In episode 9, Jo Bostock discusses the need to question how others are judging performance and talks about how she gives leaders the space and the provocation to think through who they are and what matters to them most.
Jo Bostock is the founder of Pause Consultancy, a leadership development business that advises global businesses, leading media organisations and influential third sector clients on inclusive leadership. She believes that it’s vital for senior leaders and top team teams to understand the values that drive them and what it means in practice to be authentic. Through coaching, workshops and conferences, Jo is keen to stimulate critical reflection and debate about how people can exercise influence about the things that matter to them. Jo specialises in gender progression in the workplace and has written a book for Cambridge University about the different ways in which women see themselves as successful.
Jo also co-founded The Women’s Sport Trust (WST) charity with A Question of Performance podcast host, Tammy Parlour. WST is a leading a leading UK charity focused on using the power of sport to accelerate gender equality and stimulate social change.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 1.2.17 – Ep 9. Jo Bostock – leadership consultant on questioning performance
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR[Music]
TP: Welcome to A Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.[Music]
This episode was actually the first one that I recorded and I was under this delusion that I could get away with just one microphone. The result of that is my voice sounds a little bit like a dalek, but given I’m not the one tasked with being interesting I hope you’ll be able to look past that and enjoy a really fascinating conversation about leadership, talent, competitiveness and inclusion.
I’m talking with Jo Bostock a leadership consultant who specialises in inclusion. She and I also cofounded the Women’s Sport Trust charity focussed on using the power of sport to accelerate gender equality.
Jo thanks for joining us in our kitchen.[Laughter]
JB: Feels like a very familiar place to be having a good conversation.
TP: Let me start asking you from a work perspective, what gets you up in the morning? What’s fuelling your drive currently?
JB: Mmm, that’s a good question to start with. I suppose, for me, it’s two things, one, I’m insatiably curious, so I like getting up in the morning thinking I’m going to meet someone or hear something that I haven’t heard before that’s going to make me learn and make me think differently. So I love that sense of rich stories and exposure to individuals or organisations that just get me curious; secondly, what gets me up in the morning is the opportunity to effect change, to be influential to, for example, the Women’s Sport Trust trying cause up a bit of construction trouble, so I am very motivated by doing work that has impact, what I see to be positive social impact.
TP: You’ve been your own consultancy and you’ve been running for I think about 10 years now?
JB: It feels like it [laughs].
TP: Yeah [laughs] around about 10 years. Do you think the way in which organisations define performance is changing or has changed over those 10 years?
JB: Gosh, I suppose I don’t really look at it like that. Sorry, I’m a bit stumped by that one. Things have…but I could look at it because I’m curious, [laughs] so let’s sit with being uncomfortable for a moment! Yes, of course, we’ve got different political environments, so businesses and people don’t operate in a vacuum. You’ve gone from a Labour government to coalition government to Tory government; we’ve had a Brexit, so things like attitude to what businesses are for and how brands need to behave have changed over time. I think I’ve been fortunate to be operating during a time when interest around inclusion, diversity and inclusion, so by diversity by having a mix and inclusion making the most of that mix, so it’s just counting people in the Noah’s Ark version of diversity, you get two of these and two of these but how people thrive and perform. That’s moved from a fringe concern and political correctness and perhaps compliance to something that brands the most progressive brands, and even the sort of middle runners I suppose are taking much more seriously that they’re excited about the potential of reaching new markets, tapping into rich talent and enhancing a reputation, so I’ve been able to work with very senior leaders in business on stuff like inclusion.
TP: Do they see it as being closely linked to performance and success of things or is it a worthy thing to do?
JB: It depends on the leader.
JB: Some businesses are paying lip service and you can see it, you’ll see that there might be a slogan or an advert but it’s not backed for example by the composition of their Board, or who gets promoted through the business. However, I think a good chunk of leaders are realising the importance if they want to be in excellence in a competitive marketplace they can’t but be able to reach a broad range of people with their products whatever they are; they can’t but need to appeal to the best talent available to them or someone else will steal the march on them, someone else will do it. I think a lot of people are taking it more seriously, I think there’s still a big gulf between knowing it’s important and knowing what to actually to about “it”, so if “it” is attracting or retaining more women, you get a lot of senior leaders saying it’s deadly important, but then there can be a little bit of frustration about how to make it happen.
TP: So how would you equip individuals or organisations to make lasting change?
JB: A lot of work I do is at a senior leadership level, so I suppose on some level I remind leaders that they know how [laughs] to lead the majority of them or they wouldn’t be in that position, and that sometimes the idea that you are inclusive is seen a sort of secret code that almost the cult of inclusion in a language that people don’t know, and a lot of my job is to on some level reassure leaders that they’ve got their own stories to tell about how difference has affected them, which can make them credible when they’re talking about why it’s important, and then reminding them that this is sort of as simple as applying your attention to any other business imperative. What are you goals? What’s the data that you can draw on to mean that you’ve got proper rich insight? Then you pick what your focus, you bring necessary resource and skill to make it happen and then you measure it and course correct as you need, it’s actually – I’m probably doing myself out of a job – it’s not madly complicated.
TP: Where do the biggest stresses come from then, stress issues?
JB: For me, personally?
TP: For well – yeah, but I was talking more for the leader that you’re working with, but – yeah, I’d be interested to know for you and for them?
JB: For them, there are things like competing priorities, leadership increasingly complex it feels like it’s happening very fast. A lot of leaders I work with feel like it’s indulgent to look after their own wellbeing and their own self-interest so they can get very compressed and run very fast without having space and time to think. I think if they are a publicly quoted company they can feel like there is an expectation to deliver a narrow set of performance results very quickly without having the scope to do a proper sophisticated turnaround. So I think a lot of the stress pressures around complexity, pace and expectation.
TP: And are those the same for you?
JB: [Laughs] Very similar. I know there’s an irony in that we teach what we need to learn.
JB: My business is called Pause and I have to work really hard myself to pause to create the space and time to think well rather than just do. And I have a tendency to wildly underestimate how long things will take. Although I suppose I sometimes come across as pretty laid back it’s a bit of myth, I have very high standards and so I’m not terribly good at good enough and letting things go. And I hate letting people down [laughs] it’s just that that’s probably the thing that bothers me most, and over promise/under deliver fear, which I hope I don’t live down to, but it’s something that concerns me.
TP: Now you and I have been running the Women’s Sport Trust charity for the past four years for an Olympic cycle.
JB: It feels like longer than that.[Laughter]
TP: Has that changed how you run your own business, how you work with your own organisations and individuals, so, actually, I suppose being within such a complex organisation and being in that leadership role, do you feel that’s changed how you work with clients or not?
JB: That’s a really good question. I think the irony of a lot of consultants’ work is they go in and they preach to organisations having very often taken themselves out of organisations and work [laughs] independently so there’s a little bit of perhaps a credibility gap there. And I think perhaps I’ve become a bit more pragmatic as a result of working with the Women’s Sport Trust, I’m aware of how tough it can be and how you might sit in – I had my coach – sit in a room and identify a way through a thing and then they’ll be a curve ball or the financial realities change, so I suppose working with WST has given me a hefty and sometimes invigorating dose of realism that I hope I take into working with my clients.
TP: What’s the learning transfer, so sport to business and business to sport, if you take something from one and give it to the other and vice versa?
JB: That’s another good question. I work across lots of different sectors so it’s not as simple as business to sport and sport to business. I work in the Arts, I work with leading charities, I work with academia, and I work with sport, and to an extent I’m not an expert in any of the particular sectors, I tend to focus on it’s a human social system where you’ve got groups of people either performing or underperforming and asking questions about what’s going on there? So it would be more what could you take from the best sporting organisations and transfer those into other contexts, rather than what can sport show business and vice versa.
TP: Let me change the questions then slightly, what advice or tips or whatever would you give someone entering a leadership role no matter which sector they’re in?
JB: I think honestly there’s real danger in too many generic tips, and you see it with the management handbooks that get thrust down MBA throats or in airport lounges [laughs] or wherever you might them, and it sort of sets up an expectation that there is a relatively small number of ways of being good at this thing called leadership and I think that’s rubbish. I think a lot of the work I do with leaders is enquire into who they are, what skills they can bring to bear, what matters to them; the values and integrity that drive them and then aligning their leadership that, so it’s a pretty crassly overused word but authenticity I think matters to leaders. It’s about allowing people and ideally if you’re working with them giving the space and provocation to think through how they are as a leader and what they want to therefore do with the influence they’ve got at the top end of a business or a sport.
TP: Is there anything that you wish I’d asked you or anything else that you want to add?
JB: I suppose there were some things that I was keen to explore about how we need to give ourselves permission to question how others are judging performance, that a lot of the work that I did with Cambridge about how successful I was judged in academia was based on deconstructing the normal way in which performance is talked about is riven with gender stereotypes and societal expectations and if you measure performance by a corner office and a performance bonus you know that’s fine, but those are your measures. If somebody were to measure me against those, I’d be a crashing failure. And actually I don’t think I am, so I guess for me it’s understanding that performance is far more subjective than we let it be? We think its objective and it’s a bit like a meritocracy, we assume that deciding merit is very fixed – it’s not. So, for example, I think even in sports contexts it’s not just the person who can run the fastest or row the fastest in a team context it’s what the mix? What’s the chemistry? Who’s bringing out the best in one another? So question what it means to be a performer or what high performance is and don’t just swallow it whole if somebody tells you performance is one way – it’s not it’s much more complicated.
TP: And for you then, what would be success or performance or what would your definition be?
JB: This is where it’s really easy to sound like a fridge magnet. For me, I think it’s that when you consider your own mortality have you in some way contributed? Have you understood what mattered to you and done something about it and not just talked about it and had a positive impact that is bigger than you? That, so for me, I suppose a lot of my success measures are around social change and having a positive impact on the people that I work with so that they realise their talent. There are never going to be statues of me, I don’t need there to be, really don’t [laughs] but I do want other people to be more effective – perhaps in some small way because I’ve worked with them and that the things I care about like gender equality I again have played some relevant part in moving it forward, that I haven’t wasted my talents, such as they are.
TP: Brilliant, thank you very much. Right I’m going to end with a few quick fire questions.
TP: Sporting hero, who would be your sporting hero?
JB: Right now?
JB: And it could probably change with my socks, but right now it’s Kate Richardson-Walsh the gold medal winning hockey captain. And I think there’s a whole heap of reasons: I think she’s just a kickass woman [laughs] and the absolute key indicator performance that she’s got a gold medal, that she is a thoroughly decent woman who works very closely with us as a patron of the Woman’s Sport Trust and never lets us down, always is a brilliant advocate, wonderful with the clients and potential funders we put her in front of. So there is all that, but I guess the thing I’m most impressed by is how she seems to see performance as bigger than her, that very often we think performance is about what a person does and what I see from Kate is it’s about team performance . And I have a view that some of the most effective leaders perform through others, they enable others to really deliver and I think Kate Richardson-Walsh is a brilliant example of someone who sees performance as bigger than her.
TP: Second question then.
JB: Okay, that wasn’t very quick fire was it! [Laughs].
TP: No, that’s fine. Most useless piece of advice been given to you?
JB: Most useless piece of advice? Where a dress.[Laughter]
TP: And why was that useless?
JB: Because there are so many reasons we’re told to look a certain way, be a certain way and I really don’t look good in a dress, I’m never going to look good in a dress. So no, I’m an out lesbian businesswoman and the more I can be myself and feel at ease with how I present the better, so no dress wearing.
TP: Favourite piece of sports kit?
JB: Oh a sports bra – easy! [Laughs] I’m afraid I’m not under-endowed in the knocker department, so I love a game of squash and the only way I’m going to hit the ball is if I’m well supported![Laughter]
TP: And lastly, best performance enhancer?
JB: Best performance enhancer? For me it’s – this is going to sound ridiculous, but it’s being in strong relationships. I know I perform well when I feel at ease in my closest relationships, so if I feel well loved I can pretty much take on the world.
TP: Thanks for listening. You can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also don’t forget to subscribe online to aquestionofperformance.com.[Music]