I grew up in a small New Zealand town, in a middle-class family with parents who believed that girls could do anything that boys could. We didn’t talk about it. We just lived it. Our family of seven worked hard whether it was chopping wood or peeling potatoes with consideration for ‘jobs for the boys’ or ‘jobs for the girls’. My parents’ values – hard work, diligence and equality – were ingrained early, and I now realise became my foundation as I entered the workforce and started my career path.
That career starting line was in IT – an industry that I fell into by chance but stayed in by choice for 25 years, the last six of which as the Managing Director of Microsoft. I moved into Financial Services 18 months ago – a leap of more than just industry. Reinventing and disrupting myself was something that I had been doing for decades, and this was another opportunity.
The last few years have taught me that leadership in an era of disruption is industry and role agnostic. Leaders are not leaders because they have the title; and no industry can thrive without leaders who embrace disruption. I hope my learnings can help others considering the next chapter in their career. Let me share a few of my favourites.
Self-disruption is not an option
Darwin says it best – adapt to survive. The difference in this lesson is about timing. Are you waiting for the change to occur and following the trend? Are you constantly looking for signals that guide how and where you develop the skills and capabilities for the future? In my career, stepping into emerging business areas came with both great risk and great reward.
Purpose is the secret sauce
Leaders can often clearly articulate bold goals that call out ‘what’ you want to achieve, like ‘be #1 in market share’. But if that’s as deep as you go, then the people you lead will wonder what’s the point. Great leadership comes from taking the time to articulate ‘the why’.
I know for a fact that most of the people I work with don’t get out of bed to sell a widget. At Microsoft, my purpose was to help Australians from all walks of life use technology to realise their potential. Now I’m at Suncorp, I’ve found my purpose hasn’t changed that much. I do what I do to support Australians to have a better life. I get to help people buy the homes of their dreams, grow their businesses and sleep soundly knowing the things they care about are protected. Never forget to articulate why you do what you do and share it with others.
Exercise mindful authenticity
I often get asked about authenticity, especially by women working in male dominated industries or companies. Do you need to be one of the boys? How can you be authentic but still accepted? It’s a complex area which touches on how inclusive your work environment is.
My advice is be true to yourself but remember that authenticity doesn’t excuse poor judgement. Let me explain. People tell me I’m funny and I like to think so too (at times!). Often in a meeting, a funny quip might pop into my head in reaction to something that’s been said. As funny as it might be, and as authentic as humour is to my personality, good judgement should always prevail. Always ask yourself – what is the best part of me to bring to this moment?
Your fear is a fear, not a fact
This is probably the most important lesson I have had to learn, and I still must work hard to remember it. As I went into new roles and companies or took on responsibilities where I didn’t have the subject matter expertise, I had to fight the self-talk of my fears. A voice that said things like, ‘you’re not good enough’ and ‘other people don’t think you can do this.’ This voice would tempt me not to step forward or speak up – but that is just me listening to my fear. Yes, I’ve made mistakes and asked silly questions, but I always pushed myself forward. The fear of failure should never hold you back because being scared to fail doesn’t mean you will.
Pay it forward
My career has been bolstered by those who went before me, broke glass ceilings, believed in me before I believed in myself, and mentored and sponsored me. It’s not about throwing a ladder down after you. Cast your net wide and help the next generation of women.