Change Maker: Anna Barsby - tech's listening leader
09 December 2019
We talk to Anna Barsby, Managing Partner of coaching and consulting company Barsby Clift Limited, former Morrisons Chief Technology Officer and European Chief Information Officer of the year in 2015 while CIO at Halfords. The Warwick Business School MBA alumna answers our questions on leadership.
How would you describe your style of leadership?
Genuine, people-centric and restless - I’m continuously looking for how to improve things and fast! I really believe in teamwork, so listening to customers and colleagues is fundamental.
I may be the only Art History graduate who has been a CIO - not a traditional path, but I think my background helped me develop as a leader first and a technologist second.
What essential qualities does an effective leader possess?
At Morrisons, we had our ‘ways of working’ and the one that resonated with me most was ‘listening hard and responding quickly’. Creating a listening culture is vital for customers and colleagues - their insight is invaluable.
Being authentic is also important. An effective leader genuinely cares for others; their ambitions, their development and their welfare - it cannot be faked.
They should be approachable and not be afraid to be seen as a ‘real’ human being with the same work/life balance issues as everyone else. Tell people when you are leaving early for the school play - people follow people, so be the role model you wish you had had.
The ability to see where you want to go, setting challenging but achievable goals and communicating them is also essential as a leader. Be clear and consistent.
In your career what have been the most valuable experiences in helping you develop as a leader?
I believe in watching and listening to those around me to see what works and, just as importantly, what doesn’t. I remember working for two very different leaders - one who was an extrovert and brilliant at engaging a room full of colleagues and another who was an introvert, great at engaging one-to-one, but really didn’t enjoy speaking to a larger audience.
Both were excellent in their own way, but with very different styles. I learned that you don't have to fit into the mould of a typical leader. It’s about being your own style of leader, being authentic and playing to your strengths.
I always do the things that make me uncomfortable as it’s the best way to learn. For example, I remember having to go to Scotland to meet a different part of the team I was working with and as we hadn't particularly gelled on the phone, I didn't really fancy the trip. However, I certainly learned that face-to-face meetings are invaluable at creating relationships and ensuring that messages aren't misunderstood.
Self-awareness has also been key. I understand my own values, my strengths and those areas where I’m not best and need a colleagues’ skill set for support. I believe we should all develop our strengths and become great at them, rather than spending time on our development areas and only becoming average at these.
I've always been good at seeing the bigger picture and helping others to engage with a vision, but I’m not as good at checking detail, so I have to ensure my team are set up to support me here.
How do you keep abreast of the fast-changing world of technology to see opportunities and threats coming?
At Morrisons I set up a small innovation team, who were my eyes and ears in the market. I also spend time listening to the advice and ideas of technology suppliers, start-ups and the more established players, and I keep up with the industry on social media. I don’t seem to have enough time at the moment to network with my peers, but I need to do this again soon.
Who has influenced you in your career and how?
My mum influenced me in that she made it feel very normal to me for a woman to have a career. She has always supported me, especially in my role as a single mum. I am also heavily influenced by colleagues around me, coaching and guiding me.
My biggest influences though are my two daughters. They are the most important part of my life and I would do anything for them. I hope I’m showing them that it is possible to love your job, be a success (whatever that means to you) and earn enough to give you choices. That is what really matters to me.
What piece of advice would you give to somebody aspiring to be in a leadership position?
My advice would be to do it your own way: be authentic, listen to your customers, learn from those around you, never stop learning and be restless. Mostly though, be present and enjoy the journey, if you wait until you are at the destination you will have missed so much.