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Leading Lights

07 March 2011

When I'm not travelling around Australia, going back and forward between Sydney and Melbourne, or working in the office, I will sometimes work from home.

Sounds good? Well, in actual fact, I work harder when I'm at home I reckon. I find I forget to have any breaks... and because I'm not being interrupted by questions or as many telephone calls, before I know it I've done hours of stuff and forgotten half my appointments having lost track of time and not been reminded by in-office technology or those around me.

Lunch lessons

Not that I could have forgotten the lunch we planned in Sydney, recently, with Westpac CEO Gail Kelly as guest speaker.

So popular it sold out in an hour, the lunch attracted a capacity room of 120 women and a few men. And, can I say, the energy and power of bringing together all those high achieving women into the one space was pretty spectacular.

Gail spoke about identifying qualities of successful leadership and how she cultivates them in herself to successfully lead an organisation to a sustainable future. It boiled down to six or seven key points that work as well for running one of the top 15 publicly listed companies in this country as they would a small business.

So, now I'm working hard to get her to other capital cities to repeat the experience. Meanwhile, I'm sure any of our ruby-ites - in fact any woman running their own business and team or working in business and the corporate world - would appreciate an overview of what Gail had to say. So, here goes.

7 steps for effective leaders

Firstly, Gail believes in any drive for success you must have \"the right people in the right roles and the wrong people off the bus\". She referred to the management 'bible' Good to Great by James C Collins in relation to this, and noted that to surround yourself with the right people means looking carefully at recruitment, looking at past track records, attitude and skills.

Her conclusion: \"It's very like a marriage. If you're not sure don't do it, because problems stay problems.\"

Her advice: \" early with things with care and dignity, because those who are observing you as a leader will be looking to see how you deal with problems of every variety.\"

Secondly, Gail believes leaders must have a clear vision of what they're trying to achieve, taking the time and effort to get that strategy right, and to articulate those values and vision in simple, clear sentences. She also noted the importance of refreshing that strategy as time goes on to give oomph to the vision.

Thirdly, she believes there's the need to be able to action the vision - combine the vision with strategy to begin the transformation. In speaking about this, Gail referred to the hardwiring of a business (the organisation's framework), and its soft-wiring (the words and deep connections with customers and stakeholders) and having them combined.

My reading of this is that for successful transformation, hard and soft must be aligned and working in harmony with one another.

Her next view on effective leadership entailed looking to the future and being able to factor in the risks and the positives and, in thinking about the long run, deliver on it today.

From there, Gail spoke about courage and resilience; about having a vision, seeing it through and then seeing it through the long term - no matter what that vision may or may not turn up (both positive and negative). Leading, it seems, means knowing you can dig deep and step out into the unknown because there'll be no hindsight to guide you.

Her final point rested on communication: the ability to communicate visions and ideas simply and authentically; to be able to repeat the message, stay on topic and speak only what you believe in.


I said there were six or seven steps and the seventh came to Gail as somewhat of an afterthought but one, she noted, that was very important.

\"Replenishment is really necessary in all this,\" she said. \"To bring all that I can to a role and to the job at hand I need to replenish myself.\"