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Lean Into Leadership

26 Nov 2019

Kitty Finn

Kitty Finn of the Brightwater Group attended the "Girls in Tech" event where key speaker Petrina Tinney offered some sage advice.

Last week’s Annual Girls in Tech Dublin event saw a meeting of the minds between top industry leaders in STEM, Innovation and Product Development and budding young professionals with passions lying within the same arenas. Guest speaker, lauded business-woman and now mentor Petrina Tinney, spoke candidly about her own challenges, both professional and otherwise, over the course of her successful career, and in doing so offered invaluable approaches and insights into how she best overcame such adversities. From her first job post-graduation in London to eventually occupying C-Suite roles in some of the world’s biggest organisations, Petrina has experienced the wonders and woes posed by career progression within fast paced and ever-evolving industries. Here, we take a look at key learnings highlighted by Petrina’s enlightening talk.

  •  Keep Calm and Don’t React: Petrina spoke about the many obstacles faced by women in particular, regardless of role or sector, in navigating next steps and career moves whilst grappling with emotions, burdensome situations and professional roadblocks intrinsic to them. Lesson One: when situations arise whereby you are being provoked, challenged or triggered (be it deliberate or not) Petrina recommends to not give others, or yourself for that matter, the satisfaction of reacting. Not to ever be considered a flaw or shortcoming, but intrinsically women are drawn and triggered to act emotively and, in some cases, react emotively. Petrina advised to take a step back, take a moment, and assess the situation having taken efficient time to do so. In doing this, you’re giving yourself time to accurately assess how best to react, whilst all the while staying calm and composed. Calmness and composure in tenacious or challenging encounters have the effect of correlating positively with better decision-making.


  • It is Just as Important to Lean Out as it is to Lean In: With equitable workplaces advocating for split maternity/paternity leave, remote working and flexible hours on the up and up, there is no denying that serious changes are taking place for the fair provision of adaptable working. However, although this represents a positive step in the right direction, the stats for companies actively engaging with such initiatives do not reflect imminent workplace implementation. Petrina spoke about the guilt and confusion often felt by working mothers when tasked with interweaving career progression with parenthood. As important as it is advocating to ‘lean in, embrace progression and effect change’ in the workplace, it is just as important and yields more long-term benefits to be able to recognise when to ‘lean out’.  Be it parenthood, looking after a family member, travelling or even retraining, Petrina emphasised the importance in not viewing these situations as set-backs but, instead, fully accepting and embracing them.  Leaning out is not to be discounted, therefore go with your gut and wear what fits well at that given time.


  • Recognise the Importance of Emotional Intelligence: Regardless of level of seniority, effective leadership in cross functional teams requires the embodiment and expression of emotional intelligence. Petrina stressed that being a good leader, manager and co-worker alike requires for us to tap into our intrinsic, humane oddities, the unifying traits that separate us from our work selves. Traits such as patience and resilience, Tinney insists, are key in maintaining clarity of focus, for both your personal benefit and that of your team. Ultimately, having compassion, empathy and common sense has the capacity to catapult effective leadership far beyond the self-serving nature that used far too often be associated with traditional leadership.


  • “The Servant Leader is Servant First”: Following on, similarly entwined with emotional intelligence is that of ‘servant leadership’, a theory and approach personally exercised by Petrina. Servant leadership, she says, entails “giving people the tools necessary to succeed, the dots so to speak, so that they can configure a way to join them themselves. Only when they encounter major difficulties impeding their ability to move forward do I step in, assess the situation and advise them. I help in a way that pushes them up the hill”. Problem solving, patience and ability to see from multiple perspectives differentiates a leader working to serve its people from a team working to serve its leader. Putting personal gain aside and employee best interest ahead, as well as encouraging teams to use their initiative and trust their instincts will allow for the creation of an inspired, inclusive workforce.


  • The Biggest Challenge Lies in Not Being Challenged: Petrina’s most valuable lesson learned having honed a successful, but at times arduous career, was simple. “If you’re not being challenged, you’re not learning. And if you’re not learning, you’re stagnating”.  Be it upskilling, presenting or building the confidence to effectively network, the opportunity to grow professionally through workplace learning has never been more accessible for the modern professional.  Ironically, this can be one of the most difficult obstacles for people to overcome as it often entails branching outside of their comfort zone and embracing the unfamiliar. Petrina stressed the importance of challenging yourself to do things that you would otherwise find daunting to best serve your confidence going forward in both your professional and personal life. She emphasized that the most rewarding outcomes are a result of formative learning during times of challenge. With opportunities afforded to us that never before existed, we owe it to ourselves to embrace the uncomfortable and accept the challenge!

 Petrina’s observations most definitely provide an insight into two sides and elements of business: landscapes vs. people, soft skills vs hard skills, complacency vs challenge. What they have in common, however, are the intrinsic touchstones of the human psyche, existing but not always evident. Her insights serve as a gentle reminder that, ultimately, the power to overcoming challenges and adversities really does lie in the hands of the individual themselves.


Kitty Finn is Corporate Administrator with Mentors Ireland, part of the Brightwater Group