Globetrotting to near and far flung places as part of your job would be many people’s idea of a dream career. Images of excitement and glamour may emerge. And the reality of living out of a suitcase far from partner and family takes a back seat. If the globe trotter were a global head of HR in a series of large companies, you might then get a picture of status, influence and a huge salary. What more could a woman want in her career?
But what if you love your career but begin yearning for something deeper? What if you felt trapped by constraints and procedures that prevent you from making a real difference? And what if you’re facing overwhelming demands on your time that you had to make appointments to see your partner? That career could lose its appeal.
My Page 1 Woman™ had a longstanding career in HR and for the most part loved it. But she reached a point where the ‘glamour’ wore off and she wanted to do more. ‘I wanted to impact people in a different way, and relational rather than business. I wanted to be closer to that impact without distractions like political budget planning, purposeless meetings and dealing with things that didn't edify me, such as risk committees, whistle blowing, employee relations and pay disputes. I wanted to work with people on their growth, who they wanted to be, the difference they wanted to make, and how to get the best out of themselves. That's what gives me joy. And all of that was being stifled in the corporate world’.
Meet my Page 1 Woman™, Yetunde Hofmann. Three years ago she faced down her fears and walked away from a lucrative career. She did what more women than ever are doing these days; she set up her own business. Now Managing Director of Hofmann Leadership Consulting, she uses her knowledge of HR alongside her skills as an executive coach to transform people’s lives.
As a black woman in HR, she did what many black women struggle to do, she overcame the barriers of sexism and racism and rocketed to the top. But how did she do it? ‘It was a combination of my resilience, energy and drive – the ability to keep getting up regardless of the number of times I’ve been knocked down. Also the great education my parents ensured we all got, and the confidence and opportunities it gave us. To top that all, I have this burning desire to make a real difference and to leave a memorable legacy.”
Whether sky-diving or jumping out of corporate life, this is a self-directed woman of courage, ambition, durability and great self-belief. Read on to find out more about Yetunde Hofmann.
Describe your work
Yetunde: I help people and organizations to identify and bring their true selves into the world and operate at their very best. This helps them to connect with their purpose, and clarify their vision and goals. I do this by helping organizations and leaders to inspire and drive change, align their people behind them, and get the best out of those people. I also coach individuals experiencing change such as promotion, or a new direction. I sit on several boards and help their organizations to drive the strategic direction and I support the executive leadership teams. And I run a community organization, "The Enjoyable Life Series" which targets the community, businesses and education, and helps people to connect with their purpose and release their joy.
My business principles are love (unconditional acceptance of yourself and others), leadership (being responsible for all you do and who you are) and extraordinary results (from combining the first two). And I look to make this possible in all my work. I'm also a conference speaker on leadership and change, the value of people leadership, talent and succession.
Before setting up my business, I was a global head of HR in a tobacco firm. I did a variety of senior HR and specialist roles across several companies, such as fast moving consumer goods, the drinks business and the not-for-profit sector. I changed careers when I realised that I wanted to do more and have more freedom over what I did. No matter how senior you get in corporate you still have a master. And in order to create what I wanted, I had to be free of constraints, processes and rules, and step out on my own.
What essential steps did you take to get you to where you are?
Yetunde: Over the years I’d fantasized about running my own business. Every time I came close to it I stepped back for a promotion, or a job offer elsewhere. When I decided to leave the corporate world, I took a year out to rest, rediscover my family and home life and play the piano. And I also networked, because my network had practically disappeared. Then after training as an executive integral development coach, I explored returning to the corporate world. The more I reflected, the more I appreciated, and having talked with my husband, I decided to branch out alone. But it's not easy. When I talk to other business owners I find that we all experience challenges. But it’s rewarding because I have a great portfolio career in the areas that I want, building what I excel at and enjoy. And I don't have to deal with company politics. We don’t live forever and I would love when I breathe my last breath that I haven’t an inch of regret.
What’s the most significant thing you did that got you into your current position?
Yetunde: Stepping out without anything to go to, because in my working life I’ve always changed positions knowing where I was going next. This time was different. Martin Luther King said, "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase….” And I did that.
I gave up the certainty of a good regular income, status, international travel, shopping in designer stores, the perks of a large team working for you. Now I have to sort out my own admin and so on. But in comparison to what I’ve gained it doesn't look like I've sacrificed much. But when it comes to contentment, sleeping well, spending quality time with friends, and making a difference to people in a way that really matters, this is much better than the corporate world. I’ve learned a lot about the pros and cons of stepping out, and it's helped me to be there for people who are contemplating doing the same. It's exhilarating, it’s scary, but it's emphasized my courage and resilience.
What was the greatest challenge you faced on your journey and how did you overcome it?
Yetunde: My greatest challenge has been my desire to have clarity and certainty before making the decision and overcoming fear of the unknown. I just went for it, taking the biggest risk one could take, just jumping out of a secure job when no-one was pushing me. And afterwards I thought "What was so scary?" I landed on my feet.
What was your greatest lightbulb moment?
Yetunde: Gradually I discovered that if you fall in love with yourself, know and accept yourself, life becomes more palatable. Many times in the past I’d sought approval in many ways. My greatest lightbulb moment was realizing that the person I needed the most approval from was me and that I’m wonderfully made by God. And I thought, ‘It’s time to walk in my own shoes’. I felt free.
What key resource has been crucial to your success?
Yetunde: A key resource is being a great coach. I've also got a growing network and some strong relationships. I have drive and resilience, inherited from my family. No matter how many times we're knocked down, we get up and we get up again. We keep going. And God has been a significant resource, because through my faith, I absolutely know that things will work out.
What do you understand by leadership?
Yetunde: Leadership is understanding where I want to go, knowing how to get there and the ability to lovingly mobilize people to follow. It’s about accountability and authenticity- people follow you not your status. It's about connecting with people emotionally, being responsible and contributing. And that's what I’m about, contributing to people, organizations and society through my coaching, consultancy, my non-execs and through the ‘Enjoyable Life Series’. And it's about commitment to getting to where you want to go and taking your people with you.
When I worked in the corporate world I lead projects, programs and big teams. I think I was quite a strong leader that people followed. That’s something I strive for and encourage the people I work with to go for. There’s also the academic attributes of the job - strategic, visionary, all that stuff.
How does that inform your role as a woman leader?
Yetunde: Women make great leaders because we use our intuition and ability to connect with people. We tend to be good listeners and when combined with humility, we tend not to push ourselves forward, or put our heads above the parapet because we prefer to listen and collaborate. With the future being more digital and technical, typically female characteristics such as emotional intelligence, empathy, listening, collaboration and coaching are becoming increasingly important and valued.
I coach people to be leaders with empathy, emotional intelligence, responsibility, authenticity and understanding of what it takes to drive change through people - encouraging people with compassion, to speak up and be their best. Women do these things well.
What difference has it made being a black woman leader?
Yetunde: Black women leaders have to be resilient. I’ve experienced bullying, exclusion and subtle forms of discrimination that only other black women would understand. I've taken it robustly. But it can be depressing and draining of your energy. But I say, "I choose to live in Britain doing the jobs that I do." I’m pretty strong, but there are times when it knocks me and I feel very low. So as a black woman leader, I support other black women. I love to see other black women achieving. So increasingly I get involved with diversity and inclusion in businesses.
Your top three tips for women who want to be leaders in their fields
Yetunde: First, find your purpose. Women have a wealth of talents, and when channeled with clarity, it's amazing what we can accomplish.
Second, network. Build circles of friends and contacts in your work and fields of interest and help people. If you're in business network, network, network. You’ll get support, opportunities to learn from other people’s knowledge and experiences so you can avoid the potholes. You’ll find people who’ll help you, get free consulting and opportunities to make a difference. Networking is from a place of give and take and often it's about paying it forward.
Third, learn from your experiences, no matter how painful, - experiences of making mistakes, or of being hurt. You’ll get wisdom and insight and it makes you a great mentor, contributes to your leadership skills and shows that you're real and imperfect. Nobody follows a perfect leader.
To find out more about Hofmann Leadership Consulting click here.
Did Yetunde inspire you in any way?
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