A highly energetic lawyer, public speaker, mentor, member of public advisory committees and panels, Nicolina continually finds ways to lift others as she climbs. Through her leadership she draws on the wisdom of a diverse range of perspectives and empowers others. Her mission is to have an impact on society for the good.
What does leadership mean to you, and how has your approach or style changed over time?
I’ve been a Solicitor for over 20 years and have been blessed to have worked alongside a hugely diverse range of people. From City Law Partners in my early career, to Presidents in my global engineering company, from Lord Mackay on the Halsbury’s Advisory Board, to excited social entrepreneurs who I support through my charity. I’ve seen a lot in my life and I have a lot to draw from.
Good leadership always starts with you: looking inwards. Being in a good strong place where good values and integrity resides, being resilient and able to see the chink of light through the darkness when things are not going so well. To do this, you need to surround yourself with good friends (of which I consider God to be one). Friends who will encourage you to be the best that you can be. Friends who will support you, encourage you and tell you what you need to hear – when you need to hear it – from a place of love and kindness. I am blessed to be surrounded by many great friends.
Good leadership is about getting to know each person on your team and what makes them tick. By enabling them to be the best they can be, by gaining their trust and helping them to realise that “you’ve got their back”. This will earn their commitment and desire to contribute positively into good outcomes. Everyone has something to contribute. Everyone. There is so much power in having diverse teams and I believe it starts by being humble enough to recognize that you don’t have all the answers and everyone can truly contribute to the “answer”.
Good leadership is about being able to see the bigger picture and the minutiae, all balanced with a healthy understanding of the expectations of the organisation, a smile and a damn fine sense of humour!
Good leadership is about seeing the challenge and going for it anyway. It’s about trying to do your best to support the greatest number of people the best way you can. #LiftAsYouClimb and it’s why I have spent many years doing my best to pass on what wisdom I have in schools, colleges, universities, with women, Black groups and LinkedIn. Why not?
I managed to qualify as a solicitor because ONE woman stopped long enough in her life journey to give me the advice I needed to transform my applications and get me that all important training contract. What would happen if I did the same for someone else or maybe groups of people? What would happen if we all did the same? What impact would that have on our society?
What have been the biggest challenges and the biggest successes in your life, and what have you learned from them?
My biggest challenge, alas, has been dealing with women who believe that for them to feel strong they need to concretely and purposefully, crush other women by abusing their position of power. By taking your insecurities and metaphorically putting you under their shoes and grinding you into the ground; mentally and physically. It was ironic that the way I found my way out of one of those situations was by confiding in a wonderful male senior colleague who helped me to see the bigger picture and rescued what little confidence I had left. I travelled to his office and had a heart to heart.
I’ll remember his advice forever. He told me “you have to have the guts to look her in the eye and tell her that she cannot treat you that way”. It has only happened twice in my 20-year career. Both times unfortunately when I was a very tired young mother in her 30s just trying her best. Although those were two incredibly painful experiences, I’m grateful for the learnings. I learnt to be strong in the face of disgraceful behaviour – to be polite but firm about what was acceptable and what was not. I also learnt about the importance of “charting your own course” in your career and your life. Being fearless and pressing on, however hard the challenge may seem.
Although I’m proud of my legal career, I feel that my successes are what I’ve managed to achieve around it. Being a wife and mother to two boys has been incredibly challenging, but they are simply incredible and keep me grounded.
In the last year during the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve been appointed to the London Advisory Committee (Lord Chancellor’s Department) assessing candidates for the Magistrates Bench and continued my exciting role as an Independent Panel Member for the Ministry of Justice appointing senior public figures. I’ve also held down a challenging role as a senior lawyer in a global engineering firm.
I’ve given a number of talks to encourage and empower women and ethnic minorities. I’ve been appointed a Women on Boards Ambassador, recognised on the Cranfield 100 Women to Watch list, passed the Financial Times Postgraduate Diploma for NEDs and enjoyed endless networking with wonderful new friends through LinkedIn.
I’ve learnt that it’s a blessing to be standing on the shoulders of giants. My giants were my parents who were of the Windrush generation; they came here with the laser sharp intent of bettering their lives and laying the foundations for my life in the UK. I am hugely blessed.
What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?
Here are my top tips:
- Aim high. Aim high. Aim higher. (Great advice from my mum).
- Be confident and believe in yourself at all times.
- Develop your networking skills. It is about who you know and who knows you.
There is so much power in having diverse teams and I believe it starts by being humble enough to recognize that you don’t have all the answers and everyone can truly contribute to the answer.