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Sarah Jones: “Know when to get help from others”

Listen intently- As a manager, it is crucial you are available to listen to team members when they might require some extra support or have some feedback. If you do not create an open culture where people feel able to share their concerns, these problems and frustrations will only grow. Similarly, your team is going […]

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Listen intently- As a manager, it is crucial you are available to listen to team members when they might require some extra support or have some feedback. If you do not create an open culture where people feel able to share their concerns, these problems and frustrations will only grow. Similarly, your team is going to be your greatest pool of ideas when challenges arise so the open culture you establish will give employees the confidence that they will be listened to with new and innovative ideas. If you don’t think a certain suggestion will work right now, explain why and this shouldn’t deter them from suggesting something else in the future.


As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Jones, an accredited coach, trainer and speaker specializing in career coaching, leadership, talent development and team productivity. After a successful career in PR, Sarah founded her coaching business, Sarah-J Coaching to help people find purpose, meaning and direction in their lives and careers and support organizations with talent development and executive leadership coaching. Sarah is an NLP practitioner and holds diplomas from the Coaching Academy, accredited with the International Coach Federation, and Institute of Leadership and Management — the Personal Performance Coaching Diploma, and a Corporate and Executive Diploma (both Merit).


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My name is Sarah Jones and I was born at a time of tremendous economic and social unrest in the UK, but my parents did everything they could to give my siblings and me the opportunities in life they never had. This experience instilled a strong work ethic in me and taught me to make the best of every opportunity to honor my parents’ sacrifices.

I studied hard and began a corporate career in London where worked my way up to the Board level in corporate communications. During this time I was proud to work with leading firms in the UK, EMEA and in global roles including AstraZeneca, Abbott Nutrition, DHL and Freud Communications. I worked in areas such as government affairs, media relations, internal engagement and employee communications — leading teams around the world on major global projects.

In my late 20s, I started to question if life was all about my career, and wondered about my overall direction. During that time, I found out about coaching through a friend of mine, and even though I was not sure what it really meant decided to find a coach who could help me. One woman helped me achieve profound mindset shifts and this was my first experience of the power that coaching has to transform lives and bring out the best in people.

Not long after, I decided to become a freelancer and set up my own business so I could control of my life and time. This was great for the next few years as I was able to work but also take time out to travel to some amazing places, but I still felt something else needed to shift. One day, standing at the photocopier I thought: “I need to go further.” I remembered the coaching I had received in my twenties and reflected on what a wonderful and transformative experience it had been.

It completely shifted my thinking and outlook and left me feeling in the flow, full of purpose and clear about my goals. I realized coaching was what I want to do and I wanted to help others have this experience. I now work as a career change, leadership and team productivity coach, trainer and speaker with individuals and teams and I love it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I think the most interesting story that has happened to me since I started my career is that I managed to reach board level by my early 30s of a PLC firm. This was a really exciting achievement for me and I felt, and still feel, proud that I managed to do this at a relatively young age.

In addition, I was actually the only female in the boardroom at this time. Whilst I am proud that I was actively breaking the glass ceiling, I can’t help but wish I was surrounded by other talented women. This has spurred me on in my coaching to provide confidence and skills to others.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was first starting out leading teams I was organizing one of my first meetings and I was sending out the memo and agenda feeling like I was being really organized and ready to set the tone for meetings to come. I remember getting to the venue early, setting up my presentation and had printed out the agenda for everyone to hand. However, 10 minutes after the meeting should have started no-one had arrived and I felt very confused. I checked my memo realizing that I had written Thursday instead of the Tuesday I had intended. I definitely learned at that point to check my communications and to send a follow up before the meeting, but at least it gave everyone more time to prepare!

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

One of the most important ways of retaining good talent is to be actively involved and engaged with the career path of each individual employee. If you can show them that you are keen to help them develop as a person and that they will be able to further their career in their desired direction at your organization, they will be much more likely to stick around.

Appraisals should not be considered tick box exercises where you fill out the necessary form and never look at it again. To retain great talent work together with employees on areas such as training and mentoring because you can then make use of these new skills within your business. If you do not follow up on actions discussed, these employees may tell others of their negative experience and deter future talent from applying to you in the future.

At the heart of retaining great talent is listening and being responsive. Regular meetings where employees can share both successes and concerns foster a strong rapport and can help to iron out any frustrations that if left unchecked, could cause someone to leave. Always remain open to feedback and rather than considering this criticism, see it as a way to improve your leadership skills. We should all always be open to learning.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

Large teams can be difficult to synchronize as they bring together many different individuals with a variety of different working processes and communications styles. One of the most important areas to spend your time is setting up effective avenues of communication. Throughout this year we have seen our communication skills be tested as technology has taken the place of face-to-face communications. These virtual methods are already quite common for many supply chain teams I work with as they often work with people nationally and internationally.

Just because you see a colleague every day, doesn’t necessarily mean you communicate well with them or just because someone who works in a different department has responded, doesn’t mean they have fully understood what they need to do. If you have not spent time opening all your communication channels, they won’t feel able to come to you if they are unclear on your instructions.

If the team is too large to speak to each individual, introduce small groups to each other that will be working the closest together and ask them their best ways of communicating and working from the off. This helps everyone to know what is expected of them whilst helping to iron out any communication issues from the beginning.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

These are my top 5 things you need to know to successfully manage a team:

*Celebrate Success — It can sometimes be easy to fall into the trap of only focusing on the next task ahead without celebrating the successes of your team along the way. The collective experience of recognizing success can be one of the biggest motivators to achieve the next goal you had in mind. Taking stock of the achievements of your team will help with staff morale, wellbeing and talent retention.

*Know when to get help from others- Knowing when to delegate responsibilities is another important part of leadership. When supporting the wellbeing of your team, it may be more effective to signpost them to a medical professional if they are showing concerning signs of stress or if there is conflict an external mediator could help diffuse the situation.

Similarly, if you have been promoted to the leader of a team you use to work in, it can feel hard to give up your previous duties but it is important to do so so you can focus on your new responsibilities.

*Listen intently- As a manager, it is crucial you are available to listen to team members when they might require some extra support or have some feedback. If you do not create an open culture where people feel able to share their concerns, these problems and frustrations will only grow. Similarly, your team is going to be your greatest pool of ideas when challenges arise so the open culture you establish will give employees the confidence that they will be listened to with new and innovative ideas. If you don’t think a certain suggestion will work right now, explain why and this shouldn’t deter them from suggesting something else in the future.

*Flex your communication- When working with a team, clear communication is essential. Where possible, try to deliver messages in a variety of ways. As you get to know your team you will learn that some people like brief instructions that they can interpret and be creative with, whereas others prefer more detailed briefs. To get the most out of your team members, play to their strengths and communicate in the clearest ways for them. Uncover this by listening to them in individual meetings.

*Show your passion and values from the start- Passion and values can be a great unifier for teams. If you can clearly demonstrate that you all share the same vision and goals, you are more likely to command mutual respect organically right from the start. Before starting work with a new team, or get together with a team you work with currently, work together on a values document that is in line with the company aims and what you all individually want to achieve. Not only does this guide what you are working towards but it provides expectations.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Helping employees thrive goes beyond the workplace and should be focused on the individuals who compose the team. By helping to create a sense of community, either on a personal or professional level, you will be able to help them to thrive. This provides opportunities for employees to connect as people as this will enhance their professional interactions too. Team building activities, quizzes, lunches or just weekly catch-ups to share successes and concerns will all help team members to trust each other and their capabilities.

For the organization to thrive, employees need to thrive, particularly when they are working within teams. If you see someone that may be struggling with their workload or responsibilities, rather than taking this away from them, show them how to become more time-efficient. This helps them to thrive individually whilst also benefiting the team and organization.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think the movement I would like to create is to inspire as many women as possible to reach for their dreams and give them the confidence to enter the boardroom. I found myself working as the only woman at board level so I know what a difficult and intimidating position that can be and many women I have coached have lost confidence often after having a career break. I want to empower other women with the confidence to succeed, as they often already have all of the skills!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A phrase that I often come back to in my life and work is “inside out leadership” which means always having the curiosity to learn and develop yourself. To really be able to succeed as a leader you need to always be open to learning more about yourself and what makes you tick. I have found this throughout my life as I transitioned towards a focus on coaching as this helped me to feel more fulfilled. When you are open to learning and looking to feel in the flow, this is when you will be most prepared to help others to reach their potential.

Thank you for these great insights!

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