After several years in a large global organisation, I decided to go it alone to pursue my own interests. I wanted new opportunities, dynamism and the ability to manage my own workload – work that I created for myself to fit around the other priorities in my life, such as investing time and money working with startups and charity ventures. Perhaps that was the entrepreneur in me! I wanted to branch out into new areas, new industries and not be siloed into any one function. Little did I know that I could have the best of both worlds – I just had to find somewhere where I could make it happen.
This is the one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my career so far. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Elixirr enables me to have the balance I was looking for – as a firm of entrepreneurs, it’s the value that you deliver that’s important, not hours. And this doesn’t affect client work at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Even if I’m physically ‘at work’ 50% of the time, I’m putting in 100% of my effort whenever I’m there. This kind of flexibility is highly valued at a results-based business like ours, a trend I hope will become more commonplace as executives begin to understand that presenteeism does not equate to increased productivity. Output always trumps hours.
The role of management is fundamental and can play a huge part in catalysing career development, especially for women in an organisation. Rather than expecting individuals to conduct business as usual day-to-day, executives should be encouraging their entire team to explore new disciplines and opportunities. Championing workforce versatility is a tried and tested method to help get the most out of individuals and propel business growth. Yet, why is it that we still see a lot of ‘talk’ amongst leadership around this topic but very few seem to be ‘walking that talk’, leading the way and proactively making the difference?
As you get more senior, for both men and women, transitioning into better roles with more responsibilities is encouraged and will shape your development – if not, you risk being left behind. However, it is often said that women won’t put themselves forward for a new role until they are sure they can do 100% of it – and I think that’s true. Senior management must actively own their responsibility to encourage high potential women to apply for that next role at the same time as their male counterparts may apply – often when they can do just 20% of the role.
Given the right environment, which you can co-create with those around you, women will undoubtedly demonstrate their potential and shine. That’s what happened to me – I was challenged to take on a really difficult project – way beyond my comfort zone, but with the promise of support and opportunity should I succeed. The result was incredible – it was one of the best experiences in my career. I learnt so much and was tested constantly but we delivered for our client. Shortly afterwards I was promoted to partner and there is unquestionably a correlation between the two events. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that with the right support there’s a directly proportional relationship between professional success and self-confidence, tenacity and resilience.
“Push yourself out of your comfort zone, grab every opportunity and empower yourself.”
It’s a two-way street however. Everyone, regardless of gender, should be proactive when it comes to their own confidence-building efforts – but don’t do this as an island. Instead, build up a network of mentors and leaders around you who support and inspire you. This has proven to be an invaluable exercise on my journey. I made sure I weaved my own safety net whilst ensuring I championed the talent around me…and I would encourage you to do the same. Contrary to popular opinion, achieving success need not be a lonely endeavour.
My final advice? Push yourself out of your comfort zone, grab every opportunity and empower yourself.
An extended version of this article was originally published in Consultancy.uk