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7 Questions on Leadership with Mark Somerville

Name: Mark Somerville

Title: Premier Support Director - Commercial Industries

Organisation: Oracle Corp

I’m married with two children. I live in the UK and have worked in my current role for 6 years.

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

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


Jonno White

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

Those aspects of leadership where I carry responsibility without authority.

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

I’d enjoyed a successful 20 year sales career in various industries, working in all levels of the sales channel, but was starting to feel a little stale. When I mentioned this to my line manager, he suggested a future career in leadership.

This was something I’d never considered and initially, the thought didn’t appeal. As a career sales person who’d always been personally accountable for my own performance, I was uncomfortable with the idea of my success or failure as a leader being determined upon the performance of my team. When I expressed this to my line manager, he was surprised and little confused, pointing out that when I’d been a successful Channel Manager, I’d been selling through Partners. He questioned why I saw that as different to selling through a team?

This simple question completely changed my perspective and got me excited about the future, so I sought support from my management team, agreed a development plan and undertook management training, before securing my first leadership role around 15 months later.

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

I wake up naturally around 6am, read the overnight news and do some puzzles to get my brain working. I then go to the gym at 7:30 and exercise for an hour, before getting ready to start work at 9am.

My day can vary so I will generally start the day by performing all tasks that can be dealt with quickly, such as responding to emails. Once the quick tasks are done, I prioritise the time-consuming tasks by time sensitivity and importance. I always perform those tasks I’m least looking forward to first. This prevents procrastination and once complete, provides positive energy for the rest of the day.

I always eat brunch around noon and make sure I’m away from my laptop when I do this. I try to finish work at 17:30 when possible and try to avoid checking work emails outside of 9:00 to 17:30, although this is not always possible.

I normally finish eating my evening meal before 7pm and then enjoy relaxation time with my family until I go to bed, which is generally around 11pm when I briefly read before going to sleep.

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

Most leaders are time poor, so it’s essential to quickly identify where you will get the best return for your time investment. Most teams are made up of performers, high performers and under performers. Many leaders over invest in under performers to the detriment of themselves and their team.

There can be many reasons for under performance, but the most common reason for long-term underperformance is that an individual may not be in the right role. In this scenario, no amount of time invested will result in a positive return and these individuals should be supported to help them find roles that are better fit for their skill set. It’s still sensible to invest in short-term under-performers, as there may be legitimate issues that result in temporary under-performance, which a good leader can help address and alleviate to turn them into performers.

By contrast, high performers are already superstars and generally prefer to be trusted to keep doing what they do. It’s hugely important to recognise their performances and not take their exceptional contribution for granted, but as long as they know they’re valued and that they can come to you for any help or support they need, they don’t generally require a significant time investment.

Consequently, leaders generally get the best return by investing time on those team members with the most growth potential and these tend to be the performers. Developing performers into high performers is great for the individuals, the team and your personal reputation as a people developer, as this attracts fresh talent to your organisation.

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?

I read books purely for escapism, so don’t read educational books in my free time. I prefer TED Talks or reading leadership articles for new insights.

Most of my leadership style / philosophy has come about through mentoring, coaching, training and observing people I consider to be both good and bad leaders.

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

Many new leaders fall into the trap of not stepping away from their old role. The advice I received was to make a clean break. Once you take on your new role, which in my case was taking on leadership of my old sales team, embrace the new role and don’t keep trying to do your old job because it feels safe and familiar. This will not only inhibit your development as a leader, but will also likely upset your team, if you start trying to do their jobs for them.

As a piece of bonus advice, the best leaders take personal responsibility and ownership when things are going wrong, whilst giving away any plaudits and credit to their team when things are going well. Your team will repay you for this behaviour tenfold with personal loyalty and by going the extra mile without being asked. The worst leaders do the opposite and reap the consequences with high staff turnover and people working to rule.

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

Nothing can really prepare you for your first leadership role, so it’s essential to be adaptable and ready for anything.

On my first day taking over management of the sales team I had previously been a part of, I was told by the outgoing line manager that a member of the team had just received a medical diagnosis that meant they would need significant time off for medical treatment and would need both support during their time off and arrangements made for their work to be backfilled.

Nothing in my previous roles, or my training, had prepared me for this personal revelation about a colleague, or the difficult conversations that subsequently took place with my former peer. Fortunately, circumstances like this are the exception not the rule.

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