10 Minutes of Inspiration with Yetunde Hofmann, NED and Transformational Change Expert

Inspire member, Yetunde Hofmann shares with us the inspirations, lessons and experiences that have shaped her career and who she is today. Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/YetundeH

Yetunde Hofmann.png

Tell us a little about what you do.

I help people and organisations get the best out of all who they are.  When you are tapping into all of who you are as a person, a team or an organisation, it means that you can operate at your very best in the world.  I do this in a variety of ways: I have a leadership and change advisory practice, I'm an integral executive leadership coach, I sit on a number of Boards - Compassion International UK, John Lewis Golden Jubilee Trust, Tomorrow's Company and the CIPD where I also am a member of the Audit Committee.  I am a visiting Fellow at the Henley Business School and am a keynote speaker at conferences.  Finally, I established The Enjoyable Life Series, a community organisation designed to help men and women at all levels in business, education and community identify practical ways in which they can live more joyfully.

How did you get to where you are today?

I started out in Nigeria in compensation and benefits.  I returned to the UK and built a successful, fast paced career in FTSE 100 global companies leading and delivering commercially successful change interventions. My last role was as Global Head of HR driving growth across 165 countries for the commercial divisions of Imperial Tobacco now Imperial Brands Plc.  - a FTSE 25 business. 

All this time I'd fantasised about running my own business. Every time I came close,  I stepped back for a promotion, or job offer. When I decided to leave the corporate globetrotting world, I took a year out to breathe, rediscover my family and the piano.  I  explored returning to the corporate world and realised that I wanted  more and to do more. I realised that to create what I wanted, I had to be free of constraints, processes and rules, and to step out on my own. 

How has your life experience shaped you as a leader?

At school in Nigeria I experienced the pressures of trying to fit in. I was bullied then and also in some of my jobs.  I experienced discrimination.   As an individual I learned about the consequences of these on loyalty and engagement. When you are without the freedom of expression and unhindered contribution at work, you cannot be engaged.  Conversely, I had the opportunity to work with some inspirational leaders too.  What I noticed in each of them and consistently, was a genuine interest in me firstly as an individual and secondly a willingness to take a risk on me, have me be empowered with significant responsibility and to forgive mistakes.  These experiences have left me with the firm belief as a leader, that when an individual is fully accepted for who they are and is also given the resources required to do a great job, their results can be extraordinary. 

What have the highlights and challenges been during your career?

Highlights have included meeting one of the poorest women in the world on a trip to Ethiopia and yet one of the most contented and joyful people I have ever come across.  Delivering 180 workshops in two years across five continents with a small team of people who have become great friends; leading the global transformation and change in business model of a £30bn market cap company from being manufacturing led to being consumer marketing led. My challenges include looking to meet huge business demands on a shoe string budget in timescales only super-humans could meet; Living in one part of the country, working in another and travelling the world with little time to spare for my loved ones.   My greatest challenge  however, was my desire to have clarity and certainty before making the decision  to step out and overcoming a fear of the unknown.  I landed on my feet. 

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

First, find your purpose and connect with the depth of joy you have within you by identifying your sweet spot. That place where what you love and what you do become one. Women have a wealth of talents, and when channeled with clarity, it's amazing what we can accomplish. 

Second, network. Build circles of friends and contacts in your work and fields of interest and help people.  If you're in business network, network, network.  Reach out to people in Non-Executive roles that you aspire to so you can learn from their experiences.  You will also avoid the potholes. 

Third, learn from your experiences, no matter how painful, - experiences of making mistakes, or of being hurt. You'll get wisdom and insight, become a great mentor and contribute to your leadership capability.  It also shows that you are real and imperfect.  Nobody follows a perfect leader. 

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?

I learned that if I don't value and accept myself first, there is no way that I could expect to be valued and accepted by others.  When this became  clear I developed a courage of my conviction and a stronger self belief.  I discovered my voice. 

When you fall in love with yourself, know and accept yourself, life becomes more palatable. Many times in the past I'd sought approval in many ways. My greatest lightbulb moment was realising that the person I needed the most approval from was me and that I'm wonderfully made by God.  When I walk in my own shoes, I am free. 
I learned too that as long as I was clear on my why and the value add to my business of any initiative I was introducing and most importantly to its people  then I could stand on my feet.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

This is threefold.  Firstly there are not enough of us looking out for enough of us. It is the absence of a critical mass.  If we had significantly more senior women, in sufficient numbers we would start to see a change.  Years ago, I worked as a head of equal opportunities for my company.  All of the issues that women faced all those years ago still exist today. 

Secondly, I believe in the saying " Turkeys don't vote for Christmas!"  To truly ensure the advancement of women in the workplace, it will need genuine and active advocacy from the dominant gender in those gatekeeping roles and so far with some exceptions this has been lacking.  The plight of the black female is doubly challenging.  Thirdly, that great trait of leadership called humility is prevalent amongst women and in the arena of career advancement it does not help.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Mary Barra, the Chief Executive of General Motors. She joined the company at the age of 18 and steadily climbed the career ladder, breaking every glass ceiling and in an industry not famous for its advancement of women.   Michelle Obama for her dignity and steely grace. Standing by the first black president of the United States.  She is a role model for women and men of all colours and walks of life.  Also, the late Maya Angelou another woman of colour who found her voice only after the age of five but when she found it did not stop speaking. It became the instrument of her talent, writing so many beautiful poems that have influenced many beyond her lifetime.  Finally, Jane Furniss CBE, a former Deputy Chair of Crisis, the homeless charity.  She mentors and supports women and men of all backgrounds. 

What's on your reading/viewing/listening list right now?

The animation movie Sing is on my viewing list. I've watched it already and will watch it again.  Apart from its great soundtrack, it's about the victory of the underdog, overcoming obstacles, following your dream and succeeding and recovering from setbacks.  Above all, it has a happy ending.  

I'm reading three books currently. First the Bible, which is full of insight, wisdom, multiple depths, metaphors and stories of encouragement and affirmation. Secondly, Kegan and Lahey's Immunity to Change, which lays out simply and practically the reasons why human beings find it challenging to change - a great tool for personal and leadership development. Thirdly, Martin Butler's 'It's not about us - It's all about them' which is a business case for the un-resounding focus of business on the external and internal customer and in equal measure. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don't worry. Be happy.  Everything is going to work out just fine and life will be good.