The most recent data from the Australian Government Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) shows that women hold 26.8% of directorships, and represent 31.5% of key management personnel. Diversity is high on the agenda at Keypath, which is reflected in equal representation of males and females in management roles. We asked Lisa Jane McDonald, Director of Marketing & Product at Keypath Education Australia, to tell us about her experience as a woman in leadership.
What makes a great leader?
Authenticity, vision, learning-agility and a genuine desire to enable people to grow. If you genuinely care about the development of the people you lead, you will find that they are with you when even times are tough.
Leading and managing people can be hard. In our business, we don’t expect folk to park their authentic selves at the door and behave like robots. At Keypath it’s the opposite – we have worked hard to build a vibrant, interconnected culture that celebrates the diversity of the people who share the workplace.
People bring to work whatever is going on in their lives, and if you think that as a manager or business owner you can stop that, you are kidding yourself and robbing yourself of the richness of human potential they bring. If you're not prepared for that as a manager and leader you will not succeed, because you won't be able to retain great employees. If you get it right, everyone wins.
A great leader also needs to have, and be able to communicate, a vision that is beyond the horizon. As a leader, you need to have a view of what is coming next and always be thinking, “How do I prepare the team? How do I prepare the business?” This signals to your people that they’re in safe hands and that the business is ready for what comes next – or as ready as possible in uncertain times.
I think challenging the status quo is important, along with being wary of ‘group think’. I get uncomfortable when I see groups of people always agreeing with each other. Challenge ideas, the status quo, the ‘prevailing wisdom’ – respectfully and robustly. A leader must ensure that.
What skills have become important in your career that you didn’t realise would be needed?
Being comfortable with silence – either in conflict, negotiation or to give the floor to an up and coming direct report. And conversely, interrupting people who hog the ‘talking stick’ and doing it in a way that is conducive to constructive, inclusive conversations.
Seeking feedback. Encouraging people to give you feedback can sometimes be confronting as it might not be what you want to hear, but often, it’s not that surprising. Take it on the chin, reflect on it and use it as fuel to improve yourself.
Seeing the humour in any situation - it’s a great way to help yourself and others keep perspective. Besides, work should be a fun place to be.
When something you wanted to achieve doesn’t work out as planned, how do you adjust your mindset and goal?
I’m fortunate to have a flexible mindset, perhaps a result of years of making mistakes and learning from them – in life and work. Gaining perspective straight up is critical to manage your way through the moment you realise something didn’t go as hoped, or actually went wrong – the mantra I use is: “If no one died or went to gaol, it’ll be alright.” And it always is.
Then move straight on to owning it, fixing it (or pivoting), reflecting, learning then sharing the learning. At Keypath we have a strong test-learn-iterate work culture. The greater error of judgement is to be overly cautious and miss an opportunity, rather than to innovate and find it didn’t work. This works for our business because we have smart people who back their intuition with data and who feel safe to take calculated risks.
Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your 20-year old self to help you navigate your career?
Take every opportunity that comes (I did anyway). Keep learning. Learn to code! Don’t overthink. Be open to change because it’s going to happen anyway. Get good at it. Maybe even learn to lead it. Always challenge ‘prevailing wisdom’. Build your work wardrobe around the principles of no ironing and no checked-luggage.
How have you built confidence and resilience throughout your career?
I've always tried to take lessons from my private life into my work life, and vice versa. Difficult times in my private life have helped me understand how resilient I am. I imagine it’s harder to take risks above a certain point if you’ve never had your resilience tested. You need to be able to take risks to achieve.
Building a strong support network in and out of the workplace – a network that not only validates you but also supports and challenges you to be your best – is critical to resilience. Having this sort of leadership at Keypath and friends like this in my life has helped me build confidence in my ability to take on new challenges.
While resilience comes from within, it's much easier if you are part of a resilient organisation. Resilience was a key trait that I wanted to build in my own team. I read an article a while back that said high performing teams are like living organisms:
“No one doubts the value of another, and everyone feels they have something to offer to others. High performing teams don't spend time either on blaming nor internally selling. They simply work together.”
Working in this environment helps you build your resilience through understanding your value and having that acknowledged and reflected by your colleagues.