It all started with a routine appraisal.
One of our team members had volunteered to lead a team as part of our Unleashed competition to launch our own Shopify ecommerce store. As they reflected on their experiences with their line manager, they bravely shared how difficult they had found leading a team for the first time.
Nothing in their career to date had equipped them for this responsibility – for gathering a team, setting direction, creating inclusivity, ensuring accountability, and ultimately being required to deliver results in a tight timetable.
Their conclusion? Leadership is hard, and it would be nice to have some help getting better at it.
It quickly transpired that they weren’t the only person to feel this way. When we tentatively announced that we were thinking about running some formal leadership training, almost 30 of our team signed up immediately.
Why are we doing leadership training at Swanky?
As a fast-growing company working on time-sensitive projects for clients, there is an ever-present tension between delivering our services and investing in getting better at delivering those services. Both are vital, but too often when things get busy it’s personal development that falls by the wayside.
In recent months we have also introduced clearer progression pathways to give our people a stronger understanding of what success in their current role looks like – as well as what is required to achieve their next promotion and beyond. We have also undertaken significant projects to reboot the way that we onboard new joiners (particularly those who are new to the ecommerce ecosystem) and create both formal and informal training opportunities across the company.
Against this backdrop, we wanted to make sure that leadership training is prioritised and formalised, for the following reasons.
- Because somebody asked us to. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, or so the old mantra goes, and there is a powerful underlying truth in it. If one member of our team hadn’t been courageous enough to express how difficult they had found a new challenge, we might not be running this programme. We wanted to honour that vulnerability (and we thought it was an excellent idea).
- Because our people are committed to their careers. One of my favourite things about Swanky is the attitude and ambition of our people. We have built a best-in-class, full-service ecommerce team from the ground up, with many of our most experienced people having started their digital careers at Swanky. I’m not sure if it’s possible for an organisation to have a growth mindset, but if it is, I think we’ve got it. As a footnote, there is also a growing band of Swanky alumni doing impressive things in organisations like Shopify and Expedia – which in turn is something we want to celebrate.
- Because it’s crucial for Swanky’s future. In our business we have a history of home-growing our own talent, and see this as a key part of our future plans. With our team now 80 strong, we want to formalise and accelerate career progression across the business. Whilst many of our people have developed best-in-class technical capabilities, we are aware that leadership skills, whilst crucial to sustained growth and improvement, are sometimes undervalued.
- Because it’s a win / win / win. Encouraging our people to grow as leaders is going to have a positive impact on their individual careers, strengthen Swanky, and improve the way in which we support our clients. It’s ingrained in our DNA to pursue opportunities that benefit as many people and organisations as possible. We want our people, our clients, our partners and our alumni to flourish, and creating more (and better) leaders is one powerful way to achieve this.
I’m also aware that I personally have the privilege of speaking regularly with industry leaders in various sectors, including digital, SaaS, professional services, venture capital and corporate finance. I’ve often finished a call and thought how much other members of our team would have enjoyed the conversation I’ve just had. Introducing a Leadership Training programme for anybody at Swanky who wants to participate makes that a possibility.
What will leadership training at Swanky look like?
At this stage we have a high-level overview of what we think the programme will look like, but want to remain open to evolving it over the next few months as we receive feedback and identify key themes.
Inspired by some of the most prominent thought leadership from the last 30 years we’ll be looking initially at core material from the likes of Carol Dweck, Daniel Goleman, Jim Collins, Daniel Pink and Angela Duckworth. This will address themes like mindset, emotional intelligence and discovering an authentic leadership style.
The goal will be to pursue a healthy blend of theory and practice, with monthly discussion groups supplemented by individual self-reflection and journaling.
We will also be asking each participant to lead at least one discussion group during the course of the programme.
Feedback from the introduction section
I have resolved to share updates from each of our Leadership Training sessions. I’ve run four introductory sessions with our groups, and each time I have been blown away by the quality, variety and depth of contribution. I’m planning to record the experience as it unfolds, partly as a personal journal, but also because I know there are others outside Swanky who will be interested in following our journey.
In our introductory session, each participant shared examples of inspirational leaders from their own lives. It was very powerful hearing accounts of first managers, school teachers, university lecturers, family members and company owners who have left a powerful and inspirational legacy in this way. It also struck me that many of these inspirational leaders will have no idea of the impact that they have made.
We also considered some more negative examples of leadership, which personally I found very sobering. It is important to counterbalance the possibilities of leadership with a clear understanding of the responsibility that goes with it. I don’t think that anybody sets out to be a poor leader, to be hypocritical or to negatively impact others, but nevertheless each of us had stories to tell of where leadership has unfortunately caused more harm than good.
Next time: Fostering a growth mindset
Our teams are currently looking at Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset, including this article and this TED talk. Mindset – and specifically the distinctions between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset – hold the key to so much of our personal growth, and we wanted to start here before navigating through other aspects of leadership.
I’ll share more reflections next time out.