Perspectives from the Top

Humility, Humanity, and Win-Win (ft. Claire Mann)

Episode Summary

The numbers of people Claire Mann serves in her work are staggering in their scale. But this week, Claire discusses with us how she focuses on the individual— both when it comes to how she can improve herself and how she can serve each person who rides the public transportation systems she’s helped lead and reinvent.

Episode Notes

Humility, Humanity, and Win-Win (ft. Claire Mann)

How seeing the weaknesses in yourself and the strengths in others makes you a better leader 


“People don't expect you to be perfect, I mean not just as individuals, but as businesses. I don't think anyone expects my railway to be on time every single day, but when it's not, all they ask for is good information, support, and compassion and empathy.”

—Claire Mann


Claire Mann started her career as a customer services assistant on Heathrow Express, the high-speed line from London to Heathrow Airport, where she became a train driver, then moved through a series of roles in a largely male-dominated rail industry. She eventually made her way into the C-suite as an operations and safety director before entering the distinct world of the London bus network, helping ensure that 11,000 buses and 2.1 million passengers reached their destinations every day. In 2020, she became CEO of South Western Railway, covering long-distance and commuter routes into London with over 200 million journeys per year.



[7:01] - Getting the Best From People

Claire’s equation for inspiring optimal performance

Claire is a believer in clear direction and honest feedback, combined with the support to do what people need to do in their given roles. She makes a point to speak to every member of a team she meets with— not to put on a show, but because she believes that to get the best from people, you need to talk to and listen to those people.

[9:25] - Turning Over the Pyramid

Start from the Bottom-Up

Without the people on the frontline of your organization, you would have no organization— especially during the COVID era. Forget pyramids of hierarchy and focus on supporting, respecting, and responding to the needs of your frontline people and watch how your organization is transformed for the better.

[19:26] - Start with the Right People

The customers don’t care about process, just result

The best commute is the most forgettable one. Do people like Claire feel disheartened by this? Of course not— they hire the best people and empower them with the best resources to give customers exactly what they’re looking for. After all, customers don’t care about the heroic lengths you’ve gone to serve them— only that your product is what they expect and hope it to be.

[24:22] - Maintaining Lessons Learned in COVID

How to avoid falling back into old habits

While COVID has been a devastating tragedy for lives, families, and economies worldwide, it did force organizations to transform the way they meet and interact for the better. Now the key is to avoid slipping into the old ways of unnecessary meetings and rigid work structures.

[33:47] - Stop Looking for Superhumans

Don’t create roles that only a superhero could take on

Claire emphasizes the importance of avoiding work roles and job listings that would require someone with otherworldly talent and capability to execute. If you’re looking for a superhero to fill a role, you’d probably be better off splitting that role’s responsibilities among multiple parties.


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Episode Transcription

Claire Mann:

People don't expect you to be perfect, I mean not just as individuals, but as businesses. I don't think anyone expects my railway to be on time every single day, but when it's not, all they ask for is good information, support, and compassion and empathy.

Chris Roebuck:

Welcome to Perspectives from the Top. I'm Chris Roebuck, global keynote speaker with unique leadership experience from military, business and government, bestselling author, and your guide to greater success. Together, we'll discover powerful insights from the world's leading thinkers, doers, and trailblazers, the must know trends, thought provoking revelations, and practical actions you can use immediately. This is your exclusive and personal shop of insight and inspiration to help you get to the top.

Chris Roebuck:

Welcome to you and all of our Perspectives from the Top community around the world, which is growing all the time according to the rankings. It's great to share the insights of such successful people with you to help you get to where you want to be

Today, we have a guest who started her career as a customer services assistant on the Heathrow Express, the high speed line from London to Heathrow Airport, where she became a train driver, then moved through a series of roles in the male-dominated rail industry, ending up in the C-suite as an operations and safety director. She then entered the very different world of bus transport, but not just any bus network, just running the network for all of London, some 11,000 buses and 2.1 million passengers a day, some of it during COVID. In 2020, she became CEO of South West Trains, covering both long distance and commuter routes into London with over 200 million plus journeys a year.

So it's my great pleasure to welcome the amazing Claire Mann to Perspectives from the Top.

Chris Roebuck:

Claire, good to see you and welcome from all our Perspectives from the Top listeners around the world. Thank you for your time in terms of joining us and we're looking forward to hearing your insights. Starting off, one of the thing that our listeners like to hear about is we find that somewhere in someone's past, there has been an inspiration that helped them get to where they are, be that a friend, a mentor, or whatever. Did you have somebody like that who sort of initiated your journey? And what did they do to get you going in the direction you've been so successful in?

Claire Mann:

Hi, Chris, it's an absolute delight to be here. Thank you for inviting me on. I was thinking about this a few times in the last year, because actually, I'm going to say my father. Now, often people think about somebody famous or somebody with high profile. My father had me when he was 46, so quite late in life. And he and his ethos, it was about everybody is kind and you look after everybody and everybody is at the center of your focus. And as far as he was concerned, you could do no wrong by people unless they did wrong by you.

And he had a very open personality. He was very open to all different cultures, different backgrounds. And for somebody who was an older father amongst my friends who had younger dads who were a bit more trendy, my dad was far more worldly-wise than anyone else

And very early on, he just said to me, "You be good and kind and you go for it, girl. You can do whatever you want to do." And I lived in Dorset in the middle of nowhere in a tiny village, and I didn't know much about life until I went to Polytechnic in Portsmouth. And when I met new people and new experiences, my dad was always there telling me, "As long as you stick to your values and you stick to your beliefs, you'll be fine in life."

And through my career, I've met many people, many women in senior roles who feel like they have to be aggressive or challenging to really make their point in their stand and I've just been myself. And whenever I talk about this, I'm passionate because I know I have never compromised my values in any role I've done.

So I think from an inspiration perspective, for me it's about being comfortable in yourself and going for it.

So that's from a personal perspective. From a business perspective, in the last few years, I've had the pleasure of becoming a close friend of Peter Hendy, who is the Chairman of Network Rail and obviously Commission of Transport for London and somebody with the passion, the drive, and the absolute focus on doing the right thing for transport and other areas, especially in London, but really, really, absolutely solid, reliable, somebody that you can talk to, somebody that can give you ideas and sort of ways forward.

He inspires me because he keeps going. He does so much for people all the time across the industry, but he's someone that people can rely upon to give some sound advice. And I think sometimes you just need that, that rock, that stable person that tells you as it is, and I like straight talking as well.

Chris Roebuck:

Well, that's two great examples. And I think the beauty of it is, as you said, it's your father who gives you the underlying sort of set of principles by which to live your life and gives his example to do that. And just that simple message of if you do good things for others, they will do good things for you is just so powerful. And lots of other speakers that are guests that have come on here have said the same. And that's actually basically hardwired into us as human beings, in that we positively respond to people who positively respond to us through the neuroscience.

And Peter Hendy also, when you are, and I would say this to all listeners, that if there is somebody who is a rock like Claire had with Hendy that you can have as a mentor or a friend or whatever, that is just so powerful going forwards.

Linked to your point about giving and you finding people give back, what's your perspective then on how important that is in relation to the sort of actions that leaders take on a day-to-day basis, be it focusing on the task or focusing on the people, that gets the best from people given what sort of Peter said and what you've experienced.

Claire Mann:

I think for me, people need clear direction. They need to have honest feedback. They need to be given the support to do what they do. And it all sounds very straightforward, but for me, it's about the human element again. I get off a train, I walk up the platform, I always stop and speak to every member of my team and see how they're doing. Now, we've just been through a pandemic where people have lost loved ones and friends, and we cannot underestimate that day in, day out, people are on the front line delivering a service who have been through a challenging time.

So for me, if we share vulnerability as leaders and we disclose how we're feeling and we talk about our lives and we ask others about theirs, you break down the barrier which is the process and the task and you get to the person. You then get absolutely commitment, dedication, and you need to give them support. You can't just do that and then let them go. They need to know where they're going.

So for me, it's not about being a soft, peopley, fluffy person. I think when I first started out in my career, "Claire's a bit fluffy." Well, no, I'm not actually. If I give you some support and I give you the direction and you decide that you don't want to be part of that, we'll have a conversation and then you'll leave, but we won't mess about. We'll be honest with each other.

So I think honesty, I think clarity, vision, but also support is what you need to get the best out of people.

Chris Roebuck:

Yeah. It also I think links to that environment that you're creating inevitably builds trust because people see that you genuine care about them as people and professionals. And the fundamental point is that if people think that you care about them, they will reciprocate. And it doesn't matter whether that's people around the boardroom table, or in your case, a cleaner on a station platform.

And funnily enough, as we discussed earlier, exactly the same thing applies when there is an interaction between you and customers or passengers or your staff and the same. So that interesting interaction element is a key part of what you're trying to get your people to do with your customers as well.

Claire Mann:

Absolutely. And you need to lead by example. As far as I'm concerned, there are no levels in my organization. We have a managing director, we have directors, we have people that are keeping those trains clean that have been doing that throughout the COVID period. Without them, we wouldn't have been running any services.

So let's be clear, it is about turning the pyramid on its head. It is about supporting the big frontline teams that are doing the job for you. And you can only support them if you listen to them and if you actually respect and respond to what they need in a way that is timely, measured, but honest.

So I think for me, the customer requires that engagement. If we don't give that engagement and have that engagement with our people, the customer won't receive. It all seems so straightforward, but I'm amazed every time I start a new job how many people I work with that just don't get it. They think you set the KPIs, you set the targets, you set the objectives, you send people out and they're just going to do it for you.

Well, they're not. They really are not. They need to understand why they're doing it. They need to understand what benefit is there in this and how do I know I've done a good job? And I don't think we're always as good in frontline service industries of telling people when they've done a good job. So that's another area I really focus on with my team.

Chris Roebuck:

You're absolutely right. And this isn't just a transport issue. I'm convinced that this is an issue with leadership everywhere, the that perspective that if you issue a set of objectives, KPIs or whatever, it will just magically happen because the people out there are as motivated as you are as a member of the board. Well, not quite because, one, they're probably not getting paid as much as you, two, they probably don't have the share options that have, and three, therefore, you know why you're doing it, but if you just tell them to do it, they don't know why they're doing it. And to your point, it doesn't answer the what's in it for me question.

And it's the really beautiful little points that asking people for their ideas, asking people for their thoughts, and everybody says, "Oh, well, that's insignificant," but the research data shows even the act of just asking your people for their ideas can get up to 35% more effort because you show that you're interested in them, even if they don't have a good idea. And I think that's the power of those simple little actions that you alluded to on a day-to-day basis that make people want to give their best.

Sort of flipping up to the strategic level, you led the London bus system with over 11,000 buses or two and a half million daily journeys, but what was interesting was that you were in the public sector running it, but the service was delivered by, what was it, 10, 11 private businesses. So how did you manage to make that service run so smoothly across all of London given that these people didn't actually report to you, they weren't actually in the same organization and their objectives were profit-driven commercial objectives, whereas your objectives were sort of public interest, societal objectives? How did you make that work?

Claire Mann:

Well, it's interesting because my background was the railway. So joining TFL and then going into the public sector and managing bus contracts was a completely different area for me.

So in the contracts, there's so much you can do with the requirements of the customer experience, standards, et cetera, but it doesn't get to the root and the heart of the issue, which is how the people are treated, how they feel about their job and how they give off their best, which is back to the point that if they're treated well, they give the best customer experience.

So for me, it was a real eye-opener to understand that where you've got 10 different companies bidding for the same work within London, so all in competition with each other, they're never going to sit in a room with you, the MDs, who have been in these jobs for many years. Lots of them have been in the industry since they came out of school or university. They're not going to sit together and openly share the best way of doing this. They're not going to share that with me, I found.

So it was all about, once again, getting to know the business, getting to know their challenges, building the relationship with the executive team of those businesses and really setting out why, as Transport for London, we wanted to take the bus forward.

Claire Mann:

Now, when I joined TFL, I felt like the bus part of the business was like [crosstalk 00:14:17]-

Chris Roebuck:

Sorry, if I could just dive in, Claire. TFL, for our listeners, is Transport for London, which is the public sector body that runs all of transport in London. Sorry, Claire.

Claire Mann:

No, sorry, I should have said, but in Transport for London, London underground is a big part of the network and clearly that's what people identify, but the London bus network, as you say, is huge. It touches everybody in London in terms of being within 200 meters of a bus stop. So it's such an important service.

How I felt about it was that it had almost been stuck in the corner like the film Dirty Dancing years ago, don't put Baby in the corner, bring her out. And that's how I felt about buses. It was all about the big tube network. The bus network delivers to every type of individual, to every location and it's accessible.

So what I was trying to do through the operators is say to them, "We are more important than ever, especially through the COVID period, to bring people back moving in London which was affordable and accessible. So I need you to work with me. I need to understand your business, but at the end of the day, we have to start working together on the outcome."

So I'm not saying that the MDs of 10 bus companies sat together and shared notes on how they were going to be better at customer service, but when it came to delivering a better safety record and a safer bus network, we all had a common purpose. It didn't matter if you were in competition, it's about life and death. And I think that really focused the attention.

So in terms of how you go about it, for me, back to people again. It's back to understanding motives, setting out the rationale as to why we needed to do it, but also just understand that we all had a common purpose, which was to keep people safe and continue to grow the network in London. So that, for me, over two to three years, I suddenly saw that coming together and it was a beautiful sight to see these sort of MDs of bus companies talking about the same issue and sharing ideas. It was amazing.

Chris Roebuck:

I often say, for many years, I've just coined the phrase it's about we, not me. And if you can create that ethos, either in the situation of stakeholders or obviously in the situation of team members, colleagues within an organization, we, not me, works better.

And you certainly had an achievement there to get hard nose commercial bus operators to sit out and actually talk to each other, but it also goes to what many people have said, example, Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, he said when they're negotiating between conflicting parties in a war environment, it's a win-win. You have to go for a win-win. If you can create a win-win, it actually gets people together. And that must have been what you were doing in terms of the commercial mindset, saying it should be, to some degree, a win-lose, but you created it as a win-win.

Claire Mann:

I think the challenges of funding have been very obvious to anyone in the UK when it comes to Transport for London, the transport industry, and obviously since COVID, even tougher. And at the end of the day, if we all pull together to deliver the best service and more people want to use it, we can continue to grow.

That was the common purpose for those individuals. Yes, they were competing for that work together, but the work wouldn't be there if we didn't focus in on the task at hand. So I think being blunt about it, if our bus drivers are not going to smile at anyone or give good customer service, people might not choose to use the service. And it was as simple as that, but a challenging few months, years to get to a point where I felt like I've got to there, but I'm hoping, I mean, I've been out of the role now for a few months, that that has continued since, and I'm sure it has.

Chris Roebuck:

Yeah, it's that situation where you try and get across to people, "Let's not argue about how we actually chop up this small cake between us, let's just make the cake bigger for all of us."

Claire Mann:

Yes. Exactly. Exactly your point. Exactly.

Chris Roebuck:

So feeding on from London buses then, you're now leading one of the biggest train companies in the UK, over 200 million journeys a year. If look at this and the other roles you've held where you're shifting a large volume of passengers, where getting that done is important, but also safety is critical. So you and your frontline staff in such a complex, fast-moving and intense environment have some fairly large leadership challenges. Can you give us some insight into some of those that perhaps those of our listeners who work in sort of an office or corporate environment might not be familiar with?

Claire Mann:

Yes. I mean, I often come across the view that you cannot do safety and reliability or performance at the same time. So some frontline people may say, "Well, if you want me to get this train to leave on time, I can't be doing all these things." Well, fundamentally, our customers require it to be a safe place and a secure place. They don't expect to know about that or hear about that. That just happens. What they're asking for is something that is reliable and good customer service.

So if you start with a baseline that you recruit the right people and they understand the importance of safety as a bedrock to everything you do and they do things well and they're professional, everything comes together.

The challenge we've got when you're running a lot operational business which has external factors that affect your ability to do that as well as you wish, is that when a customer arrives and they start boarding trains, there are incidents, there is anti-social behavior, there are weather events. There are lots of things that can impact your ability to do what you set out to do that morning.

So having people that can be flexible, that could be calm, but that also understand that. People don't expect you to be perfect, I mean not just as individuals, but as businesses. I don't think anyone expects my railway to be on time every single day, but when it's not, all they ask for is good information, support, and compassion and empathy. If they get that, it's fine. If they don't, it's really not acceptable.

And I think what I'm trying to engender into my team is it will go wrong. We'll never stop things going wrong. We can try various things to make things better, but you're never going to know what's around the corner. If you join a frontline business, you need to understand that there are things that are going to knock you off course.

The head office groups within my team need to understand their job is to support those people every day, be there with the systems, be there with the support and guidance and HR support when things go wrong, be there to comfort them.

So I think it's about really thinking about as a customer when I travel on a train or as a customer when I go into a shop, if I don't get the best service, as long as it's dealt with well, I can forgive it. And I think we need to be really focused on the fact that you can soften the blow if you get the second part right.

But what I would say is since COVID, we used to on our railway network probably just expect people to use us every day. Whether we're late or not, you'll just have to wait until the train comes. Well, I'm sorry, our customers have choices now. We're fighting for them. They can work from home. They don't have to get on that train anymore. So actually, the importance of professionalism and the best service is never been higher. And as an industry, we need to realize that it's not what it was a year and a half ago. So things have changed fundamentally.

Chris Roebuck:

It's interesting. You mentioned sort of the attitude to customers and the fact that if things do go wrong, they understand that you're human. And I think that's an interesting point about leaders, in that when a leader sort of implies that they're perfect, they've never made a mistake in their lives, et cetera, et cetera, to some degree, that is insulting the intelligence of other people because they know full well that you've made mistakes, and it's an acceptance that we've all made mistakes and we all will make mistakes, but as long as we did the best we could in the situation, and particularly if those problems are caused by things completely outside our control in the context of what you do, the weather, mechanical breakdowns, and all of that.

You mentioned COVID, and it's interesting that some organizations, I've written some articles on the responses to COVID. And what seemed to happen in the first phase of COVID was that actually COVID triggered off a heroic response in many organizations of everybody pulling together and a significant cutting through of bureaucracy just to get it done. Did you find that as well?

Claire Mann:

Absolutely. So at the time that lockdown happened, I was working in Transport for London running the bus network. And I think the first thing to say is we did not know from day to day what to do, what was going to happen next and it was all about finding your feet. So we had to make quick decisions. That's not normal in the transport sector. We had to very quickly come to some conclusions and also pull people together to do some things very quickly, pull in resources, and make sure that we could adapt the physical design of the bus to protect our drivers, we could adapt the timetables.

And we did it quickly and it just happened. And we suddenly realized that working off of Teams in Zoom and just having really quickfire discussions and decisions really evolved us in a very short space of time. If we could only bottle that forever, it would be fantastic. The challenge I think we now have is we are using Zoom, Teams, and we're working from home and we're back to meetings again. I think it's very easy for the industry to slip back into not making decisions because we're not under that life and death pressure.

I mean, if I'm honest with you, on the bus network, we lost 60 bus drivers through COVID in that first summer. And to receive a call to say another driver has passed away at this garage, at this garage, it was so hard to know what we were going to do next, that you suddenly pull it all out and you have to make some decisions.

Now, some of them won't have been the right ones, but at the time, we did what we could. And I think on review and reflection of the activity that we did at that time, we did a really good job. And I think we all look at each other now in a different light as individuals that were part of that and there's a respect for the fact that it brought us closer.

I mean, COVID has made people open up about their personal situations. Mental health has become really, really important now. That has really helped soften, I would say, business. We've softened. We've become more forgiving. The work-life balance issue has been addressed better. My fear is we could end up flipping too much the other way where people are scared to challenge again and get back to business. And I think it's a very delicate path you need to tread, but we've got to start taking those steps now as we come out the other end of this.

Chris Roebuck:

I think at this point, having, as listeners may recall, I spent time in London underground. So I understand the ethos of the public service worker as Andy Byford, Transport Commissioner for London's said, and I know full well, and you know from South West, et cetera, and the buses that if there is a problem on the network, these people will come in on their day off unpaid to help the network get over what the issue is.

And in terms of COVID, for all our listeners out there who are in jobs where they had the privilege of working from home when COVID hit, please just spare a thought for those people that Claire was talking about who could not work from home because they had to drive the train or drive the bus that got everybody else to work, which put them in danger and sadly meant that in terms of percentages, a massively higher percentage of transport workers were either ill or sadly passed away due to COVID than most other sectors.

So that's just a thought I would ask people to think about when you take your journey to work, the sacrifice that those people have given to your communities through COVID. And yes, as Andy Byford said, I want people to have forgettable journeys so they don't remember going to work, but please, at some point, just don't forget those people.

Linking into the practicalities of getting this stuff done, Claire, it's interesting to me talking to leaders around the world about where they find they have lack of capability, that people are focusing and organizations are focusing in on the really interesting stuff like strategic change or those sort of things, but there's evidence that I've seen that there's some really basic leadership skills that are missing like delegation that people haven't been trained in.

Just to give you an example, when I'm speaking, every audience of leaders I speak to around the world, I ask, "How many of you in this audience have ever been taught how to delegate effectively?" And never, never more than 25% of the hands go up. And I think, well, these people are supposed to be delegating every day, but no one's taught them how to do it. So do you think there is a risk in organizations not putting those basics into place and then hoping that the strategy will be delivered through leaders who've never been to taught how to delegate?

Claire Mann:

Absolutely. I think the challenge we've got personally, this is my reflection on my career, is often you get promoted into a role and off you go. You know what you need to do. You've watched someone else do it, so you follow the same lines, and all you're doing is repeating the poor things that have happened before. Then a light bulb goes off where you suddenly realize that actually this isn't really working for me and I didn't think it would be this difficult and you start to find your own way to deal with things.

And I think what we need to get back to, as you say, is back to basics. It's all very well having change managers or people in your team looking at the future strategy, but if the leadership is inappropriate or the leadership is inadequate, you're never going to deliver on your strategies anyway.

And I think what we often lack in industry is where the lower level supervisory and management people sit. They often never get enough support to be able to manage upwards and manage downwards. They just are a layer that has to receive it all, absorb it and work it through. And often they can be quite difficult to take on a journey.

We might put a lot of effort into supporting the frontline. We might put a lot of effort into executive leadership training and development, but if we don't cascade that through the structure and we don't set those training and development targets throughout, you're not going to get the benefits.

So I think delegation is an issue whereby people think they're doing it appropriately, then a project or something comes up and surprises you out of nowhere and you realize that actually, it's not being managed as you thought it had because you've not done that task properly. And then everyone piles in. And then from top to bottom, you've got your MD, your CEO dealing with the detail of an issue.

And it's a real risk. And if we don't stop, pause, step back and recruit the right people and develop them to be good leaders, we will not achieve our objectives. And I think there are good people that just need a little bit of support and there are lots of people who have just gone up through the ranks because they're the technical expert. They've never had those skills and they can actually be quite damaging to the future of the business. So I absolutely agree with you that the basics are where businesses really need to focus.

Chris Roebuck:

Yeah. I mean, I would say to all listeners, when I say that the basics, what do I mean? I mean, prioritization. Are you doing work that enables the organization to deliver what it needs to deliver? Time management, are you able to deliver stuff on time? Delegation, are you able to delegate the right work to the right person? Communication, are you able to explain why they need to do it and the big picture. And finally, giving feedback, are you able to give feedback?

And I would say to every listener, ask yourself whether you are confident in doing each of those. And people might say, "Oh, well, that isn't terribly important," but it is, because if you can't do those things, you are going to have difficulty, as Claire said, about getting stuff done.

If you can't get the stuff done, you're going to be focusing on the task all the time. If you focus on the task all the time, unsurprisingly, you're not going to be focusing on people. If you don't focus on your people at all, they will draw the conclusion that you're more interested in the task than them. And you don't ask them for their ideas, you don't show you care, you just focus on the task, and their attitude then becomes, "Well, if that person is more interested in the task than me, why should I give my best?"

And I think it's helping leaders understand that there is an impact on purely focusing on the task. And actually, the secret is to inspire the people and delegate to them where appropriately, which inspires them even more, to get the task done and more than the task done. Have you seen that happen in your experience with leaders who do that?

Claire Mann:

I have. And I think that the leader that is scared to delegate because they want control is the leader that will never develop a team or a succession plan, the leader that will always feel like they're under scrutiny and is quite defensive. And I think when you just accept that people will make mistakes and they're not going to get it right and that's okay, and once they've done it a couple of times and you've supported them and then they get it right because they learn, it just opens up a whole new avenue of excitement because that individual's empowered. They take things on that you don't even know need doing. And all of a sudden, they are coming up with initiatives and innovation.

I think that we can often create super human jobs. We decide this is the role, we create a job description and a sort of profile. We then go and recruit someone, we put them in it, and then you look at it and think, "That's not humanly possible. Why did we do that to somebody?" Why did we put someone in a position where you're not giving them the bandwidth and the ability to really do their best in that role? I think it's a mistake businesses make when they go through transformation, they reduce their size. They start piling work into one individual to sort of shrink down numbers and it just breaks them.

And we've got to just keep checking it and saying, "Is that possible? If not, that's not the role." And I do think that that's something in the last couple of years I've learned a lot about. In Transport for London, we had to reduce numbers. We're now looking at that within South Western Railway. There's a change across the transport industry in terms of efficiencies, but we're making those decisions. The people that are left, have they got the support? Have they got the time, resource and the skills? Because otherwise, it's going to come in on us. And I think it's something that really needs to be thought through in this day and age, especially now that we understand the impact of mental health issues on people's ability to cope because it's not right that we ever do that.

Chris Roebuck:

Well, to be honest, for anyone who's C-suite or anywhere near C-suite listening, my experience is that Claire's comment about bandwidth is absolutely fundamental. So often I have seen leaders who aren't good at delegating, who as a result kill their own bandwidth to do whatever, but I've also seen it on reorganizations and other things like that. And I would suggest that senior leaders think about this, if you have a leader who has got so much to do, they can't get it done, there's no bandwidth, so things will fall apart. If you've got a leader because the structure has been changed who has 10 direct reports, you cannot work effectively as a leader giving time to 10 direct reports in a fast-moving environment.

If you look at the military, the military operate on something like a maximum of five or six direct reports because they've worked out that that is the limit of your bandwidth as a human being. So that I think is really key.

On the delegation front, I would say to listeners what I promise I will do is when I do my reflections on the top for Claire in a week's time, I will give you a little two minute delegation exercise that I promise you could save you half a working day a week. Because I haven't got time to do it now. We want to get more insights from Claire.

Linked to that, given your success as a woman in organizations which are traditionally male-dominated, what would you say to a young woman about the potential challenges, but also potential for success in a career in a male-dominated workplace? What do they have to do to get there, to succeed?

Claire Mann:

They have to be themselves, Chris. I'm sorry, it's back to my original point. I fell into the railway industry, had no idea that's what I would be doing. I remember Heathrow Express was the company I first started out with and I didn't even know it was a railway. I thought it was a coach company. I saw this advert, it didn't say it was trains. Went for the interview, got offered this job as a custom service representative and I was all excited about that. And we got started at the business and then they sent us all to be train driver assessments who were offered this assessment. And I thought, "Well, I'll do the assessment, but there's no way I'm driving a train. It's not why I've come here."

And out of the 12 of us, only four of us passed this assessment. There were three guys and me, and I said, "Oh, I'm not doing it." And all these other people were saying, "But you've passed the assessment. You've got the opportunity to drive a train." I said, "I don't want to drive a train. I want to be a customer service representative."

So there was another guy and he'd been a chef and he'd just joined Heathrow Express. And he said to me, "I don't really want to do it either." So there was two of us. And I said to him, "Look, if you do it, I'll do it." And he went, "Okay, let's give it a go." Off we went.

Now, I had no idea that in taking a step into that role, which was nothing like a traditional railway driver role, by the way, Heathrow Express recruited people for customer service and it was an added skill on top. It wasn't the other way around. It was a brand new company, brand new standards. It was like an airline.

So it wasn't the railway we might know today. I went into that with no understanding of what I was about to walk into in terms of an industry, which was very male-dominated. So it didn't even cross my mind that it would be an issue, and I think because I just knew that it was exciting, I had an opportunity and I was going to give it my best, I just went straight into it, went for it, and that's how my career developed in the railway.

Now, moving from Heathrow into more traditional railways, I came across those barriers. I remember walking into a mess room when I was an operations manager for another company. And I sat down with some drivers, all male, middle-aged, white, I have to say, and I said to them, "Oh, I used to drive trains." And they looked at me and said, "What, your little train set?" I said, "No, a Class 332." And they said, "What do you mean?" And I said, "Yeah, I used to drive trains," and talked a bit about it. They softened, they relaxed, and then they said, "Huh," and then, "Do you want a cup of tea?" And I thought, "Okay."

Now whether that's acceptable or not, we're humans and you're breaking through barriers that have been there and it's all about people again. I was just myself, said what I did, built relationships with them, continue to just do things the way I would do them, even when I'd come across board meetings with all men, me in there going, "Put the kettle on, Claire." "All right, I'll go and put the kettle on, you buy me a drink after work."

It's about being confident to just be brilliant. And I think my experience in the last few years, it's changed. It's changed quite considerably. Inclusion is so, so important to me and we need to create that to get the diversity in business. You need an environment where people feel safe and supported to want to come there and then you open it up.

And we're still in a backward place in the transport sector I believe. I think we need people to feel that it's the place to be, we'll bring the diversity, and then it will just be irrelevant. For now, we're still on the journey, but for me, it's about confidence in yourself and your values and just be you. For me, it was laughing it off and then they become embarrassed and they're like, "Actually, I shouldn't have said that." And that was the way to cope, not be offended because I never took it that way.

Chris Roebuck:

That's amazing. In fact, I think you are probably the first person on the series who is qualified to drive a train, which is a first, which is so cool.

Claire Mann:

You know what? When I told my amazing dad, because he used to run a pub down in Dorset, and I went down there when I was in my late 20s. I had just passed [inaudible 00:41:20] as a train driver or I was just about to, and he said to me, "You never told me when you were growing up, Claire, that you wanted to be a train driver." And I said, "I know I didn't, but look at me now." And the village was so excited by the fact that they had a train driver, first point, and she was a girl and she was brought up in this tiny village.

And it was just actually quite a lovely feeling. And I think that sort of sense of it's all a bit different, but everyone was so proud really also helped me sort of get more confident and go into management leadership after that.

Chris Roebuck:

That's a beautiful story. Finally then to anyone who is listening, perhaps first of all, to anyone who is not a leader, but just a colleague and a team, what would you say they should do to be a better colleague to help their team be better? And then if you're leader, what's one thing you should say or you would say that a leader should do better?

Claire Mann:

You said it earlier, we are not perfect and we will make mistakes. As a leader, vulnerability, authenticity and honesty are so important. Now, I'm not talking about divulging confidential things you can't talk about, I'm talking about being honest and upfront and telling people that you can't if you can't. But we need to be vulnerable to enable people to feel comfortable to be themselves and then you get of your best. It's so straightforward. No airs and graces in terms of, "I know it all, I'm at the top of this tree." I'm not. I need your help. That's my thing when I come into a new as a leader."

As a colleague, once again, identify people that need you, talk, share, and just explore. I mean, there are so many people in my organization who have got amazing backgrounds. They didn't always work on the railway. And I bump into them and they tell me things about what they've done and ideas they've got. And I just say, "Why don't you get together with this individual and form a little group?" And it's just about make your working life as great as it can be and make it fun. That's what I would say that.

Chris Roebuck:

Claire, that's so true, enjoy your working life, make it fun, we, not me, and share with everybody. Thank you so much. It's been amazing. Thank you to our listeners. I'm sure they'd like to thank you as well. I thank you on their behalf. And also I'd say to our listeners, don't forget that little point I made about next time you take public transport, just have a little thought for how much people in public transport have done for us all over COVID. Claire, thank you so much.

Claire Mann:

Thank you, Chris. Thanks.

Chris Roebuck:

Some great insights and fun from Claire. Above all, I think it's the emphasis that she put on humanity in so many senses that were so powerful, treating others with respect, sticking to your values, helping others grow and develop, understanding they make genuine mistakes and being who you really are. But from the leader's perspective, how that creates an environment where people want to give their best, where they do more than the job, where they're constantly looking out for ways to do things better.

But she also focused on the simple practicalities. For leaders to be able to do these things, they must have been given the basic skills and capabilities in the first place. And in reality, many just haven't.

I'm just reminded in my reflections also that I will be giving you a simple exercise which you can use if you're a leader to enhance your delegation skills.

So have a think about how you can use some of Claire's ideas to help you get to where you want to be. Certainly I'll be feeding some of them into my keynotes and master classes to help my audiences in the future. And don't forget that in a week, I'll give you a more in depth view of the key takeaways from Claire, my insights and three ideas for actions in my reflections on the top.

If you have used any of the insights you've got from Perspectives from the Top and they help you, send me your success stories. I'd love to hear them.

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