Indigo founder Hilary McLellan was a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development. She held a MSc in Organisational Behaviour and was a member of the Institute of Leadership and Management Level 7 Executive & Leadership Coach.
“I spent years not enjoying work. Now I coach others to be their best self at work.”
She fell in love with horses as a little girl and dreamed of becoming a show-jumper like her childhood hero Ted Edgar. But by her own admission, life has been far from a clear round for Indigo Talent Development founder and director Hilary McLellan.
Having dug deep in her own life, there’s no surprise that Hilary’s professional expertise encompasses coaching resilience and emotional intelligence. She has most definitely walked her talk.
From talented full-time ballet student who grew too tall to dance professionally, to rebellious PA; impoverished stable girl to solo parent on benefits, Hilary has pulled through some tough times.
She lived on bread and jam, lodged in damp caravans and experienced terrible survivor guilt at making colleagues redundant as the recession started to bite.
Ironing for £3 an hour
But she always found ways to make ends meet; by taking in ironing for £3 an hour and getting paid in luncheon vouchers which she swapped for a weekly feast at the local chippy.
Life’s twists and turns, challenges and sacrifices are the building blocks of resilience. And for Hilary, this deep-rooted and highly-valued skill helped her bounce back from setbacks and emerge stronger, more cogent and motivated.
When coaching clients, she helped them hone those very same skills in order to flex and adapt during times of change or pressure.
“It’s tough because it’s about showing your vulnerability,” she admitted. “We like to think we’re real but a lot of people spend time covering up and pretending to be something they’re not. Being your authentic self takes courage.
Why EQ not IQ is important
“Part of who we are is hard-wired from our DNA and can’t be changed. But emotional intelligence can change through self-reflection and by understanding how we interact with people, manage emotions and accept our worst fears. That helps us work smarter and succeed in our personal and professional lives.
“As human beings, relationships are all-important – we are social mammals! My job is helping people connect and feel good about the groups they inhabit at work or at home. It’s not about IQ. It’s about working on your EQ – that’s what transforms.”
Finding her niche
Professionally, Hilary found her niche in the 1980s, in personnel at London sports store Lillywhites in Piccadilly.
“It was a real turning point for me. The personnel manager there was a wonderful woman and she sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I was 25. She promoted me and sent me on courses to get qualified.”
She went on to carve out a successful, and at times high-pressure and challenging, HR career, working with the NHS and at businesses including NetworkRail.
Interested in the psychology aspect of her work, she began working with EQ and leadership experts RocheMartin and was hungry to learn more.
A mid-life leap of faith
So at 50, she took a leap of faith and she took a year off to go to university and study for her Master’s in organisational behaviour.
“Just being accepted on the course was amazing. I was a very mature student, older than the others – as well as most of the lecturers – but I had lots of work experience in the bank and it just felt imperative to put myself where I should have been at 21.
“I was determined that I was going to get that degree. I was too scared of failure or going back to where I’d been.“
“When I walked on stage for my graduation ceremony, I actually punched the air. It had taken me 40 years to get the education I’d always wanted,” Hilary recalls.
“Leaving school without qualifications had been an albatross around my neck for years. So that moment was huge for me. I had proved all the doubters wrong. Finally, I was able to put all those demons to bed.”
Learning what matters
“All the things I’ve done and all the decisions I’ve made such as becoming self-employed, creating our co-operative and working collaboratively, have felt good because I’ve come to know exactly what matters to me.”