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Inspiring Stories

October 5, 2016

Margaret Davies talks- Part I

margaret-company

Occupational Psychologist & Director, The Glass Lift

Recently the tables were turned on Glass Lift founder & Director Margaret Davies when she took part in “an interview with” series for Sift Talent and was interviewed by Research Manager Matt Evans. The interview is published in two parts, in part one Margaret defines a successful leader and describes her role in designing and delivering The Glass Lift leadership development programme for women.

Can you tell us about you and your role at The Glass Lift? 

I’m an Occupational Psychologist, which means I apply psychology to the work environment. My expertise is around behaviour at work. It’s a second career for me. My first career was in marketing, most recently for Microsoft in the UK. My expertise is mainly in the area of leadership at work. I am one of the two founders and a director at The Glass Lift. It was through my leadership development work with various organisations that I started to become aware of the issues around women in leadership and that’s how the idea behind The Glass Lift developed.

My role is to help Kaye Welfare, the Managing Director, with running the company and developing client relationships with organisations. I also design and develop The Glass Lift programme, which is a leadership development programme for women. I provide my technical expertise and through my links to various academic institutions I bring in the latest research, which we then adapt and apply to the work we do with our members.

How do you manage your day?

I work flexibly I have three children and I manage my own diary. I can work between the hours of 8am and 10pm. I may have a meeting to attend and afterwards I may take a break and then continue working later in the evening. I’m what’s called an integrator: I integrate my work into the rest of my life. That works for me. I’m not a strict nine to five person.

What is the best productivity tip you have ever received?

Work smarter, not harder. I realised quite some time ago that there is very little research to support the idea that working longer hours will increase performance. I’m a great advocate of abolishing presenteeism.  Many women who work part-time, for example a three or four day week, will work smartly within their contracted time. For me, it’s all about focus and having a clear understanding of the goals you are trying to reach and avoiding distractions.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

We can only perform to our best when our wellbeing is good. When we are happy, when we are healthy, that’s when we perform at our best. It’s important that people take time out to do the things which give them energy outside of the workplace, whatever that might be. We need to replenish and refresh ourselves in order to bring the productive self back into work.

What defines a successful leader?

I think you could find 101 definitions. When I last searched online there were 92,000 books written on leadership, and that doesn’t take into account the hundreds of thousands of articles written about the subject. I tend to look at leaders and leadership in a group context. A successful leader is someone who can work with their group to establish goals for the group and successfully engage that group to follow and achieve those goals.

What are some of the key qualities which exist in effective leaders?

There is no definitive list of traits which will indicate that a person will be an effective leader. There are, however, a few attributes that may make it more likely that you will be successful as a leader. For example, there is research to show that a good dose of intelligence and a reasonable dose of conscientiousness i.e. the ability to set a goal and be self-disciplined in working towards it, are very helpful. More recently there has been research around the area of learning agility: If you have an open approach to learning and growing in all fields you are more likely to be successful as a leader.

Are leadership styles defined early in a career or can they adapt and evolve over time? 

I think probably they will be defined early in a career, but yes, they can adapt and evolve. We behave in a way according to our own values, and also according to our personality which is relatively stable over our lifetime.  We adapt and learn to behave in slightly different ways but if, for example, I’m fundamentally an introvert I’m never going to change into a complete extrovert, although I can learn to become a little more extroverted if that is required to practice effective leadership.

The person you see at 25 will be broadly the same person that you see at 55, but that person may now know the things they should avoid doing (because they are not helpful) and might have learnt to manage and flex some behaviours to enable them to adapt to different situations.

The ability to change behaviour will depend on the feedback they are getting.  If, for example, someone has a short temper and no one has ever told them that’s not very helpful in a work context then they may never learn to control that behaviour.

Is there a set of core characteristics/behaviours which identify potential leaders?

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes.  When we look at leaders we have certain expectations about how they will behave.  We might expect them to be confident, assertive and capable of giving direction. Actually, those characteristics might be helpful, but they are not the only ones which may indicate the person is going to be a good leader.  Many leaders are quiet leaders.  Some leadership behaviours will become more important for the success of organisations in the future such as the ability to cooperate and work in partnership.

I heard a good example of this earlier today. Three organisations had been working on a tender application and the owner of the tender had asked them to work together to produce their tender document as a consortium. Two of the three members were not getting on. They were forced into a situation where they had to work together and that was proving very difficult. Yet the desire and ability to work together would serve them well.

As a leader if you have a cooperative mind-set you will see new and different opportunities which assists innovation and growth. Some organisations are doing this really well and some have a system in place where they work in partnership with other organisations to innovate. Innovating with other companies can lead to new and richer ideas. Instead of being protective and competitive you can gain business advantage by being collaborative.

How can organisations best identify and then develop high potential individuals?

Organisations do this in many ways. From a psychological perspective this is something which needs to be done over time. There might be someone who you currently don’t identify as a high potential employee, however in five years’ time they might be. This needs to be something that is revisited constantly. I think it can be dangerous to identify someone and assume in five years’ time they will still be a high potential employee.

It also depends how you define potential in the organisation.  Potential needs to be related to the organisational strategy and future opportunities, so there needs to be a good sense of where that organisation is going and how the people you identity as having high potential will fit into that vision. For example, many organisations work with a competency framework.  You may have drive and competitiveness as one of your competencies, but if the organisation is moving to a more collaborative model then you may be identifying the wrong individual competencies as part of the talent selection process.

Identifying high potential often has a bias towards the technical expertise of the individual. For many roles the engagement of the individual with the organisation and their propensity to have a positive mind-set is really important. Are they the sort of person who really believes in the organisation and wants to work there? Are they the sort of person who will positively contribute to that organisation and go the extra mile?  Looking at these types of attributes can be as important as the technical competencies of the individual.

Also, if you are somebody who is hoping to hold a senior role in the future it’s very important you have the desire to lead other people. At some point in the future you will probably have to let go of a lot of your technical expertise due to the demands placed upon you as a leader.

How important is mentoring to the development of future leaders?

I think mentoring has a place, but it’s only part of the mix. If you are in a junior role it will be helpful if someone can pass on their experience and learning, but a mix of mentors would be even more helpful. I would say there are other development opportunities which are just as helpful. For women I would say that role models are very important: Seeing women in senior roles makes it feel possible to aspire to those roles.

Sponsors within an organisation who are prepared to fly the flag for women and say: “this person over here is really good, why don’t you give them this opportunity?” can also be really helpful to open doors for women at work.

For an organisation which is committed to developing and increasing the number of female leaders, both now and in the future, what three steps should they commit to doing and within what timescale?

The timescales should be short; every minute an organisation loses is an opportunity missed to increase their performance, so the sooner they do it the better. There is growing research to show that gender diversity at senior level leads to better financial performance, better productivity, better decision making, a better approach to risk and more collaboration.

The first step that an organisation could take would be to build a commitment to increase gender diversity at senior level into their strategic plan and their business planning processes.

Secondly, the whole of the board and the executive team need to buy into this commitment and set organisational goals around it.

The third step would be sponsoring and role modelling those goals throughout the organisation, to ensure their implementation. You might think about The Davies Report, a government wide initiative which has a commitment to have 25% representation of women on FTSE 100 boards by 2015. There has been progress – we are at around 20% this year. I think the fact that a stake was put in the ground and many FTSE 100 organisations have signed up to it in the absence of quotas does mean that progress is being made.

There are a pool of women immediately available to take senior positions, but we do need to be working with women at middle management level in order to grow that pool of talent for future executive positions. I think there is a shorter term goal of increasing the number of women on executive committees and then a longer term goal to increase the talent pool at middle management level.

Can a female leadership development programme only succeed if it is driven by and articulated by the CEO?

If there is senior level sponsorship, which is articulated, supported and role modelled at senior level, then it is more likely to take hold and begin to kick-start culture change.  However, a minority voice and a ground swell of action throughout an organisation at the same time can also promote change.

We try to get senior level support on board to facilitate the process. Women need to see success at that level. They need to see other women progressing to the C-suite. If they’re not seeing this progression this becomes a hindrance because you’re not able to see success and as a result it’s more difficult to relate to it.

Find out more in part II of Margaret’s  interview with Matt Evans from Sift Talent, this article was also published in TrainingZone

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