CEO Memo — Leadership: Putting my best foot forward

Leadership and defining an organisation’s culture and ethics from the top down has obviously been a big theme in the media this year, post-Hayne and as part of the ASX Corporate Governance Council’s Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations.

I am conscious, as a newly appointed CEO, of my personal impact as a leader and the kind of values I want to instil within Governance Institute of Australia. My leadership style has come up several times in recent media interviews, and in my own professional interactions with our partners, socialising at events and in discussions with our members and councils.

All of these positive opportunities helped me focus my thoughts around what I think it takes to be a good leader. These might help you all know me better.

Firstly, you have to be a thinker — you have to be genuinely curious about the world and about different ways of tackling challenges. You can’t ever get complacent, especially in our modern ‘Industry 4.0’ technology-based world, which is changing faster than we can even build a ‘status quo’ or industry best practice. I try to keep my brain in the game by looking at other industries and their problems, to see if that can help me look at our challenges in a new way.

Secondly, you have to be a people person — this seems obvious, but you have to love dealing with people in every way shape and form. Great leaders inspire people by engaging with them as humans, not ‘resources’. You also have to have an affinity for developing others and trusting them to seize opportunities on your behalf. But you also have to be able to challenge them and hold them to account when opportunities are missed.

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Thirdly, the confidence to act — being a leader is about making tough decisions. You have to trust yourself to make the right decision and trust your gut. This doesn’t mean reacting ad-hoc to problems as they unfold based on ‘hunches’, but being proactive and engaged in the process, well-researched and well-organised, and then making the right decision based upon the best quality data available.

All of these themes add up to the defining overall attribute of a good leader: authenticity. Be yourself.

By the same token, remember that circumstances change. Facts change, sentiments change, laws change — and you do need to be flexible in your planning. When you do get it wrong, or you are blindsided, you need to have the resilience to pick yourself back up, and not be paralysed by fear or indecision.

Finally — have a sense of humour! We all want to enjoy ourselves on this planet and work is a part of that. Our people want to be uplifted and inspired, and look to change the world. Sometimes you just have to laugh when things don’t execute as well as planned — but shake it off and get back to it. Humour enables us to learn from our mistakes and celebrate our successes with a guffaw.

All of these themes add up to the defining overall attribute of a good leader: authenticity. Be yourself. Be humble. Sometimes I like to be a bit of a dag and walk around the office with my shoes off (but you obviously can’t do that in a formal setting!). I also joke that my aspiration is to make sure I’m always working hard to make myself the dumbest person in the room. I want to be surrounded by experts, harnessing the power of their insights for the greater good. It’s all about finding balance.

I can’t expect to always be the confident, stoic leader figure that knows it all. We’re all still learning. If you admit to yourself when you don’t know all the answers, you often find the talent that does. Hold on to them, they may well be your leaders of the future.


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