An Interview with Jo Bottrill, Out of House Publishing, UK
Tell us about your company and your role
We develop, edit and produce academic, scholarly and education content for publishers around the world. Our project managers deliver textbooks, monographs and digital content across hundreds of projects every year.
I am the Managing Director – my role is to provide strategic direction and to make sure that we are profitable, adequately resourced and able to fulfil all of our commitments.
Do you think leadership qualities can be developed by anyone, even someone just starting her career? If yes, could you say how?
Absolutely. I’m far from a great leader. Leadership is a constant work in progress – it takes practice and you need to be able to adapt to a constantly changing world. The idea of intentional leadership is one that resonates with me – leadership is a skill that needs to be worked on, coached and practiced. We’re all leaders at one time or another and we probably do more of it than we realise.
What steps have you taken to improve your leadership skills and knowledge to become a better leader?
I spend time with a business coach, and our leadership team has had support from a very influential coach and mentor who has helped us be more effective as a group. Process is important to me and I build weekly, monthly and quarterly reviews into my schedule so that I can reflect on what I’m doing – including leadership – identifying what’s worked and where I need to focus next. I also spend time each month with a peer group of business leaders – we come from a diverse range of industries, but the issues we face are remarkably common. That group challenges me to work on our business and gives me accountability.
Decision making: When making key decisions, what's your process?
If it’s a big decision I tend to agonise more than I should. Sometimes you just have to follow your gut and that’s not the easiest thing to write a process for. As an organisation we have a senior leadership team – the four of us come together more often now to make day-to-day decisions. We’ve been burnt in the past by not making investment and resourcing decisions soon enough but that’s balanced by risk, and as we grow as an organisation we probably become slightly more risk averse.
Managing others: What are your guiding principles when you are managing a team of people?
Set people free. I’m trying to strike a balance between giving people strong leadership and setting them free to work out how best to approach the unique challenges they face and to find work that interests them. We’re building a business on strong foundations with the flexibility to grow quickly and to adapt to constant change. I think we’ll achieve that if everyone has a strong sense of our guiding principles but the confidence, skills and resources to make decisions for themselves.
Work life balance can be a challenge or if you are part of the sandwich generation (caring for young children and aging parents). You are a two career family with two young children.
How do you manage work life balance?
It varies. As the business has grown we sometimes get the balance wrong and end up putting too much on one person’s plate – and that includes me. There have been a fair few late nights and weekend working for all of us over the years, it’s a question of keeping it under review, trying to plan resources ahead and making decisions quickly.
What's the biggest challenge?
Being realistic. Things always take longer than you think and we never properly schedule for interruptions. I’m keen on the idea of doing less but doing it well. That doesn’t mean we’ll do less as a business, but that we’ll have a more intensive focus on that one initiative that will bring most benefit to our customers, get that done and then move to the next.
What's your best resource?
Travel. I’m not constantly traveling the globe, but getting out of the office for a day and getting a new perspective on things really helps me. I’ve had some great ideas and been really productive on trains!