Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Dr Hayley Lewis, Managing Director
How could you describe your career path in few words?
My career path has been unexpected, and values driven. It’s also required me to be brave and take a leap of faith at various points. For example, I didn't set out to become an organisational psychologist but was in the right place at the right time when I was given the opportunity. I didn’t know what I was getting in to but said yes.
And likewise, I didn't expect to stay in local government for more than a decade. My career plan was to stay a couple of years and then move on but ended up falling in love with the sector because it touched on one of my core values of doing social good. Again, I ended up in bigger, more senior roles, which were really challenging but I felt the fear and did it anyway!
My move into self-employment and setting up my own business, HALO Psychology, took a while to get to. I kept having second thoughts. The sudden death of my dad, and not long after that, the terminal cancer diagnosis of my mum, gave me the impetus to make the leap into working for myself. I thought, “You only get one life, so give it a go”.
What was your most challenging experience, and it has changed your mindset?
My most challenging experience was being in a senior leadership role that I didn't fit and which didn't fit me. In this role, I worked in a rigid political environment. Because of the lack of freedom and autonomy, lack of skills for the job, and lack of support, I experienced a big decline in my mental and physical health. It took me about a year to get back on track and it was really that which kickstarted my fascination and research into wellbeing and resilience at work, and the role we play as leaders in that. I think this experience also made me more compassionate toward people struggling at work. It’s why my work as a psychologist is about identifying the root cause(s) of what is getting in the way of someone performing at their best. We need to stop dealing with the symptoms and focus on the cause.
Setting up my own business was another challenge but because I had complete freedom and autonomy, that felt like a good challenge. This is one of the reasons why I ended up doing my doctoral research exploring the psychology of success for female entrepreneurs in the start-up phase of their first business.
When you get surprised by unusual or uncertain context, what do you think?
I always think it's a welcome surprise. Complacency can be a death knell for our professional and personal learning and growth. And so, when things surprise me because they're unusual or uncertain, I always think it's a great opportunity to learn new things. One of the things I encourage my coaching clients to do is to notice when they’re feeling uncomfortable about unusual, uncertain or unexpected things and reflect on what’s behind that feeling. Is it because they feel they don’t have enough knowledge? Is it because they’re imagining all the things that could go wrong? Once we identify the root cause of why we’re reacting a certain way to surprising events, we can do something about it.
As a psychologist and a coach, helping people understand why they react in certain ways to certain contexts is a big part of what I do. Noticing our reactions in the moment, pausing, and reflecting from a place of curiosity can help us learn and improve as leaders. Good questions to ask ourselves is, “Why am I reacting in this way? What is going on here? Could I react differently and if so, in what way?”
Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader / manager?
I think that's an impossible question to answer! I don't think there is one key success factor. I think it all depends on context - the factor that will enable a female leader/manager to succeed in one context may be different in another. That aside, I think a high level of self-awareness is essential for anyone in a leadership or management position - male, female or other. We know there are studies which consistently show a link between good self-awareness, including proactively asking for and acting on feedback, and team performance, engagement, and motivation. A great book I read recently - Strong Female Lead, by Arwa Mahdawi – examines how many of us have fallen into the trap of behaving like male leaders. She suggests that stereotypically feminine behaviours, such as collaboration, are a strength for leaders and that if we’re to solve the gritty issues of the 21st century, perhaps we need to tap into our female strength rather than conform to masculine stereotypes.
And one of the things that can really help many women is a strong professional network. This can help us feel less alone, get the support we need, as well as opening up opportunities for each other.