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7 Questions on Leadership with Graham Sievers

Name: Graham Sievers

Title: Director, Communications Lead

Organisation: Knole Park Ltd

10 years with British Telecom, departing as Head of Group, Logisitics 5 years with educational trust, Common Purpose, including London Programme Director and heading their prestigious 20/20 Programme 13 years as Business Development Director and one of three shareholders, for a firm in a niche Biotech sector, private company, then sold to a plc, then to a NYSE listed multi-national, before ending up with pharma giant, Abbotts Pharmaceuticals. Ten years, founder, Director, PR and Marketing Consultancy specialising in helping SME's punch above their weight.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Graham's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Keeping the company positioning clear, true to the ethos of the company, the staff, the customers. You can be pulled in different directions by different stakeholders - part and parcel of leadership is to retain your authentic voice and then people will follow.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Always recognised and admired people who could put into words what I was thinking or feeling, making me want to learn more, to follow them. Ever since I was an active leader in youth groups, then as a student, I found I could, similarly, articulate for others and persuade/influence them. Once in work, gained promotions, steadily acquiring larger and larger teams. Also found that I could 'get on' with, connect with, people at all levels from the most junior staff to the most senior. Realised at an early stage of management how imprtant it was to treat everyone with respect, whether they were a cleaner or a security guard, not just senior executives. Their respect and support in return was always rewarding.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Early rise, like to sort through emails and texts that need responses immediately, and not let them hang. Meetings and calls so much easier now with Microsoft teams and Zoom, but sometimes forget it can just be simpler to quickly call someone! Most days, ever since I was in my twenties, I've benefitted from a short 10 to 20 minute nap in the middle of the day - I think I must have Mediterannean 'siesta' blood in me! Both a little embarassed by this, even though it has been part-popularised as a 'power-nap', but also a little proud of myself to, that I've maintained this untypical work habit as a regular part of my daily routine, because it helps phenomenally with my ability to work longer and more productively each day.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Listen to those who have the strength and capacity to tell truth to power. The extraordinary story in the sports world this week is not what it should have been - that the Spanish women's soccer team won the World Cup in brilliant style. Instead the President of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, has replaced that front page story by his totally unacceptable behaviour - and by that I mean his behaviour at the finals, but also since. From both a leadership, and (my field) a PR perspective, he might (possibly) just have survived if he had immediately, profusely, unequivocally and sincerely apologised, and recognised his extreme behaviour for what it was. Instead he dismissed it, belittled the reactions of the overall majority of many different global communities, and dug his heels in, oblivious to, perhaps deaf to, the surrounding and growing noise. By doing so, he has not only made his position untenable, (he might still not have survived if he had taken a different tack, but we won't know), but he has also committed a further 'crime' of denying the team the glory they so rightly deserved. Their historic win will always be linked to the controversy of the aftermath. His lack of leadership has taken that amazing victory away, forever. A leadership lesson played out on the world stage.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Robert Harris' trilogy on Cicero (Imperium, Lustrum, Dictator) - slightly weird answer I know, and whilst Roman times (leading up to after Ceasar's demise) may have dependend much on management by fear and loathing, there's also a significant amount of brilliant, detailed management techniques to reap. Such as know your stuff, hard work and research makes the difference to being on top of your game, and even learning how to speak more clearly. It's a management guide packed into a historical novel.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Be authentic. I don't drink much alcohol, and I don't play golf - even I thought of these as two failings on my part as a young aspiring executive, as they were big traits in many of the senior managers in my little corner of the empire that was then British Telecom. But as time went on, whilst there was always the golf swinging, beer swigging community that would look down at me, (for the wrong reasons), my career gained ground (for the right reasons) - clarity, honesty and integrity I brought to the division. Be true to yourself, and, as mentioned above, be ready to tell truth to power.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

A very minor anecdote, but with a major 'iron in the fire' for any leader. Running a biotech company with two colleagues who were both scientists, I wanted to promote the work we did, carrying out laboratory tests and delivering results, as 'accurate'. My colleagues were admant we should use the word 'sensitive' instead. There are subtle nuances for each word meaning slightly different things depending on whether you are a scientist or a layperson. I knew that, for the vast majority of our clients, non-scientists, 'accurate' was far closer to what they wanted, and needed, than 'sensitive'. I stuck to my guns, and that year we made the first ever profit for the company. In three years we sold the company for a highly profitable sum. Lesson learnt: if you truly, passionately believe in something, stick to it, carry it through.

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