Lessons in Leadership from Joanna Swash, group CEO of Moneypenny

Marie-Claire Chappet
·6-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy.
Photo credit: Courtesy.

Joanna Swash joined Moneypenny, one of the world's leading answering service companies, as its first ever salesperson in 2005. She is now group CEO and has seen the brand grow internationally, playing an integral part of its introduction in to the US market.

Here, she shares the lessons she has learned along the way...

The three most important qualities for a good leader are…

"In order to be an effective leader, you need to be true to yourself. You need to know who you are, where your strengths lie and what you need to work on. It is important you are not attempting to be someone else. It is what you believe and how you believe that you can truly make a difference.

"Trust is another key quality and, if you are authentic, you will be trusted and followed. But you must also trust your people. Trust is a crucial part of a culture. Clients trust you to provide an excellent service or product and your leadership team must trust their staff to deliver this. Your people are your strength so trust those you employ, empower them, provide them with a safe environment and set clear boundaries that allow them to be the best that they can be.

"Another quality is to literally get out of the way! Don’t micro-manage. It can be easy to get ingrained in the detail but as a leader it is your role to provide clear direction and empower your teams to achieve the objectives. Your role is to lead, not manage. "

My personal strength as a leader is…

"Authenticity. I am who I am. I am not perfect, but I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I am always looking to learn."

The biggest priority for my business right now is…

"Ensuring the wellbeing of my staff and their families while maintaining an exceptional level of service for our clients. We have embraced and developed new tech to work alongside our people and seen demand for it increase. For example, we offered our digital switchboard for free to businesses to get through the initial shock of lockdown and discovered that it really is gaining in popularity, so our teams have innovated many new tech products to help our clients as they re-think their offices and are working on a whole suite of AI advancements to ensure that we stay at the cutting-edge of technology in our offerings to our clients."

Photo credit:                     Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

The economic outlook may be uncertain, but I’m mitigating risk by…

"Being bold and investing in a communications campaign that shouts about how we can genuinely help businesses as they rethink their office and business plans. It is also important to remain agile and continue to constantly stand in our customers' shoes, listening to their needs and innovating new services and solutions to help them provide a brilliant customer service for their clients. This principle allowed us to continue to thrive and grow back in 2008 in the last economic downturn and has been our key driver from day one. By being open and regularly communicating with customers you are letting them know how much you value them, and providing the services they need fosters trust and makes your relationship a true partnership."

I keep my team motivated by…

"Making them masters of their own destiny. My teams are empowered to be the authors of their own stories. They have the power to make choices, decisions and mistakes in line with our goals and values.

"Pre-pandemic, we already had a whole library of wellbeing, health and communication tools at our disposal – from weekly mindfulness to Workplace by Facebook – but we still had to adjust them to the situation, make them virtual but still connected. We sent out vouchers to teams to share a virtual treat pizza lunch and sent out weekly updates from the management team, sharing our business plans but also our own take on things – proving that we were human too. Maintaining this culture is pivotal to our success."

The hardest decision I’ve had to make as a leader was…

"Letting go. Moving from Director to CEO was an amazing opportunity but it meant stepping away from running things day to day. Making the move to taking charge of the future of the business was one of the hardest adjustments. I knew that my strength was in innovating and looking to the future of the business, expanding to the US, for example, and I trusted the people around me whole-heartedly, but that gear-change to being in charge took some focus."

The worst mistake I’ve ever made as a leader (and the lessons I learnt from it)

"Mistakes are important. Some of the most important lessons we will learn in life will be learned from bad decisions. They are part of our make-up, our experience and what makes us unique. Being British, we shy away from mistakes, but we need to learn from our friends across the ocean and learn to embrace failure. Key moments in life, personal and professional, often come from failure but it can also set you on your way to success.

"At the start of my career, I made the mistake of putting too much faith in people when my gut feeling said they weren’t right for the job. My lesson was the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people – recruit in haste, repent at leisure."

An effective leader will always…

"Lead by example. Demonstrate the behaviour that you would like people to follow. Aligning your words with your actions will help to build trust and demonstrate your authenticity."

An effective leader will never…

"Be intimidating. An effective leader is not someone who is feared and disrespected by their team, it is someone who inspires others and focuses on their people."

My role model for leadership is…


" Good to Great by Jim Collins is a book that I have taken a lot from. He’s a former Stanford business professor and he identifies some of the key factors that transform good organisations into exceptional ones. It really gave me food for thought and also looks at what not to do, which is just as important.

"A businessman that I admire is Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. He co-founded the business as a mail order rental business in 1998 and led from the front in evolving and innovating and really turning the industry on its head."

The one piece of advice I’d give to a new leader is

"Listen, be open, be present, give clarity, and get your hands dirty when you need to."

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