Inspirational Woman: Jo Lyon | Co-founder & Managing Director of Talking Talent

jo-lyonEleven years ago, I realised the common thread between my coaching sessions with women; regardless of career advancement, many women still struggle to navigate male-dominated work environments, achieve work-life balance, and sustain a career after having children.

My work in headhunting, HR and coaching gave me the opportunity to engage and support hundreds of women on an individual basis. Those conversations also made me want to help on a larger scale and ultimately inspired me to do my research and co-found Talking Talent.

Our aim is to improve the dialogue between individuals and companies. Executive coaching can help women make progress in their careers and fulfil their potential. And more specifically, in helping parents to negotiate the challenges of working while having a family, and teaching organisations how to facilitate that, we try and create the best scenario for everyone; if women don’t feel compelled to sacrifice their careers then organisations don’t lose out on great talent.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not exactly.

I chose to work in headhunting because it seemed like an area in which I could play to my strengths. It wasn’t for me though. I knew that I wanted to make a difference in peoples’ lives, so I decided to train part-time as an Occupational Psychologist (MSc). I learnt that I wanted to work with individuals through my first role in internal training, and found my second role at a generalist HR consultancy more rewarding. There, I specialised in career management, development programmes and coaching groups and executives. In the process I also realised the power in supporting individuals and the gift of being able to share in their journeys.

I studied for a diploma in Counselling and trained as a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) coach. I felt blessed to be continually promoted but I still wasn’t sure where I was headed. When I decided that I wanted to work for myself, I took the leap: I gave up my job and worked part-time for a local HR consultancy while collaborating to create the concept and design of Talking Talent. I have always been passionate about empowering individuals to make positive changes in their lives and once we started Talking Talent everything clicked into place.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

The biggest challenges have been growing a business and a family at the same time. Like anything else, it gets easier with practice. It has also become more manageable as Talking Talent has grown—having more people involved makes it easier for us to break down roles and make flexible working work.

Co-owing a business comes with risk and managing great clients carries responsibility–there are constant highs and lows involved in not knowing if it will work.

Ultimately we have to make it work and my attitude is very much of the ‘can do’ variety. To be truly innovative you have to continually reassess the situation and solve problems as they appear. In most situations, if you pull the stops out, adapt, and remain flexible, you will find a solution.

On a typical workday, how does your day start and end?

There’s no typical day exactly. One end of the day normally sees me picking up my three kids from school and dropping them to wherever they need to be. Other days end with coaching, team-meetings, or conversations with clients.

Tell us a little bit about your role and how it came about

My role has evolved over time. In the beginning I was doing everything: setting all the systems and processes up; designing the coaching interventions; getting involved in shaping marketing; looking at business models. I was also involved in ensuring the consistent quality of who we employ and what we deliver.

I am still a key decision maker in the business but now we have fantastic people heading up and leading different parts. I’m Managing Director of coaching delivery, for example, but a year ago we decided to split my role as the business has grown dramatically and I try to work three days a week.

Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor? Have other individuals helped your career, either directly or as role-models?

Absolutely, I was fortunate to find coaching early in my career and I’ve also had brilliant supervision along the way. At the HR consultancy a few of the leaders of the business really championed me which helped me to develop my confidence and become who I wanted to be. Chris, co-founder of Talking Talent, is also a great sponsor.

The idea of role models is more complicated, and to me more contextual; I tend to have a more mix and match approach. I admire the achievements and work ethic of so many women but every individual’s approach as a whole is different and work/life balance is a personal fit.

Coaching has also shown me that we never have the full picture; most of the time we’re not aware of the challenges and choices behind how things might appear.

What is the most common myth you encounter about women in the work place? What can we do to counter it?

That it is not ok to work in an agile way. There’s a strange but common notion that if women work in a flexible way, we should work even harder to compensate.

There needs to be a cultural shift: Organisations need to value outputs over inputs and make sure that people feel able to have open conversations about their careers and be comfortable discussing how they want to work as well as the pace and path their career might take.

Managers need to embrace alternative work patterns and commit to making flexible roles sustainable. This takes creativity and an element of risk; doing something different.

If you were to look back in five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements?

I’m proud of how much we have grown our business—we have delivered work across Asia and Europe and we’re still launching new offerings. I’m also proud that we practice what we preach: I juggle my work and my life, I manage a team who mostly work part time, and we work with amazing clients who really want to make a difference.

What does the future hold?

We need to keep on developing and innovating around what we do—right now, for example, we’re launching an exciting online offer. I want to grow the business so that we can continue to make a difference to the culture of organisations and the lives of individuals. For me personally, I would also like to continue my work as an executive coach with senior individuals and make a difference to the experience of women in business.

What do you know now that you wish you had known at twenty one?

Worry less about knowing exactly what you want to do and try a few things out. The most important thing about any role is that you enjoy it and that you’re passionate about it. As long as you’re doing what you love, the rest (doing a good job, earning a living etc.) will come naturally and any challenges will be easier to tackle.

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