? Well obviously you give it, but also you respect yourself. You increase your self-awareness, you gain a very clear understanding of what you bring to the table and you understand their expectations of you and set expectations of them.

Respect is NOT giving them everything they want. I don’t know what that is, but it doesn’t work for anyone.  Respect is treating them like an important person. What they do is important. If they do it well, they will make you look good. You are responsible for them and what they do reflects on you. Never forget that.  So firstly, you must take ownership. Secondly, teach them to take ownership, how taking ownership actually frees you.

Focus on team dynamics. Set up activities that allow them to get to know each other on a deeper level. Teams are made up of people, which is probably the most important thing to remember. However, the leading of people - who come with families, relationships and challenges and a human side is never discussed in leadership books/training.  When you lead a big team, you rarely go a week without someone crying in your office, someone with sick parents/siblings/children, someone with relationship challenges, with work challenges or someone just having a really tough time. These instances are not recorded in meeting schedules and are normally kept from the rest of the team. The leader then takes this all home with them and has to find ways to ensure work is delivered in all types of circumstances.  No-one will see half of what you do, but it is very important.

A really good leader is actually very similar to a good parent. A leader sets the scene for them, provides what they need to grow and achieve. A leader puts the effort in, they celebrate the good times, are kind in the bad times and doesn’t take themselves or their position too seriously.  You are in a great place, mentally, when you can laugh at your own mistakes. And you’ll make mistakes, every day if not every week. And that never stops! But you learn.

A couple of years ago I was a board representative on a Student council committee.  The board members would hear reports and updates from the senior students elected. In one meeting I noticed that the treasurer was saying that he hadn’t had a chance to do the financial statements so would present them next time.  The committee would normally just accept that. I spoke up instead and said that, that wasn’t good enough. I said that our job is to help make sure our students are prepared for the workforce and if you don’t deliver on time, you will not be respected in your chosen place of work.  We would therefore from now on expect you to deliver on time.

An interesting thing happened after this meeting, which surprised me, both the other board members and the senior students had much more respect for me.  They liked me before, I was very friendly, as were they. But now they knew that I cared about their wellbeing, I cared enough to pay attention and hold them and the board accountable.  You don’t get respect by just being nice to people.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Authentic Leadership Program at Harvard Business School.  Which concentrated a lot on who we are as individuals, what is our purpose, what are our values. I learnt that my core values in a leadership position are:

  1. Integrity – I will tell the truth to others and be worthy of their trust

  2. Fun – I will create an enjoyable environment that enhances personal development

  3. Achievement – I will lead my team to personal and business achievements

One final point on leadership.  Never take it for granted. Always continue to develop and learn.

What would you like to say to Coraline?

Coraline you will have lots of joy, fun and love ahead of you. You will realise that you have a unique ability to bring people together and make them smile and love. Spend as much time as possible dancing and singing!

Anything you would like to add?

This beautiful family, Liz, Kevin and Coraline, makes the world a better place and that gives comfort to us all!

What are you currently reading?

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini