It is a really hard time. There is a sense of perpetual anxiety – for the people we love, our businesses, and for the people around us. It has become part of our daily lives, for who knows how long, and the unknown is a difficult place to navigate. Lauren Vickery, Marketing Director, Sage Africa & Middle East, discusses leading teams in times of uncertainty.
For me, big learning has been running a remote team. It is a completely different skill that I and many other leaders had not really considered until now. But it was also an opportunity to define the foundation for this new way of working. We had to build a different kind of camaraderie for a team that didn’t see one another face to face. So, we built that foundation on communication and openness, and it has been wonderful.
Everyone is more open to talking about how they’re feeling and about the impact Covid-19 has had on their families. Never before have we known so much about each other – we are literally inside each other’s homes. This has filtered into our work ethic because we have had to find a new balance and we have had to really understand people’s circumstances. We are all vulnerable but we are all being our authentic selves – with our partners, children, and dogs in the background – and that is brilliant.
Authenticity in the workplace
It is critical. I don’t think there is anything more important in business than being yourself and it is something I’m really passionate about – not only in staying true to my own values, but also in seeing authenticity in others and drawing it out of them.
There is a degree of vulnerability that comes with being your authentic self, especially in the workplace, and I think that’s why people are hesitant – for fear of being judged or rejected. That is why we must create an environment where people feel safe being themselves.
Vulnerability is about accepting that you will not always get it right, that you don’t know everything, and that you do not have to keep up a façade of strength and act like you have it all together.
Being a gay woman in business, there probably have been barriers, but I have never sought out barriers. I am often the only woman at the boardroom table, but I do not notice it, because I’m not looking for it. Rather, I’m looking for opportunities to drive success and change within our business and team. Exploring opportunities often puts us into unknown waters and uncomfortable situations, but that’s the exciting part as I know that is where I’ll grow. I seek out opportunities to be vulnerable.
Authenticity in uncomfortable situations
Be comfortable in your own skin and be proud of your value system. Yes, I am gay and an advocate for speaking about it and being proud of it. As leaders, we need to break down stereotypes and embrace people’s (including your own) uniqueness by focusing on the perspective and value they add.
Everything we do as marketers is fuelled by technology, and when you are a data-driven, performance-focused business, you need a tool stack that can manage your data and bring it to life. Tech, data and algorithms help us understand customer behaviour in a way that we have never been able to before. This makes us better marketers because we can pivot around our customers’ needs and market to them in different and personalised ways.
We hire for authenticity and cultural fit, and we introduce employees to things like customer intent, marketing automation, and data and performance analysis. We are creating a new generation of marketers who have the freedom to experiment and learn and to come along for the journey.
Advice for the next generation of leaders
The best thing you can do as a leader is to seek out diversity – in thought, experience and background – and to create an environment of inclusiveness where everyone can flourish. Diversity has real power because that is where you start breaking down barriers to start operating in a different way.
Young women entering the workplace
Don’t put too much emphasis on what other people think. If you focus on the fact that you are the only woman in the room, or the youngest person in the room, or the least experienced, you might miss the opportunities that present themselves.
I am inspired by anyone who has a different view, is willing to try something new, or to take a risk. It encourages you to think about something different and has a knock-on effect of others wanting to try new things.
Focus on being the best version of yourself and stay true to your values. Put yourself out there, experiment, try new things, put your hand up, and make yourself vulnerable. Progress is better than perfection.