Do you ever feel as though your work persona and your life persona are worlds apart? Louise Ward, Safety and Sustainability Director at Freightliner, credits being her true self at work as one of the secrets to her success. In a fast-paced, high-hazard – and often very male-dominated – environment, Louise shares how to retain your sense of self, let your personality shine, and rise to the top while you’re doing it with authentic leadership.
“I feel that being at peace with myself breaks down gender barriers. I’m in this job by virtue of my skills and experience, and others are too. Together we make a powerful team.”
Find your niche and know your subject
Louise worked out early on how to combine her interests into a career that would continue to genuinely motivate and inspire her:
“I did a degree in health and safety, having identified a real passion for science and technology, but also for working with people. This discipline allows me to balance both – and keeps challenging me year on year!”
Currently, Louise is responsible for the health, safety, and wellbeing of Freightliner employees across Europe. With sustainability at its core, Louise is also excited to lead the way on decarbonization, proposing carbon neutral solutions for Freightliner’s customers, and promoting social sustainability and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) values. Through adopting a strategic approach to her career, Louise has been able to follow her developing interests and expand her skillset into these diverse areas, all while climbing the ladder:
“Taking up a new role every three years or so, means I’ve gained a breadth of experience in different industries, and progressed through the levels of seniority.”
Feeling knowledgeable in her areas of expertise gives Louise confidence at work, and she is keen to share her experience with others:
“I’m very committed to growing and promoting my profession, so I regularly write for the trade press, take part in events and seminars, and I lecture on a degree program too. I’ve also co-written three books!”
Did you know that as well as leadership development programs, Freightliner offers 24 additional weeks paid parental leave in addition to statutory?
Find out more about this and their other employee benefits.
Accept yourself – and others – and understand your strengths
“Early on, I learnt to accept myself as I am, to be honest about my strengths and weaknesses, and to seek to accept others as they are too.”
Each of us has a unique set of skills and ideals, and Louise encourages us to explore our “natural styles and working preferences” to recognize how they can add value to the workplace. Via psychometric testing while on a leadership training program, Louise discovered some revealing truths:
“I’m naturally a reflective introvert, which is unusual in an Executive Team where an extroverted personality is much more common. I guess I’ve always felt a little bit different from my leadership colleagues, but I’ve learned to value rather than conceal this, to have confidence in expressing my style as a strength.”
In recognizing how this particular trait can be of benefit to the group, Louise now leans into this part of her personality.
“I need to work things through in my head before I’m ready to share an opinion, but my more extroverted colleagues do their thinking by talking. I’ve learnt to use questions to keep myself hooked into the discussion, until I’ve worked through my ideas. This makes a real difference because I don’t feel frustrated or sidelined. In turn, they use my reflective style as a ‘sense check’ or a ‘brake’ to help them pause and evaluate calmly before making a decision.”
By being her true self in the workplace, Louise feels others respond authentically to her too, which helps build rapport.
“By accepting myself as I am, I convey honesty and openness in every interaction, which encourages others to engage with me in a similar way. This has been key to my effectiveness, my career development, my happiness, and my sense of fulfillment at work.”
Use active listening, and let your actions do the talking
Louise advises that “people will see right through you if you try to behave in a way that’s not natural to you.” She says, it’s easy to spot when someone is behaving in a way that is artificial and, as a result, people tend to be a little bit suspicious and avoid engaging. In her experience, leading by example and with “honesty, openness and consistency” is the best way to support people and to gain their respect.
“Good leadership is about what you DO, not what you SAY. Actions speak louder than words, and people will learn and develop by replicating the actions of people they admire.”
Louise also knows that effective leadership isn’t about having all the answers, and that being open about this can establish a positive collaborative environment:
“Nobody expects you to know everything or be perfect, and actually it is really empowering for a team when their leader asks for help, support or advice.”
At Freightliner, many employees have worked there for a long time, and with such a “wide profile of skills and experience” there is “a huge amount of knowledge” ready to be shared.
“I try to be curious, interested, and humble, ask open questions and listen actively to develop good-quality conversations. This avoids awkwardness and inferences that might be counter productive.”
Be curious and keep asking questions
In a role where “no two days are the same,” Louise says she “genuinely learns something new every day.” Having an up-front approach, where she’s not afraid to ask for help means she can continually expand her understanding of new or complex issues while simultaneously achieving greater clarity in the workplace.
Louise hopes that she creates “a culture and environment where people feel encouraged to speak up and share their innovative and exciting ideas.”
By carrying this approach throughout her career, Louise has developed “a network of amazing specialist professional colleagues” who she can “reach out to at any time for help and support.” She says that knowing she can call on their expertise has been key to her growth and success.
Trust your instincts
As her final piece of advice, Louise reminds us to always trust our instincts: “If there’s something in you saying ‘not sure’, identify what the issue is, and then reach out to see how you can resolve it.”
Even from that very first interview, Louise encourages applicants to make sure the role and company aligns with their values and identity:
“The interview process should be a two-way process. It’s not just about the organization deciding if they want you – it’s an opportunity for you to decide if the organization, team, and role are right for you. I went through a number of interviews with Freightliner senior leaders in both the UK and at HQ in the US, and at every stage I really liked the people, the ethos, the vision and the values of the organization.”
Throughout her career and in her role at Freightliner, Louise has ensured she’s stayed true to herself and maintained her identity – and the results speak for themselves!