Leadership Stories: Allyson Stewart-Allen – international marketing and inter-cultural expert

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A self-starter who recognised that climbing the corporate ladder wouldn’t bring out her best, Allyson Stewart-Allen embarked on her own campaign to lead and influence. She is a successful author, commentator and entrepreneur. She has lived and worked internationally assisting and advising hundreds of world-class organisations and business leaders.

What does leadership mean to you, and how has your approach or style changed over time?

I’ve come now to define “leadership” as being able to engage, inspire, influence and communicate with a broad range of people using a mix of curiosity, humility and empathy which is an iterative, learning process. It seems to me the best leaders in any realm never really think they’ve got it mastered.

Reflecting over time on when I’ve done it well – and not well – has hopefully broadened my repertoire of approaches compared to my younger self when I used to think that leading others was telling them what to do. I’ve had many poor role models in my work and personal life as no doubt many of us have.

What have been the biggest challenges and the biggest successes in your life, and what have you learned from them?

One of my biggest challenges has been to recognise and overcome the impact of poor parenting on me as a child and young person. I measure my progress by my ability to trust others more and give them the benefit of the doubt.

Another was accepting that I am not a natural corporate being. Having worked in large corporate environments early in my career, it became clear to me that they had rituals and rules that were a function of their legacies rather than allowing me to perform at my best. For example, I was told that once I’d achieved the rank of Principal – a 10 year path from where I was starting – I could be considered for the long-list of those seeking an international assignment. As a fluent French and German speaker, waiting 10 years when I was 24 felt like a prison sentence.

And so it was I launched my own marketing campaign (given I had two University degrees in the field) to get myself to Europe under my own steam.

In hindsight, I am now grateful for these challenges as without them, I’d not have been motivated to secure a job back in Europe (having lived in Munich as a child) or even start my own business at age 30.

As for successes, choosing a generous and compassionate husband is high on my list, as is raising a daughter who’s the same.

Professionally, winning awards for my consulting and executive education work has been really satisfying and validates my years of hard work.

By far however, the most rewarding success has been starting a business at age 30 which remains successful. It gives me great satisfaction to know through it, I’ve been invited to help over 260 world-leading organisations and leaders across 23 countries.

On reflection, writing a best-selling book, Working with Americans, and being a regular media commentator have also been confidence-building and they allowed me to have a voice on international business. Even more flattering is that there are so many who want to hear and value my voice.

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

I’d advise younger professional women to take risks and seize opportunities, not wait for permission, and to act on what moves them.

Equally, being more thoughtful and intentional about their leadership brand so they take charge of it, manage it, and not wait for others to recognize their many talents or reward their achievements.

Finally, giving themselves permission to change direction and try new roles and industry sectors. Women often try to “stick it out” in a job, company or with a bad boss which don’t deserve them. Listening to their gut and heart to move on will take them further than assuming it’s their fault or trying to salvage a no-hope career situation.

Waiting 10 years when I was 24 felt like a prison sentence. And so it was I launched my own marketing campaign to get myself to Europe under my own steam.

Allyson Stewart-Allen
Suzanne Todd