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Leadership is like being a parent

22 November 2017

For many years Peggy Renders, who is Head of Presales SAP Australia and New Zealand, saw herself in the details of work… and then parenthood happened.

“I joined SAP 17 years ago in presales – demonstrating SAP software and its abilities. I came to Australia in 2005 and stayed. Then, in 2013, I stepped into a leadership role with SAP. The moment I made that transition everything made sense. Working in presales and as a subject matter expert your knowledge is very detailed. The role is very hands-on with the tools, and very procedural. When I took on a formal leadership role, I realised I wasn’t that detail person.

“My strength is in strategy, in bringing people along on the journey and so leadership feels effortless to me.”

Change, we all know, doesn’t happen in a vacuum and Peggy knows exactly what the catalyst was for her change: “Parenthood, it’s the perfect school for leadership. I returned to work from maternity leave and knew immediately where I wanted to be and so I began positioning myself for leadership in the company.

“My style is a nurturing one. I want to provide people with opportunities and boundaries when they are needed. I want to get people trying new things and maybe failing; but most of all I want them to be better than I’ve been able to be. Our actions as parents are very similar.”

One of Peggy’s strategies for growth is to take people outside their boundaries and often their “comfort zones” to establish in them new ways of thinking. She is an advocate of Conscious Leadership. The model has been summarised in this way: “At any moment a leader is either above the line or below the line. When we are above the line, we are open, curious and committed to learning. When we’re below the line, we’re closed, defensive and committed to being right… the first fundamental building block of conscious leadership is the ability to accurately locate yourself at any moment, asking, ‘Am I above or below the line?’”

Asking people, including herself, to step out of themselves and be open to learning sounds simple but requires a degree of self-awareness, and to be successful you need to build on existing self-confidence.

When she’s working with colleagues, she says establishing a connection, and discovering what makes them tick is important: “I take a holistic view of a person. They are not just a work colleague; they are someone’s friend, partner, family member, etc. Once I understand what drives them, I can then look at the opportunities in SAP and work with them on how they could step up to meet those opportunities.”

Of course, a person’s strengths are accompanied by weaknesses and Peggy sees the opportunity for development in acknowledging and working on those weaknesses.

“If I am doing my job correctly, I should be building their confidence around their strengths and then looking at how they can use those skills in the areas they need to develop. By putting in place various supports to help them succeed their confidence is further developed.

“Developing a person’s emotional resilience is another important area. I find taking the time to look at how we process situations, including setbacks and what the ‘story’ is around our reaction to an incident or someone’s behaviour, can be very helpful. Analysing what happens in an adverse situation and finding the resilience to bounce back often involves changing our attitude and finding the confidence to pick ourselves up and keep going.”

The IT industry in Australia, in Peggy’s experience, is very male. Overseas, she finds the feeling is “less male” which maybe because the interaction between men and women is different: “I never felt my gender was seen or noted in Europe. I was a colleague. In Australia that was not my experience.

“Firstly, I examined my approach and attitude and wondered if it was me or actually the culture. My conclusion is it’s a bit of both.

“Not everyone is Teflon - able not to worry about stuff and not have it stick. I see it as my responsibility as a leader to support others to become more Teflon, but also to change how men and women interact so that there is more equality. I focus on mentoring women to increase that equality.

“One of my most valuable resources is energy. As a single mother of two children with shared parenting responsibilities, when my children are with me I focus on them, working from Melbourne and from home. At other times I travel for work. I see friends, love physical activity. My health, including looking after what I eat and my sleeping habits, is important.

“I value fairness, creativity, courage, enthusiasm, passion, authenticity. In fact, authenticity is the big one for me. It is my ‘why’, influencing everything I do and think at work, and home; with friends, family or colleagues; every aspect of my life.

“And I believe in quality of life. I keep track of my finances because in this world money provides choice in life. I am not an expert when it comes to investment and I will seek help in this area.

“I know that my needs when it comes to my superannuation, for example, have changed. I recently became a single mum. My super is well-invested but having a closer look and realigning it with my situation now is on my list of things to do. I think like most of us I want my money to work hard for me because I work hard for it. It’s why I am looking at getting a financial planner.”