Level Up is a monthly webinar open to anyone interested in improving their leadership skills. The series is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.
Most recently, we spoke with Eleanor Orebi Gann, Director of Corporate Affairs for Experian UK&I, EMEA. Eleanor has worked in communications for nearly 20 years. She began her career in PR agencies where she focused on luxury travel and food and drink, before she moved to top tech PR agency Hotwire as the Director of its Consumer Technology and Media & Marketing practices. She moved to Visa Europe in 2011 and led tech and innovation communications at Visa for several years. In 2017, she moved from Visa to Experian.
We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Eleanor for Level Up.
Mike: Hey everybody. Welcome to The Level Up Leadership podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty: My name is Patty Guevarra.
Mike: This podcast is designed to help you get to know the leaders here at Experian, and also gain insight into the leadership skills and traits needed to grow our careers.
Patty: In this podcast we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work/life balance, mental health, diversity and inclusion, and so much more.
Mike: A lot of our recordings are done through Webex so sometimes the audio quality is not perfect. We apologize. We’ll get better in time, but we hope you get a lot of information out of these shows, we certainly have. Enjoy the show.
Well, thanks again for doing this Eleanor, could you start by sharing a little bit about your background, your career journey?
Eleanor: So today I’m the corporate affairs director for Experian, UKI and EMEA. Communications has always been my passion, so I’m a storyteller first and foremost. I started off, I went into comms in 2001 when I graduated. And back then, one of the things you got to do when you leave university is a computer program that gave you like life choices at the end. And for me it said, you can go into PR or you can be a prison guard.
They weren’t hiring at the time so I ended up in PR and I love it. It’s been so much fun, but I actually did a year’s conversion course before going into PR and I can say with absolute confidence, huge waste of time it’s one of those careers you learn by doing. So I started off agency side. I worked in a couple of startup PR agencies for four years or so. And then moved. I stopped off actually running consumer PR campaigns. So I was, for the first couple of years of my career in charge of a wine brand was one of my clients and I was like 21, 22 outs of university and I had control of all of the wine samples to send to journalists all around the country.
You could not trust a 20 year olds with that or not me anyways. But it was great. So I moved into technology and kind of by chance I went to a PR agency called Hotwire, which was still, I mean, relatively new at the time. Huge global agency now very, very tech focused and I really found a passion for technology and for helping companies tell technology stories in a way that makes sense to normal people.
I think all of us in tech and we’re really guilty of this. I think sometimes in Experian we get a bit buried in our own technology and our own jargon and it’s really, it’s so satisfying as the communicator to help people doing really exciting, sexy cool stuff with technology to explain it. So I was at Hotwire for six or seven years and then I moved over to In-House. So having never done financial services in my life, I went to Visa Europe to look after innovation and tech PR for Visa.
And that was at the point at which mobile payments was becoming a thing say back in 2011 and we were all going, “Oh my God, I might be able to pay with my phone. And that sounds pretty cool.” And so I was looking at through innovation and I also got to look after Visa’s Olympic sponsorship. So PR around that in 2012, which was just the most amazing experience. So I worked at Visa for six years, in fact, through till 2017 when I came across through Experian and attracted by lots of the things that took me to Visa, which is a company which has a really exciting story to tell at a really topical moments when it’s got a real impact make on the world. And here I am.
Mike: That’s really cool. I love that. It’s so funny when you take those personality tests in high school and tell you like what you should do. I think it’s so funny about the whole prison guard thing.
Eleanor: Oh my God. I know. I wish I could remember what I’d said, that led to that.
Mike: That is hilarious. So, and I love that you do.
Eleanor: [crosstalk 00:04:14]my team, what they think about this.
Mike: Eleanor, the prison guard. I think, I love how you described yourself as a storyteller. I definitely see that in you. Patty, I had a chance to hear Eleanor present at our Global Comp Summit and I love your presentation style. I love the way that you share messages through story and I’m kind of curious about how you developed that skill because that’s like a very important skill for leaders to have, to be able to communicate stories, make things memorable and actionable and also make it interesting at the same time.
Eleanor: So I’m hugely lucky that I’ve had some kind of incredible role models on the storytelling front. Like through my whole life. I come from a family of storytellers. So my granny on my mom’s side, my maternal grandmother was a romance novelist.
Eleanor: As my great aunt was actually also an award winning like fantasy children’s novelist. She had various of her books made into films and there was one, it probably doesn’t translate internationally called the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. That was like quite a big success in the UK. So we’ve always been storytellers. And then my dad is actually like a huge inspiration to me in that front. So he worked in corporate technology for his whole career and actually we’ve got like a really distinctive surname.
So I spent it the last 18 years of my career. I go into rooms and people say, “Oh, Eleanor Orebi Gann you must know Simon?” But he’s got that skill. He’s great at telling stories and bringing things to life and so I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to learn through watching other people do it. And again, you see us a lot in agency side. You get exposed to all of these really incredible people. I worked quite a long time for startup clients and you see it’s very entrepreneurial mindset.
You have to be able to tell a story because you’ve got to be able to pitch your business to investors and as well as to people that want to come and work in your business. So it’s entirely learning through the privilege I’ve had of being exposed to all of these incredible people. And of course the other bit about what my cousin said is, all of the stories I told her, that particular presentation were kind of geek culture related, I’m also a huge geek and the opportunity to talk about Star Wars and I’m all over it.
Mike: Yeah, I connected with that immediately. Ah, that was brilliant. And I think you also threw us some Game of Thrones, didn’t you?
Eleanor: I did, yes I did. But again, Game of Thrones a little bit of Doctor Who. Though I do note, I want the fact checked on my Doctor Who knowledge afterwards by one of the team. So big shame on me.
Mike: What advice would you give to professionals here at Experian who are looking to improve their storytelling skills?
Eleanor: I think a lot of the kind of value of storytelling comes in When you can put some humanity into a technical story or into something you’re trying to embed. So people will remember three things that you said, but they’ll remember a lot about how you made them feel. So if you can find a way to make someone laugh or make them connect to something in their own lives and you can find that emotional connection stories help us do that. We are fundamentally storytelling creatures and we’d like to make human connection and it’s a great way of doing it.
So I would say try and find a story that has a human or an emotional connection. And it could be something as simple as on my way to work today, I’m doing this and I was feeling this and it made me think about work. And people will then connect to you as a human being, so they’re more likely to remember what it is that you’re saying. And also it helps break up, especially if you’re talking about technical things. And we also know we’re Experian. We’re talking about analysis and data and insights. It helps break that up with the entire kind of manageable chunks.
Mike: Yeah, no doubt.
Patty: Eleanor, did you always want to be a leader?
Eleanor: No. So I mean, originally I wanted to be a zookeeper before [inaudible 00:08:28] opportunity. Again, I’m not sure whether my team will listen to this so [inaudible 00:08:35] that is what I do today. But no, it wasn’t… I never kind of wanted to be a leader. It again I consider myself extraordinarily lucky in how my career has gone in the position I find myself in today. And I think just quite an extent that colors my leadership style that I very much believe in a team is powerful because everyone is bringing their whole self to it.
And so while I’m a leader in the, I’m responsible and I’m accountable for what happens in my team. I look very much as we’re a group trying to achieve something together. I’m just kind of harnessing all of that incredible potential in that group and we’re doing it together. Again, I tend to think this is quite an agency mindset because when I growing up in startup PR agencies, they’re quite small and working in small groups of five or six people with no quite big accounts, you operate very much as a unit and a team.
And I try to bring some of that spirit to what I do today, but I would say my leadership style therefore tends to be more collaborative than it is anything else.
Mike: I love that you talked about being a zookeeper. If I had a boss who… When you have a bunch of innovative entrepreneurial people on your team it can be a bit unwieldy at times. And one of my bosses said that it felt like to him that he was hurting cats because everyone’s kind of doing their own thing. And I think the zoo analogies definitely, I think it fits with kind of the zookeeper culture because we’re all like, we’re all different animals, we’re all doing our own thing, we’re all working as a team.
But I think part of like having an innovative culture means that, “Hey, we’re all kind of doing our own dance and we’re trying to make the experience brand bigger, better trying to improve products and solutions.” So I’m kind of curious about when you are building up your team and building up this amazing zoo that’s going to now do great things for Experian. What are the things you look for when bringing on new team members?
Eleanor: So you’ve touched on a load of really interesting things there and I’ll come back to a couple of them. I think the first thing for me is always passion. I think that’s so important and communicators particularly, but in again, a company like Experian, it’s so important. We believe in what we do. We’ve got a real purpose in the world. We are all as Experian employees, incredibly lucky to work for an organization that has such an important role to play in society. And I think having that passion and that belief really drive us all.
And you talked a bit about in the ones who experience zoo. We’ve got lots of different animals we’re doing different things. Actually, we all need to share that passion and that belief in where we’re going because we have to keep driving in the same direction. If anything, one of the challenges we have is that we’re so big and we’re so broad and we’re so diverse as an organization, you could end up with fragmentation. So that kind of belief in where we’re going and the good experience could do is really important because that brings us together.
And that’s like the golden thread throughout Experian. So that’s the first thing I look for, and it’s incredibly important and communicators particularly because you’ve got to believe the story you’re telling, you’ve got to be able to bring people with you. So I look for passion first. Ideally I look for people who are smarter than me or better than me or know something I don’t. So one of the pieces of advice I was given early in my career was the best leaders hire people are better than they are.
That’s really what I’m looking for. There’s no point hiring someone that I look at them, I say, “Oh, I kind of know everything you know.” I want to hire someone who’s going to really challenge me, he’s going to make me want to up the performance of the whole team. If I can bring someone in who quite frankly is going to be chomping at my heels and going, “I think I could do your job.” That’s great, that’s fantastic because that’s going to elevate the whole team.
And again, it’s a passion and the energy and that spirit of we can all do something together. Those are the probably the two things, some of that brings something that maybe I didn’t even know I needed. That brings something new to the team. Some passion and the enthusiasm. And again the spirit of collaboration is super important particularly when you are bringing in people with ambition, with drive, with direction, with fire, with passion, wanting to do it together is really important. It’s got to be a team effort or you do end up pulling in different directions.
Mike: That’s right. I think what you’re speaking to is the importance of no ego because the very fact that you’re like out seeking people who are going to be better than you means that you’re confident enough in yourself and your abilities that, “Hey, yeah, I need someone who’s going to be smarter, faster, better. Please bring it on, make our team better.”
Eleanor: Completely. We can all always learn something. And imagine how boring it would be if you could wake up one day and look in the mirror and go, “I know everything now.” That’s something else so it’s so good for us to have to have new people coming in and fresh ideas and for each of person it doesn’t have to be changing the team that achieves that. One of the things that I love in my team is that they’re always going out there and looking for things we don’t know.
Getting out into the wider industry saying not just what is great within our units, but what is the best that is happening out there in the market and how do we bring that back in? And what’s the fresh new thing? What’s the challenge? Who are the absolute best people in the world and what do they know that we don’t? And that kind of intellectual curiosity, that enthusiasm, that hunger, that desire always to learn. I think that’s so important for a team. And that’s so important for business.
Mike: Right. You mentioned the storytellers in your family, your grandmother, your dad. And I’m curious about some of the maybe the leadership lessons you’ve learned from your family growing up that you now use today?
Eleanor: That is a really great question. So I think I’ve led really different ones from different parts of my family. So my dad having been worked in corporate life, for kind of his entire career it’s very much about negotiation and diplomacy and listening and learning. We have quite different approaches. So he’s a great listener and actually I’ve use them as an informal mentor as well. So he’s always the one that says, “Remember to listen.” It’s that classic thing isn’t it? You’ve got two ears and one mouth. If you can tell, I like to talk and one of the most important things you can do, particularly in leadership, is listen.
Couple of the most powerful leaders again, but actually the chief communications officer of Visa who I was talking about earlier, often the most powerful person in the room, always the most senior communications person in the room, never spoke till the end of the meeting, always listened. Incredibly powerful because if you’re a leader, you speak and you give an opinion to some extent, it’s not going to close down other people feeling they can give that. And actually again, it helps to listen to what’s around you. So I think listening, that’s really important. That was always from my dad and he reminds me of that a lot too. He reminds me about the Sunday dinner quite regularly.
For my mom it was about confidence. So my mom and her side of the family are very much, they’re kind of old school feminist and really are really passionate about equality and inclusion and it was always about, look around yourself. Look around you and say, “Is this the most equal environment it can be? How can I help make this a better place to be?” And I think that I have seen that in my mom throughout the way she has behaved throughout her life. So my parents split up when my sister and I were quite young. So mum she was a single working mum and you could just see that she has to kind of think about it and spite and just work hard to look for that kind of, that equality and everything she did.
And I learned from her. Think about it, be sensitive about it. Look at the different ways people are responding to things. Make sure you can be open and flexible to the things people have going on in their lives. Because you get so much more commitment from someone that seen as a human being, whether that’s a human being, because that’s the only woman or the only man in the team, whether it’s because they’re diverse in some other way. And I think that’s something that really sticks with me as well.
Always look for the humanity in someone and think about who they are as a person and allow for that. Two very different approaches. I think my mum’s like the fiery side and my dad’s the more analytical, rigorous listening side but I think my family is very good [stead 00:24:10].
Mike: I love that. And I love that you talk about the example from the chief communication officer who would wait till the end before saying anything that’s very powerful because I agree with you that listening is crucial, especially for leaders. And I think sometimes, especially for young leaders just coming up there is almost like they feel a need. I especially, I felt this way very early on, well, if I’m going to be a leader, I need to make sure that I’m sharing my viewpoint earlier on in the conversation. Because I needed to make my stand, put my stake in the ground.
And I felt that that was super important. Because if you’re going to be a leader, you need to state your opinion and be ready to debate. But I think there’s so much power in just listening to other points of view because you can come in with a certain point of view. But if you just wait and listen to what the group thinks and feels, your position might change during that 30 minute meeting till at the very end. You know, if I would’ve came in and shared my point, I would have missed something because I didn’t listen in to what everyone else was thinking in the group.
Eleanor: There’s a really interesting balance to find in this because I really, I agree with that very much. And as I say, I’ve seen it used really powerfully. But equally when you’re kind of like beginning a leadership journey, you’re not in that room for the first time. And let’s say with a lot more established leaders, actually, it’s really important to find a way to get your voice in the room. Now, you don’t have to commit yourself to the answer, but finding a way to get your voice in the room up front keeps you in the conversation and then you get a little bit more freedom to think and listen and consider.
But then it’s always that kind of risk balanced because if you don’t get your voice in the room and let’s say it’s an hour of conversation and then around minute 50, you’re like, [inaudible 00:26:03].
Mike: Yeah, I see.
Eleanor: It’s a rhythm in the room that doesn’t have you in it. So I tend to try and find a reason to say something upfront. So your speaking part because there’s always a dynamic in a meeting, especially in new meeting room, maybe a group that hasn’t worked together before. Again, it doesn’t have to be the answer. You don’t have to feel you have the answer, just let the group know you’re there to participate.
Mike: I think that’s right. It’s Kind of like you’re part of an orchestra and you got to make sure that you are kind of playing along, that you’re there, you’re asking questions, you’re providing some insights and then that way when you are sharing something very helpful, like you’ve shown that you’ve been listening and now maybe towards the middle to the end, you’re now sharing some key insights you want to bring to the table.
And you’re kind of incorporating other things that people have said, “Oh, you know what, Patty mentioned this. I totally agree. In fact, I think we need to do that plus these other things.” But I think you’re right there is that definitely that very delicate balance of when you’re in those meetings making sure that you are weaving your thoughts throughout the meeting and then coming in hard or whatever towards the end with like your point of view. But yeah, if you’re like quiet the entire meeting and then like the last five minutes, here’s where I stand, what you’re here the whole time?
Eleanor: But now one of the things you’ll see great leaders doing and we’ve got quite a lot of these at Experian. I think we’re really lucky is bringing people in that conversation. So you know when we talk about it like that, ideally you go into these rooms and then the kind of collaborative environment I like to think we have here at Experian. You’ll have someone in that room and they know why you’re there and they will be like, “Hey, okay Eleanor, I think it will be a great time for you to offer your views.” So you don’t necessarily have to let’s not make it sound like you have to fight to put your voice in the room. Yes, sometimes you do, but sometimes like a really good leader will bring you in and appreciate-
Mike: That’s right.
Eleanor: And value your expertise.
Mike: I know, I’m totally with you. In fact, I think that’s a way that anybody in the meeting can present themselves as a leader to say, “Hey, Eleanor, I would love to hear your viewpoint on this because you’ve done X, Y, and Z. I would love to hear what you have to say.” Because anybody in that table can do that. And that shows leadership. Because I’ve been in meetings where there are some more quiet people in the room maybe more introverted.
And it wasn’t until someone else in the room says, “You know, so-and-so, I would love to hear your viewpoint on this.” And then at that point they feel like permission to now speak.
Patty: Also valued.
Mike: And valued. Totally. Yeah. That’s so important that everyone feels valued. You’re all in the room for a reason and some people are going to be more shy, more quiet, but it takes other people in the room to go, “You know what, we need to hear from so-and-so because their opinion matters.”
Eleanor: And then one of the most useful phrases I find when you get that person’s voice in the room, and it’s brilliant when you get that voice into the room sometimes it can be quite hard. And let’s say it’s someone new to the room and they don’t get maybe the tone quite right. And there’s that moment after they finished speaking where, everyone’s going, “Do we just gloss over maybe that same wasn’t quite the right thing to say.”
Single most useful phrase that I’ve ever found is building on that. And leaders have used it with me when I’ve misjudged the room and maybe I’ve said something and it wasn’t the Star Wars to the Star Trek [inaudible 00:29:41] and so rather than going, “Eleanor, really no, come on, we’re talking about Captain Kirk [inaudible 00:29:48] building on that and then they take it off in another direction and it’s a really positive way of kind of protecting your team member because you don’t feel embarrassed when that happens to you.
You go, “Okay cool with we’re just getting into slightly different directions.” So that is probably one of the most useful phrases that I find as a leader to kind of support and enable my team. And of course just to say sometimes you are genuinely are building on that. So that’s not acute for next time anyone hears me say it.
Mike: I love that. Eleanor, you mentioned judging the room. Can you talk about that? Because I think that’s a very interesting way of putting it because I often don’t think about when I’m going to a meeting about necessarily like what am I going into and I would love for your kind of thoughts on that.
Eleanor: So this is something I kind of challenged myself on quite a lot because it’s really easy to go into a meeting thinking what I want to get out of this meeting is whatever it might be executive buy in to this. I want the budget sign off, I want this stuff or the other. But actually the more constructive way of thinking about it is, “What’s the people in that room want?” Let’s say you’re going into, it might be an executive meeting and there are 10 exec in there and they’ve all, you know, they’ve got very different areas of the business.
They’re all thinking about something else. What is it they want to get out of your 20 minutes? What does it there in that room for and how can you match what you’re saying to that? How can you in a short period of time, make sure that you are allowing for and kind of understanding and appreciating, reflecting back to them what it is they want. The most constructive meetings I find are the ones where I’ve thought about what’s going on with the other people in the room first.
Partly that’s because it allows you to judge what kind of conversation you’re going to have. If you feel it’s about these three or four people. They worked together already. A lot of the time we all work together. It’s a really informal dynamic. We can go in there, we can have a few jokes. It’s like this. Or maybe it’s this is clients or it’s suppliers or there’s something where there’s an issue in the room and it’s a very different kind of debate.
So it’s really, really worth thinking about what are the motivations, the experience of the people in that room, maybe it’s a crisis management of some kind, in which case the people in that room don’t want you to say, but I want this, you need to be thinking about someone’s trying to fix a technological problem. Someone’s got 50 clients on the phone all demanding an answer. How are you going to present your bet in the way that is most useful and effective to that group? And actually if you manage to do that, you’re much more likely to get what you want out of it.
Patty: That’s really good.
Mike: That is really, really good.
Patty: I want to kind of touch on something that you said earlier about your mom. You said that she taught you confidence early on and I think that’s really cool because I feel like that’s something we really need to teach our girls early on in their lives is to be confident, not only in the workplace, but just in life in general. But I want to know your advice for young female leaders who are maybe struggling on the confidence area, especially if they’re struggling with impostor syndrome. If you ever dealt with that and how you handled it?
Eleanor: Every day, I deal with imposter syndrome oh my God, you just, you go, I’m like, can I really? It’s just me. I’ve got pajamas with a Chewbacca on. [inaudible 00:33:11] on this? And I think one of the things that I find that I have found throughout my career most useful are my mentors and my role models. And role models are usually for me they’ve been female role models. So I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had some phenomenal role models. Again there was my mom, but in my career one of the earliest managing directors of one of the agencies I worked in and she’s now an OBE, which is an award the queen gives you if you live in a really successful in a particular field.
So she’s also started the first members’ clubs for women in London. And I think it’s coming to New York quite soon. And seeing women who are being successful is quite inspirational. But then mentorship, mentorship I think is so important. And that’s not necessarily about gender, that just finding somebody you can have a conversation with to ask advice from. I think one of the things that can be quite scary is not knowing how to deal with a situation and finding someone that’s maybe been through that and saying, “Hey, can I talk to you about this thing that’s coming up or I’m not sure I handled that in the best way. Can we just discuss it? Where should my career be going?”
There aren’t very many channels naturally to ask those questions. And I think mentorship is incredibly important. The great thing obviously about like the kind of digital world we live in, there’s more and more of that online. I’ve had some really kind of constructive online conversations and groups and I know that there are various kind of services and network through Experian as well. I would say absolutely connection to those. Some of the women in Experian events, particularly in the UK recently have been so inspirational and such good conversation.
And you build your network there and it’s mostly women that come to that. It’s not exclusively women and it shouldn’t be because it’s about building a network, getting to know people elsewhere in the organization. And if you think about it, there is a thing called the old boys network. You know, women who are coming up through business. We’ve maybe stopped a bit later, but we’re building that network as well. And now it’s just about spending some time with those people that can offer you advice. But never apologize for who you are. That would be my advice. Never apologize for who you are.
Find those mentors, find the role models and find something that’s going to allow you to be true to yourself. You feel the confidence there. Eventually, if you know who you are and you’ve got people helping you kind of champion and celebrate that.
Patty: I love that. I actually went to the Women in Experian Leadership Summit last week here in Costa Mesa. And I loved it. It was just a lot of women talking about their goals and their career journeys and whatnot. And one good point that was made was that a lot of women don’t really have a lot of other women to look up to. Like when we were young, there wasn’t a lot of executive leaders who were women who could kind of show us, “Hey look, I can have a family and I can be a leader and I can be successful at both. I don’t need to choose one.”
So I thought that was like a really good point. And I tried to think about like the role models I had and I realized that before Experian, I didn’t really want to be a leader just because, yeah, I didn’t really have an example of what that would look like as a woman. So I’m kind of curious to know what, who your role models were and who you looked up to?
Eleanor: Yeah. Well, so definitely I talked a little bit about her name’s Debbie Wasco, the founder of the agency. I had an anti role model. So let me tell you about my anti role model. And she was an account director in the first agency that I worked in. So she was my boss’s boss when I first started and she was a holy terror. She cracked a whip, like you-
Patty: Oh my God.
Eleanor: Would not believe. Now I was a little bit flaky when I started my career and that’s partly because of being a bit creative. Naturally I tend to the jazz hands and the enthusiasm and the passion and she was rigor and she was reporting and she was this and this. And she was also like, in all seriousness that it had some really unhealthy behaviors, but I could partly see in her it was a reaction to dealing with what she felt in a lot of the places that she went into. They were very traditional male dominated rooms and she had responded to that by taking on some of the worst characteristics of traditional corporate environments and using that to be part of the group.
And it took me a while after I left that organization to realize that was what had happened. And actually in some way she had been struggling to find her identity in that kind of environment as much as anyone does. And so I think about that occasionally and I think about that when I encounter behaviors that feel really kind of wrong to me or like something that I’m really uncomfortable with that maybe this is something someone has to put on for themselves. So in many ways that that anti role model has been as powerful for me in understanding people that come across in the organization and remembering to my kind of points about being true to yourself, but authenticity is so important and showing your humanity is really important.
So then the other one that I would just mention is a lady called Kristin Syltevik. And she was the founder of Hotwire, the technology PR agency and she founded Hotwire tech PR in 2000. The year 200 and about 10 minutes before the technology bubble burst, like the first time around. And it really, it wobbled for a couple of years, but she absolutely threw everything into it and watching her build that business and being part of it later on was incredibly inspirational and her ability to multitask and then to go home to her family and her little boy was absolutely incredible.
And I saw her build around her leaders male and female, who were incredibly committed to their career and incredibly committed to the success of the agency and to the success of our clients. But also able to have like a really thriving home life, whether that was with families, whether that was the thing they enjoyed doing out of the office. And it was really memorable to me to see something so successful there was actually so diverse. We had flexible working before that was really a thing.
This is back in like 2006, 2007 people would work from wherever they want to, do whatever that way they wanted. And that really stuck with me because I wasn’t kind of in vogue in the way it is now. Now we really know that the thing that’s the way of working for all of us. But she was so open to that. She had so much more commitment from her staff. People stayed for year actually. They still do stay for years, decades even, which is almost unheard of in PR agencies. And it was because they were seen as human beings and they were recognized and acknowledge and allowed to work in the way that worked best for them. And that was super inspirational. And anyway she doesn’t work there anymore. She sold it. She now runs a vineyard. I think that’s super inspirational. I would love to run a vineyard.
Patty: Right, I liked that you mentioned your anti role model because I’ve never heard of that. But I really liked it that’s a good point. It’s what you don’t want to be in a leader.
Eleanor: I find it super helpful. Like especially I have a personal nemesis as well and she and I are very clear with each other that we’re personal nemeses and it’s actually quite good. It helps you like remember to be your best self at all times. And when we feel we slipping we’ll call each other up and go, “Hi nemesis, I need to have a little conversation with you.” It’s quite healthy. Healthier than it sounds I promise.
Mike: I think actually having like the anti role model is actually important. Because I can tell you like part of the way that I’m a leader is like what I’m not going to be, because I had examples of very toxic masculinity leadership growing up and I, everything from using fear, intimidation, bullying, throwing folders across the meeting room, throwing pencils at each other. I mean I’ve experienced so much toxic masculinity in the workplace and I realized if I ever get into a leadership role, I’m never-
Patty: Going to be like that.
Mike: Going to be like that. I will never lead by fear, intimidation like that is so destructive. And so, I think it’s interesting that you raised that example because yeah, you’re going to encounter people and sometimes, and if you’re in certain toxic environments, you feel like, oh, in order for me to succeed in this workplace-
Patty: You need to be like that.
Mike: I need to be like that because this leader exhibits these things. And so all of a sudden it’s so easy. All of a sudden people start to mimic that behavior and that can just, it’s so destructive.
Eleanor: I really agree. And it kind of mixed on to one of my other things I’m really passionate about, which is good mental health because when you end up in an environment where, that’s the culture where that’s the way you have to be to succeed. Actually not many people thrive on having to operate in that way and it can be really disruptive. It’s like being forced into really any way of working or way of behaving, but that’s not authentic or that doesn’t allow you that work life balance can be really tough mental health.
And one of the things that I’m really passionate about as a leader and actually that I really value and admire and Experian as an organization is the emphasis on good mental health. And it’s something that I try and talk to my team about a lot. Again, communication, but [inaudible 00:42:45] and the history of a lot of parts of our organization. But Communications for example, tends to be pretty full on. There’s always something that’s urgent.
And then there’s always something that’s important and there’s always a pressure and you have to be really careful with how you manage your mental health and that and how you prioritize them, how you got yourself within that. And it’s a conversation I tried to have with my team a lot. I actually back in about 2013 in my previous job I had quite a major burnout and I was off work for quite a long time because I had just thrown myself into it.
And when you’re really throwing yourself into it, it wasn’t that I was in a bad environment. I was actually in a great environment. And I was loving it so much I didn’t want to stop. And it’s really easy to kind of lose connection to kind of reality to who you are, the things that matter in your life outside work. And it’s just so important to keep an eye on burnout, whether it’s through stress, whether it’s through a bad environment, whether it’s to just trying to do too much because you just care too much. What can I say?
It’s incredibly important and I think it is so admirable of experience to have that conversation and to encourage that conversation. And I would say to all leaders, if you can have an honest conversation with your team about mental health, that is just an incredible, an incredible piece of kits in your toolbox. And you will find yourself having more valuable conversations you will be able to create a working environment that really feels right for everybody. And you get the best out of everyone because everyone is able to flex around whatever’s going on in their life. They’re able to bring the best of themselves to work. And you avoid issues for everyone further down the line.
Mike: That’s solid.
Patty: I love that you mentioned burnout even though you’re in a good environment because I feel like the misconception is that it only happens when you’re in toxic work environment, but that’s so not true. And I want to know how you kind of reconnected with yourself after your burn out. Because I know you mentioned when your identity becomes just work and you kind of lose track of who you are outside of work that can be detrimental to your health. So how did you reconnect with yourself?
Eleanor: So I won’t lie. It was not a quick journey and it was quite hard, but I was really lucky in that I had a really, really good work environment and obviously very supportive home environment as well. Part of that was about setting really clear boundaries for myself. And it felt really false at first. So I, but I built something up that was actually partly with my partner at home and partly with my boss at work and we said, “Right, what do we think between us?”
They were the two people who’d really seen the biggest impact of this. What are the things that they thought were my dangerous signs? Where could they advise? We kind of built a working pattern for me that felt super unnatural for awhile, but that was some, like for example I put my Blackberry at the time, but my Blackberry way down at eight o’clock at night and I didn’t pick it up again till eight o’clock in the morning regardless of what happened.
And we set this framework in place for me and I made a number of kind of personal commitments to myself around things I would try and do, which were quite simple, like go and sit in a green space, do a little bit of walking and just stuff. It felt in many quite cross when I started getting into it. Because when you’re, even after kind of having the burnout and having some time off work, I was still, I felt quite crossed that I was using my time so poorly as to go and have a 20 minute walk and that’s a sign of not being in a very healthy mental space.
And so I had to force myself to do those things that felt like the wrong thing to do because I’ve seen what happened if I didn’t. And kind of create that pattern and that rigor. Keep that for, to me it me a couple of months of working like that to really get back into a more somewhere where it felt natural. And now I just have some of those behaviors as second nature. I’ll be honest, I’m not so good at turning the phone off anymore, but things like sitting in green space, taking a walk, the wonderful thing about digital technology, if I sit down for too long, my watch says to me, “Get up walk around.”
Patty: Stand up.
Eleanor: Go do something else.
Eleanor: And I used that as my reminder that it’s time to step away and it’s time to refresh. There are very few occasions when things are so urgent and so important that you can’t take 10 minutes and go and look at the sky because I was going to say that blue sky. But I’m in England so that’s pretty rare.
Patty: Look at the clouds.
Eleanor: Yeah, but it’s just those kind of micro breaks are things I manage now and I know what my trigger points are and I know what my symptoms are and it’s incredibly important that my advice would always be find what the right point is for you and what your protected space looks like. For some people, they don’t need so much protected space. And for some of us, we just need to have really clear places that we go to the places that aren’t work, that reminders what we will do this for.
Patty: Yeah, that’s good.
Mike: Eleanor, you said that it’s really important for leaders to have a conversation with their team. Can you provide some guidance for the leader who has never talked to their team about a mental health and work life balance? What that kind of conversation looks like.
Eleanor: Then you can actually, you don’t have to start it with a question about mental health. And I would suggest that’s not really where you want to get people into. They go, “Oh my God, what happened at trial? But, what are we going to talk about next? But you could start with a question, but it’s kind of quite open on the lines of, “Hey, so how do you think I can get the best out of you? How would you like me to work with you as your leader? What are the things you would like me to do? Would you like me to check in with you a lot? Would you like me to be here doing weekly one-to-one.”
Just a how question or why question and get people to think about their preferences. Quite often I find people have never been asked something like that before and they have to say, “What I don’t really know.” And then you can kind of ask them to go in and think about how would they like a leader to work with them? What did they think their ideal work environment looks like? What does it feel like? How is that different to what they have today? You can kind of frame it all, not as a, “Hey Mike, tell me how I can look after your mental health?” Just in general talk about the work environment. What’s good about it? What could be better? Do we have enough milk for the tea? Again, this, that’s a very British comment.But you know how British economy [inaudible 00:49:16].
Mike: I’m going to use that line Eleanor. I’m going to use that line for sure.
Patty: They’re going to be like what?
Eleanor: But I really think that kind of question, you start having a conversation with the team and it can be one on one or in a group about what kind of team do we want to be? What do we want someone new coming to our team? How do we want them to feel? What are the things that creates our team culture? And you’ll get a lot of words like dynamic and results oriented and that’s great. What are the other things? Any team could be like dynamic and results oriented.
What are the things that make you, your team of your characteristics and why is it a good, healthy place to be and why do people stay there when they could go great people, you build a great person, why would they stay in your team? And I think all of those are good open questions to ask but yeah, it’s really how can I get the best out of you? How would you like me to work with you? You know, what, what do you think great leadership would be like, what would it allow you to do?
Patty: We just had a mental health panel here in Costa Mesa and one of the leaders actually said that she starts every one on one meeting with the simplest question, which is, “How are you doing?” And I was just like, yeah, that’s super simple. But then you kind of understand where they are mentally and where they need to be and what they need from you.
Mike: Yeah. And actually I’ll say that you’re really good at that, Patty. In fact, Patty will ask me that and I told her I lied to her a couple of times because she’s good. You know, like, the common response is like “I’m doing fine. I don’t want to get into it.” But there’s times where Patty really wants to know like, how are you? Like she means it. It’s not just a passing comment. I know that when it comes from her. So there’s been some times where Patty has been like, “How are you doing Mike? And I’ll be like, “Oh, I’m fine, I’m doing great. You know, whatever.” And I’ve got back to Patty a couple of days later. Guilty.
Patty: Yeah, I lied to you. I said, “What?”
Mike: I’ve done that.
Eleanor: That’s such a great point. Don’t ask the question if you don’t want the answer. If you’re going to do that to you. But open that conversation, you’ve got to listen clearly. Patty has got it nailed, but you have to listen to it. You really have to listen for the nonverbal cues as well. Because sometimes if the answer is, if the answer is actually, “I’m not doing so great.” Someone’s not going to say that to you, but they’re going to show it to you in different ways. I think that’s a great question. That’s a great question. And then you just have to be able to kind of listen and look for the answer.
Patty: Yeah. I think “how are you” is just too commonly used as a small talk thing? Like we pass someone in the kitchen, “Hey how are you?” But then you’re like walking away as you say it.
Mike: I think part of it’s also like you have to earn that trust. So like when you first asked that question, if they don’t have trust in you or they don’t sense that you care, then you’re not going to be as honest with that person. So I think first of all, responsibilities, that leader needs to develop that candor, that trust with the team. So when they do see, check it, do those one-on-ones, like how are you doing? You can get a more meaningful response.
Patty: I think that’s a good way to check in with your team. I kind of want to know how you check in with your team, when you actually see the symptoms or like their own trigger points how you kind of approach them knowing that something is going on.
Mike: Right. Like maybe their productivity levels falling. They’re not how they usually are.
Patty: Yeah, maybe they are not responsive.
Mike: You’re sensing you’re getting some signals, right, that something’s off.
Patty: How would you approach them?
Eleanor: So, that’s got to be done really carefully and you’ve got to do it. Ideally, I would say try and take that out of the work environment. If you want to have a conversation with someone when, even if it’s just to the cafe rather than lets go into a meeting room, the moment you’re going and doing that full, the let go into a meeting room and have a conversation. I