The multi award-winning Leonor Stjepic, CEO of Montessori St Nicholas as of June 2018, has an inspirational career spanning both the private and not-for-profit sectors.
Her wealth of experience, from her previous roles as CEO of the medical research charity RAFT to CEO of Smart Matrix, enables her to give unique career advice. We asked Leonor to answer questions on what inspires her, what networking can give back to you and how we can develop our self-belief.
Please tell us a little bit about your company and the work you do?
I am CEO of Montessori St Nicholas, the UK’s largest Montessori organisation. As well as the charity, we run a training college called MCI MEAB, the accreditation body for Montessori schools that is a benchmark for quality Montessori provision and the Montessori Schools Association. We exist to encourage and promote education in every way, in particular the education of children in accordance with the philosophy and methods of the late Dr Maria Montessori.
What advice do you have for developing self-belief and confidence?
Even the most senior person was junior once - they made mistakes and lacked confidence. Nobody is going to laugh at you for coming up with ideas. Even if the ideas are not accepted and if someone seems annoyed or upset; it may be that they are having a bad day and it’s nothing to do with you.
How can networking and support organisations like FL (Forward Ladies) help women on their way up?
When I was growing up, there were no senior female role models and nobody to ask how to move up the career ladder. Not only can FL help women move upwards but networking is vital for success. Getting to know a variety of women in all sectors increases knowledge and has allowed me to enhance my skills in all areas of running an organisation.
Which woman/man in history inspires you?
Since becoming CEO of Montessori St Nicholas and learning more about Maria Montessori, I’ve been inspired by this amazing woman. She was the first woman to graduate as a doctor in Italy. She started her career treating what, today, are known as children with special needs. When she went on to establish schools for the disadvantaged children of working parents in Rome, she approached their education as a scientist, using the classroom as her laboratory for observing children and finding ways to help them to achieve their full potential.
It soon became apparent that Dr Montessori had developed a highly effective method of teaching which could be used with great success. She began to travel the world, establishing schools, lecturing about her discoveries and writing many articles right up to her death in Holland in 1952, at the age of 82. Her innovative classroom practices and ideas have had a profound influence on the education of young children all over the world.
What is your advice to other women in your position?
Make sure you have a support system. It can be very lonely as CEO and you can’t share everything with your staff. Having someone to talk to is very important.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
I have a very efficient ‘Labrador alarm clock’ who wakes me up! I have no choice but to get up and take both dogs for a walk. There is something very grounding in walking dogs in the morning; the dogs don’t care about my role, it reaffirms my belief that there is no point in being hung up on job titles.
What’s your favourite book and why?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is my favourite book. It is such a good observation of human character. I re-read it every year.
Who was your biggest inspiration growing up?
My uncle, Agustin Roa. Having fled Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War, he was imprisoned in a concentration camp, escaped, joined the French resistance, was captured and put in a concentration camp in North Africa, then liberated by the British. He arrived in Britain, joined the British army and went back to North Africa to fight fascism. After the war, he was exiled from Spain for forty years. He inspired me to join Amnesty International. Aged 18, I became co-founder of the Amnesty Working Group for Children, working on behalf of children who had been tortured or imprisoned. This was the start of my life in the not-for-profit sector.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Be authentic and be honest. Staff will soon pick up if you are neither.
What’s your motto/favourite quote in life?
“You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” Time and time again I have seen how people have got so much more out of life from giving than from material things.
Leonor is nominated in the Public Sector/Academia/Not for Profit Sector Category at our #FLNationalAwards
The mother of all awards #FLNationalAwards & Summit 2018 is coming to your region with events in Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Leeds! It’s an inspirational programme showcasing diversity in business, recognising the doers, trailblazers & inclusive leaders across the UK. Join the conversation and don’t miss out - HERE