Talking Leadership with Jenn Fenwick

This week we chatted to Jenn Fenwick from Rebel Road Coaching, and what an inspiring discussion it was. We chatted about leadership and the intricacies of becoming a great leader.

Are great leaders born or can they grow through the right practices and principles? We chatted about what the right principles and characteristics are of a good leader. I found it fascinating to hear about the coping mechanisms for dealing with a lack of confidence, something I am sure we have all felt.

And we talked about inclusive leadership. This approach has become so important in leadership today, but not many people are mastering it.

If you would like to hear more from Jenn, check out her LinkedIn or drop here an email,

Episode 9 - Jenn Fenwick Transcript

– Welcome guys. Welcome back to the Talent Spark Podcast. Today we are joined by Jenn Fenwick. It’s great to have you along Jenn can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

– So, hi and yeah great to be here today. And I’m Jenn Fenwick sitting in Edinburgh Scotland although not quite a Scottish accent sitting here I’m sure you’ve already picked up. So I am a career and leadership coach. I work mostly in the STEM industries,

I’ve spent the last 16 years working for mostly global pharmaceutical fast-growing biotechnology and tech companies. First of all, when I moved to Scotland I fell into really a recruitment role. So in those early days, and I was working with organizations on how to recruit the best talent, the top talent. And then as I progressed my career, I was looking at, once we’ve got those awesome people, in organizations how do we support their development? How do we create awesome career paths to retain them? And coaching was always part of each and every role that I had, as managing my own team, I managed a European team. I was working for a company that global talent head notes coaching my own team there but also coaching leaders who were moving into new leadership roles. And then, yeah, so about four years ago I set up my coaching business. And so I actually can’t believe that it’s been that time’s flying slow and so quickly.

And you know, when I do this, when I do this process as you know, and you add up all the years, you just realize that you’re much older than maybe you feel, Or you realize, so yes, for doing demo and coaching and what I work mostly with leaders who are transitioning into new leadership roles. That kind of that quite complex period, those first six months and new leadership roles across all levels working with leaders to really master the art of that kind of transition period and make sure they’re having maximum impact. So that’s really where I specialize but I’m actually working increasingly with a lot of burnt out leaders. So I see coaching as giving leaders that strategic Headspace to, you know to pull them out of the busy day-to-day to solve big problems. And yeah, and I get to do this day in out, day in, day out. But I think I spoke to you before that coaching coaching for me is not just limited to kind of my professional coaching.

So yes, the coaching for me, first, kick-started in the sporting world growing up in New Zealand, I had the awesome opportunity to play pretty much every sport under the sun. And actually, my first coaching role was coaching my sister’s netball team. So shit I’m not quite sure how she felt about that at the time. So but we’re still talking anyway, but, you know so the coaching for me started at a really early age. And, if you think about the sporting world, everyone’s got a coach, you know, even from those junior, junior years, but that kind of spurred I guess it’s funny how I’ve kind of come full circle from find that, that thing I loved, aged 16 to now actually having built a business around that but it’s so much around, working with people and supporting people to realize and reach their potential. And I get to do that day in day out now, which is pretty awesome. So I’m really delighted to be here. Thanks.

– So listen and you’ve talked to me about or we’re gonna talk a little bit today about leadership as key topic and really important to our listeners is developing good leaders. So there’s that age old question in a world where good leadership is so critical nowadays. Do you think that leaders are born or or can they be made, can they be developed?

– Do you want, yeah, I mean it’s a great question actually. And I mean obviously, leadership’s evolving and we’re looking at, what does leadership mean? And I think absolutely look there are definitely people who are natural leaders. And I think, again we were kind of chatting about, leadership isn’t just when you are managing or leading a team You can, my first time at leading was actually, you know, again, on the netball court, on the touch rugby field when I was captaining the teams you know, at school. So you see from quite an early age, people can step into those leadership roles.

So I think it’s absolutely, I think people, some people are born with natural leadership but I don’t think that, if you really are motivated to be a leader, I think you can develop those skills as long as it’s coming from the right place. So you’re wanting to be a leader for the right reasons not necessarily ego, but actually, because we’ve all seen it. Look, you only have to just switch on the news You go spot the leaders who are doing it for their reasons, so I think that, So I definitely think there are natural leaders and that’s awesome. But I think, you know, if people are motivated and want to be a leader, that they can develop that. And I think both groups have a lot of they have learning and opportunities to develop that’s I think it all comes back to, you know good leaders are avid and keen learners,

– Well, that was the next part of the question, actually. So what does make a good leader? What are the characteristics of common people that are, that you see are really good leaders?

– Do I? I’ve been really, really fortunate. I’ve worked with some incredible leaders, not just from, in my corporate time I’ve had some really inspiring leaders that I’ve had the opportunity to work with but also as a coach, and it’s amazing because some of the most incredible leaders I’ve worked with, don’t necessarily see themselves as strong leaders. Sometimes they’re just doing the do. And I think that’s why I love is when leaders, it’s not about them, it’s about the people around them, so I think, what makes a great leader, so absolutely someone who’s a great listener, and actually actively listens to the people around them, someone who can bring in the right people to do the right jobs. You know, he’s quite comfortable with that. Someone who can build that kind of compelling vision of where their organization or their team is going to be able to build that vision and have the kind of strategy to back it up and be able to communicate that to the people around them to be able to make sure that they have the right people to then and to deliver on that and to be able to kind of inspire people around them to deliver. So, yeah, great communicators able to make tough decisions what is we are facing quite challenging times. So, being able to make have be a confident decision maker having that kind of emotional intelligence the best leaders as well, that I’ve come across are those that are quite comfortable in who they are as leaders and that kind of authenticity.

– Yeah, yeah. Well, actually that leads me on nicely. Cause that’s the next question I suppose is a bit confidence when I’ve seen great leaders. I’ve always thought just full of confidence and it can be hard. I would imagine when the odds are stacked against you to make a certain decision and think that’s right. How do you build that confidence, when it’s lets, say the odds are stacked against you?

– Do you know want, confidence in something I love that topic because I think I get so many people coming to me and saying, Jenn, I’ve lost my confidence, you know, cause I work with a lot of leaders who are transitioning into new leadership roles. So, maybe they taken the bold move to up to maybe a strategic leadership position up to executive sort of all levels. So in that time, we had making that bold change and taking stepping into something new. I get so often, of not feeling confident I’ve completely lost my confidence but I had this really interesting situation last year. And I had someone say this exact thing and I went and in 15 minutes were able to solve that we were able to, because actually what I think about confidence is it’s, there’s always some area in your life that you are still confident in. So you haven’t lost your confidence. But I think what people do is they don’t explore that. The further or explore it enough. You look at what’s it telling you because I think confidence and learning are closely linked. And so often if someone’s saying that they’re not feeling confident, there’s a learning gap.

– Yes, so it’s kinda, you know, so in this particular example, I was working with a leader moving into her first executive role. And actually where I was able to say what would make you feel more confident? And just instantly she said, if I could get a better handle on the numbers, I’m managing a huge budget number. The numbers, aren’t my strong point. If I could get a handle on that, then I’ll be fine. So it was just, 15 minutes where able to go from her not feeling confident, to being like actually its just this one thing. She could sit down, She sat down with one of the finance heads of finance and they was kind of get more comfortable in that. And then she was way fine. So confidence for me is I love it because I do think I’m like, what’s the learning here. Where’s the learning. And actually, how do we shift that? Because, as I answer your question, how do we have confidence when the odds are stacked against us? Is a really interesting one because I think it’s, sometimes it is just around. Maybe it’s in you, like, maybe you are in new territory,

– Yeah, yeah.

– But I think it’s always leaning into where you feel confident, using your strengths, reflecting on where you’ve maybe in the past handled stuff cause I think we have an incredible capacity to learn, grow, and handle stuff. When the shit hits the fan, we have an incredible capacity to handle it. You know, we just sometimes we underestimate ourselves .

– No, absolutely. I think that you’re right. I think being able to understand or to learn is a really interesting point. Actually, that’s yeah. I find that really interesting because I think we’ve all found ourselves there and perhaps sometimes it’s quite a lonely place to be a leader. Do you think it’s quite valuable and important to have perhaps a mentor or a coach to help you along like you see in that, those first steps if you’re just moving into a leadership role?

– Yeah, I think, yeah. As a leader, I mean, look I think being a leader has always it’s always been challenging is it can be quite isolating you’re extremely visible. There’s, the weight of responsibility, so that’s probably an age old thing, but you know, throw in the fact that, now, the current climate, and we’ve got leaders working from home. So they’re spending so much time in their own heads which isn’t necessarily always the best place to be. If you’ve got too much time by yourself thinking, it can, we can go into, there’s the more negative thought. So I think, and then, I think also everybody expects leaders to have the answer sometimes or actually leaders put too much pressure on themselves to have all the answers. So that’s where you can I think it’s just all the overthinking and the time that often is the greatest barrier and the greatest for leaders. So to absolutely, if you think about that if you can then have that leader, having a support crew around them to gain perspective, to kind of ground them to challenge them, it’s hugely important. And I think, again, we caught up earlier about if you look at sports people, if we look at elite athletes and sports people even from an early age, they’ve all got a support crew around them of like specialists, who they like keep them, And I think that’s, we’re now starting to see that more in organizations and not just limited to execs because you know execs, I am an exec coach, but I think that we’re missing a trick by not giving more support through mentorship and coaching to leaders coming through the ranks, cause I have so many times I have first-time leaders saying, I’m now, this is my first time leadership management role and I’m just being thrown into it, And you can think about that. If you’re not giving someone coaching and mentoring until they’re much further up the track I think it’s just missing a trick when by that point. How many ingrained, sometimes bad habits or

– Yes.

– Absolutely in answer to your question is hugely important. I think we all benefit from that. And now in this virtual world, more than ever because sometimes we can just have too much time, not interacting with people. And yeah

– That’s a very good point though. More time on your own thinking, you know, is it can be it can be a real challenge actually. So I mean, the other thing with leadership is that, you mentioned it before actually, you take on a lot, when you take on responsibility for a lot and perhaps it’s just not practical. I know you mentioned before about getting the right team around you, is that a key to helping you to manage the probably the barrage of work that’s coming your way?

– Yeah and I think this can be it. And I, again, why I love working with leaders who are transitioning because quite often we stay stuck in the leadership role that we’ve left behind. So you’ve maybe saying like a you know, a leader, just, you know a subject matter expert lead leader of that team. And now you’ve moved into more of a strategic leader. So you’ve gone from maybe being stuck more in the kind of day-to-day of your team to then, then focusing more on kind of vision and strategy. So often people are stuck in operating that operational level and not moving into that strategic. So what I think that that’s about how I think so important for leaders to sit, take the time and space to be thinking about really having clarity around their role. What’s the value of their role? What actually, what are their roles or responsibilities? Where’s the best use of their time and energy and then making sure that they’ve got the right team around them to do the other, the other work, because I do I’m working with more and more burnt out leaders and it’s high achievers, so often it’s, you’re awesome, your high achieving talent they’re burning up faster than ever before. And sometimes it’s because they don’t necessarily know how to say no, they may be haven’t set boundaries. They maybe don’t have full clarity around their role. Maybe they lack confidence and say stay stuck in doing, the stuff that feels safe. So there’s, yeah. So I think there’s so much around yeah. Getting clarity and setting boundaries and being able to say no to focus and making sure you’re focusing your time and energy on the right things to manage workload as a leader.

– Yeah.

– Yeah. No, absolutely and I think that’s a big thing as we touched on before when people move from that managerial perhaps into leadership role or more senior leadership role there’s less of those tangible outputs because you’re managing the team and you don’t quite have that, so it can be a challenge but I suppose one of the things we are working on a campaign right now for inclusion and creating a more inclusive workplace and from a leadership point of view, how important today is inclusion in a leadership style and leadership style throughout our workplace today.

– I love that you’re doing a campaign around that. And I think it’s, I think it’s hugely important and I think we’re moving away from that kind of leader as kind of a director and, you know all knowing all-powerful one to seeing how, the best leaders are those that kind of inspire, empower, accelerate. And I think that’s it, if we’re looking at, leaders of the future and driving forward growth. That absolutely by being an inclusive leader is very much about giving your people a voice. And it just makes it makes sense. When you talk about it, it’s just, of course why would you not? Why would you not solve some of your problems by using your best and brightest and leveraging, leveraging the kind of the power of the hive mind of all those people, some people that even were recruited into your organization. And so sometimes it’s just like, it’s a no brainer but it doesn’t happen that often. Doesn’t happen well that often, because sometimes with hierarchy, at the very top, you are like, you’re listening to the people just below you but actually all you’re missing a trick play not giving, I guess, everyone a voice as far as,

– Yeah. And so as part of that inclusion, I suppose it’s about empowering your team you also be given them the ownership to take out how do you help your the people that you work with to do that, how do you encourage them to have that confidence, that more perhaps it’s just not being their normal style.

– Yeah and I think, I guess with coaching, One of the most powerful things about coaching is actually creating that self-awareness with the leader, because self-awareness is absolute gold, Warts and all, because sometimes, well actually not everybody is really good at spotting their strengths and talents and leveraging that, maybe they’re more aware of what they’re not good at or vice versa, maybe they’ve got blind spots, and that’s why I love with coaching is actually creating that self-awareness with leaders because I think to be an inclusive leader and to be able to inspire, empower in do all that great stuff with your team it really does start with that internal piece with the leader first, are they comfortable in who they are as a leader? Who and I love doing all this stuff. Like when I kick off with leaders it’s a lot around you, who are they as leaders, who do they need to be? Who, how do they want to be perceived? What are their values? A lot of that good stuff and just getting them really comfortable in that and really opening themselves up to feedback from others, and cause sometimes feedback It’s not necessarily the most comfortable thing. Sometimes people are a bit afraid of what they might hear, but actually, and trying to encourage, like there’s such power in vulnerability, in action as a leader, and look as a coach, I’m not necessarily telling them to do this, but the way that we’re kind of getting them to really open themselves up and helping them to use some of their big challenges and problems, getting them to throw it back to their people, to help solve. Because sometimes I have leaders who are dealing with all sorts of challenges and they’re just the weight and responsibility of having to make decisions on that. And so often I’ll say, have you asked the people around you, who can help you with that? And it’s amazing just actually, by getting them to kind of share, share not the burden, but actually I guess leverage the strengths of the people around them and the knowledge and insights. And I think that’s inclusivity because actually sometimes leaders think we have to have all the answers, and if I don’t have the answers people are gonna think I’m not the best. I’m not the most confident, leader but actually it’s quite the opposite, you really start. Yeah, it’s totally completely the opposite.

– Is that, your experience? Yeah, that fear, I suppose. And that was one of the questions was, obviously, there’s a fear there for a lot of people to say, well, look I don’t have all the answers, and that’s that fear of saying look, it’s not a weakness it’s strength actually, empower your team to encourage them to be part of that is that hopefully, it’s diminishing that, that mindset but is that the case, do you find that that is the biggest fear for people?

– Yeah, quite often I often get work with leaders who yeah, that’s the greatest thing. Holding them back from asking for feedback is kind of all asking for support or insights is actually is maybe fear that how it will reflect on them. And maybe that’s because they don’t know everything that they feel that that’s the knowledge part that they feel like they’re maybe not confident, but actually, and I think again, it’s, it’s getting them to look at their role because I had someone the other day and I, and she’s like, she’s trying to control a particular area of her working life. And it’s because she doesn’t have that much knowledge in that area. She’s not a specialist. But I said to her, are you expected to be the expert. And she was like, no I’ve actually got this group of people who are experts. She’s got this awesome compelling vision strategy and she pulls together she’s got the best people delivering on that. And I’m like, well, you don’t need to be the expert but I think it’s just in a second. It’s getting people to realize, yeah. As leaders, what’s your role? What do you need to be an expert in? And actually just, it’s a strategic move. If you can, leverage all the, the insights and knowledge from the people around you, you go from A to B faster, or you might even realize that B is not the right destination or there’s so much gold in those insights.

– Yeah, no absolutely. Well, listen, it’s been a fascinating discussion to do. Thank you very much Jenn, do you wanna give us our wanna give the listeners an opportunity to find out how they can get in touch with you?

– Yeah that’s awesome. Now, it’s been really, I loved the questions. I think it’s a really hot topics at the moment. So thank you for letting me be part of this, but yeah I’d love to, with your audience, if anyone’s really interested to find out a little bit more about leadership coaching, giving leaders that strategic Headspace in these current times, I’d love to hear from you my email address. I think you’ll probably put this on your posting, but it’s or come find me on LinkedIn. I’d love people who are listening to come find me connect on LinkedIn and drop me a message to just say what parts resonated with them. That would be really awesome. Yeah, thank you.

– Brilliant, thanks so much again, Jenn.

– Amazing thank you.

– Thanks.