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Leading with Authenticity, Adaptability, Agility, Vulnerability and Empathy

Marnie Baker is a mum, a spouse, and also MD of Australia’s fifth largest retail bank. We took some time out with her ahead of her keynote at the Women in Leadership Summit 2019 to discuss what it takes to be a strong leader and a human being at the same.


What are the top skills every woman in leadership should have?

“I don’t believe there are explicit gender-specific leadership skills, but a successful leader at any organisation must display some core leadership qualities. The qualities that are particularly important in my eyes are; adaptability, agility and empathy.

These qualities are crucial to ensuring engagement from staff across the organisation and in reassuring all stakeholders of your leadership capability.

A successful leader – male or female – must be able to; adapt to different leadership and working styles, be agile and open-minded to respond positively to change, and empathise with all stakeholders.

Another important, and often overlooked, trait in leadership is vulnerability. While many may see it as a weakness, in reality vulnerability is a strength because vulnerable leaders tend to inspire, are more authentic, and they build bonds that lead to increased performance overall.

Embracing vulnerability means having the courage to face our fears. A vulnerable leader is willing to experience all the ups and downs that come with it and they know they can confront the brutal realities while maintaining faith they will ultimately prevail and also learn.

Combining all these skills underpins my efforts to bring others along on a journey with me.

A key part of any leadership role – across any organisation – is to support all employees to be the best they can be by providing them with the tools to thrive – and with that – so too will you.

If you’re leadership is lifting the tide of all of those within your organisation, you know you’re doing the right thing.”


What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?

Being a naturally curious, positive and self-motivated person, I relish a challenge and in fact, seek challenges out as opportunities to grow, learn and improve.

The biggest challenge of my career is not something that I have necessarily overcome but a challenge that I have come to better understand and manage – the ability to maintain an appropriate level of work-life balance.

In the early years of my career, I was told that women could have it all, a successful and rewarding career, a loving marriage/partnership and family, and a working environment that encouraged this balance. This perception was accentuated by women who as leaders would portray themselves as being able to achieve this balance.

The fact is, we can’t have it all. It is an unfair expectation that is placed on women.  Like most things in life, it is about decisions we make, compromises and trade-offs, and as individuals only we know what the right ones for us are.

Releasing the pressure I placed on myself to always get the balance right and agreeing in my own mind what I was willing to compromise on helped me to manage this challenge. For example, I promised myself that regardless of what was happening at work that I would attend every one of my children’s school sports – a promise that was important to me and my children, and one I am pleased to say I fulfilled.

I have learnt that as women we place higher expectations on ourselves than our employers, colleagues or families do and just being more kind to ourselves means we are better employees, leaders, and family members.”


What does authentic leadership mean to you?

“My leadership style is genuine and honest. I believe people want to hear authentic communications from authentic people – not generic information that could come from almost anyone. Authenticity breeds authenticity.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken”.

The value of authenticity, as we have seen play out recently in the financial services industry cannot be understated. In this post-trust era, trust and authenticity are our most valuable assets – they are the currency of business.

I strive to communicate with a guide of paying less attention to what I think people want to hear from me and concentrate on what my authentic self needs to say. As a leader, it is my responsibility to encourage this authentic behaviour and authentic dialogue. This is critical.

Listening is also just as important. If your people can see that you actively listen to them and you demonstrate this through action, they will feel more valued and engaged.”



How do you balance life and work? Is it possible to devote enough time to both?

If you love what you do, it becomes less of a balance. That is why I have always said that finding an organisation with values that mirror your own is one of the greatest things that I’ve learnt in my career.

That said, giving yourself permission to dedicate attention to what’s important to you and your personal life is very important. When you have balance in your life, work is a very different experience. Work is one part of your life that connects with and supports the other parts and it all needs to work in harmony.

My personal values align directly with Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s and they align with my organisation’s purpose, which is to feed into customer and community prosperity, not off it.

This isn’t by chance. I simply wouldn’t be the MD of Australia’s fifth largest retail bank, if they didn’t. Our organisation recognises that we can’t have a successful bank, if we don’t have successful customers, communities and people and if we don’t enable our people to succeed and operate with integrity – it would all fall down very quickly. These principles sit perfectly with me. I value and respect them.

I am also passionate about the role customers and communities play in Australia’s economic and social fabric and strongly advocate the role of business and government in communities.

I love my job and maintaining a healthy work/life balance can be a challenge, but it’s one I constantly and consciously manage daily.”



Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome in the workplace or elsewhere? How did you overcome it?

“I think everyone has at least one stage in their career. The difference is to not let it overwhelm and to have the confidence and resilience to back yourself.

Last year, I stepped into my new role as the first female Managing Director of the country’s fifth largest retail bank. As one of the few Financial Services industry Managing Directors and certainly one of very few ASX-listed women CEOs/Managing Directors, I started in this role as we strive to be Australia’s bank of choice in an environment challenged by disruption, low consumer trust in business, changing consumer preferences and more demanding consumer expectations.

But this presents a huge and exciting opportunity for me personally. I strongly believe my 30 years’ experience in the industry, my resilience and ability to evolve with disruption and not become disrupted by it, my leadership style, personal values, the strength, purpose and vision of our organisation and our unique position, will stand me in good stead. Combined is helping us take advantage of the situation to deliver better outcomes not just for me, but for all of those who are engaged with our Bank from our employees, to our customers, shareholders and community members.

Regardless of your personal situation, rising to the opportunity is as much of a test as any challenge is. The difference is how you approach the opportunity and how you apply your attitude and ability.



What are some simple steps we can all take to ensure a supportive workplace culture?

“At Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, our Diversity and Inclusion framework centres around a core theme called Belonging@Bendigo. This platform supports our commitment to our people where we strive to grow a community where “I want to work, where I am valued and where I belong.”

We put our people first, so our people can put our customers first. By striving to be inclusive and diverse, we create positive change that enables our organisation to be commercially astute, innovative and socially responsible. However, what it really means is that everyone can truly be themselves, so they can do their best work. I firmly believe if your values don’t align to the values of the organisation you’re working for, achieving success will be much more draining and exhausting for you.

Flexibility is a core part of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s value proposition and a key reason why our people stay with us long term and work so hard.

Many of our staff really value access to part time work/compressed hours, ABW (Activity Based Working) and the ability to work from home. It allows them to feel valued as an employee, achieve a sustainable work-life balance and ultimately, perform to a higher level.

We genuinely care deeply for all our staff and I believe our company policies and the culture it supports help to foster a supportive and dynamic working environment.”


Marnie Baker is Managing Director at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. She speaks on day one of the Women in Leadership Summit 2019 on 25 September: Staying true to your values: The role of authenticity, integrity and community in leadership.