What is your interpretation of ‘Talent’?
My understanding of the term ‘talent’ is about someone who displays extraordinary ability to cope with and therefore to be able to carry through, the particular job that they have chosen (or fallen into) as their main form of employment. Qualities displayed would range from exceptional commitment and energy, empathy and emotional intelligence (as well as sharp understanding and commitment to detail) and crucially, a willingness to combine methodical and administrative efficiency with analytical and critical skills.
How scientific do you think talent is?
I do not believe that there is a ‘scientific’ definition or set of ingredients. This is about the ability, the motivation and capacity to learn, of the individual. Growing in and on the job, hunger to learn more, to improve on previous best, and in old-fashioned terms to ‘do a damn good job’, are not scientific but are essential elements.
What do you feel you are particularly talented at yourself?
What I see as being some of my own strengths (always difficult to analyse yourself) include forensic analysis of detail, and an ability to communicate, together with some leadership ability in drawing together a team of people who complement (and compensate for) my own pluses and minuses. The ability to analyse, to formulate appropriate answers, and above all to actually be able to make decisions.
What do you see as your greatest achievement?
It is difficult to pick out a particular achievement. Dealing with the challenge of the aftermath of the 11th September 2001 attack in the United States (as the British Home Secretary) was undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges of my political life, but in terms of lasting achievement, I have probably had the greatest impact by simply showing to society as a whole, to parents, to young disabled men and women, and to employers, that someone with a specific challenge can overcome that barrier and achieve at the highest level. That message and change in attitude will surely be the most lasting outcome.
When do you feel you have been most surrounded by talent?
Although it may be obvious to say that time of my life so far when I have been surrounded by talent would be from the immediate special adviser, personal assistant and private office staff in the eight years I was in Cabinet, actually I needed talent most when I was out of government, because the challenge for those staff was greater than where substantial back up resources existed.
How did that affect your own work?
This affected my own work by being able to rely on those giving 150% (often in unsocial hours) in order to be able to continue working at a high level but without formidable support systems).
How do you spot talent in others? What do you look for?
Whilst it is perfectly feasible to develop methodology for selection of key personnel, most psychologically based methods of selection are mumbo jumbo. They often test only one particular aspect of the qualities of an individual, and rarely those which relate to commitment and emotional intelligence. Unscientific as it is, there is no doubt that instinct is a crucial part of determining whether someone is going to be right for a particular job, right in terms of working with an individual or individuals, and of fitting into the particular challenge that the job has to address. Getting it right is neither a science nor an art form, it is so often good luck when the right person sees the job that they really would like to do, and is spotted by the potential employer as being the kind of person who would not only fit in but would learn, grow and therefore develop ‘talent’. Holding onto such people is the biggest challenge, not recruiting them.
What advice do you have for putting together a talented team that works well?
So my advice would be use your own instincts as well as an intelligent look at what the individual has done, their potential for what they might do, and their sheer willingness and commitment to develop in the job.
What do you look for in a PA?
That is what I would look for in a successful PA. Someone who is going places, has the sheer drive and motivation to do the job and to do it well, and by demonstrating this, to be able to grow both as a person and in terms of the kind of employment that they would seek for the future.
What do you think makes an exceptional PA?
Being prepared to give some time (rather than moving from job to job) to an employer whilst obviously having the talent to be able to move on, is the ideal balance.
One final thought. Loyalty, a willingness to think for, to care about the individual or individual you are working for, really does matter. That journey where there is no time for even a sandwich, that diary which does not allow for a cup of tea, or demonstration of not thinking about or giving a damn as to what happens to the person you are working with. I use the term ‘with’ because technology does not replace the person and processes do not replace a partnership to success.
What do you think is most important for women in the workplace?
That is why (with some temerity) I would advise young women, to believe in themselves, to have confidence and to use that emotional intelligence to the full. It is not where you start but where you intend to end up, which is the measure of your ambition.
Getting there often entails damned hard work and patience, which is not the same thing as compliance. Never take no for an answer, and never be put down by other people. Your inner strength in the end will be the kind of talent which will shine through.