Ann Sherry: The Connected Leader

by | May 18, 2016 | Articles

Ann Sherry is a visionary with strong values who has always extoled the virtues of inclusion and collaboration. All of which makes her a great example of a modern, connected leader, says Jane Hayman from Cirrus in HR Director Australia.

In 2015, Ann Sherry, the chief executive of Carnival Australia, was awarded the 2015 overall Australian Financial Review and Westpac Woman of Influence Award. The award recognises Sherry’s achievements in corporate leadership and her promotion of diversity and equality during her career.

Ann Sherry’s unique career trajectory is well documented.  She has worked in the public sector as Head of the Office of Status of Women, introduced maternity leave to corporate Australia in her role at Westpac, moved from HR role to CEO at the Bank of Melbourne and became the first woman to head up a bank in New Zealand. As CEO of Carnival Australia, she is credited with moving the cruise company into a phase of unprecedented growth. She is also on the Australian Rugby Union board and as part of the Jawun project has connected corporate, government and philanthropic organisations with indigenous people to bring about change.

In a world where becoming a senior leader is actually less attractive to many people than it used to be, Sherry is a great role model. The most recent Global Workforce Leadership Survey found that only 11% of professionals aspire to board-level positions. Among these respondents, only 36% of women versus 64% of men aspire to be C-level executives, highlighting a striking gender divide in career ambitions. Sherry is indeed a ‘Woman of Influence’ and has been instrumental in advancing the careers of many of the women around her.  For example, at Westpac, she was struck by how management meetings across the business were always “100% men” so she deliberately set out to change the culture and make it more inclusive.

Throughout her career, she has refused to condone prejudice: “I find all those things that limit expectations for women in business in particular so frustrating, because it’s so illogical, although people present it as a logical argument.”

I believe Ann Sherry is a great example of a connected leader. She is someone who can set a clear purpose and direction, she operates with a strong set of values, she collaborates and includes others in decision making, and she can act swiftly to achieve goals.

This style of leadership is explored by Cirrus CEO Dr Simon Hayward in his book, Connected Leadership: How to Build a More Agile, Customer-Driven Business. It is distinctly different from the traditional, top-down, hierarchical style of leadership, which is more and more difficult to maintain in a digital age where the world is increasingly complex and fast-moving. Ann Sherry personifies many of the factors of connected leadership.

Purpose and direction.

When people in an organisation have a common understanding of why they exist as an entity, a clear sense of what they are trying to achieve and the strategy to get there, there is a shared mission around which people can unite and flourish.

Sherry has said that, “It’s important that people want to work for you and that you can get things to happen that once people would have thought were impossible – because possibility turned into the actual is empowering for everyone. People also need to know what you stand for and being able to translate that right through an organisation is important.”

Authenticity.

Leaders who act ethically and who build relationships of trust and respect gain strong commitment from the people they lead. Leadership based on balanced judgement and fairness of decision-making engages colleagues and encourages them to develop effective, connected relationships across the organisation. When Sherry arrived at Carnival, there was an ongoing scandal involving the tragic death of a passenger. Although she had not been part of the organisation at the time, she said that the tragedy had happened in “my business” and spoke with real human emotion about how the way it had been handled was “awful” and the need to seek closure and not let it drag on.

Devolved decision-making.

The sharing of power across the organisation results in many decisions being made closer to the customer, where they can have an immediate impact. While key strategic decisions are best made centrally, service-oriented decisions are best taken as close to the customer as possible. For this to work well you need a climate where people feel safe to take a risk, comfortable to take responsibility for decisions and be supported, whatever the outcome.

Sherry has said that, “People need to be clear about who does what and about delivering the goods at the end of the day. There are things that are mine to do and I do them. And there are things for others to do and I delegate them. I have high expectations of people who work for me that they’ll pick up their job and get on with it.”

Collaborative achievement.

Collaboration means close working between teams as well as within teams, so that end-to-end processes work efficiently. Great team working is based on dialogue and mutual influence, with team members working closely with each other and reward structures reflecting collective merit more than individual performance.

Perhaps Sherry’s greatest collaborative achievement has been the way she has worked to include women into the executive space: “I just don’t think there’s any lack of talent here. You can’t have merit-based procedures if everyone looks the same. Companies need to get under the cultures that shut women out.”

Agility.

In an increasingly uncertain world, organisations can no longer operate as if ‘one size fits all’. Agility requires that colleagues are allowed to adapt to changing circumstances, to share what they learn and to operate in a culture which supports experimentation without blame – to fail fast and learn as a driver of innovation and pace.

Sherry’s entire career to date illustrates her innate agility and comfort with change. She has said she has a higher tolerance for risk than most people: “There’s always a risk reward trade-off. Often people don’t do that trade-off very well. They don’t consider the upside. They only consider the downside. Sometimes things don’t work, but there’s really not much downside to that.”

When accepting her recent Woman of Influence award, Shelley said that it is vital that we support each other to achieve an Australia that values contribution regardless of gender. She challenged corporate cultures that do not recognise the value of women at every level. Here are some top tips to help women and all leaders to succeed by becoming more connected leaders.

Top tips for women in leadership 

Set a clear purpose and direction

Help people understand why your organisation exists and what your strategic goals are. Ensure that everyone is communicated with as an individual so they can make sense of these things and understand the part the play.

Be authentic

Be yourself, and be clear and uncompromising about your values. Show that you mean what you say by the way you behave. This builds trust and helps others to have confidence in you.

Devolve decision making

Enable others to take responsibility for decision making. Be clear about that responsibility and give people freedom as well as support. Be brave about ‘letting go’ and don’t take responsibility away if things don’t always go right. Instead, use it as a learning experience.

Be collaborative

Start with your team and drive collaboration from there, across functions and locations, focused on serving the customer quicker and better.

Be agile

Seize opportunities when they come along, take risks, and learn from the things that don’t go well. Then move on.

Read this article on page 46 of the online version of HR Director Australia’s April 2016 issue.

To discover more, or to share your own views, please email us or tweet @CirrusConnect.

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