A Leader Looks Back – Sonia McDonald, LeadershipHQ

The next event we have coming up is our Feed The Beast Talk with Leadership Expert and CEO, Sonia McDonald. We approached Sonia as one of our Extraordinary Women because we knew the founder of a skill building company would no doubt be sitting on a goldmine of accurate and relevant advice for teen girls. But before we get to her time on stage, we wanted to share with you insights from the woman herself. This is just the tip of the iceberg! If you’re keen to hear deeper insights into the importance of leadership skills and want the opportunity to ask your own questions,  be sure to secure your ticket to her Q&A session here.


What are three of your favourite traits about yourself?
– Tenacious
– Incredibly passionate
– Generous

What does leadership mean to you?

To me it’s about knowing yourself inside out, and being confident within that person. Once you identify and further develop the skills that help you perform, you can intrinsically encourage the same behaviours in others. It’s simple but once you display attitudes of leadership you find others around you can boost their own confidence and the whole group improves and works towards their goal.

Why are leadership skills so important, even if you don’t want to be in a leadership position?

Well that’s just it, the biggest misconception about ‘leadership’ is that it is a role or title and that you must be in one of these positions to benefit from leadership qualities, but it’s not about that at all. In fact anyone can develop his or her leadership skills because it’s about your attitude and how to then apply it to any situation around you. It’s about developing your emotional intelligence to be able to quickly adjust, take control of your own thoughts and also help others do the same, even if they’re your superiors or equals. You don’t have to be the leader in the room to be a confident role model.

When we talk about these ‘leadership qualities’, what qualities are they?

I get asked this a lot. Things as simple as having confidence and having a calm yet enthusiastic attitude are obviously leadership qualities but it goes beyond this. It is also about understanding how others learn, and being able to make work engaging for a variation of different personalities. Leaders need to develop their emotional intelligence so they can better understand and ‘decode’ their peers in order to increase effectiveness. It’s also important to constantly manage your own skills. Meaning, it’s easy for leaders to become power hungry over time, so you need to develop skills of checking in with yourself and constantly critique how you think you’re performing and adjust accordingly. Of course things don’t always go to plan either, so leaders also need qualities of resilience and patience.

You’re so established now, but when you were a teenager, do you recall a time that was challenging, and how did you overcome it?

Well, something in particular that I struggled with when I was growing up was that I used to be called “Sonia, Sonia, Studyhead” and kids would tease me and say, “all you do is study”. Which seems normal now, but I used to get picked on a lot for that. Someone also once called me “Moby Dick-SON” because I was a bit chubby. It’s unfortunately pretty common to be called names at school, but the thing that helped me were my friends. When other people had a go at me, I always had amazing friends – it’s important to be emotionally surrounded by people that have similar values. Some of those friends are still here today and they have stuck around for 33 years! It just goes to show, it really is important to make sure you have the right people around you.

Did you always know what you wanted to do when you were younger?

No, not completely. Initially, I wanted to be a teacher and a lot of people told me not to do it. And at the time I listened to them. It was a tough situation because my dad lost his job and we were struggling, so even if I hadn’t listened to others, I couldn’t afford university anyway. Instead, because I always loved to write, I explored PR and working in the media, which has lead to where I am now.

What would you say to other girls who aren’t quite sure what they want just yet either?

I would 100% say not to stress too much! You just have to put yourself out there and explore different things and see what happens. It’s also very important to talk to people and explore opportunities. In the long run, building contacts will help you to explore your options and find what you like so you should never be afraid to talk to people.

Have you ever experienced others doubting your ability? How did you cope with that?

YES – all the time! I find I can sometimes even doubt myself. I call them “Ants” which are ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts’, and they always find a way to get into your brain. It’s very normal for everyone to experience these thoughts, but when you do, you need to train your mind for dealing with them. You need to learn how to acknowledge them and then move on. And once you learn what works for you, you will succeed. It is very common for anyone to experience self-doubt and I truly think it’s about establishing a balance between confidence and competence.

Is there something you know now that you wish you knew as a teen?

Yes… and it’s not to worry what other people think or say. The only person that matters is you. It’s about what you think of yourself and what you say to yourself. Again, I believe you need to surround yourself with beautiful people who believe in you. I wish I knew that earlier. When I think about where I am today I wonder why it took me so long to get here, and it’s believe I didn’t believe in myself earlier!

Do you have any advice for girls who think “I don’t want to be a leader”? What can they get out of your activities?

Again, leadership is not a title or role, it’s an attitude you can apply to any situation. It’s more about behaviour and being supportive and knowing how to control the controllable. As far as I am concerned, everyone is a leader.


FUEL’s Feed The Beast Talks are proudly brought to you by CQUniversity.

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