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‘Be Kind, Brave and Safe’ – how Kathryn Heslin has made us better

It was with great sadness that Small Foundation learned last week of the death of Kathryn Heslin after a long illness.  Kathryn played a vital role in helping us develop and was engaging with the team until very recently. Her legacy and influence in Small Foundation is very strong.

Back in 2016, as Small Foundation’s team grew, we realised we needed to grow our team-building skills and mindsets in parallel. Kathryn and her colleague Frank Quinn were the organisational development experts who helped us.

After an initial warm-up session or two, Kathryn asked us to rate ourselves as a team. ‘Give yourself a number from one to four,’ she said. We rated ourselves quite highly. ‘I think maybe you are not quite at the score you think you are,’ she reflected, surveying us evenly.

Kathryn was right, of course, as we would come to realise again and again over the coming weeks, months and years. Kathryn was always brave enough to have the difficult conversation; she was relentless in pushing us to identify and focus on the behaviours and processes that would make us a high performing team. ‘Just call it,’ she would advise. ‘Say what you are noticing in the room. Make sure the real issues are coming out.’

Through Kathryn and Frank, we learned about how to better engage and communicate as a team. We embedded team meeting and decision-making processes; we saw the need to manage the polarities in our business, rather than seek to ‘solve’ every challenge; and we articulated the key behaviours for a high performing team. Kathryn also coached many of the team over the years, as well as some of our partners in East Africa.

We loved her passion and drive for helping us make Small Foundation better. She had a sense of focus and urgency that was inspiring. ‘What’s holding you back?’ she would ask with a smile. ‘Or as I might say, JFDI.’

With her optimism and focus on the future we had no idea how quickly Kathryn’s time was running out. She believed in a healthy work-life balance and she would occasionally and generously share her own passions for fine food, travel and especially the joys of family life.

Kathryn inspired us because she embodied her values. She captured her guiding principles at the end of every email: ‘be kind, brave and safe’. These last words to us will continue to motivate Small Foundation as we build on all she has taught us. We will miss her greatly.

Kathryn Heslin, managing director, executive coach, non-executive director, and management consultant, died on Sunday 28th. Donations, if desired, in Kathryn’s memory to ARC Cancer Support. Messages of sympathy for Kathryn’s family can be left in the condolences section here.

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