SPARK: Video Series

Fire up your confidence, influence and courage through self-leadership

Sally talks Self-Leadership with Sarah Markey-Hamm

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Sarah Markey-Hamm
CEO, International Convention Management Services

Our purpose at ICMS is give our clients and in turn their customers (delegates) a tailored event experience encompassing their individuality and goals. We listen and anticipate their needs and take away the pain points of managing In Real Life (IRL), Virtual and Hybrid events. Our mantra is to take what we do seriously but not ourselves!

 

#leadership #courage #confidence #influence #selfleadership #convention #meetings #conferences #meetingsandevents #pco #professionalconferenceorganiser #mice #familybusiness #australia

Two things:

  1. What somebody says to you, says more about them than it does about you.
  2. Using the fact that I’m female and using the innate qualities of being female is, and gives you, to get to the result. You don’t have to pretend to be a man to get where anywhere.
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Interview Transcript

Note: This is an AI generated transcript, accuracy is limited.

 

Sally Foley-Lewis

Hi, Sally Foley Lewis here again with another fantastic spark self-leadership video. And I’m joined today by Sarah Markey-Hamm. Who’s the CEO of ICMS. And I’m so delighted to pick the brains of our senior leader from the events industry and learn her thoughts and her insights and experiences around self-leadership. So welcome to spark, Sarah.

 

Sarah Markey-Hamm

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. Um,

Sally Foley-Lewis

I absolute pleasure. Now, first of all, ICMS, who are you? What are you, what do you do?

 

Sarah Markey-Hamm

Well, yeah, we are known in the world as a professional conference organiser or, or PCO. So our role, um, is basically to take the pain out of events for our clients, whether they be virtual hybrid face-to-face although, you know, who would have thought 12 months ago, we would have virtual, virtual and hybrid higher up in the food chain than face-to-face, but that’s the world that we’re living in now. Um, our company is a family business, my, um, kind of very long story short. My parents rented a hat and rented a room in a house that they bought their first house to a company that was doing tried missions. The first one of the first companies doing trade missions. So taking Australian businesses overseas and rented one of the rooms out to this company, they were both radiographers made at the Royal children’s hospital in Melbourne nearly a hundred years ago, but not quite.

 

Um, and dad had realized then that, you know, there wasn’t great fame and fortune and being a radiographer. Um, so I started to work for the company just before I was born. And then the, the man who actually owned the business at that time offered the Melbourne, um, to dead because he was quite unwell in the Sydney one. He kept on his own. So we have been under the one ownership since 1972. And, um, my sister and I, uh, in the business, she looks after our, um, finances and office manager type of, um, tasks. And one of the, her, one of her children comes in and works a couple of days a week while she’s at uni. So it is very much the quintessential family business.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Oh, I love that. I love that. There’s this history. So, um, I saw the photo on the website, so of, um, so your dad. Yeah. That’s yeah, love it. I love seeing those sorts of things I think. And I think that, um, it excites me even more to talk about self-leadership with you, particularly when you’ve been, um, you know, number one, uh, you’re in an industry that has been so significantly, and that’s an understatement impacted by COVID, but there’s also this family business kind of element that goes with it, which, um, you know, the family businesses, uh, you know, there’s no, not a lot compared to the number of businesses out there. So it’d be really interesting to hear your insights into uh, self-leadership from both those angles. So thank you. Um, so let’s just jump in. Okay. Define for me in your own words, what, what do you call or what to you is? Self-leadership?

Sarah Markey-Hamm

Um, I look instantly up in thinking about these and letting them all sit in my head since, you know, for a couple of days. But to me self-leadership is that drive that you have, and that sense of responsibility to go forward. And, um, and there’ve been a few other things that have been carrying in my volunteer world, um, in the last couple of weeks, but you know, that leadership of actually not being afraid of, of really either taking people on a journey or not being afraid to say the things that other people aren’t prepared to say and, and sticking with what you know is actually right. And, um, you know, and I’ve had lots of instances of that occurring over the last month with one of the voluntary organisations that I’m on that I have now realised that my role on this committee is to actually say the things that everybody wants to say, cause they’re very happy to support, but they’re not that just getting it either from their brain to their mouth or their brain to their fingers to put it in a, in a response because this is international. So it’s timeframe is a little unusual, but to actually say those things, to make sure that, you know, to use a, to use a bit of a cliche in living your own truth,

Sally Foley-Lewis

Right. That sounds like willing to stick your neck out or be the voice.

Sarah Markey-Hamm

Yeah. And it’s also bending integrity. I’m really, and I mean, these days people would probably call that personal branding, but you know, people who have known me, you know, I’ve been, full-time in the family business for 28 years that people know me know that I really haven’t been any different. I’m not afraid to say what needs to be said. Life before children are probably delivered it a lot worse than what I can deliver it now, but you know, that’s maturity, I suppose, but, but you know, I’m not, I’m not afraid to say it because I believe so strongly in doing the right things. And, you know, that’s where that self-leadership comes in in, you know, you’ve got to actually do the right thing regardless of whether anybody’s looking and that, and that’s how definition of integrity that, you know, and, and we are in a, as a PCI, we’re in a very, um, special position that our clients actually trust us to manage their budgets.

 

And those budgets can be millions of dollars. So we need to make sure that we’re above reproach with whatever we’re doing by that when not, um, you know, we, we have that trust and we they’re looking to us for guidance. So you have to, you have to actually be a leader to take them on that, you know, on that journey and give them that guidance, you know? Yes, it’s a lot of mechanic and a lot of grunt work, but it’s the big, big picture thinking. And, you know, and especially last year is getting clients through what was COVID and what was the absolute dissemination of the business events industry.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I think your, your point there about, um, that integrity pace and, and then also the piece about, you know, it is the grunt work. So, you know, you’ve got to be able to get into the mud with everyone else and just keep on pushing and get through because there is a massive, big end goal that your, your, your clients expect you to achieve. Um, I think those two with the integrity are enmeshed completely. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Thank you. So when it comes to self-leadership, what do you think the impact, um, self-leadership does have on elements like courage influence and, and confidence for leaders?

Sarah Markey-Hamm

It is one of those things that you take a bit of time to realise that the, what, the position that you’re in. And, um, I, in the last couple of years, I have been doing some work with a coach and I’ve also undertaken it a coaching course to actually be a coach, um, myself. But you know, a lot of the cohort that I was learning with, want to take up coaching as their, either their side hustle or their new career. Cause they might want a bit of a life change. Whereas I was doing it to actually become a better leader, um, and you know, to work without work with my team, to actually coach and lead rather than manage. And, um, I was over the summer, I was listening to a really great book about CEOs and what are the five key roles that you should be doing? And one of the first things that came out about managing people is that you actually have to coach them, not manage them. The skills that I’ve learnt over this time. Coaching gives you a different perspective to how you actually communicate with people and cause even client interaction, as well as, you know, team members, interaction it’s in everybody that you’re dealing with. If you, if you taking it from a different position of being curious, rather than being assertive or being aggressive, you’re actually going to get a lot more out of people. Oh yes,

Sally Foley-Lewis

Definitely. Yeah. And it’s a beginner’s mind kind of game, isn’t it? Where even though you might know the answer, which, which is the best here, get it from them and explore that and allow them to, to bring forth what they want and what they need and, and articulate, or even put them fumble through to articulate, uh, rather than give and tell.

Sarah Markey-Hamm

Then the thing is that people aren’t going to grow unless they go on those discovery tours themselves. It’s, it’s, it is one of those things that, um, when you have, when you have children, you actually watch them fall off their bike and picking themselves up and what they learn from that. And we, we don’t, you know, there’s a whole lot of cliches and sayings that are all over social media about, you know, there’s no, you know, about no success from, um, just being good at everything from being perfect. It’s always about what you learned from the times that you don’t get it right. Rather than the times that you do get it right.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Sorry. Yeah, yeah. Yes, definitely. And that’s that, you know, it’s on the other side of the pain. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I wish it wasn’t so bad, but that’s the way it is. Isn’t it? So change it. You just have to deal with it. Exactly. Yeah. So when, when we’re in a position then of being the leader, what’s the value that confidence and courage the influence has when you’re working with a team and you’re working with the clients, you know, how do you mesh those up together?

Sarah Markey-Hamm

I think the confidence gives you the impetus to be the leader. And, you know, there is, there is some truth in the whole fake it till you make it type scenario where, you know, the analogy I can draw is that during last year, when we had our clients not knowing what was going to go on, we didn’t know what was going to happen. And the, there was a lot of fear. I, I took our role as, you know, not only to be an innovator and say, right, well, this is what we’re doing. Let’s have let’s explore and see what virtual events can do and bring them on the journey with us. And we did a lot of testing and showing and communicating with our clients all the way through, just so they could actually start to touch and feel so they could learn it. But you know, that confidence, if I went in there and go, Oh my God, Oh my God, the world’s coming to an end.

 

Then that’s not going to give them a lot of confidence in actually being a leader. And regardless of, um, of how I’m feeling inside, there were very few moments in a professional sense that in the office with the team or with clients, then they actually could see that. I mean, this time, last year when the walls just came down, I’d had negative conversation after negative conversation the entire Friday. And it got to a point and I had to go somewhere. I was listening in my car and I had a voicemail from one of the dads I’m on a committee with, at my son’s school. Just ringing to say, I’m thinking of you, this must be terrible. I hope you’re okay. I was like, right. And I said, right, girls, we’re going for a drink. So we went to the wine bar up the street and finished a bottle of Rose. I got home. And when I got in the door, that’s when I lost it. Yes. And it was a complete hysteria that my children had no idea cause I don’t cry like that very often, or ever really, but that was the complete despondency of what the hell am I going to do? Yes.

Sally Foley-Lewis

And I know there’s more to this, but I just want to just jump in there. And what I want to acknowledge you for, for sharing is that it’s not about not having the emotions and it’s not about never, um, allowing yourself to have that break and a good old cry or be hysterical, you know, will be in your circle. It’s actually about, um, being able to regulate your emotions for the right time. And then when you can release that and actually, you know, be true to yourself, which is back to your integrity point, you know, you needed to let that go and that’s how it flowed out of you. So, um, I really thank you. I want to acknowledge that because I think that’s, that comes back to leading oneself, self-leadership in a really healthy way. Um, so yeah. So what did you do to reignite and turn it around and what are the lessons?

Sarah Markey-Hamm

Well, I went to a friend’s place and watch the footie and I had a bottle of wine and screamed at the TV because my team wasn’t doing that well that night. But look, I think every, when everything started to calm down, we then got into an active mode and serendipitously, I had decided to change registration providers at the end of 2019. I had some staff movement. So the people that were resistant to change had left. So I felt, I actually, you know, sometimes you almost want to go the line of least resistance because it’s too hard to affect change all the time. And you know, maybe that’s a sign of leadership that you just know which, which battles to have. And at that time it was no point in having that battle because the negativity and all the rest of it would have killed the momentum for everybody else.

 

But because I had that freedom, I made that decision and the company that we went with, we had already started planning training that week on onboarding the software. So on the labour day long weekend there was, um, I think I did about 20 hours of pre study that you had to do online before you get there. And we were doing this training in the new system. So we were then talking about how we’re going to integrate, bring the old information into the new information. And then they started to talk about the eventual event platform that they were writing. So I we then started to see that. And then when I got, got it to a certain point and, and all credit to them, they involve their customers and all the testing. Good. So I, you know, they wanted us to try and break it because we knew that they knew that that’s what our delegates would actually do.

 

So to be involved from the ground, from that really grassroots, beginning state saying it grew and then being able to give our clients some hope. And I think that was a lot of it. It was actually about a bit of hope and going, okay, how are we going to do this? What can we show? And, and you know, and this and that, it’s really that point in time of taking people on that journey and letting them feel and see how could actually work because quite often with, um, you know, with doing a demonstration of the virtual portal and the, what we can actually do with it, people need to touch and feel it a couple of times. Yes. Because, you know, you need to let it sit in your brain and think about it, you know, and then, then you’ll get that light bulb moment. Okay, we can do this, this, this, and this. And that’s the stage that we worked through with all of our clients last year. And just being, you know, and I mean, the other side of it totally is that I contractually we could have, um, had all of our clients on non, you know, get our full fees it’s actually is doing one thing, morally is doing something else.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes.

Sarah Markey-Hamm

And, and at the very beginning, when it was really, nobody really need to have big, this was going to be, um, some of the behavior from certain venues and all those kinds of things. That’s when you learnt who you’d want to work with long-term and how people behaved in that real moment of crisis was really about who reveal them work with long-term.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yes. It’s some true color moments. Yeah, absolutely. And I guess that just, again, it comes back to, um, you know, what’s driving the decision maker in those environments where, uh, they’re not willing to even meet you halfway or, or say, look, you know, if we give you back this, this is what happens to us. Can we have a conversation, you know, when, when they don’t even enter into that, you sort of wonder, okay, well, I, is that your decision or is it from above? And where is the, where is the, the, in the decision-makers frame of mind and then the, in the frameworks, whereas their self-leadership, you know,

Sarah Markey-Hamm

And I will say, and it all works both ways, when I thought, um, some clients’ requests were unreasonable, I would go to them and say, look, I think this is what they’ve asked for. I don’t think that’s good cricket. So let’s come to another position where, um, where everybody feels as though that they’re all winning, so to speak, but everyone, nobody feels like they’re being ripped off. And, and I think that was like a real, um, a real achievement from, from last year is to be able to get people through that point, actually now giving us opportunity to do more with the clients that we have rather than less. Yes. Because they’re now embracing the virtual. I mean, we all know we want to go back to face to face. I mean, that’s a no-brainer, but how we actually get people there, because there will be people who will never want to do face to face again, you know, they might have, they may have a form of PTSD and all those kinds of things with, with this whole year.

 

The beautiful thing about it is that, you know, virtual and streaming sessions and conferences is not a new thing. No. And, but a lot of events and a lot of clients didn’t ever want to go down that road because of the cost of bringing it down that road. Like if any of the silver lining we can get out of here is that they, um, you know, come out at a reasonable price, but they also get the reach. And that’s, that’s the nice thing is that they actually, it opened up opportunities to delegates into their members because most of the work that we do is with associations. So member reach is really important, but there, there were people from country Victoria who never been able to go to the, the face-to-face event because I wouldn’t get late, but I could go to the virtual one. And because our platform has, um, integration and people can actually catch up online and not having to go to a different, you know, to their phones or whatever, they have been able to connect with other people.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. Yeah. So from, from when say COVID hit, you know, you there’s that there’s, uh, coping in the moment and then there’s that letting go piece for you that, you know, you needed to just have a good cry and get it sorted for yourself, but then there’s which, you know, and if someone, if, if people deny that that didn’t hurt in some way, then I’d, I’d have a good, hard question with them about that. But then, then what I loved is that you went, you went into activity and I think that’s one of the biggest things that I, that I’ve been hearing about. Um, you know, when our, when, when an event strikes and we need to reignite, um, self-leadership, when we need to re reignite our own spark around what is to do, there’s, there’s a step into activity. And, uh, particularly when it’s activity, that’s not about us, you know, we get out of our heads, we get back into service, we get back into the core business.

 

We get back into asking the question about what is that core business now, or how can we, how can we make this work? I think that’s a, that’s a really good lesson to take away about what ways leaders can do when something hits, when something happens. So, yeah, I think that’s, that’s amazing and you’ve been able to deliver. The other thing is I think there’s a leveraging piece in this as well, because, um, as we stay in a hybrid environment or a stay within an offering, that’s more visible. That is a hybrid opportunity or hybrid offering. Um, we’ve got more competitors coming into the market. That’s going to make these platforms more accessible for more people. Um, which I think is fantastic. And, and so, you know, you’re in a situation where you can make sure that you’re staying ahead of the game, you know, you’re, you’re listening to your clients and making sure that, uh, that influences what your offering can do, which I think is really cool.

Sarah Markey-Hamm

I know, I think one of the critical parts of self-leadership is to critically assess what you’re doing after every time you’ve done it, you know, definitely got a learn each time and, you know, and it was interesting. It was a matter that had gone on with my son at school last week. And 90% of the issue is the way in which something was communicated with him, that the emotional intelligence of the people communicating this message to him, didn’t rate him when the same way that they would with every boy, rather than, and I thought, you know, I’ve got eighteen months left. I’m just going to say it and say to them that, you know, this is not the, you know, this is what’s happened. And the response from the teacher was, well, I hope you’ll understand his opposition and he’ll get some good life skills out of it. And I went back and said, well, I hope everyone can learn something from this.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah.

Sarah Markey-Hamm

It’s not, relationships are not one side. And, and, and this is where, you know, in our business, we’re in the relationship and the communication guy. Yes. And that relationship and the communication is not just with your core clients, every delegate that comes through your door as a customer and, you know, were entrusted to actually, um, approach their customer, our clients customers with their ethos rather than necessarily hairy sauce.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Well, you’re representing their ethos. Yeah. Yeah.

Sarah Markey-Hamm

You know, what might be our policy and what might be their policy, you know, provided, we’ve actually explored all options. And the client makes the decision with every possible ramification, you know, presented to them. And if they’ve made the decision, well, then that’s the decision. We might not lock it. We might not agree with it, but we respect it. And we kept going.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah, that’s right. I think that’s one of the things that’s when it comes to, um, you know, values alignment in a lot of ways is that I don’t have to like it. But as long as you’re consistently operating in a value that I understand that you’re operating in, then I, then I can either decide better to work with you or be really clear about not working with you, but at least it’s consistent. It’s that inconsistency where I think people get themselves into trouble. And I think what I’m hearing you say is that, you know, you’ve got a process where you make sure the client is briefed on everything that you can think of, and that’s, that’s within your, you know, and you’ve got a lot of experience 20 something years or certain you’re in the gut. Um, but you’re not a day over 21. So, you know, that tells, that tells the client, look here, here are the options. Here are the risks. Here are the potential outcomes. Let’s make a decision. Then I think that consistency will always, um, add to that layer of trust that people can have with you because that, again, it’s valuable values aligned.

Sarah Markey-Hamm

Uh, and, and that’s, it was one of the factors when I decided to downsize the business rather than be a massive organisation, was that I wanted to have that contact with clients on a day to day thing. I’d want it to be able to have that time to go to the committee meetings and thank God for Zoom, because I wouldn’t have been able to get to all of them in a face-to-face world. But anyway, but to have that connection with them, because they interesting the business that I’m entrusted to run to make them look good. Yes. Put on a product and to carry their ethos. I mean, we, we have one client where he’s so, um, flexible on cancellations and all those kinds of things. It nearly kills me, but you know, his whole philosophy is that we need to keep the goodwill so they’ll remember that the next time we come out with something that they will just automatically buy it.

 

So this week, um, we had an email from one of the delegates, and this is another post by an event that we we’ve done things with the delegates who paid and kept their money with the conference last year. And we’re putting on something. If they’d registered and paid for the conference last year, they’re getting the online symposium that we’re doing this year for free. And there was one delegate. He said, look are really, um, and had the cash that I’m happy to give. You know, I can, I, can I get half my money back? Not, I don’t want to give you what, get it all back, but can I have half? So I just emailed her and said, well, why don’t we just give you a one day registration, rather than anything else, you still get to say the symposium, you still get the access.

 

And then when you’re ready to pay the balance, we’ll give it to you at the right. You originally paid for. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and I get this, I mean, it’s a very, um, socially aware group anyway, but you get this lovely, warm glow when people come back and say, “Oh, that is just fantastic. Thank you very much. The conference in 2018 was the best, best week of my life.” Yeah. And I just, I mean, I just forwarded it to the client for no other reason other than him, because he’s, so well-known in their sector. If she’d actually made contact with him directly, he would actually know what the hell is going on with your whole thing of goodwill. This is what I’ve done. Hope you’re okay. Yes. That’s a level of trust even straightaway. Yeah, for sure. And I think that’s something, you know, where that self-leadership comes into is that trust, you have to recognise that you have to earn people’s trust and it’s, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. And I think if you’re not in alignment with your own values and you don’t know who you are, so that self-awareness piece, then you can very quickly become inconsistent in your behavior and your words and your actions, um, and how you do business. And then that impacts trust because you’re sitting there going, Who am I getting today? What am I getting today? So, yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Um, so look, I could, Sarah, I could speak with you all day long. Um, and I’m pretty sure we probably will have more conversations. So I have one more question to ask you if that’s okay. And that is, what do you wish you knew about self-leadership when you first stepped into a leadership role? What did sorry? Did I say that selfless? What did you first, what did you want to know about self-leadership when you first stepped into a leadership role?

Sarah Markey-Hamm

Interesting. And it’s a really good question because having started my work life in the eighties and where women were expected to behave a certain way to actually get where they were, it, there were two main messages. I learned that what somebody says to you, it says more about them than it does about you. And the other thing was, was actually using the fact that I’m female and using the innate qualities of being female ease and gives you to get to the result. You don’t have to pretend to be a man to get where you are. Oh

Sally Foley-Lewis

Yeah. I love it. Thank you, Sarah. That is just gold. So, um, you know, you don’t have to be anything other than you, you know, being a, being a woman in this world is, is, is more than enough and Oh gosh, I’ve just lost the first one. What did you just say? The, um,

Sarah Markey-Hamm

Oh, it says about you with somebody, is that yeah.

Sally Foley-Lewis

What somebody says about you is more about them than yourself. So thank you. I totally agree. You can, you know, that, that projection piece is really important. I mean, it’s, you know, you got to learn to not take the sting so much, but remember that it’s more about them than you. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Thank you so much. Any final words before we wrap up with our, our SPARK self-leadership video today.

Sarah Markey-Hamm

I think about self-leadership is you can never stop learning. You need to actually be open enough with yourself to realize what your qualities are and not everybody’s perfect and nobody is perfect. So you just run with it and concentrate on the bits that you want to work on. Not what everybody else is telling you to work.

Sally Foley-Lewis

Absolutely. Thank you. And I totally agree. I think that this whole idea of being a lifelong learner, it means that we’re on this journey. And I think you said before about a self-tour and I thought life was a tool. I thought I liked that idea. I don’t want a journey. I want a tour. And so, um, but I, I agree. And, and, and I, I see it as being this, this lifelong learning for ourselves and our self-awareness, you know, we need, it never stops. There’s always going to be an experience that will challenge us. And so, um, it’s about giving ourself permission to be open, to say, to, to is this sitting in front of me an opportunity to learn and have that growth mindset, or shall I be fixed and closed about this? And, and I, I’m always going to choose open, even if it hurts, because I think that as we both talked about it’s on the other side of that pain is where the growth lies. So, yeah. Thank you so much. That’s a pleasure. Sorry. Sorry. I cut you off. Did you have one more comment? All right. Thank you, Sarah. The CEO of ICMS that Sarah Markey-Hamm. Thank you. And I am so excited to, uh, to have spent this time with you. And I look forward to a, another spark self-leadership video coming to you very soon. Bye. For now.