Virginia Mansell | Open Colleges
Virginia Mansell

Executive Chairman at Stephenson Mansell Group

Virginia Mansell

"Be proactive, initiate, be confident with requests and sell and promote yourself when opportunities emerge. Embrace and be comfortable with fast-paced change."

Virginia Mansell is an expert and thought leader in executive coaching, mentoring, and leadership. She is the author of The Focused Executive , an important resource for CEOs and senior executives determined to perform at their very best.

In 1998, Virginia established The Mansell Group to provide coaching and leadership development services. In 2005, she merged this business with The Stephenson Partnership to create Stephenson Mansell Group, arguably Australia's longest-established executive development firm. Over the past 15 years the Stephenson Mansell Group has worked with 5000 executives in more than 500 organisations in Australia and internationally, including 30 of Australia's top 50 companies.

1 In a couple of short sentences, tell us about your career path and how it has evolved over time.

I began my working life in the clothing industry. In my late twenties I taught business statistics at the local TAFE which was frightening as I was only one chapter ahead of the class! I took up studying applied mathematics at the University of New England thinking I would become a maths teacher and work in rural areas, however after one semester, I decided to return to my love of working with people in business.

When I had my son, I combined my interests and passions completing a postgraduate degree, working in a children's clothes store whilst doing a graduate job at Cairnmillar Institute before I was offered a full-time role. I loved the stimulation and growth I achieved with my study and work.

In 2005, I acquired the Stephenson Partnership to establish the Stephenson Mansell Group which I continue to lead.

2 What advice would you offer other Australian women looking to get into leadership development?

Do leadership roles in real businesses and spend time in a commercial division. Having an academic background is useful and helpful however nothing replaces the hard yards of the rough and tumble of working as a leader in an operating business, and not just financial services. Invest in a range of skills across marketing, accounting, and commercial skills.

Get both gender mentors and coaches along the way. Listen and ask questions, look after yourself, your work-life balance and don't try and do it all at once. Get off the women's agenda. Just focus on being excellent in your role and do your job as well as you can. Learn equally from men and women as that is the reality of the workforce and if you find you are not learning and developing, then change your boss by getting another job or navigate your way around. Take control of your own career and learn to step up when there are gaps. Be proactive, initiate, be confident with requests and sell and promote yourself when opportunities emerge. Embrace and be comfortable with fast-paced change.

3 What are the top three things employers are looking for in a leader/manager?

1. Self-awareness.
2. A good combination of EQ (emotional intelligence) and IQ.
3. Being agile and able to deal with change and uncertainty (i.e. change ready).

4 What's a typical day like for you running a leadership development firm?

My day-to-day work involves a combination of managing key client relationships, co-creating ideas for our client offerings, coaching my own clients, supporting my business partner and team on day-to-day delivery work, creating ideas for marketing and our events, PR, writing articles, planning and delivering our professional development, signing off on the weekly invoices, managing the cash flow, monitoring the budget and monthly results, talking to possible strategic partners to collaborate, interviewing new potential coaches and mentees, participating in our sales and quarterly team meetings, working on blogs.

5 How do you keep up to date with new technologies in your day-to-day work?

I read and try and stay on top of new ways of doing things, learn what others are applying in the IT and digital space ,and rely on my team for this - we have two people who are young and bring in the next generation of thinking with social media and digital technology solutions.

6 What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Definitely learning to run and grow this business, which has been by far the most challenging, exciting, absorbing, intense, tiring, yet energising thing I have ever done. I am proud of the loyalty and absolute joy of working with so many of our talented coaches and facilitators. I am additionally in awe of the amazing clients who have trusted us to partner with them on so many different and varied individual, team, and leadership development assignments.

6 Anything else you would like to add?

I think to do this job, you need to be very comfortable in your own skin and trust yourself. Being resilient to deal with the challenges, e.g. the global financial crisis, making wrong hires, having tough conversations, trusting your instinct and acting on it quickly and moving forward, not beating yourself up when mistakes are made. Most of all having a strong self-belief and positive attitude. I am naturally curious and enjoy people and can build relationships quickly and connect with people. This happens naturally for me. Running a business with administration duties doesn't, however, and it has been a great discipline for me to learn and understand the different levers and connections it takes to drive and maintain the business in a continuing growth trajectory.

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