What I learned about leadership from Workfest16

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” —Brian Tracy

Every time I hear Karen Blackett, OBE, CEO of MediaCom UK speak I want to go and follow her, despite knowing nothing about the industry she works in. Why? I think she is an inspirational leader and I bet if I’d met her at the beginning of her career I would have felt the same.

Yes, but what is it that draws me in? The best way I can describe it is that she’s authentic, she’s real, whatever you want to call it. When asked how she does it all, she didn’t hesitate to say that she hates ironing or cleaning, so she doesn’t; that you can’t do everything. Karen lives her values and understands her employees has introduced family days, more women onto her board (60%) and talks often about her 6-year-old son. Perhaps my values fit with hers? Who knows.

Learning as leaders

What I do know is that with so many of us aspiring to be leaders and so many already leaders what can we learn?

They got support. Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley works away from home in London, as a result, she and her husband made the decision that he would stay home and look after the kids. They don’t apologise for it (quite rightly), it works for them; “it is what it is” she said, they work as a team.

“One good parent is enough. Between two of you that’s manageable.” – Jess Phillips, Workfest16

The importance of support

Almost all the speakers employed someone (friend, father, childminder) or created a community of support (neighbours, family circle) to look after their children and support them to get the job done. Another take-home message: For independent people, it can be difficult to ask for help and support but others don’t instinctively know what you need.

Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet talked of passion, vision and courage. For seven years they believed in Mumsnet when no one else did, when they made no money, not a penny for that time. They knew where they wanted to be, they made mistakes and grew from them and they wouldn’t change a thing.

All the speakers and delegates I met were humble. In fact, another of the take-home messages we all got from Gaby Hinscliff, a writer for The Pool and the Guardian and Jo Whiley, Legend DJ, was brilliant. They said that they muddle through. They were doing the best they could to make it work for them and they took every opportunity given and then worked out how to make it work for them. In other words, they leaned in.

Now I am sure that these women would not define themselves as leaders, they would say they were ‘just’ doing what needed to be done, but I would. In fact, I think this quote sums it up rather well:


“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.” —Fuchan Yuan


3 thoughts on “What I learned about leadership from Workfest16”

  1. I think that too often people confuse leadership and management. The are (or should be) closely related of course but they are not really the same thing. I’d much rather follow a true leader than a trained manager

    • Yes indeed. I almost wrote on the differences between managers and leaders. What I love about is leaders is they don’t need training but that you want to follow them because they inspire and empower you.

  2. Exactly. Not that I would knock management training mind you. The CMI has some interesting content about ‘accidental managers’ which asserts that “Leaders are made rather than born” and points out the problems that arise in organisations when people are promoted into line-management roles without the appropriate support.
    I think the best people managers have innate leadership qualities but also put the time in to learn their craft and are open to personal change.


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