Inspirational Woman: Verena Hefti MBE | CEO, Leaders Plus

Verena Hefti MBE

I am the CEO and Founder of the award winning Social Enterprise Leaders Plus. I set up Leaders Plus  after a successful leadership career because I was fed up with so many parents, especially mothers, stalling in their  careers because senior roles were made incompatible with having young children.

No one should be forced to choose between pursuing a high impact senior career and enjoying their young children. My team and I run the award winning Leaders Plus Fellowship Programme which enables parents to thrive parents in ambitious careers but on their own terms.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, all the time – I wouldn’t say though that I have a fixed plan or that my plan has ever worked out completely, but having a North Star about what I want means I am then open to opportunities that arise. For example, I always knew I was interested in a role at exec director level in an organisation focused on social justice and as a result, have said yes to opportunities that helped me to achieve this.

Every six months or so, I think about the type of responsibilities I want to have in my career. I then recruit my team in a way that enables me to concentrate on those responsibilities.

Thinking time is essential, and I use an approach called the Thinking Environment to help me protect time to think. This is also what we use with the parents on our career development programme and it is amazing what simply having the time to think can achieve.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Definitely. The biggest one was to learn how to sell an idea while being an introvert. It was a struggle but in the end I learnt how to do this which resulted in partnerships with organisations such as Santander, the Salvation Army or BT. The secret has been to manage my own energy and to treat new and difficult things – for me to learn to reach out to employers – as an experiment where I am taking an input (e.g. a cold outreach) and seeing what the result is, and if needed, make a change. This helped me not to see rejections as personal.

How did you persevere through the tough times?

The most important thing for me is to have an identity that isn’t connected to my work role or my role as a mother. For example, music is important to me and my hobby as a choir always gets prioritised, even in the toughest and busiest of times. Children are also helpful as they provide me with meaning and an identity outside of work.

I also learnt to identify what gives me energy at work and make sure that it is built into my month. For example, when I speak to our Leaders Plus Fellows and I hear how life changing the programme is for some of them, that gives me energy for the whole month so even if it is not always the most efficient use of time I make sure that I am able to meet our Fellows and Mentors regularly to help me through the hectic times.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Professionally speaking the MBE for services to equality for my work in setting up Leaders Plus and having a number of our Fellows use the word “life changing” when they describe our programmes.

Personally, I’d say it is to raise three children together with my partner who so far turned out to be good humans.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Contrary to the myth of an entrepreneur who is always on, I think a key success has been to take breaks – especially over the summer and over Christmas I take long holidays with the children where I don’t work for 3 weeks at a time. I think this is one of the key factors of why I have kept my energy up for six years after founding Leaders Plus and why we have kept innovating and growing.  Choosing the right (life) partner has been very important: I managed to find someone who in the tough moment is always supportive and who will prioritise my career not just with words but with actions.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have always been mentored and I often mentor others. The most important thing is to go with your gut feeling: if you think the relationship will add value, then continue to develop it, if you don’t think it will add value, then close it in a courteous manner.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Support for mothers to progress their careers to senior leadership plus paid use it or loose it parental leave for dads.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Accept that fear of failure will always be there but do it anyways.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My plan is to grow and expand our Fellowship Programmes internationally so we can help more working parents get to senior leadership in a way that works for them. We have already successfully piloted an international cohort with parents in the US, Mexico, France, Switzerland and Hong Kong.

Read more from our inspirational women here.

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