4 leadership lessons from the AFR Boss Leadership Summit

It was a great experience to attend last week’s AFR Boss Leadership Summit on behalf of Deloitte.
Having just completed my first Sydney University MBA module on Leadership Development, this was a perfect opportunity to hear how some of Australia’s top leaders thrive on and deal with what’s an increasingly complex business world full of social, political and financial issues.

There were four key leadership lessons which really stood out to me as essential if you want to be a successful leader in today’s business world:

  • Be purpose-led
  • Empower your people to learn from success and failure
  • Be inclusive in your behaviour and decision-making
  • Build trust in your organisation and team

Be purpose-led

Deloitte CEO Cindy Hook stressed the importance of leaders connecting their employees with a sense of purpose so they feel they’re making a difference every day. Cindy said, “We must make sure every individual feel a deep sense of purpose and show that what they’re doing makes a difference. I used to think purpose was something that the leadership team declare and everyone else follows, but today purpose statements are much more bottom up.

Cindy went on to explain a campaign which I was lucky enough to work on, where close to 4,500 (or 68%) of Deloitte employees shared their stories of purpose and how they make an impact that matters in the work they do each day.

Cindy’s point of view is backed up by research. John Kotter and James Heskett’s 2011 book – Corporate Culture and Performance Includes the insights from a decade-long study which concluded that purposeful, value-driven companies outperform their counterparts in stock price value by a factor of 12.

Empower your people to learn from success and failure

Listening to each leader speak throughout the two days it was obvious that without great teams behind them, they wouldn’t have achieved what they have.

ANZ Managing Director – Products, Kath Bray explained the transformation which is currently underway at ANZ centred on having empowered teams, working in small ‘squads’ who’re abled to experiment and learn fast. She said, “This leads to higher team engagement and better speed to market for their products.”

GWS Giants captain Amanda Farrugia, from the AFL women’s league, talked about how important it was for her to empower others around her. She said, “As a captain, you’ve got to have the confidence to ask other people for advice. It’s amazing what people know and as a leader, you’d be crazy not to try and leverage all the knowledge in your team. If you create an environment where people feel comfortable to speak up, you’ll get so much more out of them.”

Be inclusive in your behaviour and decision-making

In an ever-increasing diverse workforce leaders need to be inclusive, not only in their behaviour, but also in how they make decisions. As Deloitte Consulting Partner Juliet Bourke said, “Inclusive leadership allows organisations to unlock the true potential of their diverse workforces and enjoy a significant pickup in productivity.”

This is supported by recent research by Deloitte which shows an increase in individual feelings of inclusion translates to a 17% increase in perceived team performance, a 20% pickup in the quality of decision making and a 29% in collaboration. The business case for inclusive leadership is a strong one, and one that is becoming a necessity rather than a nice to have. It’s important that as a leader you continue to remind yourself to stay open-minded and be aware of the bias you bring to your decision making.

Build trust in your organisation and team

AGL CEO Andy Vesey summed up trust when he said, “You can’t be a leader if people don’t trust you. It is only through our behaviours that they’re going to get this. What we say is what we do and we need to hold ourselves accountable and be transparent about it.”

This lack of trust in institutions and leaders is something which is increasingly becoming an issue around the world. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that trust is in crisis around the world across institutions of government, media and NGOs. For example CEOs’ credibility dropped by 12 points to an all-time low of 37%; an all-time low across every country studied.

NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn agreed that to build trust, leaders need to be transparent. When talking about the need for his business to cut 4,000 jobs he said, “Our people understand our industry is changing so fast. They want authenticity and respect. And they want to be told the whole picture, so they can deal with it.”

I found this a refreshing take on maintaining trust. If you tell your employees the truth and do this consistently you will build a culture where employees have confidence in their leaders and won’t be sceptical of your message, even when it’s negative.

It was an enriching two days where I was lucky enough to learn from the ‘pros’ on what makes a successful leader. I really believe leadership is undergoing a transformation. Millennials will comprise 50% of the workforce in the next three years; they have different wants and needs to previous generations and its vital leaders adapt to the changing workforce. If leaders are able to commit to adopting or enhancing the four themes I outlined, they’ll be able to inspire and engage a new era of worker. This will help organisations attract and keep the best talent while engaging their workforce to be passionate about what they do each day. This in turn will result in businesses delivering on promises to customers/clients and deliver the financial results to shareholders.


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