Blogs

My blogs

I am a regular blogger and have written about a range of topics including leadership, influence, diversity, resilient leadership, gender diversity, race diversity and much more. I hope you enjoy reading some of my blogs below.

THE COMPLEX PSYCHOLOGY OF JEALOUSY

 “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on”Iago, Othello, Act 3, scene 3 – William Shakespeare 

I remember studying Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ many years ago at school. This much loved Shakespearean tragedy made a real impression on me at the time.A key theme that runs throughout the play is the destructive nature of jealousy. Othello (a general in the Venetian military) is tricked by his trusted ensign, Iago, into believing that his wife, Desdemona, is being unfaithful. Events spiral beyond control, with Othello strangling his wife and then taking his own life.

Whilst this is an extreme example of the nature of jealousy, recent events and conversations with a wide range of friends and colleagues have once again shone a spotlight on the destructive nature of jealousy. Examples abound of those who have enjoyed tremendous success in their work whilst also giving back a substantial amount to society, supporting others and empowering others to also succeed, making many sacrifices to do so and yet still being on the receiving end of other people’s jealousy, judgments, resentments and criticisms.

"You're in a battle - it's real. It's called going against the flow, doing what others won't and refuse to do" (Sandi Krakowski)

Although there are some gender-based differences in how jealousy might actually display itself, jealousy does not discriminate and can affect anyone. It can happen across all cultures, social classes or belief systems. A female friend who runs a social enterprise aimed at empowering women recently shared with me the extent to which a mutual acquaintance was actively trying to sabotage her work around gender empowerment despite the acquaintance having directly benefitted from the social enterprise. At a previous employer, a male colleague divulged several examples to me of what some of his peers had done to not only undermine his work but to actively malign him in the workplace, almost resulting in him not being promoted. A consistent theme is that jealousy in the workplace is far more likely to be directed towards those who are highly visible and ‘front of stage’ as compared with those working ‘behind the scenes’.

I spent several hours discussing the whole issue of jealousy with some friends in the hair salon earlier today (yes, all quality conversations really do happen there!). What makes some people feel inspired and motivated by another’s success while others are jealous of it? I was intrigued to delve deeper into the psychology of jealousy: what actually drives jealousy and why is it so destructive?

"Jealousy is the fear of comparison" (Max Frisch)

As Gary Allan so eloquently put it, "You can be the moon and still be jealous of the stars". Comparison plays a huge part in driving jealousy and this is something that I have seen and experienced first-hand, creating some incredibly uncomfortable situations where one ends up apologising for being successful despite having worked incredibly hard for that success. Equally, when someone feels inferior or slighted in some way, this will often come out in the form of jealousy. Insecurity, fear and concern drive this powerful emotion with anxiety over an anticipated loss of status or something of great personal value being another distinguishing feature. And because jealousy can lead to strong feelings of helplessness and even disgust, this powerful emotion should never be underestimated.

"Never underestimate the power of jealousy and the power of envy to destroy" (Oliver Stone).

Given how common jealousy is, what are the best ways of dealing with being on the receiving end of jealousy? Hiding your light under a bushel to make other people feel better about their own inadequacies is not a sensible way forward.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant.[and]..talented..?' Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Nelson Mandela)

Here are my 5 top tips for handling the jealousy of others:

1) Always recognise your self-worth and remain confident in yourself: never allow another’s jealousy to create self-doubt

2) Jealousy has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person who is being jealous

3) Keep on doing what you are doing. Don’t allow others’ jealousy to stop you from doing what you are doing

4) Keep your focus on those who support you and are inspired and motivated by your success - not everyone is jealous of your success

5) If all else fails, realise that people are jealous because you are either doing something well or have something that they want!

And if you find yourself feeling jealous of a colleague's success (the proverbial moon feeling jealous of the stars) remember that you are your own star. Trying to extinguish someone else's fire often flows from feeling unable to start your own.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SUPPORTING A DIVERSE PIPELINE 

I have had countless family members, friends and colleagues ask me recently why it is that I devote so much of my spare time to speaking at schools, at the Law Society, pushing through and implementing diversity initiatives, writing articles, providing commentary and so on. Many have asked how I manage to fit it all in and when I actually find time to sleep! But the truth is that we all make time for things that matter to us and will prioritise what we consider to be important. 

I believe strongly that supporting a diverse pipeline is the most important role that I will ever have. As mother to my 12-year-old son, I am “supporting the pipeline” every single day. I am privileged to be a mother, to be in a position to shape and direct a young life. Seeing my son flourish, mature and grow is a source of constant joy to me. However, my son has been fortunate in the sense that he was born into “privilege”: surrounded by strong role models who believe in him and are committed to seeing him achieve his full potential. The older I get, the more I realise how rare this is, which explains how much time I spend speaking to students within schools. Far too many students do not have strong role models and have not been given the support and encouragement they need to maximise their potential. It is crucially important to start supporting the next generation as early as possible, showing them what is possible and broadening their world view. 

As many of you will be aware, I also feel passionately about improving diversity within the legal profession, a profession which I love and which has given me so many opportunities and experiences in life. It saddens me that the profession is not a more diverse representation of the multi-cultural society in which we live. It saddens me that, in my 15th year of practice as a lawyer, there are still issues surrounding the lack of diversity both at entry level and at the more senior levels of the profession. However, I have been greatly encouraged by the many high impact diversity initiatives that have had real effect in this important area. The key is to build critical mass so that under-represented groups (irrespective of which diversity strand) form a significant minority that can influence the remaining majority.  

I recently attended a diversity event in London and was talking to a female, senior partner of a City firm about some of the diversity initiatives being implemented at that firm. We were both venting our frustrations about the relatively slow pace of change but she gave me her take on the whole issue which was very interesting and has remained with me ever since. She explained that, whilst there remained real challenges in garnering support, she had come to accept that roughly 20% of her colleagues are already on board and do not need to be influenced, 20% will never be on board and that her role is to influence the remaining 60% who were undecided either way. 

So why do I do what I do on top of a demanding full time job and mothering my son? Because I want to see a more level playing field where someone who is bright and talented can succeed notwithstanding their social class, gender, race, sexual orientation, disability etc.. For me, this often means sharing my own personal story (with all the vulnerability that goes with that) but as Jacqueline Woodson said, “Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together”. 

THE COST OF BEING A VISIBLE ROLE MODEL 

“It is time to stop being humble and to start telling your story”

 -  Melanie Eusebe, Chair and Co-Founder, Black British Business Awards 

I recently re-read Melanie Eusebe’s inspiring article, ‘The disconnect : it’s time to stop being humble’ having not read it since it was initially published in 2014. When I first read the article just over 2 years ago, I was very much of the view that (and pardon the pun) the solution to solving the issue of a lack of visible role models within the African and Afro-Caribbean community was as simple as ‘black and white’. At the time, I couldn’t understand why those within our community who are clearly aspirational would deliberately choose to remain invisible and inaccessible. I (and several others that I know within the diversity space who had been quietly and invisibly campaigning for years) became much more vocal in sharing our stories as a result of Melanie’s impactful article. This has, undoubtedly, led to more impact and has pushed the diversity agenda forward somewhat but I would say that all of us without exception have experienced what I call ‘the cost of being a visible role model’. There is a very real and tangible cost to being visible and prominent within the diversity space. 

Being visible means you are considered by some to be fair game for criticism, scepticism and other forms of attack. The use of social media is an essential part of raising awareness about issues including the level of discrimination that still exists within the workplace today as well as in wider society. Yet we are all too familiar with the issue of cyber-bullying, something that I myself have been a victim of in recent times. I would also add that too many people assume that it is impossible to be humble and visible at the same time when that is simply not the case. Specifically, working as a volunteer within the diversity space, I have seen time and again that the recognitions that I and others receive for the sacrifices that we make in furthering the diversity agenda in our personal time have been tainted by the perception from a minority that our main (or even only) motivation is self-glorification and self-promotion. This to me shows a complete lack of understanding of the sheer amount of sacrifice and the demands placed on our personal time because we, as volunteer diversity campaigners, chose to follow our calling to make a difference in society. 

To put some context around this, for me, this means me regularly making an almost 2 hour journey into London in the evening to speak at an event or to attend a campaign meeting after a demanding day in the office, giving up precious time with my son and a relaxing evening at home when my usual journey home after work is just 15 minutes. I buy additional annual leave so that I can use it to participate in events that take place during the working day which do not qualify as being part of my continuing professional development. In addition, several weekday evenings a week are spent providing free mentoring, coaching and guidance to others - and yes, I do work full time for my employer. Frankly, there are many times when it would be far easier to not bother with any of my voluntary work at all! Yet I am prepared and willing to make these sacrifices to further a cause that I strongly believe in, a cause which is founded on my personal values and a genuine desire to level the playing field to improve the lot of others. And I know several others who are prepared to do the same, making similar sacrifices on their personal time. 

Having now experienced first-hand the backlash that comes with being so visible, I now realise that the underlying reasons why role models within our community may actively chose not to be visible are not as simple as not wanting to help further the diversity agenda or not wanting to help others by ‘letting down ladders’ or ‘sending the escalator back down’. Although this might apply to some, a huge consideration must be the level of exposure and vulnerability that goes hand in hand with sharing your personal story and, through that, becoming a prominent and visible speaker and campaigner. I have had several of my peers and friends within this space raising this very concern with me over the last few years with some truly shocking examples of how they have been attacked for their efforts to improve the lot of others. 

One lady recently mentioned how even her attempt to prominently profile others as a genuine means of recognising their efforts and impact had led to her being criticised with some saying that this was, in itself, my friend self-promoting and attention-seeking! It is ironic and deeply saddening that this is the case. So having now re-read Ms Eusebe’s excellent article several years later what would I advise around this whole issue of visibility? I would exercise a word of caution: yes, it is true that we must share our stories to inspire and support others but not without realising and fully embracing what goes hand in hand with becoming a visible role model. It takes real courage to be visible. 

You can read Melanie Eusebe’s wonderful article, ‘The disconnect – it’s time to stop being humble’ at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/melanie-eusebe/diversity-in-business_b_5626516.html 

2016: MY YEAR OF SAYING “YES” TO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING 

“I'm not perfect at it. In fact, I fail as often as I succeed” -  Shonda Rhimes, TV producer, screenwriter and author, ‘My year of saying yes to everything’, TED 

I was both inspired and challenged by Shonda Rhimes’ Ted talk in February this year. One of the most successful black women in media and a New York Times bestseller, Shonda is responsible for rating-busters such as ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘Scandal’ and ‘How to get away with murder’. She was talking about a whole year when she had said “yes” to everything. I listened to her Ted talk in absolute awe – was it really possible to say “yes” to almost everything? What would happen if I said “yes” to everything that took me out of my comfort zone, filled me with fear and apprehension? I decided to say “yes” to (almost) every opportunity that came my way in 2016 – and this is what happened.                                     

It has, quite simply, been an unbelievable year. I have been busier this year than in any other year in my entire life, balancing more commitments than ever before. I have met some incredible people who have challenged me to be the best that I can be. I have grown and learnt more as a senior lawyer and business leader and am being promoted at work again. I have increased my impact as a diversity campaigner and been recognised by the Prime Minister for my work in campaigning for more workplace diversity. I have become more aware of where my boundaries lie, when I am being taken advantage of and when it is right and appropriate to say “no” without feeling guilty doing so. Incredibly, I have spoken at TED and become a regular news reviewer for the BBC. I was also interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Womans’ Hour’. 

Most importantly, I have been able to create unprecedented opportunities for others and have experienced tremendous joy in seeing others flourish – mentoring more people than ever before and watching them maximise their potential, speaking to over 2,000 school children about a legal career, providing work opportunities and other forms of sponsorship and support. I have seen my son grow (literally – he is now my height!) into a mature, well-balanced 14-year-old. All in all, it has been a year of unparalleled growth and development – and 2017 looks like it could be even better. 

Has 2016 been an easy year? Of course not. The results of political referendums and elections aside, I have faced some significant challenges and upsets this year and it has been far from easy overcoming them. Yes, I have made mistakes this year - hasn't everyone? With hindsight, there are definitely things that I would have done differently. And yes, there are times when I have been absolutely exhausted - but then I would be sure to say "yes" to some proper downtime on the weekends and during my holidays, getting good quality time with family and friends and time to recuperate. Saying “yes” to (almost) everything has made me aware of what is ‘out there’. Saying "yes" has empowered me to empower others, connecting those within my network to others, helping others to truly embrace diversity and inclusion and make magic happen. So I have every reason to say a big ‘thank you’ to Shonda for her inspiring Ted talk on saying “yes”. And for those of you looking for similar inspiration in 2017, you can listen to her talk at: http://www.ted.com/talks/shonda_rhimes_my_year_of_saying_yes_to_everything#t-6270 

I wish you all a fantastic Christmas break – and a year of saying “yes” to all the right things in 2017. 

WHAT DOES LEADERSHIP MEAN? **Originally published on http://precioussuccess.com/leadership-mean-funke-abimbola/ ** 

Leadership is a matter of influence. 

I first realised this in a profound way when I was growing up in Nigeria. I am the eldest child in our family (as was my father) and come from a high-achieving Nigerian background. Anyone from a similar background will fully appreciate the weight of responsibility that goes with being the eldest child – and my father certainly drummed into me (almost on a daily basis) the importance of not only leading my younger siblings, but also being a ‘positive influence’ on them. Coming from a strong medical background, the full expectation (and, indeed, assumption) was that I would become a doctor like my father, mother and several other family members. My father ran a successful private hospital and maternity home in Lagos, was himself a talented, German-trained doctor and saw his investment in my private British education as being a worthwhile one, very much with a view to me following suit – returning to Nigeria as a British-trained doctor to, one day, run his hospital with my siblings. When I ‘rebelled’ and decided against a career in medicine, opting for law instead, my father’s reaction was that of any loving father who feared that I might, in fact, prove to be a ‘bad influence’ on his other children. Thankfully, this fear was not realised as my brother and sister both decided to became doctors despite my decision to become a solicitor! 

So to me, leadership is all about influence – whether positive or negative. The word ‘influence’ does, unfortunately, tend to have negative connotations, implying that someone is being forced (or, even, hypnotised or brain-washed) into doing something against their free will. Looking to one of the most reliable sources for the true meaning of ‘influence’, I consulted the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary to find that influence is described as being “the effect that somebody/something has on the way a person thinks or behaves or on the way that something works or develops”. Clearly, this can be both positive and negative: as a leader, you can have both a positive and a negative influence on others. But essentially, to be an effective leader, you need to have an impact on how people behave or think. Leadership without impact is not effective leadership. 

Do you have to be loved or respected to be an effective leader – or can simply being feared be enough for effective leadership? To me, leadership is certainly not a popularity contest. As a leader, I have had to make unpopular decisions which were in fact the right decision. Machiavelli may have felt that it was better to be feared than loved but whilst being feared as a leader may be effective in influencing others, this is not necessarily a positive influence – the basis of effective leadership must, at the very least, be respect. Without respect, leadership becomes about forcing those looking to you for leadership to think and behave in a certain way. I have certainly experienced that leadership style myself, including the damaging impact that had on morale within the team at the time. Yes, business goals were reached but at what cost? We had no respect for our leader, only fear, and it was this fear that made us do what our leader demanded of us. To me, that is bad leadership and certainly not the type of leadership style that I would ever want to emulate. 

Because of some of the bad examples of leadership that I have experienced throughout my career, I have come to appreciate good leadership all the more and have gone to great efforts to improve my own leadership style. I believe that the desire to constantly strive for excellence is at the heart of effective leadership – I will never stop learning or developing. Every leader should strive for excellence and should hope to not only be described as a ‘good leader’, an ‘effective leader’, a ‘talented leader’ or a ‘natural leader’ but, ultimately, an ‘inspiring leader’. 

When I asked my 13-year-old son to tell me honestly what he thought of me as a leader, he summarised my leadership style succinctly and said: “Mummy, you are kind, you know what’s what but you are very feisty”. So there we have it!   

2015: REFLECTION AND GRATITUDE 

“We're all going to die. We don't get much say over how or when, but we do get to decide how we're going to live. So, do it. Decide. Is this the life you want to live? Is this the person you want to love? Is this the best you can be? Can you be stronger? Kinder? More Compassionate? Decide. Breathe in. Breathe out and decide”. Dr. Richard Webber, “Grey’s Anatomy” 

I often unwind by watching box-sets of medical dramas like “Grey’s Anatomy”. Medicine is very close to my heart and the reason why will be familiar to some of you from my interviews. I come from a medical family and the full expectation was that I would read medicine and become a doctor, following in the footsteps of both my parents and several family members. To my father’s horror at the time, I “rebelled” (to the extent that it is culturally acceptable to rebel within the confines of a Nigerian setting) and announced that I wanted to read law. My father recovered from his initial shock and both parents fully supported my decision to become a lawyer. He was, however, delighted when I joined my current employer and finally, “law met medicine”. 

Sadly, my father passed away quite suddenly over 3 years ago. It was a shock to us all at the time and remains so. Bob Geldof put the grieving process succinctly recently by saying that “time doesn’t heal, it accommodates”. So I can say that over the last 3 years, I have accommodated the fact that my father is no longer with us and continuously reflect on the impact he had on all our lives. The countdown towards the holidays and a new year has begun and many of my friends and colleagues are, indeed, reflecting on the past year. As Dr. Webber says, many of us will ask ourselves several questions at this time of year - is this the life I want to live? Is this the person I want to love? Is this the best that I can be? Can I be stronger, kinder, more compassionate? 

I reflect on 2015 and the overwhelming sense I have is one of thanks and gratitude – gratitude that, despite some of the severe lows this year (the premature loss of 2 close family members to cancer and another sudden, shocking cancer diagnosis for a much loved immediate family member being some examples of the “lows”), there has been much to be grateful for this year. 

I am grateful that my son turned 13 this year, that I became the mother of a teenager and have the joy, privilege and awesome responsibility of raising my amazing son. There have been many learning experiences at work this year, not only for me but also for the team I lead. We have all grown from our experiences and have not been broken by them. We have become more resilient, wiser, more discerning. We have all developed our leadership and have become more impactful as a team. I am grateful for this, grateful for my recent promotion at work, grateful for the fact that my team and I can now look forward, plan for 2016 and build upon a solid foundation of mutual trust, respect and collaboration. 

 I am grateful that the voluntary work that I do to improve diversity within the legal profession continues to go from strength to strength. This is set to continue in 2016 and beyond. I am grateful for the opportunity to continuously “pay it forward” and to impact on the lives of others – school children, University students, professionals and senior leaders. This work is tremendously rewarding, despite the many personal sacrifices I have made in giving my time and other resources to support, encourage and sponsor others. I have met some very inspiring people along this journey, many of whom will never appreciate how their own stories have encouraged and supported me in so many ways. I am very grateful for this because no man is an island and support and encouragement has meant a lot to me this year. 

So as 2015 draws to a close, I would like to wish you all a restful and relaxing Christmas break and every blessing as we approach 2016.