From starting up her own language business to senior roles in multinational corporations, the public and charitable sectors, Jenny has demonstrated an ability to be creative, flexible and engaging in her leadership. Her career trajectory is the epitome of a portfolio career.
What does leadership mean to you, and how has your approach or style changed over time?
I became a manager in my early career, whilst in my early twenties. Managing others who were much older than me was certainly a challenge. Immediately following my promotion, I spent a lot of time educating myself on the technical aspects of the department – extensive knowledge made me more comfortable in the role. As I became more senior and the people I led became more senior, I learned to distinguish between being a manager and a leader.
Whilst being the second youngest of six siblings, I have always naturally held a leadership role within my own family and circle of friends – someone who provides, support, guidance, empathy and, not least, humour, in my view a vital leadership quality. With maturity, I have become confident in exhibiting these natural traits within the workplace. Achieving through and inspiring others – relying on their expertise whilst providing support, development, opportunities and sponsorship – has been the most enjoyable part of my career.
“Knowledge is power” is certainly a phrase that I live by. Not in a selfish way that means that you retain information for your own benefit and at the expense of others (we have all met those individuals who use knowledge for self-promotion) but sharing knowledge so that others are informed and can make better decisions is a critical trait for any leader.
For me, leadership is about inspiring your team towards the big goal whilst being conscious of and celebrating the smaller milestones that also mark out the road to success, appreciating and encouraging individuals whilst firmly focused on bigger team achievements. The relationships that I have with both my team and my colleagues, and the ease of collaboration, are the hallmarks of my leadership.
What have been the biggest challenges and the biggest successes in your life, and what have you learned from them?
Shy from an early age, I was extremely able and confident in a range of sporting activities, yet displayed a natural reticence in the classroom. Not speaking up in class was the most frequent comment in my school reports. Even into my late teens this persisted. As part of my degree, I had to spend a year in Spain. I was seconded to work in a small firm in Cartagena, travelling there on my own to share a flat with people I had never met before. That year was the making of me. The previous years of classroom study were just a toe dip in the immense sea of language required to converse confidently with the locals, the vast majority of whom had barely any knowledge of the English language. I ended up setting up my own teaching business, attracting school age students, corporate executives, a Navy officer and a Spanish-born English teacher looking to perfect her own language skills. Navigating the intense learning curve of mastering the language that I was passionate about (a passion instilled by a wonderful teacher) was a huge challenge but also a life-changing achievement, providing me with a new sense of confidence.
From a work perspective, I have always enjoyed the opportunity to change track in my career – changing industries and complete changes in roles over the years has meant that I feel comfortable being uncomfortable. I have had a portfolio career even during the times when everyone I knew felt the norm was to stay loyal to one organisation and work your way up the corporate ladder. I have worked in large multinational technology organisations, an investment bank, the NHS and a charity, to name but a few. In my roles within Finance, Global Bid Management and Commercial Contracts, I have worked with scientists, creatives, financiers and lawyers, teaming up with wonderful and different people along the way and have made some life-long friendships. The variety has been food for my soul.
Moving to manage new teams can certainly be a challenge. The forming and storming stages, are natural but sometimes tough. For me, earning the trust of a new team by being open, honest and delivering on promises, whilst taking a genuine personal interest in individuals, really reduces the time to the norming and performing phases.
My biggest successes, however, are my two children. A daughter and a son who are thriving in life and their careers but, more importantly, are also kind, funny and caring individuals.
What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?
- Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Women do not need to put on an act in order to be successful in their career. Embrace your personality and natural skills and work hard at the professional aspects that you feel you need to acquire.
- Don’t feel that your career has to be a straight line – changes in direction, whether up, sideways or even down, can be great learning opportunities.
- Help others along the way – I have had some wonderful managers and sponsors in my career and I firmly believe in paying it forward.
- Keep everything in perspective. The last 18 months has highlighted the need for work-life balance and the importance of family and friends.
- Retain your sense of humour!
Changing industries and complete changes in roles over the years has meant that I feel comfortable being uncomfortable