Vicky Smith is passionate about sharing her knowledge and has more than 20 years’ consulting, coaching, facilitation, and training experience in locations across the globe.
She holds an MSc in Organisation Development and Consultancy, an MSc in Psychology and an MSc in Applied Health and Exercise. She is working through a PhD, researching psychological safety in organisations, and is also a qualified NLP trainer, psychotherapist, and executive coach.
Please tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role. How did you get started at WorkingWell?
Career advice at school was pretty limited, despite being in many of the top sets. It was either a career as a hairdresser or secretary – and I opted for the latter at the age of 16. After a couple of years, boredom set in and so began my journey as a lifelong learner. I’ve been on various training courses since I was 18 years old. I have 3 Master’s Degrees (in Organisation Development and Consultancy, Psychology and Applied Exercise and Health Science), am a qualified and practising psychotherapist, am an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer and am halfway through a PhD in Organisation Wellbeing. I have written for several equine magazines – as I support riders to build their confidence – and I am also a yoga teacher. I have been lucky enough to work in many countries across the globe, experiencing different cultures and deepening my understanding of people. Although I hate being away from family and my dogs! Around 12 years ago, I met Lesley, founder of WorkingWell Ltd whilst attending an event for suppliers at GSK. We immediately clicked, especially over our love of horses, and I joined the team soon afterwards. My focus is to help organisations, teams and individuals be the best they can be, sustainably. Having specialised in leadership and management development, my skills and knowledge align perfectly with the performance and wellbeing focus at WorkingWell. My role is to inspire change at all levels within organisations. By combining my knowledge of human performance, with the challenges facing leaders, managers, HR and OH professionals on a day to day basis.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not really, I always went with the flow and where the energy was. I’ve always been hard-working, starting work at 14 just to earn some money. I would often work a full-time job during the day and go on to work in bars and restaurants in the evening. I can be very driven when I put my mind to something. If I found I was good at something, I did more of it, learnt more about it and honed my skills. I always remember being on an internal training course, looking at the smart, polished trainer and thinking, wow I wish I could be like her. Fast forward several years and I was that trainer! However, I can recall the first time I ever ran a training course, coached somebody and consulted – all of the big firsts were petrifying. Over time, with practice came confidence until I was able to really enjoy myself and gain immense satisfaction in helping others. I have always aspired to influential roles, from being a Senior Secretary at 18, to being the Training and Development Manager (managing a team of over 50 people in a major employer, employing over 33,000 people). I’ve never shied away from large-scale events and enjoy being a key speaker at conferences – give me a mic and I’m happy!
Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you overcome them?
I’ve always had very supportive managers and people around me. They’ve pushed and encouraged me to go way beyond what I thought I was capable of. I’ve always seen setbacks as an opportunity to prove to others that I can do something. For example, when asked to step in as a Training Manager, to be told they were recruiting externally, I raised the bar to show my manager just how good I could be in the role. After 6 months they opted to recruit internally – giving me the job! I always see opportunities in situations and never get disheartened by knockbacks – it’s just information for you to decide what to do with it. You can dwell on the negatives, or you can ask yourself what you can do to be better next time. One of my biggest and scariest challenges was the first time I had to discipline a member of my team – I was much younger and less experienced than my whole team! I also had to sack someone and that was really tough. I was very lucky to have an extremely supportive manager who was my guide, mentor and someone who really believed in me. I think she had a similar climb up the corporate ladder as me, so perhaps could see many similarities between us.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Probably being the key speaker at a work event with 80 leaders attending from across Europe, with a bank of interpreters interpreting my every word. It was great fun, high energy and I received great feedback. I just wished I’d remembered to turn my mic off when I went to the loo! There have also been several training courses that have really pushed me to the limits. These include my psychotherapy submission to the UKCP, my NLP Trainers training and my MSc in Applied Exercise and Health Science. The latter was a subject I’d never studied before, so it was all new and fascinating. However, at the same time learning everything in one year, including a practical (taking blood, measuring BP with a stethoscope and having a volunteer who actually had very high BP) plus having to sit exams in my late 40s was daunting. However, my people skills really paid off as I was commended on just how well I dealt with my volunteer patient. So I was chuffed to bits with the feedback, plus when I found out I got 88% in my exam – I was thrilled.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
The people who have believed in me. I would never have put myself forward for many of the things I’ve done in my life if it wasn’t for other people seeing my potential and encouraging me.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
I love meeting a diverse range of people. Each day is never the same because people are all so different. I learn so much from the people I consult, train and coach – making every day a school day! Despite the differences, it never ceases to amaze me how many similarities there are in the life stories of the people I meet. One thing I find really gratifying is when people come up to me after an event and ask me how they can get into this profession and do what I do. I know I’ve really touched people at an emotional level when that happens and hopefully inspired them to be the best versions of themselves.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think mentoring is an invaluable part of personal development. I’ve been on both sides and really enjoy both aspects of the mentoring process. These days I tend to do more formal mentoring than being a mentee. However, many people I do meet act as informal mentors for me and I look to them if I’m stuck – asking myself, how would they deal with this? I encourage everyone I work with to find a mentor if they haven’t already. It offers an alternative perspective and therefore, helps deepen your understanding of a situation (and yourself) before making decisions. Having an external sounding board can be that boost of confidence you need, especially when you’re unsure about how to handle particular issues or deal with challenging characters.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
To have more women in senior positions across all sectors. Although personally, I have never really experienced gender inequality, I know it exists. I’ve worked with some extremely misogynistic leaders in certain organisations, who have tried to belittle and intimidate me. Which says a lot about their character and the culture of the organisation. I think if more women sat at senior levels, such behaviour would be more likely to be challenged. Culture is set by those who lead – whether a whole organisation or a small team. Therefore if more women are in leadership positions, there’s a bigger chance of creating psychologically safe cultures and abolishing unacceptable behaviour. Despite huge shifts in the right direction of female leaders, many still feel under pressure to act extremely politically, for fear of losing what they have fought so hard for. Which is a real shame as it dampens the spirit and doesn’t allow people to be themselves – creating an underlying fear driving behaviour.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Challenge the status quo – just because someone says options are limited, it doesn’t mean it’s true, so be curious and get inquisitive. By doing your research right at the start of your career and finding all the options you can, it’ll stop yourself from being so limited. And finally, try not to fall into the trap of peer pressure – if you’re good at something, don’t try to hide that just to fit in.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Completing my PhD – I’m not great at self-directed learning, so this is a challenge for me. I do have great support at Uni, however, I’m the only one who can make this happen. So I need to dig deep in my motivation bag and pull out the drive to get it done. Luckily, I’ve chosen a topic that I find really interesting. My challenge is getting my head around my Systematic Literature Review! In the future, I’d like to do more large-scale leadership events. I think it’s a great way to tackle some gnarly issues facing leaders, especially knowing how to square the challenges of shareholder demands, employee wellbeing and performance. To us, it’s really obvious. However, there are many who haven’t made the connection between wellbeing and sustainable high performance – and therefore greater profits. I would also like to create a space for leaders, to explore what happens if they open that Pandora’s Box because it’s not as scary as it seems!
Read more from our inspirational women here.