"Throughout my career I’ve worked with some great people and had an upwards trajectory. So the natural inclination when you’re getting promoted regularly is to think that you must be doing all the right things. At the same time, I’m very self-critical. I always push myself hard. And, when you spend time in the education sector, you start to realise that your life and career should remain a lifelong learning experience.
That was my driver for enrolling in the High Performance People Skills for Leaders programme. At GEMS Africa we do amazing work, impacting the lives of thousands of families. A year into my CEO role I felt I needed to take stock and examine my communication, leadership and influencing skills. I lead around 12,500 staff focused on increasing education standards for around 90,000 students, so I was interested to find out where I was in the role, curious about my own understanding and keen to see how I compared with other senior executives, in terms of common leadership abilities.
Over a 30-year career serving people, I’ve worked for some great companies – organisations like Adidas, B&Q and Tesco – across both the retail and education sectors. Taking part in such an intensive week was a great opportunity to take time out and to revisit and refresh my toolkit. It allowed me to stop, question and re-evaluate – do I use these tools regularly?
One of the really useful things we did was to revisit the GROW model in coaching for performance; I’ve now introduced that to my team and practice it regularly myself. I also do something called 'checking in and checking out' now a situational leadership tool I’m now using regularly again. All the things I took away have created a measurable and positive impact on the people around me.
When you become a CEO the key to being a good one is often flexibility. Self-awareness is key. The programme helped me understand what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at; by being more aware of areas of weakness I find it easier to ask for help and can navigate my way through any difficulties more effectively. One area I needed to develop was stakeholder management and influencing – the programme’s executive coach, Hilary Gee, was hugely instrumental in helping me manage that. We worked through role plays, I was able to share the challenges I was experiencing and we talked through different approaches as to how I could influence different board members.
As a CEO, I have a lot less time than I did to make judgement calls. But the High Performance People Skills for Leaders programme gave me confidence that, in terms of leadership, I do have what it takes. In feedback, from different exercises and professors, I discovered that my leadership ability is actually really good. It was an enormously important personal affirmation."