Members Spotlight: Top Career & Leadership Tips From Carmel McKinney, OBE

Carmel McKinney, OBE has broken the glass ceiling as the first female chair of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, leading an all-male board. A highly accomplished and resilient leader she’s devoted to the promotion of women in a boardroom setting and within the organisation, which only has 12% females on its workforce.

 As Carmel was a Regional Winner of the FL National Awards 2017, we caught up with her for a quick chat to see what’s the secret to her success. 

Ensuring growth and development as a leader 

Being a leader can at times be a lonely place and that is why it is vital to have a network of friends and fellow leaders who I can share the good pieces with but also get their counsel on the things that might not be running as smoothly as I would like to. I am extremely fortunate to have a group of friends who themselves are female leaders. Learning from one another is essential. 

Thinking about my role as the first female chair of the third largest Fire and Rescue Service in the UK – I do have to  grow  as a leader – and to do this I had to come to understand the business from the operational side – this involved actually doing some of the training exercises that firefighter make look so easy (not so easy for me though) but the main thing was I did them and was seen to take an interest and persevere to have a sound handle on the service we provide.

I am a lifelong learner and in order to keep on top of my skills and competencies, I have a critical friend and mentor – a constructive challenger in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Self-evaluation is also essential to me – the strength to say I got that wrong, revisit it and try again. For me, it’s the hallmark of mature leadership. I also practice mindfulness each day and that also gives me the inner focus and reflection which all leaders, in my view, need to keep developing.

Role model in my life 

I don’t really have to deliberate too hard on that one and certainly, there are many successful women I admire and respect enormously but my role model was my mother. My mother, Kate was a high achieving formidable professional who embodied all the good things that a leader should be. She instilled in her two daughters a belief that success was achievable and her mantra to us was “success is a choice and it doesn’t come from what you do from time to time but from what you do constantly.” My mother’s encouragement of both her daughter’s undoubtedly set me on the path to success in my career. She also was my mentor and was there for me when things just didn’t go to plan, but through her skilled engagement with me, I was able to dust myself down, get up and continue to strive.  My mother died last January and undoubtedly, I am here today because of her and she would be very proud that her years of coaching and encouragement when I was able to watch her as a leader, had helped me achieve all that I have. Her leadership was and continues to be real and tangible to me.

Advice to a new employee aspiring to leadership 

Firstly, be prepared for knockbacks it goes with the territory and indeed setbacks can be turned in to learning points to move forward. You have to be prepared to put the work in and as my mother said to me “success doesn’t come from what you do some of the time but what you do constantly.”  Emotional intelligence and the ability to read an audience is essential – assertiveness can also be viewed as arrogance, so it is important to get the balance right.  Finally, cry in private, but always maintain the confident demeanour in public. I would also recommend a critical friend who is prepared to praise but who also will tell you what you need to improve on.

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If you’d like to be considered for an award, or would like to nominate someone else, nominations and applications for the FL National Awards & Summit 2018 are now open – for more details see HERE.