Stephanie McConachy MIML has very strong ideas on what makes a great leader and she plans to practice what she preaches. By Carolyn Boyd
Pounding the pavement training for half-marathons, Stephanie McConachy has a ritual. She arranges a three-stage music playlist in advance. “It’s all about the race strategy; you can’t go too fast too soon,” she explains.
McConachy chooses her music based on beats per minute, focusing on getting her running rhythm just right for different stages of the race. The methodical approach is not so different to how she has charted her career – recognising that during the early years she had to lay the foundations, take the time to get involved and gain broad experience.
The Adelaide marketer has recently been appointed to the Institute of Managers and Leaders’ board after spending seven years on the organisation’s committees, including South Australia’s Young Professional Group and the Young Manager Advisory Board.
Growing up as the daughter of two self-employed business people — her mum is a dentist with her own practice and her dad is a geologist — McConachy saw first-hand that a strong work ethic can take you places. They taught her, she says, that you need to work hard to get things done.
Throughout her early career, the 29-year-old has had a string of role models. One quality has stood out to her about each of them. And it’s this single, impossible-to-measure quality that McConachy says makes a great leader.
“They were really passionate about what they were doing, they were enthusiastic, they had really strong belief and purpose,” she says.
McConachy has always been fascinated about what makes people tick. As the third of four children, she played the role of the “agitator and disruptor — that annoying third child, but also the mediator”. At university she started studying psychology but switched to marketing as it seemed a more interesting career that was still about getting inside people’s heads.
In her role as a marketing manager for global consultancy PwC, McConachy leads a team across Australia. She tries to live by the mantra of “just do it” — even if everything she does isn’t perfect. And she tries to be the type of leader she admires.
“It’s incredibly important that they care about the team that they’re leading,” she says.
It’s about taking the time with people. “It’s not just a ‘Hey, how is it going?’, but actually connecting with everyone on a one-on-one and asking them, ‘How are you today? What’s going on?’ And actually wanting to know the answer.
“If you don’t understand the people you’re leading, you can’t effectively lead them. That care and that curiosity is really important.”
For McConachy, communication is key to being a great leader: “Having that big-picture vision is incredibly important, but more important is how do you actually communicate it? Without communication, you can’t lead effectively, because no-one actually knows what we’re trying to do. Half of us are trying to go to the North Pole, the other half to the South, which just doesn’t work.”
McConachy says the leaders she admires are excellent communicators. “They often have that charismatic edge, but they can communicate really effectively and get their vision across so they take you on the journey with them,” she says. “They’re not just pointing and saying, ‘Go there’. They’re saying, ‘OK, we’re going to go there and this is how we’re going to do it and here’s a paddle for you’, so they bring you on that journey with them. And you want to follow them. You want to get on board.”
Trust is also an important factor and it goes both ways.
“I need to be able to trust my leaders,” she says. “I want them to trust me and to give me that space, because without that trust, I can’t do it all on my own; you can’t do it all on your own, we need to work together. You need to have that trust that if you fail, you fail and we can work it out. And I trust you enough that we don’t need to be in each other’s line of sight every single second to make it happen.”
While she agrees some people take to leadership more naturally, McConachy argues leadership skills can be learnt. “Some leaders just have this X-factor and you go: ‘How can I bottle that? What actually even is that?’ But soft skills can be developed. EQ [emotional intelligence] can be developed as well. Self-awareness is very important for leaders and sometimes it takes people a little bit more digging and listening and wanting to take on that feedback to get there, but it can be learnt.”
Having recently joined the The Institute of Managers and Leaders’ board, McConachy hopes to bring a unique perspective to the role, but stops short of saying she can inject a ‘youth voice’. The 29-year-old can certainly provide insight about the issues facing younger managers and leaders.
“I’m just really excited,” she says. “Looking around the table and talking to everyone it’s such an amazing group of people.”
McConachy has her sights set on further board roles in the future. “I see that as a real aspiration to be a non-executive director with a portfolio of board appointments,” she says. “I’m currently on a few other committees and would love to get involved with more boards in the future.”
Outside of work, McConachy can be found helping her furniture-designer husband in his business. Or out and about enjoying the top-class food and wine that the lush regions around Adelaide produce. And she is also focused on her next half-marathon. But that’s OK, she has a game plan.
“A strong beat can get you through,” she says.
FIVE PEOPLE STEPHANIE WOULD INVITE TO LUNCH
“First, I need someone who could bring the lunch, so a chef. Heston Blumenthal (pictured) has really challenged people’s perception of what food is and can be. So Heston to bring lunch and also to challenge us. Then Seth Godin. He’s a marketing genius and he’s just such an inspirational person and all throughout my marketing career, Seth’s been my go-to. I’d also choose Louis Theroux, the British documentary maker who’s forever curious. He’s disarming, he tackles any type of topic. He would ask really interesting questions, so probably get the best out of that group dynamic. Then I need a fictional character – Yoda. I love his quote: ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try’. He could bring a bit of wisdom to the group. And then Madonna, the queen of rebranding and reinvention. She would add a bit of a wow factor and bring some fun stories.”