The Leadership Lessons of Heather Melville

“A manager takes instruction and makes it happen, a leader looks at what needs to change and takes people on a journey with them,” said Heather Melville at REED’s latest Women in Leadership event.

Heather is Director and Head of Client Experience at PWC and the chairwoman of CMI Women for the Chartered Management Institute. She is a leader in diversity and inclusion. Heather was awarded an OBE for her ‘services to Gender Equality.’ She was also the founder and Global Chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Focused Women’s Network and was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Portsmouth University for business leadership.

We were very privileged to hear Heather’s advice for the next generation of women in leadership, advice that applies to men every bit as much as it does to women. Here are some of the key ‘takeaways’ from this inspiring event:

1. “Stay true to your own values”
Referencing one of her early interview experiences, Heather emphasised the importance of always staying true to your own values … no matter what. “I turned up as I am,” she said.

She talked of her experience of being interviewed at the now-defunct BCCI bank where she realised almost immediately that her interviewer’s perspective and views were not aligned to her own. Instead of nodding and agreeing because she wanted the job, she stood her ground. She was sure this had jeopardized her chances. Much to her surprise, she received a phone call from the recruiter later the same day offering her a bespoke position at the company.

This is something that Heather says she has taken with her throughout her career, always staying true to who she is and what she values. Never compromise your values or who you are.

2. “Great leaders come from those who deal with difficult situations”
The difference between a leader and a manager? A manager takes instruction and makes it happen. A leader looks at what needs to change and takes people on a journey with them. Great leaders are often born from difficult situations.

Heather went on to explain the key attributes of a good leader. The first being resilience, not only having a thick skin but having the ability to view things from a commercial standpoint, not an emotional one. Collaboration is key: being a good leader you need to be able to work with people you don’t like. Great leaders also need to have determination. They need to be able to push past the difficult patches and to see things through to the end. Finally, leaders need to build a strong network. Heather said she had “a trusted circle” of people around her. She said that preferably a group like this should not be made up of people from your industry as they’re more likely to be able to look at situations objectively.

3. “Feedback is the most valuable thing people can give you”
“Listen to your clients” Heather advised. “Feedback is the most valuable thing people can give you”. This piece of advice is something we’re focusing on at REED. Good or bad, feedback will help you improve your services to the benefit of your customers.

Heather emphasised the importance of asking, “How does it feel to interact with our company?” Feelings aren’t objective measures, so there’s often a reluctance to ask people how they feel about a certain product or service. But ultimately feelings influence a customer’s decision to purchase or not, so it’s important to listen to what people have to say and explicitly to how they feel.

4. “Don’t do a job you don’t love (it will show on you)”
This statement from Heather rings true in many ways. If you’re doing a job that you don’t love, it’s pretty transparent to most people around you, even if you don’t vocalise it. It will “show on you,” she said. This will affect your life; frustrations will set in, illness will set in.

The most valuable asset of any organisation is its people and our key mission at reed.co.uk is to help the world Love Mondays. We want to help people find jobs that they love. Not least because if you don’t love the job you do, you’re unlikely to be able to invest the time and energy needed to succeed.

5. “Find someone in the room you don’t know and talk to them”
This was a key piece of advice Heather had for everyone in attendance. Networking is so important! As we sat in a room filled with people from different areas of the business, Heather encouraged everyone to introduce themselves to at least one new person. “You could speak to someone who offers you your next job,” she continued. And if you’re struggling to think of what to say? Just be yourself and make it your mission to meet new people.

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Heather for taking the time out of her busy schedule to speak at our latest Women in Leadership event. I’d also like to thank the event organisers as well as everyone who attended and posed their questions to Heather. I, for one, learnt a lot.