As Syl Saller prepares to retire from her role as Diageo CMO, her reflections on making it to the top, dealing with failure, the benefits of gender diversity and how to be a great leader all really resonated with me.
She was surprised to find herself in business at all due to her background which led her to feeling like she had reached her peak far earlier than was actually her current peak. I too had no exposure to the world of business until after I'd finished university. As the daughter of a sailor and having attended an all girls school where the careers advice told me that I might suit landscape gardening, the world of business didn't even appear as an option. With a love of sport, art and music - I really didn't know where to head. Which is why I ended up training to be a teacher. Having done this, I knew this was not the career for me. Well at least that ticked one off the list.
So heading into the world of work and thinking perhaps something 'media' might work - going into an office was a complete shock. When I landed my first job in publishing working on the heady heights of Car Hi Fi Magazine (yes this was quite a while ago!) - when someone asked me to use a fax machine I had absolutely no idea what to do.
Therefore any progression and success on whatever scale, felt more like luck for a lot of my career. Not accounting for my hard work, more that I was in the right place at the right time. Perhaps with the odd ambitious boss along the way that took me with them. Why is it that we struggle to acknowledge our achievements but also more importantly our potential?
I am in no way comparing my small achievements to Saller, but it is always interesting when you discover someone else that has similar thoughts to you. I love that she feels that leadership is more than managing people and instead about helping them live their best lives. I really hope that along the way I have perhaps helped some to do that and continue to do that in the future.
She says one necessary way to lead is to embolden teams. “I start every call saying, ‘Everybody is a leader’. If you’re not leading people you are leading their projects or their agencies. People are always leading.” She adds: “Leadership for me is more than managing people, it is helping them live their best lives.”