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Inspiring Leaders: Jeanette McGarry

Jeanette McGarry

Jeanette McGarryFirst up is Jeanette McGarry in our inspiring leaders series. Jeanette Mcgarry has extensive experience at chief executive and director level within local government.

What was your first job?

I was a trainee chartered accountant in the private sector. I then spent 10 years in the voluntary sector before going into the public sector.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I was drawn to human rights issues. I set up a school council, then got involved with the Students’ Union at university, and then trade unions. I helped unionise London Lighthouse, the centre for people living with HIV and Aids.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working in interim posts for councils. I’ve recently finished working for Peterborough City Council and Rutland County Council. I’m about to start on a review for the Chief Executive of the Royal Borough of Kingston into constitution and decision-making processes. My roles are around leadership and governance now, and prior to that I always managed front-line services.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Sexism has been a big challenge. I live in Warwickshire and worked in the West Midlands. When I started as a director in the late 90s there were a number of women chief executives and I look around now and can’t see any. It is quite shocking. A lot of my career has involved dealing with bullies, which I find abhorrent in an adult work environment.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I like to make a lasting difference to people. I like a challenge.

What keeps you up at night?

Not a lot these days. I had aggressive cancer a few years ago which put everything into perspective. I was quite work and career-driven, and now am not quite so driven by work. Cancer put things into context. The simple things are important to me – friends, family and love. I really do believe that love is central to everything.

What makes a great leader?

A great leader is somebody who is willing to listen, willing to compromise, courageous, and can make and take critical decisions. They should also be able to instil trust in people so that people will naturally follow them.

What do you think is the most important requirement for the workplace of tomorrow?

For me, it’s the planet. I’m a beekeeper, and the planet is critical because without it there will be no human race, flora or fauna. That is one thing I do worry about and it affects decision making – from the kinds of materials we use, the use of plastics, sustainability, to how we spend money – and if we need to spend it.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

I was quite fortunate because I was seconded to a chief executive and he gave me advice. He turned my career around and pushed me towards leadership. I may not have had the career I have had if not for his guidance. Lots of things in my life have happened by chance – I went to school in London and lots of my friends worked in supermarkets and lived in social housing, but my friend was going to college so I went too. Then everyone at college was going to university so I went too, and it has gone on like that.

Once I got into local government I was seconded to Paul Coen at Surrey County Council. I looked around and the leaders were all men. I thought, ‘I can do what they are doing’ and Paul said, ‘good’. That’s where my career began. When I had applied for the secondment my boss had said she wouldn’t even have applied. So it’s all about believing in yourself and saying, ‘Why not?’

What is your favourite word?

‘Can’. Believing in yourself and having a go is so important. When I became a beekeeper I was terrified of opening the hive, but I thought it can’t be that difficult because there are lots of beekeepers about. Saying ‘can’ rather than ‘can’t’.

What do you do to relax?

As well as beekeeping I enjoy gardening, dancing, and socialising with friends. Keeping in touch with friends is more important than ever.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

I hope it would be an up-and-coming young actress whose career would take off as a result! I would be really honoured and humbled if anyone did make a film about me!

The Oasis Real Leaders programme launches in April 2018. If you are interested in exploring your leadership questions, like Jeanette Mcgarry, in your own context, developing yourself as a leader or developing leaders in your organisation, please take a look at the prospectus, email us or call us on 01937 541700 for a conversation about how we can help.