‘Choose a career where your passions, skills and market need align’
Building a company is a difficult task. Whether starting their own or growing an established business, these leaders have made a name for themselves as some of the best of the best. So, what makes business leaders tick and what are they aiming to achieve when all is said and done? We spoke to Claudia Harris, CEO of Makers, about her journey in business.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
My job involves helping people make successful career transitions. And I have personally been through a few on my journey. For me they were the greatest moments of challenge, and also the greatest moments of growth, in my career.
I began my career in consulting. I left as a partner to become the founding CEO of a non-profit. After that, I became the CEO of a venture-backed scale-up (Makers). These transitions taught me a valuable set of lessons.
The first was how to be in learning mode. Each time I changed jobs I needed to build new skills – lots of them. I went from finding things at work relatively easy to finding a lot of things hard. To begin with this was daunting, but it began to feel empowering. It was good repeatedly to face not knowing how to do something, have to figure it out – and realise that (on the whole!) I could.
The second was to take an independent view. Each career shift highlighted how differently success is measured in different environments. On the one hand, this made things difficult. It meant that the shortcuts I applied in my previous jobs no longer worked. But it was also liberating. It helped me maintain an independent view of what I believe matters and how I define success.
The third was to recognise that growth at work is a personal journey. At Makers – the company I run – we believe that people can only make the most of career transitions if they are supported by emotional intelligence, resilience and well-being tools. Changing careers brings ambiguity and stretch. It is a personal transformation. Realising that – and actively managing the journey – has been a third key lesson.
While they were at times uncomfortable, these challenges provided opportunities for me to grow as a person. I had the opportunity to deepen and broaden my skill sets but also to be more comfortable learning. I saw how much our perspective is shaped by our immediate context – which helped me form an independent view of what matters. And I was humbled as those around me helped me learn, grow and improve, providing feedback.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you first started out?
Choose a career where your passions, skills and market need align. This is a simplification of a well-known model for career decision-making. I discovered this later in life and think if I had come across it earlier it would have helped me short-cut some choices.
Put your resources behind your goals. In work, it’s very intuitive to invest behind our goals. In life, we sometimes spend too much of our time and effort on things that – if we were honest with ourselves – are not our long-term priorities.
You are what you do. Whilst I don’t believe we should live to work, it is evident that what we choose to do in work will represent a large part of our impact in the world. There are lots of ways to choose work – but I think sometimes we don’t put impact high enough on the list.
Did you always want to be a business leader or did the desire develop over time?
I always loved a project – school newspapers, theatre productions. I would never have considered any of these to be linked to ‘business’ when I was young (I had no idea what business was!).
However, in my late teens I was lucky enough to have exposure to a set of business leaders through my school. After listening to them bring their work to life and discuss the creativity and teamwork involved I started to understand there was a link between a passion project and business. After that I chose to pursue a career in business.
Being able to relate my own interests to a potential career was enabling for me. It is something I have always been keen to help other people develop as they move through education and beyond.
What is your top tip for other business leaders?
At Makers, we put a lot of effort into feedback and appreciation. I think these two routines, while simple, remain two of the most important. Listening to feedback and demonstrating that you are open to it and unafraid to hear even the most challenging things is a valuable skill for a business leader.
It allows leaders to hear the things that are believed but may not always be articulated. And recognising and appreciating those around them is one of the most powerful ways leaders can create trust, joy and well-being (including their own) at work.
What are your plans for the future?
Our purpose at Makers is to transform lives and organisations by finding, training, and placing exceptional and diverse career switchers into tech roles. We want to change the face of the tech industry by building inclusive routes into tech careers.
We have already supported 5000 people to change career – almost all of them report that we have transformed their life for the better.
I would like to double that number in the next two years.
What would you like your legacy to be?
Helping people to find work that they love and democratising high-impact industries such as tech with a truly inclusive workforce.
What makes a great business leader?
Someone who is driven to use business as a force for good in the world and who can inspire people to join them on their journey.