The places and people we remember

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What do we take from those we have worked for, and with? What do we take from each role we do into the next?

I’ve blogged before about my career journey. The best of times has been when I’ve worked for someone who has understood me as a whole person and believed in me. Here’s some thoughts about my journey over 35 years

An image of my tricolour border collie called Angus lying in some bluebells
My whole me now includes Angus. Here he is in the bluebells

The newspaper round

Like many children of the 70’s I got a part-time job pretty early. Probably when I was about 13 years old, I started delivering ‘The Peak Advertiser’. This is a free local paper delivered all around the Peak District. My brother and I took on the round for our village.
We got paid buttons really, but it felt amazing having my own money. It, of course, got spent on penny sweets in the village shop.

What did I learn?

  • There is nothing like earning your own money!

Moving on to the pub

As I turned 16, I got a job in my local pub. I started cleaning the bedrooms, working in the kitchen, and then progressed to the bar. I lived in a small, rural village. Everyone knew everyone, and during tourist season it got busy.

It’s a tough one working in hospitality, with long hours, and hard graft. This job saw me through until I finished my degree. Each holiday I’d come home, and work shifts to make some money.

  • Have fun if you can. If you have a great team around you, and have fun, it’s so much more enjoyable

From graduate to a leader in industry

I started as a graduate recruit with Astra Zeneca in 1994 after finishing my chemistry PhD. I ended up working for 4 different companies gaining experience of everything that enables a blue-chip company to thrive, and I loved it. Research, scale up, statistics, manufacturing, supply chains, growing a business unit and ultimately my first real chance to move from one of the team to leading teams.

This was a massive part of my life. And where I met the first transformative person I worked for, Laura Murphy. She challenged me, pushed me well out of my comfort zone, and became a good friend. We were as likely to be talking about the details of producing chemical toner for printers, as we were talking about what to wear on a night out.

Together we went on a ‘Leadership for Growth’ course that ultimately saw us both exit the company and start new career journeys.     

What did I learn?

  • I love designing and making things!
  • Trust your team. There will, as a leader, become a time when your team are the domain experts not you.
  • Don’t micromanage. Set clear outcomes for people and then support them.
  • Provide a safe space for your team to grow. Magic happens when you are outside your comfort zone, but it can be a scary place.
  • Be creative with those more challenging characters. Find their passion and help them fulfil it
  • If you can, travel. Seeing work through the lens of different cultures and languages is an incredible privilege.
  • Build relationships with your key customers and, where you can, work together to solve problems.
  • You are not your work, so family first. I learnt this the hard way, balancing having small kids whilst travelling every week and not feeling on top of anything.
  • See yourself as more than the job you currently do. There are things you will do well, no matter where you work.

This last point was key for me. Seeing myself as more than ‘an expert in chemistry’ but as someone who had some core skills nailed that I could take anywhere.

Joining the public sector, part one

After 6 months of tray bakes and generally being a full-time mum, I landed a job in the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (SMAS) as their business development manager. The team was doubling in size and my role was to double the size of our business.

I’d previously seen economic development from the lens of someone working in industry, this was now the other side of the coin.

I had to persuade, influence and experiment with our new business development approach. Learn as we went along, tried some things that didn’t work and others such as the new ‘business improvement academy’ which was, and still is, incredibly successful. We spoke to our customers and understood how their needs were changing, and then modified the SMAS offering accordingly.

What did I learn?

  • Listen to, and deeply understand your customers. Look for all sources of insight and then research some more.
  • There isn’t much that is new under the sun so steal with pride. Experiment, learn and quickly move on.
  • Seeing a business area double in size and knowing your role within that is incredible.
  • Build relationships. Look for those key people who will help you on your way.
  • Understand the ’what’s in it for me’. See the person and find their passion.

I worked with incredible, passionate, talented people in SMAS and across the rest of Scottish Enterprise and learnt loads. And this is where my boss Nick Shields appeared. A master at the long game. And also, of those fateful words ‘I have a development opportunity, Lindsay’.

And so….I moved on to a new challenge in the digital team within Scottish Enterprise.

The public sector, part two

And this is where I met Freya Perez. Freya was heading up the ‘service transformation’ team and they were looking for a ‘decider’ in a digital sprint. I joined having no idea what that meant or what I was throwing myself into!

But somehow from that initial journey out to Paisley, I ended up being a product owner for a year, and then taking up the team leader role for user centred design. Still here and absolutely loving it (mostly).

Supporting an organisation to change become more digitally enabled can be complex. The technology can be challenging but the hardest bit for me has been people, politics, and power. This is well known so why is it still so hard.

What did I learn?

  • Hold strong opinions but hold them weakly. Be ready to quickly change direction.
  • There is no such thing as a daft question, powerful questions can unpick woolly assumptions
  • Parallels across different industries are powerful things. Morning production meetings are no different from a daily scrum stand up
  • Trust underpins everything. Value it, and build it because when it is gone things rapidly fall apart
  • Trust your team. A leader doesn’t tell them what to do, they empower them to deliver.
  • Learn from any mistakes. Be pragmatic not a perfectionist because ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got’
  • Nurture a network, you never know when you might need them, or when they might need you
  • Build in safety so a team feels they can feedback and are listened too
  • Be kind. Care about your work but care more about yourself

I had the joy of working for probably the most compassionate and empathetic person I have worked for in Freya. We talked about the challenges in work and how we could work together to try and address them. We disagreed and challenged each other. She made me mad at times!

Through all that we worked on together she always put people at the centre. And the most important thing we ever discussed was our families, the difficult for me with my teenage toddler men and the happy times for her with her grand-kids.

Freya always saw the whole me that I brought to work, and she will be sadly missed.

So where does that leave me?

I am still philosophical about how I got here and more importantly where I go next.

When I look across everything, the main thing that stands out is that I love the feeling of being part of an amazing team. Being in one, building them and leading them. And I love making things. Whether it’s something rolling off a production line or a new digital service, it’s just a great feeling of having made a thing, and seeing it being used successfully by customers.

Probably said better than I could here ‘we are not team because we work together. We are a team because we respect, trust and care for each other’

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