My turn at writing our monthly CLA blog post coincided with our budding organisation’s two year anniversary which was wonderful timing really! In reflecting on what point of view I may offer on leadership this time, I thought I would take a different angle and reflect on my experiences growing a consulting firm and personally developing as a leader over the last two years.
I have read that the first two years starting a new business are especially the hardest and that certainly rings true for me, although I have also read that as the years go on, things don’t get easier necessarily, instead your capacity to deal with bigger and more complex challenges increases because you learn, so it is all relative I guess! Additionally, anyone who knows me knows that I dream big and love the thrill of the chase so I don’t know that I will make it easier for myself any time soon! However, I do feel like I have ‘grown up’ a lot in the last two years and I think that these learnings put me in a good position to maintain my optimism and love of opportunity through all the inevitable twists and turns that will come my way.
In this blog post, I wanted to present my reflections by way of some of my favourite quotes, ideas and pearls of wisdom I have been lucky enough to hear from wonderful people, and, then provide insight as to why each piece resonates with me by way of examples, aspirations and key learnings. Hopefully, in turn, you learn a little bit more about me and how I have gained clarity on the kind of leader I want to be and the kind of organisation I want to build at CLA.
“Normally, if one manager at a company can think tactically and strategically, that company has a good future. But boy are you lucky: More than half the Buttfaces think that way!”
- An unnamed Harvard business professor studying Nike, as quoted in the 2016 book Shoe Dog, written by Nike founder Phil Knight. The term ‘Buttfaces’ references the strategic retreats Knight and his management team would attend, as well as what they would affectionately call each other as a representation of the fun, joking, familial culture Knight created.
Why I like it – This quote in many ways sums up the development opportunity I want to offer each person who joins CLA. I know that not everyone will necessarily want to work in a strategic leadership role as we grow our team and that is completely ok! But I do want everyone in the organisation to have a point of view on our direction and our strategic pillars just as much as they have a point of view on client solutions and technical, ‘tactical’ work. Each person’s role at CLA, from the Project Coordinators to my role as CEO, is expected to contribute to strategy, innovation, new product development, long-term opportunities and more, as reflected in all of our Position Descriptions. Often, strategy can be regarded as an abstract concept and something that only the executive should focus on. This may be true for the development of strategy but there is no reason why employees cannot have a point of view on strategy, especially considering they are the ones translating it into outcomes.
“If you stand for nothing, you fall for anything.”
- A lyric from a song by Parkway Drive, one of my favourite bands.
Why I like it – Continuing with my emphasis on having a point of view, we have worked hard at CLA to hone what we call ‘The CLA Way.’ This represents our recommended methodologies for our products and services, our passion for thought leadership, not trying to be all things to all people but instead being proud of who we are and what we believe in. In starting a new business and planning what I want it to become, it is easy to think that you may need to be ‘all things to all people’ in order to win work, gain traction in the market quickly and build a brand. But I have learned that by standing for something (‘The CLA Way’, evidence-based practice, being scientist-practitioners, being psychologists, independence and being agnostic), I am not going to fall for anything and that is really important to me even it means more unknowns and risk.
“Trust in the timing of life… trust in life and in yourself… celebrate… life is not a race.”
- Nimita Bhatt
Why I like it – My sense of urgency is without a doubt my biggest strength and also my biggest weakness. Over the last two years, I was so driven to work hard, fast and long because I thought I needed to build a business quickly. It is safe to say that I enjoyed the journey to a degree but didn’t really celebrate the wins along the way and didn’t really take any time to reflect. I don’t know why I thought building a business was a race – I think because I would read about lots of young entrepreneurs doing remarkable things seemingly overnight and I wanted to do it just as fast as them. I had this view that success could literally happen overnight! But what I have learned through talking to others, sharing my story and lots of reading is that the journey is the best part, life is a marathon not a sprint and pacing myself is the best thing I can do because it is in the best interests of my clients, my own health and wellbeing, my friends and family and our CLA team. I am so comfortable with that now and am so happy things are right where they are.
“Not working is sometimes the best work you can do.”
- Brad Stulberg, contributor to Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington’s behaviour change media and technology company.
Why I like it – For a very long time I have equated work and success with output, productivity, being ‘busy’ and ‘doing things.’ But as I have settled into my work rhythm as CEO of CLA, I have learned that my time needs to be spent working ‘on’ the business just as much as being ‘in’ the business delivering solutions. And to work ‘on’ the business, I often need to be as far away from CLA as possible! I have learned that some of my best work is actually done when I have a clear mind and am thinking about strategy, partnerships, new product development and innovation. This isn’t a new concept because most of us recognise that we need time out to recharge and revitalise our thinking, however I have learned that I need to be very deliberate in how I manage my time, the regularity of ‘quiet time’ where I can reflect and how often I ‘don’t work’ because that in itself, is work.
“Over your head?… We are all in over our heads, way over!… He knew that each of us was willing to do whatever was necessary to win, and if ‘whatever was necessary’ fell outside our area of expertise, you would say ‘no problem!’ He didn’t know anything about running a factory, but he was willing to try, to learn.”
- Phil Knight, founder of Nike, describing the growth mindset he wanted all employees to demonstrate, particularly early on in Nike’s journey when the organisation was growing so fast.
Why I like it – This excerpt from Knight’s book really summarises the attitude and mindset I want CLA employees to embody. The reality is that there is no blueprint for how to build a business and how to ‘win’. At CLA, our team have incredible qualifications, skills and capabilities and this is why our clients work with us. But we are also human and we are all on this journey to be part of the fabulous growth story that is CLA. We don’t know what the future will bring with crystal clear certainty and so in many ways, we are in over our heads too! But we are having a go, ‘having a crack’ as I like to say and taking on a market that has lots of players in it (and doing so incredibly well!) We are learning and growing and trying new things. Our team is building in confidence every day and they embody the spirit of ‘no problem, I will have a go.’ I couldn’t ask for anything more.
“Be yourself, it is the only thing you can do.”
- Gail Kelly, former CEO of Westpac
Why I like it – I recently read Gail Kelly’s book, Live Lead Learn: My Stories of Life and Leadership as my dad suggested I might like it and I absolutely loved it. This quote around being yourself really resonated with me as I navigate the various identities I have as a daughter, wife, hopefully a mum one day, business owner, organisational psychologist, sometimes academic, friend, sister! No matter what hat I wear, I am being me and that is scary and exciting all at the same time! Controlling the controllables is what I can do and by remembering to be myself, I know that I can be the best version of me across all the contexts of my life. This is really important for how I lead CLA and the type of leader and role model I want to be, but also in the advice that I give clients and my ability to offer a genuine, authentic point of view, versus being all things to all people.
I could write for hours on all the other quotes, stories and anecdotes that are swimming in my brain and that provide inspiration, direction and clarity when I need it most. I have recently read Hilary Clinton’s book What Happened and loved the quotes that she included at the start of each chapter with one of my favourites being that ‘no feeling is final’. I look forward to continuing to share my own journey and that of CLA’s with you over the coming months and years!