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Gina Battye, CEO, Gina Battye Ltd

Gina Battye is CEO of Gina Battye Ltd. In this interview with The Industry Leaders, they share their top advice for business professionals, namely the 3 things they wish they'd known when starting out.

For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?

I started my career as a teacher. It wasn’t the traditional teaching career you might expect. I was 22 years old, 4ft 11 inches tall and working with dangerous criminals across West Yorkshire. I was teaching people who had been involved in offences related to drugs, alcohol, violence, theft, criminal damage and sexual offences.

From the first day, my protection, safety and wellbeing were taken very seriously by my employer. It had to be – it could have been a matter of life or death.

I vividly remember this being tested to the limit at 6pm on a winter’s night back in 2004. On the walk back to my car after a busy day, I was followed by a very dangerous man. This led to me being stalked for 3 weeks. I wasn’t able to leave the office without a Probation Officer escorting me. My employers created a work environment where I was physically, mentally and psychologically safe.

Two years later, I moved into teaching adults in the workplace for a college, and what a contrast that was! I didn’t feel safe bringing my ‘whole self’ to work. From the very first day in my new job I felt uncomfortable with my manager. She was a dictator. Controlling. Manipulative. She lied. She abused her power. I watched her bully members of the team out of their roles. I became her next target, where I experienced an intense period of bullying, daily harassment and intimidation for being gay.

Initially, I didn’t report this as I didn’t want to ‘out’ myself to the leadership team and colleagues.

Over the next year I kept a log of incidents, alongside evidence, emails and communications and then reported this. But, to my shock, the woman involved was promoted and I was told to not progress the case any further because it would highlight my sexual orientation to colleagues.

This experience is why I started my consultancy, training and media company and why I am so dedicated to creating physically, mentally and psychologically safe workplaces.

I believe we all have the right to feel safe at work. Recognising that there is no legislation in place to promote and enhance psychological safety in the workplace, I aim to lobby the UK Government to introduce psychological safety into workplace legislation, to bring about worldwide change and protection for employees.

I am on a mission to create work environments where people thrive; where everyone feels safe to bring their whole self to work, which in turn unleashes untapped potential in workplaces around the globe.

I created the 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety. The 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety are the blueprint being used around the world to create fully inclusive workplaces. The 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety, incorporating the Authentic Self Process, Communication Cycle and CollabZen Methodology, are principles and teachings that are applicable to workplaces and their people around the globe.

The first three Pillars are critical components in cultivating an inclusive and thriving workplace that empowers both individuals and teams to reach their full potential. By prioritising authenticity, effective communication and creating a supportive environment that fosters a sense of belonging among team members, the workplace becomes a safe and welcoming space where individuals can collaborate effectively and feel supported in achieving their goals.

Pillars 4 and 5 build upon this foundation by providing structured opportunities for continuous learning and innovation. Through the dedicated Curiosity Sessions and Creativity Workshops, teams can explore new ideas and discover different perspectives, which encourages and promotes a culture of curiosity and creativity. These scheduled sessions offer a structured time for reflection, exploration and experimentation; inviting individuals to step out of their daily routines, challenge themselves and embrace the possibilities of what could be.

In essence, they cultivate an environment where organisations and their people thrive.

Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?

There are 2 people in my life that really stand out for me. Let me explain.

As a kid, I was terrified of speaking out; at home and at school. Counting was the only way I was able to muster up the courage to get my voice heard. I would count to 3, 5 or 10, pushing myself on the final count to say what I wanted to say. This was a huge barrier for me to overcome.

I started acting when I was 11 years old, to help me overcome this fear I had of speaking out, but unless I was playing a character (which I excelled at), I would often choose to stay quiet throughout my teens and early adulthood.

My drama teachers in high school, Mrs Root and Mr Downs, played a huge part in my development and nurtured my talent and I am forever grateful for their support.

Now, I am an award-winning speaker, sharing my story, knowledge and expertise on global stages to 1000s of people!

In 2015, I went on to win a Speaker Of The Year Award and as I shared my story of workplace bullying, I was invited to work with more and more multinational corporations, as well as TV, film and the global press.

Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?

“Take the leap. The other side is closer than you can image.”

A business friend gave me a bookmark with this quote on it. I was contemplating leaving my toxic workplace, but was really worried that I wouldn’t be successful in my business. These words kept playing over and over in my head and were what gave me the push to take a chance. I havent looked back since!

If you are considering making a change but fear of the unknown is holding you back, let this quote give you the reassurance to follow your dreams.

What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?

To listen to my intuition.

For many years I believed that everyone knew more than I did. The people around me guided me into my career. They were quick to jump in when things weren’t working out. And they were quick to tell me the ideas I had wouldn’t work.

But then I took a step back and looked at where I was. I was at rock bottom; my health was suffering, I was coming out of an abusive relationship and I hated my work.

This was the turning point for me.

I decided I was going to take my power back.

I listened to my intuition and followed it. It has guided me in every decision since then. If something doesn’t feel right, I pause. I ask myself what doesn’t feel right, and am guided by whatever comes up. There have been many opportunities since I started my own business, where I could have been pulled off course and gone down a totally different route. But I trusted my intuition every step of the way.

What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?

I wish I had known the following 3 things.

  1. You don’t have to be good at everything! I used to do things because I thought I had to. I didn’t realise I could choose what I wanted to do. If there is something that you love to do, do more of it. For example, let’s say you love to write, and be in front of the camera. Spend as much time as you can doing those things, and delegate or outsource the things you don’t enjoy doing. That was a game-changer for me!

  2. I am frequently asked to comment on news stories in the media. I was asked by a well known media outlet to comment on my thoughts on whether Santa should be gender neutral. I sent in my comment to the journalist and didn’t think any more about it. In the week before Christmas, my phone was ringing off the hook with reporters wanting to interview me. Turns out, my original quote was not used in the way it was intended and I had been misquoted. Everyone wanted to talk to me! Now, every Christmas, I am contacted by journalists from around the globe to talk about Santa! Biggest lesson I learnt from this, is less is more when it comes to commenting on press stories. I to always have a conversation with the journalist to make sure we are on the same page!

  3. Feedback is about change, not conflict! When people give you feedback, listen. They are potentially bringing issues (or potential issues) to light. Feedback is a way of highlighting what is and isnt working. Feedback enables voices to be heard and action to be taken. If someone is giving you feedback, it is essential that you listen to what they are saying to you; individually and collectively. Are there any common themes or patterns? Make sure you hear what your employees are saying and co-create the solutions with them. This is how you create and nurture psychological safety.

In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?

I feel very strongly about the power of community. My very first role was in teaching/mentoring. I specialised in mentoring ex-offenders, a disadvantaged client group, into community provisions.

People development is a core theme throughout my career. I invest heavily in my personal and professional development (and encourage others to do so), and over the years have had a wide range of mentors, coaches and advisors. Each individual has had a positive and lasting impact on me and my work.

The first thing to ask yourself is, what is it you are trying to achieve or are striving for? Once you know what you need, you can actively look for a mentor or advisor with the right skills to help you.

Look for the skills and knowledge, not personality. It helps if you get on well with the person, but don’t discount someone because they are different from you. Embrace their diversity and differences – you will learn a lot from them!

It is important for your mental health, as well as many other reasons, to have a strong community of people around you. Make it your mission to get the right team of people around you. The ones that will nurture you and support you to live your life authentically.

How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?

I don’t make long term plans or strategies. I have tried to work in this way in the past but I find they quickly go out of date. Instead, I work in a more evolutionary way. I sense and respond to what is going on around me.

Following my intuition, I am able to pivot quickly and easily.

When I feel like things aren’t going the way I hoped or expected, I pause and ask myself what is going on. I know it isn’t happening for a reason, whether it is about timing, I don’t have all the knowledge or skills or maybe I need to learn something that is key first. Maybe there is something missing in my plan. I know it isn’t happening for a reason, so I pause. Check in with my intuition and am guided to where I need to be next.

How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?

I love to walk and stay active. I am currently walking (virtually) the Pacific Crest Trail – 2486 miles! I recently completed Iceland Ring Road (828 miles), Scotland 500 (500 miles) and the Camino de Santiago (481 miles). When I walk, ideas flow and I find I am more creative, innovative and productive in my work. Walking is a big part of my day to day life.

I am also learning Portuguese – this is my 3rd year. I have a house out there and plan to relocate in the future. Learning another language is incredibly challenging, but I absolutely love it! I switch off from work when I am learning.

Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?

I would remember this: to follow your heart. If there is something that you love to do, do more of it. For example, let’s say you love to write, and be in front of the camera. Spend as much time as you can doing those things, and delegate or outsource the things you don’t enjoy doing.

Where should people follow you to find out more about your work?


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