It’s no surprise that a person with their roots in education would become the leader of a charity which focusses on empowering young people for the future…
What is it the company does?
Winning Scotland Foundation is a charity that partners with various groups, from schools and clubs to housing associations and government agencies, to empower young people in Scotland to be ambitious and resilient, and help them prepare for the future with confidence. We do this by engaging, training and supporting the adults around young people who can have the biggest influence, including parents, carers, teachers, coaches and role models. This has a wider and more sustainable influence on developing young people through how they learn in school and how they compete in sport.
For example, we currently have 130 teachers across 30 local authorities in Scotland going through training to deliver ‘growth mindset’ projects in their schools as part of our ‘Mindset in Education’ project. The project helps teachers take proven research and turn it into practical tools and approaches which have an impact in their classroom, giving pupils increased confidence, resilience and motivation.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
It’s all about leadership and influence. We are a partnership charity and we work collaboratively with others to increase the reach and impact of our work to hundreds of thousands of young people. As director, it is my job to win funding for our work and build sustainable models to work with partners to influence change.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start; how did you move on?
I started out as a careers guidance professional then moved into higher education to lead a post graduate programme at Paisley University. My focus diversified into continuing education and widening access, eventually moving into executive management. I held posts at director level at both Paisley and Napier University, the latter being Director of Corporate Services, before becoming deputy CEO at the Scottish Arts Council.
After a period of freelance consultancy, I was asked to lead the Winning Scotland Foundation. In my time at the charity I have helped to introduce a major new project, Mindset in Education. In addition, and just as importantly, I have enabled the organisation to enhance its sustainability by driving forward our partnerships which, for example, has allowed us to find a permanent home for our biggest programme, Positive Coaching Scotland, with Scotland’s biggest sporting agencies.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Energy, focus, walking the talk and being able to get people to commit to a vision bigger than any individual contribution.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Culture change takes time but a lot of company planning tends to operate on yearly or three-yearly plans, so the greatest challenge for us is sticking with what we believe and encouraging our partners to do likewise – even if you might not see the change for a generation. Charles Handy describes it as cathedral thinking, as in the past people invested in magnificent buildings they would never see completed in their lifetime.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Running used to help and previously I ran most days after work, but it’s now yoga which is kinder to my knees and hips. Laughter and wine also work!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a PE teacher when I was at school – I even got a place but decided to do a psychology degree instead and have never regretted it.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
People who moan about things they could change but stick to moaning instead. I hold a mirror up to the divergence between what they say and what they do.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
As a niche player in initiating and supporting positive change in Scotland, and with a reputation as a great partner who makes real impact. We have made our reputation on being bold, innovative and catalytic, and being able to try new things or take risks when it is perhaps more difficult for larger organisations. We want to continue doing that and our goal is to bring together the groups and individuals who share our ambition of empowering young people with confidence and ambition to create an even broader, more profound impact.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Love what you do and keep learning and developing. For example, I have studied for three postgraduate qualifications over the years, which has led me from working in careers guidance to HR and onto marketing before my current leadership role. Everyone makes mistakes but it’s how you learn and improve that’s important – this is a strong personal belief and it is also right at the core of what Winning Scotland encourages all young people in Scotland to do.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Don’t ever be scared to ask for what you want or need to be able to do a great job. Our chairman, Sir Bill Gammell, is one of Scotland’s most successful businessmen – but he always talks openly about the fact that he surrounded himself with people who knew more than him. It’s the same with all people, especially children – we encourage them to try their hardest, but to seek out help when they need it.
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