Michelle Ferguson is Managing Director of St Andrew’s First Aid Training and Supplies Ltd - responsible for running the overall business of the social enterprise, including setting and leading the implementation of the organisation’s strategy, objectives and operating model. She attended our Just Enterprise Leading Growth for Senior Leaders programme in 2014-15 www.firstaid.org.uk
After the first day of the Leading Growth for Senior Leaders course Michelle Ferguson didn’t plan to continue. “I had completed a number of management programmes during my career and felt I knew my training needs and style which was the initial element of the first module. But I decided to stick with it. I am so glad I did!
“My original expectation was that I would acquire additional in-depth professional development but I came away with that, plus greater self awareness and hopefully long term meaningful relationships with the others from the group. I worked with people who are engaging, inspiring and thought provoking.”
Michelle joined St Andrews First Aid at a pivotal point with some significant organisational challenges. The social enterprise was formed in 2012 as a wholly owned subsidiary of St Andrew’s First Aid with the aim to consolidate its position as the leading provider of First Aid Training and Supplies provision in Scotland.
“It was a priority that I provided the team clarity of direction, expectations and required results..."
The company’s goal is to generate profits for reinvestment in the charity’s activities: educating the public in the potentially lifesaving benefits of a knowledge of basic first aid. As a social enterprise, the company operates in a competitive marketplace selling first aid supplies and workplace training to businesses to enable them to meet their health & safety requirements. At the end of the first year of trading however, they had a deficit and the staff were under considerable pressure.
It was at this stage that Michelle joined the social enterprise. “It was a priority that I provided the team clarity of direction, expectations and required results. We implemented a new training management system, reconfigured the office, employed more staff whose objectives were to increase sales revenue and at the same time applying new systems and processes. Within six months it was clear that the transformation within the organisational structure was beginning to pay dividends”.
Michelle felt she wanted the opportunity to develop and to gain more insight into the social enterprise sector with support from her chief executive and recommendations from the sector she decided to apply for the Just Enterprise Course. On top of challenges at work it was a tough time for her personally. “It really mattered to me that I had the ability to lead our organisation with an insightful and positive approach. But this period of transformational leadership began to have an effect on my psychological well-being and I began to see that I wasn’t taking good enough care of myself”
“I would have suffered. I could see it starting. I was not eating or sleeping properly. At one early sessions one of the previous attendees shared their journey with our group. He talked of how he prioritised Taking care of himself; getting enough sleep. Exercising. Spending time with loved ones. Within 2 months of going on the course I had started back at the gym and was looking after my own well-being”
“I was very conscious to take back what I learned and apply it. Everyone had valuable experience and had a role to play in building our future strategy and our vision. They were all leaders.”
Learning about different learning styles helped Michelle deal with immediate staff issues and to empower her team. “It made me ask questions about how I was looking at an ongoing issue with personality and work style. I understood that I couldn’t change everything and I couldn’t make everything all right all of the time. There will be differences. I chose to face up to it. We had an open conversation about how we worked. I walked away and thought it doesn’t matter if I can’t fix it. What’s important is that we have been open and we can adapt.”
For the first time the entire team were invited to participate in the strategic planning for the social enterprise. Michelle introduced principles and tools she obtained on the programme. “I was very conscious to take back what I learned and apply it. Everyone had valuable experience and had a role to play in building our future strategy and our vision. They were all leaders.”
Sharing issues with the other learners on the course gave Michelle a sense that she could start asking questions and get to the bottom of issues that previously seemed intractable.
“It was our safe space. We could say things to each other in the group that we might not say to colleagues. Now I feel I can see potential issues develop. I continually use the new skills such as the the balcony approach which allows me to step back and see things from other perspectives.”
“It was our safe space. We could say things to each other in the group that we might not say to colleagues."
The shift in her thinking has helped Michelle develop resilience and it has paid off with clear benefits showing in relationships at work. “We now take time to look back on our successes. We had a staff award ceremony recently where everyone participated and celebrated the amazing successes we have achieved in the past year. It was great to see how far we had come and what an amazing team we are.”
The biggest benefit for Michelle was having time to take in the big picture. “It gave me reflection time. Until the course I wasn’t standing back. I was focused on all the right things but I think I was too busy. I thought I was needed for too many things. I was trying to manage and lead at the same time.”
Another significant impact of the course is that Michelle can take a step back. “I used to be fairly controlling, I knew I could trust the team however I was too involved with the management of the business. I am now able to be more visionary, can use my high-level strategic expertise and I have more awareness of my own personal impact. There are not as many stressful days as there used to be. And I am better and handling them!”
“I now realise that it’s okay to be authentic, to be the real me and not what I previously perceived to be a ‘good leader’. The Myers Briggs profiling helped me understand my and other leadership roles and personality types too.”
“At times I was blown away by the others in my group. The younger people were so passionate and it hit me that I could see how my style I could have stifled that enthusiasm. This course has given me the foundation, confidence and understanding to lead our organisation and set me on the path to becoming the best, authentic leader I can be.”