CEO Conversation with Jo Whitfield

With her open, feminine (her word) and honest manner, Jo is a brilliant example of what it means to lead like a woman and of brave leadership, offering a particular insight into the human side of leadership.
Jo’s upbringing and strong core values have clearly guided her through her career, especially in how she works with, and treats her peers, colleagues and team. It was through listening and understanding others, that Jo learnt to lead.
Pivotal to her experience, Jo highlighted the importance of self awareness in understanding and accepting that, as a leader, you cannot be an expert in everything, and nor should you aim to be. Leadership is about building an expert team around you who have what they need to succeed.  
Jo offered a refreshing honesty about her personal struggle at times with balancing two young children with a challenging career. Her openness on bumpy and difficult relationships with some colleagues and hitting the glass ceiling resonated in the room. 
The key factors that allowed her to take the next step in her career? Great sponsorship and support. Those and allowing yourself to step out of your comfort zone, be stretched and to scare yourself. Overcoming that fear, proving to herself she could do it, continued to build her confidence.
Her tips on leadership came back to her core values:

  • Provide the right vision and the right culture to support people to get on and do it. Listen to and enable them.
  • Lead as an individual and be authentic. Bring your best bits to work, not a twisted version of yourself.

Finding the right balance between personal life and work is important not just for Jo and peers in her arena, but for everyone. Not taking work calls in front of her children, so that they always know they are her priority; respecting that holiday time is not only for mental space but that it affords others the opportunity to be stretched and developed - both tactics which help find that balance.
Her dedication and pride in the Coop and her team is clear and I think we were all delighted to hear that she is 'not finished yet.'
Articulate and authentic, Jo is an inspiring example of how 'with a sense of humour and gin at the weekend' you can achieve great things.

By Natasha Murray, Director of Client Leadership and Vertical Sales at Guardian News & Media