Learning from a Lifetime of Experience

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If you've heard me speak, odds are you might have heard me mention a pearl of wisdom that my mentor Virgil shared with me when I was 19 years old: 'How long does it take to learn from someone's lifetime of experience? Coffee!' It was a simple idea but it had profound ramifications on me... the idea that people and learning were that accessible if I was just prepared to reach out and ask someone I wanted to learn from if they had time for a coffee.

Given the world consumes approximately 2250,000,000 cups of coffee a day, it seemed reasonable in my teenage head that at least one of those coffee fans might be prepared to share a cup with me. So, I decided to test Virgil's theory and make a commitment to routinely reaching out to people I admired and wanted to learn from and asking them if I could buy them a cup of coffee- but with one qualifier: I wanted to continually challenge myself to seek those coffee conversations diversely. Studies say that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time around, so I figured to ensure my 'average' opinion was as inclusive, well-considered and robust as possible, I had to make sure the inputs I was exposing myself, and my thinking to, were as diverse as possible. I intentionally chose to pursue diversity, seeking out people of different gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, background, profession and belief- just to name a few!

In eight years of taking on this challenge, I've had the privilege of learning from some truly remarkable individuals: from paramedics and performers to explorers, teachers and leaders of industry. I've had coffee with 10-year-olds and coffee with 94-year-olds... and almost every age in-between; and have enjoyed those coffees conversations in locations as diverse as Antartica, Kenya, Moscow, and the middle of Hutt River Province (NB: that last one is worth a google!). Over the course of the journey I've been challenged, encouraged, moved, inspired, surprised... and I've learnt more than I ever could have fathomed.

I've also come to realise, in the conversations I've had with so many of you as I travel throughout the world, speaking to audience across schools, businesses, government departments and communities, that I'm not alone in my hunger for understanding, learning and inspiration- we all want (and need) a little bit of that, on a regular basis, to keep going and growing.

It's this common urge (like that early morning yearning for coffee!) that's inspired me to launch my latest project...one that I'm incredibly excited to share with all of you.

Today, I'm kicking off 'Coffee Pods: Fuel Your Difference', a podcast built on Virgil's simple hypothesis that in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee with someone we can learn from a lifetime of experience. Only this time, I want to go on that lifetime learning journey with you and open these coffee-length conversations up to the world through the power of podcasting. My goal with Coffee Pods is to provide every one of our listeners with the inspirational fuel and practical toolkit to be the change they want to see in their life, organisation or community by opening up access to the insights, stories and experiences of remarkable people, who've marched to the beat of their own drum and created a positive butterfly effect in their wake. 

In preparation for launch, I've already recorded a few coffee pods and our guests range from a world champion athlete to a record-breaking entrepreneur, a brave-as-anything hostage negotiator, a couple of inspiring social change agents, and no-BS futurist... and we're only just getting started! Importantly, as amazing as their accomplishments are, each of our incredible guests are as authentic, open, and pragmatic as they are inspirational, in the way they talk about success, failure, life and everything in between. These are all people still in the trenches with us, trying every day to leave the world a little bit better for the fact they were there.

Today, our first podcast, featuring the incredible seven-time world champion surfer Layne Beachley launched (click here to have a listen on iTunes). It's a raw, insightful and motivating chat that I hope you really enjoy, and you can expect a new episode every Wednesday- ready and raring to help you get through hump day. Next week, we'll be launching our newsletter too, so if you want to join our community, subscribe to sign up- we'll be reaching out to you to help us shape the questions and future content too.

I've always been so grateful for the feedback, support and suggestions of my LinkedIn community and I welcome your input both on this first Coffee Pods release and on an ongoing basis as this project evolves. I'd also love to feature the people you want to hear the insights of, so feel free to drop me a line with suggestions of people that'd make great Coffee Pods subjects. And if you enjoy it, I'd appreciate you sharing it or tagging people in this post who you think would benefit from or enjoy this content.

Ultimately, at a time where many of us feel frustrated, and all too often disillusioned, by the status quo I hope Coffee Pods can fuel and empower those who believe in (and are working towards) being the difference they want to see in their own lives, organisations and communities.

Disrupt or be Disrupted: Key takeaways from Virgin Disruptors 2016.

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What happens when you get world leading disruptive thinkers in a room and ask them to share their cutting edge insights? You get an action-packed, ideas-filled and high-octane energy experience also known as Virgin Disruptors. Check out the highlight reel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAm--WBBDBo&sns=tw

I was fortunate to be asked to MC and moderate the event- acting as chief navigator and forensic questioner as our 600-strong crowd sought to reach a conclusion on the event's overarching question: Are disruptors born or made? With the day's proceedings examining this from four perspectives: purpose, planet, people and performance.

While it's near impossible to summarise the incredible breadth and depth of content covered by all of our speakers over the course of the day, I did want to share the three big themes of the day that I came away thinking about:

1) The magic happens outside of your comfort zone-

Sir Richard Branson is 66 this year and (extraordinarily) has had a brush with death for every year of his life. While most would say that's 66 too many, Richard believes it’s key to his success. Richard spoke at length in our opening session about the importance of continually putting yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to challenge yourself to achieve your true potential.

Building on this, Andy Walshe (Head of High Performance at Red Bull) spoke about the work his team does to develop athletes’ capacity to thrive in the face of adversity. His team work continually put their world champion athletes in situations of high perceived threat (low actual threat) in order to build the threshold and tolerance of the athletes when faced with real pressure/threat. For example, he put a whole raft of their squad in a dark room with an enormous number of giant pythons and required them to make it from one side of the room to the other- the perceived threat might be high but the actual threat was low. In building resilience in the face of perceived threat, the athletes dramatically enhanced their ability to do it in the face of actual threat. Andy spoke at length about neuroplasticity and the encouraging results of their research- while people can start with a variety of risk/threat tolerances and resilience levels, all their studies show this competency can be built in anyone who’s prepared to do the work.

Food for thought: when was the last time you stepped outside your comfort zone?

2) Find the 80%, then put it live and let the wisdom of the crowd tell you if it works or not-

This was the comment from Dom Price, Atlassian's Head of R&D, who stressed the importance of disrupting from within in order to avoid being disrupted. Dom was one of number of speakers that talked about the importance of inviting external feedback and engagement from relative stakeholders (staff, customers etc) as early in the process as possible. To quote Pete Smith, the CEO of Blokchain “if your code doesn’t embarrass you when you first release it, you’ve waited too long”. Over the course of the event, it was mentioned several times that a failure to “live-test” ideas and to open concepts up to constructive feedback early was at the root of peoples' biggest missteps and failings.

It takes leaders with growth mindset to be open to operating with such an open and rapid feedback loop but all the best disruptors credit this approach with their success. They’re also of the belief that learning, insight and value can come from anywhere and anyone- not just people who have deep subject matter experience in their relevant area or discipline.

Food for thought: how often do you seek feedback and input (particularly for an idea or project that's not wholly complete)? And how widely do you seek it?

3) You might want it, but do you deeply understand what's stopping you from getting it?

Matt Walleart, the head of Microsoft’s growth ventures spoke about the fact that we can often fail to understand that our inability to produce a result stems from an inability to understand and overcome inhibiting behavioural pressures. He sighted the example of gender pay inequity, saying it’s not a case of whether women want to get paid more (who doesn't?!), but 'asking' (and several stages of the process of asking) serve as inhibiting pressures. He believes if we want to truly drive change, we need to have a deep understanding of understanding inhibiting and encouraging behavioural pressures. So Matt's team developed a start-up (called GetRaised) to address this inhibiting behaviour, that allowed women to input some basic information that would then output for them not only the amount they should be asking for but also generated the letter they could provide to their boss. 70% of the people that used GetRaised’s services got a raise and the company has helped women earn $2.3 billion more!

Matt made the point that so often we want to do the right thing or we want to do something different to our present reality but inhibiting pressures prevent us from making it happen.

Food for thought: is there a result in your personal or professional life that you haven't been able to attain? What inhibiting pressures might be in the way and how could you address them?

** Thanks to Sir Richard Branson and the team at Virgin for having me to host this remarkable day, and to all our phenomenal speakers for making Virgin Disruptors 2016 one of the most content-rich and engaging programs I've ever been involved with.

 

Lessons from the 'Start Up Nation.'

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How can Israel: a country of only 8.4 million people, located in one of the most politically unstable regions of the world, and boasting few natural resources be at the epicenter of a thriving startup culture and a global hub of research and development? I was fortunate to visit Israel this May, with a view to examining exactly that, on an Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce Trade Mission co-led by Carol Schwartz and Elizabeth Proust. While Israel’s innovation reputation has experienced a similar meteoric rise to that of Silicon Valley in recent years, let me give some context for those less familiar with the country often referred to as the ‘Startup Nation,' as to why Israel is of such a global interest:

  • Israel has the highest concentration of startups in the world;
  • It is a major destination for venture capital, receiving twice as many investment dollars per person as even the United States – and 30 times as much as Europe or China;
  • Over 60 Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ, which is more than all European companies combined; and
  • They have done it at a pretty quick pace- Israel has accelerated from oranges being their largest export 20 years ago, to technology now being a $US50 billion GDP contributor.

There's so many contributing factors to this extraordinary growth story that this could become a War and Peace length long read if I'm not careful! So, I'm going to steer clear of discussing policy settings (like the role of Israel's immigration policy) and Israeli institutions like YOZMA, the IDF- for those interested in these aspects of Israel's journey, Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Paul Singer comprehensively covers them. However, I did want to distil some more informal observations from our trade mission that provide interesting food for thought for those of us wondering how Australia might be able to grab a slightly bigger slice of the innovation pie.

Here are my four big takeaways from our trade mission:

1) They start ‘em young- One of our speakers was a mother of a seven-year-old boy, who commented that parents in Israel a decade ago hoped that their children would grow up to be a lawyer or a doctor; now those same hopes are for their children to be entrepreneurs. Parents (through both school and extracurricular activities) are focused on finding ways to connect their children with programs that give them early entrepreneurial exposure: opportunities to take risks, and to learn about the machinations of solving commercially valuable problems and the day-to-day work involved in running a business. As this parent commented, “The new measure of success is: has your child had an exit by 21”.

This hits on the head of a conversation I continually find myself in with principals and educators across Australia: how important it is we create the conditions to allow children to “fail safe” within the schooling environment. Irrespective of whether they are destined to be an entrepreneur, in an increasingly non-linear and fluid career landscape, the skills of adaptiveness, inventiveness, and problem solving will be critical for all young people. This demands not only a shift in our pedagogy but, as several of the parents on our delegation commented, a shift in parenting. We need to ensure we are encouraging our young people to take on risk, despite the statistical reality that this’ll sometimes mean they don’t succeed, to help them build the capabilities that position them for a greater likelihood of success in their post-schooling life.

2) There's power in a coordinated national narrative- Everyone we met was singing from the same hymn sheet when it came to the ‘Startup Nation’ and the incredible success and international competitiveness of the Israeli tech scene… it was as though every Israeli we met was an unofficial ambassador. There’s a lot to be said for focusing your nation (not to mention foreign eyes, interests, and investors) on such a positive and compelling narrative… it has no doubt played a significant role in the materialisation of the nation’s innovation ambitions. While we may not have the same rampant global success story when it comes to technology and R&D, it did make you reflect on our tendency in Australia to downplay the individual and collective successes our country has had, and continues to produce. We should be proud of the phenomenal startup stories of companies like Atlassian, Canva, and Airtasker, and the R&D success stories of Caterpillar, Sirtex, and the cotton industry- just to name a few. The more visible these stories become, the more role models we will have to inspire others to cast out in pursuit of their own unique contribution.

3) If they bottle ‘Chutzpah,' we need to import it! Watching presentation after presentation from Israeli entrepreneurs (particularly the young women) you couldn’t help but being impressed by both how young they were and the incredible confidence they conducted themselves with. You walked away with the sense that it didn’t matter how many naysayers tried to talk them down, or how many setbacks they faced, they were going to find a way to make their vision a reality. The Yiddish words Israeli’s use for this attitude is ‘chutzpah’; the meaning of which is loosely akin to ‘audacity’. While Australian culture is known for cutting down our ‘tall poppies’, in Israel chutzpah is celebrated.

I couldn’t help but juxtapose these confident young Israelis, with focus group I’d had a week earlier with a group of Aussie teenagers; unanimously the topic they wanted the most time and focus to be devoted to was: ‘how do we build confidence?’ While anecdotal, their suggested focus is consistent with the litany of youth surveys and mental health studies we have seen come out over the past few years that suggest uncertainty, anxiety, and stress amongst our nation’s young people are dramatically rising. I probed a few of our speakers to try and get to the bottom of the apparent confidence chasm between the youth of our two nations, and one of the things they kept coming back to was the period of service young people did in the Israeli Defence Force. Their comment about the three compulsory years of military service was not intended to advocate for conscription but to draw attention to their country’s preparedness to put faith in their young people by giving them significant responsibility at an early age. Those in the elite squads of the Israeli Defence Force (the ranks of which have a high correlation with teams of successful Israeli start ups) are running enormous budgets and strategic military operations before they are out of their teens. It’s a crucible for confidence and resiliency development- not to mention a rapid-fire learning curve. While I'm not remotely advocating for conscription, it did make me think about how important it is that we create more vehicles through which to give young people responsibility: greater project based/entrepreneurial learning challenges through school and universities; an equivalent to the AYAD program to second young people into non-profits and start-up roles; and accelerated industry leadership structures or co-leadership models.

4) Industry and academia have to get into bed with one another- While Scientific American magazine ranked Australia as 12th in the world’s best 40 countries for science, our record for translating publicly funded research into commercial outcomes is poor. Australia ranks 33/33 in the OECD for businesses collaborating with universities and publicly funded research organisations. In Israel there wasn’t a meeting we had where the importance of the close, interdependent relationship between academia, government and industry wasn't talked about. According to the Bloomberg Innovation Index, Israel leads the world in the number of researchers per capita and is second in research and development.

One thing that was very apparent with Israeli universities is that they’re not particularly interested in the number of journal articles their faculty have published, they benchmark themselves on the number of patents filed and the commercialization of student and researcher IP. At Yissum, the technology transfer arm of Hebrew University, representatives proudly talked us through the investment and specialist capability the University had devoted towards commercialising its IP and the returns they’ve secured. Yissum has registered over 9,300 patents covering 2,600 inventions, has licensed out 800 technologies and has spun-off 110 companies. Successfully commercialised Hebrew University technologies currently generate over $2 Billion in annual sales.

Additionally, there seems to be less focus on graduates getting placed into jobs, and more interest in students creating their own. Technion, a science and technology research university north of Tel Aviv, has a strong mechanism to engage entrepreneurs: every student undertakes a mandatory Minor in Entrepreneurship. Technion transfers into the economy 100 student-led businesses a year, with revenues that exceed $US32 million. It left me thinking about the criticality of ensuring that as part of Australia’s higher ed reform conversations we’re thinking about changes to incentives, benchmarking and funding structures to support greater coordination between academia and industry.

 

Before I finish, it’d be remiss of me not to slightly recalibrate the glowing portrait I’ve painted of the Israeli economy... there is another side to the story. Only an estimated 15% of the population is either directly or indirectly engaged in the ‘start up nation’ ecosystem. While Australians are eager to tap into more of the incredible Israeli innovation, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re fortunate to have strong existing industries (like education, mining and agriculture) that (despite their challenges) are strong contributors and solid employers. One social entrepreneur's observation was that the same amount of coordinated effort that catalysed Israeli innovation now needs to be put into ensuring Israel spreads the benefits of across more of its populace. 

The Israel Trade Mission was an incredibly interesting and valuable learning experience- due in large part to the diversity of our 30-strong Australian delegation, and the incredible efforts of the Chamber and our two leaders, Carol and Elizabeth. My sincere thanks to everyone involved! 

Qantas Travel Insider Magazine - Collective Genius: Holly Ransom and Sam Walsh

Three things that leadership and my Ironman training had in common

3.8km swim. 180km cycle. 42.2km run. Aka the 'Ironman' – the endurance triathlon series that is the fitness 'Everest' for athletes the world over.

Six months ago entertaining the idea of even being able to complete a single component of those distances seemed a stretch. The prospect of having to combine the three of them was utterly overwhelming. I'd never done a triathlon. I hadn't been swimming in five years and had never done more than 30km on a bike.

But I decided to jump off of the deep end, aiming to complete the Busselton Ironman. With 100 days to train, could I get myself to the starting line in the form that would allow me to cross the finish line?

On December 6, I answered that with a resounding 'yes'; I became an 'Ironwoman' having conquering not only the distances but the additional weather challenges of intermittent storms and 35 km/h winds in 13 hours and 53 minutes. The sheer elation of crossing that finishing line was even better than I had imagined and the impact of this achievement has rippled positively throughout all aspects of my life.

These are the 3 top insights from my journey to become an ironwoman that I believe have great application to business and personal life.

1. What You Focus On Expands

It's hard for me to explain just how terrified I was by this goal, which was only exacerbated by the fact that I'd made my attempt very public. I spent the first two weeks panicking. Then it dawned on me that I needed to stop giving (read: losing) energy to fear and start focusing my thinking in a way that was going to help me reach my goal.

I stopped permitting myself to think about the race, failure or the goliath distances and focused instead on the low hanging fruit I could convince my brain was 'doable' to build my confidence and momentum. Initially, it was just about showing up - making the commitment to carve out the time and to never miss a training session, even if I had to stop six times on the run because I was out of breath. Once that became 'doable' I started focusing on the quality of these sessions, and from there I moved to longer distances.

In the Ironman itself, ruthless focus underpinned my race plan. I was continually asking myself "What's important now?"to draw my focus back to what I could control in the moment: this pedal stroke, getting to that next 'km' marker or making sure my body was feeling hydrated and fuelled … anything else would be a waste of energy that I couldn't afford to expend. If I started the day thinking about the race as one giant "elephant" I probably wouldn't have completed it. I had to break it down and, as though I were playing a game of dominoes, not let my focus move to the next domino until the current one had tipped.

When taking on an audacious goal, build a plan that works backward from the ultimate outcome but keep your focus on what you need to do in the here-and-now.

2. Training Integrity

In peak ironman training, you're doing eighteen hours worth of cardio a week… practically a full day a week of exercise! One of the things I learnt early was there's a marked difference between "training" for 18 hours (envisage comfortable jogs, leisurely swims etc) and training (envisage someone who's pushed their heart race and pace so much they're puffing like a biggest loser contestant post a Michelle Bridges workout).

Despite liking to think I'd sit in the second category, for the first two weeks I was definitely just "showing up". Changing habits is hard, particularly if there's some underlying disbelief in our ability to pull it off. The key is making sure you find comfort and security in the right form. In my case the game changer (and single smartest move I made during this process) was enlisting the help of a coach. She helped me set my plan to achieve my goal, tracked all my activity (heart rate, pace, VO2- there was no hiding) and outcomes and held me accountable for my results.

Improve your likelihood of success by building a team around you who can help you achieve the results you're after.

3. Train to hit walls – because you know they're coming

One of the fascinating components of Ironman training is that you intentionally train to reach breaking point. This sounded a ludicrous idea to me originally. However, the more you unpack the "why" for operating this way the more it makes sense. In an ironman race, you don't know when or how frequently you'll hit a wall but you do know it'll happen. If you haven't trained for it, how do you know how to work through it?

Whether we're talking exercise, business or life, whenever we're facing something that is already going to test and stretch us, the more "unknowns" we can take off the table, the greater the degree of confidence you give yourself. In this instance, by continually proving to myself that my body was capable of adapting and pushing through, I gave myself confidence that I could do that across any distance and in whatever conditions were thrown at me. I had to prove to myself that the Navy's "40 per cent more" mantra (the notion that you have 40 per cent more to give when your body first tells you to give up) was true and not just a phrase that belonged on a bumper sticker. 

In life and in leadership, stress test your plans. Prepare for the conditions you're going to have to achieve your results in, not an ideal set of circumstances.

Three Big Lessons from Four Pioneering Leaders

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
― Philip Pullman

In an age obsessed with business cases, statistics and data-points we can sometimes forget that storytelling remains the most powerful way to put ideas into the world. Stories delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, and challenge. They communicate ideas and unpack issues, not just intellectually but as a personal, emotional experience.

Stories have enormous power; the stories we tell ourselves, those shared with us, and particularly the ones that captivate us in such a way that they become norms, folklore, great works of fiction, or form the rich tapestry of our history.

Stories are also core to driving change- you can’t shift an outcome without shifting the story- be that internally or externally, individually or collectively.

Last Friday, I was privileged to MC and moderate the Layne Beachley Aim For The Stars Foundation ‘Women in Leadership Forum’ as we celebrated the stories of four incredible female leaders: former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Opera House CEO Louise Heron, Deloitte CEO Cindy Hook and CSIRO Deputy-Director Dr Cathy Foley. Importantly, the fundraising event was in aid of catalysing and empowering the creation of the next generation of women in leadership stories through supporting the Foundation’s scholarship program.

Our four speakers, each a trailblazer within her respective field, provided fascinating insights in to the challenges of getting to the top, being the “first” and navigating major leadership positions. We covered off handling criticism, overcoming doubt, how to have your voice heard and the deep importance of self-knowing and pursuing your passion. There was also a lot of discussion around what needs to be done to change the game when it comes to gender equality at large. It was an uplifting and energising event- and if, as the old adage goes, ‘you can only be what you can see’ the significance of having four pioneering women share their stories shouldn’t be underestimated at a time where we so desperately need a new collective story about women in leadership in Australia.

So for those who couldn’t be in the room, here’s my attempt to synthesise the smorgasbord of wisdom in to three key lessons:

1. Resilience: strong foundations + disciplined practice
In the flood of social media question suggestions I received in advance of the event the number one thing people wanted to know was ‘how do you handle criticism/failure/attack/sabotage?’ In Julia Gillard’s autobiography ‘My Story’ she reflects on resiliency having typified her three years as Prime Minister. On Friday she talked a lot about what she believed enabled her to weather the challenging times of her political career: carving out the time and space to get crystal clear on her purpose and what she stood for; being able to distinguish between fair critique and vitriolic attack (her hint: if it’s after midnight on twitter it’s probably alcohol not acumen talking!); and the critical importance of having a solid support crew around you.

As we start to lose the word resiliency to the grips of buzzword-land, we can begin to misguidedly look for the magic ‘silver bullet’. The key all of our speakers came back to was embedding strong foundations of self-knowing and, as Deloitte’s Cindy Hook put it in drawing parallels between CEO preparation and marathon preparation, putting in the consistent, hard work to build up your resiliency muscle. Do your best to foresee the rocks and prepare specifically for the sorts of situations you can foresee will call on you to exercise your resilience.

Adding to this, Opera House CEO Louise Heron spoke about the idea of ‘detachment’- the importance of having a healthy distance between your work and your identity, which she said had proven key to being able to remain resilient during periods where work had been particularly challenging. She described her own role as having stewardship over the cultural icon for a period of time, with the continual awareness that just as she had been preceded she would be succeeded. Again, it was emphasised that the ability to do this isn't magical nor immediately bestowed on you at first crack- it's honed through the disciplined practise of ensuring you invested in non-work related activities and relationships.

2. Risk: punt on yourself, regularly
You’ve got to risk big to win big, and as our line-up spoke to on Friday, leadership studies still show a demonstrable difference between the preparedness of woman take a risk on their own capabilities. As the Harvard study we’re probably all too familiar with says, women will wait to meet 4 of 5 criteria before they apply for a job, whereas men will apply when they meet 2… that’s not good math (side note: it’s also not great that only 6% of girls in year 12 are studying advanced math… but that’s a soap box item for another day). Having the confidence to put yourself forward and parking the fallacy of ‘waiting til you’re ready’ (here’s a bubble burster: readiness is a mirage, so don’t delay decisions for something that’ll never materialise) is vital; your career will rise in proportion to your preparedness to put yourself out there for opportunities.

Cindy Hook (the first female CEO of a big four accounting firm) punted on a move from the US to Australia, while Dr Cathy Foley up and ran a childcare centre alongside her scientific work at CSIRO to build her exposure to business management and governance challenges to broaden her experience base and help advance her career. Both spoke to having an awareness of the skills needed to advance to the heights of your career aspiration and ensuring that while you continued to play to your strengths you sought to continually put yourself in environments outside your comfort zone that would stretch the reach of your capabilities. As Cindy said, in articulating why the out-of-my-comfort-zone-hustle was key to her growth, “when I knew the very least I performed at my very best”.

3. No one is an island: cultivate, build and invest in relationships
All the speakers talked to the importance of those they surrounded themselves with: the significance of a strong support network, the power of mentorship and sponsorship and the criticality of bringing people with you and surrounding yourself with a brilliant team. The comment was made that perhaps they had swung too far towards mentorship at either the expense of (or in the absence of) sponsorship- an interesting point worth a quick elaboration; a mentor is someone who’s a trusted sounding board or advisor, while a sponsor is someone who goes in to bat for you and helps open the door to opportunities. While all speakers had been the beneficiary of both mentors and sponsors when it came to securing opportunities, it was sponsors who’d made the difference. Working with people who back you and/or ensuring that people who back you are aware of your aspirations so they can support you in achieving them were stressed as keys to ensuring you can leverage the power of sponsorship.

Emphasis was also placed on learning from the right people- taking roles alongside leaders you admire, investing in coaching and development and taking breadth roles (say in community organisations or on boards) that would give you exposure to a different cohort of leaders and a different context in which to learn from how they work.