The inside track: inclusivity leadership's new mantra

Q&A

The inside track: inclusivity leadership's new mantra

With digital disruption driving change at an ever-increasing pace, a consultative approach to leadership that values diversity and inclusivity will open the door to creative problem solving.

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With digital disruption driving change at an ever-increasing pace, a consultative approach to leadership that values diversity and inclusivity will open the door to creative problem solving.

In today’s fast-changing digital world, where agility and innovation are key to differentiating your business from competitors, what makes a great leader is changing.
 
While some management teams hold fast to the “heroic model” of the fearless leader standing at the front and yelling “charge”, this fails to pass muster for Nola Watson, President of NSW Business Chamber.

“Now, more than ever before, leaders need to tap into the experience, ideas and creativity of everyone in the workplace,” she says.
 
A Chamber board member since 2014, Watson was elected to the role of President in February, replacing outgoing president Trevor Cairney. She was formerly the Deputy President as well as Chairman of the Audit, Risk & Compliance Committee. Watson has a broad range of other Board and Committee experience across business, government and not for profit sectors.
 
Currently the Principal of Indar, a business consultancy that provides expert advice and solutions on governance, risk and strategy, Watson has extensive firsthand experience in executive leadership roles in financial services as well as in State and Commonwealth governments. In 2001 she was named Telstra Australian Businesswoman of the Year, and awarded the Commonwealth of Australia Centenary Medal for services to Australian society in business and leadership.

“For me a model of leadership that works is one that is truly inclusive and collaborative,” she says. “Leaders need to play to their strengths but also recognise that they don't know it all and that they're not always the smartest person in the room. For this reason, they need to get people around them that collectively can drive an organisation forward.”
 
This does not mean that leaders can abdicate decision-making – they still need to take responsibility for setting the course and steering the ship – but it does mean that decisions need to be better informed.
“Having a focus on what drives people and understanding how everyone in

an organisation can contribute and feel proud of their work is vital for leadership,” Watson says. “Leadership is not just about the people at the top.”
 
Value diversity in leadership teams 
 
A diverse leadership group that reflects social and customer demographics will better position you to deal with a changing business environment.
 
“It is good to stand back and observe how the leadership model works in practice, how decisions are made, and how they are implemented,” Watson explains. “This tells you a lot about the culture.
 
“You need to collect and analyse the data around gender, ethnicity, background, professional experience, technical skills, a range of things, and then, when you get that data, let the facts speak for themselves.
 
“Quite often people collect data, and if they don’t like the results, they then spend a lot of time explaining why the results are unreliable saying things like, ‘the sample is too small' or 'our industry is different’.
 
“I always say to people, ‘If you get an unexpected result, before you dismiss it, just assume it to be true’. If you assume it is true, then you actually have to deal with it, whereas if you rationalise something or start finding reasons why the data is not right, then you might miss an important underlying issue.” 

Don’t let unconscious bias guide decisions 

 
If everyone on your team thinks and acts just like the CEO, then you “probably haven't got a very diverse culture, even though you might think you do”.
 
Watson points to “unconscious bias” as the culprit for the lack of diversity in many teams.
 
“We all have an unconscious bias, based on our background, family, education,” she says. “If there’s someone in the workplace that you’re close to or trust, ask them what they think your unconscious bias is. Their perspective might help you to recognise it yourself. Understanding unconscious bias is particularly important when you’re recruiting.”
 
If you give priority to professional capability and relevant experience, along with the values a person has, that will ensure you always “look beyond a small cohort” of people. 

Keep learning, make deliberate choices 

 
Looking back at her own career path, Watson highlights the importance of always “being energised by learning new things”.
 
“You have to be if you're going to move across industries and roles where you need to get up to speed very quickly and not be daunted by the new environment,” she says. “In my own career I’ve moved through sectors quite deliberately to broaden my experience base.”

It is that breadth of experience, as well as the extensive business relationships she’s built along the way, that she brings to the role of President of the Chamber.
 
“I believe that collaboration underpins the Chamber’s success and its leadership position as the voice of business,” she says. “We will continue to look for new ways to help business grow and prosper, and promote initiatives that are good for business and good for the community.”

Disclosure.

This article was originally published by the NSW Business Chamber, which is also the owner of WorkplaceInfo.com.au.
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