Leadership Stories: Diane Caddle - an authentic leader and pathbreaker

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Role modelling continuous improvement, Dianne Caddle started out as a social researcher and single mum to become one of the most senior black woman in the Ministry of Justice. She sponsors and mentors others to believe in themselves and their capabilities.

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

Leadership is about delivering and having impact through other people. As a leader you may be the one to set vision and direction, but you alone cannot implement this. Therefore, leadership is about having impact, helping those who work with you to flourish and grow as individuals by empowering them to deliver and collectively push boundaries.

My approach to leadership has evolved over time. In particular, I have become more comfortable being my authentic self. Authenticity is a key aspect of a good leader because at its root leadership is about people. As a leader you need to be able to honest and open with your people. To really get them to do their best work they need to buy into you as well as your vision.

My key beliefs, values and experiences have shaped who I am as a leader. It is important to be collaborative, to be open to other ideas and challenges and to be humble. The last of these, humility, is something that my parents instilled in me – ‘whilst you should never think you are better than anyone else, equally you should never think you are less than them either’.

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

My first challenge was when I felt stuck at middle management level. My peers were being encouraged and pointed to roles on promotion. Whereas I was being told that I needed to stay at my current level in whatever role I took next.

My immediate reaction was to think there was something wrong with me. That I wasn’t good enough. This fundamentally reflected my lack of self confidence. The turning point came when a senior individual who really believed in me acted as my sponsor. He continued to push me and to tell me I was more than good enough to get that promotion. I was determined to make the most of every opportunity that he put my way. Then it was up to me and I flourished. I demonstrated what I could do, to others and most importantly to myself.

Once I landed that promotion and ended up in a very senior role, I found it difficult to juggle the new responsibilities with the responsibilities I had at home. I am a single mother. At the time I got that promotion my daughter was still young and going through key stages of her life. And of course, she was the most important thing to me. I also recognised the importance of growing and thriving, and doing what I wanted to do in the workplace. Not only because it is important for the way I perceive myself, but also I believed it was important to be a role model for my daughter. She has embodied my ambition, drive and impact. She is my biggest supporter and source of inspiration.

The final challenge was being in a position of seniority and not seeing anyone who looked like me. It is difficult being one of the first at that senior level. It puts a lot of pressure on you. You don’t want to mess up this opportunity. It feels like it wouldn’t just be my reputation that I was ruining. It would also affect the opportunities for those to come who look like me.

Each of these challenges has brought its own successes. Firstly, I have had loads of opportunities and I have maximized each one of them. I have worked across different big government departments. I have changed professions from starting as a social researcher to becoming, along with one other, the most senior black woman in the Ministry of Justice. Equally I have also placed an emphasis on my continuous growth whether that is through doing a master’s degree or taking leadership programmes. I have made myself the person who will always have impact, will always push boundaries and will always deliver.

Just as I had a sponsor who believed and saw something in me when I didn’t believe in myself (by the way, he was a middle aged white man and nothing like me as a young black woman), I have made sure to pass that on. Therefore, one of my successes is being able to inspire the next generation. Many of those who I have mentored, who like me thought they were stuck in middle level management and at times did not believe in themselves, are now in senior positions. As a senior leader I think it is so important to spend time doing this story telling, sharing my honest experiences, both the highs and the lows. We all have setbacks but the most important thing is to not let these hold you back but rather to learn from them and push on.

My final and most important success is my daughter Maya. She is the full package – ambitious, driven, humble and fun. Not only did she manage to graduate at the top of her year group at university at a time when both her beloved nanny and grandad died; she also decided to relocate to Kenya. She had never been there before nor had any friends or family there. She learned about and ultimately became very connected in the African tech scene.

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

  • Be comfortable being your authentic self and confident in your choices.
  • Think carefully about your career path.
  • Take the time to sit down and think about what is important to you in all aspects of your life; why, what that means professionally, and what you need to achieve your professional goals.
  • Remember that you are not alone. It’s important for you to lean on other people, and to stand up and say that I want to achieve something, but I need some help to achieve it.
  • Finally, remember allies and sponsors may not always look like you or be like you. But if you don’t ask you won’t get.

I demonstrated what I could do, to others and most importantly to myself

Diane Caddle
Diane Caddle