At Davidson we are committed to enhancing women’s careers and supporting them as they progress into senior leadership positions. Women need role models to lead the way and inspire others to follow. Our Women in Leadership series looks to create a platform to shine the light on female leaders, their insights and wisdom.

Cameron Norton recently placed Leanne Williams in her current role as CEO at West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation. He found her to be extremely impressive during the recruitment process, particularly the innovative way she presented her  plans for the role and organisation.

Cameron took time out to chat further with Leanne and gain insights into how her new role is going and share her leadership insights.

As a young professional in the first half of your career journey, what has been the biggest challenge as you stepped up to the leadership level?

The leadership journey is one of self-discovery. You have to be self-aware and learn from your experiences (and mistakes). One of my biggest challenges was being able to have a difficult conversation with a key stakeholder where I felt our values did not align. At the end of the day you have to give people an opportunity to learn and grow. If the work continues to be out of alignment with your values, then it’s probably time to move on.

Leanne Williams, CEO West Gippsland Regional Library Corp.

What advice would you give to a young aspiring leader to get to that next level of their career?

Self-awareness and emotional intelligence would be two essential skills to progress through your career. Whilst many professionals progress without these skills, people who work with leaders who possess these skills will work much harder to achieve results because they feel valued.

What are some of the key leadership activities that you do to engage your people and create a culture that is conducive to high performance?

Communication, communication, communication! Your team want to feel part of the decision making process. Whilst there are many people who do not have decision making responsibilities, if you continuously communicate with your people, they will be more engaged and feel part of the process. Knowledge is empowering. Being transparent is also really important. This will help build a relationship with your team and they will trust you more. I am also a very happy and energetic person and I hope that this rubs off on my people.

Flexibility is a term used loosely to describe working options for staff these days, what does it mean to you and have you seen results increase as a result of being flexible with your team?

Flexibility can be provided in many different ways. It can be as simple as saying “absolutely” when a team member asks if they can leave work early on a particular day (rather than giving them a grilling). If you provide your people with autonomy my observations are they will work harder. Sometimes though it is not unreasonable to provide boundaries to flexible options. The most important thing for a leader is to be consistent when allowing staff to have flexibility. If there are exceptions then you need to be able to justify it.

With technology changing so rapidly, how do you keep pace of the developments that could impact how you work?

To keep up with developments you need to research technology options, read articles, listen to podcasts or audio books and attend seminars. Keep in touch with what others are doing in the industry. My approach these days is – anything is possible so think big and laterally.

Have you started using any new technology on a daily basis to increase your own personal effectiveness? Do you have any ‘Life Hacks’ that you can share?

I like to provide myself with structure as this helps me be productive. I will commence the day by working early in the morning (5am or 6am) before the rest of the family has woken as this gives me quiet time without interruptions. This is certainly a challenge when you have three children under five years old! I have an open door policy at work so getting quiet time any other time of the day is difficult. I can’t live without my outlook calendar. This includes giving access to my calendar to staff and sending my husband calendar invites to make sure we are both on the same page. I use Evernote as a note taking application as I can use it on any device and it synchronizes between devices and with my outlook calendar. I try to avoid using applications which do not synchronize as this duplicates work and is less efficient.

How do you see technology impacting your organisation and what does that mean from a business model perspective?

Over the coming months I will be implementing a number of new technology systems which will automate administration processes. This will allow my teams to focus more on what they are really employed to do rather than administration processes. You do have to remember that the organisation does need to see savings from the implementation of new systems, so redeploying staff when part of their role has been automated may be required. Make sure you give yourself and the organisation options to be dynamic in the future. Technology is changing fast and organisations need to be able to keep up with customers’ expectations. Make sure you use technologies that are also dynamic and progressing with future trends.

Humans naturally resist change and get back to their basic behaviours when change is going to impact them. How do you approach change management and what do you see as the critical success factors to any change process?

Communicate early with your teams and try to involve them in the process. People are not silly and they know when management is embarking on change processes so communicating early and take them on the journey with you. Another really important factor is being able to tell the story. The art of storytelling about why you are making change will be a key factor in how well the change process is implemented. It is also important to remember that you are not going to win everyone over.

If you could have one super power that you could use in the workplace, what would it be and why?

This is difficult to answer, because I think all good things require hard work. The journey and what we learn along the way is the exciting part of our careers.

Cameron Norton is a Practice Leader at Davidson Executive & Boards (Victoria).