An evening with Ruth Davidson MSP

  • Thought Leadership

The Executive Women In Leadership (EWIL) Network and the Scottish HR Leadership Group

We were delighted to welcome Ruth Davidson MSP as a guest speaker at our joint session this week. Ruth shared stories, experiences and advice from her outstanding career and took the time to answer all the questions we bombarded her with fully and carefully.

Ruth talked about how your soft skills are your superpower and encouraged us to do things which scare us. As a powerful communicator, she emphasised the power of communication and encouraged us to invest time in honing these skills. She advised being gracious when challenged, and always to be constructive when challenging others. So basically – withstand challenge: take criticism but also be prepared to challenge.

Getting people on board can be difficult at times so show them your plan / vision / destination to help them to follow you but recognise that it can take time for people to orientate towards your plans and they may need help – being strong and energetic with your views can help but don’t be forceful.

Working out what the ‘win’ is in any situation and focusing on that can help keep focus and clarity.

Ruth was asked about all the barbs she receives in the chamber and if it can get to her. She countered that at times these things can get to you, but you just have to accept it is part of the job and get on with it. Resilience driven by a core set of principles can help!

Principles and values were clearly important to her and sticking to your guns when you feel strongly about something, whatever you think the consequences might be. For example, as a young reporter she was asked to write an article she disagreed with and she refused, even though she may be sacked for refusing. She stuck to her principles, she wasn’t sacked and the rest is history! Remember the Power of No!

Her earlier leadership training in the Territorial Army helped shape her for later life, especially the Army Leadership code – courage; discipline; loyalty; respect; integrity; selfless commitment. (Note: a good code for the business world?!)

Ruth mentioned the Rule of Thirds: The 1/3 – 2/3 rule whereby the leader takes one third of the time and trusts his/her subordinates to do the right thing for the remaining two thirds, making space for them to develop and execute their own plans.

A simple rule she also mentioned linked to all of the above was: observe, orientate, decide, act.

She addressed a number of other areas as follows:

  • Public speaking – very useful to be good at this so if you’re not confident do a course, put your hand up, get practise.

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  • Dress the part – make up, perfume etc…even for zoom, it makes you feel the part!

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  • Get a mentor if you think that would help. Men mentoring women was recommended by a number of people and a lot of women have male mentors.

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  • Impact of Covid on the workforce? There will be opportunities but also a step change in how we do/approach things now that we have stepped off the treadmill.

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  • Style: Men are never called ‘feisty’, ‘shrill’ or ‘harpies’! You can still be strong and energetic. Accept others may have better views than you do which may be good for the team.

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  • Pay gap – don’t be scared to ask for more money and stand up for yourself.

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  • Always be yourself – the authentic you. People can tell when you’re not telling the truth e.g. when someone squirms to avoid answering a question.

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  • Remember the power of networking when used effectively – and remember it is give and take. Help people behind you also. Live what you say. Keep the network alive.

And remember the person that says the most isn’t necessarily the one who knows the most. WFH has changed the dynamic of many meetings. People commented that physical presence, impact, loud voices, table thumping work differently on Zoom! So we should learn to use the technology as well as we possibly can and remember to present a good image on screen. Women can be better at developing relationships online. This different way of working can work to women’s strengths so we should make the most of it.

The questions kept coming and we could have gone on all night, but were grateful to Ruth for being so open and honest and sharing her views, experiences and opinions. We wish her continued success.

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