Nicola Neal, Head of People and Operations at Owl Live, on how sharing her true emotions during a panel session at micebook EXPO marks a turning point in her career as a leader…
It was a privilege to speak at micebook Expo last month. Invited to talk by Emma Castle from the recruitment company, CastleBell, and career coach Zoe Tuffs from TIMESx10, I was joined by Melissa Noakes, Head of Sponsorship and Events at Santander.
We were talking about what ‘brave’ recruitment looks like in this post-pandemic world, and in particular the strategies we need to be implementing to better retain our talent and recruit people into the industry. It was such an interesting conversation, and I could have talked all day.
I stressed that anybody who is not in a position to embrace flexible working right now is living in the Dark Ages. They are going to miss out on talent that is increasingly demanding flexible working, particularly in the agency environment.
I explained how Owl Live’s decision not to demand everybody return to the office for a minimum amount of days per week was one of the bravest we have made as an organisation. Nobody was doing it at the time; all of the conversation was around ‘How do we get people back into the office?’ We had no idea how it would pan out, but we had to take a chance and so far, it really is working for us.
I shared how I truly believe we should be working towards trying to match all the magic that can be found from a career in events with a genuine, sustainable work-life balance. That to me is the most winning formula for a career journey that I can think of.
But if we’re going to talk about brave strategies, we have to be willing to be vulnerable and step out of our comfort zone. We have to embrace uncomfortable conversations.
Zoe asked me how the pandemic had impacted me and my role at Owl Live.
I felt compelled at that moment to share the struggles I faced when the pandemic hit. As a business we tried really hard to keep the agency together and do right by our people, but I actually had to accept that I was finding it really difficult.
I was managing two very young children at home and my husband had started his own business a month before lockdown so he couldn’t take his foot off the gas. It all got too much and I was struggling. As I was telling that story on stage, the raw emotion of that whole situation just came pouring out of me in a very real way. There were a lot of tears.
The audience were amazing and I did feel this incredible sense of support. There were people there who had clearly been through the same thing and they were also getting emotional. I do remember there being this resounding round of applause.
Actually, walking away from that panel is something I’m going to look back on as a turning point in my career because I actually embraced my vulnerability and an understanding that we are human. As an individual I felt stronger for it, and collectively I think these feelings can only make us better leaders. Brené Brown would have been proud!