Academic grounding gives leadership skills a practical edge: Tim Reed

Academic grounding gives leadership skills a practical edge: Tim Reed

Company: MYOB

Title: Managing director

Studies: Melbourne University, Economics; MBA, Harvard

Motivation: “I really enjoy business – but I also love learning.”

Top tip for leadership: “There isn’t enough emphasis put on leadership – it’s put on management. But those are different things.”

After spending several years in Silicon Valley, Tim Reed grew accustomed to an American way of doing business.

When he returned to Australia, he was struck by the differences in leadership strategies. And it wasn’t a good impression.

“The best example I can think of is in hiring,” he says.

“Someone in Australia might be hiring a salesman, and they would have said to me, ‘the interview went well but they haven’t sold to accountants before’.

“In Silicon Valley, the mentality was whether the person has the capability to be great at a specific job. It’s my belief that you need to have potential rather than just ticking boxes.”

The statement is striking for someone who values the benefits of higher education. After studying a Bachelor of Economics at Melbourne University, Reed headed to the US where he completed an MBA at Harvard.

While the merits of an MBA are hotly debated, Reed is a keen proponent. Studying the history of business, and the mistakes and successes of other business leaders, gave him more confidence when stepping out on his own.

“I loved the opportunity to dissect everything, to take it apart,” he says. “The luxury of time we had to explore and discuss was wonderful.

“I was quite young, only 24. It helped provide a solid foundation for me and gave me a base grounding of core disciplines.

“You could have a conversation about pricing, and then look at 10 businesses and study their pricing policies. Having that depth of knowledge helped me accelerate.”

Once Reed was in the workforce, he worked in a variety of roles including the vice president of marketing at IPRO, vice president of business development at Dovebird, and vice president positions at Engage and Elance.

It was in these roles, he says, where he learned more about leadership and management and developed his own style – not in the classroom.

“I think it’s very difficult to learn and train people in management in a classroom,” he says. “We did study leadership, but it’s the difference between leadership and management, really.

“I think that’s something better learned in a hands-on environment.”

It’s a crucial difference, Reed says, the line between management and leadership. Leadership is an entirely different skill, and one which Reed says is becoming increasingly hard to find.

With this in mind, Reed says he is constantly looking for ways to train staff in leadership, with an emphasis on the practical.

“We’re a company of about 1200 employees, and we have a group of 190 we’ve identified as managers and leaders. That’s a formal recognition, so they’re either managing or leading people.

“We invest in coaching and mentoring for them, when it’s appropriate.”

That mentorship and leadership training is primarily based on the practical and Reed says leadership requires a hands-on approach and as much coaching as possible in the moment – which requires a one-on-one component.

“One of our team members presented an update to a committee today about a project, and she made a comment that she was nervous.

“So afterwards, I took 10 minutes to ask her why she was nervous. We had a conversation about being aware of that, and what she could do to help reduce that.”

“We were able to discuss what triggers that feeling in her, and then work on not letting that come through and impact the way she presented.”

Such immediate one-on-one feedback is “phenomenally valuable”, he says, noting that leadership education at MYOB is split in a 70-30 model in favour of on-the-job learning. But the focus is always on establishing the difference between management and leadership – and knowing which is more important.

“It’s much easier to say, “Here’s what we did yesterday, today we’re doing this.” But you need an ability to paint a picture and engage people, and then have them embrace that vision.

“Management is much more of an operational discipline. It’s about knowing the individuals in your team, and knowing what works for them, and then being able to bring the best out of them.

“It’s all about managing goals and consistency.”

But leadership is such a key component of work, and Reed says it’s essential everyone be given the opportunity to develop their skills – whether that means formal education or not.

“I think many people in a business can play a leadership role or management role in a product,” he says.

“One thing I don’t think I left with an appreciation for in business school, but what I’ve learned over time, is the importance of being able to paint a picture – showing a higher purpose for the business.

“Something that is broad and you can articulate, and then be able to relate that to the work that you’re doing. It’s critical.”


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