IWF UK Leadership Stories: Carol Bagnald

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Carol Bagnald had an unusual education path. She was one of the first female bank managers at Midland Bank (later HSBC), where she spent four decades. She is an Honorary Fellow of Brunel University, a Non-Executive Director and an entrepreneur. Carol co-founded Black on Silver to build brand, strategy and commercial footprint for business clients.

What does being a leader mean to you?

The whole concept of leaders and leadership has changed hugely. I believe today it’s more about a sense of feeling rather than positioning; influence & following are key rather than the leader’s role or indeed the leaders themselves.

Thankfully it’s not just about title and job role. World influencers have come to the forefront without ‘working their way up’. Incredibly humbling examples of this are seen on a global stage. Whether it’s the 14-year-old school girl speaking up for the rights of all children to be educated through to the millennial who’s discovered a new breakthrough to science or technology and become a thought leader for governments.

It’s right leadership expectations should change as the world moves on. I enjoy seeing modern leaders being created by the way they take people with them. Today being a leader is more about partnership and collaboration. Of course having the vision and courage to do so, as well as accepting that responsibility, continues to be as important today as it always has.

What have been the one or two biggest challenges in your life and how have you overcome them?

In my early days it was my youth. Oh to have that now! My route was unusual at that time. I left school at 16, did my A levels a year early at evening classes and then gained my banking degree. So I managed to have 5 years’ additional experience than my university educated colleagues. Becoming the youngest and only female bank manager, while looking younger than my years, meant I had to prove myself every day. Not just internally, that in many ways was easier. Customers don’t particularly care about your rank or credentials. They do care whether you’ve got the knowledge and experience to be up to the job. When you literally look like you’re fresh out of school, you have seconds to win them over to see that you are fit to look after them. I actually loved the challenge in the end. Today youth is seen as a premium not inexperience.

Strangely, I saw the opposite happen at the other end of the spectrum. Too many people with experience being thought of as dated. I’m pleased that has changed and the ‘ageless’ society is re-creating opportunities for all. It’s about the individual not their age or background.

Most people expect me to say my biggest challenge was when I had my son. I was the only female executive director and the first to be expecting a child. It wasn’t. Looking back on it now I realise that maybe I didn’t have the route map to follow but also I didn’t hear about the negatives or difficulties. In my mind of course it was going to work. Whether naivety or determination won I’m not sure but I am an advocate of being positive and treading your own path. Somehow things have a way of working out.

The challenge I wasn’t ready for came later in life when my parents became ill. Both required full time care. With children, to some extent, you can plan and have a greater choice of childcare support. However, with ill-health or a sudden accident of much-loved, ageing parents you can’t plan and you have fewer options. I wasn’t ready for the worry it brought. Certainly I was one of the fortunate ones who could cope financially with the decisions I needed to make. I chose to leave my corporate career to care for them. That in turn took me to a new chapter and happily to where I am today.

What do you regard as your greatest successes, and why?

Being a parent. It was such a shock to me just how much I would love it. I was never going to have children. It was one of life’s most precious lessons and I’m so very grateful that I’ve experienced it. Sometimes things you don’t think you would be very good at bring out the best in you.

Then in 2012 I received an honorary fellowship from Brunel University for services to business. So I eventually got to uni!

Plus, I’m hoping I’ve got a few more successes yet to experience!

How has your leadership style changed over time, and why?

You always learn as you develop. The 1980’s were certainly about breaking down barriers and building teams. The move to less hierarchy within the corporate world.

I think my style changed when I became a mum. Starting every job always thinking about the legacy you would leave behind as the result of your decisions. I think it made me have a greater appreciation of generations to come. For me it made it more real.

What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?

Be yourself. Look at your strengths and build your career around them. They will change and develop as you do. Never fake it. The only person you will disappoint if you do, is you. Have courage to stand by your values and if it doesn’t feel right, then believe in yourself to walk away to where it does.

Surround yourself with talented people who make you think, open your mind and from whom you constantly learn. Seek some wise mentorship when you need it the most, but make your own decisions. You most probably know the answers. You just don’t always want to voice them.

People watch; we all pick up things from others and eventually you put together your own style. Remember as you progress to help others along the way, eventually that becomes part of your most cherished memories.

I didn’t have the route map to follow but also I didn’t hear about the negatives or difficulties. In my mind of course it was going to work

Carol Bagnald
Carol Bagnald

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