How Pilotlight mentored one charity CEO, and helped her see what success looks like

Julie Watson
Operations Manager, Women's Aid East Midlothian

I was feeling slightly overwhelmed in my role. Everything I'd learnt about management was on the job and within the organisation. I joined Women's Aid East Midlothian (WAEML) in the days of a collective management structure, so I had always shared the management role and decisions. There had been a couple of re-structures which made the collective smaller, but it wasn't until I held my current role that I had to go it alone. This was made more challenging as I was now managing staff that were at one time (and for a long time) my peers. I honestly felt some days I was just making it up as I went along, and I was concerned I'd be exposed as a fraud very soon! 

So it was perfect that we found Pilotlight. Right from the beginning I was put at ease. My Pilotlight Project Manager, Richard Moore, prepared for me for the journey ahead, encouraging me to keep an open mind, be honest, work hard but mostly to enjoy it. Immediately on meeting the team of business volunteers (my Pilotlighters) it was clear that they had been cleverly selected as they were a perfect fit and skills mix for the organisation and for me. I had to peel myself off the ceiling when I shared with my Board the quality of the team allocated to us by Pilotlight.

The initial sessions felt daunting. I wanted to present myself and WAEML in a positive light, but I kept Richard’s advice front of mind. Areas of challenge and difficulty had to be discussed, and the constructive criticism and analysis I received were where the key learnings and magical “lightbulb” moments happened. My Pilotlighters quickly reassured me that my fears and challenges were normal and at times shared by them within their own businesses. It was also clear that many of the issues faced within the third sector were also being faced by the private sector. The transferable learning was clear from the outset and quickly reassured my concerns at how a private sector model/thinking could be applied within my organisation. The most valuable part of this process was that every single one of the team considered things from a different perspective. They'd ask different types of questions and offer different types of solutions. They didn’t come in and fix things, instead they listened to what we (and I) needed and then coached and mentored me.

By the end of our engagement I didn't walk away with a physical “thing”, but instead had a set of changes that were a result of the process. WAEML made some significant changes during the last year and brave decisions that I know would not have been made without the support of the Pilotlight team. Looking back, I now see the decisions we took were obvious ones, most of them requiring very minor changes to our thinking, budgeting and analysis, but it took support from an outside perspective to help us to realise them.

I also ended the process with a great sense of personal achievement. The Pilotlight model helped me develop as an individual, a leader and a manager, and I can now continue to develop and grow WAEML using my new skills.  WAEML also feels more solid and focused as we now have a clear, shared vision with a longer-term plan, and a clearer understanding of what we need to do to get there. We understand what success will look like and we have the capacity to adapt if success isn't being achieved as we first envisaged.

For anyone thinking about engaging with Pilotlight, I’d say do it! If you’re a charity Chief Executive Officer just starting the process, I'd encourage you to embrace it and being open and honest is crucial to your success. I've had an incredible year and I look forward to putting into place everything my mentors have helped me develop. I thank them all for their time, encouragement and support but mostly for their expertise. As a learning and development experience, it’s been one of the best things I've ever done.

Celebrating 10 years in Scotland, HR & Leadership

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