3 things I wish I'd known about leadership

Vodafone UK's enterprise director Anne Sheehan on the power of plain speaking and embracing discomfort.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 12 Mar 2019

If leadership were that simple, bestseller lists wouldn’t be full of books offering different advice on how to do it. Yet it can be helpful in the heat of the moment to refer to a few basic, hard-earned truths, especially when the day job makes you too busy to read said books.

For Vodafone UK’s enterprise director Anne Sheehan, these come down to communication, time management and embracing discomfort.

Use simple language

"I had the great experience of working for IBM after college, but 20 years ago it all was very corporate. I’d go to all these meetings thinking ‘I have no idea what these people are saying’. It was just acronym after acronym. I remember asking what they meant, and so many of these senior people couldn’t actually explain them.

"I decided I was just going to speak in a way people could understand. It’s amazing how difficult that is in the corporate world. You have to work at simplification. I often look at something before I send it out, and think would someone who wasn’t in my industry understand this?"

Be ruthless with your time

"It’s important to make sure your time is spend on the right things – for me, that’s around innovation, our people and our customers. Then I’m absolutely ruthless about not spending any time on things that I don’t feel will add in those areas – and I make no apologies for it.

"My job is to make sure I look at the global market and predict future trends, and the best way to do that is spending time with customers and listening to their problems. It’s also important to always educate yourself, reading (I often go back to ‘Good to Great’, by James Collins) and bouncing ideas off confidants. I can’t do any of that without ruthlessly managing my time.

Live in your discomfort zone

"Earlier in my career some absolutely brilliant managers took a risk on me and pushed me into bigger and bigger roles, but if they hadn’t I’m not sure I’d be where I am today. I really struggled with the feeling that I was too young to do this, and that if I failed my career would be over.

"But as a leader you have to take risks and push boundaries. It’s important to be comfortable in your discomfort zone. Just don’t be afraid to fail. I start with the view that you never want regret in your life and work backwards."

Further reading

Tesco chair and CBI president John Allan shares how leaders can become more resilient here, while LinkedIn’s VP for leadership development Fred Kofman argues that facing up to your own mortality can make you a better leader. For the importance of compassion, mindfulness and selflessness, see here.

Image credit: Victor Miyata/Pexels

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