Business advice and education, Business planning

Eight practical leadership tips for fast-growing teams that thrive

Dinushi Dias /

Whether you’re new to being a chief executive or have made the leap into launching your own startup, the ability to lead and manage people in a way that creates incredible value not just for your business and its clients but your team and yourself, is critical.

Many award-winning business leaders like Envato co-founder Cyan Ta’eed and Boost Juice founder Janine Allis did not become great people managers overnight.

It was a long and gruelling process of learning, reflection and growth.

In SmartCompany’s recent webinar on management and leadership, Dream Collective founder and director Sarah Liu and Institute of Public Accountants chief executive Andrew Conway shared deep insights and practical advice for growing leaders to build phenomenal teams.

Listen to the full webinar on SmartCompany. 

Here are eight key take-aways.

1. Your employees may not want to climb the ladder

In an age where tech entrepreneurs hold celebrity status and freelancing is becoming the norm, the labour force is changing rapidly.

“Over 50 percent of graduates today believe they will own and run their business one day,” says Sarah Liu.

So climbing the ladder within the one organisation may be a thing of the past.

“This is what the old career progression looks like—it’s linear, it’s vertical and it’s singular,” she says.

“As we move towards the future, the picture is starting to look very different; it’s a blank canvas.”

The emerging workforce consists of people building lateral, dynamic and multi-faceted careers, says Liu, and in this landscape freedom, flexibility and passion are fundamental.

“One in three Australians under 35 will leave their job if flexibility is not available,” she says.

So finding ways to “enable” your team is a must.

SmartCompany webinar slide provided by Sarah Liu

2. Embrace flexibility

“Flexibility and ambition actually go hand in hand,” says Liu.

Sadly, this is lost on many people managers.

“Almost one in three employees say they have suffered negative consequences as a result of having flexible working arrangements,” she says.

“Think about how we can provide flexibility without penalty.”

3. Consider job sharing executive roles

Sharing the role of chief executive and other senior management roles in a business is a “highly under-utilised mechanism” that won’t only improve diversity, but also increase productivity and strategic power in a business, says Liu.

Organisations like Lush Cosmetics Australia and New Zealand, National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank are examples of companies that have taken up this approach at senior management level.

4. Empower entrepreneurial talent

Liu says it’s important to see employees beyond the “job description”.

Think creatively about what else employees can do and how it can create additional value to existing and new clients.

“We need to start thinking of them as fluid pool of skillsets you can utilise,” she says.

Liu points to KMPG, which has introduced an internal employee marketplace enabling staff with “spare capacity” to advertise directly to the accounting firm’s clients.

“It generates additional revenue for both the individual as well as the organisation,” she says.

“It provides an on-demand service for clients … it gave [KPMG] an opportunity to work with smaller clients.”

Andrew Conway

Andrew Conway

5. You don’t know everything and that’s okay

Despite what you may think, “you don’t know everything”, says Andrew Conway.

As a leader or manager, especially if you’re one of the young ones, Conway says it’s crucial to practice humility, be empathetic, and be up front when you don’t know something.

Surround yourself with more experienced people and build a network of advisors outside the business who you can call on for guidance.

“Respect the fact that people bring a vast amount of experience to an organisation,” says Conway.

6. Break down your walls, be human

Respect and command as a leader is developed when people feel they are part of the journey, can make mistakes, and learn and grow stronger with you as a team.

That includes you, says Conway. So break down those walls and start opening up.

“Get to know the people around you and let them get to know you,” he says.

“What’s inside the façade is a human being.”

7. Build a destination statement

“Believing in what you’re doing and why you are doing it is absolutely fundamental,” says Conway.

“Why do you get out of bed everyday, who are you doing that for?”

If you stop doing it, he asks, what impact will that have on others?

“Do you fundamentally believe in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it?” he says.

Get the answers and develop a plan to keep your team motivated towards the end goal.

It’s a like a “destination statement” rather than a vision statement, says Conway.

And communicating this clearly to every person on your team is vital to building a shared belief in where the business is headed and how everyone’s efforts align.

“Chart that course [and show] ‘here is where we’re going and this is how we’ll get there’,” he says.

“You’re only a leader because people choose to follow you.”

8. Don’t forget your number one priority

From remaining engaged in your local community to bringing up a family, Conway says a leader should never forget their biggest priorities in life.

“I’ve got three young children,” says Conway.

“For me, one of the critical things is making sure that we have a very clear view that it doesn’t matter how challenging life can be in our organisation or what issues we’re facing … it has to be that your family situation [and] your personal wellbeing comes first, the organisation comes second.

“It’s the right thing to do [and] it’s good practice.”

The Great Australian workforce is a SmartCompany webinar series supported by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other partners. 

This article was first published on SmartCompany.

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Dinushi Dias

Dinushi Dias is a freelance journalist and a former StartupSmart reporter and multimedia content producer. She is the co-founder of Melbourne-based production house Dinushi & Power.

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