A Blog series by Elise Misse

Blog #31

A Human Approach – Modern Leadership in a Changing World – Part 2

Finding Balance

Nobody ever said running a business would be easy. If it is, there’s a good chance that you’re doing it wrong. The life of a COO is one of constant plate-spinning, keeping one eye on the present and another on the future. Arguably the most efficient way to achieve this is by devising systems, processes, and practices that ensure a company runs as smoothly as a Swiss watch – without sacrificing humanity.

Naturally, a business is only as good as its team, making hiring and retention vital. Bringing in the best person for the job is not enough. Operational efficiency and effectiveness rely upon providing people with the tools to flourish and succeed, ensuring that a workplace remains suitable for employees.

Even then, effective leadership is not asking people to jump through hoops in a set order. We must remember that our team members are human beings, not performing seals, and build our operational practices around that fundamental understanding. One person who knows this better than most is Tamar Nelson, host of The COO’s Corner podcast.

Tamar’s regular insights are a highlight for me, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak with her for this blog. Tamar effortlessly embodies the all-important combination of tireless work ethic and approachable warmth that all great leaders possess. I do not doubt that her employees have hugely satisfying working lives, balancing critical duties with personal and professional development that will serve them well in the future.

Like many of us, Tamar battled through the pandemic lockdown, balancing parenting two under-12s with her professional responsibilities. To ensure that other leaders understand they are not alone, Tamar started the podcast to trade stories and experiences, sharing wisdom and shining a light on modern leadership’s challenges.

Tamar made something clear to me throughout our conversation – there is no “one size fits all” approach to being a COO and no handbook to study to ensure you’re qualified for the job. Sure, this makes the role something of a sink-or-swim environment, but it also allows for a great deal of individuality. Perhaps that’s why this role is so often misunderstood.

What’s important to remember is that such disparity in the role responsibility means that anybody could, on paper, be a COO. Every role we take on in the corporate world and every challenge we overcome, is a potential education and step toward a future position. In Tamar’s view, and it’s a perspective that I agree with, curiosity is the most critical quality any aspiring COO can possess. To be curious is to ask questions, and asking questions ensures that we never cease learning – which, in turn, leads to a continuous process of self-improvement.

I firmly believe that I can never just take a seat, fold my arms and say, “well, that’s it. There’s nothing else for me to learn – I know everything.” There are always new skills to gain and self-improvements to be made, which Tamar recommends all aspiring COOs do. If you have a weakness, do not ignore it, or write it off, hoping that it never comes up in a job interview. Volunteer or seek out a mentor to gain more experience and new perspectives. Every experience I have undergone in my career, for good or ill, is a learning opportunity – and there’s a story behind every one of those occurrences.

Stories are a great way to help people empathise with you as a COO, too. I previously mentioned how important it is to humanise team members, but don’t forget to make it clear that you’re human too! By telling a tale based on previous experience, you’re likely to engage with people. Tamar recommends spinning these yarns within the SOAR framework, allowing events to unfold through a rhythm of Situation, Opportunity, Action and Result.

You don’t even need to be the hero of this story – just the protagonist. Redefine failure as a learning opportunity. If you want people to learn from your mistakes, be open about them (within reason!), explaining how situations have been turned around.

In addition, lean on the fact that stories take on new lives, interpretations and meanings when heard by others. Many of the timeless famous fairy tales we heard as children and told our kids at bedtime are repeated worldwide, often with unique twists. Diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences can create new learning opportunities, and stories are a great way to maintain an open dialogue and welcome unique viewpoints.

I cannot recommend The COO’s Corner enough or effectively verbalise my gratitude to Tamar for her time. The podcast is now an immovable part of my routine, and I’m sure it will become part of yours too. Just remember Tamar’s golden rule when considering life as a COO. We are all individuals, and so are those that work alongside us. Be yourself, be empathetic, and trust your experience. That’s the human way to approach a COO role.

Key Takeaways –

  • There is no right or wrong way to lead as a COO – just be yourself and draw on your own experience.
  • Processes are vital but don’t allow systems and policies to overwhelm or oppress the humanity that makes a successful workplace.
  • Connect with your team by sharing a little of yourself, including your failures – telling these stories will build a sense of empathy and encourage new perspectives.

About LEAD Network Europe

The LEAD Network Europe is a non-profit and volunteer-led organisation whose mission is to attract, retain, and advance women in the consumer products and retail sector in Europe through education, leadership, and business development. The LEAD Network is run by and for its members, women and men, and we value every individual for their unique perspective. With a primary focus on promoting gender equality the organisation strives for the advancement of women of every race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, educational background, national origin, religion, physical ability and lifestyle. Its vision is of a fair, diverse and vibrant industry where everyone can thrive. A diverse workforce where both men and women are enabled to contribute their full potential and lead their organisations to the next level of value creation. LEAD Network accounts for 18,000+ members – both women and men – from 81 countries.

For more information, please visit www.lead-eu.net