Photo of Maureen O'Leary.

How life as a military wife has made a career very personal

Maureen O'Leary
About the author : Maureen O'Leary

Defence Services Manager

Published on : 5/30/22
  • Through 70 years of leadership, The Queen has inspired us all. Sodexo features in the only official book marking the Platinum Jubilee pageant in recognition of how we champion women in leadership. To celebrate this honour, we spoke to Maureen O'Leary, Defence Services Manager about her experiences, challenges and the guidance she’d give to others who might want to follow in her footsteps.

    Platinum Jubilee sponsor logoMaureen O’Leary is Defence Services Manager at Larkhill Garrison in Wiltshire. After 28 years of supporting her husband’s military career, raising a family and managing her own career, she finally settled in the Amesbury area, a stones throw away from Larkhill. Maureen explains how a life on the move has influenced her, and how engaging with people and her experience of other cultures has shaped her to be the people’s manager she is today. 

    Military life

    I have supported my husband’s 28-year military career from numerous deployments, postings all over the world and living unaccompanied for him to succeed in his career in another country, all whilst creating a stable and happy home for our two children.

    We moved home frequently to meet the needs of the army which taught me how to be: disciplined in my organisation, skilled in managing change, preparing for the unknown and finding solutions to challenges along the way. Leading and supporting projects such as the Army Rebasing Programme exemplified the transferable skills I developed.

    I became highly resilient and developed a mindset of each move (change) as a new opportunity.

    My family and our military familiesMaureen O'Leary

    Being a spouse of a soldier and all that it brings, shapes the way you and your children think, feel and behave.  You learn to adapt and adopt to your new surroundings to quickly integrate into society wherever that may be. 70% of my team have a personal connection to the Garrison, this includes the partners of serving soldiers or their children.

    For families, military life can be daunting and it’s our duty to support our extended military families during transition. For example, as part of the Army Rebasing Programme, three Regiments from Germany and the UK moved to Larkhill, bringing 3,500 extra soldiers with them. We needed to recruit 180 new staff to support this rapid growth of the Garrison.

    I knew how those spouses and their dependants would be feeling. I went to Germany with our HR manager to support families and reduce some of their burden by showcasing the opportunities we have in Sodexo. In partnership with the army and the local schools, we were able to secure a number of these positions prior to the families arriving in the UK.  

    My military life and family experience allows me to engage in a meaningful way with our customers, colleagues and our extended military families.

    Our cultures

    On reflecting on my previous experience, I have gained so much from moving all over the world and within organisations that, at the time, didn’t seem obvious. Adapting (change what I do) and adopting (doing what others do) local ways of working and engaging with people from all cultures has shaped and influenced my understanding of people and how to coach the best from them so they can realise their potential.

    I manage a team of 250 colleagues at Larkhill, delivering a wide range of soft services for over 5,500 military personal. The military is a diverse origanisastion and so is Sodexo by its very nature, having an awareness and understanding of cultures; but more importantly the individual, creates an environment for me to coach and nurture the future leaders of our organisation.

    ‘Having a natural and genuine curiosity creates an environment of trust, enables people to thrive and shapes future leaders.’

    Sodexo have invested in me since 2006 and continue to do so, I bring my learned skills, lived experiences, resilience and flexible mindset which contribute to my leadership style. There is always more to learn, but I value learning from people the most. I am, and always will be, a people person and lead through the lens of people.  

    A leadership mindset is a way of looking at the world borne out of experiences that leads to a set of behaviours.

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