Morag Barrett is the CEO and Founder of SkyeTeam, a woman-owned, international, global leadership development, and HR consultancy. She is also a leadership consultant, keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. Morag is the author of the book Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in England and remember my childhood as relatively relaxed. I climbed trees, fell into nettle patches, swam in the river, my brother and I fought over the lego and whose turn it was to push the button in the elevator – all average and mundane stuff. My parents were very supportive and hands-off, both worked and were role models for working hard. I think this is what has made me independent and willing to try new things. I’ve had the opportunity to work with leaders from more than 20 countries and on six continents. I’ve been to North Slope, Alaska, and down to Chile and Peru. I have a long list of places I want to visit in my lifetime and several where I would love to live for an extended period. I love adventure and travel (but hate heights), this is reflected in the decision to move to the USA. I’m looking forward to being able to travel internationally again and one of my first trips, after visiting family in the UK, is to explore Patagonia.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
There are two things that I wish I had learned sooner,
The first is that other people aren’t paying nearly as much attention to what I am doing as I thought. I was both confident and shy early in my career. Confident in my abilities but hesitant to seek the limelight for fear of being judged by others or not meeting expectations.
The second is that business is personal and relationships matter. This became the focus of my first book Cultivate. The Power of Winning Relationships. Early in my career, I remember being told ‘it’s not personal, it’s just business. I’ve come to realize that there’s no business, team, product, or service that can’t be undermined by a lack of care and attention to the human side of the business. This is my passion and the focus of my work at SkyeTeam – how to build high-performing teams and organizations. In my work as an Executive Coach, I’ve seen how investing in professional relationships can transform a leader’s reputation and impact.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Keep your head down, do good work, and you will be recognized. This was certainly advice I was given early in my career. Doing good work matters, but it is table stakes, and you need to get comfortable tooting your own horn and showcasing your work as needed. The next time someone recognizes your contribution instead of diminishing it with a wave of the hand and a ‘oh it was nothing’ or ‘don’t mention it’ try a simple ‘thank you’.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
Working with a toxic colleague has to be one of the most traumatizing experiences in my career. I’ve had several bad bosses over the years. Some were like ships in the night, short-lived and now just a distant memory. From others, I still carry their legacy and (proverbial) scars with me.
I know that my experiences of bad bosses robbed me of my self-confidence. I questioned myself and my abilities (despite past track records). I was exhausted, both mentally and physically, and the idea of the energy needed to effect a change was overwhelming. I was paralyzed. I felt like a failure. Hopeless. Trapped. Damned if I stayed, and damned if I left.
Experience has shown me that no amount of complaining to others about a toxic boss or hoping that they suddenly see the light and change helps resolve the situation. Ultimately change only occurred when I took ownership for my part in the relationship and for what I could control.
My learning is to establish boundaries and communicate them early in a professional relationship. Role model showing up as an Ally even in the trying relationships. When I chose to let go of the fear, intimidation, shame, and embarrassment that my toxic colleague triggered in me some of their power was diminished and I was able to take back an element of control.
We spend more than half of our lives at work, this is the ultimate team sport. We all want to have, and want to be seen as, a good boss. One who has your back, who is your Ally, makes work so much better and helps make us better.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I am a lifelong learner and have a high degree of curiosity. I like to know how things work, what you do, what your company does, how it all fits together. I believe that that curiosity and ability to connect the dots is what makes me a powerful executive coach and facilitator. It is one of my superpowers that clients often comment on.
Certainly, a passion for lifelong learning is going to be key for all of us in the 21st Century. As the pace of change continues to accelerate and technology impacts how we do business, and how we relate, we need to keep ahead of the tsunami of change that is coming our way. Being inquisitive and continuous learning are two things that have contribute and will continue to contribute to my success.
What is your morning routine?
I try to avoid mornings! I am most definitely a night owl and when I read the articles that implied that to be successful you should get up at 4 am run 5 miles, have a healthy breakfast, meditate, etc it feels overwhelming!
I usually check my schedule the night before, have laid out the things that need my attention on my desk.
When I wake up (usually around 6.30 am) I’ll drink a cup of coffee, read the news, check my inbox, and catch up on the many scrabble games I am playing with family back in the UK. I’ll get up around 7.30 am and have breakfast and take my second cup of coffee to my desk to start the day.
It’s worked for the last 40 years and don’t see the morning routine shifting much in the future!
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
The habit I have pursued that has most improved my life is being intentional about prioritizing the business and personal relationships that are important to me. I am taking my own medicine and advice from my book! Especially now, with many of us working from home and the endless zoom-google-hangout-meet schedule many relationships have become transactional, the only time we see our colleagues is when we need something. As a result, the leaders I’m working with are reporting a decrease in teamwork and collaboration, and an increase in the sense of disconnection and isolation. I know because I too have felt lonely and have missed my friends, family, colleagues, and clients.
Instead of sitting back and waiting for others to take the lead, I choose to go first. Every day I make it a point to call or message someone I haven’t spoken to for a while. Every week I send several handwritten cards to let others know I am thinking of them. The ripple effect has been huge, both for the person I have contacted and for the messages and conversations I have had in return.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
As I reflect on my career as the founder of SkyeTeam.com, I can point to times where I have been busy — chasing my tail, so to speak — but not necessarily productive. The to-do list seemed to take on a life of its own and working from a home office only adds to the pressure. It’s is all too easy to “pop into the office for a few minutes” and look up only to discover day has turned to night.
To ensure I am using my time efficiently my team and I regularly review our goals (personal and professional) to ensure we are all clear about what our priorities are, and as importantly, what is not a priority! This results in both a to-don’t list which is as important as the proverbial to-do list.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I love Jane Austen and could reread her books over and over again. I also adore the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon, I love the researched historical drama (and of course the main character Jamie).
I’m also an avid reader of non-fiction and always have several books on the go at any one time. Currently, I’m reading Work Made Fun Get’s Done by Dr. Bob Nelson and Mario Tamayo, it’s exciting because my company SkyeTeam is featured in it. I’m also reading Curve Benders by David Nour.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“People will forget what you said, or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel” – Dr. Maya Angelou
I love this quote and share it regularly when I am facilitating leadership programs as it gets to the heart of everything I do. When I work with leaders and ask them to identify their best leaders, best colleagues, best friends and ask them to share what it is about these people that makes them special, their answers are all about the mislabeled soft skills and how they make us feel and rarely about how smart they are or their functional knowledge.
Those in my network know that they can contact me anytime and that I will be there to listen, to coach, to support, or to give them a ‘shot of Morag’ and an emotional boost as needed. Life is too short not to be having fun along the way, to embrace all the feelings, and one of the reasons of our 8 corporate values four are related to fun – it’s all about the emotions and how we feel.