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Holding Out for a Hero


Do you have a Career Hero? Someone who stood out in your career as a shining example or a guiding light - someone you looked up to, who helped you progress or who you aspired to be? We can learn a lot from our Career Heroes and I hope to encourage you to explore yours by sharing a few of mine.

As ever, at the end of the email is a quick and easy exercise for you to do if you'd like to explore your own Career Heroes and the lessons or gifts, they have given you.


My first ever job was a weekend job, aged 14, at a care home for the elderly. I'd wanted a weekend job ever since my older brother had got his own at a chicken farm. It was at this care home, in a tiny village, that I met my first Career Hero.

She was the Matron and called Sandra. Sandra was a hero because she paid the younger workers (like me) the same wage as her adult workers. "You do the same job and so you should get the same pay". This made absolute sense to teenage me and little did I know how unusual this parity of pay was.

For this parity of pay, she expected parity of work. This included all the more "interesting" aspects of working in care, including dealing with bodily fluids and the occasional cadaver. Sandra prepared us all for every eventuality with care and thoroughness. In short, I was treated as an adult entering the world of work.

What Sandra taught me: Fairness, Equality and Work Ethic.


I met my second Career Hero in my first full-time "career" role, working in a management consultancy in London. I had joined the firm as a bilingual PA and had quickly been promoted into a Researcher role. The consultancy focused on the very technical aspects of executive pay and I didn't find it very interesting or rewarding. I remember trying to describe what I did for a living to my grandma: "I make fat cats fatter."

Then Don joined the firm from a larger consultancy and was like a breath of fresh air. Not only did he focus on the "human" side of performance, but he had a can-do, optimistic and highly refreshing attitude (he was also great fun at the pub!). Don decided that I could "easily" be a consultant and got me promoted straightaway. He also encouraged me to enrol in the CIPD HR qualification, which I did.

Don and I travelled quite a bit in our consultancy - Newcastle, Athens and Jeddah to name a few. Of course, this was very exciting for me at 24/25 but the main enjoyment was working with Don. He pushed me to do things WAY out of my comfort zone whilst always making me feel that he had my back. I knew that if everything went wrong, Don would sweep in and seamlessly take control.

What Don taught me: High challenge and high support enables people to fly high.


The final Career Hero I'm going to share earns her place here as she rescued me from the career doldrums (still in exec pay) and introduced me to a career that I pursued with enormous enjoyment for over a decade.

Carmel ran her own niche headhunting firm in London. I approached her looking for a role in exec pay. Aged 28, I thought that my extensive (5 years) career experience had set me on an immovable straight line towards being a partner in an exec pay firm. Carmel thought different.

She persuaded me to join her (part-time at first) and try my hand at recruitment. Although I wasn't sure, she persuaded me that I could apply for any interesting exec pay roles that came into the firm whilst helping her out. She knew what she was doing. Within a few weeks, I was hooked on recruitment. BUT, I wasn't very good at first. At least, I didn't make any money for her firm. But she just kept smiling and saying, "It will come." And she was right. She saw strengths in me that I didn't yet see myself.

What I learned from Carmel: People have unlimited potential to explore beyond their boundaries if given the opportunity and support.

So What?

When I decided to write about Career Heroes, these three people came to me immediately without much digging. When I look back now over what they taught me, it seems that they are the culmination of my core Values of Fairness (Sandra) and Independence (Don) as well as the inspiration for what I do now (Carmel).

What You Can Do Now

I'd like you to pick your own three Career Heroes (can be more, can be fewer). For each of them, ask the following questions:

  • Write a little thumbnail sketch or picture yourself working with them - what were you doing?
  • Why does this Career Hero make your list?
  • What lesson or gift did this Career Hero give you?
  • How does that play out in your career now?
  • What more could you take from these lessons and gifts that you can use in your career right now?
  • What actionable step will you commit to?

I hope you've enjoyed exploring your Career Heroes. Of course, there were a few Career Villains along the way who can also teach valuable lessons. I'll save those stories for another day.

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