Anita Grover

anita grover

It was our absolute pleasure speaking to Anita Grover, who through adversity has achieved so much as a leader. Anita failed her hearing test at the age of 7, her hearing deteriorated to the point where she couldn’t hear her own voice until her cochlear implants in her 30’s enabled her to learn how to hear again. Overcoming adversity she has believed in herself and is an inspirational leader. After 20 years of directing highly successful government marketing and communications campaigns for the public, business, stakeholders and the media, she joined Auditory Verbal UK as CEO in April 2013. AVUK is an award-winning charity that transforms the lives of deaf babies and children in the UK by working with families who want their child to develop listening and spoken language and delivering internationally accredited training for health and education professionals in Auditory Verbal practice. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing; a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; and a former Charity Trustee and School Governor. Anita is also an experienced coach, mentor, leader and motivator of people, including leadership of teams (50+) across organisational boundaries.


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

I would ask them about how they’re making sure that they are listening to the people that they are leading. I would ask them to think about the assumptions that they make and how they are challenging them, particularly for those leaders who may have been in their position for some time. “In any situation, are you looking at your organisation and your people through the same lens that you’ve always looked through? Are you aware of how things may have changed? How are you reflecting on the understanding of what you’re doing in the here and now? How in tune are you with your people and landscape and are you making the best of that?”


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

What guides us to be the person or the organisation that we are, the frameworks, what we stand for and how we do things. When we live and breathe those values, then it’s what we do. We may find that we can’t quite get to where it is that we want to be but we don’t lose sight of the principles or the values that really guide us in what we do.

Our organisational values are published on the website, we work through those as part of the induction process for all staff. These are based around: 

  • Achieving the best
  • Being Family-centred
  • Respectful
  • Champion Diversity and Inclusion
  • Collaborative

In terms of what we deliver, we recognise the diversity of deafness and we provide one part of a jigsaw that enables deaf children to develop language and communication. What is really important is that it’s not for us to say what is the right approach for any family of a deaf child, It is important that they have access to early and effective support. The principle is that all families get access to the information they need and that all children should have access to the support that is right for them.  These are the specific values and principles that shape what we do in our specific organisation. 


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

Last time we spoke I used quotes from Mandela who has inspired me as a public figure. I travelled to South Africa and spent a little bit of time there in the heart of Apartheid. I spent quite a lot of time trying to understand his leadership journey and have taken so much learning from that. 

On a personal level, I was very much inspired by my parents, they became world champions as dancers. I travelled a lot with them and so I saw how you go from starting out in something you enjoy doing to how you become a world champion in your sport. I was seven when that happened and I saw the journey of how their peers and others within the profession coached them and developed people for success and how they have gone on to coach others.. You learn a lot from that process, Seeing things that are not so good and things that have had a particularly good impact in terms of the approaches and what works and what doesn’t. I grew up in that environment.

I have also been inspired by people that I have worked alongside in my professional career, as well as some politicians that I worked for during my time in the civil service. I think I’ve drawn inspiration and direction from lots of different sources.

Then there are people that I’ve read that have inspired me. I like many of the things that come from Brenee Brown about being vulnerable etc

c, things like that I find really interesting and give me something to reflect on and learn from.


What does leadership mean to you?

The one thing it’s not about is hierarchy, it is about bringing people together in pursuit of a goal. It’s about knowing who your people are and how you can work together to be able to achieve something and being able to very visibly take that direction and harness those people around you. It’s having a vision and working together to come up with your plan of how you’re going to be able to achieve that. If I think about it like that, it’s the same thing in an organisation as on a football pitch. Anybody can be that leader, and there is leadership at all levels. So the first thing is to make sure that when we’re talking about leadership, we’re not talking about management.

I’ve come from a school of thought where you lead by example, it’s being self aware of what you can bring to a situation, and being prepared to challenge if something isn’t working well. There should be leadership at all levels. In our organisation we have a management structure, but anyone in our organisation can lead and be a leader and I am proud to see that leadership being demonstrated throughout our organisation. 


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I’ve got to remove myself from the situation and change state. So if I feel unfocused right here, right now, I need to move out of this room and that could be to walk around for 5 minutes, get a drink or go outside because there’s no point in sitting there when you aren’t focused.

When feeling overwhelmed, I try to ‘talk it out’. People will often describe a Chief Exec role as being a lonely role if you haven’t got that space to talk about feeling overwhelmed. I could go and talk to the chair of my board because I’ve got an open, honest relationship with them. Being able to talk about being overwhelmed comes from the principles of being able to talk about vulnerability. For me, if you can cross that bridge, that opens up to different ways of being able to talk about those times when you are finding things challenging and it’s not a case that you’re failing in what you’re doing. Having those open relationships where you can talk, within or outside of your organisation, for example with a family member or a mentor is helpful. 


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

Additional pieces of work. In the voluntary sector, there’ll be a proposal that will ultimately help people but you can’t do everything so I have become better at making sure that we stay focused on what we need to do, but it’s not easy when there is a really good proposal that you know could help many people but you don’t have sufficient resources for.

I’ve got better in the way that I manage my time by not responding for example to emails later into the evening or if I do decide to do that I’ll put them on a scheduled time to send because I don’t want somebody else picking it up and thinking they’ve got to do something with it at that time.

I’ve got better at saying no to some meetings. There might be a tendency for somebody to bring something to me to discuss and I’m now able to push it back to when further conversations have been had rather than agreeing to a meeting straight away. With regards to hybrid working, I’ve got better at being clearer about when I need to be somewhere and when I don’t, and what the benefits are.


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life?

The ability to be able to do a good job for the organisation that I lead whilst being able to spend time with my family and friends in a way that works for both. As an example, I work 4 days a week. I made that decision not long before the pandemic and having that time meant I knew I would be far more ready for the weekend. But what I do now is spread my working time across my 5th day which means I can do things without work crossing into my evenings and I can balance my work with the needs of my family. So it’s the ability to do both well without feeling that I am compromising.

There are times when the pressure can have an impact and I’ve got to a point where I can reign it in better than I did before but I place a lot of importance on wellbeing, flexible working and striving to get the balance myself and for all the people who work in our organisation. 


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

I think there’s a challenge within the voluntary sector because to be able to run a successful organisation you deal with all of the same challenges that would exist in a private sector organisation. You’re dealing with the way you manage risk, the way your income is generated, the way you motivate, develop and support your staff towards a goal. A lot of people would think that it’s a lot easier to run an organisation in a voluntary sector and it’s not. Your income streams are so different in the sense that you’ve got to operate and run the equivalent of a successful business but you’re not for profit. What frustrates me about the voluntary industry is that the support to be able to do that successfully is not as available as if you were working in a different sector because there isn’t the money or the investment available to develop those leadership capabilities and people don’t have access to the support and infrastructure.

I have so much credit to give to the civil service and how we were supported to develop management and leadership. I was fortunate to have access to coaching and really brilliant mentors . I have tried to facilitate pro bono or reduced cost access to more support for those in the voluntary sector. It is difficult. I want to see more people have access to leadership and development coaching but in the voluntary sector people will often say they don’t have the time or money to do it because their resources are stretched so that’s something that frustrates me because it is a vicious circle. People want to do it. People need it but there isn’t the resource to make it happen.. Organisations want to be the best that they can be but sometimes don’t have access to the necessary support. That’s why I got involved with some of the mentoring and coaching support for smaller organisations who have got really good work going on and want to scale up but don’t necessarily have the support around to enable them to strive. A lot of people are drawing on their skills in that way and I hope many more will do so in future. 


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?”

Believe in yourself and make sure you focus on understanding the people around you. Not everybody is the same and their personal values and experience of the workplace may be very different. Their life and lived experience may be very different from yours. Organisations and teams are ultimately about people. You need to work together and understand those around you. You’ve got to recognise your own values without making assumptions about other people. If you set out to engage and understand those around you and you understand what helps you to be at your best, you will go far. 

Also, I would suggest that you need to  recognise that ultimately you can only control yourself – your reactions, your approach. When you start out it can seem that things are done to you or you want to change something but you can’t. The things that you can ultimately always control are how you respond to circumstances and how much you allow things to frustrate you or hold you back. I learnt that very early on and knowing that now is one of the most valuable things for me.


We have experienced a difference between men and women and their connection with vulnerability. Would you say you also experienced that in your life and if so, how do we encourage men to be more vulnerable?

 I experienced that within the civil service when there was a predominant management structure with a significant under representation of women. I felt that divide more strongly when I was working with organisations in the private sector, where I needed to go in and present or talk to a room that was all men and wondering if my opinion was always given the same value as someone else. Because of my deafness, I bring a different level of vulnerability to the table. 

So often I see men who find it very difficult to open up about anything. But I also see many men who do and share that vulnerability and it builds a really strong, open, trusting dynamic which can only benefit individuals and the organisations that they work for.

There is a network of women chief executives of voluntary organisations where we come together and we’re not being judged, it is a safe space where we talk about some of the challenges, we have speakers who come to share their leadership journeys, and it’s a space where you can actually express that. The more you’re able to do that, people can then become more open. So encouraging men to do that, there needs to be some form of space and support. A member of my family is involved in an organisation called Andy’s Man Club, it’s a support group for those men who are extremely vulnerable, with locations all across the UK. The idea of these men’s clubs is to provide a safe place where men can come together to be supported within a comfortable and non judgmental space. This work is so important. 


For more information and to donate visit


Topic: Tribe Tuesday