IWF UK Leadership Stories: Jeannette Lichner
Jeannette Lichner, current IWF UK Treasurer, is a seasoned financial services executive. She shares her experiences of working in the US and UK. She has developed a portfolio career spanning consulting, advising and coaching. Jeannette is also a champion of young people and has written a book to build their financial capability.
What does being a leader mean to you?
To me being a leader means being willing and able to step up and bring people together, working towards a shared purpose. I mention willing because sometimes you are not looking for the leadership role – others choose you. Leaders need to have principles and ethics and always behave in a way that is consistent with those. Leaders need to be brave, willing to make tough decisions with less than perfect information. They need to have the future, the challenges and opportunities that may arise, top of mind, knowing they are merely stewards of their organization, responsible for ensuring it is ready for the next generation. Leaders also need to be robust and humble in equal measure, able to engage with stakeholders from all walks of life with differing agendas.
I believe everyone can be a leader within whatever sphere they are operating in.
What have been the one or two biggest challenges in your life and how have you overcome them?
A challenge, which has also been a blessing and strength, is my continuous interest in learning. Everything is interesting to me. This is reflected in my diverse career path. When a new business idea, consulting engagement or teaching opportunity arises I have a habit of saying yes. I also read really broadly – probably 8 daily blogs across a wide range of topics. As a result, I find myself too busy and always taking on new types of work. My husband keeps asking when I will slow down and stop seeking new challenges. I am getting better at saying no, but it is a daily work in progress.
The life event that created the biggest challenge for me was when my mother died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 60. I was 32. She was diagnosed 2 weeks after our daughter was born and died a year later when I was pregnant with our son. She was my champion, the person who understood me better than anyone else (my husband fills that gap in another way). She left a huge guidance hole in my life at a time I really needed it. It was a difficult time but I found support in family and friends, and I found the joy of raising children. As a result of this early loss I have been able to support many others as they work through illnesses and death within their own families. So even in dark things there are good outcomes.
What do you regard as your greatest successes, and why?
I was recently asked this thought-provoking question in an interview. I think they expected me to talk about a project, a client win, a title I achieved. Maybe I surprised them, and myself a little, when I replied that my greatest professional legacy is the impact I have had on the lives of people I have come in contact with throughout my professional career. When I see someone I worked with reach new heights, or a colleague of 30 years ago gets in touch, or a coaching client has an ‘aha’ moment I feel I have done something useful.
From a personal perspective my greatest success is a 32-year marriage to a husband who lets me be me, a great daughter (30) and son (29) who are independently minded and fun. Also I have a great circle of friends in the UK and US whose relationships I treasure and nurture.
How has your leadership style changed over time, and why?
Early in my career in the UK, when I was part of the team that built Morgan Stanley from 150 to 2500 people, leaders were people who ‘got stuff done’. I was good at that. I was more of a manager than a leader. We did not look at the long term and strategic issues. We were in execution mode. Whilst I earned a reputation for being a good leader and great with people, on reflection I am not so sure about that.
In my later banking career I took on Chief Operating Officer roles where I learned to lead through influence not position. That is when I believe I developed my leadership skills and I can clearly remember some of those “aha” moments when I learned from reading, watching others, and being moulded by those I was supposed to be leading. What did I learn? – active listening, insightful questioning, how to see the other person’s perspective, when to battle and when to walk away, and how to ruthlessly prioritise with a long term view in mind.
What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?
Remain curious about everything – read widely, meet people of all types, travel and invest in more education.
Be brave - take every opportunity that comes your way, take a job you don’t feel ‘qualified’ for and figure it out, take an international assignment and change industries.
Pick three words – think of the three words you want everyone you meet to use to describe you and ALWAYS act that way. For me those are: generous, commercial and engaging.
My greatest professional legacy is the impact I have had on the lives of people I have come in contact with throughout my career.