Top 10 Tips: Career Lessons Learned and How to Lead through Change Navigating through COVID-19 with lifelong leadership and resilience
- Be open to new opportunities
- Learn from leaders you admire
- Clear, consistent communication is key
- Know your people, how they respond in times of stress, and how to get the best out of them
- Be fair, honest and consistent to your people
- Be driven by the market opportunity
- Cut through ambiguity and deal with conflict
- Be bold in making changes
- Have the right people around you
- Focus on your strengths
The rapid escalation of the coronavirus outbreak posed extraordinary challenges for today’s business leaders.
The massive scale and sheer unpredictability of the pandemic has tested leaders like no other time in recent history. It has presented uncertainty and new risks, making it difficult for some executives to respond and adapt.
Leaders have to find a way to lessen the harsh impact of the crisis, as well as take necessary – and often unfamiliar – steps to empower their organisations to emerge from the crisis stronger.
Vocus Chief Executive, Enterprise and Government, Andrew Wildblood, has been leading and managing a team of more than 200 employees across Australia during the crisis.
Vocus is a fibre and network solutions provider. It owns and operates networks spanning 30,000km, connecting all mainland capitals and most regional centres in Australia and New Zealand to Asia.
Mr Wildblood credits a rich and varied career for preparing him to lead through change and successfully address the escalating health and economic crisis sparked by COVID-19.
“Leadership always has its ups and downs, but you need a different type of leadership during a crisis like a pandemic,” he said.
Although companies will be in different phases of dealing with the outbreak and the impacts vary by geography and sector, Mr Wildblood shared his personal experience and views on leadership in the hope it provided insights for other leaders to draw on, and apply to their own set of challenges.
Be open to new opportunities
Going back to the basics, Mr Wildblood suggested being open to new opportunities, both obvious ones and those that force their way into your horizon, like COVID-19.
“As an individual and leader, it’s important to be willing to try new things or consider something you hadn’t originally envisioned. This opens up doors that may not be available if you’re sticking rigidly to a particular plan. It also prepares you for how agile you’ll need to be in business.”
Learn from leaders you admire
Equally important is learning from leaders you admire. He credits working for Telstra’s David Thodey as an inspirational period of his career.
“Something I learned early on was to look at the leaders who I’ve worked with or admired and adopt their best traits. For example, I worked with David Thodey, who was CEO of Telstra at the time. He was running such a large company. But when he had a conversation with you, he would never lose eye contact.”
“That’s quite a skill, to truly listen to someone when they’re speaking to you. It helped keep the people around him motivated and galvanised around the customer, and that’s something I strive to emulate.”
Clear, consistent communication is key
Another powerful skill is good communication. Mr Wildblood suggests clear, consistent communication is key to ensure not only that people follow your lead, but understand the “why” behind decisions.
“One of the reasons we have managed successfully during COVID-19 is clear communication. It’s something that can be underestimated, but it’s the number one attribute I’ve leaned on during this time.”
“As a leader, I value communication all the time, of course, but it has been evident that during COVID-19 it is especially necessary. Being flexible and shifting to suit the current working environment is one of the tenets of situational leadership.”
Know your people: How they respond during stress, and how to get their best
Digging deeper, it’s also vital to understand your staff and leadership team, Mr Wildblood said, explaining you need to know how people respond in times of stress, and how you can support them to help achieve the greatest output.
“With an unprecented event like COVID-19, your team is facing all kinds of emotions and everyone reacts to stress differently,” Mr Wildblood said. He explained that his focus has been on remaining calm, concise, and consistent, while providing staff with the necessary tools to get the job done and enabling those around him to lead in their own ways, too. “People might have different leadership styles than you or manage a situation differently than you would, but that’s OK.”
Be fair, honest, and consistent to your people
Letting people be authentic and being fair, honest and consistent with them is an important skill, Mr Wildblood said.
“We are fortunate to work in an industry that is critical during these times, and one of my immediate priorities has been helping our people work through the situation at hand and provide clarity on what our new situation would look like, adjust as needed, and provide a vision of how our business would get through this together. My message has been consistent: we’re a team, there will be an end to this, and we will come through it together, stronger.
Cut through ambiguity and deal with conflict
“When you’re leading a team, being able to deal with ambiguity and conflict resolution is key,” Mr Wildblood said. “As a leader, it can be uncomfortable, but it’s important to be able to have those different conversations with your people.
“Being a leader means guiding people through uncertain times and providing focus. Strong leaders are able to help their people prioritise during ambiguous times and, at its core, get the best out of their people.”
Be driven by the market opportunity
Mr Wildblood said it’s crucial to be driven by market opportunity, a lesson that’s influenced his decision-making throughout his career.
“Just because a business is currently set up one way, doesn’t mean it’s the right way. See where the market is and be bold and change. I’ve kept that message in mind each time I’ve had to make a big decision or changed jobs.”
Be bold in making changes
It’s also important to work together for a common goal, Mr Wildblood said, emulating the leadership qualities in some of today’s sports icons.
“From Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, who managed his team for 27 years, I learnt how to be bold in making changes.”
“He made sure his players understood that no one was bigger than the club – they were a team. He was able to put the right people in the right places and create an environment for people to succeed but was prepared to make the hard calls when necessary. I value that emphasis on working together for a common goal.”
Have the right people around you
“I’ve learned as well how important it is to have the right people around you. As I’ve advanced in my career, it’s become easier to understand what makes me tick and what I do well in”, he said, explaining that lesson takes courage, clarity and commitment, but helps accelerate success.
“When you’re younger, it’s easier to obsess over what you’re not good at,” he said. “Now, I focus on my strengths and then build teams to complement the areas that I’m strong in and people to round out the areas that could use a little more work.”
Focus on your strengths
Finally, focus on your strengths, Mr Wildblood said, and steer clear of people who “uninspire” you and avoid behaving as they do.
“We all encounter those types of people throughout our careers, and they’re helpful in their own way, because it’s just as important to understand what type of leader you don’t want to be as the kind you do.”
Reflecting over his career, Mr Wildblood said what he’s most proud of as a leader is what he’s doing today – helping Vocus become a telco of choice.
“When I made the move to Vocus after 20 years at Telstra, I believed that Australia deserved more from its telcos than it was getting at the time, and I still believe that Vocus is the one to help make that happen.”