The make-or-break moment for new leaders

HP director and veteran of 30 years in the industry Ann Livermore believes leaders new to the role must remember leadership is about feedback, not running a red line through everything.

As part of the lead up to International Women's Day and ANZ's W:DRIVE initiative, Livermore sat down with ANZ GM Technology, Retail, Commercial & Wealth Jayne Opperman to talk about her career and share some advice.

"t’s really hard when you get promoted and suddenly people who were your peers last week are now working for you."
Ann Livermore, HP Director

The make-or-break moment for new leaders

Opperman: Ann, thank you for joining us. Many of us have followed your incredible career at HP and, given your success, we'd love to hear about some of the challenges you have faced in such a male-dominated industry. Can you share with us some of those and maybe how you dealt with them?

Livermore: I'll give you a particular challenge. I think it's really hard when you get promoted to run an organisation and suddenly people who were your peers last week are working for you. That's a hard transition for people to make, particularly in your first job as a manager. I really screwed up my first one.

There were a bunch of people working for me who would do a piece of work, give it to me, and then with my red marker I would make a lot of changes because they weren't laying out a plan or program the way I thought it should be done.

That was terrible because I wasn't really letting them do their job and I was kind of doing their job - which used to be my job that I did a different way. That was a big mistake. I really had to learn to give people feedback versus rewriting their stuff.

It's very different if your boss sits down with you and says “here are a couple of suggestions I have for you for how this should be done", versus rewriting it for them. It's a bigger transition for most people than they realise.

It doesn't get easier as the positions get more senior, either. Because sometimes when you're chosen amongst your colleagues and it's a pretty senior position, they're pissed that they didn't get the job. I think that's more intense at higher levels.

Opperman: Many people look ahead in their career and hold aspirations of leadership roles. Do you have any advice for them in terms of how they should go about planning that? And is your advice different for women and men?

Livermore: My advice is the same for both men and women. If I was talking to a group of women or a mixture of men and women I'd say the same thing.

I really believe strongly that attitude and enthusiasm matter. People who come across half-full versus half empty? It's better to be half-full. It's even better to be 100 per cent full glass of great champagne - even if it's a nearly empty one.

Enthusiasm is contagious, so your attitude and enthusiasm really matters. I'm not talking about being the cheerleader who pumps your fists. It can be in lots of different ways.

My other piece of advice to people is when you see other people getting promoted or chosen in an organisation for promotion and it's tied back to results: that's a good thing. When promotion, rewards and pay are linked to results, that is a very big plus sign to me for an environment.

I would say the same thing for women. If you're in a results-orientated environment, that's a good thing for you - if you produce results.

To me, leadership is defined by someone who has an idea, they take the initiation of that idea, they take action and then they get results and along the way they can inspire and influence people to join them. To me that's really the core of leadership.

I think developing business acumen is really important. You need to understand how business works. Business managers and executives will be more impressed with you when you talk with some business acumen. When you can tie things back to how it is going to help revenue, how it is going to help operating profit and how it is going to help customers. Vocabulary matters.

Teamwork really matters whether you are leading the team or are a member of the team. How you behave as a member of a bad functioning team is a really important skill to develop.

Because when you're on a great team, everybody does pretty well. When you're on a bad team, you either get associated with the bad results, or you get associated as somebody on a bad team that helped make it better.

Opperman: One very brief question to end on: what's the best piece of career advice that you've ever received from somebody else?

Livermore: For me personally, the best piece of career advice I got was from one of my bosses. What he said was “Ann, you care about too many things."

It was really true because I wanted to do everything and get an A on everything. So his advice to me was really about prioritising.

First in the business environment: what are the big things that are going to make a difference? When managing how much do you delegate and how much do you drive yourself?

And even on the home front: what do you care about? Do you care about your dishes being washed? Do you care about what your family room looks like? What is it you worry about?

That was the best advice I got.

Opperman: Ann, thanks very much for joining us, we've really appreciated the insights you've had to offer.

Jayne Opperman is ANZ's GM Technology, Retail, Commercial & Wealth.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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