According to Allison, it was only when she reflected on her own life story that she realised it’s through failure that she’s learned the most and learned to be the fearless version of herself that she now is.
From a young age, she faced struggles. Growing up in a poor area of Glasgow, although with very hard working parents, being bullied at her inner city school, then losing her father at a young age and deciding not to go to university.
“All of these experiences, while tough, made me who I am today,” she explains. “The bullying helped me become tough but also taught me to have empathy. And losing a parent at a young age, I realised life could be very short and you shouldn’t stay at anything too long if it doesn’t make you happy. As a result of that, my motto in life is, have a dream and bravely make it happen.”
After 20 years at Procter & Gamble, including more moments where her bravery was tested and reaffirmed, such as having to fire a Bulgarian distributor for paying off the Mafia, she stepped out of her comfort zone and moved to the TMT sector, to Virgin Media first then eventually ending up at her current company, Telia, in Scandinavia.
While failure is almost always defined as a negative, Allison reminds us that often these are the most important life-forming experiences. “When I look back, if I hadn't walked away from an undermining boss, if I hadn't failed to get that job I really wanted at Manchester United, then I probably wouldn’t be here in Sweden today.”
For Allison, learning from her so-called failings, she believes passionately that there are things we can all do to help others coming up. “Looking at the concept of levelling up, we have a need for social mobility. We need to reduce divides and inequality that now exist in society, we absolutely need to be role models to the kids at the poorer ends of society. We need to invest in education and teaching not just academic, but teach life skills that give them hope, aspirations.”
There is a distinct similarity between Allison’s reflections on fearlessness and Wendy Beckman’s. Wendy, too, looks back to her early family life for how her fearless approach in later life was formed. She grew up in the US in a family where she was the youngest of five. Her house was chaotic, and there wasn’t much room for being shy, nor much room for tears.
Wendy’s childhood and family values are reflected in the fearless woman she is today, running head-first into big complex problems, prioritising response over reaction. “When you think about complexity, I don't know about anybody else, but family is probably one of the most complex infrastructures I've ever lived or worked through. And so much, like life, there were a lot of bruises, emotionally and physically, in that setting. So, I learned to get on with things and that’s played a role in my survival instincts.”
Quoting Steve Jobs, she says it all makes sense when you “connect the dots looking backwards”, especially growing up in a situation like she did. “You had to get on with things. If you scrape your knees, you stand up and you move on. And there's not a lot of room for idling or wallowing in what's happening. And I don't think that's very different than being in a work environment.”
Wendy makes a crucial distinction in her fearless leadership between reacting and responding: “The times when I gained the most bruises is when I reacted rather than responded. If you think about reacting, it’s like fight or flight. You’re in the moment, it's very intense, you need to run. In most situations from a business standpoint, unless you’re in ER in the medical field, there’s always an opportunity to pause for a second. Being reactive is almost 100% emotionally driven, whereas responding, even if it’s taking five or ten minutes to slow it down, it gives you a chance to bring in a bit more data, to figure out what is the right response.”
She adds: “Complex situations can be either draining or exhilarating. But you choose your path to embrace the possibilities moving forward; it's how you accept the situation that you're currently in.”