Women in Leadership Series: Business Advisor, GC Business Growth Hub, Nicola Fisher
On March 8th 2019, International Women’s Day (#IWD2019) will be celebrated with the campaign #BalanceforBetter; calling for a more gender-balanced world. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in leadership roles. I asked a number of female leaders to answer a series of questions about their experiences to share with you right here on the Ad Florem blog.
In this interview, we meet Nicola, a Business Advisor. Read our Women in Leadership Interview Series to meet the other interviewees.
Going back about 25 years, Nicola became fascinated by all things internet. Around that time she moved into a consulting role developing and managing intranet projects. Over the years she’s been a Product Manager for SME unmetered internet access and hosting, managed a large Accounts Payable team and was responsible for implementing an eCommerce solution for a plant hire company.
Nicola has also worked with SMEs and sole traders helping them grow their businesses online. This evolved into more of a mentoring role when she realised that the barriers to online success for small businesses were often more personal than business-related.
She joined the Business Growth Hub in 2014 as part of the Mentoring Team, branching out in 2017 into People and Leadership.
Nicola, thank you for taking part in our Women in Leadership series. Tell us, what are the skills that you have that make you well suited to your role?
I have quite an eclectic CV having worked in a number of disparate roles – but the theme running through them all has been digital. All the experiences have been invaluable and brought me into contact with a wide range of businesses and people. It’s very useful to be able to talk to a client now about a situation that I may have experienced myself and have a point of reference for the challenges that many businesses face.
I see myself as a facilitator. Almost like a jigsaw puzzle, I try to take the pieces presented to me by a client and put them all together. There are elements of problem solving and lateral thinking, and I like to think that, whatever clients ask of me, I can find a solution.
And what does leadership look like for you?
My style of leadership has been to try to bring out the best in people, to help team members work to their strengths by nurturing them, showing kindness, and demonstrating empathy. It’s about seeing people as very different individuals and capitalising on that, and giving recognition where it’s due.
Can you share one leadership lesson you have learned in your career?
There are many different styles of leadership and my way is not necessarily right or the only way. My preference to demonstrate kindness, encouragement and empathy hasn’t always gone down well! In fact, I worked in one role where I was actively discouraged from making my team’s lives too easy.
I believe that trying to bring out the best in people, identifying and nurturing strengths, and treating people well, pays dividends and the results speak for themselves. I always found that, even when I had to address issues or challenges, doing so against a backdrop of having been fair, always made it a lot easier.
Who inspires you, and why?
I’m lucky to have two real life inspirations – my husband, Chris Fisher aka the Blind Woodturner, and Mike Newman, known as the world’s fastest blind man. Both of them live their lives as completely blind men yet neither of them have allowed their disability to hold them back.
If two blind men can achieve as much as they have, I have no excuse. What moves me is seeing others respond to Chris’ story and be inspired, and in a couple of cases, admit that they wouldn’t be here had it not been for Chris’ example. That really stops you in your tracks and it makes me so proud of what Chris does.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities? Do you have any practical tips?
Since Chris became self-employed last year, I’ve had to rethink how I spend my time. As well as working at the Growth Hub, in my spare time I also manage Chris’ business and drive him around the country for his woodturning demonstrations.
I literally box off the different areas of my life – work, home, Chris’ woodturning – in lidded boxes from Paperchase! It helps me compartmentalise and focus. I do the same with everything online and use different browser windows depending on what I’m working on at the time.
I’m a list maker too and that helps enormously. At the moment, I’m using a tool called Tidily and this is based around categories which lends itself to boxing things off.
In recent months I’ve been making a concerted effort to think more about my own health and wellbeing. I’ve created a morning routine of eating well and having a quiet half hour before properly starting my day. I’ve also listed all the things I love to do but don’t always have time for and have been incorporating more of those into my day. One of the big ones this year is making time to read.
Describe yourself in three words
Pragmatic, unconventional, and rebel.
Have you ever suffered with ‘imposter syndrome’? What does it mean to you?
I’m not sure if I would necessarily describe what I experience as ‘imposter syndrome’. Throughout my life I’ve often felt I didn’t fit in. When I was younger this sometimes translated as not being good enough or my views and opinions were wrong. Over time, and as I’ve understood more about myself, I’ve realised I’m just different.
Sally Hogshead’s “How To Fascinate” profile helped me understand that I don’t have to suppress my natural instinct to be unconventional and that this can be a strength.
What challenges have you faced in your leadership career, and what tips do you have for how to overcome them?
One of my perpetual challenges stems from being an introvert. For several years my appraisals at work always referred to my inability to speak up in management meetings. I tried and tried to be more forthcoming. It was a constant source of frustration to me and, whatever I tried, it still got a mention on my appraisal. It was some time later that I came across an introvert resource website that resonated with me. I had a couple of Skype calls with the coach which were massively eye opening and completely life changing.
I learned that my past inability to speak up in meetings was typical of an introvert because we need time to allow ideas to percolate. We need to give our thoughts consideration before we utter them. A simple solution is to give introverts sight of the agenda 24 hours before to enable us to contemplate the topic for discussion.
I also finally understood that an introvert is not a shy and retiring wall flower but someone who recharges their batteries by being alone, as opposed to an extrovert who finds social connection an energiser.
Just being aware of this has helped me factor in what I need to do to work more effectively.
What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Several years ago I inherited a disengaged team, some of whom were going through a disciplinary process. I spent a lot of time with each team member individually understanding how they saw their roles and what really lit them up. We introduced some quirky team building activities each Friday, started recognising what people brought to the team and celebrated successes. I also addressed issues head on. Gradually, with some readjustments, we grew into an engaged team delivering great results.
What does gender balance in the workplace mean to you?
I’ve worked, over the years, in many male dominated industries and it wasn’t unusual for me to be the only female on a team or at a meeting. Even so, it was never something I found particularly remarkable.
What’s important in the workplace, for me, is being the right person for the job, and helping others fulfil their potential, even if that throws out gender balance. I don’t believe in gender balance for its own sake or just to make up the numbers.
Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for aspiring female leaders? Or just for leaders in general if you prefer.
Don’t compromise who you are or your values, but be true to yourself. I find authentic leaders the most inspirational. I’m often drawn to mavericks who don’t follow the crowd but do things their own way. I believe leadership comes from the heart.
I would encourage anyone to become more self-aware, find out what makes them tick, and understand their personal style. The more you understand yourself, the better you can understand and support others.
How to find Nicola online
Nicola Fisher, Business Advisor
Read our Women in Leadership Interview Series to meet the other interviewees.
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