Sunday, 19 June 2016

NEW FEATURE ! A Summer Of #Inspiration...#Women Through The Lens - Lily Sawyer , Photographer and Interior Designer

This week I am launching a new feature in my blog. We all need some inspiration sometimes and there are so many amazing women around, I have decided to feature some that inspire me through their work and simply the way they are. You can find out more about their jobs and their passion by reading their guest blogs which I will publish 2-3 times a month throughout the Summer time.

My first 'woman through the lens' is Lily Sawyer, quite appropriately a photographer and interior designer who recently saw off competition of almost 8000 to end up in the top sixteen of  BBC's  interior designing competition.   

1.Please tell us what you do
I create fine art images that look natural and authentic. Six years lecturing, three children and eight years in professional photography later, I have photographed over 250 families and nearly 100 weddings. What makes me really proud is when my clients are always surprised at how they love images of themselves in the photos I capture of them. 

Newlyweds describe me as a bride's best friend and photo ninja rolled into one as my organised approach helps ensure their wedding day goes smoothly whilst creatively capturing it with them hardly noticing.

When not behind the camera, I love moving furniture around and redecorating my house - I have a love affair with interior design!

2. What does a typical day look like?
Every day is different, but it always starts in the same way: taking the kids to school, home for breakfast and then planning my day. A typical morning will have me doing my business admin jobs - emails, meetings, networking or marketing, writing, blogging, uploading photos and galleries, emailing clients their various links and other bitty jobs. In the afternoon I collect the kids from school and sort them out or take them to various activities before going back to any work that needs finishing. I usually do my editing in the evening where I can have a few hours of peace and quiet and have less distractions. I'm a night owl so I don't mind working late.

3. What are the best things and more challenging things about your career?
Seeing people's delight when they receive their photos is the most rewarding thing about my job. Meeting and exceeding their expectations and making them happy with my service are the reasons why I have lasted this long in such a challenging and over-saturated market. I find the business side of things very challenging and that includes networking and social media. This is because I'm an introvert and don't like talking about myself.
I love the creative side of my job: planning and styling the shoot, editing and deciding on the look and feel of the final images, and "writing" the story in photos. I find these really inspiring and motivating to create beautiful images that hold deep meaning to my clients, images that they will treasure for a very long time to come.

4. How did you get to where you are today, including your qualifications and skills?
I have always been creative but I never planned to be a photographer.  I have a BA (Hons) Fine Art Painting and MA in Fine Art Painting.  I enjoyed 6 years of studying Fine Art but I was under no illusion that getting good jobs as an artist was going to be a walk in the park. I did well in my studies and was able to get lecturing jobs in various universities with the help of a PGCE in Higher Education.
I left to be a full-time mother when I was expecting my second child. But I became a MWAC - mum with a camera - when I had my kids and took hundreds of photos of them, most were not great! To this day my kids are my most difficult "clients" to photograph, but had it not been for them, I would never have thought of becoming a professional photographer!
I got a bit obsessed with photography and photographed everything that moved or di not move. It was through doing this that I realised I'm a people photographer. Eventually, I practised photography on friends' families and weddings and learned by experimenting as well as going on numerous online courses.  To this day I am still learning and enrolled on courses to keep me inspired and to learn new techniques. Learning never stops.
My business started back in 2009 when I first received payment for my photography services. And since then it was an uphill climb trying to establish a business. No longer was it just a hobby and a creative outlet, it had to also bring in money to help with the family income. That took a few years to happen!
One of the most amazing weddings I have photographed was in St. Paul's Cathedral. It is an incredible venue and not everyone can get married there! It was a great privilege.  My work has been featured in various national wedding blogs and a few magazines.

5. What would you recommend to a younger colleague wanting to start her career in your area or sector of expertise?
I would recommend anyone wanting to start a photography business to do these 3 key things:
a. Learn how to use your camera in Manual mode and have a good solid understanding of the exposure triangle. Starting with a sound knowledge of this puts you in good stead as you start your business. Don't make your very basic mistakes with your  paying clients. Never stop learning and invest in educational courses that are right for you and will hone your skills and better your craft. Keep moving forward despite challenges and difficulties.
b. Read up on business and be prepared to face the business side of things square on. This is probably the hardest challenge. It's a completely different beast and I felt like a needed a business degree just to run a very simple business to start with.
c. Start it! Just do it. You don't need to have an extensive portfolio or be perfect at everything. Unless you actually do something about it, it will never happen. Whether that be starting a website, or showing your portfolio on flicker or opening a Facebook page or any other social platform, do something about it. Don't despise small beginnings!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Friday, 10 June 2016

People Of The World Rejoice! A #Woman in the #WhiteHouse Is Nigh!

I would be mad not to celebrate what has ended up being an historical week for women's equality progress. Hillary Clinton is now de-facto the democratic candidate to the White House. I cannot help but pinching myself, I 've got to say it again: By next Christmas a W-O-M-A-N may well be President of the United States (after all of 44 men!) . You've got to see it to believe it and yes, I am seeing it!

This is not a politically motivated blog so I am not entering the Democratic-Republican debate.  What I am saying though is that everyone, absolutely everyone should come together and celebrate that Mrs Clinton has now a serious chance to be elected President of The United States of America. The reasons why this is true are many.  But please let me remind you of a few stats just in case you were skeptical about the reasons to celebrate:

- In the United States 20% of  congress seats are held by women. In the UK latest stats suggest that out of 650 MPs 192 are females.

- In the United States 1 in 5 members of House and Senate are racially diverse and this is considered a huge improvement on the past (after all they have the first ever ethnic minority President...). In the UK apparently only 41 Member of Parliaments define themselves as coming from an ethnical minority background.

- In the US, for every 1$ earned by a man, a woman owns 0.79 cents. In Britain the male-female pay gap considering all employees remains steadily at 19.2%.

Whether Mrs Clinton's personality and style wins your vote or not, what must earn your vote is the relatively simple truth that Hillary stands for a lot of us, not just women, but an entire, diverse slice of society that has been considered everything from a minority to utterly irrelevant. She has waited patiently in line, working hard behind the spotlight for a very long time, to get where she is today. A woman who is also a grandmother, who is possibly less photogenic and less inclined to care about look or age over substance and who as a result is still quite subject to criticism for it.

Now I don't know about you but I suspect that  she might have the blessing of those hundreds of suffragettes, pioneers and 'first-woman-to...' that have come before her.  I also suspect that 2016 notwithstanding she has worked just as hard to be where she is today because, as we see from the stats above, gender equality is far from achieved and there is no place for complacency. But from where she is and going forward, she can now inspire generations of women, older women and younger women, white women and ethnical minorities women, to dream big dreams. What's more, she can possibly also inspire some of society's more diverse men to think that well, if she did it, they can do it too.

So I do not care if you agree with her political agenda; if you think her dress-sense is awful or if you believe she is too old to be in politics. Hillary Clinton is helping society and the human kind take a huge leap forward. Let's rejoice at that!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

3 Actions That Turn Managers Into Leaders

Managers and Leaders: there could not be a more discussed topic! All you need to do is google these two words to see how many thousands of pages are being written in and around them.

The reason, in my opinion, is because true and authentic leadership is very difficult to achieve.

Yet, organisations are asking their managers to think and act like leaders in order to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities that come from the complex world we live in.

Personally I believe that leadership qualities can be developed and nurtured through self-awareness, self-reflection and on-going feedback.

They can be also reinforced through role-modelling and mentoring support. In summary, and to a great extent, they can be learnt.

But where might one start on his or her leadership journey? Which actions are going to provide the greater impact in the shortest of times?

In my opinion, apart from achieving even greater self-awareness, most impactful actions will be those that involve building relationships and achieving the trust of the people around you. For that to happen, few simple steps can make a whole world of difference:

#1 Harness Positive Emotions    

Whoever said that emotions have no place in the workplace has clearly overlooked the impact that expressing positive feelings can have on people. Empathy, laughter, joy, optimism, encouragement are just some of the emotions I am thinking of that can help create a totally different difference workplace experience to the people you manage.  When we open up to these emotions we show our 'human' side and at the same time encourage others to do the same. There is plenty of evidence that happy people are more productive people, thus sharing a joke, celebrating a success or even  a colleague's out of work achievement can make the difference to a team's ability to deliver on a daily, weekly and annual basis. It is not by chance that most successful leaders are also highly emotional intelligent: they know full well that success at work starts (and finishes) with the people who are supposed to execute their vision and they harness positive emotions to motivate and uplift others.

#2 Ask insightful questions

As managers focussing on a task we are required to tell people what to do so that we may achieve that task on time and to budget. But when managers stop telling staff what to do and start asking staff what they thing they should be doing, something quite different begins to happen. All of a sudden the tables are turned and colleagues realise that their opinion matters; that they are trusted to make good decisions; that they are empowered as to what should be short, that they are accountable and have ownership of their work. The impact of this can leave you astounded and certainly as a manager, wondering why you had not done it before. As  a manager you are going to find yourself with a lot more time to focus on the really important tasks. You are also going to find that solutions, different perspectives and new ideas are brought to you on a regular basis, just because other colleagues have been given the opportunity to contribute their own views. So simple yet ever so powerful!    

#3 Invite feedback from others

Feedback is one thing that authentic leaders do well - it remains very important as well as a courageous thing to do because it implies a number of other qualities. More specifically, it means that the manager is willing to listen, reflect and learn from others  which in itself are already leadership attributes!

Feedback matters because it is through feedback that we show a willingness to dig deeper into ourselves, taking a closer look at aspects of our personality and our work, even when this causes discomfort. It also matters because it helps us create a culture of open and transparent communication where nobody or nothing is untouchable. In inviting feedback we also confirm our intent to remain humble and grounded - even though we may sit relatively high in the 'pecking order'.

Above all, by inviting feedback we send an important message to the people around us, that their views matters and that learning is an on-going, never ending process we all need to embrace.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.


Friday, 27 May 2016

How Do We Cure Women's Lack of Self-Confidence?

Last week I attended Women in Energy, the 10th annual conference organised by the London Chapter of SPE (Society for Petroleum Engineers) dedicated to discussing the business case for a balanced workforce in the workplace.

It was the first time for me attending and furthermore having the opportunity to run a workshop on mentoring and more specifically the importance of embracing a mentoring culture at work.

The conference saw a mix of panel discussions, key note speakers and interactive workshops. Some impressive women (and men) spoke about the case for attracting, retaining and developing more women in the heavily male dominated energy sector. Ultimately many of the discussions held over the day returned to an old but ever lasting theme: the importance of self-confidence in a professional environment and the lack of self confidence often hindering women's progress.

The interesting thing is that never mind the sector or seniority of the woman in question, self-confidence is something most women seem to always need a bit more of:

  • When they have reached senior position, women may suffer from 'impostor syndrome', feeling that they are 'a fraud', that they should not be where they are and that soon somebody will found them out.
  • When they are in junior position, lack of confidence may show through their choice of vocabulary, they way women shy away  from possible spotlight.
  • When they are in middle management position, women often remain within their comfort zone, they may not push boundaries, nor put themselves forward for greater, challenging roles.  
Why is this a persistent, recurrent issues with women?

To me, the reasons behind it are almost ancestral and very hard to uproot. In most cases, they go back to our upbringing, our education, society's expectations and culture to mention but a few. They are the product of hundreds of years of women's role in society being shaped by others on the outside rather than by women for themselves.    

Perhaps more helpful is to ask ourselves how do we actually cure this 'malaise' that inhibits women's ability to achieve their full potential. For this I have a couple of suggestions:

#1 Developing knowledge

Knowledge is still power and power still boosts self-confidence. When we can say that we are expert in any one area, we can go ' 6 questions deeper' (to say it with Sylvia Hewlett of 'Baby Hunger's' fame) on any particular subject matter, then we can rightly feel in charge and confident. Mastering a topic however requires time and dedication, as we need to keep up with the subject by reading around it, attending conferences, doing research. When we do, we become the go to person, the one that gets asked to coach others on that topics, the one who is being put forward for interviews, articles and the likes.  Let's therefore ride the knowledge wave and enjoy the opportunities that come with being the expert! It will ignite a cycle of positive thinking and positive image that can only spell more confidence and success.

#2  Finding a mentor and/or sponsor

Of course I would say that. The fact is, you may hear it from me and from others many times, but how many of us can say to have a mentor they see regularly, taking full advantage of the opportunities that come with such relationship?  For a mentoring relationship to work to its full potential, it has to be nurtured, worked on, thought through. Even when we have the chance of a mentoring relationship, we often do not spend enough time thinking about what we want and need from it, what the mentor could offer us. A mentor is not always an outright sponsor, but there is no doubt that the mentor responds to our input. To get a lot out of it, we need to put a lot in. Is this - hands on heart - what you do?

#3  Proactively opening doors for other women

If you are a woman or a man in a senior position, are you actively leading the way and opening doors for other women? Opening doors could mean a number of things: actively spotting female talent and ensuring it is retained, for example. Redirecting opportunities towards other up-and-coming women, is another example (e.g. I was asked to speak at this conference but I am too busy, would you like to do it instead?). Or indeed making easier to reconcile work and other aspects of life by introducing a culture of outputs focussed performance management and greater flexibility.

Although none of these suggestions is too new or revolutionary per se, nor can in isolation work as a panacea, I am convinced that if we tried a little harder to apply them women's  self-confidence and self-esteem would grow as a result. Women have a huge role to play in all of this, first and foremost by not letting those little nagging voices in their heads kidnap available opportunities.

What have you found that works to raise your self confidence? Any experience you can share?

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Friday, 13 May 2016

3 Reasons Why I Will Never Tire of Mentoring

A week today I will be running a mentoring workshop at the 10th annual Women in Energy Conference, organised by the London Chapter of SPE, the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

I am very excited about it, because it is the first time I have the opportunity to address the energy sector, one in which  women have undoubtedly many challenges to face. 

Equally challenging, however, is for the industry to attract AND retain women in the sector once they are a respected female figure from the industry was explaining to me recently,  the energy sector is male dominated, very technical, often requiring time abroad in distant locations, including the middle of the sea on an oil rig.  Yes, I can see the challenges!!

Yet, I also understand that the sector needs all the talent it can get, whether female or male, to face current and forthcoming issues and to secure its prosperity and longevity. Talent is once again at the heart of the matter. But so is mentoring, if you ask me, and here I come to the core of this blog.

Why will I never tire of mentoring?

#1 Mentoring is crucial to attract, develop and retain talent

People are my passion. Helping people and organisations perform at their best, find their pathway, bring their whole of themselves to work is my job. Mentoring is and has long been one of the most effective ( if not THE most effective) tool to make this happen. By mentoring staff, providing mentoring opportunity to staff and indeed teaching staff how to embrace and practice a mentoring culture organisations create a positive, dynamic and utterly forward looking chain of engagement, knowledge transfer and networking that enables new recruits as well as current employees to see a career path, to feel empowered to take the journey knowing they are supported all the way.

#2 Mentoring is crucial to attract, develop and retain female talent especially  

Not only are people my passion, I believe that supporting women grow and develop personally and professionally is truly my mission! I know from mentoring tens of women directly and indirectly, commercially and on a volunteer basis, individually and in groups, that women respond extremely well to mentoring. This is because mentoring often implies developing an in-depth relationship with your mentor (depth in relationships is something most women relish); because women can take mentoring at their own pace and because one of the key impacts of mentoring is growing one's self confidence, something most women cite as their number one hurdle to a more fulfilling life and career.

#3 Mentoring can be widely practiced and benefits all

Honestly, I can see and have found no downside to mentoring yet in all these years. On the contrary, mentoring is an activity that can benefit everyone, in any sector, at all stages of their life. Not only des everyone needs a mentor, but everyone can have more than one mentor, everyone can gain from acting as mentor as well being a mentee and everyone can learn mentoring skills. This is probably the only caveat I have. Whereas many thing that mentoring is intuitive, mentoring skills are life skills and should be appreciated, learnt, practiced and refreshed at times. Mentors and mentees who are not trained in mentoring skills can potentially damage a mentoring relationship (as mentors) or not maximise the opportunity (as mentees). However if training is undertaken and kept alive through on-going practice and refresher activity the risk is practically non-existent.

So that is why I will never tire of mentoring and why I guess SPE thought it would be good to talk about it.

If you are attending the conference on 20th May do come and say hello. But if you do not, yet want to know amore about mentoring, just get in touch!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.


Friday, 6 May 2016

Masterclass: The Effective Manager - London, 9 June 2016

Managers who perform effectively are essential in today’s fast-paced working environment but their role has greatly changed.

Not only are managers expected to plan and execute tasks, look after budget and be commercially minded; they are also expected to lead and inspire people, motivate staff and create a culture of engagement, because staff ultimately quits managers, not organisations.

Join us for this one day masterclass to discover and learn the style, skills and behaviours that will turn you into a highly effective manager whatever your sector or context.

The Effective Manager course includes:
  • What is effectiveness and what impacts your effectiveness
  • The traits and skills of effective managers
  • The manager as coach
  • Relationship building skills
  • How to develop people through insightful questioning
  • Constructive feedback and how to provide it
  • Being assertive NOT aggressive
  • Planning and setting objectives for yourself and the team

BOOK NOW (Eventbrite)

Why Join

  • Are staff quitting?
  • Do you find yourself wasting time on non-important, non-urgent stuff?
  • Is your attention being diverted to non-essential activity?

Join me for a one day masterclass to discover the secrets of becoming a highly effective manager!
In this masterclass, managers and supervisors will have the opportunity to learn and try out a range of tips and techniques that will provide a ready to implement toolkit for the highly effective manager!

When & Where
9 June 2016 - 9.00 am to 4.00 pm
Drake and Morgan at King’s Cross,
6 Pancras Square,
King’s Cross, London N1C 4AG
From £103.16 for the day - all refreshments and lunch included!