A new book from The Dream Collective, The World We See, asks prominent Australian politicians, celebrities and businesspeople for their advice for the emerging leaders of the future. Here’s what some of Australia’s leading female executives had to say.
Find a mentor
Pip Marlow, managing director, Microsoft Australia
I’m a big believer in the sharing of wisdom between generations and the power of mentoring.
I deliberately use the words “between generations” because it’s not all one way. A mentoring relationship is a two-way proposition and that’s a little at odds with conventional practice. Traditionally, it’s the older generation that’s seen as the great giver of wisdom and the younger generation that receives it. Not entirely true. I have learnt as much from people who are younger than me as from people who are older than me. I learn new things from my daughters every day, and at work I speak with interns and graduates as much as with the senior leadership team. I passionately believe that it’s vital to be open to all view points and that you treat every interaction with every person as an opportunity to learn and share wisdom.
I’m passionate about mentoring and helping all young people to reach their fullest potential. But I believe it’s a particular responsibility for women in positions of leadership to be role models for other females. Why? On a personal level, it’s for my daughters. Today, only three percent of ASX 200 CEO positions are held by women but by the time my kids are in the workforce I want them to have an equal chance at achieving their full potential.
Build personal infrastructure
Jayne Hrdlicka, group chief executive, Jetstar Group
Invest in building infrastructure around you when you have children. There are lots of things that need doing to maintain your home and to support your growing family. Don’t try to do all of that yourself, plus be a great mum, plus advance your career. Something has to give, so find a way through family, friends and outside help to create a model that works for you and helps shoulder the mix of responsibilities you need to manage. It is achievable, but only if you have a plan and don’t try to do it all yourself.
Also, ask advice from other women who have managed work and career; they are a fountain of wisdom and perspective. Be clear about your priorities and manage all the trade-offs in life accordingly.
Lucinda Barlow, global director of marketing, YouTube
In my final months before MBA graduation, a career advisor got me to do a visualisation exercise – rather than thinking about what I wanted to achieve in my career, she asked me to think what my ideal day at work would look like. A strong image came to mind: a meeting room filled with smart people, brainstorming a new consumer tech product to take to market. There was insight in this vision. I wanted a role that was collaborative, creative, technical, and user-focused.
Six months after I joined Symbian, I found myself sitting in a Finnish-designer boardroom, overlooking a frozen lake at Nokia House, Espoo, with a cross-functional product and marketing team. We were creatively brainstorming the positioning of a new portfolio of smartphones. I suddenly thought, “wow, this is it!”, and then I realised: “This is it? I really should have thought much bigger than this!”
Thinking big is a core value at Google. It’s something I’ve had to learn since I joined. It’s uncomfortably exciting and incredibly enticing. Some people are born dreamers and big thinkers, while others need to be given permission to open their eyes and their ambitions. You can do this for yourself or your team by removing assumptions about today’s world and asking simple “what if ” questions. The wonderful thing is that it becomes easier to sell in a big idea than a small one. Big, audacious ideas attract the best people.
The natural partner to thinking big is failure. You have to be prepared to fail, to fail fast, to celebrate failure and to fail forward.
Introduce flexible workplaces
Sally Collins, general manager business management, business bank, NAB
The first 10 years of my career were a rapid sprint. The corporate world seemed a perfect fit for my ambitions. I was in my first executive position with not an obstacle in sight. My personal life was racing along, too, and I had met the love of my life. I became step mum to my husband’s gorgeous teenage daughters, then a year later, a mum to the first of our two beautiful children. None of this was following a plan, but it was all very exciting and things were good.
Back to that perfect fit in the corporate world. Discussions about my return to work, part-time, after maternity leave didn’t go so well. I was told that despite being capable of doing the role, it wasn’t possible to do it part-time. I was told that no one in the industry had ever done that job part-time so … the answer was no. After a challenging and fact-based conversation (I was red in the face and swearing on the inside) it was agreed that I could, in fact, do the role part-time and I went on successfully until I had our second child.
Having worked for more than half my career part-time, I have now returned to full-time work. In this capacity, I will not stop working flexibly, even if it’s at full-time hours. I know this has made my approach to work sustainable and it’s the only way I function at my peak.
Never grow out of role models
Pippa Grange, global general manager of culture, leadership and ethics, Cotton On Group
In the early stages of your career it can seem obvious and important to seek out role models and mentors, people to shape your world view in some way and offer encouragement and expertise. As you progress, however, and particularly as you become the expert yourself, it’s easy to de-prioritise your own inspiration and guidance and forget how much those small gems of wisdom or positive example could re-ignite your passion to lead. What a loss!
Nothing is finished or perfect when it comes to leadership, and it seems to me that the time spent learning from others is simply a smart investment in yourself and in your business. The best leaders I have ever seen have been learning leaders, incomplete and fallible, always curious about the impact they have, and never too old for a role model.
Extracted from The World We See by The Dream Collective (published August 25, $34.95).