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Leadership journeys and lessons learned on the way

The most powerful leadership lessons are often the most personal. And, according to executive coach, Phil Crenigan FAIM, the ability to tell your own story is an important aspect of any leader’s journey of insight and reflection. At an event co-hosted by the Australian Institute of Management and University of Notre Dame Australia, convened by Crenigan and featuring four senior executives with international, corporate and entrepreneurial experience as panellists who all agreed that the most important career decision is the one to take control of your own career growth and development.

Each leader shared their own career journey and reflections on managing at the leadership journey with the audience.

John Batistich, Director of Marketing & Digital, Westfield

Batistich’s career started with a sales role on the road with Lion Nathan, and has been driven throughout, he says, by sheer determination. Batistich moved quickly up through a number of roles, to become a brand manager by the age of 24, with $10 million dollars of marketing spend, and in his words ‘no idea what I was doing’. He then moved to Kimberley Clark and later to Pepsico where, among other projects, he was involved with the launch of Red Rock Deli. At 34 Batistich was appointed Managing Director of the Wrigley Company (The Mars Group) where he ran a $190 million business with a team of directors who had 20-30 years more experience than him. Batistich learned fast and on the job. After four and half years, Batistich took a Masters Degree at Macquarie Graduate School of Management, and later joined Westfield as a General Manager.

  1. We are trained to focus on what we think, not what we feel. I have learned to listen to how my body reacts to what is happening, and to accept that without judgement.
  2. Be kind to yourself. Negative self-talk drove twelve to thirteen hour working days, and sent my perfectionism into overdrive. I pushed myself and sometimes others too hard.
  3. Spend time reflecting. We learn most in periods of reflection.
  4. Be open to mentoring and to the value of networks.

Tim Ebbeck, CEO, Oracle

Ebbeck credits his upbringing as one of seven children in a large Catholic family as an important motivation for his career success. It was a wonderful start in life, he says, but times were tough. Ebbeck began his working life in the 1970s with a job during the day and studying for an accountancy degree at night. He moved to work for Nucleus, Australia’s first biomedical company, which has spawned a number of important medical innovations. As a wicketkeeper in a local cricket team, Ebbeck believes he learned important and lasting lessons about team work, motivation and engagement. Ebbeck has held a number of Chief Financial Officer positions, and ran SAP, ANZ for four years before taking a career break. Ebbeck was involved in reviewing the National Broadband Network project implementation and was then headhunted to run Oracle ANZ.

  1. Leadership success is all about people. A great idea with an average team can fail. An average idea with a great team has a far better chance of success.
  2. Change the mindset of ‘have, do, be’ to one of ‘be, do, have’. Start with who you want to be. Think it through, write it down and start to be that person now. Over time you’ll start behaving like that person.
  3. Expect more of your own leadership. Expect less of other people’s.
  4. There’s no book on the world as it is right now, so the most important rule of transformational leadership is that there are no rules. Make up your own.

Angela Lovegrove, Regional General Manager, Telstra

Lovegrove began her career in the police force in the United Kingdom, although she had some Information Technology before joining up. After leaving the police, Lovegrove took two Australian IT businesses into Europe, then moved to Australia where she launched the second of these businesses into the Asian market. Lovegrove believes that, in one sense, she has done her career journey backwards, with a degree at 39 and took a gap year at 40. Lovegrove moved into a corporate role with Telstra to learn how to run a large business. She now leads all aspects of operations for Telstra business customers.

  1. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn.
  2. Live and work in different countries should the opportunity present itself.
  3. Take time to step away from work and reflect. The gap year I took at 40 was invaluable as a chance to reflect and in terms of my personal and career growth.
  4. Believe in the people you have on your team – it is an essential leadership attribute.

Allan Watkinson, Principal, Gallup Organisation

Watkinson began his career as a biochemist working in medical research at the Garvan Institute in Sydney. He studied a full-time MBA in his late 20s at the Australian Graduate School of Management hoping to achieve some career clarity. From there he went to PWC, working as ‘the people person’ on large technical implementations for five years. After five years, Allan took a sabbatical and headed to South America with a backpack, where he ended up running a youth hostel and teaching English for a year. Watkinson’s next career step (after nine months looking for work in the UK) was a role as head of business change and head of talent with Reuters. Watkinson is now a principal consultant with Gallup Organisation where his early career interest in research combines with a consistent interest in people and human behaviour.

  1. Take ownership of the investment in your growth and career development. Don’t rely on the organisation to do the job for you. Two out of three employees do not believe that someone in their organisation is focused on their development. You are your own best bet.
  2. Take the mantra ‘follow your passion’ cautiously. A passion may not present as an immediately clear path. Passion can grow with time. Look for clues in the interests and talents you displayed at young age.
  3. Take the opportunity to step out of your career journey, if you can. A break clears the head and allows you to be open to new opportunities.

Crenigan believes that “the ability to tell a story about your own brand requires insight. It requires a journey to clarity, being able to figure out what you are, what you are born to, and what you do.” It is an exercise he recommends any aspiring or current leader undertakes, and it is a journey he asks his clients to travel: “Begin with what you were born into, the values that form here are things that do not change,” he says.

Following a successful international leadership career, which included a directorship of an international search firm, Phil has met with thousands of executives and has developed powerful insights into the challenges of corporate life.

Phil Crenigan (FAIM) is the Managing Director, Executive Turning Point

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