My Leadership Journey – Dana Lightbody

If I put a dollar in my savings account for every time someone asked me when my leadership journey began, I’d be driving my dream car by now – a Tesla 4×4 for anyone who’s interested!


My undergrad degree was Psychology, so given my interest in the motivation and drive of others I should have known that one’s leadership journey starts much before you are ever bestowed the title by your organisation and handed a team to lead. I believe there is a major misconception that you are only a leader when you’re at the top of your game or have succeeded in becoming the head of a global organisation. Reality is, we all have the ability to be leaders, no matter what stage of life you are at or what your job title is.


For me, leadership is about being authentic and remaining true to who you are, all the time and I wish I had of known that younger when I was trying to be everything I thought my superiors wanted from me. Authenticity for me translates into knowing my own strengths and being able to harness them to bring out the best in other people. In my business, leadership is about ensuring everyone knows where the company is going, they are clear on the mission, vision and values and how their role plays a significant part of the organisation as a whole. It’s about having difficult conversations which drive people to be more passionate, driven to be their best and to be accountable to themselves and others. As my hero Brené Brown says, ‘integrity is choosing courage over comfort.”


It’s not easy! As a Founder and Director, the hardest thing for me to learn about leadership was to step back from the day-to-day, something I think all business owners struggle with. I had to let go and allow the team to take care of the necessary tasks so I could focus on more important goals in terms of growth and scaling, whilst still holding the team accountable for delivery.


My proudest achievement along my journey would have to be the release of The Leadership Institute in 2017. A sub-brand of my parent company Konnect Learning, our mission was to really shake up what people think of when they think of conferences. Our institute stems from my belief that great leaders only learn from other great leaders, so our programs are strategically designed to be a place for great leaders to share their stories and educate the new generation.


Coming up in March 2020 we will be hosting The Empowered Woman, a one-day experience to ignite your passion for business in all its forms – so you have the skills to achieve your dream career. Be inspired by personal stories of success, learn from intimate tales of failure, harness your ambition to make it happen. Our headline speakers confirmed include Sarah-Jane Clarke, Justine Troy, Suzy Nicoletti and Van Le. Get in early and book your tickets now!


Steering the family business into the age of technology

Steering the family business into the age of tech

Sitting down with Pippa Hallas is a bit nerve racking. Pippa is not your average CEO. For a starter she’s the grandniece of the company’s founder and namesake, Ella Baché and she’s the third CEO in her family. That’s a lot of pressure. She laughingly says, “the first generation makes it, the second one maintains it and the third one blows it.” Having been at the helm of the 65-year-old family owned business for 10 years, clearly, she is far from blowing it.


But it hasn’t been an easy journey. Her entry into the company came after making a career for herself in marketing, both here and overseas, and it was while she was back in Australia after a stint overseas that a role in marketing opened within the family business. Her last name and her entry into the company made a lot of people nervous. That very famous last name, synonymous with the brand itself went against her. “It was probably the hardest few years in my life in terms of working. It completely went against me. I just created a lot of fear inside people for all sorts of reasons that wasn’t my intent, it was just my last name.”


A short three years later, Pippa was promoted to General Manager, a move which created even more discord within the company. She states it was a difficult time and credits surrounding herself with people who believed in her and her vision for the company as what got her through. “I created my own tribe as they say and brought my own people in and made sure people were aligned to me and believed in my vision, and believed in me.”


By the time she was promoted to CEO, just a year after the General Manager appointment, she concedes it wasn’t other people who held her back. The board had placed complete faith in her. It was her own sense of self-doubt, her own incarnation of imposter syndrome. “I was really comfortable with the head of marketing title that I wore. But as soon as you said CEO, I just felt like an imposter so it probably took me a good three to four years to really feel confident that I could wear that title without being an imposter.”


As I listen, I think about how confident, down to earth she is and how accomplished she is in her own right, there’s nothing about her that would lead me to think she’s ever had a moment of self-doubt. Here is a woman that took the helm of a family legacy and steered it confidently into a sea of change and did it with conviction, to me it looks as though any sign of self-doubt has been firmly left in the past.


“I just felt like an imposter so it probably took me a good three to four years to really feel confident that I could wear that title”


Ella Baché was established back in the 30’s by its namesake Ella and Pippa’s grandmother Edith in a time when women didn’t work, let alone get university educations and start skincare businesses in foreign countries. Being bold and taking risks is clearly etched into Hallas’ DNA. She speaks of both women reverently, with respect tinged with awe at their achievement in a time when women were ‘homemakers’ long after the children left home. “Ella and Edith (are my inspiration) because they were so ahead of their times. Ella, for example, went to university. She wanted to be a doctor, at a time where no females were allowed to be doctors, so her fate took her down the pharmaceutical route and graduated as one of the only women, back in the turn of the century. She had an arranged marriage which she ran away from, so she constantly had to keep re-inventing herself. If you talk about empowerment, she empowered herself to live here and design her in life, which was very rare for someone of that ilk.”


Coming from beauty industry royalty, and a family dynasty that dates back 65 years, might lend itself to laziness and entitlement, but clearly Hallas has felt none of this. “I think growing up in a family where work and hard work is one of your values, I just think that you don’t even think about it, it’s in your DNA.”


Hallas is no stranger to hard work. The beauty industry in 2019 is a different beast to what it was 20 even just 10 years ago. Competition is fierce and the pace of technology rapid and pervasive. The pressure to look younger is ever present for women. “Innovation is probably how I spend half of my time, whether it’s working with different people on new treatment innovation, new techniques to treat the skin, new products, new ingredients, new ways of doing things, new ways of communicating, new ways of teaching people because we run a college. So, we’re constantly looking on our future.”


“I think growing up in a family where work and hard work is one of your values… you don’t even think about it, it’s in your DNA.”


Hallas’ vision doesn’t just stay focused on her work. Creativity and thinking out of the box are clearly what her years in marketing has brought out in her. There is no clearer example of her vision than her support and encouragement for a then 16-year-old Jessica Watson, the youngest woman to sail solo around the world.  The company, her peers and contemporaries all discouraged the idea, but Hallas stuck to her gun and sponsored Jessica and her boat, aptly named Ella’s Pink Lady on her journey. “At the time everyone thought she was mad, and we were mad. I fortunately saw something in Jessica, which people who didn’t know her so well just didn’t understand. I knew, the good Aussie tradition that someone deserves to be backed and have a go. That’s the approach we took and before she even started, I had the media and everyone ringing me, telling me how stupid we were. But that moment when I was seated on a boat when she sailed back into Sydney Harbor and the whole world was watching her, it was awesome, and that was a risk that paid off.”


“One of my greatest lessons was learning to say no… if it’s not an amazing yes, then it’s a hard no.”


I wonder what it would have felt like to give a young girl her dream and to really boost her accomplishments in the world. It reminds me that Hallas herself is a mother to two young children, 7 and 4. I bring the conversation back around to how she balances the pressure of being a CEO with the demands of a young family. It is no surprise that she, like every parent, struggles to balance the two. “I don’t prescribe to work-life balance because I think it’s a lifestyle that we choose to do. One of my greatest lessons was learning to say no. I’m one of these people that suffer bad fomo. I’m always like, yeah, I want to be involved, but I’ve really had to learn if it’s not an amazing yes, then it’s a hard no, and there’s nothing in between because my diary’s so important and if I’m not here, doing things that really matter than I should be with my kids.” I am impressed that Hallas has dispensed with the idea of balance because I feel the term implies that there can be separation of both in order to have contentment, satisfaction and success in both. The more we talk the more I feel she is a truly modern leader.


Hallas also knows that to survive in her industry and indeed to thrive in it, she needs to be at the forefront of both leadership and technological change and it’s not just a matter of automating process and that’s it, she also knows she needs to be an adaptive leader. “You, as a leader have got to be able to constantly learn about these new areas, whether it’s artificial intelligence, or machine learning or whatever… you’ve got to pick the right things for your business, and know where to automate. And then on the flip side you need to get the best people around you that can do the stuff that computers can’t do… being a good leader and getting the best out of very different people and building a great team.”


It’s hard not to be impressed with someone who understands that the most important part of technological advancement is to lead people through it and to bring them along the journey. It’s clear her emotional intelligence levels are high. When asked she explains she thinks that this is the advantage of being a woman in the workplace, the years of being encouraged to use and express emotional intelligence rather than to shy away from it.


“I think women have an advantage in a way because a lot of it is emotional intelligence and the ability to work with so many different people. I heard very recently that for the first time there’s four generations in the workplace, so we have to be able to adapt to all different types of people, to engage them and influence them and bring them along the journey. So, I think only emotional intelligence is going to get you there.”


I know that I have only just scraped the surface of her journey and her story, and I look forward to exploring more of her thoughts, and the thoughts of other great female leaders, at The Empowered Woman 2020.



Written by Dana Lightbody, Executive Director, The Leadership Institute

What is the difference between a manager and a leader


Many of us think we are leaders but are we really just managers, juggling a million balls at once?


Managing a team, family or even your circle of friends can be a challenge in itself, however, leading them is a totally different story. A great leader is also a coach, a mentor and a sponsor, and as they say it doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right training and skills it will happen.


Ask yourself these questions…


Do you feel that you regularly share your knowledge and expertise with your staff and peers?

Do you think the people around you feel empowered by you?

Are you the go-to when there is a problem or tricky situation?


If you answered yes to all of the above, then I’m pretty sure you’re already leading your own tribe without knowing it. By taking your leadership qualities and approach from an informal relationship to a more formal approach, you will not only take your own career to the next level but will also inspire those around you to climb the corporate ladder with you.


So, what’s the difference between coaching, mentoring and sponsorship you ask?


Coaching is bespoke and generally a one-on-one tailored program developed for an individual for a defined period of time, with specific business goals in mind.


Mentoring can be both informal and formal. It’s flexible in the fact that as the needs of the mentee changes, so can the guidance and knowledge provided. In short, it’s a supportive relationship designed to develop the mentee to their fullest potential.


Sponsorship on the other hand, is using one’s power to influence others and in turn support the growth of the employee or individuals in situations where a little weight is needed.

  1. Create a space where ideas and input are valued; if you had all the answers to all the questions you would be god and not a good leader. Input is essential.
  2. Don’t tell. Ask questions, ask for input about why someone is executing a task a certain way and what they hope to achieve – most of the time they know the answer they just need confirmation;
  3. Be open about the vision and bring your team along with you; often I am surprised that they team are just as excited to reach goals as I am. There’s no I in team but there is in win.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your leadership journey and empower others to do the same, then join us in Sydney this month at the Women in Leadership Summit with Nell Wilson, from Nell Wilson Executive Coaching, for our workshop on Mentoring, Coaching and Sponsoring Women. Tickets available here.




Why work/life balance is a myth


Guest written by Ellenor Cox

Do you think a man would ever be asked in a job interview when he was planning to have children or how he’s coping with his work/life balance?


The fact that these questions are still commonplace in the workplace to have our female C-Suite leaders rolling their eyes with frustration, and our aspiring female leaders shaking their heads in quiet desperation.


From an early age, young women are told that we can have it all – a successful and rewarding career and a loving partnership and family.


Often this perception is accentuated by women leaders who portray themselves as being able to achieve this balance whilst masking a reality that has them only just holding on by the tips of their fingernails and stretched far too thinly across too many expectations…expectations that are often self-imposed.


In an attempt to play like a man in a predominately male world of leadership, women often compromise on their inherent values and leadership styles in an attempt to fit in or be seen as capable.


There needs to be franker and more authentic conversations taking place by women, with women and for women on uncovering these unhelpful myths and normalising strategies that can cultivate more authentic leadership styles and more heartfelt and open discussions around the work/life balance conundrum.


In the lead up to this year’s 4th Women In Leadership Summit in Sydney, some of the keynote speakers recognised this need for authenticity and offered their thoughts ahead of time.




Claire Rogers, CEO of World Vision, was blunt in her assessment. ‘’Balance’ is an unhelpful word. It conjures up life and work as two separate things we have placed on a set of scales that we’re constantly trying to keep in equilibrium. It doesn’t work like that,” she said.


Similarly, Chelsea Bonner, Founder of Bella Management says: “This whole idea of balance makes me laugh. It’s the golden carrot hung in front of you to supposedly keep you motivated. I live in the real world and all I want is a happy productive life yet human life is a messy, crazy, happy, terrifying ride. As they say, the only constant in life is change.”


Marnie Baker, MD of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, takes it a step further.


“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. The fact is, we can’t have it all. It is an unfair expectation that is placed on women.”


Rather than there being a universal set of foolproof strategies, what becomes apparent is the importance that these C-Suite women have all placed on being clear with both themselves and those around them; focusing on what’s important to them personally and then giving themselves the permission to dedicate their attention to these matters.


This doesn’t result in a perfect balance but if you love what you do and your career aligns with your values then as Marnie puts it, “your work becomes a very different experience and is one part of your life that connects with and supports the other parts.”


Ann Sherry, Chairperson of Carnival Australia, sums up the main gist of this conversation by succinctly stating that the “trade-offs always have to be made”.


The thing to keep in mind here is to never trade off what you value and love, as the balance you may find will be nothing more than a temporary (and hollow) victory.


Where the opportunities do lie instead are in fostering the skills around mastering honest and direct communications, embracing the vulnerability that comes with the uncertainty of initiating these challenging conversations, and ultimately, holding firm on value-related boundaries.


So let’s ditch the work-life balance question and instead be asking in interviews: How do you nourish yourself as a person and not just as a worker?


This concept and many other great topics will be explored in detail at The Women in Leadership Summit in late September. Click here for more details.



What is gravitas and why do you need it in your life?


According to the Cambridge University, the definition of gravitas is seriousness and importance of manner, causing feelings of respect and trust in others.


So why is it so important in business today?


I believe as a leader, you need gravitas to make an impact and actually be heard. As a woman in this technology driven business world, today it’s not just the suits in the room we’re up against, but a combination of information overload and a time poor society. Whoever shouts louder or “fakes it till they make it” seem to win out.


Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we should fake our experience to win a battle or a seat on the board, for me it’s about having the quiet confidence to take you beyond your qualifications and expertise. By creating your own inner gravitas, it will take you further in the boardroom, attract a tribe to follow your lead and help form future leaders.


Think of gravitas as a mindset that gets you out of your comfort zone, but also out from behind that “invisible coat” we all like to hide under from time to time.


To change your mindset and move to the next stage of your career, I recommend you:

  1. Create your own personalised gravitas plan
  2. Undertake a speaking/presenting course to learn to project your authority
  3. Always act with integrity and know your boundaries
  4. Expand your circle of influence by supporting others to do the same
  5. Look the part – presentation is important no matter who the audience is!


“My number one thing to remember when you need to bring your gravitas to the table is that it’s not about being arrogant to get what you want. Use it to influence with intelligence and grace.”


If you need help with creating your personalised gravitas plan, join us for our ‘What Women Need to Know to Build their Gravitas’ workshop with Amanda MacLean from The Gravitas Project at the Women In Leadership Summit. The one-day workshop will be held on Tuesday, 24th September 2019 at Sydney’s Seymour Centre. Tickets available here.



The most important leadership skills for women, as voted by Australia’s top female CEOs


We are very much aware that there is a lot of rhetoric surrounding leadership skills. So ahead of our Women in Leadership Summit 2019 we thought we’d take advantage of our privileged access to Australia’s most senior women in leadership by sending all of our speakers the same question. We did this to see how their responses resonated with or differentiated from one another so we could work out which skills were most common among successful leaders.


We asked each speaker the following: What are the top five skills every woman in leadership should have? Their responses were surprisingly consistent, but varied enough to showcase that real individuality and authenticity are needed to make it to the top. The four most advocated skills were resilience and adaptability (which we see as complementary), authenticity, empathy and courage. We’ll lay out the responses and what they mean below:


Skill #1: Having Resilience and Adaptability

“Resilience and Adaptability,” Ann Sherry, former CEO of Carnival Cruises was the first to respond to our question, her answer was short and sharpened to the point, much like Ann herself (you don’t orchestrate the turnaround of a company and have time to mince words.)


Chelsea Bonner, of Bella Management, believes that women face more specific challenges, that women are always ultimately torn between the obligation to the ‘life’ side of the work/life balance, and that men are far less subject to this kind of judgement. As she says: “You will be tested and will need resilience to keep going through the emotional blackmail you will be confronted with daily.” She also notes that there is no strategy for success that won’t need to be reconsidered or readjusted, as “there are swings and roundabouts in every plan, it’s not a straight paved road to success.”


More business-minded and less gender-focused, Gabby Costigan, CEO of BAE Systems believes that for her this is more about our disruptive economic climate and the constant transformation that businesses must undergo to be resilient and stay relevant: “As a leader, being able to flex and respond as needed and inspire this agility in your teams is a core skill.”


For Marnie Baker, MD of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and Nicola Grayson, CEO of Consult Australia adaptability is more about leading different types of people and organisations, with different ideas and working styles. If you are open to feedback and are willing to accommodate others, then you will ultimately be more effective and cultivate stronger working relationships.


Skill #2: Leading with Authenticity

Authenticity as a leadership attribute is so widely discussed and important that we devote an entire summit to it. Ann Sherry nailed it when she listed ‘a sense of self’ as one of her top skills. The main tenet of authentic leadership is being yourself at work, not your ‘work self’. This is because the people you lead always respond better to someone who the feel they know rather than someone who is putting on an act.


Angela Mentis, CEO of BNZ hit on another key aspect of authenticity when she said that as a leader you must “stay true to your values.” Leaders must be able to align their values and purpose with their organisation’s if their leadership is going to be the right fit. These key aspects of authenticity are neatly summed up by Claire Rogers, CEO of World Vision: “Authenticity – this is grounded in vulnerability and personal honesty.”


Echoing Brene Brown, Marnie Baker cites vulnerability as a key aspect of authentic leadership and it’s no coincidence that this is the subject of her keynote at the Women in Leadership Summit 2019. Being vulnerable really means accepting your humanity, being bold enough to admit when you don’t know something and being open to being corrected. Rather than being a weakness, being vulnerable lets your people know that you are real, you are human, and you value their ideas and input. As Nicola Grayson adds, this is characterised by ‘transparency and openness’, and it makes you a better leader.



Skill #3: Being Empathetic

Empathy is a leadership attribute that is related to authenticity, but many of our CEOs, including Ann Sherry and Angela Mentis, singled it out as being just as important. Good leaders must listen to their teams and can pick up when something is wrong to ensure that they adequately support their organisation. This allows leaders to, as Marnie Baker put it, “lift the tide of all of those within your organisation”, which is the hallmark of an excellent leader. For Chelsea Bonner, empathy is probably the most important skill that any professional should have. “Emotional intelligence is just as important, if not more important than any university degree in my opinion.”


Skill #4: Being Courageous

Out of all of the leadership attributes laid out by our speakers, courage has to be the most important and most relevant to our Women in Leadership Summit 2019 agenda. Leaders don’t become leaders without the courage to take action and step forward. To put themselves in the ring. To take that next step in their careers. This is particularly the case for women, since we have far fewer sponsors to endorse us, and traditionally far fewer opportunities to seek promotion. For these reasons we are 60% less likely to even apply for a job if we’re not 100% sure we can get it. This needs to change.


Gabby Costigan, CEO of military contractor BAE Systems (possibly the most macho industry imaginable) says it best when she states “women leaders need self-belief and courage first and foremost. You must trust in your capabilities and be willing to take a chance in the pursuit of leadership. A fear of failure means at times women tend to wait until they feel completely ready before making this leap. I’ve learned that if you feel 100 per cent ready for your next step, the challenge is already too small for you.” Angela Mentis, Marnie Baker and Claire Rogers agree, and so do I.


The only way that true equality can be reached is by taking action, taking risks and putting ourselves in the mix. We must take action if not for our own benefit, then certainly for the benefit of the women around us as well as the next generation of bright, capable and promising young women and we need to heed the experience of those that have gone before us.


If you want to heed and absorb the experience of those women mentioned in this article, the Women in Leadership Summit 2019 will take place on 24 – 27 September 2019. Limited tickets remain.


Written by Dana Lightbody, Executive Director and Chair of The Leadership Institute

The need for risk, courage, diversity and authenticity in leadership: A conversation with Suzanne Steele, Adobe’s Australian MD


By Dana Lightbody


It’s a sunny day in North Queensland, of course, and I am on holiday with my two children. This is the first trip I’ve taken solo with both of them, and I have to admit it is a lot more stressful than I was anticipating. This morning I managed to take a glorious hour away from the kids to ‘sit down’ with Suzanne Steele, the Australian MD of Adobe. By sit down, I mean that I teleconference her from my hotel room, I wouldn’t expect her to fly to the tropics just for the interview.


I’ve met Suzanne before, in Adobe’s beautiful offices in Sydney. Since we’re video-conferencing I tactically angle the camera across my messy hotel room so none of the mess is visible. I’m a woman in business and I want this other very impressive woman in business to think I’m professional.


I needn’t have worried. Suzanne is warmth personified. She’s also not using her camera, so I’m off the hook.


Suzanne herself is travelling, back to her native UK to spend time with her adult children. Her state of travel makes me feel more at ease with my current situation and I ask her about the inevitable work/life balance. “I have to say it’s easier these days because my children are all grown up and live on the other side of the world. When they were much younger it was very difficult, and I think it is very difficult for anyone with young children to balance life and work. Particularly today, life and work are the same thing. We’re 24/7. I believe that if you love the work that you do, the team that you are a part of, then you can find that balance. If you’re having fun and if you’re really passionate about it. I also ensure that I take the time to switch off my phone and be in the moment with my family and that’s really important to me.”


She goes on to add that having a supportive family is what helps her be the leader she is today. She speaks of her husband being her biggest support, her strongest mentor and her harshest critic, a relationship and a support that has grounded her for most of her career. “My husband is my biggest coach and biggest supporter and also my harshest critic. I think you have to have people around you that can help you.”


Having a strong mentor is something Suzanne credits to getting her to the top. She’s had a less than typical career. Leaving school at 16, Suzanne had no formal qualifications. She cut her teeth in a start-up whose founder and CEO remains her mentor to this day. She humbly credits him with her business acumen, “he saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. He really gave me a chance, taught me a lot about business, how to get things done, how to lead with passion and energy, how to get things done and how to fail. It was vital.”


Clearly the lack of formal qualifications didn’t hold Suzanne back. She moved from strength to strength, leading and motivating management teams across data, software and analytics businesses in North America, the UK and Singapore. This included senior roles at Visa Europe, CACI London and Morgan Stanley. She clearly had quite a lot of role diversity under her belt before being headhunted into her current role at Adobe.


When asked about what it took to get to the top, Suzanne admits that she took risks and indeed encourages anyone, not just women, to take risks with their career. “I am pretty quick to make decision and I use a lot of intuition. I can honestly say I have never gone into a role where I have felt this will be easy. I’ve got this.” Her openness about risk taking and the steps she took to further her career leads me to ask the topical imposter syndrome question and she laughs gently at me, “I feel if you stop feeling imposter syndrome then I might stop feeling successful… If I didn’t have imposter syndrome, I would question it. And I overcome it by asking for feedback from people.” She clarifies that while a little bit of job insecurity can be motivating and force you to become better, too much makes it problematic. “You have to build your confidence by putting yourself in situations where you will have imposter syndrome and delivering on it, then ticking that box and moving on… but I think if it’s too severe and it’s forcing you to question everything you are doing in your day-to-day job then it’s a problem.”


I bring her back to her statement of asking for feedback and ask whether she thinks ongoing feedback is important. She wholeheartedly agrees, “I overcome (fear) by asking for feedback from people. Over the years I have learned to recruit people onto my leadership team who are different to me, who think differently to me and who will actually challenge my decisions. So, I balance my risk taking by having a balanced leadership team.”


When I ask her whether it’s difficult to overcome the innate desire to gravitate to, and therefore hire people that are like oneself, she seems genuinely surprised by the question: “I don’t need lots of people around who are like me, I need to fill the gap with people who have different skills sets, who have different backgrounds and ages, I feel that the easiest way to balance my risk taking is to have that balance around the leadership table.”


All this talk about risk leads me to ask about the biggest risk she has ever taken. I’m surprised that she talks candidly about getting fired. Having been fired from a job before, I know the toll that it took on my pride and sense of self. How it made me realise how much of that sense of self was gathered from being good at my job. It’s not something I like to talk about, let alone tell complete strangers about, but Suzanne doesn’t shy away from honesty. She talks about a time in her career where she questioned her senior management about errors in the books and was instantly fired. She believes her senior management thought her too green in the role to take action, having only been in the role 10 months. Clearly the underestimated Suzanne Steele. As she tells her story it’s hard not to be impressed by the passion with which she talks about this time, how hard it was but how much it was worth it. It was worth it not because she won, but because she was eventually validated. She stuck by her values, honesty and integrity and it paid off. “Financially it was a big ask to take them to the High Court, but it was a matter of principal. I would accept being fired if I thought I was bad at my job, or that I hadn’t done what was required of me, but I was fired for being honest and so that needed to be righted and challenged.” How did she recover? “The thing that helped me pick myself back up after the 18 months it took to go to the high court? It’s the letter of apology that I have framed in my study.”


It is no surprise that Suzanne took those lessons forward into her career. Acting with honesty and integrity may have got her fired from that particular role, but it clearly didn’t stop her star from rising. She credits authenticity as the key to being a strong leader, regardless of gender.


“You can’t be authentic if you’re not honest and you don’t have good values. Authentic leadership in business is really about doing the right thing for the business, doing the right thing for your customers and your people, and actually ensuring that the last thing you are thinking about is doing the right thing for you personally. I don’t think it’s difficult, particularly if you’re in a job that you love and you’re passionate about. Doing the right thing for the business, doing the right thing for the customer and doing the right thing for the talent – that should deliver on what you need to do personally to be successful.”


And with that her assistant calls time on our interview and Suzanne has to go off to do whatever it is that CEOs need to do whilst they are travelling. I thank her for her time and leave the interview feeling inspired to be a better leader for my own people, and to do it for the right reasons.


Suzanne Steele is speaking on day two of the Women in Leadership Summit 2019.


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.


In Conversation: Janine Allis’ Leadership Tips

Janine Allis leadership tips blog

Running out of money, breakdown of relationships, hiring the wrong people and not being customer focused are just four reasons business fail according to Janine Allis.

Janine Allis is considered one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs. Having grown Boost Juice from the confines of her kitchen walls, to 467 worldwide stores and over $2bn in sales, it’s easy to see why.

However, it’s not just the numbers that make a business successful, it takes good leadership. Having won numerous business awards, including Telstra’s ‘Business Women of the Year’ and being inducted into the ‘Business Women Hall of Fame’, we spoke with Janine ahead of the 3rd annual Women In Leadership Summit to find out why she believes so many businesses fail, why leadership is so important, and how she empowers people in her workplace.


You have had so much success with Boost Juice and other Retail Zoo brands, but we really want to know why you think so many businesses come and go, why do you think they fail?

There is often not one reason, but below are some of the top reasons:

Run out of money: Young businesses are cash hungry and often people simply have not got access to the resources to continue.

Relationship breakdown: The breakdown of a partnership is often difficult in business. When people have different visions for a business, this can cause for business to fail.

People: Getting the wrong people in your business and not being strict with the people who you bring in. And finally,

Customer: Not focusing on the customers and continuing to deliver what they need.

You started your first company from your kitchen. There are so many out there who dream of leaving the corporate life and setting up their own business, what’s your advice to those reading this?

My advice is that having your own business is not for everyone. Often you need to risk your own finances which may have taken years to accumulate. The transition from corporate to your own business can be difficult as you are used to being surrounded by teams of people who are experts in their field and then you find yourself on your own.

There are both positives and negatives to corporate and to starting a business. Make sure you consider them all before you hand in your resignation letter.


One of the things you must consider is leading an organisations, but a lot of people don’t see themselves as born ‘leaders’. Do you think you were and how have you grown as a leader over time?

We grow all the time, as people, as leaders, as students. Life is a constant evolution of yourself. I think the key is to be yourself every day. If you are a leader, be a strong, confident leader that can make decisions and follow through.


Keeping on leadership, you must see so many ‘leaders’ and business owners with such apposing approaches and styles, especially as one of the Sharks. What do you think makes a successful leader today?

Clear communication of the vision that you want to achieve, strong decision making and good listening skills. A leader does not HAVE to be liked but aims to be respected while working with integrity. They do what they say and say what they do.


So, this year’s event is all about Empowerment, what does this word mean to you?

Empowerment for me is taking ownership of everything I do. That I own the outcomes for all my decisions. I do not blame outside forces for what happens in my life.


Can you give me some examples of how you try and empower people in your company?

My Digital Manager is a gun. When he came on I told him that my job was to clear the freeway for him and his job was to create campaigns and programs that have never been done before and to make us the leader in the Retail digital space.


What is your advice for other leaders and business owners when looking to empower women in their organisations?

Do not look at them as women but look at them as valued team members and treat them as such.


So, your session at WILS 2018. You’ll be touching on the not so pretty side of business. What has been the most challenging aspect of building such as successful business and what’s your advice to other business owners and managers out there?

I am not sure that my presentation talks about the ‘not so pretty’ but more just what it is like to be in business. It is neither pretty nor ugly, it is just what it is. My session will be an honest look at my journey from a young girl from the burbs to a business owner, who was working it out as she went.

To hear from Janine Allis in person, as well as other leaders including Michelle Bridges and Leigh Sales, book your seat to the Women In Leadership Summit – empower yourself and those around you!

In Conversation: Advice on Criticism and Misogyny from Leigh Sales

We spoke to Leigh Sales, award-winning journalist
From passion and determination, to fantastic bosses, and the #MeToo movement, we spoke to ABC award winning journalist Leigh Sales!

Leigh Sales is one of Australia’s most hard-hitting journalists. Having interviewed the likes of Malcom Turnbull, James Comey, Hillary Clinton and Paul McCartney – just a few highlights for us – her no frills approach has led to numerous awards including the esteemed Walkley Award for Broadcast Interviewing.

But before we turn the tables on Leigh for real at at WILS 2018, we thought we’d get a little practice in with ABC’s leading journalist. We caught up with Leigh to discuss a bit about her career journey, the people that have helped her along the way, and how she deals with the heat of the studio spotlights.

You can hear more from Leigh at the opening session of this year’s WILS. We’ll be kicking off the event with an in-depth conversation so get your questions ready as we’ll be taking lots from the floor.


Hi Leigh, I wanted to start off by asking a little about your career and where it all began. What was your biggest drive and was it always journalism/writing?

My biggest drive was that I loved reading and so I always wanted to write. I loved creative writing at school. Journalism seemed to me to be a way to making a living out of writing. I have always had a secret dream to have a stab at fiction-writing though so hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that one day.


We all know how important mentors and role models are along the way, was there anyone in particular that helped you develop and grow professionally?

I think one of my first bosses, John Cameron, has been a huge influence on me. He was a real stickler for the basics – correct grammar, writing conversationally for television, being balanced in your reporting and so on. He passionately cared about the quality of the product the ABC put out. Even these days, if I say something grammatically incorrect on air or use an Americanism, I think, “I hope Cammo didn’t’ see that.”


On this note, is there anything in particular you do to help encourage and empower young women in your organisation?

I try to lead by example as much as I can – by not being aggressive or opinionated on social media, by being thorough and fair and professional in my work, by trying to demonstrate that character is more important than appearance. I try to encourage the young women AND men on my team by giving them positive feedback when they do great work.


Your field can be a pretty harsh environment at the best of times, especially when you’re constantly in the spotlight. How do you deal with/approach misogyny and criticism in general?

I think that it’s important to ignore criticism from people you don’t respect and especially from anonymous people on social media. I see a lot of people get upset about what people have said about them on social media. When it’s a stranger, writing under an anonymous handle, why care? Constructive criticism from people you respect on the other hand is useful. It’s always good to have a couple of people you trust on whom you can rely for advice or honest feedback. I’m lucky that my current boss, Justin Stevens, has amazing advice and input into my work. He also couches it in a positive way so that it doesn’t feel like criticism. I’ve also been incredibly lucky in that I don’t feel I’ve experienced a lot of misogynism in my career – certainly, the men with whom I’ve worked most closely have been incredibly supportive and always encouraged me to take on opportunities that have exceeded my experience on paper.


What’s your advice to our readers who have experienced this in their workplace?

I feel a bit of a fraud giving advice on this, as I’ve not been in that position. But my general view is don’t accept it. Call it out. These days I think a lot of workplaces are very conscious of trying to stamp out behaviour that is sexist.


Movements such as # MeToo have created a platform in which people can speak out, what’s your view on these as a medium to talk about such important issues? Do you think they have an impact on employers, and why do you think it’s it taken a # to address this at an institutional level?

I think #metoo has generally been really positive to encourage women to speak up and also to educate men as to how prevalent some of that kind of behaviour is. I think it’s been really important to helping companies realise they need to take a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and abuse. I think it’s also sent a clear message to sleazy men that if you harass women, you risk everything.


With this said, organisations are slowly changing their approach to gender issues. What do you think is the single most important approach an organisation can do to have a positive impact on these debates?

I think the most important thing organisations can do is to listen to their female staff and take their concerns on board. I think it’s also really important to have women visible in high-profile and senior roles. I know that a lot of young women come up to me when I’m at public events to say it means something to them to see a woman doing a job like mine. To be honest, I think there is another issue as big as what happens in the workplace and that is what happens at home. Women still carry a disproportionate amount of the load at home and when it comes to organizing a family (the “mental load” as it’s called). All men who have a partner or a family should think about their contribution on that front.


Support is so important in organisation regardless of the topic. But, as an award-winning journalist, tv broadcaster, author, podcaster, and mother of two, how do you manage and find the time and what’s your advice to other working mothers out there?

I don’t want to sound painful but I don’t procrastinate and I don’t waste time. Otherwise I can’t get done everything that I want to get done. I prioritise what is important to me and I try to say no to everything else. I try not to take time away from the children by doing things that are unimportant but that you get caught up in, like having a coffee with somebody you don’t really want to see but who has nagged you. These days, I try to just say no.