Dame Sue Bruce and Mark Beaumont discuss ‘achieving the unachievable’


Our latest Leadership Conversation took the form of an ‘armchair interview’ with Dame Sue Bruce CEO of the City of Edinburgh Council and World Record holder and adventurer, Mark Beaumont, hosted by Livingston James Group director, Andy Rogerson.  Douglas Adam, head of our public sector practice, gives his thoughts on what was a fascinating morning.

It was an exciting day at the Livingston James offices when we realised we were going to be able to bring together two very inspirational people for the next in our series of Leadership Conversations.  Although coming from two very different areas of expertise, we knew that Dame Sue Bruce and Mark Beaumont would make for an interesting discussion for our guests to enjoy.

We chose the title ‘achieving the unachievable’ as both Sue and Mark have undoubtedly accomplished this in the eyes of many; Mark having just returned from his latest World Record achievement cycling the length of Africa, and Dame Sue in almost 40 years of public service, including as CEO of East Dunbartonshire, Aberdeen City and most recently the City of Edinburgh Councils.

The Livingston James team was joined by over 30 guests from the public sector and beyond as Andy took Sue and Mark through a range of questions on how they have faced and overcome challenges in their respective careers.   Their responses have given plenty to think about for those present and are shared below.

Leading through Challenging Situations and Coping with Adversity

As CEO of three councils in Scotland, Sue has faced her share of leading through challenging times, and in her interview pointed out the importance of demonstrating assurance and confidence as a leader, providing immediate reassurance to staff and stakeholders when faced with adversity.  Sue has a firm belief that “nothing is unfixable” providing you work hard and do your research.  She supports distributive leadership, empowering staff and stakeholders by giving them autonomy to own the outcomes of the issues that they have worked on within a culture of trust, support and guidance.

In his career, Mark has set out to find situations that deliberately challenge him.  Although viewed as a ‘solo performer’, in reality Mark works with a tight support team on each of his challenges.  For him, it is important to understand the individual motivations of each team member taking part in a project and how to get the most from them in this regard.

Self Motivation and Inspiring the Next Generation

It is obvious that Mark is a very motivated individual, pushing himself to attempt feats of endurance that would make others turn cold.  But he is clear that it is not the ‘fame and fortune’ that he is motivated by, but rather the desire to be always bettering himself, performing to the best of his ability in increasingly challenging situations.  And what does he feel that he has to say to the younger generation that may be watching him attempt these impressive adventures?  Simply that they should “go for it”, and as long as they have the passion and determination to do well, great things are within reach.  Most importantly, the end goal doesn’t always need to be known in a career, but to have the confidence to take bold steps and be open to opportunities.

Throughout her career, Sue has been motivated by change, and by the opportunity to ‘fix’ situations that others may consider too broken or damaged to do anything with.  Sue is particularly passionate about young people’s issues, and is Chair of Young Scot.  She understands that today’s young people are the decision makers of our future and must be valued and given confidence if they are to achieve great things.

Sue has already made great progress towards making life better for young people in Edinburgh.  When she joined the City of Edinburgh Council, it was bottom of the 32 Scottish local authority areas for youth unemployment.  Sue prioritised giving young people in Edinburgh the best start in life in order that they could fulfil their potential, enhance their life prospects and participate in the economic success of the city.  Sue encouraged partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors to tackle this issue in a whole city manner.    As a result, the City of Edinburgh Council has jumped 20 places on the list to be ranked just 12th – a huge achievement for Sue and for the City.

Pushing Boundaries

Achieving the unachievable requires not only leadership and courage, but also the willingness to attempt what others are afraid to do, pushing yourself in the process.

With several World Record and challenge titles under his belt, it is clear that Mark is not afraid to push himself, but during our interview he was upfront in what this means for him.  He identified that he is often faced with doubt over delivering within tight timescales, stating that he was advised to postpone his recent Africa Solo venture until 2016 as timescales were so tight in order to deliver the required infrastructure and to source sponsorship.

Despite the pressure this brings, Mark is a firm believer that these tight timescales create intensity and momentum within a project, and as long as you are fully committed, you can see it through to completion even in challenging conditions.

Dame Sue is a firm believer that as a leader who wants to achieve difficult things, you must be willing to put yourself at risk, and that as long as you set realistic and clear roles and expectations and have belief that you can achieve what you set out to do, anything is possible.

Livingston James hosts regular Leadership Conversations with the leaders of some of Scotland’s top businesses and organisations.  For more information contact [email protected] or call 0131 220 2209 to speak to one of our consultants.

Can we help?

If you are looking for leadership advisory or recruitment support, please get in touch with our team of experts.

More Articles...

No Diversity, No Deal: Sixth Instalment

Sophie Randles recently held the sixth instalment in our ‘No Diversity, No Deal’ event series was a fantastic evening where we discussed the importance of gender diversity around the boardroom and its correlation with business performance.