What to pack on your journey to the top 

As the Business Manager of Mentone Grammar, Nicole Bradshaw is a passionate advocate for encouraging young women to take up leadership opportunities. We asked Nicole about the champions and challenges she encountered on her own personal journey in leadership and the advice she gives her mentees about planning for career progression.    

Throughout my experience in mentor programs, I am often asked by young women, ‘How do I know if I have what it takes to be a leader?’ This very question is what drives me to be an active advocate for women in leadership, because it is reminiscent of the self-doubt and uncertainty that I also felt at the outset of my career. When we drill into the question further, they are really asking, ‘What is a great female leadersupposed to look and act like?’ My answer is: Take a look in the mirror. That might sound clichéd at first. However, it has taken me almost two decades into my professional life to really understand the practical meaning of this.

Mentoring programs are designed to address the age-old adage - You can’t be what you can’t see. I started my career in a male-dominated industry, and I must admit that I made some mistakes along the way trying to fit myself into a mould of what I perceived a leader to be. I wasn’t exposed to the diversity in management which would have reassured me that being myself and being authentic was my most powerful asset. 

Now, I hope to be able to support the next generation of aspiring leaders to have the confidence to ‘back themselves’. Here are some tips on what to pack for the leadership journey.  

Pack ‘your people’

On your journey to the top and each and every day after that, you are absolutely going to need ‘your people’. Throughout my career, I encountered many incredible women and men whose support and guidance had a profound impact on me. I also encountered a few of the very opposite; those people who made me feel like I was insignificant or not enough. Building your network of support is equally important as identifying when you need to remove someone’s power to impact you. Finding ‘your people’ will take time but it is an investment worth making. Remember to be true to your own values in order to find like-minded people who can offer unparalleled support in difficult times – and there will be a few! 

Pack your flares 

Now that you have your people, don’t be afraid to shoot off a flare and signal for help. The most senior and successful leaders habitually reach out to their networks. You don’t need to have the answers to everything, you just need to be willing and open to find them. Asking for help shows a strength in character, not a weakness in capability. In addition to asking for help, proactively seek new knowledge. Attend courses, read widely, understand what qualifications you need for the next step in your career and above all else, listen. I take comprehensive notes from meetings and interactions that I have with people from all walks of life; everyone has something valuable to offer and learn from.  

Pack a map

One of my most inspiring mentors, Jane Hill, once said to me, ‘Nicole, you can be anything you want to be as long as you make a plan and work hard to deliver it.’ Leadership opportunities don’t fall into your lap. You have to be very deliberate about planning your career trajectory and it will absolutely require hard work to stay on it. Having a very defined plan not only empowers you to keep moving up, it equally allows you to identify when you are in a role or culture that doesn’t fit. Be brave and set ambitious goals. When it’s hard to believe in your own abilities, allow your support network to set your bar for you. Put yourself outside of your comfort zone and you will be greatly rewarded.  

Pack a scented candle  

Ok, scented candles might not be your thing, but my point is – be kind to yourself. We are our own harshest critic and that can be very debilitating if you can’t silence that voice when it’s not being constructive. This was one of my most difficult lessons throughout my career as I was in the habit of deflecting compliments and downplaying recognition. Swallow that urge and graciously accept commendation so that you can be your own advocate.  

Being critical of yourself can be a good thing for self-development but be mindful that you are not an impartial judge. Test your theories on your support network before you go trying to change your actions or behaviours. Early in my leadership journey, I was comparing myself to other leaders and being critical that I didn’t use the language they used or share their disposition. I was self-conscious that my natural inclination towards a sense of humour as a means to connect, meant that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Working through this with my support network allowed me to identify that it was actually a strength rather than a downfall. It provided a window for people to see who I was as a person – positive and approachable. So, don’t sweat the small stuff, keep your eyes on your main goals and use little setbacks as learning opportunities to build resilience! 

Nicole was recognised as a nominee at the Kingston Woman of the Year Awards 2019 for her contributions to innovation, business and the advancement of women in leadership positions. Nicole has been instrumental in bringing women to the table on her boards, highlighting the need for diversity. 

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