Welcome to the fourth instalment of our new interview series Leadership Insights: 3 questions with… where we ask the same three questions to each of the exceptional leaders we interview, revealing some very unique and insightful answers.

This month we spoke to Hannah Williams, a Webby-award winning digital strategist and has been delivering world class content for companies including the Financial Times, BBC, and Channel 4, for the last 20 years

Hannah’s now the MD of Digital Content for Immediate Media. She’s responsible for digital content strategy and implementation across the company’s plethora of market-leading brands, and is passionate about connecting digital audiences with quality content in ways that empower and enrich their daily lives.

And here’s what Hannah had to say…

 

If you could rewind the clock to when you started out on your leadership journey, what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell myself that my unique selling points when I’m outside of the office, the traits most loved by my family, friends and myself, are the same ones that will most benefit me (and my work) when I’m in it. It’s surprising how long it took me to learn this lesson as the clues have been there my whole life.

We’ve a saying among my family and friends back home that’s been an internal compass since I can remember… that ‘all you have is your conduct’. *Said with the pursed lips, crossed arms, and Paddington-style hard stare of Nans the world over.

This mantra works in two ways:

Firstly, it directs that the race you are running is only against yourself and that the decisions you make, the behaviours you display, and the value exchange you accept can only be judged by that benchmark. It doesn’t matter what the company, the market, or your peers accept, role model, or reward, it’s your instincts that need to guide you.

This is easy to say but not always easy to remember. Indeed, the taking for granted of your instincts being sound and not something to dilute, second guess, or assimilate, is for me, the definition of privilege. 

The adage also works in a second way too – dictating that the unique journey you’ve been on, and the knowledge, networks, and lived experiences you’ve collected are your superpower. You’re not doing well despite these things but because of them. 

I remember vividly the moment when, sitting around a corporate media board table, my understanding switched from thinking ‘I’ve done well to be sat here despite coming from a northern, plain-speaking background’ to knowing that my career had, in part, thrived because of this set up. That my pragmatic candour and open, unarmoured questioning were qualities that leadership books now heralded as growth mindset and not just how you got your voice heard as the youngest of a horde of cousins crowded round your nan’s kitchen table.

Candour and curiosity don’t have to be your bag. That’s not the point here. But that the authentic things that guide and drive you as core to your personality and experience are your greatest assets, and that learning to appreciate and leverage them are your ultimate USP.

 

What is the best advice you have been given about creating a positive team culture/being a leader?

This advice is advice I still struggle to take daily, but it is game changing, myth-busting, advice all the same. It’s from the revolutionary Nancy Klein (and introduced to me via an equally revolutionary personal mentor) who explains that our greatest tool as leaders is not our experienced but ego-laden opinions, but instead it’s our ability to listen in a way that powers others to think for themselves. 

Nancy’s incredible body of work outlines the different facets of a ‘thinking environment’ and the behaviours and environmental circumstances we can put in place to empower our teams to think confidently without rush or limiting assumption. The premise being that we all have fountains of knowledge and perceptive insight inside us that could easily solve most of our own problems but the false urgency we put on teams to articulate solutions to problems that themselves are not fully understood, waste time, energy, confidence and morale.

I do not always manage to stem my opinions when listening to my team but increasingly I am trying to find ways and set ups that empower them to take their time, dig deep, and just think.

 

What is the one book that’s most influenced your approach to leadership?

This is an easy answer as it’s a book that has had the most influence on pretty much all parts of my life (in fact my team, friends, family, and hairdresser will all be eye rolling in unison, such is my fan girl fervour, as I say); Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. For anyone who has missed Brené’s bounty of TED talks, podcasts, books and research papers, she is a professor, researcher, social worker, and storyteller who has spent the last 20+ years researching how human beings deal with the heavyweight emotions of courage and shame.

There is so much to take from Brené that unlocks good leadership but primarily for me, it’s about the power of vulnerability. By truly and authentically being ourselves and speaking our hopes and fears we can build trust, understanding, and connections with others in a way that makes everything from conflict resolution to adaptive innovation a thousand times easier. 

It’s a hard leadership style to role model consistently but it’s a contagious one, and the more I find I show up and lead in this way, the more connections, honesty, progress and genuine moments of fun I find in my day.

What more can you ask for?!

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