After graduating with a First in Business Studies, Tracy Gunn began her career in retail. She spent 8 years with Marks & Spencer, first as a Commercial Manager, before moving into Head Office to become Head of Leadership Development. In this role, she led a team of Learning Specialists to create and deliver a development portfolio for the 4000-strong leadership population. For the last 14 years, she has been self-employed and works with global leaders on topics including change management, leadership development and unconscious bias.
Under what conditions do you get your best work done?
I work best under pressure. Running my own business alongside a young family means I get to work under these conditions most of the time! I work from home a lot and I tend to chunk my day into 15 or 30-minute slots which helps me to stay focused and get lots done. I think an understanding of when you’re at your best is also helpful. For example, I’m a morning person, so I’d rather get up at 5am and do a couple of hours work than stay up late – I struggle to concentrate after 4pm.
What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
Not listening. Many of us listen to reply, rather than listen to understand. The ability to be in the moment (without any distractions) and to truly listen to someone can be a difficult skill to master. Our inability to listen is often driven by a sense that as a leader I have to have all the answers, or that my answer will be best (because its mine!). The art of making people feel valued and heard is a skill worth practising. That doesn’t mean you always have to agree with people, but you do have to show that you’ve heard them.
Have you ever been professionally stuck? How did you become unstuck?
There have been times in my career where I’ve felt disillusioned or like I’ve lost my ‘mojo’. When this has happened I try to create some space to pause and reflect on ‘why’. Sometimes its because I’ve taken too much on and I’m overwhelmed – so I need to refocus on my boundaries between work and home. At other times its because I find myself doing a job that I no longer enjoy. When this happens I ask myself what I can influence and what’s within my power to change. This helps me to get into a more positive mindset. Talking to people who can provide me with a different perspective also helps.
What qualities do you believe are the most important to be a leader? If not all these qualities come naturally, do you have any tips on how to cultivate them?
- Being authentic. Taking some time to figure out what is important to you and what you value. What do you want to stand for and be known for?
- Accepting that you don’t have all the answers and that it is more important to create the right environment than to solve all the problems.
- Flexing your style. One size doesn’t fit all – learning to adapt and think about what your audience needs to hear versus what you want to tell them is key.
- Be able to have difficult conversations. Often we avoid issues or store things up until they become big problems. Learning to talk about things and have a conversation is a skill that we can all practice at work, school and home.
If you were designing a leadership program for schools what would you focus on?
There are some obvious things like communicating with clarity and confidence and understanding the bigger picture of how business works. However, the thing I’ve found most helpful is to understand more about human behaviour – what makes us tick? Using tools like Insights Discovery has helped me understand more about myself, how I’m perceived by others, and also why other people are the way they are. This appreciation has helped me build relationships and adapt my style to others.