What it Takes to Be a CEO: Interview w/ Sian Fisher, CEO - Chartered Insurance Institute
Contributed by Rachel Appiah
"I think a CEO is there to give an organisation a compelling sense of purpose"- Sian Fisher, Chief Executive Office of the Chartered Insurance Institute.
I had the privilege of meeting Sian Fisher and we discussed her career as well as the different opportunities which can be given to young people to raise their career aspirations. I will share some of the advice given from our meeting to propel us all to become great leaders and to encourage everyone to develop a positive attitude towards success. Our discussion reminded me that we can all have an inspiring career story by learning from other people and always striving for excellence.
What responsibility does a CEO have within an organisation?
"I think a CEO is there to give an organisation a compelling sense of purpose, a reason to want to get up in the morning. It is important to create a 3-5 year set of objectives that really makes people feel that yes, we are going to get there".
What skills have helped and prepared you for leadership?
"These three words probably sum it up: Empathy, Education and Engagement".
"As an individual, you can not have lived everyone’s life so you have to be quite kind towards other people to understand them. I can be quite demanding of people who work with me in the sense that I like to achieve a lot but I am largely wanting to achieve that for them rather than for myself. This can sometimes come across very harshly but that does not mean that I do not try to understand where other people are coming from".
"I always try very hard to educate myself and I believe that none of us is born knowing everything so you can not be lazy in life. I do like people who work with me to have that curiosity and education, to want to always know more".
"I like to get things done so I am not a great person to work with if you do not like doing this. I am quite directionally focused and I do not know if that is an up or down side but that is natural to me. I can not work on projects or with businesses that are not trying to get things done."
How have you developed resilience to challenges?
"Someone said to me earlier, failure is an element of success so if you work too hard not to ever fail, you ultimately will because it is unavoidable. I have learnt that you can not really take things on if you are terrified. If all you are frightened of is the fear then just get on with it.
There is something I try to say to women. For quite a few women in their personal life, admitting that they have done something wrong is an impossible thing to imagine- they are always right. Well, that can not be the case. The reason I think women find it hard when they go into business is that everyone fails in business, not totally but in some way. You will always get things wrong and I do think some women do not really know how to deal with it. Failure is a natural part of moving forward, you have got to learn to take the two the same.
For example, some people are hugely invigorated by success and therefore failure is something awful. Whereas if you take the two, obviously succeeding is much nicer than failure, but you can still try and be rational about both. If you think that you are a genius because you succeeded in one circumstance, you can very easily go from hero to zero in business. You should have a sense of humour about the success and a reasonable sense of resilience because that will equip you better rather than being crushed by one and elated by another".
What advice would you give to young people who would like to stand out in their career and become more than just a number?
"Inga Beale, the CEO of Lloyd's of London, says she was taught this when she worked at a company called GE which was quite famous for the way they trained people"...
"They say that you are not going to succeed if you are too lazy to learn your craft, so professionalise yourself. Whatever it is that you do, learn to do it properly and as well as you possibly can. Do not be lazy and think that you can bypass learning your craft".
"You need to have an image and be comfortable with yourself. Who are you and what is it that you are trying to say or become? If you make that up, people who are more senior that you can see that. Ask yourself, what is your image, impact and influence?".
"I think this is the crucial bit. You probably will not succeed in a big business in the way in which you would like to unless you take on something. It might be something that everyone says 'you must be joking?', maybe it’s going to another country or taking on a project that is not going well. It shows people above you that you are willing to take a risk and are not scared to try and do new things.
If you look at the CEO’s of some of the big companies, you will see that in some point in their career, they either decided to go and run Japan or came up with a new innovative idea. There was a moment where they decided to bring themselves out of the norm".
My conversation with Sian Fisher highlighted the importance of hard work, resilience, humility, good leadership and sharing knowledge with others to empower them along the way.
To find out more about the 'Insuring Woman’s Futures Programme' which is a project managed by Sian Fisher focused on social change and creating strategies to secure a better future for young women, visit http://www.insuringwomensfutures.co.uk/.
You may also be interested to read my two previous posts under the 'Mentoring Series'.
By Rachel Appiah